Today I experienced laughter yoga. It wasn’t the super specific, intense, focused, Ashtanga Yoga like the last random class I attended; it was free and inviting and ridiculous and fun.
I walked into town (about an hour away) yesterday with the main intention of treating myself to a soy chai latte (I may have a slight addiction, but it had been about a week since my last one). I decided to patronage the organic shop that caters to vegans and vegetarians, since I was certain they would have soy milk for me (though I do find it much more common in NZ than I ever did in the states). While I was enjoying my latte (and a nice piece of vegan chocolate) I noticed a sign on the door for Laughter Yoga. I immediately remembered the club that was established at Ithaca College while I was there, but I never had the time to attend any of their sessions. I later discovered another sign that mentioned Laughter Yoga met right there on Friday mornings, so I decided I would make it a point to attend. Only later that evening did I realize it was Thursday and I would be going the next day, but no matter, I wanted to attend!
I rode my host’s bike into town so I didn’t have to leave quite so early and arrived about 15 minutes before the group was meant to meet. I decided this was a bit too early and walked around the block before going in. There was a middle-aged lady there with a girl I assume to be around 8. We exchanged hellos, and then sat awkwardly waiting until another middle-aged woman arrived. Awkward pleasantries were again addressed, then, we waited. Apparently the instructor was in the store across the way and hadn’t noticed us come in. The first lady retrieved her and the session began.
Five of us. Three middle-aged women, one terribly silent girl, and myself.
We circled up and I was asked if I had attended before. The instructor gave a bit of an overview, and then we introduced ourselves briefly. She talked about the session being a blend of deep breathing and laughing, and mentioned how Laughter Yoga is really easy and she wasn’t going to ask you to put your foot up your bum or anything. Immediately after the introductions, we started. First there were some rhythmic movements, then some vocalizations were added in. After that we moved into stretching and laughing. The philosophy is to “fake it until you make it.” Apparently your body doesn’t know the difference between fake laughter and real laughter, so you just go along with it pretending and hoping the real stuff comes along!
The middle portion of the session was dedicated toward dramatizations about real life situations, and laughing about them. We were instructed to laugh at ourselves, laugh at each other, laugh at our imaginary phone bills, and laugh in the mode of different animals. We interacted with each other in make believe scenarios and tried out different types of laughter – excited, goofy, naughty, stifled, and whatever else the instructor came up with. When we had all let down our guards a bit, it was time for the last portion where we relaxed into laughter. Again we started with pretending, but you could almost feel the shift in the room when the continued laughter became genuine. We ended with a bit of relaxation in savasana – the corpse pose where you lay entirely flat and relax your whole body – which was the only real portion, aside from the breathing, that felt like “yoga.”
Half the time what was going through my head was focused on how in the world I had ended up here, in this room, with these crazy middle-aged ladies and the little girl who kept watching me to see if I would really do everything the instructor asked of us. But, it made me laugh! How ridiculous that we would be prancing around acting out whatever scenario we were told? How random that I know nothing about these people except that they decided to turn up to Laughter Yoga today? How silly that we could simply laugh together, and stimulate each other’s laughter, and it actually felt sincere?
Now, I have spent my fair share of time in the world of drama, both on stage and behind the scenes. And I’m willing to recognize that I have a personality where my sanity is questioned from time to time. But I have to admit that I felt a bit ludicrous at times during that session. What was propelling us to do this? To be here? And why was I so concerned about it? I returned to the conclusion that I just had to let it be and let down my guard. Just as I did as a teenager when I realized I would be no “cooler” than I was if I didn’t act silly like I wanted to. I figured out back then, and I have to remind myself occasionally, to just be myself.
The session got me thinking about real life situations where I am overwhelmed with laughter –the kind where I crumple to the ground because my body becomes so weak from it. Often, I try to relish in that, and (assuming I am laughing with someone else) extend the laughter to make it last longer. I think I do this mostly subconsciously, but I have recognized it in recent years and have become more aware of it. Basically, I make no effort to stop the laughter, and because it is genuine, it proceeds to bubble up from the inside. This realization helped me feel a true connection with Laughter Yoga. During our last portion, right before the savasana, we were all laying on the floor in a circle with our heads near each other. Laughter originated from our instructor, and we were encouraged to join in and let it out. It was laying there, listening to all the different kinds of laughter around me that I burst into real, honest, uncontrollable laughter. It wasn’t the awkward kind (though that probably started it) but the kind I couldn’t stifle. It lasted and bubbled up even when others had faded – which caused everyone else to join right back in. It was infectious and unstoppable. Even when our instructor was trying to settle us down into breathing and relaxing, I had a hard time holding still as my abdomen was still tensing with giggles!
That is what Laughter Yoga is all about. I did a little research and came across the term they like to use: “unconditional laughter.” It’s based on the concept of laughing for “no reason.” So often our laughs are dependent on external stimuli that comes through our brain and then our brain tells the body how much to laugh about it. Laughter Yoga tries to reverse this to program the body to laugh without cause, much the way children are more likely to do. Laughter is known as the best medicine as it releases endorphins and improves moods, which can lead to numerous other benefits. Along with a better understanding of the philosophy behind Laughter Yoga, I came across an interesting reference on the Laughter Yoga website here.
I remember when that article was published in the Ithacan. I didn’t, however, know how unique the club was until I found it is one of the only collegiate clubs mentioned on the Laughter Yoga website!
I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience Laughter Yoga and certainly had an enjoyable time! It’s nice to be surrounded by people that don’t mind being a little silly, and definitely feels good to laugh for no reason, unconditionally!
I didn’t put this post up until now because I was trying to get back into posting things chronologically. Now that I have caught up, I have also been able to attend another Laughter Yoga session in the meantime. The second session I attended included two of the three middle-aged ladies from before, and me. There were only three of us but it allowed even more room to get comfortable and improvise while exploring laughter! The session went by quickly (another instance of flow – see post “Flow” for explanation) and they asked at the end if I would be attending again next time. I explained that I was unsure of my plans, but if I was still in the area would definitely come back! As I was leaving, I was presented with one of the best compliments that I've ever had from a stranger. She hoped I’d come back because “It’s nice to have someone who really knows how to laugh!”