“I know how to keep my man happy, and keep him, period: meatloaf and blowjobs.” ~ Ayako M. as quoted in Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Chef.
Oh, I’m probably still laughing as you read this. Nothing like the juxtaposition of meatloaf and blowjobs to give you the giggles. After this good laugh, I’m feeling light, happy, and satiated. Turns out, we get a lot of great health benefits from laughing. When’s the last time you laughed, and I mean really laughed? If it’s been a while, don’t worry. I have the answer – laughter yoga. It’s where the old idiom rings true, you can fake it ’til you make it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t heard of laughter yoga or laughter clubs. I hadn’t heard of them either, until one day I had one of those “the universe made me do it” experiences. I was watching a DVR’d episode of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, where she interviewed Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers WIll Rule the Future (a brilliant concept). Pink discussed laughter yoga and laughter clubs, which were started in India by Dr. Madan Kataria in India in 1995. Later that day, I went to the bookstore and happened upon a book titled Happy. I opened the book to a random page to find a blurb about, you guessed it – laughter yoga.
All this brings me to Sparkie Lovejoy. (Or, when the universe hit me over the head and said, “That’s it! There’s a story here. Get laughing and get writing.”) Sparkie works at my doctor’s office. While I was waiting for my appointment, Sparkie and I got to talking about life. Turns out Sparkie teaches, wait for it, laughter yoga. Before my oh, that’s so cool, I love how the universe works goosebumps could fade, I knew I wanted to start a laughter club and asked Sparkie to teach a laughter yoga class for me and my friends. There had to be more to this laughter yoga thing, and I was going to learn all about it.
Where It All Began.
You may have heard of the 1979 best selling book by Norman Cousins, Anatomy of an Illness. In it, Cousins describes how he laughed himself well by watching old Marx Brothers movies and reading funny books. With every deep rooted, belly laugh he rid himself of worry and dis-ease and gave birth to healing energy.
Fast forward to 1995 in India when Dr. Kataria took this idea of health through laughter and began organizing groups of people to meet and quite simply, laugh. It wasn’t long before sick people were feeling better and bringing others to join in the fun. Today, thanks to Dr. Kataria’s efforts, there are more than 6,000 laughter clubs in over 60 countries.
Do You Have to Be Funny to Be in Laughter Club?
It didn’t take much for me to get my friends Kaisa, Melanee, and Marlo on board. Just a promise of fun and laughter (and a bottle of wine of course, which we would drink only after class). We got into our most comfortable yoga gear and wondered what was in store. Statistics say only 5% of people can effectively tell a joke. So needless to say, the pressure was on. Were we going to have to make each other laugh?
Turns out you don’t have to be funny to be in a laughter club or to practice laughter yoga. There are only two requirements for any laughter club: make eye contact and laugh. You see, the human body doesn’t know the difference between fake laughter and real laughter. You get all the same health benefits by faking it. (The same cannot be said for faking other things, such as, orgasms. Only the real ones count.) Benefits of laughter include:
- Reducing stress and the stress hormones that cause weight gain.
- Strengthening your immune system.
- Anti-aging! Laughter tones facial muscles and increases blood supply to the face.
- Aerobic benefits by stimulating blood circulation.
- Massaging your organs.
- Increasing endorphins (the feel good hormone) and reducing pain.
- Relieving depression and anxiety.
- Sleeping better.
- Alleviating bronchitis and asthma.
Fake it ’til you make it.
Sparkie, who’s been teaching laughter yoga since 2007, started our laughter club meeting with the traditional warm up. We walked in a circle, clapping our hands and chanting, “Ha, ha, ho, ho, ho! Ha, ha, ho, ho, ho! ! Ha, ha, ho, ho, ho!” In addition to getting me fired up, the chant itself made me laugh.
Sparkie (yes, that’s her real name and she lives up to it) then led us through a series of laughter exercises. Eye contact during the exercises is important because laughter is contagious and when you connect with a laugher, you too will get the bug. The key here was to play and be playful. We laughed with each other, not at each other. And, if we didn’t feel the urge to laugh genuinely, we faked it. (Go ahead, try it right now. Laugh your biggest fake laugh – you know you want to. Go ahead. We’ll wait.)
So back to the laughter yoga class…we pretended we were driving our cars and we’d run into each other and laugh. This was to encourage us to laugh, not fret, during stressful situations. Sparkie then suggested that we start laughing while we’re really driving the car. 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there adds up to a lot of laughter in a day. We also pretended to be talking on our cell phones and act like someone just told us the funniest thing we’d ever heard. We laughed for five minutes straight on that one.
My favorite of all the exercises was when we each of us took a turn pretending we were on stage while the others gave us a standing ovation. They clapped; they jumped up and down; they whistled. I’ve never received a standing ovation before that night. In addition to making me laugh, it made me tear up a bit. It was then that I realized everyone needs a standing ovation now and then. We’ve adopted the standing ovation exercise in our house. So now everyone gets one, even the cat.
We ended our laughter club meeting with a laughing shavasana. This is where the yoga part comes in. If you have never taken a yoga class, GET YOUR BUTT TO ONE PRONTO! No really, if you’ve never taken a yoga class or don’t know what shavasana is, it’s also called corpse pose, and it’s arguably the most important part of a yoga practice. You lay down on your back with your arms and legs about a 45 degree angle from your body. Your eyes are closed and you breathe deeply, scanning your body for muscular tension, which should then be released. It’s where you let it all go and relax.
In our laughing yoga version, we laid on the floor free style and laughed for about 10 minutes.
Have you ever laughed for 10 minutes straight? Mine started off as fake laughter then rolled into real laughter and ended with fake laughter. Again, fake laughter is as good as the real thing. I can attest to this because by the end of our session, my abs hurt, my cheeks were sore, my face was flushed, and I was sweating. I felt lighter and happier.
Yes, you can have it too.
Maybe laughter really is the best medicine. Maybe it’s your soul’s voice. What else could we ever truly want than to be happy and healthy? Laughter gives you both. So make sure you laugh today. Whether it’s real or fake, it still does your body good. If you need something to get you going, get Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Chef. It’ll feed your mind, your appetite, and your funny bone.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make some meatloaf.
- More information on laughter yoga can be found on laughteryoga.org.
- Sparkie teaches laughter yoga locally and offers private classes. Leave a reply below if you are interested in contacting her.