Last week I was luck enough to attend a Laughter Yoga class as part of an article I was writing for Yoga City NYC. Due to my long-windedness, part of it had to be edited out, so I am going to put the full version here... I rather liked it. Check it out and if you can make it to a class, I recommend it! In Laughter and Love,
“There’s nothing funny about Laughter Yoga” says laughter coach Francine Shore. It’s true. Laughter Yoga, created in the mid 1990’s by Dr. Madan Kataria doesn’t contain a humor component. Based on the ideas that laughter is the best medicine and humor is subjective, Dr. Kateria created a series of exercises, which basically trick the body. Our bodies can’t tell the difference between spontaneous and simulated laughter, yet we reap all the benefits either way. Benefits that we all could seriously use: increases in our immune system and endorphins, and decreases in cortisol levels, blood pressure, arthritis, asthma, depression and anxiety. Laughter Yoga has also helped people suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; who report less intense tremors after the laughter therapy. Laughter Yoga may also be the greatest tool in dealing with our often stressful lives.
Francine grew up in what she calls a “laughing family” that always used humor to get through hard times. She learned to cope with sadness and depression, dyslexia and body image dysmorphia by being the class clown. It wasn’t until she took the Laugher Training with Dr. Kataria eight years ago however, that her life really began to turn around. More than just laughter, this yoga also trains us to change how we can respond to the painful situations we encounter. Many of the exercises mock things such as breaking a treasured vase, getting a ticket, or loosing all your money while you laugh through it. This trains us that we have other options in dealing with stressful situations.
Back in class, I find myself feeling a bit ridiculous as I play little improv games and pretend to laugh with four other grown women. The exercises are broken into three categories: playful, yogic (mostly pranayama based) and value based; exercise that help us in letting go. Eye contact is the most important part. It is key that we connect with each other as we dance around the room. Each exercise lasts only a few minutes. Some are more wild and aerobic, others are movements to deep breathing followed by heart opening laughter. My favorites were where we pretended to see ourselves in fun mirrors and when we paired up and made lion faces. I am not unfamiliar with some of this work; I’ve seen a lot of similar games in my 10 plus years training as an actor. But this time it is different. As the class progresses, I have some sense that these women are really fighting for something. There is a commitment and an honesty that I have never seen in an acting class. At some point it dawns on me, that we’re really here fighting for something. For our health, our happiness, our lives.
After a seated, guided meditation Francine does a little touch-base with each of us. She is a counselor in addition to coach. I am touched by each woman’s honesty and openness. They all say that the yoga has helped them to deal with stress; it has been an amazing benefit not only in their health, but also as a tool to get through hard times. One woman shared that now instead of getting down on herself for perceived mistakes or failure, she is able to just laugh it off. Another woman said that she has used some of the exercises with her high-school students which results in a completely different and positive energy in the class. I myself share that before class I was tired and stressed, and after I was still tired, but relaxed. Francine explains that this is the key; our situations, problems and tiredness don’t go away, but the yoga puts us in a different place to deal with them. Aside from the physical release such as the one I felt, over time the yoga trains us that we have another option; laughter. It allows us to feel better, see things differently, and move forward in a more positive mind-set. “We all have adversity,” she says, “It is just how you deal with it.”
“Laughter Yoga is really intimate,” I say to Francine after class, and she agrees. There is a bonding and connecting that happens when you laugh with someone. It’s true. I feel a greater heart opening tonight than I ever have from wheel or camel. I feel a fierce connection with these strangers, and I want them to find peace and happiness as much as I want to find my own. Make no mistake, Laughter Yoga isn’t easy - you burn 300 – 400 calories an hour dancing and hopping around. The harder part was getting over my ego and letting myself play and feel silly. It wasn’t until we were pretending to smoke a joint and I started eating Captain Crunch that I realized it was really okay to be free and creative; I was the only one holding myself back. Francine says that as children we laugh 400 times per day because we live in our hearts. As adults stuck in our heads we laugh a mere 12 times per day. And I wonder if maybe even less in this high-stress over-achieving city of New York. There are only about two other Laughter Coaches here, but 6,000 worldwide. Yet I can’t think of a better, faster way to alleviate some of the tension now in our unemployed, uninsured, and uninspired climate. Apparently companies that wouldn’t give her the time of day before are now calling up and saying “We need you.”
And with good reason. Aside from being one of only 3 coaches in the city, Francine is one of the most beautiful people I have met. She told me how for five years she didn’t date because she had gained weight and felt horrible about herself. Through the yoga however she has been able to find self-acceptance and love. She now feels sexy and beautiful as a plus-size woman; her confidence radiating from within. More than anything, it is her compassion that is palpable. Synchronistically, walking to a coffee shop to continue the interview, Francine and I run into one of her students who couldn’t make class due to a minor emergency. Happy to see her safe and okay, Francine pauses for a moment on the corner of 6th avenue and 23rd street to laugh with her.
Laughter Yoga is the union of people laughing; a movement of world peace through laughter. “It would be pretty difficult to aim if you were laughing so hard your couldn’t shoot straight” she says. And I wonder if even more importantly, our hearts would be so open that we wouldn’t pick up the gun in the first place.
Come out and laugh with Francine at her annual post Valentines soiree for women on February 16th. For more information please visit www.GrabbaGiraffe.com