Yoga is for achieving a state of calm serenity, right? As Moria Gardener discovers when she takes a course in laughter yoga, it’s also for achieving a state of giggles and deep belly laughs.
Several years ago, while on a holiday, I picked up a yoga magazine with an article that talked about something called laughter yoga. I found it interesting so upon returning home I looked into it further but came up blank. Thinking no more about it, I filed it away as something for the bucket list.
My first laughter yoga class is with a small group of six people. Check number one for my comfort zone. Our instructor, Kate, turns out to be an actor with her own stand-up comedy routine. I view this as an added bonus, as improv is yet another item on my list. The room we are in resembles a ballet studio, with one mirrored wall (we are told that if the mirror bothers any of us we should simply not look at it). Being used to working with a mirror at hot yoga practice, this is no problem for me, but I am impressed with the thoughtfulness of the instructor.
In a standing position, we start with some simple rhythmic clapping, with our hands over our heads in the air and then down by our knees. We begin walking in a group circle, and as we walk we add in the lyrics ha-ha ho-ho-ho, and our voices fill the room. I feel a bit self-conscious, but not enough to stop me from participating. Kate tells us that the yoga part of this activity is in the pranayama breathing.
The premise for laughter yoga is not only that the act of laughter is very therapeutic, but also that we don’t require anything in particular to laugh at — laughing for it’s own sake is possible.
I do quite well until we came to the exercise where we are asked to act like kids, calling out, Very good, very good, yippee. Now I come up against my wall of fear and inhibition, but I manage to ride roughshod over the fact that I feel awkward and self-conscious. I press on and it passes. In fact, I start to get into it, and allow myself to actually have fun. This is something I definitely need more of in my life; in fact, it is the reason I am here.
I am lucky enough to be in a connected group with an insightful instructor, and we start to have a lot of fun together. In fact, that is another aspect of what laughter yoga is about: reclaiming child-like play. As we greet each other with laughter, we dance around the room and work up a sweat as we oxygenate our blood and wake up our brains.
The hour flies by. In the final exercise, the group lays on the floor head to head in starfish formation, staring up at the ceiling with our feet being the points of the star. And then it begins. We find our own natural laughter and the music of it fills the room, taking over. This has been our instructor’s goal all along. I am experiencing firsthand just how contagious laughing can be as I listen to the people around me and how funny the laughter sounds. I am in stitches, with tears in my eyes.
Yes, when we chuck our inhibitions and slice through our imagined fears, we really can laugh at nothing, and have a damn good time doing it. A good belly laugh really does tighten the belly too – so pass me another cup of laughter please along with a tissue.