Laughter Yoga
Posted in Nourishment for the Spirit » Laugh on Thursday, November 26, 2009

Laughing All The Way

Special local yoga class lifts spirits and chases away stress

Published in spotlight 

When Marlene Baczek leads her yoga classes at the McHenry Public Library, her students can’t stop laughing. The happy participants aren’t laughing at Baczek—they’re laughing with her while she conducts Laughter Yoga sessions.

“Laughter is contagious,” says Baczek, a certified Laughter Yoga leader. “Even people who start out doubtful really open up once we get going.”

Laughter Yoga was started by Madan Kataria, MD, of Mumbai, India, who believed that since studies showed that laughter could improve health, laughter should be part of any good exercise regime. By incorporating breathing techniques and gentle stretches with rhythmic clapping and laughter, Laughter Yoga sessions give participants more of a cardiovascular workout than most regular yoga classes do—plus they help boost mood, which research has shown can lead to everything from greater success on the job to faster healing.

There’s no joke-telling in Laughter Yoga. The guffaws and giggles arise naturally. After gentle breathing exercises, Baczek leads the class in a rhythmic clap to a chant of “ho-ho-ha-ha-ha.” It doesn’t take long for the fake laughter to turn into the real thing.

“Then we practice different types of laughter like ‘hello laughter’ where students go around the room, shaking everyone’s hand and laughing instead of saying hello,” Baczek explains. “Or we might do a scolding laughter where you wag your finger at a person as if you’re scolding, but instead of frowning, you laugh.”

Sometimes participants mingle and talk gibberish to one another. “The requirement is that you must make eye contact,” says Baczek. “Many times when we talk to people, we don’t really look them in the eye. Laughter Yoga gives us the opportunity to connect with another human being on an intimate level. Laughter connects us all. We did it a lot when we were younger, but as we get older, we need to give ourselves permission to laugh for no reason.”

She says at first “people feel vulnerable; they have to let their hair down. Some come to the group because there has been sadness in their life like a trauma or a loss. Others say, ‘I love to laugh, and I don’t have anybody to laugh with’ or ‘I wanted to meet others who want to laugh.’ Generally, people are trying to uplift themselves.”

laughing

Grown-ups Get Silly

Collette Myers, head of adult services at McHenry Public Library, attended the first Laughter Yoga class “to see what it was all about,” and, she says, she loved it. “I’ve taken regular yoga classes, but this is really different. This class lets adults be silly—be kids again.”

Myers, who is responsible for coordinating the adult programs at the library, says at first she wasn’t sure many adults would be interested in a Laughter Yoga class. “So Marlene agreed to make it a family class, and that’s been the real ice breaker. The kids have no problem getting into the spirit of things, and it’s a lot of fun watching them. Then everyone gets involved.”

One of the pluses of Laughter Yoga is that it appeals to all ages and works with all physical abilities. In addition to her monthly classes at the library, she conducts sessions at local senior centers. “You don’t even have to be mobile,” she says. “You can be seated and do this.” She also conducts wellness workshops for businesses. Studies have shown that workplace humor helps decrease stress and raise productivity.

It’s certainly produced some enthusiasm at the library, says Myers. “It’s a whole hour of basically enjoying yourself. How often do adults get to play and just have fun? I would recommend it to anyone—you come away enthusiastic and stress free.”

FYI

For library class information, call 815-385-0036 or visit www.mchenrylibrary.org. To learn more about Laughter Yoga, visit www.laughteryoga.us.

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