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September 30, 2011 > A laughing matter

A laughing matter

By Julie Grabowski

"The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter." Mark Twain.

It's no news that laughter is a good thing. We watch funny movies and sitcoms, go to stand-up comedy shows, tell jokes, make faces, and do countless other crazy things to get a good laugh.

There are even groups that use laughter to relieve stress and improve health.

Laughter Yoga was developed in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria who extensively researched the proven health benefits of laughter. He convinced four others to join him in a Laughter Club at a park in his neighborhood in Mumbai, India, to test his discoveries, eventually developing techniques and exercises of his own.

Laughter Yoga is a combination of laughter, deep breathing, and stretching using a series of exercises designed to help release tension and encourage relaxation. Stress is a fact of life, and people build up and carry around that stress in their bodies. Laughter Yoga provides tools to break that clenched, stressed feeling, and reminds people of ways they can use their laughter.

Laughter conditions the abdominal muscles, reduces blood pressure and heart rate, improves lung capacity and oxygen levels in the blood, aids mental function, helps fight infection, and a host of other positives, not to mention it feels good! Over 6,000 laughter clubs in 60 countries can't be wrong!

Trained by Dr. Kataria and Steve Wilson of World Laughter Tour, Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and Certified Laughter Leader Lydia Gonzales have brought the joy and healing of laughter to seminars and workshops, corporate presentations, support groups, and wellness events all over the Bay Area. She leads a free monthly class at the Hayward Library that is open to all.

"Sometimes four people show up, sometimes 28 people show up. I never know," says Gonzales. Attendees have included young and old, male and female, even those who don't speak English. But there is no language barrier; you just watch and follow along. "You laugh in the same language," says Gonzales. She has a special love for sharing laughter with seniors, many having dealt with grief, loss, loneliness, and depression. Laughter Yoga is a gentle exercise they can do, and "Now they've got a whole new way of expressing joy," Gonzales says. "It's a real easy way for people to open up and enjoy being around people again."

Laughter Yoga has many different layers; it's healthy and fun, and is a social bonding where you connect with people in a different way. Gonzales sees a transformation in her students from when they first arrive to how they are at the end of class. "There's a real change and it's real fun to watch."

Her class is carried out standing or in chairs; there is no need for mats or lying on the floor. She doesn't deny you might feel silly, but it's important to be comfortable and make eye contact to share the laughter. Gonzales instructs students not to over do it; there should be no forceful laughter, but more of a giggly laughter. "We simulate laughter to stimulate laughter," she says.

Warm ups include a humming that blossoms into laughter, which helps loosen and relax the jaw; silent or "library" laughter; pulling faces to loosen facial muscles; working an imaginary hula hoop; shoulder rolls; and inhaling the scent of an imaginary flower with a deep exhalation.

Exercises are diverse and can change from class to class. You might find yourself constructing a ball of laughter and passing it from person to person, riding an imaginary bike, blowing bubbles to the appropriate Don Ho song, reading from a jar of quotes, or sharing an embarrassing moment. "Everyday life has a lot of fuel for laughter," says Gonzales, stressing that students are laughing with each other, not at each other. Students can even stage a temper tantrum, then open an imaginary a box that holds their biggest desire inside. This illustrates how quickly your attitude can change.

Gonzales says we're conditioned to laugh in response to something, but Laughter Yoga is about laughing just because, and instituting that into daily life. "We're laughing because it feels good, for nothing at all," she says.

First timer Jeanne McArthur said the class was definitely a fun and positive experience and there were things she could take away and use.

Ben Bennett has been doing Laughter Yoga for around five years. He has been through sickness and operations, had asthma as a kid and suffered from a collapsed lung. He says he can't lift weights or do floor exercises, but he can laugh. Ben says he's told his friends about it, but can't convince anyone to come; they think it's silly. He believes if they would just let their guard down and try it they would be surprised. "It's not silly at all, it's just good fun," Ben says. "There's nothing bad you can say about it."

Laughter Yoga is a safe environment, easy and fun loving where everyone is on the same level, with any negativity or judgement left at the door. Adults are so often required to be serious, buttoned up, pulled together; Laughter Yoga gets you back to an almost child-like place of freedom, lightness, calm, and openness. All you need is comfortable clothes, a bottle of water, and a ready to laugh attitude.

Laughter Yoga is also offered at San Leandro's Senior Community Center the first and third Wednesdays of the month. Fees are $8 for residents and $10 for non-residents; you must be 50 or above to register. Call (510) 577-3462 or visit www.sanleandrorec.org for more information or to sign up. For more information on Laughter Yoga at the Hayward Library, contact Trudy Toll at (510) 881-7974.

To learn more about Laughter Yoga visit www.laughteryoga.com, www.worldlaughtertour.com, or www.laughinglydia.com.

Laughter Yoga
Saturday, October 1
3 p.m. - 4:45 p.m.
Hayward Main Library
835 C St., Hayward
(510) 881-7974
Free

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