Gene Furbee and his wife Sarah stop and curiously read the painted letters on the sandwich board in Beacon Hill Park: “Laughter Yoga 2:00.” Gene glances at his wristwatch: “1:55.” He gazes at his wife, her metallic blue scooter reflecting the sunlight of a warm afternoon in September 2008. “You’ve got to learn how to do that,” she says. Gene isn’t aware he is about to participate in one of Victoria’s first Laughter Yoga groups, led by Kathleen Sun and Guillaume Godiveau.
Laughter Yoga began in 1995, as the brainchild of Indian physician Dr. Madan Kataria. He started with five friends laughing in a park in Mumbai and, since then, it’s grown to over 6,000 clubs in 60 countries around the world. “The reason is, is because it works,” says Matti Anttila, 63, who trained with Kataria in Finland in 2009.
“The first time is free,” says Matti, as he welcomes newcomers to his Saturday morning group at Esquimalt Recreation Centre. “You get to try it before you buy it,” he says with a laugh. The small room slowly fills as people enter and remove their shoes, shuffling onto the navy blue rug that covers the floor. People smile at each other and release a few giggles, acknowledging the silliness of their reason for gathering.
The dozen laugh-seekers form a circle, and Matti begins his introduction. “Laughter Yoga is the unique concept that we can laugh for no reason,” he says. “We don’t need comedy, and we don’t need jokes.”
Matti explains to the eager group that, “simulated laughter can become real laughter. But - and this is one of the great secrets of the universe - it doesn’t matter. The body does not know the difference between simulated laughter and real laughter.” Matti tells how the same feel-good endorphins are released to the brain whether the laughter is faked or not.
First-timers learn that the reason it’s called “Laughter Yoga” is that breathing is an important element. “Have no fear - we do no pretzels,” jokes Matti, referring to the complex poses associated with traditional yoga.
“In Laughter Yoga, we clap finger tip to finger tip and palm to palm,” says Matti. The group mimics his actions. “The acupressure points are stimulated that way, and that stimulates the organs and gives them the opportunity to work more harmoniously with each other,” he says.
Matti then leads a clapping rhythm, to the beat of one two, one two three. The group follows along, laughing at the simplicity of the actions. “Then we add some sounds,” says Matti.
“Ho ho, ha ha ha. Ready?” Everyone begins chanting in unison. “Painless!” says Matti smiling.
“Oftentimes our childlike nature gets buried in our very serious everyday world, so we’re going to do the chicken dance. Ready?” People move around the room, flapping their arms while repeating “ho ho, ha ha ha.” According to Matti, eye contact and movement help to create real laughter, and after a few repetitions, the room erupts into genuine laughter as one person passes it on to the next.
“Pretend you have a cellphone, and it rings. And your friend’s on the phone, and told you this incredibly funny joke,” says Matti, tilting his head back in a fit of laughter. “And, of course, it’s so funny, you want to share it with your friends.”
As giggles glide out the open door, curious passersby pause to stare. Their eyebrows crinkle in confused glances, trying to understand what’s so funny.
“You can’t take yourself too seriously,” says Kate Roxborough, 61, a Certified Laughter Yoga instructor and self-proclaimed “big kid.” Kate believes that people never lose the childlike nature Laughter Yoga helps bring out. “Unfortunately we suppress it,” she says. “Wherever that child is that you left behind - find that inner-child.”
“Laughter Yoga instructors are supposed to be very energetic, but right now I’m working off four hours of sleep,” says Kate, as she sits in an armchair, twirling her dark curly hair around her fingers. “But I can laugh about it,” she chuckles, taking another sip from her cup of freshly brewed coffee. The living room of her basement suite is full of plants and knick-knacks, with books scattered throughout. A biography of Charlie Chaplin lies on the coffee table, and others with titles like *Only Joking* and *I’d Rather Laugh* are heaped in a basket on the floor. “See?” she says, motioning to a plaque above her kitchen stove. “’The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.’ E. E. Cummings.”
“I’ve always laughed. But with Laughter Yoga, you’ve got to just let yourself go and be totally uninhibited,” she says.
In August 2006, Kate had started her own business - impersonating Mae West, the sassy starlet of the 1940s, and taking the comedic character to conferences. “During my research for my business case, Dr. Katiria’s website came up,” she says. “I was going on the theme of laughter because laughter’s been a big part of my life.”
Kate was certified as a Laughter Yoga instructor through Dr. Katiria’s Victoria branch in August 2009.
“Laughter Yoga has been brought into our lives to heal,” says Kate, who has mild asthma and fibromyalgia - a chronic muscular pain. “It’s just a wonderful stress release. It relaxes the muscles and loosens a lot of congestion.”
Kate emphasizes not taking life too seriously. “We have to be able to laugh at ourselves,” she says. “One of my favourite exercises is [one that] Gene does. ‘Oh no! I made a mistake!’” she says dramatically, her hands on her head. “And then we’d all laugh.”
Gene, 70, was certified as a Laughter Yoga instructor in November 2008 - two months after his first experience in the park. “It felt like I’d been missing something my whole life,” he says. “This is the way I used to be when I was a kid. It’s like rediscovering a part of myself that I’d lost.”
SEPTEMBER 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
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