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Apr 22, 2013

Laughing it Off: The value of having a good giggle

They say that laughter is the best medicine, and in recent years, it has become more than just a saying. results from numerous empirical studies have found laughter to help alleviate depression, reduce stress, increase immunity, and even fight cancer.

But more importantly than that, it’s fun! Who doesn’t really like to have a good, long belly laugh? So with that in mind, I decided to try out my first laughter yoga class. Joining me in this experience was the positive psychology class that I’m currently teaching - we were doing a unit on humor and optimism and I thought “what better way to study humor than to just have a healthy dose of it?”

So I connected with the friend of a friend who is a laughter yoga teacher and she agreed to come to my class as a guest speaker. Never having tried laughter yoga before I didn’t know exactly what to expect or how to answer my students’ questions about it. I was simply told we should bring something to sit on and wear clothes we could move around in.

The morning of our session arrived, the teacher, Lee Sok Lian, introduced herself and her assistant. The assistant had an amazing story to tell of her struggle with cancer, and how she used a combination of medical treatment, traditional Chinese medicine and laughter yoga to fight the illness. She is now not only in remission but thriving beyond what her doctor would have expected. It was a powerful story - made even more so by the fact that until about a year ago, the woman speaking to us couldn’t speak English - and there she was in front of us, speaking clearly. It brought a tear to more than one eye.

And then, without further ado, we dove right into the silliness. The teacher, prompted our participation in the exercises by demonstrating an action that we should then move around the room imitating. We greeted each other with exaggerated handshakes and waving, we flailed our arms in the air, we ran around, we pretended to wax our legs, we imitated a centipede, we crawled around on the floor like puppies. It’s difficult to capture with words the playful hilarity of these scenes, but perhaps it could be described as a roomful of women pretending to be hyperactive children.

The exercises worked. None of us could resist giggling or at times outright guffawing uncontrollably. By the end we were all a little bit shiny with perspiration, out of breath, dusty from the floor, and grinning ear to ear.

While still feeling the warm glow of such a wonderful experience with the laughter yoga, the question popped into my head, “How can I share some of this with my clients?” The first possible way that I came up with is to do the training to become a laughter yoga teacher and then do some workshops for clients and community members. And in fact the teacher has already spoken to me about training as an instructor.

But while that feels like a great idea and I do plan to follow through on it, it also somehow didn’t feel immediate enough. I realized that the desire coming out of this experience is to share little pieces of it with people everyday. And as I brainstormed about how to do that - could it be possible to do a couple of laughter yoga exercises at the end of a session sometimes? - it occurred to me that maybe one of the most important ways that I can share it with others is indirectly, through cultivating a sense of humor and positivity within myself. No doubt that this kind of energy can be contagious. I wondered, if I were to take Lee Sok Lian’s advice of laughing for five minutes a day, in the shower, while brushing teeth or while cooking dinner, how might that leak out into all the areas of my life? Perhaps without me even knowing it? No doubt that at the very least, it would give me a larger reserve of energy to bring to caring deeply for each client in each session.

On a wider scale, it seems that laughter yoga could be a modality for emotional regulation and relaxation that could be really useful in hospitals, residential facilities and schools. I genuinely hop that it will catch on more widely around the world. Afterall, ideally as counselors we wouldn’t just be helping people to heal from the things the make them cry. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could also help them learn (or remember!) how to smile. 
Christine Forte is a counselor to the international population in Shanghai, China. You can learn more about her work here:

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