The Power of Laughter Yoga

Today’s guest post is brought to you by Emma, a reader and frequent commentor on the blog. She accepted my Two-Month Gauntlet over five weeks ago, and she’s already bringing her dream to reality!

Campers and staff doing Laughter Yoga at Camp Ondessonk (Emma worked there for years and volunteer constantly, www.ondessonk.com). Jamey has not Photoshopped this photo AT ALL.

In 2008, I went to Florence to visit my sister, who was studying abroad. On our mini trip to Athens, Greece, she had arranged for us to meet up with some people who were leading a laughter yoga session on an island outside of Athens. Sounds exotic, no? It certainly is a quick way to erase a language barrier! In actuality, it was at a tiny senior center on this little island (so no, we weren’t laughing in a field with flowers in our hair), but I was hooked from the beginning, and it wasn’t just because these people took us out for as-fresh-as-it-comes calamari afterward.

Quick history lesson: Dr. Madan Kataria, an MD from India, was researching the benefits of laughter for a journal article in 1995. Beyond finding all of the wonderful benefits laughter provides, he also discovered that your body does not differentiate between acted and genuine laughter and the benefits are reaped regardless. What started as a group of friends telling jokes in the park has evolved into a worldwide movement called Laughter Yoga, a blend of yogic deep breathing, some stretching, and laughter exercises that cultivate child-like playfulness. I’m going to spare you the full brunt of what laughter yoga is, and just direct you here if you’re curious!

When I got back to STL after my Grecian adventure, I discovered that there were a few clubs around the STL metro area already, and I attended when I could. When a leader training opportunity arose last March, I jumped at the chance to learn more! After a 2-day weekend session, I had new laughter friends and a renewed interest in making this a part of my daily life. (For the record, I kind of hate gyms, I prefer to exercise naturally, and I am not a religious person. But this “practice” met so many physical, emotional, mental and stress-relieving needs, I was blown away.)

March 2011: I’m a trained leader. I am thrilled about the idea of eventually starting my own group, but content, for now, to continue to assist another local leader and see what happens. Then I started a new job, got married, my current laughter group met in Valley Park during rush hour (and I don’t have a car), and I fell off the bandwagon of going regularly. But concurrently, I was fixating on this vision of the Forest Park Visitor’s Center as the perfect location. It could be indoor and outdoor, centrally-located, Metro-accessible, easy to find, bathrooms, and hopefully free. I was adamant about NOT involving money in this whatsoever. (I just don’t feel right charging people money to laugh, although that idea provides me with a giggle itself.) After two staff transitions at Forest Park Forever, some serious phone tag, a bartering proposition but ultimately an inability to use the space without paying, I connected with someone at OASIS, a nonprofit for active seniors that uses that space. Enter more miscommunication, procrastination, me buying a house and moving, and them needing months advance notice to work into their schedule.

Then Jamey posted about his Two-Month Gauntlet. And I realized that it had taken me a year to even contemplate holding a free weekly meetup to laugh. And, naturally, I laughed. But seriously? I had been waiting for perfect conditions, for a seamless setup, for some kind of brilliantly-executed plan. But as we all know when we’re not in planning tunnel vision, it’s almost always better to just start. So I did.

I called Tower Grove Park, the beloved green space with beautiful pavilions that I have lived near for 2 years. They said I was welcome to use any space as long as it wasn’t marked reserved. That was easy. I resurrected an old poster and set a time and day after a few texts to friends/interested parties I knew. That, too, was easy. As luck would have it, a Twitter acquaintance asked if she could write about laughter yoga in St. Louis Kids Magazine last week. Sure! Printing a few posters, promoting the group on neighborhood social media, and telling my networks? Free-ish. And in 2 days, I will lead my first independent, free laughter club in the city. And some people will never want to get up early. And I may only have 2-3 people sometimes. And it may not be the most central location of the city. But I cannot think of a better way to start my day and I look forward to laughing with whoever is brave enough to show up at 8am at a park to blatantly practice being silly in public.

Gauntlet, consider yourself conquered. Thanks to Mr. Stegmaier for the kick in the pants.

Emma Klues will be starting her weekly laughter club at the pavilion near the playground in the middle of Tower Grove Park in St. Louis city every Thursday morning from 8-8:45am. We will meet rain or shine, come on out.