LOL: Seniors introduced to body laughter class

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

JANESVILLE -- Ho, ho, ho!

Ha, ha, ha!

Hee, hee, hee!

These three phrases are scientifically proven to improve your physical health, uplift your spirits and, strangely enough, flatten your stomach.

On Wednesday, about 50 people, most of them staid adults, gathered in a circle at the Janesville Senior Center and laughed with—and at—each other as part of an introduction to “Body Laughter.”

Body Laughter—yes, this is a real thing—is another name for Laughter Yoga. 

Led by Esther Turner and Cynthia Paris, Body Laughter involved 45 minutes of exercises that started with faked laughter that very soon dissolved into real, shoulder-shaking, tear-wiping, side-aching laughter.

“It's a lot more about laughter than it is about yoga,” Paris said. 

The group started by making three different kinds of laughing sounds: the low, Santa Claus-like ho-ho-ho belly laugh;  the mid-range ha-ha-ha; and then the standing-on-tip-toes, high-pitched hee-hee-hee.

Once you start fake laughing, real laughter follows quickly. Nobody can take themselves seriously when they're standing on tip toes wiggling their fingers in the air and saying "hee, hee, hee" in a high squeaky voice.

The awareness of silliness generates more silliness. In another exercise, people waved at each other like the queen--the ridiculous gesture that consists of moving a stiffly-held hand back and forth--and said "hello." The room was transformed into a cross between a day in royal  court and a Monty Python sketch.

"HELL-ooooo," people sang at each other in bad English accents.

All of the exercises incorporated, either deliberately or accidentally, the deep breathing that is so important in yoga.  In one exercise, people bent over, picked an imaginary flower, inhaled its scent as they sat up, and then exploded with laughter: big inhale, big exhale.

As she taught, Paris explained the history of Laughter Yoga and how it works.

Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician from Mumbai, India, wondered why some patients responded to treatments, immediately getting better, while others took longer or never got well.

Scientists have known for a long time that laughter has a significant impact on stress relief, immune response and mood.

Initially, Kataria formed joke clubs, but he quickly learned that not everyone found the same things funny. This is something married people learn in about five minutes.

Kataria knew that the body can't distinguish between fake laughter and real laughter, and out of that knowledge, he developed Laughter Yoga.

“It's one of the best ways to oxygenate your blood,” Paris said. 

Paris asked participants to keep track of how they felt throughout the exercises. Laughing left some people winded—it was like a little workout without going to the gym.

And because of the way you breathe when you're laughing, it also works the muscles over your diaphragm and stomach.

Paris runs Laughter Yoga Midwest and manages the Center for Organizational Advancement at Rogers Behavioral Health System in Oconomowoc . Esther Turner of Janesville is a trained Body Laughter facilitator.  

Turner also runs “Rhythms of Life,” a business that teaches meditation, journaling, and breath work.

Body laughter offers another opportunity to get people to lower their stress and help people take charge of their own health.

Turner said she calls the courses “Body Laughter” so people don't think they have to “get down on the ground on a mat.”

Laughter, after all, happens at all times of life and has never required a mat.



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