Whitney Munro did not think that as a fitness specialist and mother she had to take a class just to learn how to laugh. But she signed up for laughter yoga class and second-guessed herself all the way to the American School of Laughter Yoga in Chicago. Two days later, she returned home exhilarated, eager and certified to teach laughter therapy to the seniors she helps at Fairview senior living community in Downers Grove.
By Joan Cary, Special to the Tribune
February 24, 2010
Now Munro, of Homer Glen, has 16 regulars in laughter class. The students come, some with the aid of canes or walkers, and begin by shaking hands and trying a fake laugh. But their fake laugh is short-lived. Soon one is truly laughing, and then another, and people in the hall are stopping to see what’s so funny in the fitness lab.
Laughter therapy is not about watching a funny movie or telling jokes. No one performs except their mascot, a Tickle Me Elmo doll, which is placed in the middle of the circle. It is about sharing joy, about breathing, increasing circulation and lightening the load, Munro said.
“This class, they are crazy,” she said. “Laughter is not going to cure you, take away disease, or make the wrongs all right, but it will help you look at life in a clearer, more positive way.”
Laughter therapy or laughter yoga was started in 1995 by Indian doctor Madan Kataria, who says children laugh more than 300 times a day, while adults laugh less than 15 times a day. Adults need to lighten up: Laughter is believed to aid breathing, increase circulation, relieve stress, reduce pain by raising endorphin levels, elevate the mood and give your mind a rest.
In Munro’s class, shaking hands led to mirroring a partner’s actions, although one day a woman took out her teeth and her partner could not copy it, causing more laughter. Exercises are silly, not strenuous. Students pretend the person next to them smells bad. They dust themselves with imaginary feather dusters. And when class is over, Munro lets them tell a few jokes, which is not part of the program. Helen McCabe, 98, and renowned for remembering jokes, laid them out one after another.
Terri Reasoner, certified performance technologist and certified laughter yoga leader, has taken her laughter yoga classes to the Geneva Park District, senior centers, and the LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in Geneva.
“We focus on the inhalation and exhalation that is in conjunction with laughter,” she said. “We have the ‘fake it till you make it’ concept. The benefits of fake and real laughter are the same.”
In one exercise, participants sit in a circle around an imaginary pot of hot giggle soup. They dip ladles into it, breathing in with each sip, and exhaling with a giggle or laughter. It involves gentle stretching, intentional laughing and breathing.
“People should understand it’s about being playful in community without judgment,” she said. “We don’t often allow adults to have fun. Our adult minds do a lot of judging, and it’s hard to let go of that. This is laughter for laughter’s sake, and it’s good for you in so many ways.”
Laughter, she said, is an international language for all ages, it’s free, and there are no negative side effects.
“It just makes you feel better,” said laughter student Elenore Buenz in Downers Grove. “It’s simple. It helps you have a better outlook on life.”