It doesn’t take long for laughter to break out when Dave Russell starts speaking. In fact, he encourages it. Russell is a certified Laughter Yoga instructor who likes to get right to the point. “Laughter is contagious and we’re trying to start an epidemic,” he says.

Country Meadows residents give Laughter Yoga a try (Express-Times Photo | BILL ADAMS)

Country Meadows residents give Laughter Yoga a try (Express-Times Photo | BILL ADAMS)

[…] His class was senior citizen residents and staff who seemed a little skeptical walking in, but it didn’t take long for him to set them at ease and get them laughing — a lot.

There are two kinds of laughter, Russell says. Stimulated laughter is the result of someone telling a joke and simulated laughter is what happens when you make yourself laugh. And if you are skeptical, a few minutes into a Laughter Yoga class might change your mind.

He begins by taking his audience through a variety of laughter types and greetings, but first, like any good exercise program, there’s the warm-up. He instructs his audience to stretch out their arms and let out a hearty Yoo HOO. Immediately, arms are out, fingers are wiggling and everyone is calling “Yoo Hooooooo.” It’s silly and goofy but it does bring on laughter.

Next, he instructs the audience to extend their arms and give laughter to someone nearby. As folks do as instructed, laughter erupts even louder than before. In fact it sent one Country Meadows employee into such a frenzy, tears were streaming down her cheeks. “There goes our first laughter casualty,” Russell says as Debbie Rundle, an assistant fitness coordinator, of Pen Argyl, exits the room trying to contain herself. Rundle later explained that she’s had a lot of stress in her life and the laughter surprised even her. “It set me free,” she says as if to convince herself as well as me. “I got a healing out there. I can’t explain it.”

Greetings go something like this”Aloha ha ha ha” and, while clapping to the beat, “ho, ho, ha, ha, ha.” Russell leads the group through a variety of exercises, explaining the different kinds of laughter. There’s the discovery laughter, where you extend an arm and point and laugh; the naughty laughter, where you cover your mouth with your hands and shake your shoulders, the N1H1 laugh, where you laugh into the crook of your elbow and so on.

The whole idea, Russell says, is to promote playfulness. He tells the audience to “turn annoying things into laughter” while explaining he used to hate the sound of the phone ringing and now he laughs when it rings.

“When we laugh it has positive healing benefits,” Russell says, though he is quick to point out that laughter is not a cure for what ails you. “Keep taking your medicine,” he tells the happy crowd, pointing out that laughter is not a treatment for any physical or medical condition.

But, hey, it doesn’t hurt, agreed residents sitting around me. Leah LeVan, who told me she was a retired nurse from the Pittsburgh area, said she enjoyed the talk a lot, as did Helen Picatello. They may have not had a lot to say, but the smiles on their faces certainly proved the theory that everything seems better when you embrace laughter.