“Laughter helps us get through life’s challenges,” said Kueny, wearing a jester hat and a laughter yoga jersey. “It has lots of great benefits. It helps to improve social connections. If you laugh with people, you instantly form a bond. And happy people are easier to get along with.” Mike Kueny has suffered from depression for 10 years but he still laughs nearly nonstop for 45 minutes every Sunday.
“Ha, ha, ha,” laughs the 38-year-old carpenter, one of four leaders of the Madison Laughter Club, which meets for “laughter yoga” every Sunday at the Center for Conscious Living, 849 E. Washington Ave.
Laughter yoga was started in 1995 by Madan Kataria, a doctor from Mumbai, India, in a park with a handful of people. It’s now an international movement with more than 6,000 clubs in about 65 countries. The Madison group formed in August 2008.
The yoga part is merely breathing exercises that are incorporated into the nearly continuous laughter. The Madison group also incorporates stretching and meditation. They use various exercises to elicit laughter, without relying on jokes or comedy.
“Get into your body. Laugh with passion,” Kueny instructed the group last week. They bumped elbows to bring about laughter and chanted “ho-ha-ha-ha-ha” while dancing around in a circle. Later, they pretended to use laughing gas, which brought about hysterical, uproarious laughter. At one point they all spoke in gibberish.
Nine people — three men and six women — showed up at the center last week. The group can range from two people to a dozen, and 27 people turned out to celebrate World Laughter Day on May 2 at the state Capitol, where the group had a session in the first floor rotunda.
“It’s invigorating. It’s very contagious,” said Helen Stoneman, 76, a first-time participant. “I had no idea what to expect.”
Laughter massages your body on the inside, said Stoneman, who recently retired from working with people with disabilities. “I felt a little uncomfortable coming in, but all you had to do was start laughing.”
Lisa Rambaldo, a behavioral medicine psychologist at Dean Health System, said laughter yoga has a lot of benefits. Physiologically, laughter can reduce stress, she said. “Also, when you laugh, you come out of threat or fight-or-flight mode, which is a tension in the body, and that can be a tension that can accumulate over time with chronic stressors,” she said.
Laughter also can help people with problem-solving, perspective and adaptability, Rambaldo said. “It can help us decrease rumination or worry. So mentally, laughter and having a sense of humor is very important, and emotionally, we can work positivity like a muscle.”
Sharon Bartosch, 57, has been with the Madison Laughter Club for nearly two years. Everybody has stresses that could be alleviated with laughter yoga, she said.
“I’ve been married to the same man for 36 years. Same man, same house. Trust me, you have to have humor in your life to get through the hard times.”
Source: Wisconsin State Journal