Maybe it was the welcoming freestyle dance session with 15 other strangers, taking a ride on the boogie train or putting on some laughter lotion from the imaginary vat on the floor that made me start to feel a little bit silly about being at laughter yoga, but whatever it was, I couldn’t help but laugh in this room void of judgment.
Greeted by Francine Shore, the instructor, with a huge smile and a tambourine to dance with, I was stressed, sweaty and unsure about what to expect. But none of that mattered, because this hour and 15 minutes was all about laughter.
I was introduced to my new classmates with an exercise where we were asked to imagine our tongues were glued down and then talk to each other, with nothing but ridiculous tongue-tied noises, silly hand gestures and laughs.
“Laughter yoga is like the social glue,” Shore says. “You develop friendships simply by just laughing with people. My closest friends now are from the laughter yoga clubs.”
While we were all hopping around chanting, “Ha-ha” and clapping playfully, the tiny exercise room filled with people from all different ages, ethnicities and walks of life started to feel less awkward. I stopped thinking with my head and began to transform into a little kid again, thinking with my heart.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” Shore says. “It moves beyond the exercises. It infiltrates your life and it becomes a laughter lifestyle.”
As the laughter exercises wound down with a pom-pom dance session, playing catch with “laughter balls,” imitating the Wicked Witch of the West with various “I’m melting” cries and throwing our grievances down to be stomped on, the meditation began.
We all sat down in a circle, closed our eyes, put our palms facing up and began to hum. That’s right, we actually did the stereotypical meditation “hum.” But oddly enough — it worked! The sound of the room’s humming blended together to form a beautiful sound that was so soothing, I almost fell asleep sitting up!
Then to my surprise, the last 20 minutes shifted into a serious discussion about forgiveness. I thought this was supposed to be laughter yoga? But finally I understood the concept.
The laughter yoga exercises may begin as fake laughter, but soon turn into real laughter as you become relaxed, release endorphins and bring more oxygen to your brain with yogic breathing, providing a very therapeutic experience.
This in-your-face laughing experience can even prove as therapy for socially challenged people. For two years now, an autistic man with Asperger syndrome has been attending Shore’s class.
“At first he didn’t even make eye contact,” Shore says, “and now he brought his friend.”
Before leaving, Shore asked us all to put on masks and go around the room saying how we felt before and then take our masks off and say how we felt after.
I was shocked to find out that these people that had been running around playing laughing red light, green light and making fools of themselves to spur laughter didn’t come into class feeling just as wacky as they looked. In fact most of them came to class feeling sad and stressed out, but left feeling happy, calm and centered.
I love the transformation in people,” Shore says. “People come in with their sadness, with their angers, with their fears, with their losses. I love to see them transcend into joy and relaxation and competence and empowerment and real centeredness.”
I walked out calm and with a new perspective, knowing that laughter really is the best kind of medicine.
If you go:
The Laughter Yoga Salon
First three Tuesdays of each month, 6-7:15 p.m.
Chelsea Studios/Theatreworks USA
151 W. 26th St., Room 606