Monday, April 09, 2007

Laughter Yoga, Part II

After a full day of Laughter Yoga Teacher Training with Dr. Madan Kataria, the originator and founder of Laughter Yoga, Mary and I are both feeling transformed and uplifted by our experience.

On March 13th, 1995, Dr. Kataria founded the first Laughter Club in a public park in Mumbai (Bombay), India with four other participants. Deciding to laugh therapeutically together on a regular basis, the five soon grew to fifty in a matter of days. Eventually, they ran out of jokes and funny stories and were somewhat stumped as to how to proceed. It was decided (and subsequently demonstrated) that anyone can laugh at any time for no reason with the correct instruction and guidance. It was at this time that Laughter Yoga was born, now comprising some 5000 Laughter Clubs in 55 countries.

Combining laughter exercises, simple physical movements, childlike playfulness, and Yogic breathing exercises, Laughter Yoga utilizes the scientifically documented fact that the body cannot tell the difference between forced laughter or genuine laughter, thus either form of laughter will bring about the same beneficial physiological effects and oxygenation. Therefore, if you can't laugh without provocation, you can "fake it until you make it" and still gain all the benefits which laughter can bring, including increased oxygenation, increased release of endorphins and other beneficial neurotransmitters, as well as more rapid clearing of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine.

Our experience today of unfettered laughter with like-minded strangers in the most bland of physical environments---without jokes, humorous stories, or other rational provocation for our laughter---is a direct example of how a roomful of people who have only just met can form a bond of playful joyfulness in a matter of minutes, further cementing that unity over the course of a day. With the added value of spiritual teachings, yogic breathing and free-spirited play, the day was truly unlike any other I have ever experienced in a workshop context (and I have participated in numerous personal growth workshops over the years, including Inner Child work, anger/shadow work, couples' weekends, men's workshops, and spiritual retreats.)

A key learning point for me today was the concept that there is a distinct difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is seen as a concept of mind, based mostly upon the perception of having/acquiring/living that which we have decided is our desire. Joy, rather, is simply the ability to be in the moment, more a concept of the heart and creative powers than of the rational mind. Knowing and experiencing that difference is one of my greatest challenges in life, now brought even more into my conscious awareness. Having lived with depression my whole adult life, the decision to consciously make that distinction can turn years of thinking about depression on its head. Am I ready for such a concept in my personal cosmology?

Only one day's work/play has convinced me that the power of such simple tools---laughter, breathing, and playfulness---is both profound and truly accessible to anyone. Under Dr. Kataria's strict instructions, we are not allowed to charge money for any services or trainings unless we offer an ongoing Laughter Yoga Club in our area at no charge to the general public. We are already scheming how we will accomplish this, and I look forward to future reports as to our progress.

Til then, may laughter bless your day.
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