Laughter yoga is good medicine

By Caroline Klapper | Nov 30, 2012
Photo by: Caroline Klapper Polly Moyer, left, and Esther Metz practice a laughter exercise at Laughter yoga at the Senior Resource Center in Waynesville.

Whoever said, “Laughter is the best medicine,” might have been onto something.

At least that’s the theory behind the new Laughter Yoga Club at the Senior Resource Center in Waynesville.

Certified Laughter Yoga leader Suzanne Hendrix said laughing is something everyone is born knowing how to do, but scientific studies have shown that as people age, they tend to laugh less and less.

“The older we get we begin to lose that,” she said. “We’re fortunate if we’re laughing up to 15 times a day. This is how our bodies begin to break down.”

Compare that number to the 300 times a day babies typically laugh and smile, and Hendrix said adults are in bad shape.

“This laughter yoga helps get our childhood playfulness back,” she said.

Based on a technique developed by Dr. Madan Kataria, of India, laughter yoga centers on the idea of using laughter as physical and mental therapy. Just by simulating the act of laughing, whether something is funny or not, Kataria discovered people experience a decrease in stress, anxiety and depression and an increase in endorphins (“feel good” chemicals in the brain), energy and self-esteem.

Laughter yoga follows a series of simple, structured laughter and yogic breathing techniques combined with simple stretching.

Hendrix said those that have attended the Laughter Yoga Club at the Senior Resource Center since it began three weeks ago are starting to respond to the exercises.

“They’re saying that they’re breathing better. They’re feeling better even before they leave here. They can feel the energy this is producing,” she said.

“I think it’s fun,” said Esther Metz, after attending her first Laughter Yoga meeting earlier this week. “I feel energetic. I’ll be back next week.”

While Laughter yoga is free and open to all seniors, would-be participants should be ready to let go of their inhibitions.

Some of the exercises involve simple laughing and breathing techniques, but others can be a bit silly, such as one where everyone acts out their favorite farm animal. However, with the goal being to generate laughs, anything goes.

“We’d love to have more people come, but they need to leave their inhibitions at home,” said Joanne Strop, a regular at Laughter Yoga. “You have to not care if you look foolish.”

“This is good, I think, for people to let their hair down,” Polly Moyer agreed.

Being a little silly is a small price to pay for the benefits Ann Putnam said she gets from the group.

“I think it gives me exercise and movement that I wouldn’t otherwise do. It works our whole bodies, especially my lungs. It really loosens me up,” she said.

Another aspect of the exercises she enjoys is a rule about making eye contact with others in the group.

“Doing that with people — even if they are reluctant at first — they seem to like it after a while. It’s very rewarding,” Putnam said.

Laughter Yoga Club is from 2 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays at the Senior Resource Center at 81 Elmwood Way in Waynesville. For information, call 452-2370 or 356-2816.

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