It was after the laughter exercise where we all sat on the floor eager to do the first part of the laughter meditation. I was looking at all the people around the circle and then started laughing. As I saw people’s faces suddenly as if a force besides myself animated from my heart, I was beaming love to everyone as my eyes moved from left to right. As I got about three quarters of the way I noticed that there was a force coming from the right side of me as well that included all of my judgments moving toward the left side of the room. The love force from the left side clashed into the judgmental thoughts that came from the right side. The clash brought forth a deep cry within me and yet because everybody was laughing it was as if the cry transformed into laughter. However, the main difference was for the first time in my life intense tears poured from my eyes onto my face.
I started to look around the room and noticed that my eyes were looking for people who were laughing as deeply as I was. Fortunately, two people to my left were laughing hysterically. I immediately connected with them. My newfound deep laughter with tears running down my face somehow expanded. It left them laughing as well as propelling me to go deeper into my laugh. I looked around the room and on two occasions I connected with people who were also laughing “hysterically”. I couldn’t believe I was on this precipice for about seven minutes or so. Finally the master trainer Jeffrey led us to lay down with eyes closed to continue the laughing. I could not. At this time the wailing started and never stopped until it was time to end. I assumed the laughter would continue but I simply surrendered to whatever force had initiated this seemingly cathartic transformational episode. I thought it may be possible to shift the energy and begin laughing. That never happened. I simply wailed and sobbed, allowing the force to have its way with me until it ended. By the time the relaxation phase began I was totally spent and was relieved to follow Jeffrey’s words as he guided us into a relaxing body scan which became the deepest relaxation I’ve encountered in any of the various visualizations that I have experienced in my decades of self development “work.”
The next day was typical in that we gathered together and listened attentively as Dr. K spoke. We also had a laughter yoga session with Sebastien which was very cool; not as aerobic as the other two master trainers although his exercises are very creative in that they work on suspending the usual mind trying to make immediate sense of the exercise. Fascinating. The one exercise where we had to close our eyes, stick out our wiggling fingers while holding our arms about chest high in order to meet other fingers as we moved around blindly was superb and very much fun. I’m currently using that exercise in my sessions.
In any event there was an exercise we all got together and us trainees were to lead a particular exercise for all of the 60 people. People eagerly initiated their favorite exercise which was fun and full of aerobicness and playfulness. I was fighting my own fear of initiating something. I planned on doing my favorite one which was rolling on the floor with knees bent toward the chest but there were way too many people to do a floor exercise. And then my mind froze as to come up with another one. The fear took over a bit more as we broke up. I could sense I was hiding and I couldnt make the shift necessary to jolt myself out of it. After speaking with Hillary in a stilted way I decided I had to take care of myself by going to my room rather than going to lunch. I was certainly unhappy as I opened my hotel door. Upon entering I wasn’t sure what I needed to do but I knew I needed to give myself the necessary space to do what I needed to do. I checked my body and got this impulse to “work out.” I began doing push-ups which I rarely do. It hurt but it was a good kind of hurt. I was moving energy as my experience told me. I then wanted to do my favorite laughter yoga exercise by rolling on the floor, which I proceeded to do. And lo and behold sobbing, wailing and tears gushed out. Catharsis after catharsis -- I waited for it to shift but it never happened. It seems that self-hatred was at its core, was at its max. It floored me. How could laughter yoga stimulate such profound self-hatred? It also provoked such an intense search for the core of it, or anything that could shift the energy without being part of a denial or escapist mode. After I got up quite exhausted and still not eager to eat anything I felt I needed to make a list of all my friends to somehow balance how I had been feeling. I did and then felt so exhausted I laid down and called the front office to give me a wake up call. As I was lying down I decided to pick up the phone and call Michael, my best friend. Fortunately, he was home and we talked. He told me what was going on and I said a few words about what was going on for me. It was enough for me just to have simple conversation with him and to not necessarily go into all the gory details of my cathartic ritual. In any event, I fell asleep for about 10 minutes after I hung up with Michael, felt totally refreshed and ended up writing a poem to share at talent night and even had some time to practice my juggling. My fear of “performing” dissipated.
The next day in a much smaller group with Dr. K. due to many people leaving because of their flights, I asked him to perhaps create a discussion that included the particular experience I had. I felt the need to explore a more transformational/psychological dimension to either warn people of the effects of such ego-busting exercises and to include such language to explain or explore this dimension that could assist fellow spiritual seekers for more happiness and joy in our lives.
Dr. K heard me and appreciated my concern. He said that he was meeting some psychiatrists who were favorable to laughter yoga and was exploring those ideas more thoroughly.
To me, ego-busting has always had a multitude of effects from damage to enlightenment. He told us that it doesn’t hurt people even though he shared two stories that related to this exploration.
One occurred when a woman who was involved in a training suddenly experienced a surprising jolt of awareness (the day before she was to receive her certification) where she would utter a strange undecipherable phrase to anyone who chatted with her. Dr K seemed concerned but trusting. He had spoken to others about what to do. The next day came and she was in class at 8AM as normal as American pie.
In another story he told us, in his usual calm way, was where he met the wife of a man who frequented the laughter yoga club where he had attended for weeks. One day the man’s wife approached Dr. K and said if after yoga is so great to create happiness then why does my husband come home after such sessions and yell at me? Dr. K didn’t have a specific answer.
About six weeks later at a presentation that Dr. K had given, the woman approached Dr. K during a break after the presentation. Dr. K was concerned that she might desire to attack him in public. But instead she thanked him profusely for starting the laughter yoga clubs since her husband was indeed a changed man and was more loving than ever.
I include these examples not for their specific accuracy but to convey the power of laughter that we may not know all the answers to.
I told him that I wasn’t that concerned about any dangers that would befall me since after 40 or so leadership sessions I’ve only encountered wonderful feelings personally as well as numerous testimonials from participants. I simply needed to hear other stories since I sense that any ego-busting strategy needs to include stories and explorations about it. He also said something interesting that Indians typically get their spiritual needs met by gurus in India. However, North American folks typically have more challenges in the emotional expression category possibly triggering such episodes as I described above. I suggested that since laughter yoga is an umbrella that is inclusive of so many levels and diversities of people who love to laugh -- from medical professionals to clowns to public program directors to people who love silly childish playfulness and on and on. I suggested he get someone like Stan Groff to experience laughter yoga and perhaps have him include some of it in his holotropic workshops so that more and more professionals in the psychological/spiritual transformative world will share their expertise, just as when people in the medical field (like Andrew Weil) have supported laughter yoga.
For me personally laughter yoga is powerful. It’s almost as if it’s an inherent backdoor strategy to move us into health and wholeness by using the most overlooked and understudied value of laughter. When I read stats that children laugh 400 times a day compared to 15 times a day for adults and when I see everyone who laughs is absolutely stunningly beautiful we just simply need to gather many of the Enlightenment promoters, spiritual advisors, and religious teachers to have them taste the incredible joys of simple childlike laughter.
Bob Banner is a certified Laughter Yoga Teacher leading sessions in San Luis Obispo County, California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.