After leading my first class of persons with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, I became convinced that Laughter Yoga is a crucial component of an integrative approach to healing for those who are challenged by the effects of illness or aging.
My own story illustrates the healing benefits of Laughter Yoga and is the basis of my approach when teaching classes. I stumbled into a Laughter Yoga seminar at Mayo Clinic after visiting with yet another provider in my effort to improve my sleep apnea, and resulting disabling illnesses, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, mood disorder and chronic pain. In one hour, I discovered a healing tool that produced immediate results that lasted for several hours: relaxation, reduced pain and elevated mood.
Over time, these results have proved to be much longer lasting. I have found that a serious laughter practice, combined with the good self-care and direction of my providers, has given me healing and quality of life that had never before been possible. Laughter Yoga has provided the glue that not only binds intelligent effort, but also brings me to a state of thinking and being that surpasses even my wildest imaginings.
My approach to leading Laughter Yoga classes is fundamentally rooted in my experience of chronic illness. Being with others who are experiencing physical symptoms that are often beyond our control has taught me that we are not a diagnosis or label, but a person capable of enjoying a life that allows room for limitation and hope for continued healing.
A study for the National Center for Creativity and Aging shows that seniors, a population who are experiencing varied life circumstances that are beyond their control, participating in group activities that provide social engagement and sense of master and control, manifest significant benefits. On the whole, they require less medication, fewer trips to the doctor, higher scores on the Depression and Loneliness Morale Scale, and reduced risk factors that drive the need for in-patient care.
When I work with a group of individuals who are experiencing circumstances beyond their control, emotional connection is vital. Chronic illness or aging discourages and isolates, so we begin by creating a sense of safety and respect where social engagement can flourish. Sharing my story is one way to establish a sense of comfort. Rather than, I am doing you a favor by coming here and leading this class. We are sharing the healing experience on a shared journey. What's more, bonding through shared joy in addition to hardship creates friendship and community, and fosters the feeling that life is expanding instead of shrinking.
Social engagement gives us the courage to laugh for no reason. With each laughter exercise, laughing for any reason becomes a habit that can be used as a powerful tool for dealing with the loss associated by limitation. When a person can bring laughter to any situation, experience of the loss of control diminishes, while the sense of mastery increases.
In my classes, we focus on the playful joy of ordinary moments, and in so doing, foster social engagement and sense of mastery and control. While the actions may seem awfully silly, they are causing significant biochemical and psychosocial changes. Best of all, the participant does not need to understand any of these benefits to begin enjoying the class and manifesting them.
Each class is unique with new exercises that build on those we have already practiced. I introduce laughter exercises that encourage participants to accept their current level of ability and build on it. No one is forced to laugh, they laugh because they cannot help but laugh – and the healing begins.