MONTGOMERY — Take a deep breath and just let it out — a chuckle, guffaw, tee-hee or a giggle — it really doesn’t matter as long as you are laughing.
Spreading the theory that laughter is the best medicine, the township’s senior center offers a laughter class once or twice a month. In these sessions, led by Denise Crowley, the supervisor of the senior center, members are encouraged to let go with a good belly laugh.
According to Crowley, this type of “laughter yoga” encourages many positive outcomes. Laughter increases immunity, lowers blood pressure and stress hormones, decreases pain, aids digestion and decreases respiratory ailments, she said. It also strengthens relationships, attracts others to you and diffuses conflicts.
“These are just a few of the benefits members can experience. Laughter stimulates your mental focus and releases endorphins. Laughter gets oxygen to the lower lungs. It increases resilience. It also adds joy and zest,” Crowley said. “People don’t have enough joy. There is so much proof about how good laughter is for us.”
A certified laughter leader, Crowley began the journey to laughter enlightenment in 2008 when she came across the World Laughter Tour on television. Created by Steve Wilson after a trip to India in 1998, the World Laughter Tour incorporates laughter yoga and laughter exercises. With a slogan of “Think Globally, Laugh Locally,” the World Laughter Tour has laughter clubs all around the world and promotes laughter for improved physical and mental health.
There are now about 6,000 certified laugh leaders around the world, Crowley said.
Intrigued, Crowley signed up for a local course that would teach her how to conduct a laughter class. Thinking this would not only benefit herself, Crowley felt it also would be good for her seniors at the center.
“They do say that laughter is the best medicine,” Crowley said. “After a few classes, I realized that when I left I felt invigorated. I felt good. Seeing people laugh just lights you up.”
A laughter class is not about telling jokes or funny stories, Crowley said. Instead it is “simulated laughter” through various scenarios.
“Simulated laughter has the same benefits as real laughter does from watching a movie or a comedian,” she said.
Some exercises are done seated while in others, participants get up and move while laughing. In Monday’s class, Crowley led her group of 30 seniors through the deep-breath laughter exercises such as Namaste (a greeting), Aloha Laughter, Roller Coaster Laughter, Appreciation Laughter, Penguin Laughter and Argument Laughter. Each of these has hand or body motions along with big laughing sounds and breathing.
At the end of each exercise, which last only a few minutes, participants all do a laugh chant with claps, “Ho-ho-ha-ha-ha, ho-ho-ha-ha-ha, ho-ho-ha-ha-ha, yay!”
At first, participants may feel silly or awkward, Crowley said. She recalls thinking “This is crazy” during her first experience, but Crowley noticed she felt “really good” after. After any initial wariness, members of the class warmed up and happily went with the flow of a half-hour of laughing exercises.
“Whatever you are going through, which may be quite serious, you end up feeling good,” Crowley said. “Some embrace it wholeheartedly.
If laughter is the gauge, then participants certainly enjoyed Monday’s session.
“I like it very much,” said Gloria Huey of Princeton. “It wakes up your respiratory system and is a lot of fun. I’m always happy when I come here and do the exercises. You become aware of the energy around you. You feel alive.”
Uma Vem of the Belle Mead section of the township has seen the laughter classes in India and enjoys the American version at the center.
“In India, there are huge groups who get together,” she said. “It’s different there. They take a walk and then sit together in a park and do laughter exercises. I do feel very good when I do the exercises here.”
A first-timer, Jeanette Berezowsky, also from Belle Mead, said the class was excellent.
“It was very good,” she said. “I feel happy. I thought we were going to tell jokes and I was worried cause I only know dirty ones.”
After the official laughter class ends, members play LCR, a popular dice game. In between rounds, Crowley throws in a few more laughter exercises, including Lion Laughter and the chant. The lighthearted feelings continue as Tran Xoung, also from Belle Mead, is finally crowned winner of LCR. Appropriate, Crowley said, as “Tran is our biggest laughter. She just loves the class.”
You just can’t help but smile. And laugh. Go on ... Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha ...
Laughter is the best medicine: Seniors at Montgomery Senior Center enjoy participating in a Laughter Class led by certified laughter leader Denise Crowley. Courtesy by Asbury Park Press(www.app.com)