As long as people laugh they’re not killing each other says actor Alan Alda. Laughter is nothing new but there’s plenty new with laughter. Medical research suggests that laughter elevates mood, relieves stress and lowers blood pressure. So successful at healing laughter is now organized into a multi-national movement. What’s organized laughter all about and what’s in it for you?
In 1995 the medicinal benefits of laughter interested Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian physician. He asked strangers on a Mumbai street to laugh with him. That simple gesture ultimately created Laughter Yoga International (www.laughteryoga.org). Now 6,000 laughter clubs in 60 countries such as Jamaica, Bhutan, Austria, Canada and Jordan bring people together. Laughter conferences are held regularly in the US and around the world. Laughter motivates police forces in Viet Nam. Laughter in the Mexican and South American prisons helps inmates keep a positive focus while separated from family and friends for long stretches. Hospitals and congregate care facilities incorporate laughter for patients with serious diseases and/or injuries. A Midwestern pastor uses laughter in her Lutheran congregation.
In January 2010 my own world crashed due to a pending foreclosure. A pedestrian car accident in 1994 left me 100% disabled with brain and spine injuries. On the verge of homelessness I fretted about what I could afford on Social Security Disability. I had two scrappy dogs and was terrified of losing everything.
Then I found the monthly laughter group at Southwest Institute for Healing Arts (SWIHA) in Tempe AZ. The free admission met my budget. I needed a reason to smile so I said why not? Led by certified laughter leader Linda Scharf, the group laughed for no reason. For an hour Scharf led us though a series of exercises that made us scream with laughter.
That night, I slept soundly for a change because I let go of so much pent up fear, frustration and anger. Since that first night, I only missed a few laughter groups. Each month, new people arrive including some with children, and familiar faces return. Now and then, attendees speak little or no English. That doesn’t matter because laughter is a universal language.
People attend laughter club out of curiosity or for deeply personal reasons like a death in the family, divorce, illness or mounting personal problems. Joan Pearlman, a regular laugher, works in the healing profession. “I enjoy laughter club because of the positive feelings and responses that I get and give to others.” The always cheerful Pearlman usually wears a jester hat for laughter club.
Laughter leader and cancer survivor Linda Scharf says laughter helped her endure tough times battling illness. A 2004 newspaper article about laughter clubs inspired her to take the two day laughter leader course. Ever since, she’s been leading laughter clubs in the Phoenix area. “I’ve yet to find any negative effects from laughter,” says Scharf.
Laughter clubs won’t create sorely needed jobs nor will it unite our bitterly divided Congress. It can however bring together strangers and friends for an hour of fun. Everyone benefits from an open attitude.
To find a laughter club year you, visit http://www.laughteryoga.com. All that’s needed is the willingness to laugh for no reason.
P.S. I found a trailer park rental that accepted pets and I still love to laugh every day.