Published on September 02, 2016

This group is laughing all the way to better healthThis group is laughing all the way to better health

Driving from Yarmouth to Falmouth at rush hour on a Monday morning isn’t my idea of a good time, so I might have been just a little bit cranky when I showed up for a session of Cape Cod Laughter Yoga.

I introduced myself to Alan and Clare Goodwin, the couple who lead the weekly gathering. Alan posted mood-setting signs around the room: “Smile! It looks good on you,” “Laughter is ha ha healthy” and “7 days without laughter makes one weak,” among others.

Laughter Yoga isn’t strenuous, Clare explained.

“This body won’t do a downward dog,” she said. The goal is to use laughter, breathing exercises and gentle movement for exercise and stress relief.

The session got underway promptly at the usual time of 9:27 a.m. That’s a bit silly, isn’t it?

The class typically attracts 10 to 20 regular laughers. This one also included three generations (grandmother, mother and teenage daughter) of a family vacationing in Falmouth.

Laugh but don’t joke

Laughter Yoga was developed in the mid-1990s by Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian family physician. The Goodwins explained the five guidelines of Laughter Yoga:

  1. Take care of yourself.
  1. Laughter is contagious because we look at each other.
  1. Keep talking to a minimum. No jokes. What you think is funny and what I think is funny aren’t the same.
  1. The body doesn’t know the difference between fake and real laughter, so we pretend we’re having a good time.
  1. If you’re going to pretend, you may as well pretend with enthusiasm and gusto.

The Goodwins led us in a series of short exercises. Most of them were done while we were seated in folding chairs.

One of the first exercises had us take turns saying our first name and laughing, followed by the class repeating the name and each person’s distinctive laugh. Another involved some gentle arm motions.

Finding the spirit

At the completion of each exercise, we did a small cheer. We clapped our palms on our thighs and shouted, “Very good!” Then we clapped our palms against our opposite shoulders and shouted, “Very good!” Then we waved our hands in the air and shouted, “Yay!”

At first I was laughing because the whole thing felt a bit goofy. But I slowly let go of my self-consciousness. Before long, I was really feeling the spirit.

It turned out that one of the hardest exercises was trying to maintain three minutes of continuous laughter. But Alan’s sometimes maniacal laughter is indeed contagious and it struck me as funny when I noticed that Clare was wearing mismatched socks. After 90 seconds, I started to break a light sweat.

The science of laughter

The healing and rejuvenating effects of laughter have been the subject of much research. A 2007 study concluded that “the act of laughter can lead to immediate increases in heart rate, respiratory rate, respiratory depth and oxygen consumption. These increases are then followed by a period of muscle relaxation, with a corresponding decrease in heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.”

The Mayo Clinic says “data is mounting about the positive things laughter can do.” Short-term benefits include stimulating the heart, lungs and muscles; releasing endorphins; and soothing tension. Long-term effects include improving the immune system, relieving pain and lessening depression and anxiety.

‘Enjoying the moment’

The Falmouth program started eight years ago and Anne Parker of Teaticket has been coming regularly for the last seven.

“I read about it on the front page of the Falmouth Enterprise. I was having trouble walking, but I knew I could still laugh,” she said after the class. “Early on a Monday morning is great because you start off the week with a bang. You have to relax. It’s very good for your breathing. No one’s laughing at you. You’re just enjoying the moment.”

Ted Wasserman of the Lochstead section of East Falmouth was part of a walking group for three years when he saw the Laughter Yoga group in action and decided to give it a try.

“It makes me feel good, physically and emotionally,” he said. “You can go through a lot in life and this makes you forget all that.”

In a video on the Cape Cod Laughter Yoga website, Alan says Laughter Yoga “is a body-mind exercise. The body leads. The mind catches up. It says, ‘Hey, the body’s laughing. We must be having a good time.’ And suddenly you start to have more of a good time.”

How was I feeling after the class on the drive to my office?

“Very good! Very good! Yay!”

Cape Cod Laughter Yoga summer classes wrapped up last week, but they continue throughout the year at the Gus Canty Community Center, 790 Main Street, Falmouth. For more information, contact Alan and Clare Goodwin at info@capecodlaughteryoga.com or visit the Cape Cod Laughter Yoga website.