This is not a path I have chosen but rather one I have found myself traveling. Whether the result of my upbringing (maybe the lack of cartoons during my childhood?), some societal pressure or my physiological make up (lack of a funny gene?) I don’t know… What I do know is this: when presented with a funny situation I do one of two things:
- Laugh uncontrollably. Tears rolling down my face, gasping for breath, holding onto my sides as if they might literally split.
- Not laugh. At all. I might smile though. Eventually.
There is no middle ground. Tell me a joke, stand back and watch – it’ll go one of two ways. Delirious or Disinterested. Ecstatic or Emotionless. Blissful or Blasé. Joyful or Just looking at you with cold dead eyes. It’s no wonder I don’t make a good first impression.
If I don’t laugh you can comfort yourself with the fact that what I will find funny is almost completely unpredictable. I once laughed so hard that I thought I might actually vomit when I saw a car sticker that which said this:
I just couldn’t get over the idea that any person loved ham so much that they felt it necessary to tell the world. In fact, I’m laughing pretty hard about it right now…. ham’s not even that good!!!
*has to step away from computer as tears of laughter are obscuring vision*
Of course, this left me concerned as to how I would react to Laughter Yoga. Either outcome would be pretty bad. Wheezing myself silly and having to be carried home probably preferable to standing stoic while all about me lost their heads – neither appropriate really. Still, the whole idea intrigued me so, together with my friend Amelia (long time blog supporter, first time alphabetterer) I booked in to attend my first session of choreographed, coordinated chuckling.
Laughter Yoga (sometimes called Laughter Meditation) is a group activity that involves a mixture of ‘laughter exercises’, yogic breathing and child-like playfulness. Grounded in the concept that the body cannot distinguish between fake and real laughter, the idea is that even forcing the funny will result in positive outcomes including increased oxygen intake, improved circulation and the release of endorphins. Of course, the sessions can often trigger real spontaneous laughter which is sustained by other members of the group – an actual Happy Hour.
The session that Amelia and I attended takes place fortnightly at the Royal Festival Hall. As we arrived we heard Nihat (the organizer) talking about journeying to ‘the Spirit Level’. We were slightly disappointed when we found that this didn’t refer to a higher state of consciousness accomplished through amusement but, rather, an area of the hall suitable for our session. But what a journey it was, nonetheless.
I’m pretty sure people have managed to achieve self actualization faster than we achieved getting to the ground floor. At first the lift seemed determined not to stop for us. Next, it went to every floor other than the one we wanted. And it sang the whole time! Yes! Sang! It was like a scene from a SitCom except the people in the lift with us were providing the canned laughter. Wholly surreal. The more ridiculous the situation became, the closer I got to actual manic hilarity. Seeing Amelia’s face, a mixture of confusion and wonder, only made things worse. I bit my lip, looked at the floor and started doing Maths questions in my head so as not to peak too soon.
We (FINALLY) made it to the Spirit level (where all the pictures were hung at wonky angles – coincidence?) and, after explaining to us the benefits and reasons for practising Laughter Yoga, Nihat lead us in some ‘warm-up exercises’. We started by standing in a circle with our eyes closed, waving our arms back and forth, putting our heads back and saying ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha..’. Exercise 1 and I was already close to terminal laughocity.
And so it continued… The ‘warm-up exercises’ consisted of either performing an action while saying ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha..” (e.g. pretending to eat hot soup while saying it) or talking in gibberish. It would take too long to explain them all (I can remember 35 off the top of my head) but it is worth picking out some of our particular highlights, a ‘Best Of’ if you will:
- We did a partner task (called Namaste laughter) which involved greeting someone from the group, shaking hands and jumping in a circle while ‘Ha Ha Ha’ing in each others faces. Amelia approached one member of the group to attempt this and was told, almost mournfully, “I won’t laugh”. A challenge to himself? To Amelia? We’ll never know. She just ended up laughing in his face. Awesome.
- One task involved introducing ourselves and, after each thing we said, the group would laugh. ‘My name’s Nihat‘ ‘Ha Ha Ha!‘ ‘I’m from Greece’ ‘Ha Ha Ha!’ ‘and I’m unemployed’ ‘HA HA HA HA HA!’. The idea that we were laughing at someone for being jobless only made us laugh more #notsupposedtobefunny
- Amelia did a whole gibberish story in a Bristolian accent. Hero.
- Nihat signalled the end of each task by having us say ‘Very good, Very good, Yeah!’, clapping and then waving our hands above our heads. Somehow, for the two of us at least, this was funnier than all the actual planned laughter. We ended activities by laughing even more.
I could go on. And on. It was pretty much full of funny. After 45 minutes of laughing, my ribs were sore, my jaw aching, my face flushed and my eyes watering. I was a mess, but a happy giggly mess. Amelia and I headed home, and laughed for 45 minutes more on the tube.
All in all, it was really enjoyable and quite unlike anything I’ve done before. I can’t speak to the health benefits but it managed to cheer me up after a stressful day. I think it was definitely improved by having someone I knew there and can imagine it would be all the more funny if you knew more people in the group – just thinking about Amelia’s bemused face has me smiling even now. And it turns out you can’t laugh too much in these situations which suits me just fine.
So, next time I’m having a rubbish day I have several strategies to turn it around – tap my face while chanting, do some fake laughing or head out with my hula hoop. I’m definitely becoming alphabetter at cheering myself up, pretty sure I’m also turning into a bus weirdo. Ho hum.
Don’t forget to sponsor my Race for Life efforts here. Every pound counts.