Laugh, and the World Laughs with You

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Last night I stood in a room full of people who were screaming with laughter. There was no entertainment visible to trigger the hilarity. No television, no movie, no standup comedian. These people were laughing purely for the sake..and joy..of laughing.

It was a Laughter Yoga class and it was more than a little disconcerting.

Laughter is infectious, we all know that. Laughter in an inappropriate place, like church or a funeral, can be even more contagious.

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We all remember the famed episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show when Mary could not contain her giggles at the funeral service for Chuckles the Clown (A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants). I haven’t seen that for ten years or more but the thought of it still makes me smile. So one errant titter can often lead to a tsunami of snickers. That’s also why television productions used to seed a studio audience with people who simply had great laughs. They knew that others in the crowd couldn’t help but follow suit.

But Laughter Yoga, which was developed by a single doctor in India about fifteen years ago, is not predicated on a having a sense of humour. It starts out as a series of breathing exercises really..which explode from the body in a series of ho-ho’s and ha-ha’s. Then it can get increasingly silly. People are shuffling around walking like penguins while they laugh. They jump up and down. They lie on the floor. The sound is deafening. If you saw a group like this wandering around a public space you’d surely be calling the guys with the butterfly nets. After twenty minutes of laughter yoga participants are damn-well exhausted. And they feel great. One man told me that he had suffered a heart attack recently and his latest prognosis, based upon blood pressure levels and every other measure of cardio-health, had improved by leaps and bounds since he started yukking it up en masse.   [picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=laughs&iid=309414″ src=”0306/0000306146.jpg?adImageId=11451616&imageId=309414″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]

But here’s the thing. As someone who has spent more than thirty years trying to wring ever last laugh out of his writing for television I found it pathologically distracting to be in a room full of people who were demonstrably amused at anything..and everything. Where, I thought, was the benchmark? The yoga participants say it doesn’t matter..you get the health benefits whether the hilarity is forced or heartfelt.

As I interviewed the Laughter Yoga Instructor at the end of the session I said something that I thought was clever…and, predictably, he laughed. But never before have I felt the need to ask a follow-up like : ‘ Was that one real…or just a gratuitous guffaw ?’

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2 Responses to “Laugh, and the World Laughs with You”

  1. When it comes to laughter, I love what the founder of Laughter Yoga said in the film Laughology, “Life is serious. Death is serious. It’s time to take laughter seriously.” Thanks for coming out to our laughter class!

  2. As a participant of the group attended, it was wonderful to think that others will see us and want to join too.
    It did feel awkward to start with, with you and your camera man watching but once we started the exercises, it was just funny…. that is the point though isn’t it! The funnier we make it the more exercise we get. Thanks for coming by it was a pleasure to chat with you.

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