“It’s more about the laughter,” laughter coach Allison Marcotte explained. “The yoga part of it is just the deep breathing and the gentle stretches, which is … important, because you have to get all the air out so that you can take a deep breath in.”
For the better part of four years, Marcotte has facilitated classes in laughter yoga, a form of therapy that seeks to harness the physical, mental and emotional benefits of laughter. Every Thursday at 7 p.m., she teaches free laughter yoga classes in the South Hill Mall’s Community Room.
Marcotte previously underwent training in Mexico to learn the discipline from its founder, Mumbai physician Dr. Madan Kataria.
The origins of laughter yoga began when Dr. Kataria was asked to write an article on the benefits of laughter. Rather than merely writing an article, Kataria began going to the park and, with his wife and three friends, started a club where the group would laugh and tell jokes.
After two weeks, they had attracted more than 50 people, but were beginning to run out of jokes. As the group pondered closing down, Kataria asked them to allow him time to consider a solution.
“He did more research and found out that our bodies can’t tell the difference between real laughter and fake laughter,” Marcotte said. “He had a background in drama, and so what he did is he incorporated a childlike playfulness with talking on the phone and eye contact and found that fake laughter became real and contagious just by doing different things …
“The reason he ended up calling it laughter yoga was his wife was involved in yoga, and they took the deep breathing and the gentle stretches from yoga and incorporated the two of them.”
In keeping with the example set by Kataria, Marcotte’s laughter yoga classes utilize a variety of techniques to encourage chuckles and guffaws.
After participants take some deep breaths, classes often start with “Whiff Piff talking,” wherein each persons takes their tongue, puts it between their lips and teeth and attempts to talk. As an icebreaking exercise, it is a dependable laugh-generator.
To maintain good vibes, the laughter leader then asks participants some positive questions, such as what their favourite aspect of Christmas is.
Other exercises follow, such as pretending there are balloons on the floor and playing with them, making imaginary milkshakes, pretending to be lawn sprinklers, and “contagious laughter,” in which a group of 10 people begin laughing one at a time until everyone is roaring.
They say 10 minutes of laughter is like 30 minutes on a rowing machine. I always say to people, ‘What would you rather do, laugh or work out?’
– Allison Marcotte
If it all sounds a bit childish and silly, Marcotte knows exactly where you’re coming from.
“With the child-like playfulness — and I always try to tell people too — it’s going to feel weird at first, because for so long of our life we’re told to smarten up, grow up and act your age, and now we’re saying be silly, goofy and chill out.”
“It takes a while to say, ‘OK, this is OK,’ because it’s out of our comfort zone, and so I always tell people, ‘Come a few times, because it’s going to feel weird.’”
Yet the benefits of laughter to both mind and body are undeniable.
Mentally, laughing elevates mood, improves brain functioning and communication skills, facilitates learning, increases creativity and rapport with others and replaces negative emotions with positive ones.
Physically, it reduces stress and anger, increases energy and endorphin levels, protects the heart, lowers blood pressure, strengthens the immune system, improves blood circulation, digestion and respiration, relaxes the muscles and decreases anxiety.
“They say 10 minutes of laughter is like 30 minutes on a rowing machine,” Marcotte noted. “I always say to people, ‘What would you rather do, laugh or work out?’”
The healing power of laughter is something that Marcotte is very familiar with. Having gone through some tough times of her own in recent years, including the heartbreaking deaths of loved ones, she is well-aware of its ability to help people cope with life’s tragedies and absurdities.
“If I hadn’t had the laughter, I’d probably be at the mental health ward,” Marcotte said, as she went on to describe her changing personality over the years.
“I was a very serious person,” she recalled. “I would laugh when all the work was done. So I didn’t laugh a lot, and then about four or five years ago when I got introduced to laughter yoga, it changed my life.
“It changed my life for the better, and so that’s kind of why I’m here every Thursday night, regardless of whether there’s one or 21 of us — because to me, if I can help make one person’s life a little bit better, then I’ve served my purpose.”