In 1994, I opened “Alice Lorraine Care Center”, an elderly care facility I founded because of my grandmother, Alice Lorraine, whom I had successfully resuscitated a few years earlier. It was a new venture for me – I had always been drawn to the elderly, but individually, not en masse. I found myself overwhelmed, not just with caring for so many frail, elderly residents, but also managing a huge home, as well as 20 employees, while continuing to care for my two pre-teen daughters, three step-children and one very demanding cardiac surgeon husband. Did I mention, I also had to drive 100 miles a day? Oh wow, life was fun.
The Internet was relatively young back then, but one day feeling totally distressed, I found myself searching on it for “laughter”…and there it was, “How to Start a Laughter Club”. It described in great detail where everyone was to stand, what the leader was to do and say, etc. I printed it off and kept it in my “Things To Do” file for many years. I toyed with the idea of trying to get the residents to laugh, but it seemed way too complicated for me….and truthfully, my life was much too serious to participate in something so silly. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things…” That is what we were taught, right?
To me, laughter seemed so childish, I had put it away years before. My life had always been pretty serious. At age 20, I was in charge of an entire intensive care unit. At 22, I helped resuscitate my favorite teacher and had already seen more horrific sights and deaths in the ER than I even now want to remember. With the elderly care business, repeatedly I lost “grandparent” after “grandparent” – it was not an easy job. Why would I possibly want to laugh?
Life progressed from bad to really bad. After nearly 25 years of marriage, I was divorced in 2002. My life as I had known it, ceased to exist – no more home, no more business, no more family. Had anyone told me at that point to laugh for no reason, I might have smacked them.
From that time and for the next several years, I began involving myself with alternative healing modalities –lymphatic therapy, cancer and wellness counseling, raw food chef training, Reiki, Indian head massage, etc, etc. I dragged myself to Gilda’s Club week after week, never wanting to go, but knowing that once I was there and started teaching, I always felt better. In May 2005, I was wishing I could teach my lymphedema patients to breathe more deeply and knew laughter could accomplish exactly that. From out of the blue, I remembered the print-out I had saved for years about the laughter clubs of India.
I searched the Internet and could no longer find that information, but did find something called, “Laughter Yoga”, also from India, something that promised laughter would flow from me “like a fountain” for absolutely no reason at all. Uh-huh, right. There was a teacher training scheduled by the founder of Laughter Yoga, Madan Kataria, the very next week in Interlochen, Switzerland. At that very moment, I decided if I could find a cheap ticket I would go….the following week I was Switzerland-bound via a $400 round-trip ticket!
While flying, I began thinking about laughter, wondering when the last time was when I had actually laughed….or the last time I had laughed with my ex-husband. I could not remember, it had been years – my life was so dreadfully serious. Very strange to find myself on a plane bound for a program I knew nothing about, feeling very shy, wondering how I could possibly laugh for no reason….and especially with a group of total strangers.
I remember so well my first meeting with Madan Kataria – with my Ansari name, he thought I would be Indian. With his MD credentials, I thought he would be more like the medical professionals I had known – obviously, we were both confused and surprised! While the rest of the group was so excited to be in this Laughter Yoga training, verbally gushing about what they loved about Laughter Yoga, all I could say is that I wanted to learn this technique in order to have my lymphedema patients breathe more deeply. That was me – Serious Sue, always controlled, always analytical, rarely spontaneous.
There was so much I learned that week and I did laugh, but so uncomfortable I was with almost everything, afraid to “speak” gibberish, afraid to get totally involved in the entire process, so much so, that without saying good-bye to anyone, I skipped out early on the last morning and went up the mountain alone.
As soon as I returned home, I began incorporating what I had hesitantly learned into my program at Gilda’s. The ladies loved it, they were breathing more deeply and as always, five minutes into the program, I felt the heaviness lift from my soul.
It was at this time, I took out a very large life insurance policy which would cover suicide after two years. I had no plans to teach Laughter Yoga leaders, I had no plans for anything other than when my girls could cash in on the policy. My depression had been tremendous for years, but became so much worse after the divorce. I had seen many psychologists, psychiatrists, tried several different medications – nothing seemed to work. My “job” for about six years was taking classes, driving to Gilda’s twice a week and presenting Laughter Yoga to various groups whenever they called me – I never sought them out. I did very little else.
The first All-American Laughter Yoga Conference was held in September 2006 in San Diego. I had such a good time there – laughed so much, met so many new laughter friends. All of a sudden a month or so later, I got up one day and realized that I was no longer counting down the days until my two-year deadline with death. I was feeling genuinely happy each and every day. No one had ever known my “plan” until that day when I wrote a most grateful email to Madan to thank him for saving my life. One month later, I trained 16 Laughter Yoga leaders… and life has been good ever since.
Not only did my depression lift, but somehow laughter opened my heart and soul in a way I can’t even begin to express. I feel a love for mankind that I never felt before. My shyness evaporated - I have stood in front of 200-600 people without a script, speaking without a quiver or quake from my heart about something I am so passionate about - the magical, healing power of laughter.
To one of my dearest friends and my laughter buddy, Madan Kataria, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the life-saving and life-changing gift you have given to me and to the world.
Laughter, indeed, is the best medicine!