Once again this year, it was my privilege to provide two Laughter Yoga sessions every day at Gilda’s Club in Grand Rapids, Michigan during their ten-day LaughFest. During that time somewhere between 500-600 people, ranging in age from 12 months to 90 years, laughed with me. This was a free community event with no restrictions of any sort for any class; consequently, the diversity was amazing. My classes were a mix of pre-teen kids, along with groups of developmentally disabled young people, teenagers in substance abuse programs, deaf and blind elderly adults, men whose wives had dragged them in, college students, lots of yoga students and practitioners, plus a multitude of middle-aged females seeking joy. . . which they found! Even the most reticent willingly participated and ended the session heartily laughing.
I like music in my sessions and this time, I included more than usual. My typical class begins with some of the basic standing exercises, moves on to standing couples and then to the floor. On one of the first days, groups of developmentally disabled young people came en masse. One young woman was very excited and told me she had come last year and she was so excited to laugh again – she remembered me and she wanted to laugh! Several had Down Syndrome, were extremely withdrawn and hesitant to take part, but slowly they did.
While they were standing, facing one another, I had planned to have them do the Royal Wave, when suddenly the thought hit me that they needed a little more than that. I went over to my computer, clicked on the “Rocky” theme song and before my eyes, a transformation began to take place. Instantly, the entire room was clapping in unison to the beat. I told them that they should walk through the pathway of admirers who would cheer them on….this was freestyle, their victory walk was their choice.
I had no idea what would happen, but it worked like magic! One by one every person in the room made their way through the cheering, whistling, clapping line, as they individually took their “victory” walk, jumping, waving, skipping, laughing all the way down the people pathway, beaming from ear to ear when they reached the other end! I was not sure whether the most withdrawn and slowest could or would do it, but there was not one person who did not make the victory walk, not one person who did not get cheered on and not one face that was not glowing at the finish. Even one of the middle-aged women came over to me afterward and said, “That made ME feel really good!”
The response was equally heart-warming when I ended the session with, “You are Amazing, I am Amazing!” They simply did not want to stop hearing those words, “YOU are AMAZING!” The overly happy, chatty girl kept going up to people, saying, “Tell me that again!”
However, the most touching was the response from one of the girls with Down Syndrome. I put my arms around her, not knowing what her response would be and she slowly and cautiously put her arms around me, as she laid her head on my chest. I wish I could have spent the entire day with those girls.
As the group was leaving, one of the extremely withdrawn girls who I was not really sure whether she was “getting’ anything that was happening or not, broke away from the group, walked up to me, touched my arm, looked me in the face and quietly said, “I love you, please come back.”
I love you, Gilda’s, the pleasure was all mine and I do hope I can come back!