Several years ago, soon after I had completed Laughter Yoga Teacher training, I was visiting an elderly aunt whom I eagerly wanted to engage in my laughter scenarios. We laughed and laughed and had a really great time, but as I was getting ready to leave, she took my hand and said in a super serious voice, “Now, Sue Ann, I loved the laughter, but I hope you’re not going to use that word!” “What word?” I replied. Cautiously, she whispered, “YOGA!”
So what was the problem with this word, “yoga”? Her response to me was that it “was from the Devil”. My response, “Oh.” And that was the end of that or so I thought.
Fast-forward about seven years to the summer of 2011. I was asked to present Laughter Yoga to a group of fundamentalist Christians in Montana – I live in Michigan. About three weeks before I was to present, my friend, an old classmate from nursing school days, whose husband was the pastor, called to say there were several members of the congregation who were extremely upset with the “Laughter Yoga business” and asked me if I would talk to her husband about it. We talked, he asked a few questions and seemed satisfied all was innocent, that I would not be leading his congregation straight to Hell.
A few hours later that day, I received another phone call from my friend asking that I speak directly to the people who were confronting them on speakerphone. What could I say? The accusations ranged from minds being controlled by something demonic to mysticism to the routine clapping and “HoHoHaHaHa’s” being some kind of crazed mantra that somehow enables one to lose control of one’s senses. Laughing for no reason, according to him, had to be of Satanic origin! Shockingly, I maintained my cool, but it wasn’t easy. After nearly 45 minutes of grilling, the conversation ended when I told him I thought it sounded like he needed more laughter in his life!
Arriving in Montana, I heard even more of the story. He had written a letter to all church members condemning not only me, but also my friend for inviting me and admonishing all to stay far, far away from me and anything to do with “Laughter Yoga”. Another pastor who would be participating in the weekend community events called the day after I arrived, questioning my friend about my character. Her husband told me the naysayer at his church had made many negative comments about me and referred to my kind of laughter as “unholy”. Oh yeah. I guess when you laugh at “I Love Lucy” that would be the “holy” kind, right?
By this time I really had no burning desire to present Laughter Yoga, let alone laugh and was feeling if I had to, I would surely know what “laughing for NO reason” was all about! I told my friend to just call it off, but she stood firm and refused to give into the church bullies….the show must go on!
3 PM Saturday afternoon, would anyone show up? We pulled 10 chairs into a circle, they filled, then we pulled in 10 more….and they kept coming - 32 in all with four pastors in the group, not bad! The first thing I did was get the “yoga” word out there, although I had been cautioned to maybe not use it. On principle, I had to use it!
I explained the connection of mind, body and spirit – an absolute balanced union if good health is to be realized. I reminded them that laughter is a gift from God, something we often fail to do in this fast-faced society and that “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine”. I was hesitant introducing gibberish, so fearful that it might be interpreted as “speaking in tongues”, but I like doing it so much, I plunged into it and made a point of “speaking” to each and every pastor…and they responded in same, Praise the Lord!
Then came the next challenge – guided imagery. Before even speaking with my friend, I knew this might be an issue, so I asked her if she had any soft, instrumental religious music I could use, but what would I say during that time, how would I guide their minds in a way that would not offend?
Suddenly, I remembered my favorite Friday evening Vespers song when I was a homesick 14-year-old child away at boarding school and the principal would ask us to close our eyes and sing, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face. . .” This, they would get. With beautiful strains of music in the background, I asked them first to consciously relax each muscle group, then to imagine Jesus standing at their feet, lovingly cradling both feet in the palms of His hands. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful session of Laughter Yoga.
But it didn’t end there . . . after potluck at the church, a group wanted to head up the mountain to release even more laughter into the Universe. I was told later that one man who had been unable to attend the afternoon laughter session wanted to know what had changed when everyone had returned – the mood was so different, so light, so happy. When they told him it was the laughter, he suggested we go to the mountain so he could also be a part of laughter. . and he was!
But it didn’t end there! Three days later as my friend and I started on our long trip back to Michigan, she noticed some of her church friends working on a house, so we stopped to say hello and good-bye. The woman, in her 70’s, took my hands in hers and told me with tears in her eyes as she bid me farewell, that her husband greeted her at the door as she came home from work the night before with a “HoHoHaHaHa”!
Perhaps the most moving, at least for me, was my exchange with the pastor who initially questioned my character. He came to me at the end of the session to say how much he had enjoyed it and apologized for all the negative comments. Suddenly, I remembered that I had forgotten to say one of my favorite things, “You are amazing!”, and so I told him. Together, we came up with my favorite line during the entire trip, “You are an AMAZING Child of God!” Aren’t we all?
From this experience, the entire concept of “laughter yoga”, has become very clear to me – a union, not only within myself with all that is Divine, but a joyful vehicle capable of uniting and empowering an entire congregation . . . a four-letter word, indeed!