Daphne introduces herself with warm openness and seems to laugh and move freely as our laughter exercises begin. This is Daphne’s first visit to our Laughter Yoga club and I find her laughter contagious from the start.
The next week, Daphne arrives before the others and asks me whether other LY clubs meet locally because she needs a second opportunity to laugh with others each week. When I inform her that, currently, this is the only group, I also share that I am interested in offering sessions of Laughter Yoga coaching on an individual basis. I tell Daphne that coaching is new for me and that it would be a shared learning adventure. With her permission, I would write about our experience and, perhaps gain feedback from other LY professionals. Learn and share as we go. She agrees and we decide on a small fee she will pay for our work together. We plan to meet the following Wednesday.
Daphne arrives at my apartment and we settle in with cups of tea. She is familiar with LY’s history and its core tenets so we skip the general introduction. We follow, loosely, Dr. Kataria’s first lesson on his LY Coaching DVD set. We start by discussing the elements of the coaching work we will do together - weekly meetings - telephone contacts – attending LY club – homework. Briefly we talk about working together as partners and then discuss expectations. Daphne talks about how difficult the past two years have been since her mom was first diagnosed with a progressive dementia. Wanting to provide care and support, a little over a year ago she traveled home for an extended visit to spend time with her mom. The stress was enormous and when anxiety and panic overwhelmed her ability to cope, Daphne required treatment to regain balance. A year later, she is greatly improved and believes that LY is part of her healing going forward. Daphne says that she does not know how many sessions she will want or need, but is learning to listen within and to trust her own knowing.
I tell her that Dr. Kataria suggests taking two pictures – one with her smiling, one without. If she agrees, she will take home both so she can study the difference her smile makes. Out comes the camera. Snap. Snap. WOW!!! We flip back and forth five or six times amazed by the contrast. She looks like a whole different person in each shot, shining when she smiles and looking years younger. We laugh as we notice that even her hair looks different. “It’s fluffier”, she exclaims.
We proceed to the Laughter Quotient Form. The survey would not be my first choice as a means to gauge the outcomes of our LY coaching sessions, but I do see the value in having something concrete to show Daphne following our series of sessions together. We go through the questions and discuss the patterns revealed. Daphne discloses that she has struggled with depression and the expression of anger for a long time.
For quite some time, we talk about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias – its many manifestations, the challenges for caregivers, drug therapy, the facility where her mom now resides, ways to diffuse tense moments and to redirect inappropriate behaviors. We discuss the family’s struggles: her’s, her mom’s, her sister’s. I feel great compassion. Daphne says that she didn’t’ plan on sharing all she did but that it feels right. We discuss how LY can help to shift feelings of hopelessness and of feeling stuck. How it can help to free emotional expression.
It is time to breathe and laugh together. We start with deep breaths in as we stretch long, with arms extended to the ceiling. Sighing out, we gently fall over at our waists and dangle towards the floor. We shake out our bodies and laugh and then choose lion as our first LY exercise. One meter laughter is next. I love exercises that end with full body, “Y” shaped extension. We talk about how it looks like we are exclaiming a big “YES” to life. And because motion creates emotion, it is not only a powerful metaphor but a trigger for the activation of chemicals and hormones that lead to inner calm and happiness. We breathe together and then play with laughing to crying to laughing again - another one of my favorite LY exercises. We pour all our worries, pains and distractions into the space we create between us, shaking, rattling and making noises to release whatever we are holding. Then we laugh at it, and stomp on it and send it love, as it shrinks before our eyes. We end with affirmations, “I am incredible, you are incredible.”, and a two minute standing meditation.
Daphne tells me that she wants to meet again next week. Between now and then, we plan to talk twice on the phone - to laugh for no reason. Her homework, as Dr. Kataria suggests, is to laugh in the shower and to tell one person, about LY. For bonus points, she can choose to smile in the mirror while telling herself, “I am incredible.”
Although, I had planned to follow Dr. Kataria’s first session more closely, beginning with warm-up exercises, Daphne and I co-created the flow of our session. It was what it was. With someone else, warm-up exercises might have been the center of our work together.
We talked about much more than I am documenting here - probably more than was needed. This, I think, is part of my lessons. I am learning that I don’t need to impart everything I know all at once. I need to trust myself, Daphne and the process. Before Daphne arrived, my husband, Stan reminded me to spend time really listening; and I did. But sometimes, when I get nervous, I talk a lot. It is also part of my wanting to make it all better, not just for Daphne – for everyone I encounter who is in pain. If I just keep talking I will happen upon just the right words or turn of phrase that soothes it all away. I understand that this is wishful thinking, probably partly attributable to my nervousness. My intentions are good, but I believe we are both better served when I can listen with compassion without the need to provide all the answers.
I will call Daphne tomorrow. I look forward to laughing with her.
*not her real name