Peggy Tileston, therapist: When I first heard about Laughter Yoga, I was sceptical and a bit creeped out by the idea of forcing myself and others to laugh. I wondered how laughter could be generated without a sense of humour. What if someone is depressed or just doesn't feel like laughing? Some of the people I work with have been through horrible experiences. How dare I ask them to laugh? So many people hide behind fake smiles and laughter, so isn't pretending to laugh somehow inauthentic?
Despite all of these doubts, I was intrigued enough to try a few Laughter Yoga exercises in the "Liberate Your Voice" group I was running at a treatment centre for women with eating disorders. When the instruction was given to "speak to your partner in no known earthly language, just nonsense words," one of the most rigid, self-conscious, and serious participants started flapping her arms and shouting in gibberish. Her startled partner was rendered speechless with surprise and the rest of the residents started laughing so hard that some had tears streaming down their cheeks.
This was the session that convinced me to get trained as a Laughter Yoga leader. If a few simple improvisation and breathing exercises could loosen inhibitions and help my clients connect with each other with such delight and playfulness, I wanted to know more! Since that day in 2007 I've used Laughter Yoga in many settings and with a wide variety of people, including several sessions during my therapy with patients.
Here are some of my memorable experiences:
- An elderly gentleman in my Laughter Yoga training and I basked in the warm feelings of hilarity shared. My heart opened to him as it seemed to do with everyone I share laughter with. During a conversation we realized that although we held opposite views on just about everything religious and political, it didn’t matter. Because we had opened our hearts to eachother, we could never become enemies.
- During a Laughter Yoga session on an inpatient psychiatric unit, a 20 year old with multiple piercings who hadn’t spoken all week turned to me and said; "Lady, you are crazier than we are!” Depression, internal preoccupation, lethargy and isolation reigned supreme on this inpatient psychiatric unit when I had first entered. After an hour spent laughing, dancing, singing and playing together, I was surrounded by people who were smiling and connecting with one another. Even the kid who accused me of craziness ended up leading us all in the “silly walk”
The more traditional therapy groups I lead may be beneficial and necessary, but I know deep in my bones that this way of relating through laughter and play is essential.
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