There’s the giggle. The shrieking cackle. The belly laugh. So many ways to laugh, and Tyler Slater wants to hear them all.
Checking out Laugh Out Loud Oklahoma, a laughter yoga organization founded by Slater, I was afraid all he was going to get from me was a derisive snort, maybe a chuckle if he was lucky.
But then I learned that laughter yoga isn’t about humor (and thank God for that, I don’t think my one and only joke ” the “interrupting cow” ” is exactly a barn-burner). Laughter yoga is more about helping people relieve stress with a big, helpful dose of the giggles.
On the spectrum of yoga disciplines, laughter yoga is a baby. Laughter Yoga International was started by a Mumbai physician in 1995 with a couple of friends and an idea: Laughter may really be the best medicine.
The exercise routine has spread to 60 countries. It landed in Oklahoma in 2006. Slater was teaching standard, laughter-free yoga at a YMCA when he learned about it.
“I was wanting to get further trained in some other type of yoga, and I also like to make people laugh, so it just sounded great,” Slater said.
He traveled to Paris (France, not Texas) for training and returned to Oklahoma with a smile. He started Laugh Out Loud Oklahoma in 2006 and has been slowly growing groups around the metro ever since.
Laugh factoryLaugh Out Loud Oklahoma runs five clubs around the metro that meet weekly or monthly. The clubs are free, open the public and last for a half an hour.
There’s no “downward dog” or “bound warrior” poses in laughter yoga ” the exercise all comes from laughing, along with some gentle stretches and breathing. In fact, when I visited, the people assembled for the session were dressed in everything from jeans to business clothes.
“You can wear plain clothes or even a suit and do laughter yoga,” Slater said.
I joined the Friday evening club held at a high-rise office along Northwest Expressway. There were seven people there, including me, who ranged in age from their 20s to 60s, and in occupation from accounting to lawn care to a retired city employee. Slater said the typical student is a woman in her 40s to 60s.
He led the group while clad in a bright green tee that proclaimed “Ho Ho! Ha Ha Ha!,” which I soon figured out was the practice’s mantra.
After some deep breathing, Slater started with a chant and some hand clapping. Like the other participants, he had a big, easy smile on his face. The key, however, is that he didn’t look goofy or forced, and that really made me feel less self-aware of what I looked like standing in a circle, clapping wildly.
The idea of laughter yoga sounds incredibly corny, but I was less timid than I anticipated. It’s not just you laughing like a loon, but everyone. And the laughter is infectious.
Each exercise is done standing in a circle, staring at other people as you laugh. Surprisingly, it’s not as weird as it sounds.
“It’s very connecting for people, because we really encourage eye contact,” said Ellen Mercer, who leads a club in the Plaza District. “Just being with a group of people and laughing together is really a great way to connect with people.”
Mercer, who has a background in nutrition, was drawn to laughter yoga after attending one of Slater’s seminars.
“I looked at laughter and thought, ‘Whole food for the spirit and soul,'” she said.
Chuckle clubIt isn’t just about straight-up snickering.
“It’s more about a group environment,” Slater said. “You’re getting all those benefits for your body and for your mind, but you’re also laughing with other people, so you’re connecting in a way that only laughter can do.”
Group connection aside, he said laughter yoga also relieves all sorts of ills.
“When you laugh, it changes the chemistry of your body,” he said. “It’s a pain reliever, it’s an antidepressant, it lowers high blood pressure.”
One participant, Dorothy, said it has taught her to breath deeply, helping to relieve the stress of her job.
Laughter yoga also has found a home at a local children’s nonprofit, Oklahaven Children’s Chiropractic Center, which Mercer visits weekly.
“Within all their other treatment, we sandwich in the laughter,” she said. “It’s bringing up their ability to breathe, their ability to control behavior. We’re doing things that no one else is doing.”
“Jenny Coon Peterson
photo Participants laugh their way to wellness at a Plaza District laughter yoga club. photo/Shannon Cornman