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Laughter yoga about health, not humor

Yeah, OK, it looks ridiculous.

"It’s positively the silliest thing I’ve ever seen,” Cia Campbell admits. People standing around laughing. For no apparent reason.

Still, Campbell, who works for a lawn care and carpet cleaning company and designs advertisements for a department store, is convinced that laughing, even if nothing’s funny, is a great idea. Laughter yoga, it’s called.

"It’s a kind of acquired taste,” the Norman woman said. "People either love it or hate it.”

Tyler Slater loved it so much he traveled to Paris to spend a week with Dr. Madan Kataria, the guru of laughter yoga.

"Laughter exercises we use are designed to make real laughter happen,” said Slater, a Chickasha man who does technical support for schools when he’s not training people in the ways of laughter. "We simulate it at first, and because laughter is so contagious ... pretty quickly people are laughing for real. It’s something about the way we’re wired.”

Funny stuff isn’t the point. Laughter yoga is serious business.

"That’s one of the things we emphasize,” serious laughter proponent Ellen Mercer said. "We say, ‘Don’t even try to be or look funny.’ We don’t engage in comedy or humor. We’re not about humor or comedy.”

With laughter yoga, there are different routes to achieve lighter enlightenment. When Mercer leads a group, "we don’t get silly too fast,” she said.

Participants might begin with "gradient laughter, where we start laughing very quietly and build up.” Participants might growl with "lion laughter,” shake their fingers and mime "argument laughter,” engage in "gibberish” or wage imaginary snowball fights. On special occasions, they might try "witch laughter” or a few "ho, ho, hos.”

Some might stick out their tongues as far as they can and see what develops. Some might say, "You’re crazy. I am not sticking my tongue out,” Mercer said. Laughter yoga’s not for everyone.

It all began in 1995 in India. More or less. After writing an article based on the old adage "Laughter is the best medicine,” Kataria, a family physician, decided to start a club based on laughter. Five people met in a park in Mumbai and laughed. They started with humor, but the group soon ran out of jokes. Kataria dumped the jokes and kept the laughter.

With the help of his wife, a yoga enthusiast, the group focused on the physical aspects of laughing — the breathing, the rhythm, the vocalizing. And the modern laughter yoga movement was born, resulting in, according to the American School of Laughter Yoga, thousands of laughter groups around the world and 400 in the United States.

Actually, the laughter school said Kataria had stumbled on "Hasya Yoga,” an old branch of yoga based on laughter. Some breathing and movement of laughter yoga can be traced to tai chi and other martial arts, proponents say.

What’s important, the Katarias realized, is that people should do more laughing, fake or not. Research has shown the brain cannot distinguish self-induced laughter from the laughter caused by external stimuli: funny stuff.

Mercer has found that laughter yoga is good for children she works with at the Oklahaven Children’s Chiropractic Center. Laughter training seems to help the children, who have cerebral palsy, autism and other physical disabilities, breathe deeper, said Mercer, a nutritionist who sells a "fruit and vegetable pill” in multilevel marketing.

Many children with certain physical challenges laugh uncontrollably when they’re stressed, but laughter yoga helps them develop control, she said. "It’s a great way for the mothers and children to have an extra tool.”

Laughter yoga is big in California, Illinois and Colorado but has been slow to catch on in Oklahoma.

"It’s all about telling your mind you’re going to laugh,” Mercer said. "Don’t be so serious all the time. Lighten up.”

Know it: Fitness and Nutrition
Related Photos
ohn Mercer stretches during the  OKC  Laughter  Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps

ohn Mercer stretches during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-bc8aedde89fd4d43e5b242edd907146b.jpg" alt="Photo - ohn Mercer stretches during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps" title="ohn Mercer stretches during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps"><figcaption>ohn Mercer stretches during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f3a86fbbde53decc319bc964491a0e2b.jpg" alt="Photo - Mitchell McMahan laughs during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD" title="Mitchell McMahan laughs during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD"><figcaption>Mitchell McMahan laughs during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-9ce53639fb96724813bb426e21392eda.jpg" alt="Photo - Tyler Slater during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD" title="Tyler Slater during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD"><figcaption>Tyler Slater during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0d573b94df38fdaadf7b1bbd93cccee2.jpg" alt="Photo - John Mercer during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD" title="John Mercer during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD"><figcaption>John Mercer during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6ccd3a3fd35bd5c0ec1c65fbdaae1664.jpg" alt="Photo - Tyler Slater during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD" title="Tyler Slater during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD"><figcaption>Tyler Slater during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-5b33c5632baf016f4bcf0363e239b1ac.jpg" alt="Photo - WOMAN / LAUGHING: Laughter can help fight stress and disease. (Clip art)" title="WOMAN / LAUGHING: Laughter can help fight stress and disease. (Clip art)"><figcaption>WOMAN / LAUGHING: Laughter can help fight stress and disease. (Clip art)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-dcc295e6111b18c4aefda4dadcb763a4.jpg" alt="Photo - WOMAN / LAUGHING: Laughter can help fight stress and disease. (Clip art)" title="WOMAN / LAUGHING: Laughter can help fight stress and disease. (Clip art)"><figcaption>WOMAN / LAUGHING: Laughter can help fight stress and disease. (Clip art)</figcaption></figure>
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