LIHUE – Any kind of laughter will do.
It can be a giggle, a hearty belly laugh, a cackle or a snicker – any type of guffaw will get results.
It doesn’t have to be real. Even faking it can be healthy.
“It’s a worldwide movement with America being the last one to jump on board,” said Lucy Miller, a mental health professional and certified Laughter Yoga professional on Kauai.
What the country is getting on board with is laughter yoga, free group classes where students get together and act out skits and bust out laughing. Even if the skits aren’t side splitters — acting like you’re a politician or a chicken laying an egg, for example — forcing a laugh is just as healthy and therapeutic as the real thing.
Miller instructs her class from noon to 1 p.m. every Monday at the Lihue Neighborhood Center with Jeffrey Pears, who has been leading laughter groups in health care settings, small businesses, local community centers and yoga groups for the past five years.
The class preaches the mental and physical benefits of cracking up. And while Pears is no stand-up comedian, he knows how to get a group going.
“When you simulate laughter, it sends relief into the brain and a person begins to have an elevated sense of well-being,” Pears said.
A group of pupils at a recent Monday class said they felt a heck of a lot better after letting out the laughs, too.
Mela Kuslo of Kapahi was a medical doctor in Carinthia, Austria in the 1970s before she relocated to Kauai. She said she saw firsthand the benefits of laughing before she joined the group.
“Laughter is always good,” said Kuslo, who attended a recent Monday session. “I worked in a setting where patients were recovering from cancer treatments and major surgeries in one big room with up to 20 other people. I would go in and make them laugh. I thought back then that it should be some sort of official therapy.”
Miller told the group of students that a person can fake a laugh and their body doesn’t know the difference. It works most effectively when people laugh continuously for several minutes, uninterrupted. Benefits include reduced stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, boosted immune system, reduced risk of heart disease by increased blood flow, diminished fear and anxiety and released endorphins, which relieves pain.
A biography of the recent trend on laughteryoga.org credits Dr. Madan Kataria of India for creating the phenomena in 1995. It has since spread to 72 countries. It also says that hearty laughter for 10 minutes is proven to equal 30 minutes on the rowing machine, according to Dr. William Fry, a research scientist from Stanford University.
So what do they do in Lihue before LOLing?
In the one hour class, exercises included simulating driving a car and stopping next to an adjacent car, turning to the neighboring motorist, and laughing. Another called for participants to pretend they were politicians shaking hands on the campaign trail and look at the sought-after vote and laugh. In another, people pretended they were chickens laying three eggs, after which they stood up after each hatch and, you guessed it, let out a chortle.
“I feel very energized. Like I want to keep laughing,” said 9-year-old Derick Mailan after the class.
Fellow student Sola Patricia agreed. After the session, she said she felt relaxed.
“I feel a lot calmer and more tranquil,” Patricia said.
Miller said that’s the exact result the instructors want. It’s no secret laughing is healthy, she said, so the idea of it being used for health benefits doesn’t surprise too many people.
“What I see is, people want to feel better,” Miller said. “They want to be healthy. Sometimes life is grim. It’s easy to not necessarily like going to the gym. But laughter yoga has no age limitations, there are no tools needed and it’s open to anybody.”
Anybody who wants to roll on the floor and laugh their head off in the name of improved health, that is.
“I feel lighter physically and mentally,” said Judy Xenofos after taking part. “The last couple days I’d been feeling ill, mentally and physically. I feel better.”
Lisa Ann Capozzi, features and education reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.