THE LAST YEAR hasn’t been kind to Claudette Hatcher. Normally a gregarious travel and event planner and professional opera singer, she’s seen her usual income sources decimated. Instead of globe-trotting, she’s been stuck inside more than she’d like. And yet she’s laughed her way through it all.
That’s because she’s an avid practitioner of laughter yoga. Founded in India by a doctor, Madan Kataria, laughter yoga is based on the idea that no matter why you’re doing it, laughter is good for you — it brings more oxygen into the blood and reduces stress.
Now, “laughter clubs” meet all over the world. They are typically free, except for small donations to cover costs.
Hatcher attends instructor and “laughter ambassador” Julie Plaut Warwick’s laughter yoga sessions, originally in person and now in a virtual version.
“Even though I’ll laugh during the day, it’s nice to focus on that instead of it being a byproduct of something else,” Hatcher says. “Every time I go, I always feel better afterward.”
During a laughter yoga session, Plaut Warwick guides the group of about six to 20 people through exercises that are a bit different every time — maybe dancing around to cheerful music, maybe imagining traveling to visit one another for a fun activity. Each session ends with at least one straight minute of loud laughter.
Plaut Warwick has people join from as far as New Zealand. Many have become regulars and feel like friends. “When you’re laughing with another person, you’re totally connecting with that person,” she says.
No equipment or physical fitness is required. But laughter yoga does share a crucial characteristic with other forms of yoga: focus on the breath — in this case, the deep belly breaths that come with forceful, open-mouthed laughter.
I was a bit tentative about attending a session, because I’m not usually a laugh-out-loud kind of person. And laughing on demand did feel weird, at first, but it’s also true that laughter is contagious. And if the whole point of something is to let yourself be loose and goofy, you’re going to feel more awkward not going along. I did feel more relaxed afterward; some of the usual stress had lifted from my shoulders.
A mental-health counselor by training, Plaut Warwick discovered laughter yoga when she was doing a workshop with grieving families at Gas Works Park. They walked past a group doing laughter yoga.
“One by one, my clients started to laugh. It was the most amazing thing that, still, I have ever seen,” she says. “The next week, I went to my first laughter yoga class. I fell in love right away with the very concept of laughing for no reason at all.”
The “no reason at all” is a crucial aspect of laughter yoga. Plaut Warwick acknowledges that life is full of difficulties. To her, that just makes planned laughter all the more important. If you wait for a reason to laugh, you will never do it enough. “The body cannot differentiate between laughing because you can’t help it or laughing on purpose,” she says.
Hatcher says the sessions have helped keep her physically and mentally healthy even through trials. Now, she’s become something of an evangelist, too, inviting her own friends and acquaintances, often through the Eastside Social Club meetup group she organizes. “Come with an open mind, and be prepared to laugh,” she says.