Under the Laughing Tree

I love dreaming, it is the most poetic part of me. When I dream, my soul takes flight and I feel I am a brave, white bird soaring into the swirling clouds of an endless blue sky. If at first, I do not achieve my dream, I close my eyes and imagine holding a soft,  baby dove cooing gently in my palms. The dove is my dream. I warm it with my hands, thinking all the time that this tiny bird will grow and someday spread its wings.

Then, I let it go. I throw my arms up and let this lovely bird fly! I wish for it to return to me when the time is right. I send the hope that someday I will hear the flutter of strong and powerful wings and the soft touch of wisdom on my upturned face. I will listen and remember and know it is time to fulfill my dream. I will open my eyes.

Four years passed since I released that dove. And then the flutter of wings. In April 2016, my curiosity led me to the Laughing Club on a beach in Miami. I was in the midst of radiation treatments and I was sad, weak, and scared. I had read about Laughter Yoga and its benefits. I thought it might cheer me up.

I joined 8 strangers standing in a wide circle on the sand. Waves crashed in dull thuds behind us. The sky was a dizzying blue. I closed my eyes and inhaled the strong salt smell of the restless sea. We began with simple breathing exercises, and I found myself relaxing. Then our instructor told us to pull out imaginary phones and pretend we heard the funniest joke in the world. We started to laugh. 

Of course, it seemed forced at first. But as we continued, invisible energy rippled through the group. Listening to each other, we began to laugh harder and harder until genuine mirth began to bubble up inside of me and our laughs rolled out with unstoppable vigor. 

I felt relief and exhilaration wash through me, and I had a sense that my fear was leaking out of my body, first as invisible droplets then rushing in an irrepressible torrent. I was euphoric, the sun dazzling my eyes and my body light as a feather in an offshore breeze that swept my worries far out into the Gulf Stream. It was so different from everything I expected! It was fun and easy. We tried different prompts and laughed and laughed.

The more we did it, the easier it became and the more genuine it felt. Yet, our instructor told us a fascinating fact: our bodies cannot differentiate between real laughter and forced laughter. If you just keep laughing, even if you are not caught up in anything amusing, endorphins still flood the body, anxiety still recedes, serotonin increases in your brain, and you feel much better. I felt exhilarating, positive energy. After the class, I could not stop smiling for several hours and it was a wonderful feeling. 

I found out that there is even “Laughter Yoga” created by Dr. Madan Kataria. He started his first laughter club in 1995 in a park in Mumbai, India. He was with his lovely wife, Madhuri, and five friends. They started telling jokes, but after a while they ran out of jokes. Then he created an exercise program where everyone can laugh for no reason without relying on humor or jokes. Now, there are thousands of Laughing Yoga Clubs around the world!

Back when I discovered my “laughter therapy”, Dr, Kataria was teaching only in India and it was not in my plans to go there. I sighed with a smile and let my laughing bird fly. "It will come back," I thought. "People need to laugh more."

A couple of months ago, I started designing a stress management course. I remembered about Laughing Yoga and how it helped in coping with stress, anxiety, and sadness. I looked again at Dr. Kataria's website and couldn’t believe my eyes: he had started classes online because of the pandemic. 

I signed up for his training as a certified Laughter Yoga Leader and found it to be the most fun class I ever took! I now incorporate his techniques in my own “laughing therapy”. I also joined an International Laughter Club online. Imagine 150 Laughing Yoga members from dozens of countries, some dressed in outlandish costumes and hats, and others, regional dress were dancing, laughing, and smiling. It was hilarious!

We forget to laugh enough. Children often laugh more than 300 times per day. What happened to us? How did we lose that spark? Why do we let the weight of our experiences, our thoughts, squeeze out all that laughter? Laughter is good for us!

It makes us feel good! Why not practice it like any other skill?

Dr. Kataria told me that so far, most of his students got through the lockdown and pandemic blues easier than their friends. 

Why not give it a try? It’s fun!

Please join me outdoors at my new Laughter Club “Time to Laugh” every Saturday at noon under The Laughing Tree in the Bermuda Botanical Gardens. 

You may find your dream bird sitting on one of the branches of this magnificent tree.