I spent each day at the Central Library in Arlington, VA most of December 2019 and most of January 2020. I spent my time learning a new skill, and went to the library for the studios environment it provided. I haven’t begun the article, but I cannot resist the temptation to digress for a moment, and extol libraries – they verily are heaven on earth. They contain elixirs and potions in the form of books in abundant quantities. And the libraries that chairs and tables to read/study provide an environment conducive for uninterrupted focus. I noticed that one evening, there was a laughter yoga program being conducted at the library. I decided to check it out.

I was one of the first people to arrive. The instructor was a lovely middle-aged lady, who had been teaching laughter yoga for a while. I introduced myself, and told her that I was from India, I was visiting the US for a short duration, and that I was a brand new Dad. Slowly, people started to trickle into the room. Soon, there were about 20 people in the room close to start time, and I suddenly noticed something – I was the only man, the rest of the participants were ladies. Apparently, the instructor noticed this fact as well, “Don’t worry ladies, he is married”, she mock-assured the ladies. Ten more ladies, and to my relief, two men, joined us, and the session began. Another laughter yoga instructor from Arizona was here as well, and she led some of the exercises.

“How many of you are stressed – please raise your hands”, said the instructor. A fair amount of people raised their hands. “After this hour of laughter yoga, you will find that your stress has melted away!”, she said encouragingly. And the session began. For most of the exercises, the instructor described the exercise, and then asked the participants to go across the room, select one person as a partner, laugh along with them, then find another partner, rinse and repeat. Here are three things that I took away from the session:

  1. The Problem Exercise – The instructor asked us to think of one problem that was affecting us the most in our life. She then asked us to imagine that the problem is in front of us. She asked us to point our forefinger at the problem – and laugh at the problem. She asked us to look at our partner – look at the problem, then our partner’s face, and laugh at the problem, as if telling the partner “Look, I am laughing at this problem. This problem no power over me!” When I imagined a problem and did this exercise, I found that the gravity of the problem decreased in my evaluation!

    After I returned back to India in a month, the Covid pandemic erupted soon after. During the pandemic, I experienced several stressful moments. I completely forgot about this exercise and got caught up in stress spirals – it would have been a good experiment to practice this exercise and see if I was less stressful as a result. Having recollected this exercise while writing this article,  I intend to practice this each day, and evaluate my progress after a while.
  2. The Smelly Diaper Exercise – We were asked to imagine that a smelly diaper was in front of us. The exercise was to point at this diaper, and laugh it out. There were several other exercises, most of them a variation of this theme – imagine X, think of X, and laugh. When I googled “laughter yoga”, some other exercise ideas that came up were “Cell phone laughter” – hold an imaginary cell phone to your ears and laugh, “Greeting Laughter” – Greet somebody, and instead of uttering a “Hello” or shaking their hand, laugh. When I came back to India, my baby was four months old, we did have plenty of smelly diapers at home, when I pointed to it and laughed, I was met with weird glances from my family!
  3. Very Good – Very Good – Yay! – Each exercise ended with all participants saying “Very Good – Very Good – Yay!”. Each “Very Good” is accompanied with a clap, in a mild sing-song tone. The “Yay” is said with enthusiasm, raising our hands in the power pose. At the time, this seemed silly to me. When I think about it now, this is pretty powerful – a sense of excitement and enthusiasm is reinforced throughout the session, and the power pose has been proven to make people feel good about themselves.

At the end of the session, I found that I was indeed feeling great! I was not one of the people who had admitted to being stressed at the beginning of the session (I was feeling pretty exuberant that day). When the instructor said, “This ends our session. Now, all of you who are feeling stressed, please raise your hands”, the number of people who raised their hands were much lesser. Laughter Yoga worked! Very Good – Very Good – Yay!

Image Credit: Krakenimages from Unsplash

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Prahalad Rajkumar

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