Every year, just before new programs start, the Vancouver Community Centres offer free trials of some of their classes. During the Christmas break I scoured the listings to find a new experience, and my eye was caught by Laughter Yoga. Not knowing the first thing about it, but assuming it was some sort of deep breathing exercise to enhance stretches, I signed up and then promptly forgot about it until I received a reminder email.
I decided to do some light research via Wikipedia. The entry was not inspiring;
Laughter yoga (Hasyayoga) is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. Laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughter yoga is done in groups, with eye contact and playfulness between participants.
Most foreboding of all was the stern admonishment that;
Laughter yoga does not involve humor or comedy.
The thought of copious eye contact and ‘playful’ gestures with complete strangers gave me heart palpitations as it was, but the prospect of not being able to break the tension with a weak pun or awkward banter worried me far more. I can do awkward. Excel at it even. But playful? Not my forte.
The class took place in ‘The Hobbies Room’, which was decorated in an explosion of primary colours, and furnished with very small tables and chairs. Less of a hobby room, more of a playschool. Painted on the wall was an orca, floating in a sea of dreamy, lilac swirls. This did not bode well, but perhaps the room had been selected to induce a more childlike, playful state? I was greeted warmly by our instructor, Meg, a cheerful, enthusiastic lady whom I took an immediate liking to. Perhaps this would be ok.
Meg led us into our first exercise, which was to sit in a circle, introduce ourselves and give a fake laugh. She was kind enough to stress that our laugh could be as outrageous or as quiet as we liked, and most importantly that nobody would be judging us. Of course the second she said this I instantly felt a burning need to impress this circle of strangers, whom I would likely never see again, with my magnificent fake laugh. I decided on the quintessential “Mwah ha ha ha ha!” of the classic movie villain. It was distinctive, timeless, and obviously not as original as I had thought because someone further up the circle got in and used it first. Drat! All I had to fall back on was a coquettish ‘Tee hee hee”. The others dutifully laughed with me, but I think they could tell I wasn’t feeling it. Must try harder.
Introductions over, it was time for the class to start proper. Before that though Meg explained that after exercises, we congratulated each other on a job well done. Fair enough. I was not prepared for what was about to happen next.
Without warning, Meg dropped her adult persona and started talking like a toddler, complete with baby-voice.
“Well done,” she cried, clapping twice to the right.
“Well done,” two claps to the left.
The charade was finished when she shot both hands straight up into the air and cheered,
It was as though someone had over caffeinated a Tellytubby.
Nonplussed, I glanced at the clock. 7.10pm. There was still fifty minutes to go. I wondered whether that was enough time for my mum to write a note excusing me from the rest of the class.
Despite my misgivings I did my best to throw myself into the various different exercises, designed to invoke our inner child and elicit real laughter. We touched elbows, bowed to each other whilst saying ‘thank you’ in any language other than English (thank you, GCSE German class), pulled faces, and pretended to whisper secrets in each others’ ears. Although I didn’t laugh spontaneously once, I slowly began to unwind enough to enjoy hamming it up ever so slightly.
My favourite exercise was the ‘No’ exercise. For this activity, you had to have an ‘argument’ with a partner, using only the word ‘No’. I decided to get a little sassy, snapping my fingers, looking my partners up and down, and of course making the universal ‘Talk to the hand’ sign. I believe the correct term is ‘throwing shade’. Apparently my inner child is a mean girl.
We finished with free form laughing, which consisted of lying on our back and laughing (or not) as we pleased. To relax us, Meg turned off the harsh overhead lighting. Unfortunately the red light emanating from the room’s Exit sign cast an eerie glow and, combined with the whooping and cackling of my classmates, made a demonic tableau which I found less than conducive to laughter. Not to be deterred, I closed my eyes and was able to convince myself that I was in a rainforest, surrounded by howler monkeys, which was actually rather pleasant.
At the very end we returned to our circle, and went around giving our thoughts about the class. I was able to truthfully say that I enjoyed saying no far too much.
VERDICT: Whilst Meg, and my classmates, were delightful, I can’t say the same about Laughter Yoga. Perhaps my inner child is just too solemn, but the whole experience felt too forced and unnatural for me to really let go and be swept away by it.