Twice a month 20 to 25 people come together in the basement of the Unitarian Church on Main Street to laugh for the health of it – and they are looking for others to join them.
Twice a month, 20 to 25 people come together in the basement of the Unitarian Church on Main Street to laugh for the health of it – and they are looking for others to join them.
The Wakefield Laugh Club, along with thousands of others around the globe, are based on the teachings of Dr. Madan Kataria, who believes that laughing for 20 minutes daily is good for you.
Laugh Clubs are based on the movements of Hasya Yoga or laughter yoga. The idea is that as a person fills his/her lungs with air, breathing deep breaths and exhaling through laughter, there is benefit especially to those who do not exercise regularly.
Wakefield Laugh Club co-leader Marcia ‘Bonnie’ Hobbs said, “A session of laugh club is the same aerobic exercise as a five-mile walk.” She cautions newcomers to be mindful of their bodies on the day following their first few sessions of laugh club.
Typically, there is very little conversation during the one-hour meetings. The only words spoken are generally from the leader, who guides the group through exercises.
Minimal instructions are provided to the group before the exercise begins. There is no touching during the exercises. Listen to your body, if you need to sit down, let others come to you when we exercise. Full-face eye contact encourages contagious laughter.
On April 19, Hobbs took the group of 20 on a jaunt to the beach without leaving the room. She also suggested they reach back into their memories and go to the beach as 5-year-olds. The exercises that followed were all based on the reactions of a 5-year-old at the beach.
To get the participants limbered up, Hobbs asked them to stand up, walk around and meet their fellow participants with full-on eye contact. She suggested they do this with their thumbs tucked into their armpits, flapping their arms like chickens and laughing.
Forced laughter easily turned into hilarity, which became contagious in no time. This exercise broke the ice. Noticing that others were looking as silly as they were, participants fell easily into letting their laughter take over. In this vein, Hobbs reminded participants to “ignore the logical side of your brain. Let the right side of your brain come in today. Welcome your inner child at play.”
Hobbs continued, “Nowhere is there any research that states you have to laugh because your brain thinks it's funny.”
“Today I am a nursery school teacher,” she said, “I always take the group for a journey. Today we are going to the beach.”
She instructed participants to walk as if they are walking in bare feet on hot sand. While walking around the room lifting their feet as they touched the imagined scorching sand, members of the group made eye contact and laughed. It only took a few guffaws to get the whole group going.
The next exercise provided the beachgoers with an imaginary bucket of water. Hobbs instructed the group to do whatever 5-year-olds would do with their buckets of water.
“Dump the bucket on the sand, on yourself or each other,” she said.
Members of the group walked around the room in random fashion dumping imaginary buckets of water. No words were spoken. Conversations were replaced by deep laughter, giggles and smiles that beamed from ear to ear. Logical boundaries faded, this adult group of imaginary 5-year-olds found their inner children and they were laughing deeply. They laughed not because anything specifically was funny, but because they could, because others were laughing and because it felt good.
In the following exercise they toweled off acting like children. Laughing all the way around the room, whipping imaginary towels at each other, they wiped the pretend water from their bodies. They laughed the entire time they did this, a contagious infectious laughter that would penetrate the soul of even the most stoic bystander.
A breathing exercise while sitting in chairs arranged in a circle follows the hilarity of the beach. Sitting still, rolling heads first to the left and then to the right, taking deep cleansing breaths brought each individual back to their center. A set of shoulder shrugs followed and the imaginary 5 year olds finished their time out and were ready for beach antics again.
They made milkshakes and threw them at each other. They built sand castles and threw imaginary shovels full of sand. They took imaginary dips into the water and came out without parts of their bathing suits. They laughed all the way through. These exercises were followed by a bend and stretch exercise where they pretended to cry as they bent down and they laughed as they came up.
In the last exercise on the beach, the group walked along the shore reaching down and picking up make-believe starfish. They threw them back in the water. Hobbs related a story about a man who walked the beach picking up starfish. “Another person saw him and said, ‘There’s a whole beach of starfish, you can’t possibly throw them all back.’”
Hobbs then told the group that the first man said, “It makes a difference to this one starfish that I throw it back.”
From their chairs they sat quietly, breathing in and bringing their arms close to their bodies. As they exhaled they pushed air out of their lungs while extending their arms.
On their imaginary ride home the group of 5-year-olds giggled while sitting in the backseats of their pretend cars. The laughter was gradient laughter. Each one started out with a low ha-ha, followed by a deeper ha, ha, ha, which soon evolved into full belly laughs. Some even had tears in their eyes from their efforts. The laughter was contagious. It was also good exercise and as this exercise came to a close it was apparent that at true aerobic workout had just been completed.
Hobbs brought the group back to reality with a visualization effort. “Imagine you are sitting in a lounge chair,” she said. “We’re still at the beach. Lay back. Close your eyes. Feel the warm sun on your face. Feel the hint of the east wind. Smell the salt from the ocean. Hear the surf and the faint muffle of children in the background. We’re adults now. And as adults we know we can still go to that place we were as children.”
There was silence for a minute or two as each member of the group made their personal journey back to adulthood.
“Before you open your eyes,” Hobbs said, “Get rid of the shoulds. You know, I should do this. I should do that. Breathe and let go. Those horrible shoulds are gone with the tide. Feel the surf. Feel warm. Be in that moment, that time in the chair at the beach.”
Looking around the room there was a transformation. The imaginary 5-year-olds became the adults who just an hour before had walked into that church basement.
They wiggled their toes. They stretched their shoulders and their journey to the beach in their mind’s eye was complete. They were back in Wakefield.
“Appreciate your laughter. You are all special, unique and wonderful people,” said Hobbs.
The last laugh was accompanied by a thumbs to each and every member of the group. They had made personal journeys to a deep place in their souls where their inner children lived. They participated in an hour long exercise that didn’t feel one bit like work and most of all they had fun.