Learning to love laughter

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Contagious hilarity reawakens lost sense of joy at Valentine’s Day laughercize session

One Valentine’s Day weekend past, I was invited to a party where I was told a guest speaker would teach love exercises inspired by the love poems of Rumi. This seemed miles out of my comfort zone. l was contemplating skipping the party to nurture a love affair at home with my PVR. But come Saturday night, I grabbed my courage and a smile, and off I went.

As it turns out, I misunderstood the entertainment portion of the evening. The invited love guru was actually a professional laughologist (the music was to include Rumi). The plan for the evening was laughercize, best described as a cornbination of laughter yoga and extreme laughter.

Years ago, I registered for a laughter yoga course. A yogi myself, I could think of nothing better than combining the two disciplines. I went to my first lesson only to find two people registered. Perplexed, I wondered, ‘How could there be only two people in the city of Montreal who want to laugh?’ The course was cancelled and I never saw another up for grabs. But I kept looking. And now, sitting in a chair in front of me with legs grounded (not on the floor in lotus pose), was Albert Nerenberg, the laughologist.

Our first exercise was to introduce ourselves with our name followed by a laugh, which would be echoed by the other 30 guests. I panicked. Would a laugh come out? I’m quiet with a soft voice. ‘l am Wendy. Hahaha’. lt worked! That laugh bolted out of me with an exuberance that surprised me.

Next, we were asked to take a deep breath in and force a laugh out as we exhaled. After the third sequence, I thought I was going to pass out. I imagined the scenario. I drop to the floor. They call 911. I kill the party. Hilarious.


While the laughter continued around me, I descended into a private contemplation. I used to have a hearty, contagious laugh. Surrounded by laughter, I realized I barely laughed anymore. I was no longer jovial, wild, carefree. My dress code, along with my outlook, had gone from colourfully grand to bland. My thirst for adventure had migrated to parts unknown. I used to see humour everywhere. Laughter was always bubbling inside of me. Somehow, while maturing into a hopefully more interesting and refined individual, I had pushed the lighthearted Wendy aside. Perhaps the weight of life experiences had hardened me. I realized that I missed my laughing self terribly’

I shook myself back into the game. lt wasn’t hard. The strange and infectious sounds of laughter were omnipresent; each exercise sillier than the next. Our leader asked us to laugh over his dialogue. When he spoke again, we were instructed to laugh louder, and so on. This caused laughter madness. We were creating a situation, which in reality, would be outright rude. There were straight-faced stare- downs to see who could contain the emergence of a smile the longest, and laughter contests to see who laughed the longest and hardiest. Our leader asked me to participate in a back-to-back exercise, where the laughter is experienced through vibrations from your partner’s back.

There I was, bending forward and backward to the wave of the laugh. I felt like a convulsing rubber Gumby, and probably looked like one, too. The roar from the crowd was indescribable, a veritable cacophony of hoots and hollers resembling the sounds that might be heard on Noah’s ark. When we inadvertently banged heads with a crash, our exercise came to a conclusion. As I sat down, the man beside me said, “Wendy, I didn’t know you had it in you,” to which I replied, “Nor did l!” I was reacquainting with my inner laugher.” I had found an old friend.

Our last exercise included two minutes of laughter in complete darkness. After the first minute, I’d had enough. I quieted down, enjoying the 30 cackles that enveloped me. Suddenly, I noticed a shaking from deep within my belly. I was laughing uncontrollably (pee-in-your-pants type guffawing that won’t stop, tears and all). Lt was astonishing.

The theory behind the disciplines of laughter yoga and laughercize is that laughter is good for you whether it is forced or comes naturally. And once forced, it comes naturally. My laughter reflex had kicked in all on its own.

After the workshop, hilarity ensued out of every corner of the party. lt was a brilliant way to break the ice. But it didn’t end there. On my way home I encountered a smug woman on the elevator; her scowl apparently amusing. I desperately tried to contain my laughter. What was acceptable an hour ago would be highly inappropriate now. I felt like I’d just come home from camp with a suitcase of inside jokes that I needed to share.

That night changed something deep within me. One night of laughter allowed me to see the colourfully grand before the bland. I reconnected with a piece of the Wendy I used to know and love, making laughter the greatest Valentine’s gift I could ever have received.

The ripple effect continues to this day, becoming stronger and contagious. I smile more often and I imagine, wouldn’t it be fun if our tickled funny bones ran wild and infected the whole world?