“When You Laugh, you change,
and when you change the whole world changes.”
-Dr Madan Kataria, MD, Founder Laughter Yoga Movement
We were warmly welcomed into a parlor area, reminiscent of an elegantly aging aunt’s apartment. A piano waited patiently along one wall. There was a colorful bowl of fruit and a tempting array of pastries and fruit-infused waters. As we waited, we looked out into an outdoor garden and picnic area. The 80th Street Residency, a memory care community in Manhattan, created a warm, home-like atmosphere for its residents. Ron and I had come here to offer a laughter yoga class, hoping to boost our participants’ health and happiness. We worked with their activities coordinator, Jackie LaBau.
Here’s what we’ve learned about laughter yoga: often people look, act, and feel differently after they’ve experienced a session. There is a magic about intentionally laughing with a group. The experience of breathing, clapping, engaging in playful imaginings, and of course, laughing, soon softens the spirits. People feel energetic and connected. Everyone, including staff, residents, and us, leave feeling happier. That’s what happened in New York, just as it has every time Ron and I have led laughing sessions.
Back home in Kansas City, we laughed with the lively people at Jeanne’s Place, CareHaven’s day program for people living with early stage dementia. We have laughed with these wonderful folks before, and now they start giggling when we walk in.
We also visited Mandy Shoemaker and her team at Prairie Eider Care, our area’s only Eden Alternative homes, and we had fun admiring their outdoor barnyard collection of silky chickens, a potbellied pig, and sassy ducks. Then we settled into their welcoming living areas. We sat in intergenerational circles with staff, family members, and residents, talking, singing, and laughing.
Dr. Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga, believes that inviting out our childlike energy and acting playfully is vital to living a balanced and healthy life. Plus, it’s tremendous fun. He says: “Laughter Yoga is an aerobic workout that helps uplift your mood within minutes by releasing endorphins from your brain cells. You often remain energized, relaxed, and in good spirits throughout the day. Laughter also makes our immune system stronger, increases oxygen intake, and reduces stress. Plus laughing with others builds a social bond and reduces feelings of isolation.”
In our groups, we created laughter milkshakes, with each person choosing their favorite flavor of ice cream. We looked at each other, waved, and laughed. We had a lot of dog lovers in our groups, so we imagined how a chihuahua would laugh. A member of the nursing team loved large dogs and she helped us to guffaw like a Great Dane. Most of our group loved baseball, so we sang, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” then substituted the words with “Ha Ha “ syllables, otherwise known as the Ha Ha Chorus. That chorus works for any familiar song and tickles your funny bone.
Ron and I learned Laughter Yoga from the amazing Robert Rivest, who is a master trainer and who studied with Dr. Kataria. But you don’t need to be a trained facilitator to bring more laughter into your life.
Quick Tips for Adding Laughter into the Day
•Look at the clock and laugh for one minute.
•When driving, laugh during red lights.
•When working out, pick a couple of exercises, such as squats and curls, and laugh while you’re doing them. (Want to get others laughing? Do this at the gym!)
•Use the “ha ha chorus” to bring giggles into your life. Take any song and substitute “ha ha ha’s” for the words. This works well in the shower, car, on walks and more.
Want to laugh more?
If you are part of a memory care community in the KC area and you’d like to gift your residents with laughter, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.