Always wondered about laughter yoga, but was too afraid to laugh, I mean ask? Here's the breakdown with Rasa-Lila Fest Orlando presenter and sponsor, PositiveLy Pat, owner of Laughter Yoga Orlando.
EW: Are you the owner of Laughter Yoga Orlando?
PP: Yes, I am Laughter Yoga Orlando’s owner. I am also its founder and, as my name PositiveLY Pat suggests, its principal positivitist and funraiser.
EW: What was your first experience with yoga?
PP: I first experienced yoga in 1999 at Women’s Health and Fitness Club, where I was employed at the time as the manager of personal training services. This was back in the day when step aerobics and kickboxing classes dominated the group exercise scene, Pilates was the next big thing, and yoga had yet to begin its meteoric rise in popularity in the United States.
At the time, the club was trying to expand its menu of group exercise options, and I was looking for an alternative to stretching on my own to improve my flexibility. So I decided to give the new yoga class on the schedule a try. This first taste of yoga was an introductory class taught by a gentle woman from India named Bina. I easily settled into Bina’s unhurried progression of beginners’ poses and breathing exercises, and by the session’s conclusion, I felt relaxed and refreshed.
EW: What was your first experience with Laughter Yoga?
PP: Laughter Yoga entered my life in early 2009, during a period when I seriously needed something to laugh about. I had spent the previous year struggling to keep it all together in the midst of a perfect storm of chronic pain, chaotic sleep, grief from losing my dad, stress from juggling more personal and professional duties than time allowed, and—on top of it all—a ride on the rollercoaster of shifting mid-life hormones. With each passing month, I found myself feeling more overwhelmed, dispirited, and depleted. By year’s end, it had become nearly impossible for me to even imagine how it must feel to be happy.
In November 2008, an article on Laughter Yoga appeared in FitnessMatters, a publication that I received as a fitness professional certified through the American Council on Exercise. I skimmed through the piece and thought, “Laughter exercises? They’ve got to be kidding! Re-learn how to laugh by laughing? Ridiculous! Laugh for no reason? This must be a joke!” As a seriously serious grant writer and former scientist, I quickly dismissed Laughter Yoga as bunk. But something intangible urged me to investigate it.
So I did. And while I had approached my first Laughter Yoga session with the notion that I badly needed to find something to laugh about, I soon found myself laughing about nothing. Not only did I laugh, I acted—and felt—as if I didn’t have a care in the world: I experienced JOY! The “laughter meditation” at the end of the session summoned even more laughter, and also an unexpected healing cascade of tears. It was a powerful release, a watershed that soothed my physical and emotional pain and, for the first time in a long while, gave me HOPE. But best of all, it connected me with what I now know to be my destiny: bringing laughter, joy, and hope into each life that I touch with Laughter Yoga. For you see, my first home was on a street named Jolly Way.
EW: What branch of yoga does laughter Yoga draw from?
PP: Laughter Yoga derives its basis as a form of yoga from Pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga. Drawing from their experience as yoga practitioners, Dr. Kataria and his wife, Madhuri, recognized that laughter shares some common elements with the breathing exercises of pranayama: Both engage the diaphragm and abdominal muscles; and both make it possible to breathe more deeply and to extend exhalation. This realization led Dr. Kataria to blend “laughter exercises,” which he created, with deep breathing exercises. He named the new technique “Laughter Yoga” because of its use of laughter and pranayama to train the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. Although Laughter Yoga does not involve traditional yoga poses—rather, laughing and deep breathing—the practice does include some laughter exercises that are inspired by yoga poses, for example, Lion Laughter.
EW: When did you start teaching Laughter Yoga?
PP: It’s hard for me to believe it’s been nearly three years since I began spreading laughter. How time flies when you’re having fun! I started laughing in January 2009, and a short five months later, I earned my certification as a Laughter Yoga leader from Dr. Kataria’s School of Laughter Yoga. In October 2009, I led my first Laughter Yoga session, establishing what is today the Southwest Orlando CommuniTeeHee Laughter Club.
Since then, I’ve traveled across Central Florida, working with diverse groups to share laughter and its benefits, be they in the realm of health and wellness, stress reduction, employee engagement, learning, or just plain fun. I’ve had the great privilege and pleasure of sharing Laughter Yoga with so many wonderful people, among them, yoga teachers and their students, medical professionals, business leaders, cancer survivors, brain and spinal cord injury patients, public servants, school and church groups, seniors, library patrons, and the members of my weekly laughter clubs. Sharing Laughter Yoga with my Central Florida neighbors has made these past three years the most rewarding of my entire life.
EW: How did your business come into fruition?
PP: On that January day in 2009—the day I started laughing for no reason—everything began to change for me.
Imagine how threatening the public expression of spontaneous silliness might be to someone whose childhood experience had taught her to be serious and reticent, to carefully obey every rule, and to shrink from anything that might trigger embarrassment or failure. But Laughter Yoga had quite the opposite effect on me: It provided a safe space for me to lighten up and venture outside of my box; to play unabashedly and recapture a long-lost sense of childlike abandon; to overcome self-defeating resistance to the new and unknown—and to take formerly unthinkable risks.
At age 53, I became a first-time entrepreneur, something I’d never dared to even contemplate before Laughter Yoga entered my life. Although I was no stranger to reinventing my career when circumstances dictated, I had always sought more conventional and serious-minded employment in my chosen field of biology—working first as a biotech researcher in the laboratory, then personal trainer at Women’s Health and Fitness, then grant writer at Florida Hospital. But laughter was a change-agent of a different color, propelling me in June 2010 to found Laughter Yoga Orlando.
Today, laughter, silliness, and play are paving the way to a bolder, more fulfilling professional life for me. Because I take laughter and its benefits so seriously, I’m committed to my specialty as Central Florida’s authority on laughter for wellness. As such, I’m an active member of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH) and among the very first students to earn graduate college credit in the AATH Humor Academy, a new program of study exploring theory, application, and research in humor and laughter. I’m also Central Florida’s only laughter life coach, certified through The Levity Institute.
But spreading laughter, joy, and hope is really so much bigger than my personal passion, specialty, or life’s work. It’s a calling that I know deep in my heart was set in motion from the moment of my birth. For something as simple as laughter, the effects can be profound. This, I know, on a deeply personal level. For the past four years, Laughter Yoga has been a healing and transformative force in my world—every bit the “life-changing experience” portrayed by its creator, Dr. Madan Kataria. And that is how my dedication to sharing the joy, healing energy, and power of laughter with others came to be.
EW: Tell me a little about your business.
PP: I founded Laughter Yoga Orlando with the vision of spreading laughter and its health and wellness benefits far and wide. My mission is to enrich the health, wellbeing, and quality of life of as many people as possible with Laughter Yoga, so outreach is central to the services I offer.
Rather than asking my customers to come to me, I go to them. I travel throughout Central Florida and beyond, bringing a wide range of Laughter Yoga services to groups, businesses, events, meetings, conferences, and individuals. I go wherever I’m called to teach or speak, be it a yoga studio, healthcare facility, office, community event, or convention. Just name the place—I’ll be there, spreading smiles and laughter! In traveling, I’m able to reach more people over a broader geographic area with Laughter Yoga and its many benefits than if I were to offer my services in any one locale. I love it, too, that after I’ve led an onsite Laughter Yoga session, there’s a positive vibe that remains in the space long after I’ve left.
My services include all-purpose Laughter Yoga classes, as well as specialized Laughter Yoga programs for specific audiences, such as introductory playshops for experienced and aspiring yoga teachers; and onsite workplace wellness, stress reduction, team building, and employee engagement programs for businesses. I also offer Laughter Yoga presentations, icebreakers, and energizers for meetings, conferences, conventions, and special events. And I train and certify Laughter Yoga leaders (CLYL) on a regular basis. As a laughter life coach specializing in wellness, I integrate coaching principles with Laughter Yoga exercises to help my clients envision what they want, break through barriers, and create new possibilities for themselves.
On Mondays, I lead two absitively posolutley free communiTeeHee laughter clubs—one in my neighborhood recreation center in Dr. Phillips, the other in the City of Orlando’s Beardall Senior Center—so I get to start each week by giving something back to my Central Florida neighbors. This year, I’ve also enjoyed the singular opportunity of starting a third laughter club (at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Winter Park) in conjunction with one of the very first programmatic grants ever awarded for Laughter Yoga.
Now, I’ll ask you, how many people get to go to work to laugh? Life is FUNderful!
EW:. Can one be certified in Laughter Yoga by you?
PP: Yes, in April 2010, I trained with Laughter Yoga’s creator, Dr. Madan Kataria, to earn my certification as a Laughter Yoga teacher. As such, I’m authorized through Laughter Yoga International to train and certify new Laughter Yoga leaders. More recently, I enjoyed the unparalleled experience of assisting Dr. Kataria with three Laughter Yoga teacher certification programs here in Orlando, as well as co-leading three Laughter Yoga leader certification programs with two of Dr. Kataria’s most senior Laughter Yoga teachers. And just last month, I trained and certified a staff member of Nemours Children’s Hospital, making it possible for the hospital to launch Laughter Yoga as a support service for its patients and their families when their new facility opens in Orlando in October 2012.
I’m delighted to offer the Laughter Yoga leader certification program on a regular basis throughout the year. This two-day experiential learning program prepares participants to comfortably lead groups in Laughter Yoga exercises, laughter meditation, and guided relaxation. Whether you’re a yoga or fitness practitioner; holistic therapist or healer; healthcare professional; mental health counselor or therapist; eldercare worker; management professional; life coach; or someone who just wants to add more laughter to life, you can benefit from participating in this reasonably priced program.
EW: Why did you decide to get involved with Rasa Lila Fest?
PP: My involvement with Rasa-Lila Fest began in June of last year when my phone rang and a lovely yogini by the name of Lee Clise introduced herself. As an ambassador of the 2011 Central Florida Rasa-Lila Fest, Lee had called to inform me of the event and ask if I would consider becoming one of its sponsors. After chatting with Lee for a matter of only minutes, I knew that I wanted to join the Rasa-Lila Fest yoga and wellness community, so I said yes to a sponsorship of the inaugural Orlando festival.
Last September, I had a FUNtastic time meeting and sharing laughter with Lee, Nathan, and the many festival goers who stopped by my booth in the vendor community. Then, earlier this year, I had the privilege and great joy of making more new laughter friends while teaching Laughter Yoga at the 2012 Rasa-Lila Fest in Tampa Bay. I’m incredibly excited and grateful to be involved in this year’s festival in Orlando, as both a sponsor and presenter of Laughter Yoga. I can hardly wait to laugh with everyone in October!
EW: What will you be presenting at the Festival?
PP: At 2012 Rasa-Lila Fest Orlando, it’ll be my great pleasure to present Laughter Yoga: Deepen Your Inner Joy by Laughing for No Reason! During this hour-long playshop, we’ll exercise our laughter muscles, breathe deeply, and play our way to JOY! We’ll explore how it’s possible to laugh for no reason—even if we’re not in a good mood, even if we’re not happy—to live more JOY-FULL-y, regardless of our present circumstances.
For those new to Laughter Yoga, laughing purely for the sake of laughing may seem ridiculous. The impact, however, even after a single Laughter Yoga session, can be remarkable. From personal experience, I know Laughter Yoga to be a powerful tool for coping with pain, lifting mood, cultivating a new and positive outlook, and reprogramming the body’s automatic reaction to stress. It’s also a healthy way of releasing internal pressure and pent-up emotions. And it’s a great outlet for adults (and children) to “let their hair down” and be just plain silly, to create, to explore—to play—something many of us have either sidelined or even forgotten how to do. Seriously, folks, it’s OK to take a break from seriosity!
Beyond even all of that, perhaps the greatest application of Laughter Yoga is as a tool for helping each of us to find JOY within ourselves. With this tool, we can make the most of our intrinsic potential to be joyful, even as we face life’s challenges. When we choose to act happy, we can actually change our biology to create our own happiness. As it turns out, happiness is more than a feeling: It’s a significant factor in our health, wellbeing, and quality of life. In today’s climate of negativity and fear, to have the ability to upshift our mood, perspective, behavior, and outlook within a matter of minutes through Laughter Yoga is truly powerful. And that is not a joke.
EW: Are there any special events you would like our Fans to know about?
PP: Several upcoming events, including Laughter Yoga leader certification programs and focused workshops on reducing stress (holiday, and otherwise), are in the planning stages now. Stay tuned and visit www.LaughterYogaOrlando.com frequently for details and updates.
EW: Please include anything else you would like our fans to know about Laughter Yoga Orlando and I would be happy to include it.
PP: Wait … here’s another reason why Laughter Yoga, “the world’s happiest workout,” suits me to a T (and, for that matter, a Tee-Hee!). As a certified fitness professional since 1994, I see Laughter Yoga as a bona fide complement to more conventional modes of staying in good physical (and mental) shape. It’s a form of aerobic group exercise that is safe, easy, and adaptable for a wide range of fitness levels. It doesn’t require any equipment, and most of all, it’s FUN.
In addition to my Laughter Yoga certifications, my fitness credentials include certifications as a Group Exercise Instructor through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA); Personal Fitness Trainer and Lifestyle & Weight Management Coach through the American Council on Exercise (ACE); and Nutrition Management Consultant through the American Academy of Sports Dieticians and Nutritionists (AASDN). I’m also licensed to teach Zumba® at the basic and gold (active older adults, beginners, and other special populations) levels. How laughable is all of this when you consider that I spent high school dreading gym class?!
Oh, and one more thing: I admit it; I’m a major science nerd who is insatiably curious, much like my cat, August. This curiosity with all things biological led me to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with Honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and enjoy professional success as a researcher in several biotech labs and grant writer at Florida Hospital. I dig ridiculously long words like gastrocnemius, gluconeogenesis, and psychoneuroimmunology, and I’ve generated a number of publications in scientific journals and large federal grant awards. I’m also seriously addicted to watching The Big Bang Theory. Bazinga!
All kidding aside, my BIG intention is to synergize all of my experience and talents—as fitness professional, biologist, researcher, and writer—with my passion for Laughter Yoga into one day contributing to the evidence base for laughter’s health benefits and its value as an integrative therapy. With the emergence of Orlando’s new Medical City, I’m imagining enormous possibilities for clinical research—even a grant from the National Institutes of Health—to provide empirical evidence supporting the personal experience of people from around the world: Laughter Yoga is good medicine.
Erin Wheeler is a mother, writer, and yoga teacher in Tampa, Florida. Her weekly column, The Balanced Life, covers yoga postures, yoga happenings & events, around Tampa Bay. Her company Lucky Cat Yoga brings the art of yoga to anyone, anytime, at any place! “Like” Lucky Cat Yoga on Facebook and see her teaching schedule under “About” or Follow her on twitter @luckycatyoga.