RLF: Where do you teach yoga?
PC: I teach Laughter Yoga throughout Central Florida … and beyond. I offer mobile Laughter Yoga services, so I go wherever I’m called to teach or speak, be it a yoga studio, gym, healthcare facility, church, school, event, conference, or business.
RLF: What type of yoga do you specialize in?
PC: Laughter Yoga is both my specialty and passion: It is the only type of yoga that I teach. I’m this passionate about Laughter Yoga because I’ve experienced its healing and transformative power on a deeply personal level.
RLF: What does yoga mean to you?
PC: To me, Laughter Yoga signifies “transformation,” and I don’t say that lightly. It’s not uncommon for people who have known me for many years to remark on the changes they’ve noticed in me since I started laughing. And if you had told me four years ago that today—in my mid-fifties—I would be leading others in laughter, speaking in public, and starting a business for the first time in my life, I would have replied, “You must be joking!” That’s how dramatic the transformation has been for me, and IN me. It’s also why I believe so strongly in Laughter Yoga’s power as—in the words of its creator Dr. Madan Kataria—“a life-changing experience.”
RLF: How long have you been teaching yoga?
PC: I’ve been laughing for three years now and teaching Laughter Yoga for more than two. I can say that laughingly today, but it’s really true: Before I found Laughter Yoga in early 2009, I wasn’t laughing much. In fact, I had lost my laugh altogether.
I’m certified as both a Laughter Yoga Leader and a Laughter Yoga Teacher, which means not only do I lead Laughter Yoga sessions, I train and certify new Laughter Yoga Leaders as well. I’m also Central Florida’s only certified laughter life coach. And 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 a student in the AATH Humor Academy—a year-long program of study exploring theory, application, and research in humor and laughter.
RLF: What made you interested in yoga?
PC: One morning in November 2007—quite out of the blue—I discovered that I no longer had the full use of my right arm and shoulder. As I was getting dressed, I was struck by a sudden, stabbing pain in my right biceps, one that would persist for days, weeks, months … years. That morning marked my entry into the world of chronic pain.
And then, things got worse! I was already feeling enormous strain from years of tending to elderly parents long distance, yet my load was to grow heavier still as I started a new job, I lost my father shortly thereafter, and I assumed all of the responsibility for Mom’s care. Now, on top of working full-time, I was spending my nights and weekends dealing with lawyers, financial institutions, healthcare providers, and a mountain of paperwork. And, because of the chronic pain in my arm, I could no longer sleep.
Three doctors, a steroid injection, and many months of physical and massage therapy later, I was exhausted, depleted, and still in pain. I soon found myself in the depths of a dark and vast cavern—with no apparent way out. Most nights, as I tried to capture a few elusive moments of sleep, I prayed not to wake up the next morning. I was close to giving up.
And then, one day in 2009, I found Laughter Yoga. Actually, I believe Laughter Yoga found me. To my astonishment, the day I started laughing (for no reason!) was the day that everything started to change for me—a testament to Dr. Kataria’s words, “When you laugh, you change. And when you change, the whole world changes.” I’m here to tell you that laughter heals—and that’s no joke!
RLF: When did you decide to dedicate yourself to yoga personally and professionally?
PC: For me, Laughter Yoga is so much bigger than a personal interest or line of work. It’s a calling that I know deep in my heart was set in motion from the moment of my birth. You see, up until the second grade, I lived on a street named “Jolly Way.” No kidding.
A few short months after experiencing my first “laughter meditation”—which had culminated in a healing watershed of tears streaming down my face—my pain had diminished, my mood had lifted, and my outlook had brightened. There was indeed a way out of the enormous cavern I had entered: not through heavy-duty painkillers or anti-depressants … through laughter! It was then, in May 2009, that I traveled from my home in Orlando to earn my Laughter Yoga Leader certification, and my dedication to spreading the joy and power of Laughter Yoga began.
Today, I look upon that morning four years ago when chronic pain entered my life as the greatest gift I have ever received, for it put me on the path to connecting with my purpose in life: bringing joy, positivity, and hope to each person I reach through Laughter Yoga.
RLF: What do you find rewarding about being a yoga instructor?
PC: It’s been enormously gratifying for me to share Laughter Yoga with my Central Florida neighbors during the past two years. In fact, it’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve had the great privilege and joy of working (laughing!) with so many wonderful groups, among them, medical professionals; brain and spinal cord injury patients; cancer survivors; business leaders; public servants; churches; students and teachers; seniors; library patrons; and the members of my laughter clubs. I’ll ask you, how many people get to go to work to laugh? Life is good!
On the surface, laughing purely for the sake of laughing may seem utterly ridiculous. The impact, however, even after a single session, can be remarkable. I’ve received comments like, “This was a super experience, and I actually felt I was breathing better afterwards,” “I felt myself forgetting about (my) problems and felt the physical release of stress,” “I really enjoyed the group activity: laughter with colleagues that barely speak to each other,” and “Fun time. Got some people to laugh I wasn’t sure could.” I’ve heard from some of my laughter students that Laughter Yoga has softened their anxiety or depression, and I’ve celebrated a birthday with a cancer patient that her doctors said she’d not live to see.
Still, the most rewarding thing for me about teaching Laughter Yoga has been helping people to find the joy within themselves—to show them how they have the power to be happy despite their external circumstances, as captured by one of my students when she said, “I will look at life differently now.” In our modern culture of fear mongers and “humordoomers,” to have such a gift as laughter that can shift your mood, your perspective, and your behavior within a matter of minutes, I think that’s simply amazing.
RLF: In your opinion, what are some of the benefits of yoga?
PC: As far as the benefits of Laughter Yoga go, the question for me is not so much, “How do I start?” but rather, “Where do I stop?” A gentle form of cardiorespiratory exercise, Laughter Yoga is the world’s HAppiest aerobic workout. Its blend of easy and fun “laughter exercises” with yoga deep breathing engages the facial, thoracic, and abdominal muscles; improves breathing; decreases muscle tension; increases pain tolerance; boosts brain power; enhances communication and social bonding; and promotes a healthy mind/body balance.
From my own experience, I know Laughter Yoga to be a powerful tool for coping with pain, lifting mood, cultivating a 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! In the three years that I’ve been laughing, Laughter Yoga has connected me with a global community, as well as with many of my immediate neighbors whom I had never before met. But in my view, Laughter Yoga’s greatest benefit is acceptance: Laughter Yoga provides a safe space for each of us to express our authentic selves without fear of being judged by others.
RLF: What is the greatest challenge you have overcome because of yoga?
PC: If I were to tell you that the greatest challenge I’ve overcome through Laughter Yoga is chronic pain, I’d be painting only a small piece of the picture. Laughter Yoga has been a real lifesaver for me because, more than anything, it brought me hope—hope that I desperately needed to keep going. My Laughter Yoga practice has also given rise to a new-found courage to break free of self-limiting beliefs that were ingrained since childhood, opening a whole new world of possibilities for living outside of the box that was my former home. For such a simple thing, laughter has changed my life in ways that are both profound and quite marvelous.
RLF: What advice do you have for people who have never tried yoga?
PC: I’ve noticed that when I tell people I teach Laughter Yoga, they’ll often say, “I can’t do yoga. I’m not flexible enough.” I think for many people who have never tried yoga, there can be an almost automatic assumption that you’ve got to be super flexible before you even set foot in a yoga class. For them, my suggestion is, “There are many different types of yoga to suit all kinds of needs, so if you’re interested in yoga, have some fun exploring until you’ve found the type that’s just right for you!” For instance, Laughter Yoga involves only simple laughter exercises, yoga deep breathing, and play—no mats, no poses, no joke!