There’s no wrong way to laugh.
There are inappropriate situations, perhaps, like while you’re sitting in the jury box during a murder trial, while swearing a pinky promise with a very serious 5-year-old, or the moment your most-treasured friend reveals the harrowing childhood accident that resulted in her lifelong fear of cheese.
But whether your laughter comes out as a muffled grunt or a prolonged cackle that’s loud enough to startle the neighbors doesn’t matter – your brain and body still get all of laughter’s positive perks.
What kind of perks, you ask? Well, laughter can soothe tension, relieve stress, and release endorphins. It can improve your mood, alleviate pain, and boost your immune system. And, oh yeah, it FEELS GOOD. [Read more about the benefits of laughter on mayoclinic.org]
This laughing magic holds true for all the wonderful and varied kinds of guffawing we experience: the hilarious belly-shaking kind, the kinda-frustrated kind, the lame-dad-joke kind, the cat’s-stuck-in-the-blinds-again kind, and even that laughter that inexplicably happens when we’re smack dab in the middle of sobbing.
“We have different ways of laughing,” says Pasha Marlowe, a life and laughter coach based in North Yarmouth. “And they’re all good.”
Pasha’s felt the positive impacts of laughter in her own life, and these days is helping the rest of us amp up the chuckling. “Laughter lifts our moods and lightens our lives,” she says. “I’ve brought laughter into my coaching, into yoga, into personal training.”
She’s the founder of ROAR with Laughter, an eight-week program for women that blends coaching, stand-up comedy, small-group connection, and on-stage performance. [More on that here. Next session starts in January] She also has a masters degree in marriage and family therapy and is a personal trainer, fitness instructor, and yoga teacher. [More about that]
Twice a week, she leads YOG-HA!, an hour-long laughter yoga class that blends movement, stretching, and an attention to breath with some potent “Ha ha has!”
The class, which is held virtually via Zoom, is open to all levels and abilities. “No yoga or laughter experience is necessary,” Pasha jokes.
Laughter Yoga is a movement started in the mid-90s, and classes have popped up around the country. The exact composition of any Laughter Yoga class can vary. Some classes focus specifically on the laughter with a goofy array of activities (which might include turning to your neighbor, making faces, and blurting out a string HE HE HEs) and not much in the way of breath work or pose holding.
Pasha’s class is a gentle yoga class in the way we might imagine, with seated and standing poses, high planks and side stretches. But she folds in the laughs throughout. Participants will take deep breaths and exhale with a sigh – and a HA! They’ll forward fold and sink into warrior, and they’ll clap along to a series of “HE HE HE.”
Now it’s true, as Pasha pointed out at the beginning of a recent YOG-HA! class, that we’re rather well trained to not LOL in the middle of a yoga class. And laughing on command – in the company of strangers – feels downright awkward at first.
“It feels too vulnerable, too goofy,” Pasha says. At the start of their first class, some people feel silly or embarrassed. But you know what often happens when we feel awkward? We laugh.
Our natural inclination to chuckle in the face of full-scale social discomfort comes in handy during the first 5 minutes of a Laughter Yoga class. Maybe we start to feel more comfortable and that nervous laugh transitions into something loud and less inhibited. Maybe we start cracking ourselves and each other up for reasons we can’t even specify (this, in fact, happens a lot. Ever start laughing when you see someone else laughing, even if you have zero idea what they’re laughing about? Of course you have. Laughter is contagious like that).
Of course we also might just fake laugh our way through. And that’s also a-okay.
Pasha says it doesn’t matter whether we’re full-on snorting with glee or whether our “HA HA HAs” are pushed out with the same emotional zeal as your average sneeze. “Your body doesn’t know if it’s fake or real,” she says. “The same chemicals and endorphins are released.”
You’d be hard pressed to remain laughless for long in Pasha’s class, though. Her bright energy and welcoming presence reach you right through the computer screen, and her unabashed laugh soon becomes easy to imitate.
But don’t let that good humor and those oversized and silly sunglasses of hers mislead you into thinking Pasha lives of life chock full of constant hilarity. She doesn’t. (Point of fact: No one does.)
The last year has been particularly hard for her family; Pasha’s 13-year-old son got sick. And as happens when a kid gets sick, every ounce of energy has been spent trying to make him better, help him feel better, looking for answers, hoping, grieving, not knowing, and grieving some more.
“He wasn’t laughing or playing. He didn’t even feel like a kid anymore,” says Pasha. There wasn’t much joy in the house then, but desperation led Pasha to an interesting place. “We had tried everything,” she says. Was there anything they hadn’t tried? What is the opposite of grief, she wondered. The answer: laughter.
“I swear it saved his life,” she says. “And mine. We had to shift our mindset, laugh through the tears.”
That’s how she knows that laughter works. “I’ve seen people who struggle with past trauma. People get stuck in their own stories and their sadness. And now add 2020 on top of it. Sometimes people just can’t get out of their own way.”
Laughter could really be the best medicine. And if it doesn’t come freely or easily at first, keep at it. “Laughter is a muscle,” Pasha says. “It takes practice.”
And while laughter might not solve all your problems, it’ll still be an hour well spent. As Pasha says, “I have yet to hear anyone say it didn’t make them feel better.”
The virtual classes are held twice a week, at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursdays. All are welcome, especially those who find laughter doesn’t come easy. It’s totally okay for you to show up and not laugh the first time. Or the second time. Or the third.
YOG-HA! Laughter Yoga
8:30-9:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
Classes are virtual
Pack/10 for $150 or $20 drop in
Dress in clothes that are comfortable to move in. No yoga experience necessary.
FMI: pashamarlowe.com and rootsandsprings.com/classes