Laughter Yoga Leaders Rev. Laura Gentry, left, and Ann Marie Gullickson lighten the mood at a lecture held on Laughter as Medicine Thursday in the Geffen Auditorium.
Laugh off stress, literally
By Matthew Stolle
Ann Marie Gullickson stood in front of a packed auditorium last week and burst out laughing.
Nothing had caused the outburst. No joke. No punch line. It was simple, unreasoning, unprovoked laughter, and that was the point: You don't need a reason to laugh.
"(We think) we laugh because we're happy. The reality is that we are happy because we laugh," Gullickson told an audience of Mayo Clinic employees in Geffen Auditorium.
Gullickson is Rochester's first certified Laughter Yoga Leader. If the thought of a certified laughter leader begins to make you feel a bit mirthful, then you get a sense of how effective she is at her work.
Before long, Gullickson and her partner-in-laughter, the Rev. Laura Gentry, founder of the Iowa School of Laughter Yoga, had the audience of Mayo employees rolling in the aisles after putting them through an assortment of giggling and laughter exercises.
"Close your eyes for just a second and feel the joy coursing through your whole body," Gentry exulted, a hat in the shape of a red flamingo resting atop her head. Gullickson wore a pink wig and was wrapped in a flamboyantly colorful boa.
Studies have long credited laughter with the ability to reduce stress, increase pain tolerance and promote healing. The innovation in laughter yoga is to dispel the notion that you need a reason to laugh. Just the physical act of laughing can bring the same tension-releasing benefits as humor-based laughter. The breathing associated with laughing mimics the breathing exercises of yoga.
The philosophy of Ha! has now spread to the extent that there are 6,000 laughter clubs in more than 60 countries. The first such club was started in Mumbai, India, where a physician named Madan Kataria became so convinced of the therapeutic and healing effects of laughter that he began organizing impromptu laughter sessions at a local park.
Gullickson's first exposure to laughter yoga happened by mistake. She was planning a trip to Mumbai in 2007 and found what she thought was DVD travel documentary about the city. It turned out to be documentary about laughter yoga.
"It was one of those perfect mistakes. Right away, I thought, 'This is something I want to find out more about. I want to incorporate this into my life,'" said Gullickson, who, while in Mumbai, joined in one of the sessions at the park.
Afterwards, Gullickson attended a two-day session at the Iowa School of Laughter Yoga run by Gentry to get her certification. She has put on laughter yoga presentations at the University of Minnesota and Olmsted County, as well as Mayo Clinic.
It's a balm that people may be in need of now more than ever. With a downtrodden economy, jobs vanishing by the thousands and a general mood of uncertainty, a cheap, easy remedy that's available to anyone may be just want the doctor ordered. Laughter can reframe an issue so it doesn't seem so oppressive.
"Your body will feel better. They've even done studies where somebody smiles at themselves in the mirror for six minutes a day, and that helped improve their mood," Gullickson said.
Anne and Larry Jost of Alma, Wis., are all smiles as Laughter Yoga Leaders Rev. Laura Gentry and Ann Marie Gullickson lighten the mood.