Tuesday, July 27, 2010


The following article is from the Charlotte Observer. I'm reposting it here because Jody Ross is a graduate of the Iowa School of Laughter Yoga and I'm just so proud of her. She's also a certified laughter yoga teacher now. She studied with Dr. Kataria in Chicago in April—so I got to share the learning experience with her. Go, Jody!

Jody Ross' story starts like many others.

For 15 years, she suffered from chronic health problems - pain, fibromyalgia, insomnia and bipolar disorder. She had searched in vain for a doctor or a treatment that could provide relief.

Two years ago, she found an unexpected resolution.

She was visiting the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. And as she left, still feeling desperate and hopeless, she passed a sign for a "Spirituality of Laughter" workshop. It was for employees only, but she ducked inside uninvited.

There she heard a Lutheran minister, Laura Gentry, discussing the medical benefits of laughter and leading the group in something called Laughter Yoga.

An hour later, Ross left the clinic feeling refreshed.

"What I noticed, aside from the fact that it was absolutely hilarious, was the connection with these people that I didn't even know," Ross said. "There's a sense of connection when you're laughing and looking into each other's eyes and having a shared experience. I felt great for hours afterward."

Ross became a certified Laughter Yoga leader and started the first Laughter Yoga Club in the Twin Cities.

Next month, she will visit Rock Hill to lead a class and a weekend workshop for anyone who wants to learn and teach this unusual exercise that got its start in India.

The exercise is appropriate for anyone, Ross said. She teaches people from age 5 to 80.

Classes incorporate light stretching and yoga breathing, but no difficult poses. No downward-facing dog. No bridge. No tree.

She starts by having people introduce themselves and laugh.

"I'm Jody. Ha. Ha. Ha."

At first, the laughter is fake, but "very quickly it becomes the real thing," she said.

Research shows that a fake laugh offers the same benefit as a spontaneous belly laugh, she added. And the benefits she lists are many - reduced stress, improved heart health, improved sleep and pain management, strengthened immune system and deeper breathing to improve bronchitis, hay fever and asthma.

"It's an incredible aerobic workout," she added.

After introductions, Ross said the class might create a "laughter car wash," with some participants moving their hands as if they're washing a car and others walking through the line, pummeled by laughter instead of water. Another exercise might involve talking in gibberish in a particular situation, such as persuading a police officer not to write a traffic ticket.

As you might guess, Laughter Yoga is not for everyone.

But Ross said even the skeptical find themselves joining in.

"In Minnesota, of course, people can be quite stoic," she said. "But it's so contagious, very quickly you lose that inhibition, and they're just in the moment. Even the ones that are really shy, they're the ones who end up laughing the most."

When she leads her Laughter Yoga Club in an outdoor park in the summer, Ross said she often sees people walking their dogs who pass by multiple times. "By the third or fourth or fifth time, they're walking by laughing with us."

Dr. Madan Katarian, the Indian physician who created Laughter Yoga in 1995, advises every Laughter Yoga professor to practice laughing daily, Ross said. She laughs alone or with her husband and 6-year-old daughter. "We laugh in the car, we laugh at the dinner table, for no reason."

"When we use laughter as a practice, we begin to find laughter throughout our day. Things we wouldn't have found very funny all of a sudden become amusing when we're in the habit of laughing as an exercise."

Before she started Laughter Yoga, Ross was in pain all the time. Today, at 40, her pain is 99 percent gone.

"I cannot tell you what a relief that is," she said. "I'm able to do so much more than I've been able to do before. I never would have thought that I would actually be able to be free of those things that plagued me for 15 years....It's very powerful stuff."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Remember that exciting laughter yoga tour of Chile that my husband, William, and I took last fall? Well, our gracious laughing hostess, Tosha Tobias, made a trip to the United States in April so we could have more laughing adventures together.

Together, Tosha and I attended the laughter yoga teacher training seminar taught by laughter yoga founder, Madan Kataria. Though we are both laughter yoga teachers already, we are mentoring with him to become master trainers. Eventually, we'll both be offering the laughter yoga teacher course.

Here we are at the laughter seminar in Chicago—happy to be reunited.

Tosha and Dr. Kataria are laughing and dancing together.

Here we are with Dr. Kataria, the laughing yoga guru! Ha ha ha!

We got to see many of our old laughter yoga friends and meet new ones. Here Tosha is at lunch with our friend from San Diego, Michael Coleman.

Tosha enjoyed borrowing my laughing tiara.

After the seminar, we had but 2 days before Tosha had to fly off. So she came home with me to our house in McGregor, Iowa. We felt our tour had come full circle—we had stayed with her in Chile and now she was staying with us in America. She is taking a call here on our new couch.

Tosha is enjoying coffee in our dining room.

We took Tosha to my father's cabin in Guttenberg, Iowa. It is located on an island on the world famous Mississippi River. This was the most important destination, which we wanted to show Tosha. Here we're getting ready for a boat ride.

Tosha put on her lifejacket and was fearlessly ready to hit the river.

Here she is as we're leaving the shore.

Laughing Laura and Tosha enjoying the river boat ride, which was piloted by my father.

Of course, the lifejacket nearly swallowed her. She said: "I feel as if I'm sinking."

After the boat trip, Tosha played with the many push toys my dad has made.

She was really into them.

We raced push toys. And laughed, of course.

She enjoyed stretching out in the cabin.

We shared a lovely meal together in our home on Saturday night.

The next morning, Tosha came to worship with me at my church of Our Savior's Lutheran in Lansing, Iowa. Here we are in front of the paintings I created and donated to the church in memory of my mom. Learn more about them here.

Tosha preached. Just kidding. This is her pretending to preach in my pulpit. I think she's rather convincing, though. Oh, and did I mention that she's a Jew and I'm a Christian? That's another reason why we value laughter yoga so much—these religious differences do not divide us. We can laugh together and be one in Spirit.

Tosha posing with the Easter cross.

Then I took her up Mount Hosmer in Lansing. This is a beautiful park overlooking the Mississippi.

She laughed with the earth from this lookout point.

After this, we went to Pike's Peak State Park in McGregor, Iowa. Here we had another high-up view of the mighty Mississippi.

Tosha with the view.

We even managed to take a self portrait! Ha ha ha!

Here is the stunning view. This park is just south of our home. There's a barge going down river.

Tosha looking enthralled by the information sign.

We also got a shot of Tosha with the famous pink elephant of Marquette, Iowa. This elephant has been in Marquette all my life. I think it likes Tosha very much.

Then, we took Tosha to Madison, Wisconsin to stay with some laughter friends who agreed to get her to the shuttle in the morning that would get her to the airport. Above, Tosha and I are posing with laughter yoga teacher, Michelle Erschen. All three of us were born on May 22. Isn't that amazing? We're laughing birthday sisters!

Here we are with Madison Laughter Club founders Nancy Greenwald, Michelle Erschen and Mike Kueny. They came to one of my laughter seminars in 2009. By the way, there's a great laughing video of them at that link.

Before Tosha left, William squeezed in the time to shoot this studio portrait of Tosha and I laughing together.

But the really exciting thing that came out of Tosha's visit is that we decided to use our cross cultural laughter partnership for a very important new project: a laughter yoga CD in Spanish. That's right, we produced "Yoga de la Risa," the first laughter yoga recording in Spanish (that we know of). We had limited time, but we did it! We got the recording made with Tosha energetically introducing each and every laughter yoga exercise in Spanish (which she amazingly translated on the fly as we had no prep time at all). But she's a profession and pulled it off as only Tosha can. Her infectious laugh is going to crack EVERYONE up, even if—like me—they can't understand Spanish. Ha ha ha, or as they say in Spanish: ja ja ja.

Here is the cover of the new CD.

Here is the back side of the CD with the track listing. If you double click on the image, you can see an enlargement.

This exciting new resource, which is about 35 minutes long, will be released next month. There will be more information posted here when they are available to order.

The moral of this adventure with Tosha is that laughter yoga is an amazing thing that brings people of different nationalities, languages, and religions together. With laughter, we are reminded of our common humanity and our core joy. Yes, world peace is possible and we are working on it...one laugh at a time. Very good, very good, yay!