Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I was just featured on the blog of my seminary, Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calfornia. The reporter was interested in learning more about how my laughter yoga work informs my faith and ministry. Read the article below or click on this link to visit the PSR site.

December 1, 2009

Laura GentryIt’s not often that one’s spiritual practice inspires others to call the police, but Laura Gentry’s (MDiv and MA 1997) unique approach to happiness and spirituality isn’t typical, either. She and about a dozen others were sitting outside Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Lansing, Iowa, chuckling, emitting belly laughs and chortling in the sunshine when a passerby called the police, thinking they were all drunk. Gentry’s antics were hardly due to inebriation; she is a certified laughter yoga instructor as well as an ordained pastor and leads a church laughter club in joyful exercises every week. Thankfully, Gentry cleared up the misconception, and the reporting police officer even joined the church.

In an age of dwindling worship attendance, Gentry has found a powerful tactic to inspire solidarity in her Midwest church: humor. Although some may balk at reading Scripture with a smile, Gentry maintains that laughter is actually an appropriate—and fulfilling—response.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer: Church is a joyful place, so we should be laughing,” Gentry says. “The Good News is good news, and we should remember to be happy about it.”

Three years ago, the stresses and challenges of ministry threatened to overwhelm Gentry. It was then, when she was considering leaving ministry, that she discovered laughter yoga, a practice that originated in India that has more to do with ha-ha’s and breathing than with twisting one’s body into pretzel poses. The release she found when tapping into a childlike state of hilarity rejuvenated her ministry and inspired her to start a laughing club—the source of her run-in with the law.

The change in pace has garnered the nation’s attention, from articles in Lutheran magazines to an appearance on Oprah. Wanting to spread her ministry even further, she founded the Iowa School of Laughter Ministry, where she certifies other laughter teachers. She has also produced several laughter workshops on CD (including one for commuters) and an album of giggle-inspiring songs.

“Laughter is a great force for democracy, just human beings laughing together, no matter their background or social status or even religion,” Gentry says. “It’s like the gospel, bringing all of us together, where we’re all one in Christ Jesus.”

Much of her laughter practice is without political or religious overtones, but Gentry says that simply laughing has helped her along her spiritual journey.

“The Bible says we have to be like a child to enter into heaven. We’re children of God and don’t need to take ourselves so seriously,” Gentry says. “Developing a childlike playfulness enhanced my spirituality in ways I didn’t expect. To be silly opens up a new way of thinking: I don’t have to do only what is expected. It demonstrates that with God, all things are possible.”

Gentry gives some credit to PSR for encouraging her to try new things in church. She performed some “wild dances,” she says, in chapel, and that freedom helped her carve her own niche within her current church. “PSR was a great place to experiment with ministry,” Gentry remembers. “It helped me think outside box and push the envelope”—a practice she applied to her Iowa preaching, which she believes revitalized her church and her own dedication to ministry.

Although the hard work of ministry can wear on even the most enthusiastic religious leaders, Gentry has advice for avoiding that burnout. “I want to tell current PSR students, respect what you’re trying to do, find your own voice and honor who you are,” she says. “That’s the PSR spirit of independence, to be your own minister.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


This article by Nancy Ngo of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press was picked up by the AP and ran all over the country in October. Since Jody Ross, the leader of the laughter club mentioned in the article, is my student I wanted to bring this great bit of press to your attention. Congratulations, Jody!

Yoga is hilarious.


With the growing popularity of various forms of yoga, it was only a matter of time before a practice called laughter yoga made its way to the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

From Roseville to Burnsville, groups are gathering to laugh to their heart's content.

Laughter yoga has been spreading across the globe since a doctor in India created it in the mid-'90s as a way to relieve stress and anxiety in his patients.

The exercise is believed to have health benefits that include strengthening the immune system, minimizing upper respiratory infections and decreasing sleep deprivation.

"It's been clinically proven that when you laugh, you feel happier," said Mary Margaret Anderson, a laughter yoga instructor who teaches at Fairview Community Center in Roseville, Minn.

"People are coming because they realize they can do something about their health and state of being."

Anderson, who has taught several forms of yoga for 15 years, started offering laughter yoga three years ago because she liked how it concentrated on releasing endorphins in the brain associated with happiness.

She believed the practice was a natural complement of other forms of yoga.

The practice is similar to other yoga classes in the sense that it is about focusing on the moment, finding inner peace and improving one's health.

Yet there are no downward facing dogs or other poses. Rather, a session focuses on laughing and breathing exercises.

"You don't necessarily have to be athletic," Anderson said. Still, participants end up strengthening their abdominal muscles and burning calories in the process.

Jody Ross has offered a free outdoor laughter yoga class at Lake Harriet every Monday night since May. The get-together has attracted all types -- kids and seniors, working professionals and retired people.

"I think folks are looking for ways to lighten up. Especially with the economy, there are so many things that can stress us out or give us anxiety," she said. "Laughter yoga is different from hearing a joke or watching a film. It's a type of laughter that affects your body differently."

At Ross' class this week, participants came as they were, including in jeans and a sweatshirt.

The class involved impersonations and role-playing, and participants found themselves needing to be social, lively and interactive.

Ross even brought a bag of props including wigs, hats and feather boas to get participants in a mischievous mood.

Ross drew out forced laughter by having participants impersonate how a girl laughs -- drawing high pitches -- and how a man laughs -- drawing low pitches.

Participants also pretended to ride in a rodeo and to blow out candles on a cake. Breathing exercises were also part of the mix.

After suffering a heart attack a year ago, Erv Chorn of Edina, Minn., started attending laughter yoga classes regularly to improve his health.

"I wouldn't have kept coming back if I didn't feel like it was helping me," said Chorn, who's in his mid-70s. "No matter how hard my day has been, how tired I am, I come here and feel relaxed and re-energized by the end of the class."

Renee Taylor, 40, of Maple Grove, Minn., tried laughter yoga the first week of October for the first time. "I showed up with my yoga mat, but I guess I didn't even need it," she said.

Taylor found the exercises contrived at first. As she warmed up, she found herself laughing naturally -- especially when a fellow participant couldn't stop laughing, which she found contagious.

"I liked that it was one of the few times you get to be spontaneous and be in the moment," she said. "By the end, it was the real thing."

* If you are a subscriber to this blog and haven't yet received your 100 free laughter yoga exercises, simply respond to this email and write "FREE" in the heading and I'll send your exercises right away.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The 16th day of our tour was among the busiest. We visited the fascinating coastal cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, then did a laughter yoga session at a new arts center.

We awoke to the amazing view from Tosha's apartment.
This is Tosha's Mezuzah on her apartment doorpost.

Here she is touching it as we left for the day.

Before we left the resort, we visited Tosha's other apartment, which she uses as a rental. Here I am on that deck.

This is the view from this apartment.

Then we drove to Viña del Mar by a rural route. This is a team of oxen we met along the way.

The wild poppies were growing everywhere.

It was a bit foggy but we got a nice view of the coast in Viña del Mar. This name is Spanish for  "Vineyard of the Sea." It is also known locally as La Ciudad Jardín, Spanish for: "The Garden City."

A view looking the other direction.

Some scenes in Viña del Mar.

These two are police officers.

The spring buds are emerging on these trees.

A naval training school.

This condo by the shore is a prime example of how the buildings are stacked up along the hillside for maximum views of the ocean.

We stopped to get a closer look at the beach. Tosha's on her cell phone as always.

A beautiful desert flower.

Here you can see the beach and the bay of Viña del Mar.

We loved the beach!

Though it was cold, sunbathers were already enjoying this spring day.

More stacked up condos.

William looking cool on the beach.

This stray dog was keeping an eye on us.

The spring flowers, like this one, were just glorious.

Many of the apartment buildings had unusual balconies.

Balls on the beach.

I'm enjoying the flowers.

William and Tosha posing for the camera at the sushi restaurant where we had lunch.

Our sushi waiter.

Pamela and William getting ready for lunch to arrive.

Tosha and I celebrating our matching polka dots!

Pamela found this star in a store window and brought it out to have her picture with it.

More lovely spring buds on the trees.
Viña del Mar has lots of high rise buildings.

This is Chile's oldest gambing casino.

I don't know if I'd want to stand on one of these balconies for too long!

Along the coast between Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, the buildings are stacked up along the cliff overlooking the sea.

Now we are in Valparaíso, which is Spanish for "Paradise Valley." It is one of Chile's most important seaports and an increasingly vital cultural center in the hemisphere's Pacific Southwest.

Nicknamed “The Jewel of the Pacific”, Valparaíso was declared a world heritage site based upon its improvised urban design and unique architecture. In 1996, the World Monuments Fund declared Valparaíso’s unusual system of funicular elevators (highly-inclined cable cars) one of the world’s 100 most endangered historical treasures. In 1998, grassroots activists convinced the Chilean government and local authorities to apply for UNESCO world heritage status for Valparaíso. Valparaíso was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003, thanks to its historical importance, natural beauty (large number of hills surrounding a picturesque harbour), and unique architecture (particularly, a mix of 19th century styles of housing). Built upon dozens of steep hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Valparaíso boasts a labyrinth of streets and cobblestone alleyways, embodying a rich architectural and cultural legacy. Valparaíso is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Electric buses run around the city.

Graffiti is legal here and there are some truly wonderful works of art on walls and buildings throughout the city.

I think this photo best shows the urban design of  Valparaíso and how the buildings are all stacked on top of eachother on the hills.

These skater kids showed off for us.

Can you sense the steepness of these narrow roads?

Here we are getting directions. Don't try to navigate Valparaíso without a map!

More directions. We are still lost!

Finally, we arrived at the art center where we would be doing a laughter yoga session that evening. Here is Tosha with one of the arts center directors, Hemena. The two of them at "met" on Facebook and set up this whole event and were now just meeting for the first time.

This is the entrance of the arts center. The "incomplete" look of the walls is intentional and it is a really groovy look.

This is the painting studio. The painting are Claudio's. He's the other director.

This sculpture is Hemena's.

This is their dog who is sad to be stuck out in the back courtyard.

This is Claudio making us all a cup of espresso.

Here is another one of his paintings. We could not help but notice that the main figure bears a striking resemblance to Obama.

We left Tosha at the arts center to help get set up for the evening's event. William, Pamela and I went walking around Valparaíso. Here are some of the many sights we took in.

Dig this short doorway.

Our wedding picture!

The cat tried to jump out of the pen but the dog bit it's tail and I captured it all in this shot.

Pamela peeking into someone's yard.

This graffiti says "We can do anything!"

Look! It's the doors.

We rode one of the famous "funicular" elevators that makes the town so unique. Here is the wheel that runs it.

This is the view looking down.

And the view looking up.

Now we are down in Sotomayor Square.

This is the seaport.

The monument in Sotomayor Square.

The view of the whole square.

Someone else was taking this little girl's picture but she looked at my camera instead.

This is the scarf we are buying from the vendor.

A huge stump.

We loved this building on the corner.

Dancing with the graffiti!

This mural was so vibrant and beautiful.

This is the llama wool purse I bought in a boutique. 

The sales guy posed for a picture with us in front of all the pretty scarves.

This is the sign posted outside of the arts center about the session we would be leading that night.

I decided my new purse would also look good on my head!

Here Tosha and I are leading the laughter yoga session in the meditation studio.

Afterwards, we said good bye to our new friends and headed out for dinner.

This is the bar at the Italian restaurant where we dined.

William and I were still smiling after a long, full day.

And Tosha was too!

After dinner, we drove back to Tosha's beach apartment so we'd be ready to tour a winery in the area the next day.