MY INNER voice is in overdrive and frantically narrating my first Laughter Yoga class a bit like this:
'You’re all bonkers, you know that? Haha. Completely barking mad. Stop looking at me like that, you loons. Haha. Why are you all running towards me? You’ve lost it, you have. Haha. We look ridiculous. Haha. Oh God, what are we even laughing at? Haha. Stop laughing, L’Oréal. Compose yourself…'
People stare but we don’t care – we’ve shaken off the last of any inhibitions and we’re barking mad together...
That was in the first awkward five minutes of pretending to be a ‘laughing car’. For the next hour I won’t say much, I’ll just be laughing - an extremely false and loud laugh from the depths of my gut - while literally running around in circles. Next, me and the small mixed group of adults (some in their forties), will pretend to be giraffes – a giraffe with the giggles. We maintain fixed eye-contact while doing so. I can’t tell if they’re as freaked out by all this as I am because, well… they’re all laughing.
'I’ve flown right over the cuckoo’s nest with this one, haven’t I?' I continue to think.
Yet crazy is as crazy does and I’d keep belting out a helium high cackle until I settled in.
And I do settle in by the end but the Laughter Yoga session would take some getting used to (and I’ve attempted Face Yoga, so that’s saying something). This is surreal stuff. Still, I’d learn every part of this class (even the improvisation and spontaneous clapping) is a meaningful exercise to promote a happier existence.
The class is congregated upstairs at Northern Quarter's Terrace Bar. Maria Buonincontro is our instructor: she’s Italian and, as you’d expect, has a natural, infectious smile. She found laughter yoga many years after her first, very serious yoga experience where she burst into uncontrollable hysterics.
“I will not be trying to be funny, I'm definitely no comedian. I’m not here to perform and this is not a performance exercise,” she explains to the class. “It’s based on the premise that laughter is so powerful that, even when it’s forced, the body can still receive the same benefits from laughter. You fake it until it becomes real.”
Easy, I’m a natural giggler but I have many a fake laugh:
- My well-oiled professional laughter (a hearty, wide-eyed, wide-mouthed toothy chuckle).
- Pity laughter (when the joke's just not cutting it).
- And my favourite, the melodramatic fall to floor, hit your thigh, spill your beer, punch you in the back laughter – but that’s usually all real.
Today I’d be practicing all my laughs at once. Still, silly as I am (I once dressed up as a panda and breakdanced outside Asda), even Laughter Yoga feels extremely extroverted for me. It’s a little more touchy-feely than I’d like and I’ve not quite mastered looking strangers in the eye. Plus I think pretending to be a laughing turkey may be a little out of my comfort zone.
Watch a Laughter Yoga class...
Yet, cringe-moments aside, so many people have taken to this with bells on. Laughter Yoga has 1,602 members in Manchester and reportedly 16,000 devotees worldwide. The practice was created by ‘Laughter Guru’ Dr Madan Kataria in 1995; he’s quite prolific in yoga circles we hear, and was once described as the “most amazing, beautiful man” by tearful actress Goldie Hawn in a short documentary.
Dr Kataria’s Laughter Yoga has been deemed ‘life-altering’ by his thousand-strong following, and he states that there’s scientifically proven benefits to his forced laughter classes; it can reduce stress hormone cortisol levels and blood pressure while also boosting happy hormone. Laughter Yoga is also cited as having overall positive psychological benefits to those with social anxiety and in troubled personal situations.
On the surface it will all sound like hippy-dippy pseudo-science, and the classes will appear more bonkers than the brilliantly ‘deceptive’ life-changing exercise it’s billed to be. Yet no one can deny that regular laughter can soothe most emotional ailments. Here, rather than wait for those spur-of-the-moments of quick wit and jokes from mates (or for someone to tumble on the street) we just force the feeling.
I get it now. This is about letting go and Maria swears that no one even needs a sense of humour to participate. During the hour, we’d take rudimentary things like missing the bus, mowing the lawn, popping popcorn and turn them into silly, childlike routines – we’re really loud about it too. We’d stop every so often to clap and shout “very good, very good. Yes!” with our hands in the air as if we’re at a concert. After a while I’m not forcing the laughter at all because this is brilliantly daft, we all look equally daft and it’s hilarious. By the end, I’m a little sweaty, out of breath and undoubtedly chirpy. We continue the jubilations downstairs with a few beers, breaking into random and loud ‘hahahas!’ as people leave. People stare but we don’t care – we’ve shaken the last of any inhibitions and we’re barking mad together.
'I really needed a laugh today,' says my calmer inner voice as I walk back out into the world (I’ve talked to myself a lot in the past hour). I feel I’ve shaken off some lingering negative vibes and the last of the post-Brexit stress.
As the saying goes, ‘a day without laughter is a day wasted.’
Find The Laughter Yoga classes throughout Manchester, see here.