When I walked into Bill Alarid’s class at the Mussell Senior Center on May 24, he was talking jibberish. Then everyone started to laugh.
I guess I should have been on time.
But, bright as I am, it didn’t take me long to catch onto the game. Each person in the room in turn told their own stories in jibberish, followed by tremendous laughter. It was all part of the Laughter Yoga class Bill has been teaching for two years.
Then, all together, they clapped their hands and said “ho, ho, ha-ha-ha” several times in a row, everyone with big smiles.
The next game was electric shock, where they pretended to shuffle across a shag carpet and shock each other, all the while making eye contact and laughing.
I had taken a seat against the side wall, planning only to observe so I could take notes, but as Bill approached and “shocked” me, I couldn’t help but laugh. I felt a tremendous release from the tension I’ve been suffering. I’m coming back, for sure, I decided right then.
Bill then led a one-minute deep breathing exercise he said was as invigorating as 10 minutes of rowing. It involved standing up and pulsing the hands down while saying “ha ha” twice, followed by pulsing the hands forward while saying “hoo hoo” twice, repeated several times. I joined in.
After that, it was Happy Coyotes: “yip, yip, yip, ah-ooo … ha, ha, ha.” That was my favorite.
Stomping Grapes, Bow and Arrow, Ride the Roller Coaster, Cell Phone, Monkies and Canvas Paintings rounded out the class.
Bill ended with a calming game, Peace and Quiet, “… because we don’t want to let a bunch of seniors out totally in their right brain,” he jested.
He asked everyone if they had any pains go away.
“My emotional ones,” one answered.
“I have chronic knee pain and it really helped. I didn’t think about it during the course of the session,” another said.
Bill explained that laughter is more powerful than morphine. Cancer patients benefit from it.
Some of the participants had been in the class before. Some were new. One said it helped her go out and meet the day. Another said it has helped her deal with pain from a severe spinal injury.
One woman said she loves her sister dearly. “I rarely have thoughts of killing her, but …” they had a quarrel the other day. “She called me this morning and said, ‘please be there,’” meaning the laughter yoga class. Maybe it helps with forgiveness, too.
Seeing someone smile makes you feel better, Bill said. Even seeing yourself smile works. “You can smile at yourself in the mirror and it has a major effect,” he said.
“It reminded me to smile more at my mom, whether I mean it or not, and get her to smile back,” one woman said. “It’s important to make eye contact.”
Anyone who is interested can attend the classes. They are free and don’t require registration – just drop in at 10:45 a.m. on Thursdays at the center, 510 E. Park Ave.
“It takes no talent,” Bill said. “We laugh for no reason. Since laughter’s contagious, you don’t need any jokes, or pie in the face, or slapstick … it’s very easy to do. Anybody can do it. I have people show up and say they never laugh. Nothing’s funny. I tell them pretend to laugh. It’s just as good.”
There are about a dozen medical conditions that benefit from laughter, Bill said, including depression, cardiovascular, asthma, addiction. “It’s cheap and there’s no side effects.”
Bill was trained and certified by Laughter Yoga, an international organization with more than 8,000 clubs, including one in Israel where Jews and Muslims get together and laugh, trying to ease their troubles and communicate better with each other.
I’ll be back. Maybe I’ll see you there.
Ho, ho, ha-ha-ha.
Jeanne Sparks is a writer, photographer and graphic artist. For information, call 739-1836; email Jeanne@