September 24, 2012
LOS ANGELES (The New York Times News Service) -- Laughter is an expression that comes easily with the innocence of youth.
But with the coming of age, a good giggle or guffaw can be harder to muster.
So when Hermosa Beach resident Matthew Rand heard about Laughter Yoga, he was intrigued. Basically finding ways to make yourself laugh as a form of exercise, Laughter Yoga has been growing in popularity since it was launched in India in 1995.
"With the stress of school, work and everyday life, people tend to really have to work to express what someone is feeling through laughter as opposed to just letting it out as children do," Rand said.
The idea of loosening up one's ability to laugh more often sounded rewarding on many levels. Once he began attending sessions, he quickly became a Laughter Yoga teacher and recently created the Hermosa Beach Laughter Club through Hermosa Five-O, the city's senior activity center, which is open to any South Bay resident at least 50 years old.
As a volunteer, Rand has been holding sessions the past two months for a half-dozen members who have already seen the benefits of Laughter Yoga.
Rand said the free sessions aim to bring out that "childlike" personality that everyone has within themselves. The club meets every Thursday from 5-6 p.m. at the Hermosa Beach Community Center. During meetings, the group goes through 15 laugh exercises that last about 45 seconds each.
Rand said it's all about triggering certain parts of the brain to make the body loosen up.
"It is based on the scientific fact that the body does not know a difference between fake or pretend laughter and real laughter," Rand said. "In a good group with good eye contact; the fake turns real very quickly."
Rand said Laughter Yoga is extremely popular on an international level, with 9,000 laughter clubs in 85 countries.
Rand acknowledged the idea of Laughter Yoga sounded "downright weird" before he noticed the benefits.
He found that people approaching the sessions with an open mind quickly realize the benefits of regular laughter.
Torrance resident Betsy Lechner has been going to the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach for years, as well as Hermosa Five-O, and thought the Laughter Club would be a terrific addition to her life. So far, she absolutely loves it.
"Once you start laughing for no apparent reason, you start giggling at the idea of laughing and it turns (very) natural. ... It places your thoughts in a more positive state," said Lechner, who has attended four sessions. "It's easier to laugh when it comes to you easier. It keeps our ability well oiled."
After three sessions, Josie Stalls noticed that she laughs more often, too.
"I laugh more freely," the Redondo Beach resident said. "(After a session), my mood gets better, I feel the world is not that bad and I enjoy life."
Stalls became a member after seeing the information posted on the schedule at Hermosa Five-O and figured it was worth a try. She immediately got hooked and has been trying to get her friends to start attending as well.
"Laughing is good for everybody, especially the older people. With the everyday stress, everybody is in a rush. We need to relax and laugh along with life, especially now that we're older. Enjoy life and laugh at it."
Lechner said she expects Laughter Yoga to become very popular, especially now that there is a place for locals to participate in it.
"I think it's a concept that's here to stay," Lechner said. "You just relax and be childlike.
Copyright 2012 The New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.