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Posted: June 18, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Laughter: The best medicine

Brittany Thomas/

Laugh out loud: Laughing is great as both mental and physical therapy. Residents of Merryvale Assisted Living participate in laughter yoga every two weeks.

Some say that laughter is the best medicine. Many dismiss the saying, though never intentionally. There is just so much to do, so much to worry about, and there just not enough time in the day to waste it on laughing. Besides, what exactly is there to laugh about?

Apparently, laughing does not need a reason. Just ask Cindy Stubbs and Sue Eleazer, who practice laughter yoga, a type of yogic exercise that promotes laughter as a form of physical and mental therapy.

"We both do yoga and about two and a half years ago, we took a three-day class from a laughter yoga group. After that experience, we decided we wanted to share the laughter," Eleazer said.

"I lost my mother two weeks before we took the class. It helped me get through the grieving process," Stubbs added.

One may be slightly baffled at the idea of just laughing no reason at all, but according to a variety of studies, laughter truly can be the best medicine. Laughter yoga has been found to help alleviate depression, mental stress and even relieve pain from arthritis and cancer.

According to www.laughteryoga.org, the concept of laughter yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. So one would simply start laughing, however fake and unappealing as it can be, it would not be long before the fake laughter turns into something genuine. When in a group, laughter will become contagious.

"One of the things about laughing for no reason is that it gives you the dynamics of breathing. When there are more people it becomes infectious — it’s very human," Eleazer said.

"It also depends on whether you allow yourself to feel that child-like playfulness, because you can’t laugh when your mind is occupied with the worries of tomorrow and yesterday. If we can just let it go for a minute and leave it at the door, I’m sure it will find you. And that allows you to be more creative," she explained. "When you’re thinking about the same thing over and over again, how do you become creative?"

Laughter yoga has become a worldwide practice that reaches about 60 countries. First launched by Dr. Madan Kataria, the idea of laughter yoga is simple: it is laughing unconditionally combined with Yogic breathing (Pranayama).

"The mind is an excellent servant, but a terrible master. It’s a slave driver. And if you can’t control it, your mind won’t be focused. When you’re focusing and making your mind work, it gets tired. Most people in the West don’t realize this. You have to take a break," Eleazer said.

For the last four months, Eleazer and Stubbs routinely visit Merryvale Assisted Living every two weeks. The laughter yoga sessions seem to be both therapeutic and effective.

"Some of the elderly that suffer from degenerative diseases are unable to express emotion properly. So going around to them and giving them eye contact and laughter, you can see it in their eyes and the positive effects it gives them. The eye contact we give them allows them to be justified of their laughter," Eleazer said. "It helps them be grateful of their own existence."

"In a regular session, there is a lot more movement and more vigorous. We’re sweating at the end of it," adds Stubbs. "Even with those who don’t participate and are in the corner rolling their eyes, their reaction to us is enough to distract them from their world, which is the main point, to give your mind a little escape. And I know they will remember the session when they go home that night, especially when they look at the smiley face sticker we give out at the end of each session."

Eleazer and Stubbs have previously held sessions at the Back to Wellness Clinic in Rutledge for two years. They have had sessions at expos and assisted living facilities like Merryvale. However, laughter yoga is not limited to the elderly. Eleazer and Stubbs feel that this would also be great for church functions, anniversary parties, family gatherings and business meetings.

"We’ll even do bachelor parties," Eleazer jokes.

For appointments, call Sue Eleazer at (770)464-1145 or Cindy Stubbs at (678)409-1939. For more information about laughter yoga, visit www.laughteryoga.org.

"Laughter is like kissing. It’s all good, some’s better. Laughter is meant to be shared," Eleazer said. "There’s enough sadness and stress out there and we want to balance it out with laughter."

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