Bedford Women’s Club hosts expert on laughter yoga at January meeting

On Jan. 23, Marcia E. Wyman, director of the New England Center of Laughter of Concord, defined and demonstrated laughter yoga.

Laughter yoga was developed in 1995 by Dr. Martin Kataria, author of “Laugh for No Reason.” The practice combines laughter exercises with yoga breathing in an effort to deliver more oxygen to the body and brain. Wyman also referenced “Anatomy of an Illness” by Norman Cousins and “Gesundheit” by Patch Adams. Wyman discovered laughter yoga while in rehabilitation for a stroke and was pleased with the results. She demonstrated for us the health effects that she experienced through her practice of laughter yoga.

Club members were enthusiastic about Wyman’s presentation. Bennie Hanauer exclaimed, “What a fun meeting! I have always believed that laughter is therapeutic.”

“I loved the way that the majority entered into the program with such enthusiasm. The speaker was articulate and she eased us into this idea of laughing very gradually and I found myself laughing over what I was doing and at the reactions and facial expressions of others,” Meg Moore said. “In fact, I laughed so much I must have lost weight! Felt great afterwards. One of our best programs in my book.”

Many of the benefits Wyman discussed are true of other forms of yoga. About 30 years ago, I injured my shoulder, and rather than having surgery on the shoulder, began the practice of yoga. I regained full range of motion in my arm and went on to become a certified yoga instructor. I have taught yoga for the past 25 years and continue a daily practice.

Yoga is a philosophy, a science and an art. It was developed thousands of years ago in India. As Americans, we may think of yoga as either a religion or a form of exercise. This was not the original purpose of yoga.

The term yoga means union and yoga is grounded in the importance of achieving integration of body, mind and spirit. The highest purpose of yoga is to find our inner source of strength, mental clarity and peace. This results in a deeper awareness of self and ultimately, a oneness with the universe.

Yoga in America has many forms. Most forms resemble the ancient form in some way. The yoga I taught, Hatha yoga, was brought to America by teachers, often called gurus, from India. Hatha yoga, usually described as a gentle form of yoga, is the physical practice of yoga. Hatha yoga works with the body, using postures and breathing techniques to connect to the inner self. This results in a relaxation that quiets the mind.

Studies today show that deep slow breathing relaxes the body and quiets the mind. Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard University has written a book on the relaxation response that is elicited through focus on the breath. He utilizes breathing techniques to treat patients suffering from high blood pressure, chronic pain and many other physical ailments.

Yoga postures, also called asanas, focus on the breath. The postures also have significant benefit to the body. The postures and breathing techniques improve flexibility and balance.

Yoga is available to anyone, regardless of age or religious belief. There is chair yoga for people who are unable to get on the floor. Yoga classes traditionally end with a meditation and relaxed pose. Most people leave a class both relaxed and more energetic. Students are encouraged to keep their focus to the breath and the sensations in their body to let go of intrusive thoughts and worries.

Beginning my day with the practice of yoga is as necessary as that first cup of coffee. My body is more flexible and I start the day feeling energized and grounded.

Beverly O’Bryon is a member of the Bedford Women’s Club.