I was quite excited when I opened this on Sunday morning, because I'd read about these 'laughter clubs' in India, and thought it all sounded like ... well, a laugh. I was amazed and really pleased there was one five minutes from our house. I'd read that simply by starting to laugh artificially in a large group, you automatically start to really laugh, which releases all kinds of beneficial chemicals*.
Apparently, laughter evolved in humans because our natural groups were too large for grooming** to work as the bonding thing. Tests have shown, and anyone who's been to a good comedy night knows, that laughing with a big group of strangers makes you feel good about yourself and about the people you're laughing with.
I set off excited about the buzz I was about to get from mass laughter, but realized I didn't have the five pounds to pay for the session, so had to nip to the cashpoint. I wasn't stressed – the laughter of 30 or 40 people would cover the sound of me sneaking in a bit late. I'd just go to the back of the crowd and slowly tune in to what was happening.
I parked up at five past six and pushed open the door. A lady of a similar age to me was standing there watching the doorway. There was no one else there. 'Laughter yoga?' I said, awkwardly. 'It's the Wimbledon men's final', she said, looking concerned. She peered out of the window. 'I don't think even Audrey's coming '.
This already wasn't the free-wheeling, hide-in-a-crowd-primal scream thing I was hoping for.
'I'm Caroline – I'm the teacher ...' - another lady appeared – similar age, similar look of embarrassment and horror - '... and this is Sue – it's her yoga room'. She leant so desperately out of the window that she almost fell out. 'I'm just wondering if Audrey will be coming ...'. By ten past six we were all resigned to the uncomfortable scenario. 'Shall we start?' said Caroline, meaning 'Please can we not do this?' 'Yes!' I said, enthusiastically, but thinking 'Please can we not do this?'. 'Let's stand in a circle!' said Sue. But her eyes didn't lie – they were saying, 'Please can we not do this?'. 'Just a second,' I said. I went over to the window, praying that Audrey was there. Whatever Audrey was.
'So ... let's start with some ha ha ha, ho ho hos with clapping!', said Caroline. 'OK!!!' I said, keenly, hoping she was about to offer the option of losing an eye. Caroline and Sue started off the activity, peeping to check I was throwing myself in to the same extent as they were.
I remembered from reading about laughter yoga that the teacher is a) not supposed to be funny, and b) not supposed to talk much at all. Caroline was breaking both these rules from the start – she was talking non-stop and, fortunately, very funny. In fact both the women were natural physical comics. During the improvised comedy-catch game, my forced laughter immediately turned real as we did ridiculous dummy throws and fancy catches. I also started to realize how surreal the whole thing was, which also made me laugh, so after five minutes, I was laughing twice at the same time, which is always a plus.
The two women were so good at slapstick and clowning, the it was impossible not to really laugh. Although it's not quite the laughter yoga invented by Dr Madar Kataria in India (they played a recording of him chuckling in the background), it did the trick. I really, really laughed, and felt all the benefits you get with that.
The last activity – humming meditation – was a replacement activity for the small group. We sat back-to-back in a triangle, closed our eyes, stuck our fingers in our ears, and hummed, with instructions to experiment with the volume and pitch of the hums. For the first minute, I was mainly checking that they were doing it too, and not just laughing while they videoed me. Once I was satisfied they were humming too, I got into it, and played around with everything from almost inaudible Paul Robeson humming to glass shattering high-pitched stuff. I was just making a mental note to take up deaf-blind humming as a serious hobby, when I realized that the background noise had gone. I took my fingers out of my ears, to find that the laughter ladies were in the middle of a conversation that had clearly been going on for a long time. I reckon I had been making a humming knob of myself for at least five minutes.
And that was it – I was feeling quite high at the end of an hour, and would definitely do a group session in the future. In fact the perfect Sunday evening natural high could well be an hour's laughter yoga followed by a skinny dip with humming.
The laughter ladies do mental flossing.
*... and, depending on the state of your pelvic floor, some that rot the carpet
**ape-type, not Rolf Harris-type