Montreal laughter in a league of its own
By Bonnie Wurst – mtltimes.ca
Ha Ha, Hee Hee and Ho Ho is the prescription most prescribed for ailments of the body, mind and soul – by members of the Montreal Laughter League (MLL). These certifiably ‘giggly’ people could mistakenly be regarded as certifiably ‘loopy’ if a passerby, hearing the raucous laughter coming from the room where they meet, decided to take a look inside.
Laughter is no laughing matter – unless you are attending a MLL meeting as I did last Sunday. The benefits I received from the experience have not yet completely subsided. Using the ‘Laughercize’ method created by the Laughter League’s founder, renowned Laughologist Albert Nerenberg (of which he adapted from Laughter Yoga developed by Dr. Madan Kataria in 1995) – anyone can laugh, without humour, jokes or comedy. It’s called ‘pro-active’ laughter.
The truth is, laughter really is the best medicine. And there is the science to prove it.
A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. It also boosts your immune system by decreasing stress hormones, increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals and can even temporarily relieve pain. And the good feeling that you get when you laugh remains with you even after the laughter subsides.
Before the meeting I met up with Ricky Donato who leads the group, and Wendy Singer who substitutes for him when he is unavailable. We talked (and giggled) about the league and laughter. Ricky is the 2013 Winner of the Montreal Laughter Championship who went on to win the title of ‘Most Contagious Laugh’ at the Provincial level the same year. He is also the founder of activelaughter.com and a certified hypnotherapist. Wendy is the League’s Marketing Director and also the Managing Editor of Inspirations Newspaper, a non-profit, bi-yearly newspaper that addresses the needs of children and adults with special needs. Both, certified by Albert Nerenberg to lead ‘Laughercize’ workshops and parties, volunteer their time and expertise to the group and consider themselves ‘laughter soul mates’.
Albert Nerenberg started the group a few years ago and slowly handed the reins over to Ricky, Wendy and Sheryl Beller-Kenner who runs the BelArôme Centre that provides the space where the MLL has been meeting since spring 2013. Albert still pops in once in a while to check in on his ‘bouncing’ baby.
After pulling the plastic laughing dart off Ricky’s forehead, we headed to the meeting. There were at least ten people already there, both regular and new guests, sitting on chairs in a circle, anxiously awaiting their arrival. Ricky soon began by explaining the science of laughter, then making everyone feel at ease with a few laughs and breathing/relaxation exercises.
“Most laughter is reactive,” he explained. “You see something in the world, you decide it’s funny, and you react to it by laughing. Active laughter is different. You laugh just because you decided to laugh. You’re not waiting around for something funny. You’re laughing because you like to laugh.”
And that they did! Everyone introduced themselves, encouraged to ‘let go and laugh for no reason’, and by the time they got around the circle the place was filled with laughter of mass proportions. And that was just a start.
At first it might seem forced and fake, but the concept is based on scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits. And the ‘forced’ laughter quickly turns into heartfelt hysterics.
The group practiced a few different types of laughter, stopping in between to breathe and relax. They did what is called the Alabama Knee-Slapper, a classic where you slap your knee and laugh. Nobody was ‘forced’ to participate, in fact a couple of people just watched at first but before long they were giggling and soon joined in with some serious knee slapping and guffawing of their own. It was simply contagious.
Other techniques they practiced included being partnered with someone in the group and making close eye-contact, then laughing back and forth until tears rolled down their faces. Another had everyone pointing at themselves and laughing – at first odd, but in the end, oddly fulfilling. ‘The Diabolical’, is an evil laugh that was ghoulishly funny. They also tried to ‘suppress’ laughter (as school children might do in classroom) which morphed into a silliness, recalling the time when we were children and laughed freely – before we started to suppress it as adults. It’s something many of us left behind, and it’s really too bad.
There are many different types of laughter, even those specific to Montreal such as: The Poutine, where you hold your belly with your hands, like when you’re in a food coma after stuffing your face – and then you shake it as you laugh. The Icy Sidewalk (not hard to explain to a Montrealer), where you fall out of your chair from laughing and then you’re on your back, rolling on the ground, holding your aching sides. And The Slapshot, explained as, ‘…just like Brendan Gallagher ripping one by Anders Lindback, you don’t see this one coming. You start to laugh and your hand comes up and slaps down – on the table, your knee, maybe even someone else’s knee. It’s sudden, it’s powerful, and it gets everyone’s attention’.
“The sounds of laughter are universal and even predate language,” Ricky explained. “People, when laughing together begin to synchronize, even their faces (over time) begin to look the same… the lines near their eyes… their smiles.”
As he guided the group through a relaxation exercise to end the meeting, one thing was clear – laughter is clearly infectious. The sound of laughter is far more contagious and spreads more rapidly than any cough or sneeze. When laughter is shared, it brings people together in a happy and more intimate way. It fosters an emotional connection with others, when we laugh together, a positive bond is created. It gives you the courage and strength to find new meaning and hope. Even in the most difficult of times, a laugh or even a simple smile, can go a long way toward making you feel better.
“When practiced regularly, laughter can really affect your mood in a positive way,” said Wendy, offering some sage advice. “Just laugh for one minute everyday… it will change your outlook on life!”
Everyone walked out of there feeling exhilarated, less anxious and far more energized. Including this reporter, who put in a few good Alabama Knee-Slappers herself.
Do you need a prescription? Then I suggest you check out the next meeting of the Montreal Laughter League! The medicine is inexpensive (there is a suggested donation of $5 to help the league cover some expenses) and there are no waiting lines or forms to fill out. The laughs are open to the public the first and third Sunday of every month, 10:30 AM at BelArôme in NDG.
The Montreal Laughter League
www.activelaughter.com or https://www.facebook.com/groups/363267793998/
Ricky Donato: email@example.com 514-442-7425
Wendy Singer: firstname.lastname@example.org 514-486-0208
BelArôme Holistic Health Centre, 6100 Monkland Avenue, NDG