MY INNER voice is in overdrive and frantically narrating my first Laughter Yoga class a bit like this:
'You’re all bonkers, you know that? Haha. Completely barking mad. Stop looking at me like that, you loons. Haha. Why are you all running towards me? You’ve lost it, you have. Haha. We look ridiculous. Haha. Oh God, what are we even laughing at? Haha. Stop laughing, L’Oréal. Compose yourself…'
People stare but we don’t care – we’ve shaken off the last of any inhibitions and we’re barking mad together...
That was in the first awkward five minutes of pretending to be a ‘laughing car’. For the next hour I won’t say much, I’ll just be laughing - an extremely false and loud laugh from the depths of my gut - while literally running around in circles. Next, me and the small mixed group of adults (some in their forties), will pretend to be giraffes – a giraffe with the giggles. We maintain fixed eye-contact while doing so. I can’t tell if they’re as freaked out by all this as I am because, well… they’re all laughing.
'I’ve flown right over the cuckoo’s nest with this one, haven’t I?' I continue to think.
Yet crazy is as crazy does and I’d keep belting out a helium high cackle until I settled in.
And I do settle in by the end but the Laughter Yoga session would take some getting used to (and I’ve attempted Face Yoga, so that’s saying something). This is surreal stuff. Still, I’d learn every part of this class (even the improvisation and spontaneous clapping) is a meaningful exercise to promote a happier existence.
The class is congregated upstairs at Northern Quarter's Terrace Bar. Maria Buonincontro is our instructor: she’s Italian and, as you’d expect, has a natural, infectious smile. She found laughter yoga many years after her first, very serious yoga experience where she burst into uncontrollable hysterics.
“I will not be trying to be funny, I'm definitely no comedian. I’m not here to perform and this is not a performance exercise,” she explains to the class. “It’s based on the premise that laughter is so powerful that, even when it’s forced, the body can still receive the same benefits from laughter. You fake it until it becomes real.”
Easy, I’m a natural giggler but I have many a fake laugh:
- My well-oiled professional laughter (a hearty, wide-eyed, wide-mouthed toothy chuckle).
- Pity laughter (when the joke's just not cutting it).
- And my favourite, the melodramatic fall to floor, hit your thigh, spill your beer, punch you in the back laughter – but that’s usually all real.