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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 19, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Accent

New club laughs its way to better health

As 20 students lay in a circle on the floor, their heads almost touching, a bout of laughter breaks out from a female voice in the group.

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Sophomores Molly Dworsky and Sammi Travis laugh out loud Friday in Clark Lounge during a meeting for the Laughter Yoga Club, a group that is looking to spread peace and promote health through laughter. Diana Cowdery/The Ithacan

The contagious energy latches onto another person, who then begins to laugh out loud, as well. More gradually join in, until the people in the room are in a fit of uncontrollable hysterics.

No one in Clark Lounge last Friday was telling a joke or watching a sitcom — in fact, they were laughing for no reason at all, which is really what the Laughter Yoga Club is all about. Co-founded by sophomores Molly Dworsky and Sammi Travis earlier this semester, the new club is part of an international peace movement to increase health and overall happiness.

“It’s just putting good, positive energy out there,” Travis said. “It’s [promoting] world peace through laughter, and that’s what we support.”

Dworsky said laughter yoga originated in Mumbai, India, when Dr. Madan Kataria discovered that laughter relieves tension and stress. With input from his wife, a yoga instructor, Kataria turned laughter yoga into a fully developed technique, combining lively and simple exercises to stimulate the body.

Stretching and breathing exercises, rhythmic clapping and chanting can turn simulated laughter into real laughter. Since the body isn’t able to tell the difference, endorphins are still released.

In 1995, Kataria’s movement went international, Dworsky said. Promoting world peace through laughter became the mantra of more than 5,000 clubs in 40 countries. The clubs generally have no religious or political affiliation, and they are free and open to the public.

Dworsky said she first heard about laughter yoga when her dad read about it in a newspaper article.

“My whole family has tried to laugh as much as possible my whole life,” she said. “I’ve had these laughter clubs in India in the back of my mind for a while.”

After doing research online, Travis found a training session in Denver, Colo. She and Dworsky attended the session during winter break, and they became officially certified to lead sessions.

“We were submersed in [laughter yoga] for nine hours,” Travis said. “We’d never done it before, and it’s ridiculous. We had a really weird time.”

A laughter yoga session lasts for about 30 to 35 minutes. Participants begin with serious yoga breathing and stretching drills, but the mood often turns silly when the laughter exercises begin. Between each exercise, more yoga breathing techniques are incorporated to keep the diaphragm open and conducive for laughter.

“It’s hard to describe,” Dworsky said. “It’s hard to articulate. It’s tiny little bites, little laughter bites, that we try to give real quickly, like a little laughter snack. And then we send you off.”

Each session ends with the participants practicing gradient or free-flow laughter, which Dworsky said is the best way for laughter to flow through the body. Lying horizontally, the participants giggle, and laughter bubbles up naturally from within. Those practicing the technique tend to erupt into hysterical laughter.

“People are constantly telling me they are crying from laughing so hard,” Travis said. “That feels really good.”

By bringing the Laughter Yoga Club to Ithaca College, Dworsky said she hopes to create a sense of belonging for all students.

“We don’t necessarily feel like we fit in all the time,” Dworsky said. “In an environment where our favorite thing to do is laugh, … anyone can feel welcome and anyone can feel elevated.”

Travis said she specifically enjoys the strong emotions that develop during the laughter yoga process.

“It’s laughing for no good reason,” Travis said. “It’s contagious and feels really good. I do it because I love it.”

Junior Sammi Dickerman, a regular attendee of the Laughter Yoga Club, said she feels that its message and techniques are worth sharing with the rest of the campus.

“I’m kind of a goofy person,” Dickerman said. “So this is perfect for me. I think this field of research is a really cool, interesting idea, and I find myself getting more into it as I explain the process to other people.”

Travis and Dworsky plan to organize floor programs in residence halls to provide more exposure for the club. They hope to raise a greater awareness of the movement at the college.

“Laughter is a form of communication, a universal language that everyone can understand,” Travis said. “The very first rule of laughter yoga is you have to be willing. … Anything’s possible when you’re willing.”