Commentary

Granados: Laughter and yoga therapy treat life’s ills

May 16, 2014 

local comedian named Mick McKenna. He specializes in all-clean comedy and plies his trade at various area establishments. Not too long ago, a woman named Ellen Samuels was looking for a comedian.

PICASA — COURTESY OF MICK MCKENNA

  • Want to laugh?

    Find more information about the Life Cheering center and the laughter renewal workout at www.lifecheeringscenter.com.

A while ago, I talked about a local comedian named Mick McKenna. He specializes in all-clean comedy and plies his trade at various area establishments. Not too long ago, a woman named Ellen Samuels was looking for a comedian. I put the two together, and a therapeutic partnership was formed.

Samuels has always wanted to help people. She learned this passion early in life from the example of her parents. She saw them helping others in need and participated. As she grew up, she took every opportunity she could to help others.

Finally, she decided to do it in a more organized fashion.

Samuels founded a group called Life Cheering Center. The center provides an annual motivational event and conducts charitable activities, but she was looking for a more direct way to help people, particularly those trying to deal with the stress that comes from work and the normal vagaries of life.

“The word ‘laughter’ came to mind,” she explained to me via e-mail.

She did some research and was amazed at the benefits that come from laughter. Then she decided to pursue laughter yoga.

Laughter yoga is an exercise that combines laughter — “for no reason” — with yogic breathing. There’s a warm-up with stretching, clapping and movement, and then laughter games mixed with deep breathing.

When I introduced Samuel to McKenna, she knew he would be a natural fit to lead sessions.

The pair formed a laughter yoga group that helps people unwind from stress, but the laughter therapy goes even further than just yoga. The pair have put together what they call a “laughter renewal workout” that combines comedy, laughter, yogic breathing, music and meditation. McKenna hopes that all pays dividends in other areas of people’s lives.

“Folks would pay that goodness forward and spread a little more happiness,” McKenna said in an e-mail. “Our mantra is ‘Laugh More, Live Well, Lend a Hand.’”

When folks come together and laugh, the stress-relief benefits can be great, McKenna said.

“Sustained laughter of 15 to 20 minutes duration, whether genuine or simulated, releases the exact same healthy hormones: endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine,” McKenna said. “Just as athletes can feel the benefits of working out on a running machine, everyone can feel the benefits of a laughter workout.”

The group gets together, laughs at jokes, laughs at nothing while getting an aerobic workout and then finishes up with meditation.

“Our faces and abs get a real workout from the belly laughs,” McKenna said. “On top of that, it feels great.”

McKenna said the experts back them up on the benefits of laughter.

“There are countless scientific and medical research papers from highly esteemed institutions that repeatedly demonstrate that the old adage, ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ is absolutely true,” he said.

I can attest to that. When I married my wife, one of the things she said she valued most about me was my sense of humor. We deal with any stress in our life with jokes and laughter. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t benefit from a laughter renewal workout myself. Fortunately, the practice may be coming to me soon enough.

McKenna and Samuels hope to take what they’re doing into communities, workplaces and more, and they are now both certified laughter yoga leaders.

In the meantime, maybe you — and even I — should check out their laughter yoga group.

“It is impossible to not feel good about the people in the group,” McKenna said. “All negative feelings, all our troubles, evaporate during a session.”

So give it a shot. Who knows? You might just laugh.

Alex Granados writes about interesting people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him via email at agranadoster@gmail.com.

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