Yes, I signed myself up for a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher training at Laughter Yoga International but I had no idea what I was getting myself into when five years ago, I hopped on a plane bound for Bangalore and ended up spending two weeks in India.
I arrived early in the morning, got picked up at the airport, driven to a nondescript apartment building on the outskirts of town. I crashed in my room, eager to get some shut-eye after a long and uncomfortable flight.
A few hours later, someone knocked on my door and informed me that I was invited to have breakfast downstairs with fellow students. That was Dr. “ K.”, (Dr. Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga) himself. No telling him I’d rather sleep in.
Still groggy with sleep, I forced myself out of bed and got myself down to the breakfast table, where I was greeted by the United Nations of Laughter Yoga professionals who had traveled from all corners of the world to assist Dr. K. in developing his Laughter Yoga curriculum. They included Gabriela from Germany, Rossana from Mexico, Javier from Spain, Joelle from France, Dave from the USA, Aiveen from Scottland, Madhav from India and others.
Enjoying a meal with Dr. Kataria
After breakfast, Dr. K. and his lovely wife Madhuri (co founder of Laughter Yoga) invited us to join them for a celebration at a nearby elementary school.
This being my first trip to India, I had no idea what to expect and each day brought new surprises and memorable experiences.
The laughter of others was flowing and on my first day there and I recall feeling out of place and intimidated, not fully understanding why I was there and what I was hoping to achieve. I questioned my decision, wondering what I had gotten myself into.
Why was everyone else laughing so freely and why was I struggling and so self conscious? I told myself to keep and open mind and just let go. See what develops.
That first full night, I was glad I had packed my ear plugs because I could hear the lively sounds of Bangalore- the traffic, the honking, the howling and barking dogs, the trains all night. I couldn’t change the sounds but I could change my reactions. By the third night, I was sleeping better. The bed, with (what we Americans consider ) a super thin mattress, felt like I was sleeping on a board. I took the mattress from the second single bed in my room and placed it on top of my mattress for added comfort. I couldn’t figure out how to turn the hot water on in the shower so I took cold showers for the first few days, until I told the staff and they got it fixed. It was hot and humid and I was glad for a ceiling fan. Adjust, improvise, overcome.
All the laughter stimulated my appetite. Madhuri taught the staff to prepare delicious and healthy vegetarian meals, which I delighted in. Indian food never tasted so good!
With each day, I got into the routine of things and started to allow myself to enjoy the whole process of self discovery through laughter. The lotus flower unfurls itself to open and blossom and take in the sun. I was soaking in the elements, allowing myself to stretch in all directions, influenced by what I was learning from the course and the interaction with my esteemed teacher and my fellow students and other Laughter pros so eager to share and connect. I realized that I was meant to be there and that over time, many things would be revealed to my …about myself and my future. Every dayI laughed more readily, more deeply, more authentically. I practiced mindfulness and explored new ways to go farther with my laughter practice. Still meditations, dynamic meditations, journaling. I learned about all the benefits of a daily, minduful laughter practice and was my own laughter “guinea pig”. Periods of solitude and reflection helped to round out the laughter exercise training. This introspection combined with the deep laughter and breathing exercises allowed me to recognize the impact of a daily laughter practice and how it could have helped me process previous traumas in my life. Today, I use it to help me deal with all types of stress, with pain management, to keep up my resilience, mood and to cultivate joy.
Laughing with a Bangalore Women’s Laughter Yoga club.
They have been meeting daily for 15 years.
While in Bangalore, I was invited to stay with some local friends, who introduced me to Indian culture & customs, food, fashion and was even invited to an Indian wedding. I visited temples and markets and learned to eat from a banana leaf with my right hand. I tried homemade idli for breakfast, sampled dosas from a street stall and drank coconut water and sugar cane juice . I learned that (with my Bangalore friends) asking for “not spicy” was still way too spicy for me, ho ho ha ha. Wandering the spice, flower markets and shopping at neighborhood stores, I greedily took in the colors, textures and atmosphere. I snapped so many pictures. I marveled that even with chaotic traffic (crazy dangerous situations and balancing acts of five people on a motorcycle and of course no helmets) , that everything “flowed” and that traffic would suddenly stop for a wandering cow. I was treated to the most amazing sattvic Indian food at a very special restaurant, Sattvam, https://www.sattvam.com/where-it-all-began/. Fascinated by all things Indian (appreciating the live tulsi plant growing at the school entrance), I must have asked 1001 questions, which my friends answered with patience, graciousness and a smile. I cultivated new friendships and learned the true meaning of hospitality. What generosity of heart and mind!
My Indian sister, Bhavani dressed me in a sari to attend a special wedding.
Time passed so quickly and it was time to pack up. I hugged my new extended Indian families goodbye and returned home, eager to share the laughter.
The following week, I started up a laughter club in my community. Eighteen people showed up for my first session. Today, five years later, I have experienced a whirlwind of Laughter Yoga activity. It started with my weekly laughter club in my neighborhood and then, due to the interest, I added a second one. This volunteer work helped me build my skills, increase confidence levels and helped to connect me to my community. I donated a lot of laughter sessions during my first year so that I could broaden the groups I worked with (from students to older adults, corporate, private and support groups).
I began offering two-day Certified Laughter Yoga Leader trainings in 2014 and discovered that I really love teaching. Helping them to use these laughter exercise skills to benefit themselves and others gives me a deep sense of purpose and is very fulfilling.
In January 2019, I studied with Dr.K. to become a Laughter Yoga Master Trainer. In July, I led my first 5-Day Teacher training. It was a wonderful experience.
As of today, I have now donated 600+ hours to laughter clubs and laughing with various groups. I have trained close to two hundred students.
My job still includes volunteer work but paid sessions/presentations/workshops and teaching opportunities are picking up. I love the combination. I enjoy being able to work with groups of all ages and backgrounds. I am working with individuals and companies I never thought I’d be in contact with. The word is getting out and I am attracting more Keynote speaker engagements, workshops and retreats. It never gets boring and it’s always a learning opportunity. I practice gratitude laughter every day.
My laughter journey began five years ago. I am loving it! If you have laughed with me in person or from afar, THANK YOU for having been a part of it.
The journey continues. Namaste.