Stressed? Join These Seven As They Laugh It Away At 'Yoga' Class

It’s a Thursday evening as the sound of laughter fills an office building at 399 Franklin Ave. in Hartford. It starts out sounding a little fake.

“Say ha ha ha … ha ha ha.”

“Say he he he … he he he.”

“Say ho ho ho … ho ho ho.”

But within minutes the laughter gets real and the 10 men and women joke and giggle for about an hour while doing gentle exercise moves and deep breathing.

The instigator of all this silliness is Laura Le, who holds “laughter yoga” classes the first Thursday of each month at Toivo, a center for holistic healing and stress management. Toivo – funded by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, donations and grants – also offers meditation, tai chi, qigong, drumming and dance, Zumba, writing groups, standard yoga, dance and other activities ( Participants are asked for a $5 to $15 suggested donation for each of the activities.

“It’s beautiful to see how people are transformed by laughing. It’s laughter as exercise. You play, you have fun, you connect with your inner child,” Le says. “Intentional laughter, making the decision to laugh, laughing for no reason, it may make some people uncomfortable. But after a while, in a group, it’s contagious. It’s like recess for adults.”

The practice was founded in 1995 by Madan Kataria, an Indian medical practitioner. Kataria’s Laughter Club, in its initial form – people sitting around in a park telling jokes – hit a snag when the participants ran out of funny, inoffensive jokes. That’s when Kataria decided to incorporate pretend laughter and yoga methods. The procedure was an instant success and spread worldwide.

Despite its name, very little if any yoga happens in Le’s sessions. No one ever actually does a downward dog or gets into lotus position. The class is really about using laughter as therapy.

Le says her “laugh for the health of it” sessions are therapeutic in several ways.

“Laughter yoga is an excellent antidote to loneliness. In a class, you make eye contact with other people, smile, and laugh,” she says. “It alleviates social anxiety, cultivates feelings of trust and brings people together. It’s a truly heart-opening experience. After a class, I find it so much easier to forgive someone or start up a conversation with a stranger.”

Le’s clients speak for themselves about why they love laughter yoga and what they get out of it.

Dawn Tyson Of Middletown

“I’m a case manager at a stressful job, dealing with DCF cases, preservation and unification of families. The people I deal with have a lot of issues, stress, mental health, homelessness, substance abuse. Laughter yoga helps me help clients work with their anxieties. To be able to laugh helps them deal with it, so they’re not so stressed out. When I am finished with laughter yoga, I feel so much better.”

Robert Rivest Of Springfield

“Almost eight years ago, someone did a laughter yoga demo. I loved it so much. I felt like I had gone to a really good play or an awesome movie. I loved the eye contact, the smiling, the laughing. It helps me let things roll off my back, to be happier, healthier. I make a lot more friends. Now I have more than 100 YouTube videos, “Laugh Along With Robert.”

Diane Dubay Of East Hartford

“I’ve been doing it for three to four months. I’m an alcoholic. It helps me physically, emotionally, spiritually. There’s a lot of heart and a lot of fun. I smile more. Once you start laughing, you really enjoy the feeling. One of the healthiest things you can do is to get a good belly laugh going. I also do African dance and writing groups [at Toivo].”

Madison Maron Of Hartford

“Three years ago, I began coming to the Alternatives to Suicide support group [at Toivo]. I got into the drumming circle and women’s group and meditation and the writer’s workshop. I like laughter yoga because so many things can get you depressed in the cities. Any chance I can get to get a good laugh, I grab it. Laughter stimulates a lot of the same chemicals that are stimulated by artificial antidepressant medications. It’s a natural way to engage your insides, your body, to bring the serotonin, the dopamine. They’re just sitting there, waiting to go, waiting for a good laugh.

Mike Sciarra Of Waterbury

I do laughter yoga and meditation, meditative coloring, storytelling. I learned about the neurobiology [of laughter]. Your body doesn’t know the difference between fake and real laughter. It releases the same chemicals. The ha-ha-ha is physical. It massages the organs.”

Nikki Colon Of Hartford

“I didn’t know what I was walking into today, but it was very enjoyable. I’m glad I stayed. I usually like trying new things. This is kind of out of the picture, but it was fun.”

Fenton Williams Of Torrington

“I’d travel any distance for this. It’s calming and relaxing. I like connecting with people.”

More information Toivo’s classes at 860-296-2338 and

Editor’s note: This article has been amended to correct information about the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

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