Is Laughter Yoga all it’s cracked up to be?

Laughter Yoga is something I first heard about several years ago, but never had the courage to try. Me? Stand around with a bunch of strangers laughing at nothing at all? I don’t think so! Surely the only laughter that could erupt in such a situation would be people laughing at how ridiculous it is to stand around laughing at nothing.

But last Friday night, I decided that Saturday morning was Laugher Yoga time. So off I went.

Don’t let the use of the word “Yoga” put you off. This is one class with “yoga” in the title where you are guaranteed to see some denim but probably won’t see any tracksuit pants, leggings or leotards.

Only 4 of us turned up but I hear it’s usually a group of at least 10 to 15 people. I was more than just a little bit self conscious about starting off with standing in a circle clapping and stretching while repeating “Ho ho ho ha ha ha” 3 or 4 times, followed by “Very good, very good” and “Yay!!!” but I also couldn’t help but laugh at how strange it was. It was at that point that one of the regulars said something to the effect that the funniest part is always seeing the facial expressions of the new people.

Another game involved pairing up and pretending to show each other bank statements and finding them absolutely hilarious. But not surprisingly after having made huge sacrifices in the last couple of years to go back to university full time, my laughs were just to conform with the group and there was no genuine amusement there.

The next one just highlighted what happens when one never turns their television on. Again we paired up and one of us had to pretend to be terrified while the other tried to look scary as they approached us doing Haka War Dance poses. My 99% avoidance of television and 100% avoidance of watching sports meant I had no idea what a Haka war dance was even supposed to look like. But I got into the role of looking terrified so much so that I ended up cowering on the ground and being praised for my acting skills. Now that’s a new one! Back in my school days I was always the one who got picked on for being terrible at sports and equally terrible at drama. Having no idea what I was supposed to be doing however, when it was my turn to look scary I just improvised and looked more like I was doing karate kicks than Haka. Just the thought of how ridiculous I must have looked had me laughing so hard that it ended up giving me a coughing fit.

Then we took it in turns pretending to be flowers needing to be watered and praised for our beauty and when that was over I admitted that my surname is actually the Hungarian word for flower.

But soon enough, once again I was no longer amused and my laughs became fake. So much so that I later wondered if I should have just walked out then and there. You see, the next exercise involved speaking gibberish to each other and I did not take too kindly to being told that I could just speak in Hungarian. Hungary lost most of its land to neighbouring countries at the end of World War I so while my whole family is Hungarian, I have grown up having to tell people that I am from Serbia. Someone also told me recently that despite there being Hungarians everywhere you go in the part of Romania she visited, it was forbidden to speak Hungarian in the shops. But despite this history and despite what is still going on today, Hungarians take the language seriously and most of us have held onto it regardless of where we live today… even in Romania where it’s unacceptable to speak it. My parents packed a stack of Hungarian children’s books for me in one of the suitcases the day we migrated to Australia, but even so I want to improve my Hungarian, because I’ve become aware of the social justice and economic issues in Hungary but know I don’t speak the language well enough to advocate on anyone’s behalf. So in short, I can’t speak for every Hungarian, but from my perspective, I’m cool with people smiling about Hungarians adding paprika to just about everything, but there is nothing funny at all about likening the language to gibberish.

So will I ever go back to this “laughter yoga” class? Probably not. Although I’m sure group size does play a part – one person out of a group of 40 making an offensive comment is easily brushed aside, but when it’s one out of four, it somehow seems worse.

Is laughing at myself for doing awkward karate kicks offensive to Japanese people? And is non-Maori people pretending to do Hakka war dances for the sake of “laughter  yoga” offensive to Maori people? I don’t know. But perhaps that is a conversation that we need to have.

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