Sometimes Robyn Sadler of Savannah, Ga., breaks into teeny giggles and sometimes she roars with laughter. And sometimes a dozen or so people do the same along with her. But what's so funny is, well, there is nothing funny. Ms. Sadler is a certified laughter leader whose job (though she often doesn't get paid for it) is to help people laugh. Literally.
As a leader/motivator - one who uses a systematic routine but not jokes - Sadler inspires laughter through interactive laughing exercises. (Of course, if you've got a good, clean joke, Sadler will let you tell it in class. But she won't guarantee you'll get a laugh from your fellow attendees.)
In Sadler's class, laughing is something you just do. You "simulate laughter to stimulate laughter," she says, which in turn boosts your mood, lowers your stress level, and possibly benefits your physical health.
Sadler is one of about 1,000 adults in the United States, Canada, and Mexico who have become certified laughter leaders sinceJuly 2000 through the World Laughter Tour Inc. (www.world laughtertour.com). The group was formed in 1998 by former psychologist and psychotherapist Steve Wilson and nurse Karyn Buxman. Their intent, then and now, is "global influence in the practical applications of laughter and humor for health and world peace."
Their progress has included a lot of guffaws over the past six years. And that's a good thing, says Mr. Wilson, a self-proclaimed "joyologist."
"If everyone would go back to being a child again by spending 30 minutes laughing, the whole world would be a better place," he adds.
Wilson's inspiration was Madan Kataria, founder and president of Laughter Club International in India. Dr. Kataria is the catalyst for hundreds of laughter clubs in India known as Hasya Yoga (a yogic laughter practice) for health and peace.
Yes, thousands of people are laughing in India for no reason. In fact, there is a kind of shared universal language that goes something like this: Hee hee ha ha ho ho.... That's just one of the phrases Sadler uses in her workshop.
Those who attend one of her classes might find themselves sitting with their mouths open wide, lightly slapping their chests and then their knees with one hand while pointing at people with the other hand and laughing without making noise.
"It's sort of as if you were in church and you couldn't laugh and had to squelch it a little bit," says Sadler about the "silent laugh," one of the interactive laughter exercises she uses.
A louder laughter exercise is the "cellphone laugh." Sadler asks participants to walk around the room, holding imaginary cellphone against their ear, pretending to call a friend to perhaps tell them about this crazy laughter club workshop they attended. But instead of talking on their phones, participants laugh into it. And they're encouraged to make eye contact with one another.
The favorite class exercise is often the "argumentative laughter" (without the argument). Class participants walk around and point and wiggle their fingers as though in preparation to scold one another, but instead, they laugh. Hee, hee, hee.
Why does Sadler initiate these almost slapstick comedy routines that tend to embarrass her 17-year-old twin daughters, but evoke plentiful chuckles from her 11-year-old son?
"My goal is to make sure my son doesn't lose his laugh," Sadler says, citing statistics that indicate children laugh more than 400 times daily, while adults laugh only eight to 15 times a day.
"Somewhere in there we lose our laugh," she says. "And families don't do anything together anymore. I thought if I could get a family to sit down and laugh together as a group, not privately, but as an activity, then maybe I could help kids keep their laugh and the adults to lighten up a bit."
Barbara Hee (yes, that's her real name), founder of the Philly Phun Laughter Club in Philadelphia, recently aimed to get the whole city laughing.
Ms. Hee and four other certified laughter leaders offered free laughter sessions throughout the city during the week of April 25. Even the mayor joined in by officially proclaiming the week Laughter Week.
Hee knows the value of a good laugh. In her previous job in cemetery-plot sales, she faced tough sales goalsand many unhappy people. "This laughter training has been really good for me," she says. "It gave me direction. It got me out of a blah period of my life, a transition period, and helped me to move on."
Linda Marlow of Laugh With Linda in Miami Beach moved onward, too - in a different way. She once took her laughter show on the road. A woman celebrating a birthday with friends hired Ms. Marlow to help them pass time during an hour-long drive in a limousine to a celebratory dinner.
Marlow livened up what could have been a boring drive with interactive laughter exercises that included "limo drive laughter." Guests pretended to be a limo driver who tips his hat and bows, greeting passengers by laughing throughout the process. The women then pretended to steer the wheel with one hand while waving out the window and laughing simultaneously.
"It's very important to me that whatever I do in life has a benefit for people," Marlow says. Not just an activity that she enjoys doing, but something with a benefit to someone on the other end. "Certainly with laughter there are so many benefits."
It may sound as though a laughter club session is all fun and games. Not so. Well, actually it is all fun and games.
But a session, which can range from 10 minutes to an hour, also involves deep breathing, stretching, and guided imagery exercises. And what often starts with an Alo ha ha ha ha ha greeting in Sadler's Jest Laugh Laughter YogaClub classes usually ends in pep rally format. Her three cheers are met by an arm-raising affirmative audience:
"We are the happiest people in the world. Yea! We are the healthiest people in the world. Yea! We love to laugh. Yea!"
Then Sadler exits to the sound of clapping and genuine laughing, knowing that both she and the audience are leaving in a better mood. Yea!