Culturista-laughter-okanagan-life-magazineOkanagan club takes laughter very seriously.

When I was a kid, it was Mary Poppins who first taught me how to really laugh. Or rather, it was Uncle Albert. In the movie he suffered from an unusual condition where he would start laughing and couldn’t stop. During the fits he’d float around like a balloon filled with hysterical helium. If other people saw, they’d soon find themselves laughing and floating up in the air, too. It’s never been hard for me to get a good chuckle going, but Uncle Albert taught me sometimes we really need to go for gold.  That’s why, when I discovered Kelowna’s Laughter Club, I had to check it out.

The club takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday nights at the Centre Culturel Francophone de l’Okanagan on the corner of Richter and Bernard in Kelowna. Annie Bordeleau is a professional laughter consultant (yes, that is a career option) and she runs the group in both English and French, as needed. I’ve brought my sister along because like me, her laugh has a quick trigger, going off like a shotgun and filling the air with delightfully wicked chortles that amuse us to no end. We share an addiction and are there for a fix. But what could possibly happen that would be so funny? Are we going to hear jokes? Tell embarrassing stories? Surely we won’t be laughing for the whole hour? Funny thing is, the laughter comes from within and did indeed keep coming for the whole class.

Annie trained in laughter yoga and wellness in Vancouver and became a laughter consultant in 2013. The study of the healing impact of laughter became popular over the last century. In 1995 laughter yoga was developed by a doctor in India named Madari Kataria, who wanted to offer his patients a path to health beyond prescribing medication. The concept has since expanded into a holistic wellness practice and now there are over 7,000 laughter clubs in 65 countries. “It’s a movement for peace, health and joy,” says Annie. “Life nowadays can make us take everything very seriously, like it’s the end of the world if you don’t succeed at something. There’s a lot of expectations, so this helps to just take it more lightly.”

The club starts off like many clubs with everyone introducing themselves. Except this time, right after you say your name, you let out a big laugh. Fake it till you make it is the motto and it’s surprising how many real laughs an initial forced one can bring. Tonight it’s all women, including a lovely grandma who you can tell has been through a thing or two in her life. She lights up the room, spreading a laugh filled with hope and love. “This is my therapy,” she says.

Culturista-laughter-okanagan-life-magazine-1Annie combines breathing techniques, gentle stretches and laughter games to create an hour that is relaxing, releasing and connecting on a gut level. Any nervousness at the beginning melts away by the time we get to the second or third game. When people are nervous they laugh, but when they don’t have to stifle it, the laughter turns into a feeling of freedom. In the group we laugh at ourselves and at each other, and bask in a shared humility that allows us to feel truly accepted and seen.

Annie’s radiance and playfulness give proof that the classes work well on both the inside and out. In fact, by the end of the night everyone in the room seems to look more beautiful than when they walked in. Am I seeing them through some kind of drunken laughter goggles? Or is the explanation more simple: when you crack open a hardened shell with an hour of laughter, the softer expressions and an inner warmth are free to shine through again.

Annie says, “Give it a chance and believe it can make a difference in your life, it sure has for me. As far as my patience level, my tolerance for things that happen in my daily life, it’s made me a better mom, with lots of physical, emotional and mental benefits. When you laugh you don’t think about your problems for that short period of time, you’re removed from your circumstances and you’re just allowing yourself to be in the moment with a group of people experiencing laughter.” Best of all, you get to feel the magic that comes with being in a state of illogical ecstasy. It’s amazing how easy it is to keep laughing once you start. The effect remains long after the club is over. I guess Uncle Albert was on to something after all, LOL.

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