"This is for all people,” notes Lainie Diamond, guru of giggling and founder of the Houston Laughter Yoga group.
“Laughter yoga is designed for all professions, all backgrounds, all ages, all abilities . . . It’s not just for yoginis.”
Operating on the belief that laughter is a form of relaxation that promotes mental and physical wellbeing, Diamond, an Atlanta native who arrived in Houston via New York, uses techniques developed by Indian physician Dr. Madan Kataria to reconnect participants with their inner joy.
Kataria devised the process in 1995, after noting that sustained laughing delivers a host of benefits, including reduced stress, improved interpersonal relationships, diminished pain and strengthened immunity.
Diamond, who has guided groups in Houston since relocating to the city in 2011, attests to its power.
"Making ourselves laugh changes our brain chemistry, and that’s why we feel so good and continue to come back."
“It’s so incredible because it’s for your immune system and it’s helping people both physically and psychologically," she says. "We’re releasing endorphins and dopamine, so you’re left feeling both energized and relaxed.”
Diamond has witnessed these physical and psychological benefits with her range of other non-profit and corporate clients, the roster of which includes the Jung Center, Bering Omega Community Services and developmental care facility The Center.
"We all are searching for that childlike joy," Diamond says. "Making ourselves laugh changes our brain chemistry, and that’s why we feel so good and continue to come back, week after week.”
On a recent Saturday morning, 20 participants — ranging in age from 7 to 70 — packed the program room at the Heights Library. The diverse assembly assumed a variety of laughter-inducing poses that place a premium on the healing power of breathing, from posturing as sumo wrestlers to feigning tears through taking an imaginary “cry pill” to casting oneself as a free-flying bird or ferocious lion.
For regular Janet Carroll, a nurse and massage therapist who has been attracted to laughter yoga for years and recently began attending the weekly meet-up, the program offers what she calls “a safe place."
"You can express everything that’s inside, whether laughter, anger or tears," she says. “There’s no judgment when you do activities like pretending to be a lion or a sumo wrestler. It’s just fun.”
Houston Laughter Yoga offers free sessions at the Montrose branch of the Houston Public Library on Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and at the Heights branch from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Workshops are also held at the Jung Center on Wednesday evenings from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. for a member fee of $15 and $20 for non-members.