Strike a Smile with Laughter Yoga

Laughter Yoga isn't like traditional yoga.
Laughter Yoga isn't like traditional yoga.

You don’t need a yoga mat, fancy yoga clothes or even to be physically fit. You only need to be ready to take yourself less seriously, says Angela Essick Dykes, who will be leading several free Laughter Yoga sessions at Gilda’s Club in Grand Rapids and Lowell as part of LaughFest 2018.

”As adults, we put too much emphasis on playing our roles in society,” says Essick Dykes. “We forget how to let loose and just be. Laughter yoga offers that opportunity to shed adult rules about playfulness and silliness. It’s amazing how light, hopeful, and energized people become after a few minutes doing laughter yoga.”

Essick Dykes started leading laughter yoga sessions in 2012 after she trained with Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor and founder of laughter yoga. A licensed psychotherapist, she explains that although laughter yoga doesn’t use the poses many associate with yoga, it still focuses on the essence of the word yoga, which is to bring harmony to the body and mind.

Angela Essick Dykes leads several Laughter Yoga sessions during LaughFest 2018.
Angela Essick Dykes leads several Laughter Yoga sessions during LaughFest 2018.

But if laughter yoga doesn’t involve yoga poses, what exactly does it involve? According to Laughter Yoga University, “Laughter Yoga is a combination of deep breathing exercises from yoga and laughter exercises, which oxygenates our body and brain, makes us feel more healthy and energetic.”

While more oxygen sounds great, what if one just doesn’t find the experience particularly funny? Apparently, it’s OK to fake it. “The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter,” continues the Laughter Yoga website.

“One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits. Clinical research conducted at Bangalore, India and in the United States has proven that laughter lowers the level of stress hormones (epinephrine, cortisol, etc.) in the blood.”

To those nervous about getting goofy with strangers, Essick Dykes believes that her training and experience as a psychotherapist helps her to make people comfortable. “One of my philosophies is ‘invitation, not expectation,’” she said. “I am able to approach inviting others to join me while creating a safe space for them to take risks to shed inhibitions, thereby experiencing a new kind of soul freedom.”

Instead of striking a pose, strike a smile with Laughter Yoga.
Instead of striking a pose, strike a smile with Laughter Yoga.

When asked to share about a person impacted by laughter yoga, Essick Dykes recalls working with a woman who was new to Gilda’s Club and had lost her husband to cancer. The woman sat on a sofa and wept while others laughed doing the exercises.

“At the end, she told me that she and her husband loved laughing together,” Essick Dykes explained. “She needed to hear laughter again, but was not able to laugh without him. A few months later, I saw this woman volunteering at Gilda’s Club. I almost didn’t recognize her because her face was glowing and smiling. She told me that being given permission to sit at a session of laughter yoga and stay as long as she was emotionally able sparked memories that she didn’t want to lose.”

Free sessions of laughter yoga are being offered at the following times and locations:

Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids (1806 Bridge St NW)

  • Friday, March 9, 10 a.m.
  • Saturday, March 10, 10 a.m.
  • Sunday, March 11 3 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 15 10 a.m.
  • Friday, March 16, 10 a.m.
  • Saturday, March 17, 10 a.m.
  • Sunday, March 18, 3 p.m.


Gilda’s Club Lowell (314 S Hudson St.)

  • Tuesday, March 13, 4 p.m.


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