Geneva woman spreads contagious 'Laughter Yoga'
There's no snow on the ground outside the Chesapeake Commons clubhouse in Geneva this Wednesday night, but there's a laugh-a-lanche going on inside.
Lying on a yellow smiley-face parachute with their eyes closed, nearly a dozen people are giggling, cackling and roaring with deep, bellowing, sidesplitting, abdominal-quivering laughter.
But here's the thing: There's no joke being told, no clever pun, just people gathered to let go and laugh loud -- and on purpose.
"Laughter is contagious," said Terri Reasoner of Geneva. "You are attracted to it. You want in on it."
Welcome to Reasoner's Fox Valley Laughter Yoga Circle, where no yoga mat or fancy leggings are required -- just a good attitude and openness to letting go and laughing.
A lot -- and loudly.
Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from Mumbai, India, founded Laughter Yoga in 1995. He started a "laughter club" where people would gather in a circle in a park and tell jokes and laugh. After jokes offended some, Kataria realized the body reaps the same benefits from both genuine and pretend laughter, so he asked people in the circle to laugh on purpose. That evolved into Laughter Yoga, according to laughteryoga.org.
Reasoner, founder of the Fox Valley circle, discovered Laughter Yoga in early 2011 while watching "Oprah." She signed up for a class, but it was really a certification seminar. Her interest and practice bloomed from there. She has visited heroin addict support groups and assisted living centers. Now she spreads laughter in Geneva.
"After working within Fortune 500 companies for a few years, I began to notice myself hardening where I was becoming too driven, too competitive," Reasoner said. "I noticed I was losing my openness and curiosity for life. Laughter Yoga helped me to open up and reconnect to the innocence of life and to laugh just because it made me feel good. It helped to release built-up tension and frustration.
"My Laughter Yoga practice has helped me reawaken to all of the abundance in my life and to engage life differently."
There is no cost to attend a session at Reasoner's Laughter Yoga Club, which meets at 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at the Chesapeake Commons clubhouse, 1490 Geneva Road, Geneva.
Diane Joyce of Batavia has been laughing with Reasoner for the last eight years. Joyce said each session is slightly different, but there are constants: the stress relief and therapeutic effect during and afterward.
"Terri has touched many lives through this program. The club is open to all who wish to laugh, and participation is a simple way to find some joy, stress release, and to let go of some of the rigidity of everyday life," Joyce said.
"I sleep great the night after a laugh session and the feel-good effects stay with me for a day or so after. There is a release of endorphins during sustained laughter that in turn can reduce tension in the body, as well as improve your outlook on life."
Sandy Kilmowski of Geneva has attended Laughter Yoga since 2011, after initially attending a public session at the LivingWell Cancer Center in Geneva. Kilmowski said she sleeps better afterward, and laughing helps change her reactions to stressful situations.
"It's the letting go. It's being able to laugh just because. Here, you're given permission to laugh for no reason at all," Kilmowski said. "You gain something from it. It's a peace, serenity. It's just a joy."
Participants don't have to be in a good mood for Laughter Yoga. Reasoner said she welcomes people who are in a sour mood -- they might be the ones who can be helped the most.
"I don't always want to go, but I'm always glad that I did," said Batavia resident Mary Von Qualen, who has laughed with the circle for years. "It's something I do for myself. I find it relaxing. I enjoy the camaraderie. (Terri) puts a lot of work into this. She's always prepared and gracious and welcoming when new people come."
And that's certainly a laughing matter.