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Laughter Yoga and Laughter Wellness – exercise and education, or entertainment?

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Now that I have been presenting Laughter Wellness to diverse groups for a number of years, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon occurring with the participants. On a rare occasion, there are attendees who clearly don’t enjoy the session, and I know they won’t be coming back. However, the vast majority of participants, even those hesitant at first, seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves — feeling the physical and mental benefits of laughter — by the end of the sessions. Smiles and laughter usually accompany them as they head for home. What has struck me as odd, and a bit frustrating, is the small percentage of people who return to my following sessions, despite all this good news about laughter. There are many laughter clubs around the country that really "pack 'em in." What is their secret?

The concept of Laughter Yoga and Laughter Wellness is learning to laugh as an exercise, to obtain health benefits. A recent study at Loma Linda University recently showed that laughter affects the brain in the same way as meditation. Hardly news for LY leaders who have been conducting “Laughter Meditation” during their sessions, but wonderful scientific proof of things we discovered intuitively. This, along with recognition in some states of LY as an accepted therapeutic program for seniors and others, does give us more marketing fuel.

Other laughter leaders experiencing the same issue, and leaders who consistently have large groups, are sharing their marketing strategies and their theories about how to retain more people. A complicated mix of location, local demographics, and poor promotion of the program may contribute to the problem. One overlooked factor may be the expectations of participants. In many minds, Laughter Yoga seems to lie somewhere between exercise program and entertainment experience. Some participants decide immediately that laughter exercises are something they are going to incorporate into their lives, and they want to keep coming back to learn more and experience the group dynamic. They are full of questions of how to do this at home either by themselves or with family and friends. Other participants, even some of the most enthusiastic, talk about how much fun they have had, but don’t seem to understand the benefits of laughter as an continuing exercise or meditative practice. They have come out for some fun entertainment, gotten some exercise in the bargain, and go home feeling that they were just at a great audience participation show. They will tell others about it even share some of the exercises, but they don’t come back to subsequent sessions. To them, it was a show they enjoyed but don’t consider going to see again.

LY leaders from all branches of the Laughter Yoga/Laughter Wellness family are putting their heads together. They are coming up with creative ways to attract new participants and retain the others. Combining LY with another community activity, interviews on local cable TV shows and local newspapers, offering a free newsletter chock full of links to recent news and events about laughter, even a laughter magnet on your car can get people curious about this fun and healthy activity.

For readers who want to find out where Laughter Yoga/Laughter Wellness is available in your community, go to www.laughteryoga.org and www.laughteryogaamerica.com to find a Laughter leader or laughter club in your area. Information about my own club can be found at www.njlaughter.com If you are already participating in a laughter club or program, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. Let's spread the word!

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