Laughing yoga changes lives, and that’s no joke.

Take Laura Lou Pape’ McCarthy, who’s been teaching laughter yoga classes for older adults, including those with Parkinson’s disease, for 10 years.

She says she’s felt like an “oddball” for most of her life, but now feels comfortable in her own skin.

After graduating high school, McCarthy joined the circus, where she worked as a clown in big and small cities across the United States.

However, after suffering an injury, she had to quit the circus and found it difficult knowing what to do next. She struggled with depression and life balance between her outgoing side and responsibility side.

In 2009, while studying gerontology and fitness at Portland Community College — and still searching for her life path — McCarthy discovered laughter yoga as a supplemental therapy. It was the first time she had heard of it.

She decided to try it and it began to show “deep benefits” in her life. “At the end of the day, I was a lot more comfortable with my emotional ups and downs,” she says. “I was more comfortable with the choices I had made, and I didn’t end every day worrying.”

She missed being a clown and found this to fulfill part of that need.

“I found an outlet for my goofy side and it had a stabilizing effect,” McCarthy says. “I became comfortable with who I am, after feeling like an oddball.”

She teaches 10 classes a week working mostly with seniors and at Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon. Those with Parkinson’s can suffer from body rigidness of movement and voice, she says, and laughing opens new neuron connections and muscles.

She has found that those who attend class have often become secluded; laughing helps them enjoy life.

“People’s lives open up with laughter,” McCarthy says. “It is amazing. Your whole being changes.”

Stephen Rosenstock, who is finishing up treatment for his second bout with cancer, says he’s still experiencing the benefits of laughter yoga.

“It has been relaxing for me,” he says, “and a distraction from cancer. I have no pain and laughing has calmed me down. The rest of my family was very triggered by the cancer.”

Rosenstock adapted so well to this form of fitness that he began teaching classes, which, he says, give him hours of release from cancer and he feels the positive effects for several days. His blood levels have improved and he feels more relaxed.

“Life is not as overwhelming,” he says.

Rosenstock, an electrical engineer who teaches yoga at the Hawthorne Club and the Beaverton Police Station, finds his background helps him apply techniques through yoga. He also worked for the U.S. Department of Defense and served in the U.S. Marines.

Andrea Crisp, born into a “family of pessimists,” has become a major leader and organizer of laughter yoga classes in Portland. She says she fought depression for many years, especially during the winter months, and believes laughter yoga has helped her condition because it is a “contagion of group interaction.”

Crisp also practices tapping, works as a life coach, and is active in an organization called World Peace through Laughter.

“Laughter yoga has helped me become way less self-conscious,” she says. “I am more open. I am an introvert personally and was closed off with a pattern of worrying.” She also tended to cry under stressful circumstances. Now, she doesn’t react to stress in the way she used to.

Crisp says science has shown in the past 50 years what humans have known for thousands of years: Laughter truly is the best medicine.

“It can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system and hearty laughter counts as exercise for your cardiopulmonary system,” she says.

Crisp, who has been teaching at the Hawthorne Laughter Club since 2011, now offers the classes in her home.

Gail Hand, who moved from Portland to Seaside, says a good laugh can brighten your day when life throws you curveballs. Laughter, she says, has physical, mental and social benefits, and reduces symptoms of chronic conditions like arthritis and insomnia.

The social benefit is feeling connected with others.

Hand and Crisp both studied with Dr. Madan Kataria of Mumbai, India, who created laughter yoga.

Hand previously worked in corporate leadership, sales and customer services. She’s also a stand-up comedian and author of several books, including “Seven Secrets to Living and Laughing in a Stressful World.”

For the past decade, she has dedicated herself to teaching others about the power of laughter in their personal and professional lives. She now focuses her classes on older adults, teaching in retirement communities in Oregon, Washington and California.

She’s also presented yoga to nonprofits and other organization, including Coffee Creek Correctional Facility and the Washington School for the Blind.

Laughter yoga incorporates the breathing and stretching components of yoga, but Hand admits it’s not for everyone. “Some don’t care for the silliness,” she says.

Of note

Visit portlandlaughtercommunitynewsletter.com or Facebook.com/PortlandLaughterYoga to stay informed about local classes.

View Hand’s classes on YouTube. Reach McCarthy at LL@1LAUGHATATIMEONLINE.COM.

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