We live in a culture too often clouded with despair and darkness, hatred and hostility, anger and animosity. We work long hours in the name of climbing corporate ladders, keeping up with those Joneses. We steep ourselves in sadness while neglecting the simple joy and laughter that nurture us.
Increasingly people are letting go of despair and darkness and embracing opportunities to experience joy and happiness in life. As a culture we are craving more joy. One example is the success of The Happiness Project, a book by Gretchen Ruben that chronicles her year-long journey toward a happier life. It spent more than a year and a half on the New York Times Best Seller list. According to her website www.gretchenrubin.com, The Happiness Project has sold more 1.5 million copies in North America alone and has been translated into 30 languages. People want more joy in their life and they are looking for ways to find it.
One such way, “Laughter Yoga,” was introduced by Indian physician Madan Kataria in 1995. Laughter Yoga incorporates laughter with the breath work and stretching of yoga. According to Laughter Yoga International, at www.laughteryoga.org, clinical research in India and the United States indicates that laughter, both “fake and real,” promotes physical and psychological well-being “by lower[ing] the level of stress hormones (epinephrine, cortisol, etc) in the blood.” Laughter Yoga can improve your mood on a bad day, reduce stress, create an aerobic exercise experience, strengthen the immune system, and help you maintain a positive attitude during challenging times.
Mimi Claire Poitras is a massage and expressive arts therapist as well as a certified Laughter Yoga instructor who takes the message of this joy-filled experience wherever she finds open doors and hearts. However she has additional reasons for trying Laughter Yoga, spiritual reasons.
Mimi Claire, who grew up in Quebec and was raised Roman Catholic, came to the United States in 2000 after meeting her future husband while on a Buddhist retreat. “When you are on retreat your heart is so big,” says Mimi Claire, reflecting on that experience. “I believe in God and the language of the heart. I see the beauty and that we are all children of God. I still feel this is where I belong.” The marriage lasted five years, with Mimi Claire embracing the adventure of learning a new language and moving to another country.
Having practiced yoga since she was a teenager, Mimi Claire also maintains an abiding interest in a mystic path, honoring and celebrating many faith traditions.
“For me, God is my friend. I feel divine guidance. And I love to celebrate interfaith ministry and I have a big new life in front of me. I give my life to God.”
Nine years ago, while at an event of Dances for Universal Peace in Ledyard, Connecticut, she was approached about bringing her many talents and skills to a position at Masonicare Home, Health & Hospice. Here she had the opportunity to practice expressive arts like puppetry, painting, legacy projects, collage, song and dance. During this period, she flew to California for Laughter Yoga training.
Patients became the recipients of her 32 years of massage therapy experience, and she was able to introduce Laughter Yoga into their hearts and lives. “It was so spontaneous. I felt a call for joy,” says Mimi Claire. “Back then people did not accept expressive art therapy as mainstream. I trusted God to guide me and added Laughter Yoga to my palette of colors at hospice in pediatric and palliative care.”
No longer at hospice full time, Mimi Claire visits senior centers, nursing homes, libraries and churches, special needs programs, wherever she is invited, to bring joy to people through Laughter Yoga, with “respect and love.” She often gets hired for corporate outings to bring a little joy and laughter at employee appreciation events, so even corporate America is recognizing the benefit of a little, or a lot, of laughter. She has also pursued further training to become a Laughter Yoga trainer of other teachers.
In Laughter Yoga, using breath, stretching, movement, we tap into a very playful, childlike activity not often experienced in our all too work-focused culture. The ever-present inner critic makes it easy for us to take ourselves too seriously, but Mimi Claire finds that she is more readily able to laugh at herself, even during the most difficult of times.
“It brings you to the here and now,” explains Mimi Claire.
So why does she continue sharing Laughter Yoga with others?
“Because it’s healthy and helps me feel better about myself and I can lighten up about my challenges. There is scientific proof that it is beneficial for health. The brain creates endorphins and serotonin and I feel happy. Yoga means union between body and spirit. And the more I practiced the more I got in touch with joy and grace in my own life that is always present. It is so beautiful when someone who is shy gets more relaxed and can laugh. Laughter Yoga gives us an excuse to be silly and get in touch with our playful spirit. It changes lives. I see people transformed through this practice.”
Mimi Claire offers a Happy, Healthy Potluck Supper at the Buttonwood Tree Cultural Arts Center in Middletown, Conn. the first Tuesday of each month. Visit www.buttonwood.org for more information.