INTERVIEW: Laughter Yoga with Carmela Carlyle

I recently had the pleasure of experiencing laughter yoga with Carmela Carlyle. She is bringing her classes to the Sonoma Valley so I thought it was a good time for an interview.

Carmela Carlyle
M.A. Clinical Psychology
Certified Laughter
Yoga Leader
Why Laughter Yoga? How did you learn about Laughter Yoga?

I first learned about Laughter Yoga a few years ago when I was studying the work of Dr. Andrew Weil. He mentioned Laughter Yoga in the context of aging healthily in body, mind and in spirit. Working with hospice for many years taught me the value that humor plays in helping us to manage the suffering inherent to the human experience. And, I have been doing yoga many, many years as my preferred technique to heal, cope and breathe deeply as a counterpoint to life’s challenges. So, the idea of combining laughter with yoga seemed like a perfect match! In took another couple of years for me to go and get the certification. As I like to say in my classes “I used to just be certifiable. Now I am certified as a Laughter Yoga Professional! ”

Laughter has long been known as the “best medicine” and that’s probably because it naturally makes us feel good immediately! And, it is precisely this simple truth that motivates me to teach Laughter Yoga as a refreshing fitness option for mental, physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. It is a highly enjoyable combination of natural responses and ancient yoga techniques that enables us to feel the effects immediately so that we are more empowered to make other positive choices —– that may not be as much fun.

It sounds like Laughter Yoga really fits with your world view.

Yes, indeed. At the heart of my counseling, consulting and yoga practice is the belief that we will more readily adopt and maintain healthful activities that make us feel good. I bravely choose joy in the face of adversity and I would like to support others in doing so too. The old “No pain. No gain.” philosophy does not work for me. Like I said, yoga has always been my fitness technique of choice. I want to feel connected with others in joy.

I have a background in the expressive arts and know that creativity heals and dance lifts the spirit. Performing taught me true teamwork and the “high” that we get moving in synch with others. Sound is healing too and laughing aloud is powerful. So, when I am working with folks who can move about the studio I always encourage participants to really move and laugh loudly at the same time. Even with my elder participants, I have us do the “HO HO, CHA CHA CHA” dance step while seated. Most adults are missing this kind of authentic movement in their lives.

What is Laughter Yoga?

Laughter Yoga was created by Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian medical doctor. In the early 1990’s he ran a private practice and wrote papers for medical journals. In his scholarly work he became interested in the growing body of scientific evidence showing that laughter is extremely beneficial to mental and physical health. There is much medical evidence for the old wisdom of “Laughter is the best medicine.” After jokes failed to create the harmonious laughter experience for which he was hoping, Dr. Kataria and his wife, Madhuri, a yoga teacher, integrated yoga breathing, stretches, clapping and laughter exercises to create Laughter Yoga. They started a small group in 1995 in a Mumbai public park and there are now Laughter Yoga clubs in 55 countries with thousands of people laughing for better health around the world everyday. Visit www.laughteryoga.org where you will see how this is a practice affecting tens of thousands everyday.

Dr. Madan Kataria, M.D.
Creator of Laughter Yoga

What are the benefits of Laughter Yoga?

Laughter Yoga Sessions include deep breathing and stretching with movement, clapping and laughter exercises. There are no jokes. I guide the group with techniques to bypass intellectual barriers and to inspire contagious laughter. I also make sure that during each session every participant also has the opportunity to explore their own laughter. The sessions end with a short restorative relaxation. The secret to laughter yoga’s success is that our bodies are hardwired with powerful natural reactions to extended hearty laughter and the benefits are felt immediately! Our bodies cannot tell the difference between genuine laughter and simulated laughter. Either way, we get the rush of endorphins and serotonin’s that are so good for us. Dr. Kataria is famous for saying “Fake it ’til you make it.” and it is true. Once I get the group going, laughter flows.

A major benefit of this technique is that the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged and allows the body and mind to let go of the prevailing “flight or fight” syndrome so common in our lives. We are no longer fighting saber tooth tigers, but our bodies respond the same under stress as if we were. I include ways to use Laughter Yoga in everyday life and even offer tips for using Laughter Yoga as an antidote to road rage.

The proven benefits are:

  • Blood & all major organs are fully oxygenated.
  • Boosted endorphin levels reduced aches, pains & depression.
  • Blood pressure & blood pressure & pulse rate drop & circulation improves.
  • Immune, digestive & cardiac systems are stimulated.
  • Stress levels (cortisol) reduced by as much as 75%.
  • Stretching lengthens, relaxes and strengthens your muscles.
  • Laughing together creates community connection.
  • One minute of mirthful laughter yoga equals the cardiac work-out equivalent of nine minutes on the rowing machine! Now that ‘s something to laugh about!

How have you integrated Laughter Yoga into your practice?
If you visit my website you will see that I have devoted a entire page to the different ways I offer Laughter Yoga, so this is a summary.

I am a frequent presenter at professional Conferences where event organizers want an icebreaker to kick off the morning session and at staff meetings or business meetings where I am invited to to energize the group after lunch at all-day training events or address team-building or Well-Being in the Workplace. The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn’s Conference Center is one of my business clients and this year I also presented at Eclectic Health’s The Healer’s Journey Retreat in Marin, Sonoma’s Task Force on Alzheimer’s Symposium and the all day Aging in Place Conference in Santa Rosa.

Laughter Yoga with Elders I am probably best-known for my work with elders. My educational background includes post-graduate work in aging back in 1986 at the Institute on Aging and I even taught graduate psychology classes on Women and Aging — at the ripe old age of thirty five. I worked with hospice for as a volunteer for over 12 years and as a professional hospice staff member for over 6 years making house calls and facilitating groups. I was an Activities Director for Assisted Living and Dementia Care Communities too, so I have a lot of experience working with elders and I love, love, love laughing with them!

I currently teach Arm Chair Yoga and Laughter Yoga at several eldercare communities throughout Sonoma County and in Marin too.

Michele Boudinot, a gifted geriatric care manager, immediately saw the benefits of Laughter Yoga and Arm Chair Yoga for elders and matched me with her clients at home and in communities who really opened my eyes to the valuable role that ‘soulful exercise’ can play for seniors who have experienced strokes, falls or accidents, and may be resistant to trying anything too physical or scary. Adult children of elders hire me to make house-calls to encourage their parent to exercise and take walks and of course, laugh. It lessens the frequency for falls and keeps them healthier doing things that make them feel good.

My area of specialization is working with elders with dementia — both in groups and in private sessions. I have seen amazing results for elders with dementia when they practice yoga regularly. The mind may not remember the yoga postures, but the body does. Participants have enjoyed better sleep, used less meds and found self-esteem when doing yoga regularly. Laughter Yoga provides an even more valuable benefit of community connection and the sound of joy with others.

Laughter and Health in the Workplace is a special interest of mine, where I offer tips for stretches at the computer or how to use fitness balls instead of desk chairs. Meditation techniques for stress management in the workplace and effective exercises for back, neck, arms, and hands to avoid workplace injuries are part of the presentation.

Laughter Yoga at Spa Settings and with French Chocolate Tasting for Women’s Groups Chocolate Tasting after a session of Laughter Yoga is a big hit at women’s parties and I customize groups for a more therapeutic effect working with groups addressing Emotional Eating Disorders. I integrate working with the throat chakra in to the support groups who embrace laughter as part of their healing and also as an awakening technique to enliven the taste buds. In January, I will be doing a full spa day at The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn ‘s Spa and Fitness Center where we will do a lot of group movement exercises around the studio as well as laughter on the mat. I also include Yoga Facelift techniques when working in spa settings!

Laughter Yoga for Celebrations, birthday parties, singles clubs, marketing meetings, open houses, staff retreats and eldercare communities are all part of my practice. I will be doing Laughter Yoga for holiday parties and recently facilitated a session for an 84th birthday party.

So, where can we find your Laughter Yoga Classes that are open to the public?

I am really excited to be offering a new class in downtown Sonoma at the beautiful Yoga Community on 5th Street West, Thursday evenings 7- 8:15 p.m. Carol the owner, and Barbra, the manager of the studio are very interested in offering teachings about the role of “heart energy” in yoga and this perspective is very much in keeping with the practice of joyful laughter.

And in late January, it will be another Luxury Laughter Yoga Day at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn on Sunday, January 27th. All day use of the world-class spa with its natural thermal waters and the fitness center, after a rousing one and a half hour Laughter Yoga session for a discounted community rate of only $75. Sally Stone, the savy Director of the Spa and Fitness Programs immediately embraced Laughter Yoga the first time I met her and even promotes it to business groups at their conference center.

I live in downtown Petaluma have been teaching a weekly Early Bird Saturday Morning Laughter Yoga Class at Bodyworks Yoga and Stress Management Center, where I study yoga. Jean, the owner, was the first to offer Laughter Yoga in Sonoma County. The class there has grown into a really fun group who like to kick off their weekend laughing! And it is all levels with advanced yoga students playfully mixing with total beginners. It’s wonderful. For that session I focus on using techniques and asanas to ignite creativity and energize.

For seniors, Merrill Gardens, an Independent Living Community in Rohnert Park, hires me to offer classes on Tuesdays that they open up to the community to attend for free. This is so cool. Sandi Truesdell really wants to make it a communty offering that benefits the community and brings new friends to the residents in their communal living room.

Any final words in closing?

If someone doesn’t have a smile, give them one of yours. Breathe deeply and live life laughing!

________________________________________________________

Detailed Calendar for 2007

Sonoma County’s ” Section on Aging” Holiday Party featuring Laughter Yoga with Carmela friends House. Santa Rosa. Wednesday. December 19th. 9 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. 953-4652.

The Sonoma County “Council on Aging” Holiday Party featuring LaughterYoga with Carmela December 19th. 1:00 p.m. 525-0143.

Laughter Yoga for Joy and Holiday Stress Management:
Wednesday Evening December 19th
$10 (free for hospice workers) 7 – 8:15 p.m. Wednesday December 19th
Sonoma Body Balance Studio. 210 Vallejo St, Upstairs in Suite C, Petaluma. Convenient location across Washington Street from Whole Foods. Basic yoga stretches, with deep breathing and laughter exercises on the mat and standing, to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and ignite joy! Hospice Staff and Volunteers are invited to attend free of charge. Space is limited. RSVP.707.765.9035.
Arm Chair Laughter Yoga:
Free Community Offering hosted by Merrill Gardens on Tuesday Mornings Senior Community in Rohnert Park on the first and third Tuesdays of the month. 11 a.m. – 12 noon. Call Sandi Truesdell to reserve your place at 707.585.7878.

New Classes for 2008

Luxury Laughter Yoga and Spa Day at Sonoma Mission Inn ! Sunday January 27, 2008. 11a.m. to 5 p.m. A full day of luxury only $75.

Our last workshop at Sonoma Mission Inn was luscious and fun. After an intense Laughter Yoga class from 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. in the gorgeous studio our charming group settled into a full day of lounging in the spa, eating lunch poolside and enjoying the signature indoor European Bathing Ritual and outdoor natural mineral pools. Space is limited and we were fully booked last time. 707- 939-2487.

New Class in Sonoma! Laughter Yoga Thursday Evenings 7- 8:15 p.m. at Yoga Community
577 5th Street West. Downtown Sonoma. Starting January 3, 2008. $15
This new class in a beautiful yoga studio setting will feature laughter yoga on the mat, deep breathwork and specific asanas for stress management, abdominal strengthening and igniting creativity. Mixed levels. Beginners are welcome.

Petaluma Every Saturday Morning: 8- 8:50 a.m. Bodyworks Yoga Studio 490 Second Street at “G” Downtown Petaluma. Starting January 5, 2008. $10.
Kick off your winter weekend with an uplifting session to ignite your creativity and boost your energy. Yes, it may be a challenge to arrive early, but after working out on the mat and moving about the studio in joyful community laughter, you will leave feeling fabulous! Mixed levels. Beginners are welcome.

Laughter Yoga for a Joyful New Year! Wednesday Evening January 16th
January 16th $10 (hospice workers free)
Sonoma Body Balance Studio. 210 Vallejo St, Upstairs in Suite C, Petaluma. Convenient location across Washington Street from Whole Foods. Basic yoga stretches, with deep breathing and laughter exercises on the mat and standing, to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and ignite joy! Hospice Staff and Volunteers are invited to attend free of charge.
Space is limited. RSVP.707.765.9035. 7 – 8:15 p.m.

Summary/Overview Carmela Carlyle, M.A., Clinical Psychology and Certified Laughter Yoga Leader facilitates Laughter Yoga sessions for teams in the workplace, at professional conferences, at spas, and yoga studios. She also teaches Arm Chair and Laughter Yoga at several Sonoma and Marin Assisted Living and Dementia Care Communities for Elders. She creates customized individual and group Laughter Yoga Therapy sessions addressing emotional eating disorders, dementia, anxiety, depression , cardiac health and stress management. And, in the spirit of joyful celebration, she leads Laughter Yoga at parties and celebrations. One of her signature party favorites is using Laughter Yoga to enliven the taste buds and then taking the group on a tasting journey that she calls “Laughter Yoga and French Chocolate Tasting: Together at Last.”

Carmela created the first Laughter Yoga Club in Sonoma County. She teaches weekly Laughter Yoga Classes in downtown Sonoma and Petaluma and is a frequent guest workshop presenter at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. Her extensive skills and background as a professional counselor, yoga teacher, support group facilitator, activities program director, hospice professional, management training specialist and life coach enable her to customize Laughter Yoga in a variety of settings for differing populations.

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