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Laughter group aims to shrug off stress

The loud, hearty laughter coming from the UI Wellness Center at the Activities and Recreation Center was contagious. There were no comedians, no one was telling jokes, and no one looked or acted ridiculous. They were laughing just to laugh.

“Everyone knows how to laugh,” Lisa Kinderman said. “There’s no way to do it wrong.”

Kinderman, a clinical counselor at the University counseling center, was leading Tuesday evening’s session of the Laughter Group Series, a new program offered at the ARC that allows people to experience the benefits of laughter.

“It’s about experimenting, and it’s about doing what makes you feel good,” Kinderman said.

She said laughter has physiological and social benefits that help people relax and release endorphins that make them feel better, both physically and mentally.

Laughter groups, also referred to as laughter circles or laughter yoga, have been growing in popularity throughout the U.S. and throughout the world. There are more than 6,000 laughter groups in 60 countries, according to the Web site of Madan Kataria, the founder of the laughter yoga phenomenon.

Although there were only four participants at Tuesday’s group, Kinderman said the numbers didn’t matter.

“You can laugh alone if you want to,” Kinderman said.

She said the first session held in April had about 25 participants, and she hopes the numbers will increase when students return in the fall and participants spread the word about the group.

Valerie Minchala, Kinderman’s co-worker at the counseling center, decided to give the group a try so she could have first-hand experience to recommend to her clients at the counseling center.

She said many of her clients have stress management issues, and anxiety, and the laughter group is one way to relieve these tensions.

“It’s a quick and easy way that doesn’t require a lot of effort or planning to get into a mode of relaxation,” Minchala said.

The session incorporates deep breathing, clapping and laughing exercises that can sometimes seem silly, Kinderman said, but this atmosphere can contribute to the laughter.

Kinderman said the group does not pressure anyone to be funny, or even to laugh if they don’t want to.

“The great thing about the laughter group is if you laugh genuinely, that’s great, if you fake laugh, that’s good too,” Kinderman said.

She said the brain cannot distinguish whether a person is laughing for real or faking it, so the body gets the physical benefits either way.

The Laughter Group Series is held every month over the summer, with the next session being held on July 14.

Kinderman said she hopes the group will meet more regularly during the school year, to include more students, faculty and staff.

LaWanda Cook, a Ph.D. student in AHS, said she had heard about laughter groups in Connecticut before she moved here, and when she saw the University was offering one, she decided to give it a try.

She said she liked programs that are inclusive of people of all ages and all abilities, and the Laughter Group Series is one such program.

“There’s no excuse not to show up and try this,” Cook said.

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