This article is a development on Laughter Yoga in English Language Teaching.
Laughter is a Serious Business
Danny Singh, UK
Danny Singh was born and raised in London, but now is based in Rome. He gives creative English language lessons and teacher training courses all over Italy and abroad. He also offers stimulating monthly presentations on language related issues at Rome’s biggest international bookshop and is visible on web TV www.inmagicartwebtv.eu with a series of interactive English video lessons. He regularly attends Pilgrims TT summer courses as a Guest Speaker. Website: www.laughnlearn.net
Time to meet the LY guru
LY as a fundamental part of the lesson
LY in the face of tragedy
LY in Portonovo
LY at the over 50’s fair
Why laugh in a group?
As a result, I would advise readers to at least scan through that article before attempting to read this one, as I will not be repeating information mentioned in that one. Just to remind you, in that article I described the subject of Laughter Yoga in general, what it is, how it started, how I got started, why laughter is necessary, Laughter Yoga sessions at Pilgrims 2007, LY in Primary schools in Holland and Spain, observations and feedback and hopes for the future.
In 2008, it was announced that the great man himself, the inventor of Laughter Yoga, Dr. Madan Kataria would be coming to Italy to give a one-week training course. We were located in a hotel in Ostia, just a little south of Rome where I live, though I was still one of the last to arrive, thanks to the metro breaking down. There were about thirty-two people attending this course, half of them Italian and the others from a variety of countries, including the UK, Australia, Israel, Finland, Spain and Norway.
It was a fantastic group, I was especially fascinated by the Israelis who had an amazing sense of humour and unlimited energy. The training was hard though. Don’t be deceived into thinking it was just a bundle of laughs. We were up at 6am for breathing exercises. That was the hardest thing for me, then we had breakfast and various laughter sessions, both physical and theoretical, which lasted until about 10pm. Dr. Kataria has done a lot of scientific research into this subject and this came out in our discussions. We discussed the differences between doing sessions in company, with kids, with the elderly and with disabled people.
Like all Gurus, Dr. Kataria had an aura about him. Many people commented on how just being in his very presence inspired them. By the end of the week, I was filled with more ideas and hundreds of new laughs, but I was totally exhausted. It took me about three weeks to fully get over it.
By now, I was confidently using LY in all my lessons. As we entered 2009, the economic crisis really began to hit Italy and I decided that I would have to make some necessary changes to the way I organised my work. This meant going to people, proposing and offering my courses, all at extremely competitive prices. Using LY in my lessons divided people into two extremes. There were those who loved it and would travel from all parts of Rome just to do my courses, while others insisted that laughter had no place in learning and expected to sit down and take notes while listening to me talk.
I understood from this that you couldn’t please everybody, but that I had to identify those who were willing to go in my direction, so I decided to set up my own website with the help of a web designer.
What LY gave to my students cannot be underestimated. After doing about 20 minutes of laughter and breathing, they were totally energised after a hard day at the office and the activities which followed, including mimicry, drama, role-play, verb stretching, physical pronunciation, total physical response, one minute talks, grammar massage and storytelling, had all participants deeply involved. No-one suffered from inhibitions, embarrassment, or fear of what others might think. In addition, the shy, quiet ones had become far more outgoing by the end of the course.
Once my website was set up and word began to get around about my techniques of teaching, I started receiving invitations from schools and teachers who wanted both training for themselves and practical sessions with their students. One of these invitations came from a prestigious private school in the north-east of Italy, a town called Treviso, which is not far from Venice.
It was a lovely school, which combined primary, secondary and high school. Originally, it had been a boarding school for many of its students, however, now the sleeping quarters were occupied by priests and of course myself for the entire time of my stay.
My lessons would be predominantly with high school kids, but they gave me a few middle school classes just to give me a challenge. Lunchtime was fun as I found myself in the canteen doing battle with the primary school kids, while waiting to be served. The noise levels were deafening.
I discovered during this experience that middle school kids were the most difficult to teach, but most of you already knew that!
The students’ reaction to my methods was mixed as always. The most undisciplined middle school group was the one that appreciated me the most, as it allowed them to express themselves. The laughter was met with its predictable initial reaction of why are we doing this, which changed as students could see the didactic benefits of other activities. There were however, other groups which enjoyed the laughter activities too. It really depended on the group itself and not on the age of the students.
There was one particularly difficult situation which I had to face while there however. It was something totally unplanned and unexpected; the death of one of the students, just a few days before my arrival. The teacher who had invited me promptly informed me of this situation and suggested that for the class involved in this tragedy, I ought to avoid laughter, even if it was an important part of my methodology. I understood and meditated on the problem. In the end however, I decided to take a risk and go ahead.
I walked into the class, took a deep breath and proceeded. The reaction was astounding! All the students burst into laughter. The two class teachers had their mouths wide open in shock, as they hadn’t seen these children laugh for a week. A few of the kids themselves thanked me. What LY had done here was give these kids an outlet for their pent-up tension and stress that they had been carrying and as such, did them a lot of good and more importantly, no harm!
One of the things that differentiates LY from normal laughter is that we laugh for no reason, without the need for humour, jokes etc. As we laugh for no reason, there is no thought, intellect or sense of humour being used; it can therefore be used in difficult, depressing and tragic situations to overcome the worst situations, as seen here and this makes it really powerful!
After another couple of great Laughter Yoga presentations at Pilgrims 2009, I was invited to the Portonovo Conference to give LY sessions in the late afternoon. Portonovo is one of the most beautiful areas along the Adriatic sea! However, as usual in late August, the heat and humidity was unbearable! After a long hot tiring day in the sun, it was difficult to expect a large audience for these pre-dinner sessions.
On both days, we had a turnout of about 30 people who thoroughly enjoyed themselves, as I concentrated more on the physical exercises and less on the theory. However, on the second day, there was a DJ warming up for the evening disco event. I asked him politely if he’d mind keeping the volume down while I did my session and he warmly agreed. However, he also asked if he might join us. I explained that the session would be in English, but that he should be able to follow the activity as it was very physical.
Later that evening, he thanked me and said he had enjoyed himself very much. However, he added that he expected me to participate in one of his activities. Which activity was this I wondered? I didn’t have to wonder long, as the Karaoke kicked off. While not being famed for my singing, I wasn’t unduly worried, as I noticed we were being invited up, table by table. After our rendition of Mamma Mia he asked me to remain and sent the rest of my table back so sit down. Oh dear, here we go!
He explained to the audience how he’d met me and how I’d made everyone laugh for no reason and that now it was the audience’s turn to laugh! The result was that I had to dance to YMCA (dodgy) and an awful 60’s beach song and was dreadfully out of my comfort zone, though I somehow kept a smile on my face! He thanked me at the end and I went back to my seat, thinking that if nothing else had been achieved, with all the publicity that the DJ had given me, at least no-one could say that they didn’t know who I was!
Towards the end of 2010, the Italian laughter yoga association was informed that it had been given a stand at the over 50’s fair held in Rimini. I was invited along as one of the top LY conductors. During this 5-day event, we met hundreds of wonderful people from all over Italy, most of whom were over 50, but participated enthusiastically in our LY sessions. I did one in English each day and included some of my other physical English activities and was surprised at how involved many of the participants were. As LY was such a success there, we were invited back in 2011 and once again gave a great performance. This looks like being an annual event for us and as Rimini is such a hospitable city, offering numerous amenities, I see no reason for us to refuse the invitation.
One criticism that often comes from those outside the LY network is why it should be necessary to go along to a club and force yourself to laugh along with a bunch of idiots, when you could just as easily sit in the comfort of your own home and watch your favourite comedy film? That is an interesting question and one I feel needs to be answered. Watching your favourite comedy film is definitely a positive act, however, the point of LY is that is a group activity. If you watch the same comedy film in a group, you are guaranteed to laugh more. This has been scientifically proved and is explained by the fact that laughter, like many things, is contagious.
Apart from watching a film at the cinema to prove my point, try people watching at bars, cafés and restaurants. Notice the groups that are laughing. Try listening discreetly to what they are saying. What you may notice is that people are not actually laughing at what is being said, but because they are part of the group. Laughter is essentially about bonding.
The other point about LY is that it is a discipline, an exercise. The body reaction that you get to laughing and breathing for 20 minutes is not the same as watching your favourite comedy, where either you laugh too much and end up with stomach cramps, as you’re not breathing properly, or you laugh for a much shorter period of time, which will inevitably have fewer beneficial results.
Remember that a fake laugh has the same beneficial physiological effects as a real genuine laugh!
We are now in 2012 and LY has grown enormously, both in Italy and on a larger world scale. I continue to use it as a fundamental part of my teaching methodology, both with students and in teacher training, as it opens people up to learning in a more creative way.
I hope that this article and the one published in 2008 have given you some ideas on how LY can be both powerful, fun and effective in teaching and learning. Laughter Yoga definitely reduces stress, but can also help reduce insomnia, backache, circulation problems, blood pressure and impotence. In addition, it helps to reduce inhibitions, shyness and increases your learning capacities. That’s why it’s so effective in the classroom.
Attention to LY is increasing all the time. Apart from the situations mentioned in this article, 2012 has already seen us published in a health magazine and given us an appearance on Italian state TV. This will continue to grow.
Aside from myself, there are hundreds of qualified conductors promoting this wonderful, yet simple activity all over the world and in a huge variety of situations; in company, in clinics, hospitals, hospices, in schools, in shops, in the streets, on public transport, in Africa with deprived children etc.
I hope you find LY to be as useful to you, as it has been to me. Apart from these articles, there is the official website: www.laughteryoga.org which has a plethora of material, a video on the www.inmagicartwebtv.eu WebTV and sessions in various parts of the globe where you can get a real feel for it.
If any of you teachers have been using LY, I’d love to have your feedback and if any of you would like to introduce it into your lessons, I’d love to hear from you too.
Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Building Positive Group Dynamics course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Improving English through Humour course at Pilgrims website.