As you meander down the long, quiet corridors of the Great Neck Adult Education Center, you’re reminded of the sounds and smells of elementary school. The muted voices and shuffling of feet that echo down a narrow hall, the arid scent of stale books and wooden furniture. Then you hear laughing. A lot of laughing. Deep, cackling, hysterical laughing. Suddenly, it ceases, and a chant begins. “Ho, ho, ha ha ha,” go the voices, like witches practicing a spell, clapping in unison with each syllable uttered. “Ho, ho, ha ha ha.”
This is not a séance, nor a community production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s a Laughter Yoga class, led by Lisa Levine-Bernstein and her small group of laughing students, including her husband, Ed Bernstien. They run through a series of exercises, each aiming to flex the laughter muscle. The chant and clapping is an interlude between exercises, a way to bring back the group’s focus before they go on to the next laughing round. Grown men and women excitedly wag their tongues, roll on the floor and dance, all while cracking up at themselves and each other.
“We’re a group of professionals acting silly,” Levine-Bernstein says proudly. Her group, which includes a dentist, a Spanish teacher and a mother, looks to this class to relieve the stress from everyday jobs, and escape “normal” life for a little while.
“Children laugh four times as much as adults every single day,” says Levine-Bernstein, who is a registered nurse.
Laughter Yoga aims to close that gap and teach adults to remember how to laugh again. “I realized how much I wasn’t laughing once I took this class,” says Barbara Grapstein, a class participant as well as fellow Certified Laughter Yoga Leader.
Before exploring Laughter Yoga, Grapstein, like many stay-at-home mothers, experienced a period of depression once her children left for college. “I was in a tailspin,” she says. “I never thought I would get out.” She discovered Laughter Yoga and decided to give it a shot, although she admits her skepticism going into it. “I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this,’” she says. “But you try it, and you like it.” Grapstein has been laughing ever since.