A sign hanging from a piece of wire leads the way. ‘Laughter club, every Tuesday from 7 - 8pm’. An arrow points left. We follow the directions, leave the embarrassment and feeling of ridiculousness on the doorstep and enter one of those multi-purpose rooms which also serve as a stage for children’s plays and local community meetings. ‘Hi, I’ve come for the laughter class.’
Lesson 1: When in Rome…
‘Yes, you're in the right place,’ we are welcomed in. ‘We’re waiting for everyone to arrive before we start.’ The teacher, Martine Medjber, a famous well-known ‘laughologist’, explains the structure of the class to us. Firstly, some relaxation and warm-up exercises; afterwards, some games, and finally, uncontrollable laughter…. Cue to raise an eyebrow and nod. Mrs Medjber is an odd teacher. She doesn’t wear a white lab coat nor does she instill the fear of authority that some colleagues in her profession do. ‘Before this I was a psychotherapist and now I dedicate myself entirely to laughter,’ she announces. However, a class is still a class. The same students are in this class as in any other: the ones who arrive late, the ones who are unruly (who laugh that bit too much) and the ones in the back row, the ones who are discrete and observe, while letting out the odd chuckle here and there. Then there’s you, with your initial scepticism and your flowery dress to hide your shyness.
Stretches and summer camp activities include animal imitations, word games, ‘chinese whispers’. Finally you are ready to take a stab at the whole point of the class: laughing. Everyone lies down in a circle laughing uncontrollably, bellies going up and down and guffaws which leave your hair a tangled mess. On it goes until you manage to stop.
Lesson 2: And you, what did you come for?
This laughter therapy, or ‘yoga laughter’ as it’s called by experts in the field is not just about side-splitting laughter, says Yoëllle. Instead the laughter instructor and participant in Martine Medjber’s weekly workshops explains that ‘the aim is to laugh collectively,’ with other adults. ‘Children don’t need to laugh; they are already constantly laughing,’ claims the teacher.
'These classes give us the chance to do the silliest things, those impulses that we repress because of norms'
Yoëlle says that everyone ‘comes to find what they are looking for’. Aurélie, who is taking part in the workshop for the third time, admits that going to the class ‘makes me feel good’. She acknowledges that she feels at one with the group of students, despite the fact that she doesn’t actually know them. For some people this goes further than just physical well-being. Maureen finds ‘room for freedom’ at the club, during which she also manages to ‘float through hyperventilation’. She’s not the only one. Several people at the end of the class agree that these sessions allow them to ‘be myself’. They are aware that what people think really matters to us, that in life we wear a ‘uniform’, that these social norms bother us and that these classes give us the chance to do the silliest things, those impulses that we repress from day to day because of these norms. ‘We live in a materialist society,' Yoëllle tells us, ' but we don’t laugh anymore’.
Lesson 3: Laughter university exists
Madan Kataria, a doctor from Mumbai, invented yoga laughter in 1995. Over the last ten years laughter clubs have sprung up across the world. Martine’s workshop is one of many clubs offering one of the off-shoots of Dr. Kataria’s teachings at the 'international school of laughter’. Founded by Corinne Cosseron in 2002, this is the first international school dedicated to the art of cackling. You can join as a student or teacher. Different activities range in price, from completely free laughter classes to recreational days for €99 (£86). There are also different courses to train as ‘experts in laughter therapy’ which are above all aimed at therapists. Once you have completed the course you can tell your grandmother that your new job title is ‘laughter club instructor’. And when she frowns and asks what this new-fangled idea is all about? You can reply that it is nostalgia for a lost childhood, a need to escape from society or simply a way of remembering that in life, we need to laugh.
We may not yet have discovered the path which leads to happiness. However, there are people who are willing to find shortcuts. Laughter is a necessary stop along the way, especially if done collectively. So I’ve made up my mind: when I grow up I want to be a laughologist.
Image: (cc) superbomba / Flickr