BY LAUREN ADIOVA
Jeffrey Briar teaches traditional yoga every week in Laguna Beach, and sometimes at other yoga studios throughout Southern California. He also does comedy acting on demand, once or twice per month.
And every day of the week, he laughs on the beach with a group of people who just want to be healthy, have fun, and be around good company.
Briar founded the Laguna Laughter Club, made up of folks who use laughing as therapeutic exercise. And apparently the laughter is contagious -- this past Sunday, March 17, the group welcomed their 25,000 participant, some of whom likely found out about the club's existence by their always-jovial presence in the annual Laguna Beach Patriot's Day Parade.
When Briar had first started the club in 2005, he'd been searching for an exercise system to give him more flexibility and offer minimal risks for injury. He found what he was looking for when he met Dr. Madan Kataria, who specialized in an unusual type of yoga.
“Therapeutic yoga (Hatha Yoga) seemed to fulfill my desire," says Briar. "I saw a documentary about the 'Laughing Doctor of India,' and was impressed by the example of Dr. Kataria and how he was helping people with therapeutic laughter. I also had been doing a yoga exercise which involved laughing. The idea of an entire session filled with laughter I found very intriguing.”
Kataria's teachings made a huge impression on Briar.
"He was totally sincere, very genuine, very dedicated, and clearly motivated by his deeply-held spiritual values and a love for humanity," Briar says. "Even though he came from a very different cultural background, he was a farm boy in a tiny village in India, who then became a doctor in the huge metropolis of Bombay. I felt like, in our hearts, we were very closely in harmony with each other."
There are many benefits of engaging in laughter yoga, including pain relief, a strengthened immune system, improvement in cardiovascular health, breathing, and blood pressure. It’s also a form of mild aerobic exercise.
"Laughter Yoga reverses the negative effects of stress,” says Briar. “Sociologists have shown that laughter is primarily a social phenomenon -- a reflection of a social interaction between people. It is actually relatively rare that humans laugh as the result of a formal 'joke.' Robert Provine, in his book Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, declares that only 18 percent of the time do humans laugh as the result of someone telling a joke. Eighty-two percent of the time, laughter occurs as a social expression.”
All are welcome to join in when the Laughter Club meets at the northern end of Main Beach. It begins with socializing, followed by group breathing exercises, stretching, and laughter practices, and ends with relaxation exercises. These sessions run 45 to 60 minutes, seven days a week. The Laguna Laughter Club is the only Laughter Club in the Western world to meet every day of the week.
"New people are always invited to attend, and often find the laughter group to be a new-found circle of friends; practically a family of choice,” says Briar. “We keep offering the laughter sessions on the beach, day in and day out, without fail -- so people everywhere realize they can count on us. We offer a place to go, let out some stress, enjoy some heartfelt laughter, and have friendly relations."