Lorne Jackson

I’VE always thought Santa Claus had a pretty cushy number. Gets to be his own boss, works one shift a year, avoids traffic lights and congestion by zipping round the night sky on a flying sleigh. But there’s one thing that must be pretty hard going, even for the red, white and jolly-all-over geezer. It’s that ho-ho-ho business.

Laughter, it’s no laughing matter. Especially if you’re forced to do it when you’re not in the mood. And I’ve not been in the mood since I overheard a football pundit claim that the Scottish team were improving. And even then I only managed a derisory snort.

Yet here I am, trying desperately to have a good, old-fashioned raucous laugh.

“Ho ho,” I mutter, and then, as an afterthought add: “Ha ha ha.”

Next to me, my new buddy in belly laughs, Teresa Watson, is also laughing, though she’s being much more hale and hearty about it than I’ve managed so far.

“Ho! Ho!” booms Teresa. “Ha! Ha! Ha!”

Feeling a tad inadequate, I attempt to copy Teresa’s gung-ho guffaws, and give it some added exclamation marks.

“Ho! Ho!” I say, “Ha! Ha! Ha!”

Like Joaquin Phoenix rising

On Teresa’s instruction, our rhythmic chant of Ho and Ha dissolves into a more improvised and naturalistic flow of laughter. Starting with a snicker we build up to a giggle, rush headlong into a chortle then peak on a cackle that doesn’t fall short of Joaquin Phoenix levels of Jokerishness. The sound echoes round the Savoy Centre.

Oh, did I forget to mention we’re in the Savoy Centre on Sauchiehall Street? On a weekday afternoon? Or the fact that Teresa and I are both prostrate on the floor. And let’s not gloss over the type of room we’re laughing in. It’s open plan, which means browsing shoppers are constantly strolling past, and get to witness our wacked-out behaviour.

Though there’s nothing remotely crazy about what we’re doing, according to Teresa. Quite the opposite, in fact. Teresa is a Laughter Yoga instructor, and she’s currently giving me a beginner’s lesson in the exercise regime.

She has her work cut out for her because not only am I a rank amateur when it comes to this unruly business of laughter. I’ve also never participated in a yoga class. I’m not the most supple of souls, to be frank. I always feared that if I ever came under the tutelage of a yoga instructor, I’d be ordered to bend, then find myself breaking instead.

But one of the good things about this particular workout is that a flummoxed and flabby bloke like myself can participate without recourse to puffing, panting or panic-induced palpitations.

OK, I do have to lower myself to the floor (and eventually get up again) but that’s as rigorous as it gets. Not once am I encouraged to twist my foot round my neck then scratch my ear with my toe. (Which I imagine happens all the time in traditional yoga classes.)

A Robin Williams workout

It’s a gentle workout – high on giggles, low on gasps and grunts – with more of an emphasis on mental wellbeing, which is initially what attracted Teresa to the discipline.

Before finding relief and release with laughter yoga, she’d been going through a major crisis in her life. Previously an enthusiastic and motivated individual, she had a management role in a call centre. Then her life hit the rocks.

“I had to take time off work with anxiety and depression,” she explains. “I literally couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t face anyone. I became withdrawn and didn’t want to see my friends or go out. And that just wasn’t me. I used to love going out and seeing people, all the time.”

Teresa realised she’d been suffering from undiagnosed anxiety from an early age. She had struggled to repress feelings of inadequacy with outwardly bubbly and boisterous behaviour. Armed with this insight, she went through a period of self-reflection and soul searching.

“I was on a path, and I was thinking ‘What else is out there?’ Then I saw a suggested-post on You Tube for laughter yoga. I just stumbled upon it, really. And that doesn’t usually happen to me. I’d never believed that I’d eventually find something that was totally right for me. I’m one of those people who didn’t think I had some sort of specific purpose in life. But all that changed when I discovered laughter yoga.”

Laughter Yoga was developed by an Indian family physician called Madan Kataria, who was inspired by watching Robin Williams in the movie Patch Adams. In the film, Williams plays a real-life America doctor who works by the mantra that laughter is the best medicine.

Agreeing with this philosophy, Doctor Kataria decided to take a group of his patients into a local park where he told them a bunch of jokes. The patients laughed, and it seemed to do them good. The next day the Doc took the same patients back to the same park… and told them the same jokes. Which was not so effective, obviously, as the patients had met the punchlines the previous day, and weren’t in the mood to be reacquainted.

At this point Kataria had the epiphany which set the whole laughter-yoga ball in motion. He realised he didn’t need slick set-ups and pithy punchlines. He could cut out the middle man and just head directly to the chuckles. Without bothering to tell any jokes he ordered his patients to just start laughing.

And laugh they did. And still they felt the benefits.

Lazy Bitch

“Fake it until you make it,” explains Teresa. “Your body is pretty stupid, so you can fool it by pretending you’re happy, and it will start to release endorphins and give you the feeling of wellbeing you’d get if you were laughing for real.”

It certainly worked for Teresa. She credits laughing yoga with turning her life around. She was so impressed with its effects that in February of this year she trained to be an instructor.

She teaches classes for children and adults, and she tells me she’s already had some startling success stories in helping people break out of their hard shells of solitude.

“The classes can be quite liberating,” Teresa explains. “That’s because nothing you do or say in our class will be judged by others. You won’t be told you’re silly, or anything like that.”

She gives an example of the warm and embracing nature of the lessons: “We do an exercise where you say out loud whatever pops into your head in that moment. And we’ve had people who’ve said anything from: ‘I’ve got tiny thumbs!’ to ‘I just found out I’ve got cancer.’

“It was very much the woman with cancer’s decision to say that to everyone else in the room. The premise of the exercise is that no matter what a person says, everybody else has to laugh afterwards. And this woman led the laugh.

“After the class was finished she said to me that she was just so tired of being so serious about having cancer. I think she was very unique, though. I don’t know if there are many people who could be faced with that and laugh.”

Teresa, herself, is unique. There is nothing pretentious or airy-fairy about her manner, attitude or teaching technique. She’s down to earth, bawdy, friendly and funny. No trippy, dippy, hippy, she.

She’s even writing a book that she intends to call: ‘A Lazy Bitch’s Guide to Self-Care.’

“I’m writing it from the viewpoint that I’m not perfect,” she says. “My spiritual enlightenment didn’t happen on a bloody mountain top up in Tibet with monks. It happened with everything falling apart.”

She adds: “When I first went looking for answers I kept getting bombarded with adverts telling me how to become a new me. How to shed the old me and have a new and better mind.

“I think that’s rubbish. We’re always inadvertently telling people that who they are isn’t good enough. That they should become a totally new person. I believe you should just try and get back to that person you were before negative experiences started to dull your shine.

“We’re all just shoogly old chairs that need to be fixed-up a bit. Put a coaster under a leg, and we’ll be good to go.”

For more information: laughteryogawithteresa@gmail.com