Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The central part of Annie Goglia’s everyday experience is laughter. To her, each laugh resembles water, rippling until two strangers are forever intertwined through a mere reverberation of sound waves. To her, each laugh is a story
— a mental adventure of trekking through the mountains of strength, tenacity and humanity, where each step is constructed by the pitch, frequency and amplitude of our happiness. A laugh is a critical decisive moment, one where you can choose to latch onto the edge of youth’s cliff. It is a moment where you embrace emotional discomfort, freshly inflicted pain and sheer vulnerability in order to reach a new dimension reminiscent of what we felt as children.
Over the past decade and more, it is this laughter that shaped the career and path of Annie Goglia, Laughter Yoga practitioner and coach. Goglia, also founder of Oakland-based life coaching and counseling service LifeFire, describes Laughter Yoga as a nonpolitical, nonreligious, nonracial, metaphysical experience that exploits laughter as the primary form of exercise; relying on a theme such as a trip or similar adventure, Goglia mentally transports her clients, ushering them into a physical realm of laughter meditation and laughter flow. Laughter flow, a rather “noisy” form of meditation, comprises of a few minutes of pure laughter, where the group of participants sit near each other, releasing body chemicals in the process.
The Daily Californian: What would you say to convince others who are not sure if they want to join Laughter Yoga?
Annie Goglia: I would say that they should approach it with an open mind. Many people think ‘Oh, it’s yoga. I need clothes, a mat, a certain level of fitness to even begin.’ You don’t need any of those things. You just come as you are. We don’t do poses or anything; we are just about connecting and laughing together. If it feels fake to you and you feel like we are just laughing for no reason, then you should approach it as a practice and a routine, just like meditation is a routine and brushing your teeth is a routine. The body does not know the difference between fake and real. If you just put on your experimental cap and try it, you will find that it does transform your mood and health in a positive way.
DC: How does spirituality and emotional betterment relate to the physicality of a mere laugh?
AG: I think one of the beautiful things about laughter yoga is that it is transferable to life. It teaches lessons that can be used on a day to day basis. When we talk about just something as simple as a greeting laugh, where you’re connecting with a person on a very basic level, you don’t need to know anything about the other person. You don’t need to know their culture or their language — the laugh itself serves as a medium for your connection. It has that capacity to connect people very quickly on a very primal and universal level.
We can also learn to laugh at things that we don’t normally laugh at. We practice arguing and we will engage in heated arguing in basically gibberish, and then practice using laughter to forgive each other. It helps us that it’s not so important to be right. Rather, it is more important to build those interpersonal connections and relationships.
DC: A laugh can mean so many things; it masks our pain, it’s not just something that is a sign of happiness. Can Laughter Yoga help us confront our pain? Can laughter yoga also tap into those more difficult experiences?
AG: On a deeper level, in the sense of, ‘There are terrible things happening in the world. Is it okay to just laugh and forget it all?’ – no, we need to deal with them, but laughter and humor help us keep perspective. It’s important to have balance in life. It may feel noble to always be righteous and outraged, seeking justice for every slight in the world, but it’s just not healthy in the long run. … We can’t be always angry or always sad, and when it comes to shift from those emotions, laughter is a great device to create that shift. It can alleviate pain and unleash stress. Laughter groups address the strife in the world. We aren’t political, but in a sense we want to honor their struggle. Laughter yoga serves as a haven for people to come and unleash and it can help them lead a happier life. Now, if they choose to act and change the world, they can be properly equipped mentally and emotionally to maximize their impact.
A laugh is a critical decisive moment, one where you can choose to latch onto the edge of youth’s cliff. It is a moment where you embrace emotional discomfort, freshly inflicted pain and sheer vulnerability in order to reach a new dimension reminiscent of what we felt as children.
DC: Can laughter yoga be therapeutic? Could you describe the awakening you believe laughter yoga possesses, what sort of things can you discover about yourself through laughter yoga?
AG: Laughter is therapeutic. It’s good for physical health. It helps your mood and how you carry yourself. … The physical act of laughing itself coupled with our exercises expand and open the body up to positive shifts in mood. It’s very therapeutic. It’s also a great outlet to relieve stress and fatigue. Often, before I meet with my group, I will be feeling very tired and drained, but I know that after I go laugh and do the routine, I will feel better, and I always do! I find that magical.
DC: Can you elaborate on the advantages of Laughter Yoga, and have you seen these effects first hand?
AG: I have certainly seen it, experienced it. I have gone into some work places and once I have come in, they have taken some things that I have done and incorporated into their daily work routines. … Yes, I did it a place that was actually for a union, and there was one woman there who was very negative. She was giving other people a hard time, behaving very cynically, draining energy out of the room. I did a half hour laughter yoga session with them, and she really got it. It clicked in her. She understood how to shift out of the negative attitude.
DC: What are some rules from laughter yoga we can employ in our daily lives?
AG: Just keep it in mind that in the back of your mind, when you have something happen to you, you are at a critical decisive moment. If someone cuts you off in traffic, you can choose to yell and scream and curse — or you could just laugh. Your passengers seeing you laugh, or another driver seeing you laugh, can have a profound impact on the dynamic of the world. One time, I was walking down the hallway with a plate of spaghetti laden with tomato sauce and I tripped and it spilled all over me and this bookcase. I had this moment of frustration, and then I realized ‘Oh, I could laugh.’ The person I was living with came up and was wondering what was so funny and he looked and just started laughing. Because I laughed, he laughed too; if I had been angry, he would have been disappointed as well. If we can make that choice, then it affects the people around us as well.
Another thing you can do is to go to a laughter yoga session and try it out. If you can’t do that, there are laughter groups that meet via phone or skype that you can find on laughteryoga.org. There are many a day, and many are free. Another way is to just simply find a laughter buddy. A friend that you call up and say ‘Hey, do you wanna get together with me and just laugh sometime?’
DC: Is there anything else you would like to add?
AG: One thing I would say that we haven’t touched on is that, most of us. as we get older. get very serious. When people say ‘to grow up,’ they don’t mean to say have fun, get a good life, enjoy yourselves. What do they mean? What they mean is get serious, act like adults. … And so I tell my group that (laughter yoga is) hard for you and there is a reason why it’s hard, and to really give yourself a chance to be emotionally uncomfortable, new pain. We don’t want anybody to physically hurt themselves, but I encourage people to give some space around them for emotional discomfort, make yourself vulnerable to being silly. Especially young adults and teenagers have a fear of being foolish and silly in front of their peers. How can we find a safe place where it’s okay to bring back some of the playfulness that we had as a child? Because with that playfulness comes so much resilience and joy and connection.
Contact Sindhu Ravuri at [email protected]