MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Monday mornings at Pathways, a healing center in Minneapolis, begin with a flurry of unique exercises.

The day starts with clapping hands, stomping feet and the hitting of armpits. It’s certainly not the most conventional way to kick off the workweek.

For Myrtle Anderson, it is the most uplifting.

“Almost to Wednesday, you’re still feeling this joy of laughing,” she said.

She’s among the Monday regulars who attend laughter yoga, an exercise routine that combines group laughter with yoga breathing.

(credit: CBS)

“The first time I laughed (here), I went home and my grandson said, ‘what’s wrong with you? Why you so happy?'” Anderson said.

The session stretches the sense of humor under the guidance of Pete Girard and his wife, Jan.

The couple discovered this mood-lifting technique 10 years ago and began following the teachings of its founder, Dr. Madan Kataria, a doctor from India who advocates for the healing properties of laughter.

Since its inception in Mumbai back in the ‘90s, laughter yoga has grown to included classes around the world, including in Minneapolis.

“Our bodies don’t know the difference if we’re genuinely laughing or we fake it,” Girard said. “What happens either way is this wonderful physical stuff.”

Their class is a mix of quick activities that take no longer than a minute or two. Participants take part in a variety of exercises, such as the laughter milkshake, the sprinkler and the woody woodpecker.

All are silly tasks meant to incorporate contrived laughter that targets breathing in the head, chest and diaphragm.

“We do it so fast, so the idea is we try to drive people out of their minds,” Jan Girard said.

Jim Bilot and his partner, Barbara Young, are long time attendees of the laughter yoga sessions. They’ve learned it’s best to leave all inhibitions at the door to get the full benefit.

“That’s what it is, it’s silly,” Bilot said. “You have to let your guard down, you know what I mean.”

“It’s so childlike,” Young said. “It’s like being a kid again, that’s what I like about it. You pretend you’re drinking tea and act silly.”

The take away goes beyond free-flowing humor. Each giggle, chuckle or all out roar is orchestrated to create a connection.

“When you’re looking someone in the eye, and you’re laughing, you’re just present,” Jan Girard said. “You’re just there with them.”

That in-the-moment presence allows a forced exercise to grow to genuine moments of joy.

“We’re benefiting from it, absolutely, we feel that,” Pete Girard said.

Laughter Yoga takes places every Monday morning at Pathways in Minneapolis.

The classes are free and begin at 9:30 a.m.

To learn more, contact Pathways Health Resource Center.

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