“It’s a unique concept where everybody can laugh without having to rely on humour or comedy or jokes,” Vivienne Soan told me.
“That could be very useful for some comedy acts I’ve sat through at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.
Vivienne and her husband Martin Soan run the bizarre and always entertaining monthly comedy club Pull The Other One in South East London and in Leipzig.
Yesterday, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to the first of Vivienne’s laughter workshops at The Old Nun’s Head in Nunhead, South East London, the same venue as Pull The Other One. She is holding another free ABC Laughter Club tonight and on Wednesday & Thursday for the next two weeks to see if it is viable to set up a regular club.
As we got out of the car, my eternally-un-named friend said: “I don’t know if I can do yoga any more.”
“It’s not yoga,” I said. “It’s just lots of people laughing.”
“No,” she insisted. “It’s yoga. It’s called Laughter Yoga.”
“I must have missed the yoga word,” I said, “I can’t stand on my head. My stomach would stop me. I would be top heavy and fall over. I will claim I can’t do it because of my time in ’Nam.”
“That was only a holiday,” said my eternally-un-named friend.
“I still have flashbacks to Vietnam,” I said. “I may never get over it.”
“You went ten years after the War finished!”
“Post-traumatic sympathy symptoms,” I suggested. “I still wear black pyjamas.”
“What has that got to do with it?” she asked.
“You had to be there,” I said.
But she was right about the new club. Yoga was involved.
“Laughter Yoga is a combination of laughter as an exercise and yogic breathing,” explained Vivienne. “It oxygenates the whole body and makes you feel more healthy and energetic.
“I have a cough,” I said.
“You can breathe in and out of any orifice you are capable of using,” Vivienne told me.
“I might fart,” I said.
“We have whoopee cushions on the chairs,” said Vivienne. “You could just pretend you’re sitting down.”
“Why is it called the ABC Laughter Club?” I asked.
“Because,” said Vivienne, “ my mother died about five days after I went to my Laughter Yoga leadership course with the Laughter Yoga University and my mother was very well known for her extraordinary laughter and sneezing. So I’ve named my Laughter Club after my mother and her initials were ABC – Alison Bazille-Corbin. So it’s in recognition of her laugh and the tremendous happiness she gave to anybody she had anything to do with.”
“So how did this whole Laughter Yoga thing start?” I asked.
“There was a Dr Madan Kataria in India,” Vivienne told me. “He started in a park in Mumbai with just five people. They began by just telling jokes to each other and laughing. Then they got bored or people started telling bad jokes.
“But they’d all felt much better after laughing, so he set up a scientific study and found laughter makes people feel, behave and act differently if they start off the day just by simulating laughter and happiness even if they don’t feel it. There’s maybe not many reasons for people to laugh in India, but there was a huge response in terms of people’s feeling of wellbeing. Their immune systems were boosted and their stress levels were lowered.”
“Do you want to talk about your own physical problems?” I asked. “Or is that too personal?”
“Well,” said Vivienne, “I have bronchiectasis in the two bottom lobes of my lungs. The right and left hand sides are actually dead. If you think of a piece of broccoli with plastic bags over the bushy broccoli heads, that’s what the bottom part of my lobes look like. They don’t function. They’re supposed to move the air and liquid around. All lungs have got some liquid in them, which is part of the lungs’ function.
“About five years ago, I was suffering from this chronic wheeze and whistle and general lung breathlessness. There was a fear it might be emphysema. Bronchiectasis is a form of emphysema, but it’s not as pervasive. As long as you don’t allow any more scar tissue to develop through infection, you’re OK.
“Every day, I have to do exercises to move the fluid up through my lungs. I used to play the saxophone a lot, which did that – and that meant the function of my lungs has kept at a very good capacity. But I’m not able to play so much any more because, if I did it a lot, every time I played a solo I would end up coughing, which doesn’t look that good on the stage.
“I don’t like much physical exertion – I don’t like running, I don’t actually like yoga or aerobic exercises. I’m a bit like you, John. I quite like sitting round eating lots of biscuits and chocolate.”
“So, instead,” I said, “you’re starting this Laughter Club.”
“Yes and I already participated in conference laughter calls. At 7 o’clock every morning, I phone a conference line of laughter. It costs £5 a month and, every morning, between 7.00am and 7.10am, everyone laughs constantly for ten minutes. It’s fabulous exercise. It clears the lungs, oxygenates the body, puts you in a good mood, sets off the seratonin and the happy hormones and keeps your husband awake. It’s a Win-Win situation for me.”