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Make ’em laugh

Hugh McClelland’s workshops prove laughter really is the best medicine

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What: The Power Of You workshop series

Where: MY Millennium Place

When: Saturday, Sept. 10

Admission: $19.95

"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine."

Proverbs 17:22

Hugh McClelland is definitely someone you’d want on hand if you were debuting a sitcom pilot.

Hugh McClelland is also someone you’d want on hand for more serious and thoughtful affairs such as this Friday evening’s Power Of You charity fundraising event for the people of Darfur, Sudan, and Saturday’s corresponding personal growth workshop series taking place at Millennium Place.

The former situation is obvious. McClelland is a certified laughter leader under the U.S.-based World Laughter Tour, a practitioner of a wellness technique involving "laughter for no reason" based on the teachings of Dr. Madan Kataria, an Ayurvedic physician from Mumbai (Bombay), India. The reasons are less obvious as to why his presence would be sought for a more somber event such as a Darfur fundraiser.

The key is that the "laughter for no reason" McClelland purveys is based not in humour, but in personal growth and meditative practices.

Laughter is nothing new, but Dr. Kataria’s idea to gather people together to practice yogic breathing before letting loose with uncontrolled guffaws as a stress-relieving tactic is relatively new, dating back to 1995.

McClelland’s own introduction to laughter therapy came when Dr. Kataria’s laughter sessions ended up the subject of a photograph accompanying a 1997 National Geographic story about India. The photo piqued the interest of the former filmmaker and television producer, and for a while he became what he calls "a rogue laugher," inciting groups of friends to get together and giggle.

Inspired to create a documentary on the subject, McClelland sought out Dr. Kataria while the laughter guru was on a trip to North America.

He chuckles heartily remembering his awakening during the Kataria training session.

Rather than the simple joie de vivre he had been tapping into, laughter therapy goes much deeper he learned. Dr. Kataria had originally incited his sessions with communal jokes but when the jokes became stale and increasingly off-colour, the doctor realized the healing laughter would have to be incited by a more universal method. That was determined to be yogic breathing, followed by social interactions such as shaking hands. Take my jokes… please. Hence, laughter for no reason.

The movement has since taken off worldwide, spread by the formation of "laughter clubs." McClelland says there are 2,000 registered laughter clubs in India alone, and an estimated 800 across Europe, 40 in Canada and about 400 in the U.S.

Five clubs exist in the Vancouver area, he says. Prior to moving to the Okanagan, he was involved in running the Vancouver Laughter Club and the West Vancouver Laughter Club, which follow the Kataria model. At a typical club meeting, the laughter often lasts between 15 and 30 minutes, which McClelland describes as "quite a workout," requiring participants come prepared with loose clothing and water.

Physical benefits such as lower blood pressure aside, laughter for no reason also requires people come prepared for spiritual growth, which explains McClelland’s place on the Power Of You’s workshop roster alongside sessions on sound-healing, intuition and numerology.

The spiritual aspect of laughter for no reason, has actually earned it recognition in India as a yogic discipline called "hasya yoga" or "laughter yoga."

"What people are finding is that it creates a deep and subtle shift in their attitude about life, about themselves about their relationships," McClelland says. "Many people are starting to report it is becoming a meditative spiritual practice for them."

The best part too, is that it is truly a universal movement, accessible to anyone, regardless of age or ability.

"Everybody loves a good laugh," McClelland emphasized in all seriousness. "Everyone knows laughter is good for you. I say, it’s really true, and through this really simple skill of laughing for no reason you can have these benefits no matter how stressful your life is and no matter how unfunny your life is.

"In lots of ways what we’re doing is we’re not teaching people anything new," he added, "we’re reminding them of something they already know."

A full schedule of workshops for the Power Of You is available at www.thepowerofyou.org. All events, including Friday’s performance are $19.95 with proceeds to UNICEF for aid to Darfur.

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