Yoga plus laughter produces Falmouth feel-good program

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FALMOUTH — Laughter is the best medicine, the old saying goes, and Denise Macaronas is out to prove it.

Macaronas and Falmouth’s Parks and Community Programs Department are once again teaming up to offer laugh yoga at Village Park on four Monday evenings starting July 10.

Participants are encouraged to stick around after class for the town’s annual summer concert series, which this year begins with a performance by the Downeast Soul Coalition.

Macaronas is a certified laughter yoga leader, and said the practice is “a unique exercise program for health and happiness.”

To enjoy laugh yoga, she said, “One must be able to think outside the box and want to enjoy child-like playfulness.”

“The health benefits of laughter are many and your body can’t tell the difference between a hearty belly laugh and intentional or fake laughter,” added Macaronas, who first started teaching laughter yoga in Falmouth in 2011.

The best part? “Laughing is contagious,” she said.

During her sessions, Macaronas said, “The yoga portion involves deep and slow breaths along with stretching exercises. We do not use yoga mats … (or) do any yoga poses (and) all the exercises are done either standing or sitting.”

The laughing doesn’t depend on props or jokes. Instead, each person is asked to say something in gibberish.

“When that person (gets to the end), they throw up their arms and laugh and everyone joins them,” Macaronas said. “We are all laughing, but we have no idea why.”

The sessions are free for residents, although nonresidents are also welcome to attend.

Call Parks and Community Programs at 699-5302 or email DMacaronas@falmouthme.org for more information. Macaronas also teaches laugh yoga in Portland and on Peaks Island.

This summer’s laugh yoga sessions in Falmouth start at 5 p.m. July 10 and 24 and Aug. 7 and 21. In case of rain, both the laugh yoga class and the concerts will be held at the Casco Bay Hockey Arena, which is adjacent to the park.

The benefits of laughter include physical, mental and social health, according to Macaronas: a boost to the immune system, lower stress levels, relaxed muscles, pain relief, eased anxiety and enhanced resilience, plus group bonding.

Many of the participants in her classes leave a session “feeling good, relaxed, energized, stress-free and more self-confident,” she said.

“In order to get the health benefits of laughter, one must have at least 20 minutes of sustained laughter (and) laughing in a group is much easier than trying to laugh alone,” Macaronas said.

Holding the summer sessions outside is also key, she said.

“Laughter, fresh air and fun just seem to go together. Being outdoors is very freeing. We always hope that the sound of people laughing will (encourage) more people to join the group.”

Participants in her Falmouth laugh yoga classes include a 98-year-old and a cancer survivor, among others, according to Macaronas.

“The 98-year-old enjoys the sessions very much and raves about laughter yoga to people she meets,” Macaronas said. “She’s also tried to get others to join in.”

“Another participant who has been with us several times is a licensed social worker who works at a center for veterans,” she said. “She has referred veterans to our program and now has decided to become certified” in laugh yoga.

As a teacher, Macaronas said she most enjoys “the connection of laughing with people. It’s great fun to see people really getting into (it).”

According to the Maine Laughter Yoga Facebook page, “You do not need to be happy to laugh. You do not need to have a reason to laugh. All you need is an open mind and the willingness to laugh.” 

“The more you choose to practice laughter, the more you will find laughter filling all areas of your life,” the site adds.

Amanda Walden, another local laugh yoga instructor who is based in Brunswick and manages the Maine Laughter Yoga page, said the practice started in 1995 in Mumbai, India, and has since spread to over 70 countries.

“Laughter is important to help remind folks how to play,” she said. “It’s fun and it helps melt your stress away. So even if you’re not in the mood for it and start out faking it, you will soon be laughing for real.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Denise Macaronas, a certified laughter yoga instructor, will lead outdoor sessions on four Monday evenings this summer at Village Park in Falmouth starting at 5 p.m. July 10.

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