Maybe laughter really is the best medicine.
Tyler, 17, a student at the Oklahoma Outreach Sober School, said he always feels happier after the 20-minute laughter yoga class he participates in each Monday and Thursday at the school. This week during class, Tyler and fellow students pretended to participate in various sports, such as skateboarding and martial arts, all while laughing. They did various stretches and clapping exercises, winding down with meditation. Throughout the exercises, they worked to maintain eye contact, to smile, to affirm each other.
Tyler's laughter looked genuine. A dimple began to show, then his face got red, finally, he was almost doubled over from a hearty belly laugh.
â€œI think it's pretty fun,â€ he said. â€œIt's something different. And it's always good to try something new. It's just so silly. It adds fun in the day and relieves stress.â€
Tyler said he might even try using laughter as a diffuser in the future if he's in a situation where he's tempted to do drugs or drink alcohol. Students at the private Sober School are recovering from drug or alcohol addictions. The school, which asks that the last name of its students not be used, allows them to finish high school by teaching them Web-based classes. Currently, there are six students enrolled.
Laughter yoga instructor Ellen Mercer said Tyler's response is exactly what she's hoping for in teaching the students at the school.
â€œIn a group like this, where they're focused on staying away from anything that could be addictive, laughter itself is addictive. Maybe it can become a substitute for the addictive behavior,â€ she said. â€œLaughter can diffuse the situation and it gives them another tool to use.â€
Mercer teaches laughter yoga classes in various venues across the metro area.
She said the mission of laughter yoga founder Madan Kataria was to spread peace and joy throughout the world. But the technique also has other benefits, she said.
She said some participants have come to class with migraines and left without pain. Others have reported it's helped them in their social lives.
Samantha, 16, said she initially didn't want to participate in the class this week because she wasn't feeling well.
â€œI didn't want to do it today at all, but afterward it makes you happy,â€ she said.
Tina Barker, teacher and director at the school, said she's always looking for new techniques to help her students relieve tension and deal with their issues.
Since school started this year she's led the students through a meditation series each morning. She's also tried having them draw mandalas, a sacred art form used in many Eastern religions to help the artist focus and reach a deeper level of consciousness. She's taught different breathing techniques and is exploring a method called Journey to the Wild Divine, which claims to teach adherents to control their brains.
â€œWhen working with individuals, you have to try different techniques to find whatever is going to work for them,â€ she said.
Recently, she found laughter yoga, and it's been popular with her students, she said.
â€œI realized, I could have gone all day without laughing,â€ she said. â€œThis lets your brain change your mood.â€