Laughter may be just what the doctor ordered and Tatsiana O'Neill could have the cure.
Anyone walking by her home may hear the seemingly endless giggles, chuckles and hearty laughter filling the yoga studio on Ash Street in Baraboo. But, if passers-by could see the group standing and laughing hysterically, they might think the folks inside are insane. The reality is just the opposite, O'Neill said.
"People can be themselves when they come here," O'Neill said. "We want them to feel relaxed and with laughter they can let their guard down and have a good time."
Every Wednesday in Baraboo, O'Neill teaches about eight people to free their bodies, minds and souls through laughter. She also teaches the laughter yoga class one Sunday a month in Sauk City.
A session starts with participants standing in a circle facing one another, each greeted with laughter as they introduce themselves.
It is difficult to determine whether the people are forcing themselves to laugh; for most, it seems to start as fake laughter that quickly becomes contagious and turns real.
At a recent session, a couple of the people could barely speak because of laughter-induced tears.
O'Neill led the group through a short series of stretches, all accompanied by chuckling and light laughter, and then started some laughing and breathing exercises.
"Pretend you're putting ice down one another's back and then react to it," O'Neill said.
The group wiggled and rushed about laughing loudly and letting go of any stress they may have had when they walked into the studio.
The participants gathered themselves - still laughing - in a circle where they tossed a ball to one another. When someone caught the ball, he or she had to laugh.
O'Neill then had the participants pretend to give each other electric shocks by poking one another; and with each poke, came the laughter.
The session continues with laughter meditation or about 5 to 10 minutes of pure laughter and ends with relaxation in a group circle.
Melissa Riem of Baraboo, who brings her three daughters - ages 9, 13 and 15 - to the sessions said she can't believe how relaxed her girls are when they return home.
"They seem more focused and able to concentrate," she said. "They are also able to fall asleep easier."
Riem said she and her three daughters are involved in swimming so they take yoga to increase their flexibility.
"I thought this was a good idea for them because they were already involved in yoga," Riem said. "This allows them to have fun and let loose a bit."
Her oldest daughter, Audra, agreed.
"This is fun," she said. "All of us have a good time. There is no stress here."
Gail Tucker of Baraboo, another class member, said she enjoys laughter yoga because it gets her moving.
"This really helps with circulation and gets you motivated," Tucker said.
O'Neill said Dr. Madan Kataria is credited with starting the first laughter club in India in 1995.
"He knew the body gets the same benefits from laughter whether it's real or forced," she said.
O'Neill's husband, James, participates in the class, too.
"There is a method to the madness," he said. "There are a lot of benefits associated with laughter yoga. It aids in creating a union of mind, body and spirit because the person is focusing on what he or she is doing right then such as laughing or stretching. They are in the moment."
O'Neill said a few of the benefits associated with laughter yoga include reduced stress, improved circulation and decreased blood pressure.
"It's different," she said. "Some people may be skeptical, but if they try it they may find that they enjoy it."
The class is held at 7 p.m. each Wednesday at It's All About You Yoga and More Studio, 508 Ash St. in Baraboo. It is free and open to the public.
It is also held at noon on the second Sunday of each month at the Free Congregation of Sauk County, 307 Polk St. in Sauk City. Students must pay a $5 donation for each session with the proceeds going to the organization.
That's why O'Neill said she teaches the class for free.
"I've always wanted to have one class where I can give back to the community," she said. "I'm almost not teaching it. People have fun. I am helping them do it for the health benefits involved."
And that's no laughing matter.
For more information, contact It's All About You Yoga and More Studio at (608) 729-5435 or visit its website at www.itsallaboutyou-studio.com
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