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Ho, ho, ha, ha, ha, hee, hee, hee

It has been a long time since I laughed as hard as I did Thursday night.

Tears streaming down my face, lungs gasping for air, hands slapping the side of my legs just to keep from tumbling onto the floor — all that and more continued for nearly 25 minutes.

At points the laughter turned into full-fledged guffaws — sounds that developed way deep in my belly and careened out of my mouth.

Of course there were high-pitched squeals, too. The laughter wouldn’t stop as much as my stomach muscles pleaded for it to.

Interestingly, there were no jokes, no pratfalls, no stand-up comedians Thursday night, unless you count the group of eight people who unwittingly walked into something few Natchezians have experienced — a laughter yoga session.

Yes, that’s right. Thursday night I participated in an exercise session devoted exclusively to laughter.

Now, I am not one of those people who willingly tries new things. Call it fear or worry, I just don’t like doing things that I know little about, especially when I get the sense there is strong risk of embarrassment.

So when I walked into the room of eight empty chairs and Dr. Sandra Lunte, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the word laugh, I immediately hesitated.

Lunte is a professor of flute at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. She was in town Thursday preparing for today’s noon flute recital at Trinity Church. Lunte is also a certified laugh yoga leader and a certified laugh coach. She regular conducts laugh sessions at ULM.

Lunte also has a pleasant demeanor and a disarming smile, which may reasons why I didn’t turn for the door and run.

Still skeptical, I sat and listened to Lunte describe exactly what laughter yoga is.

It is not a bunch of funny positions she explained. It is not a group of people of telling jokes.

According to Lunte, laughter yoga is a simple yet powerful form of exercise that anybody can do — anytime, anywhere.

Started in India, laughter yoga exercise clubs have spread across the globe in recent years. There are thousands of laughter clubs in 65 countries including more than 100 clubs in America.

According to Lunte, the benefits of laughter are enormous. It provides both psychological and physiological benefits. It helps improve breathing, provides energy and can even improve creativity, Lunte said.

Honestly, after hearing her explanation, I was still very dubious but willing to give it a try.

It didn’t take long for the laughter to begin, if only because my seven colleagues and I found the situation a little absurd.

As Lunte described, any laughter that starts out as fake or forced quickly turns into the genuine thing.

Through eye contact and the childlike playfulness that Lunte explained was crucial to the exercise regimen, the laughter continued for 25 minutes. All eight of our group were laughing uncontrollably at times.

After 25 minutes of laughter exercise, it took closing our eyes and focusing on our breathing to break the contagious cycle.

The laughing stopped.

I can’t tell you if there will be lasting benefits from my 25 minutes of hilarious abandon. But I do know that in that time, I seemed to focus on the present moment and not all of the past and future things that have a tendency to weigh on my heart and my head. Just walking away from the session, I felt a momentary lightness of attitude.

Is laughter yoga something I will start doing regularly? Probably not. Considering, though, how much my abs hurt after Thursday’s experience, maybe I should.

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.

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