Friday, January 29, 2010

Laughing Lettuce

Props props and more props. It’s one thing I love about my laughter programs.

Recently I attended one lovely harp concert at Dusty Strings. Just beautiful. But Dusty Strings itself is an experience. Try loving music and leaving there without spending money. I couldn’t. It was the lettuce maracas that stole my heart. And tomatos, and corn and eggplant.

I starting using props in my laughter programs with seniors many years ago. With all participants seated, and with less energy than the general population, and often without much laughter in their lives, I felt the need for an extra boost to stimulate the laughter exercises, and to keep them going. So I added colorful scarves, bright feathers, multi-sized balls and whatever else I could think up to add to our routine. It’s been a gas, very effective and I’ve made them a part of almost all my laughter programs. More fun. Why not?

I started using maracas in the morning to get myself going with my two –minute wake-up laughter routine. Kind of shake the laughter out of me and keep it flowing. Thus the maraca laugh was born. Vegetable maracas are just over the top. Come to Phinney Laughter Club some day and maybe you’ll be the lucky one to get the laughing lettuce maraca.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Humor is a Tricky Game

Humor is a tricky game, which is one reason why we, in the world of laughter yoga, leave it behind and head straight into laughter.

I was reminded of this recently, when I attended a holiday concert last month. It was a choir (a very large and well known choir) and I foolishly assumed it would be an evening of beautiful, even sacred, holiday music. Yes there was some of that, alongside songs that were a parody of the season. The most offensive skit for me was one which involved members of the chorus dressed up as old ladies, with the intended showstopper of one very large lady doing antics on a walker. It made me cringe for so many reasons.

For one, I was seated next to my 80-year old friend. Was I supposed to laugh at her being elderly? And then the fat routine. God help us if we are still laughing at fat people. It reminded me of grade school. And lastly the walker. To ridicule the handicapped, I felt was unforgivable. I know many, including myself, who have spent time on a walker, either permanently due to old age, or temporarily due to an accident. I can attest to how humiliating it can feel.

I compare it to the times I spent leading programs on Therapeutic Laughter for many retirement homes while I was on a walker. I often laughed at the irony of it. Once I feigned racing another walker-bound resident down the hallway. The difference: Laughing at ourselves vs. others laughing at us; laughing to ease the situation vs. being ridiculed; laughing to make light of a stressful situation vs. being humiliated by others.

Humor is a tricky game. Laugh at yourself and leave others alone.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


For your iPod or iPhone, there is now an application called iLaughOutLoud. It contains 40 different laugh sounds of real people really laughing. They have pre-recorded the funniest and most contagious laughs from teens, men, women, toddlers, and babies. If you use the Loup feature, the laughs keep playing continuously. If you use the Play List option, it plays your favorite laughs in a row. Have fun laughing along!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Compassionate Clown

The French philosopher Voltaire said “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while Nature cures the disease.” While doctors help nature along, there are a few individuals, who dispense their own brand of healing through humor. They call themselves compassionate clowns.

Gail Wolz is one such clown who routinely takes her humor therapy to the patients of Overlake Hospital in Bellevue.

A patient lying in bed is suddenly surprised as in walks Doctur Geoduck –in hot pink scrub suit, lab coat of red hearts with a rubber chicken on her back, purple hi-tops, and toilet plunger stethoscope for unblocking hardened attitudes. Eyes light up and they’re laughing already.

“Greetings Reclining One.” Gail introduces herself as a hospital volunteer there to encourage humor and laughter. With her huge two-foot plastic scissors in hand, she explains “You get a free haircut after a day or two.” Or she asks “Up for a really bad joke guaranteed not to bust any stitches?”

Sometimes there’s no joking when she senses someone is in a depressed mood. Then she sits and visits, her main role just to be compassionate.

Gail’s journey into the humor business started with her father, a man with a quirky sense of humor. Laughter and humor took on more significance when she got diagnosed with arthritis. She noticed that her physical pain was much less when her spirits were high.

Gail started her humor therapy as a lay minister at her church. With one particular bedridden man she tried visiting in a silly outfit, to rave reviews. He lit up with a big smile and from that point on joyously anticipated seeing what her next outfit would be. Adding humor to compassion was a tremendous breakthrough.

Gail feels a strong sense of mission in her work - bringing a smile to a face and laughter to a heart during a stressful time. Repeatedly she receives confirmation that her visits make a difference in the lives of patients, their families and the staff, who welcome her comic relief each week.

Gail has seen over 11,000 patients in the past 7 years! Generally she is overwhelmingly well received. As a compassionate clown Gail differs from a traditional clown, in that she engages rather than entertains. She doesn’t use make-up and doesn’t do tricks. It’s her intent to look into people’s eyes, listen and be fully present.Gail believes that humor and laughter are tremendous gifts to use for coping with hard times. Her intent is to encourage people to use these gifts.

Photo: Nurse Giggles