The Laughing Yogi

By Ed Staskus

“I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.”Woody Allen

Yoga is a dead serious body mind spirit rubber mat hits the road adventure.

It is a rigorous undertaking when you are trying and trying to get asana poses just right, much less trying and trying to achieve the higher state of being and thought the practice aims at. Meditation and its hardball goal of spiritual insight is a life-long commitment, not just the old college try. The concentration and stern self-discipline needed to get to moksha are no laughing matter.

Or is it really all that long-faced?

Since the mid-90s a practice called Laughter Yoga has gainsaid the notion that yoga is cold sober no-nonsense by the book, and humorless. The brainchild of Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian doctor now informally known as the ‘Laughter Guru’, it is premised on the idea that laughing is good for you.

Their motto is a few ha ha ha’s are a boon boon boon.

What did the yoga mat say to the yoga student? I will catch you if you fall.

It’s long been said that laughter is the best medicine. It strengthens immune systems, boosts energy levels, and protects from the damaging effects of stress. Laughing enhances blood flow, which is a factor in cardiovascular health. It releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

“Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain,” said Charlie Chaplin.

It’s priceless and it’s free, too.

Not only that, no matter whether it is real or feigned, it works, although, if you’re laughing for no reason at all, you might need either counseling or medicine.

“The mind does not know that we’re faking it,” explained Mary Wilson, a news reporter for ABC/Fox in New York who practices yuks on the mat. Dr. Kataria based his brainstorm on the concept that canned laughter yields the same results as spontaneous laughter.

“In Laughter Yoga there is no need to wait until something funny happens. You can laugh intentionally whenever you want,” said Dr. Kataria.

When it’s real it’s even better, as any belly laugh will testify. A new study at Loma Linda University demonstrated that adults shown a funny 20-minute video scored better on short-term memory tests than a control group. Their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, were also significantly decreased.

“Learning ability and delayed recall become more challenging as we age,” said Dr. Gurindor Bains, the Ph.D candidate in Rehabilitation Sciences who led the study. “Laughing with friends or even watching 20 minutes of humor on TV, as I do daily, helps me cope with my daily stressors.”

A rose is a rose is a rose, Gertrude Stein famously observed, but when is a yoga studio not a yoga studio not a yoga studio, even though tens of thousands of people have taken classes there. That would be a Laughter Yoga studio, which is usually in a park or on a beach.

The American School of Laughter Yoga promotes Laughter Clubs that are free and open to the public. “Thousands around the world volunteer their time to make them happen, freely and unconditionally, from the heart as an act of service.”

Laughter Yoga is practiced in more than 8,000 clubs and in more than 65 countries. “Laughter is the tool. Yoga is the end,” said Sebastien Gendry of the American School of Laughter.

Some people crack a yoga joke and everyone laughs. But, some people make a joke of yoga and laugh all the way to the bank, with wads of other people’s money.

Bikram Choudhury of eponymous Bikram Yoga fame was having lunch with friends when a cell phone on the table rang. He answered and put it on speaker.

Bikram: “Hello!”

Woman: “Hi Honey, it’s me. Are you having lunch?”

Bikram: “Yes.”

Woman: “I’m at the shops now and found this beautiful mink coat. It’s only $9,000. Is it OK if I buy it?”

Bikram: “Sure, go ahead if you like it that much.”

Woman: “I stopped at the Lexus dealership, too, and looked at the new models. I saw one I really liked.”

Bikram: “How much?”

“$120,000.”

Bikram: “OK, but for that price make sure you get it with all the options.”

Woman: “Great! I was just talking to Janie and found out that house I wanted last year is back on the market. They’re asking four-and-a-half million for it.”

Bikram: “Well, go ahead and make an offer of four million. They’ll probably take it. If not, you can go the extra half-mil if that’s what you really want.”

Woman: “Oh, thank you! I’ll see you later! I love you so much!”

Bikram: “Bye! I love you, too.”

He hung up.

Everyone at the table was staring at him in wonder and astonishment at his generosity.

Bikram turned and asked, “Anyone know whose phone this is?”

Sometimes yoga is said to cure everything except the common cold.

Bikram Yoga claims that 30 days of his hot yoga will transform anyone, making them strong and buff, and those who say during steam class “Please, kill me now” have got it all wrong.

Laughter Yoga says a week without laughter will make a man weak.

“This stuff really works!” said Harry Hamlin, at the far end of hunkdom, about Laughter Yoga after high-stepping the cha-cha-cha on ‘Dancing with the Stars’.

Others, like John Friend, the former founder and former chief guru of the former Anusara Yoga, think they’re laughing all the way to the bank until they find out what’s in their wallet is all a can of worms.

John Friend was praying to Krishna.

“Krishna,” he said, “I would like to ask you a question.”

Krishna responded, “No problem. Go ahead.”

“Krishna, is it true that a million years to you is but a second?”

“Yes, that is true.”

“Well, then, what is a million dollars to you?”

“A million dollars to me is but a penny.”

“Ah, then, Krishna,” said John Friend, “may I have a penny?”

“Sure,” said Krishna. “Just a second.”

The laughter of the gods is sometimes the upshot of setting yourself up as the arbiter of your own schemes. Some people say laughter is God’s blessing. Or, conversely, as Lord Byron put it, “Nothing can confound a wise man more than laughter from a dunce.”

Still others, like Jeff Briar, the founder of the Laughter Yoga Institute, laugh daily in their yoga practice for the fun and friendship of it. A professional comedic actor for more than 30 years, Mr. Briar is a certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and in 2006 was appointed by Dr. Kataria as an International Laughter Ambassador. He has published manuals, written books, and shot videos, including ‘Gibberish Sets You Free! Five Films on the Power of Talking Nonsense’.

Comedians often have the gift of shtick, but Laughter Yoga posits chuckles and chakras as the joy cocktail, and a great workout, too. “We laugh as a form of exercise,” said Mr. Briar. Want a toned tummy? Stomach muscles expand and contract when you laugh. A night at the comedy club can start you on the way to a rack of six-pack abs.

“Start laughing for no reason and watch yourself feel better,” said Mr. Briar on the Oprah Winfrey Show. “Laughter relieves all the negative effects of stress.”

What did the meditating yogi say to the other meditating yogi? Are you not thinking what I’m not thinking?

Ha ha ha…

What did the breathless yogi say to his yoga teacher? It turns out I’ve been inhaling when I should be exhaling and exhaling when I should be inhaling.

Ha ha ha…

What did the cat say to the other cat while watching their pet owners practice yoga? Who knows how many years of yoga and they still can’t lick their own butts.

Ha ha ha…

What did the man say to his friend about going to yoga class? Nah, I’m down, dog.

Ha ha ha…

What ran through the mind of the young yogi in Warrior Pose? Am I doing this right? Am I doing anything right? What is my life’s purpose? Am I happy? What do I want? Should I get chips for dinner? Is everyone looking at me? Do my boobs look weird in this top?

Ha ha ha…

Standing on one leg in yoga class doesn’t make you a yogi any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

That’s not a joke.

T cells are white blood cells that fight infections and are the mechanism essential for human immunity. When you laugh you activate T cells, getting them on the go from where they are stored in the lymph system. Biophysical research has demonstrated that belly laughing generates a negative pressure in the body that increases the speed and flow of lymph up to 15 times the normal rate.

“Believe it or not, a hearty chuckle can help,” said Dr. Andrea Nelson of the University of Leeds. “This is because laughing gets the diaphragm moving and this plays a vital role in moving blood around the body.” She stopped short of saying take two aspirins and go watch an Adam Sandler movie.

A woman reported her husband’s disappearance to the police. They asked for a description and she said, “He takes an Ashtanga Yoga class every day, he’s toned, tall, amazingly energetic, with thick curly hair.”

Her friend said, “What are you talking about? Your husband is five-foot-four, bald, lazy, and has a big belly.”

The woman said, “Who wants that one back?”

A good sense of humor won’t cure everything that ails you, but giggles and guffaws are a great RX, nevertheless. “Laughter can stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation,” says the Mayo Clinic. “A laugh fires you up and can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good relaxed feeling.”

Laughter activates the body’s relaxation response. You forget your troubles when you’re laughing. “People who are laughing report being less bothered by the pain they do experience,” according to the Chopra Center.

Yoga is an eight-fold path to wonder. Maybe watching reruns of ‘The Wonder Years’ should be part of the eight-fold path.

There are many different ways of going on the long strange winding road trip of yoga. Although it’s probably true no one can change their destination, everyone can change their way of travel. “It is a direction, not a destination,” said Carl Rogers, a founder of  humanism in psychology practice.

Getting there can be Sturm und Drang. Getting there can be a hoot. Getting there can be gotten to on foot, in a shiny new SUV, or on the Furthur bus.

No one wants to die, but everyone wants to go to heaven. The psychedelic painted school bus Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters called Furthur, painted in laugh-out-loud splashes, would be as good a way to go as any other.

A man arrives at the gates of heaven.

St. Peter asks, “Religion?”

The man says, “Methodist.”

St. Peter looks down his list, and says, “Go to room twenty-eight, but be very quiet as you pass room eight.”

Another man arrives at the gates of heaven. “Religion?”

“Baptist.”

“Go to room eighteen, but be very quiet as you pass room eight.”

A third man arrives at the gates. “Religion?”

“Jewish.”

“Go to room eleven, but be very quiet as you pass room eight.”

The man says, “I can understand there being different rooms for different religions, but why must I be quiet when I pass room eight?”

St. Peter says, “The yogis are in room eight and they think they’re the only ones here.”

Everyone next in line had to wait a minute from here to eternity while St. Peter rolled around the pearly gates in paroxysms of laughter.

A version of this story appeared in Rebelle Society.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Dead in the Water

By Ed Staskus

   Jimmy LaPlante’s neighbors either didn’t know a thing about him or thought he was a miserly recluse with a nice dog. The dog was a Labrador Retriever, young and friendly, willing to chase any stick thrown by anybody into the bay. He didn’t especially like dogs, but he had gotten the animal last fall to keep him company and be an early warning alarm. He wasn’t worried about his neighbors, although he was worried about Montreal. Jimmy was from Montreal but had lived on St Peter’s Bay the past eleven years. He kept himself to himself and his only friend on Prince Edward Island was the Lab.

   Nobody except his dog and his neighbors and his niece knew where he lived. Now it was only the Lab and the neighbors. He had made sure Montreal didn’t know where he was. He was sure they still didn’t know. He was careful talking to them on the pay phone outside the fish and chip shop, never talking long. He knew they knew how to trace calls.

   His niece hadn’t been his friend, but he didn’t like it when he read in the newspaper that she was dead. Now at least he knew something. She had been found buried in a potato field up around Rustico. What the hell was she doing there? The cops weren’t saying much so the newshounds weren’t saying much.

   What the hell had happened? She had delivered the hundred grand of good cash from Montreal and long since was supposed to have delivered the two million dollars of bad cash to them, although he had known all winter she hadn’t. He wasn’t returning his hundred grand, though. He told Montreal that and told them to find the girl. When they found her, they would find their money, he said. They didn’t like it and told him so. He told them to drop dead and hung up. He knew it was the wrong thing to say, but what could he say? 

   He knew somebody would be showing up soon nosing around. The newspaper said she had been found with a briefcase but no identification. It didn’t say anything about what was in the briefcase. He knew without thinking about it that it had been empty just like he knew from now on he was going to have to be careful. That’s the way the Quebecois boys were. He didn’t think they would find him but started sleeping with his dog at the foot of the bed and a Colt .38 Super under his pillow.

   Jimmy was 16 years old when he made his first counterfeit bill. By his late teens he was making fake $100.00 Canadian notes that his friends spent everywhere without a single one of them bouncing. By his mid-20s he was flooding the market with so many of the fake c-notes that many businesses stopped accepting them. The Bank of Canada was forced to change their design to improve security.

   He got skilled at reproducing security holograms on banknotes and earned the nickname of “Hologram Tom.” His middle name was Tom. When he took a break from forgery, he took up impersonation. He masqueraded as a pilot for Air Canada so he could fly on courtesy passes. Over the next five years he pretended to be a doctor and a lawyer, among other things. One man died and another man was disbarred, but he left his mistakes behind him when he moved on to bank checks. In the end he went back to hard cash. It was what he knew best.

   What had happened to his niece? It had to be that goddamned biker, who he distrusted and disliked the minute he saw him and whose name he never got. He thought he had to be an islander, although he wasn’t sure. He didn’t know where he lived, but he guessed it had to be Summerside or Charlottetown. He didn’t even know what kind of motorcycle he rode, although he knew it was red.

   If push came to shove, he would tell the men from Montreal what he knew but would make sure he told them from the back end of his handgun. He wouldn’t let them get their hands on him. If they did, he stood no chance. He knew that as well as he knew anything. He wasn’t planning on moving. There was no point to it. It would just make them testy and not believe anything he might tell them. He would sit tight until if how when they showed up. He had moved to Prince Edward Island to get away from the life of crime, although crime was how he made his living. He knew the everyday risks, which was why he left Quebec for Atlantic Canada. The past eleven years had been quiet, the occasional phony bag of money keeping him in plenty of spending money.

   It had blown up in his face, but he put a brave face on and took his dog for a walk. He wore a pair of knee-high rubber boots. His house was just past Bay Shore Rd. where it turned toward Greenwich Rd. The dog and he walked on the narrow strip of beach on the bay past some cottages until there weren’t any more cottages.

   St. Peter’s went back to 1720 when the village of Saint Pierre was established. It was one of the most important settlements on the island because it had a good harbor and good fishing grounds full of clams oysters quahogs lobsters trout and salmon. Many of the French considered it to be the commercial capital of Isle St. Jean. When the Fort of Louisbourg on Cape Breton surrendered to the British it was the end of Isle St. Jean. The French were deported in 1758 and the English poured in. The land became Prince Edward Island. St. Pierre became St. Peter’s.

   The British weren’t interested in fish. They were interested in boats. They turned St. Peter’s into a booming shipbuilding community, building 27 big boats between 1841 and 1850. There were three shipyards, all controlled by Martin MacInnis and William Coffin. Whatever others there were, were at the mouth of the Midgell River. They couldn’t build their ships fast enough because the north shore was a graveyard for big ships.

   Passenger steamers between the mainland and Prince Edward Island sank all the time. In 1859 the Fairie Queene from Nova Scotia didn’t make it. Everybody said the bells of Saint James Church in Charlottetown tolled eight times on their own the morning of the disaster, foretelling the deaths of the eight passengers on board the steamer.

   “Keen blows the bitter spirit of the north,” is what everybody said.

   Jimmy lit a Players and blew smoke out through his nose.

   The Turret Bell was driven ashore by a big storm in 1906 at Cable Head. It stayed beached for more than three years and became a tourist attraction. Picnickers sat in the dunes staring at the rotting hulk, eating apples drinking cold tea and chatting. Their dogs ran up and down the beach barking up a storm.

   The first sawmill was Leslie’s Mill near Schooner Pond. There were lobster factories on the northside. A starch factory opened in 1880 and stayed open until 1945. A racetrack opened in 1929. It was still there. Jimmy wasn’t a betting man and never went there. He liked horses but disliked trotters. If God had meant horses to pull two-wheel carts for sport, he would have created two-wheel carts. If Jimmy had gone to the track, he wouldn’t have bet real money, anyway. 

   Jimmy and the Lab went as far as Sunrise Ave. and took a break. Sitting on the sand leaning back against a mound he watched his dog run into the water after a stick. Whenever a stick went flying into the ocean the dog became a creature of habit. He watched a man and a woman both in summer shorts coming his way. The man had a camera slung around his neck. It bounced on his chest with every step he took. He looked fair and sunburned. The woman was slightly taller than the man. She didn’t look fair. She carried a kind of messenger bag over her shoulder. 

   Tourists, Jimmy thought.

   They stopped a few yards away and watched the wet dog lunge out of the water and run up to Jimmy. He shook himself dry, the water spraying all three of them. The woman reached into her bag. She pulled a Colt .38 Super out of the bag and shot the dog twice. He cried yelped groaned staggered backwards and fell over, shaking uncontrollably until he stopped.

   The dog’s last thought before giving up the ghost was, “What did I ever do to you?”

   Jimmy jumped trying to get up.

   “Stay where you are. Don’t be the dog.”

   “Jesus Christ, why did you do that?”

   “Dogs are a man’s best friend,” the woman said. “I’m not a man. He wasn’t my best friend.”

   She threw the gun down at his feet. “That’s yours.”

   In that instant Jimmy instantly understood they were from Montreal. He understood they had found him. He understood his life was in mortal danger. He didn’t reach for the Colt. 38. There was no point in trying. If he tried, he would be as dead as the dog in no time flat.

   “What you need to do, Jimmy, is print another batch of bills for us,” the man said, taking a picture of the counterfeiter. “If you don’t, what happened to your dog will happen to you. The sooner you print them, the better. We are going to find whoever stole our first batch and take care of that business. When we do, we will be back to get what is ours before we leave this shitty island. Do you understand?”

   “I understand,” Jimmy said.

   “If anybody asks about the dog, just say he dropped dead,” the woman said. “And put that gun away somewhere safe, so nobody gets hurt.” They walked away, going up the bay the way they had been going. When they were specks in the distance Jimmy stood up and looked down at the dead dog.

   “Goddamn it,” he muttered, and turned around to go back the way he had come. When he was gone gulls and crows started nosing around the still warm lifeless Lab. A fox crept out of his burrow to investigate. Maggots and flies put the word out and were soon gathering. Jimmy came back and waved them away. He kicked pushed the dead dog into the bay. By that night the carcass floated past Morell, Greenwich, and the lighthouse. When the moon came out, he was far out to sea.

   The next day Jimmy drove to a farm outside Saint Catherine’s and got a new dog. It was a Pit Bull almost full grown and trained to bite on command. It took a week, but he taught the dog to hate guns. When he was done, the Pit Bull knew full well to bite off any hand not Jimmy’s that had a handgun in it.

Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”