Marilyn Fogelquist truly believes laughter is the best medicine.
She has attended conferences and run workshops on the topic and spent 10 years working as a clown. Now at age 83, she is spreading the joy right here in Redmond through Laughter Yoga, an exercise program founded 15 years ago by Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician from Mumbai, India.
A combination of intentional, playful laughs and deep breathing exercises, Fogelquist said Laughter Yoga, which is offered in thousands of clubs and facilities in more than 60 countries, has a number of benefits including improved oxygen levels in the body, improved lung capacity and reduced stress levels.
Fogelquist has been leading weekly Laughter Yoga classes at Emerald Heights Retirement Community in Redmond for five years and since October, the Emerald Heights resident has started leading classes at the Redmond Senior Center every Monday from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
“It’s so physically and psychologically beneficial that the more the merrier,” Fogelquist said about taking on additional classes. “I certainly benefit from it.”
She said Laughter Yoga is utilized in a number of settings: with children, work settings, retirement communities and even in hospitals.
Getting Fogelquist to lead Laughter Yoga classes at the senior center was a meeting of the minds, said program coordinator Karen Phillips. She had been thinking about adding Laughter Yoga to their program schedule and was looking for an instructor when she learned Fogelquist was a certified Laughter Yoga leader. Fogelquist was also considering approaching the senior center about holding classes.
Although it has only been about a month and class attendance has been low, Phillips said things are looking pretty good for the new class, which operates on a drop-in basis with participants paying $3 per class.
“(Fogelquist) has been well received. It’s just the word hasn’t gotten out yet,” she said. “We’re just getting started. It’s very exciting.”
Fogelquist held a Laughter Yoga workshop for interested participants first before offering weekly classes. There hasn’t been much advertising for the class and participants have shown up based on word of mouth, but Phillips said the senior center will start spreading the word through the City of Redmond, their newsletter, flyers and more.
Like all programs at the senior center, Phillips said the classes are geared toward people who are 50 years old and older, but they are open to anyone 18 years and older. So far, she said, class attendance has reflected this.
“It’s all very much 50 and up,” she said. “But if someone younger came, they would certainly be welcome.”
One factor Fogelquist uses to bring in people who are hesitant about trying a “yoga” class is telling them “you do not get down on the floor.” She said Laughter Yoga can be done standing or sitting and the yoga portion of the class comes from the breathing exercises, which are derived from pranayama breathing exercises done in traditional yoga classes.
Patrick Doyle had been practicing traditional yoga for eight years before he and his wife moved to Emerald Heights a year ago. The 79-year-old immediately started attending Fogelquist’s classes and said he has definitely felt the difference. Doyle, who has asthma, said among other things, Laughter Yoga has really helped with his breathing.
“It really gets these lungs moving,” he said. “It really helps relieve your stress and makes you feel good.”
Doyle said he also practices the breathing exercises during the rest of the week.
Kathleen Williams has been practicing Laughter Yoga for about two years and said it has helped bring up her energy level. Laughter Yoga has also helped with her breathing, which is especially beneficial for her as a singer. Unlike Doyle, who immediately took to Laughter Yoga, Williams was initially hesitant and skeptical. The 74-year-old Emerald Heights resident was self-conscious during the first few classes she attended and almost didn’t come back because the concept of forcing yourself to laugh for no reason felt very fake. However, she said the laughter eventually became real.
“When you have somebody laughing, you start,” she said. “That’s because it’s infectious.”
Fogelquist has a repertoire of laughs that include “mouse in the house,” “hypochondriac” and “cell phone conversation.” She assigns the class a laugh and participants re-enact a laugh in that particular style. For example, they hold up an imaginary cell phone to their ears for cell phone conversation and laugh as if they were having a particularly funny cell phone conversation.
Fogelquist said the laughs may be forced, but the body still receives the benefits because it can’t tell the difference between a real and fake laugh. And as Williams said, Fogelquist said Laughter Yoga is very much “fake it till you make it” and the laughs eventually become real. She added that participants leave the class in a good mood that stays with them for an extended period of time.
“It is such a psychological upper that it lasts the rest of the day,” she said.