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Karren LaLonde Alenier

Gertrude Stein & Laughter Yoga

Gertrude Stein was known for her deep belly laughs, something a proper lady does not do. Also Stein was playful like a child. Her partner Alice Toklas and their friend Carl Van Vechten nicknamed the great Modernist Baby.


Stein was a trained research scientist at Harvard University. The Steiny Road Poet thinks that had Ms. Stein been alive today she would have been curious about Laughter Yoga, a breathing practice incorporating intentional laughing that increases one’s hormonal load of DOSE—Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins.

While the major happiness hormones number 10, Sebastien Gendry, speaker/trainer/consultant in laughter for wellness and wellbeing shortened the list to create DOSE. Briefly Dopamine creates euphoric feelings of bliss and pleasure. Stimulated by Dopamine, Oxytocin primarily deals with sexual arousal. A remedy for improving sleep, Serotonin guards against depression and worry. While making one euphoric, Endorphins are natural pain killers.


In 1995, Dr. Madan Kataria developed Laughter Yoga in Mumbai, India. The goals for this leader-led exercise of 45-to-60-minute sessions are health, joy, and world peace. The practice, based on science, invites the participant to let out his or her inner child. The basic wisdom is that children laugh exponentially more times a day than an adult and in theory suffer less stress. As children grow up, they are taught to suppress laughter, especially deep belly laughs.

Most laughter yoga sessions involve sitting and standing exercises and no floor work. The leader does not tell jokes but a good laughter leader has an infectious laugh that can be produced for no particular reason. Each exercise ends with handclapping and outstretched arms while saying two times, “Very good! Very good! Yay!” Additional exercises with hand clapping done full finger-to-finger and palm-to-palm in the prayer mode position can stimulate acupressure points on the hands to increase energy levels.

So what are the exercises like? Some involve moving the body, vocalizing, and interacting with other people. Some are just an invitation to laugh. Forced laughter is just as good as genuine laughter because the brain does not know the difference.

The Ho-ho Cha-cha-cha begins with a hearty coughed out “Ho, ho” while raising the hands to one side and clapping followed by a down-and-dirty, fists balled and cha-cha-cha with the feet. This set of actions is repeated until the leader stops the exercise with “Very good! Very good! Yay!” As stated previously, all exercises end this way.

Greeting Laughter has everyone on his or her feet going person to person, possibly extending a hand for a handshake or doing a bow or curtsy but using laughs instead of words.

Scary Laughing allows everyone in the session to laugh in a way that seems scary. For example, think of Bela Lugosi as Dracula and laugh that way.

Storytelling through Gibberish is an improvisational technique where the leader sets up the exercise as simultaneous events with possibly two or three people groups telling each other about what comic mischief a little child got into. Alternatively, everyone takes a turn in the circle as if it were a game of telephone passing along the story but referring back to a person who had gone before.

There are many of these exercises. However, the leader can be inventive and make up new exercises. So suppose the Steiny Road Poet is leading a Gertrude Stein themed laughing session. How about this:

A Hose Is a Hose Is a Hose as opposed to Stein’s mantra, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” In this exercise, the leader divides the room into three groups for a round. To begin, everyone coughs out A Hose Is a Hose Is a Hose with emphasis on HO. Then everyone stops. The leader would point to group one who would begin “A Hose Is a,” then leader would nod to group two which would come in one word behind the first group, same with group 3.

What are the benefits of 15 minutes of laughing? You boost your immune system. You elevate your mood. You feel like you had a two-hour nap. Overall you have more energy. So, follow this advice from Gertrude Stein, “One must dare to be happy.”

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Scene4 Magazine — Karren Alenier

Karren LaLonde Alenier's most recent book is The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas.
She is a Senior Writer for Scene4.
Read her Blog.
For her other commentary and articles,
check the Archives.

©2018 Karren LaLonde Alenier
©2018 Publication Scene4 Magazine


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June 2018

Volume 19 Issue 1

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