Yoga instructor aims for ‘world peace through laughter’

Jan 10, 2023

Doug Savage’s favorite form of exercise is a rib-tickler — literally. 

When he taps his ribs, along with his head, neck and shoulders, he bursts into spontaneous laughter. 

Every Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., Savage and a few others roam around the First Congregational Church’s Rowland Thatcher Hall, laughing until their faces turn red. They don’t tell jokes or do stand-up comedy. They simply laugh. 

Savage, of Marion, strongly believes the old saying that laughter is the best medicine. At his weekly laughter yoga classes, he wants the people of Wareham to be in on the gag.

“It’s not a household term… yet,” Savage said of laughter yoga, which was founded by Dr. Madan Kataria in India in 1995. “My goal is to make it a household term.”

Laughter, he said, alleviates depression, anxiety and PTSD. 

“Your body doesn’t know if it’s real or make-believe laughter,” Savage said. “You’re still breathing, you’re still getting the oxygen that goes to your brain.”

He became a certified laughter yoga instructor in 2017, after attending an “intense weekend of training” in Walpole. He offered classes in Marion, but nobody came. He found that people in Wareham were more willing to laugh with him. The Covid-19 pandemic stopped the laughter until December 2022, but it also made Savage realize just how important laughter is.

The goal of laughter yoga is to bring world peace through laughter,” he said. “Laughter is just a peaceful activity.”

“Everybody’s idea of exercise is getting on a treadmill and things,” said Christy Kendrick, one of the founding members of Savage’s laughter yoga group. “They don’t correlate laughing with using those core muscles.”

At first, Kendrick thought it was “a little awkward” to be surrounded by strangers “laughing like hyenas.”

“And then you just say, ‘To heck with it!’” She said. “Laugh! Let it go!”

At his class on Jan. 4, Savage and Kendrick greeted Jeff and Anna Grinley, two newcomers to the world of laughter yoga. After a knee injury, Anna can no longer do what she calls “regular yoga.”

“I thought, ‘There’s got to be an easier way,’” Jeff said. “Then I saw laughter yoga, and that sounded right up my alley.” 

Savage told the Grinleys to introduce themselves and laugh. They did. 

“We’re gonna point to whatever hurts,” he said, “and laugh the pain out.” 

After that, Savage introduced the Grinleys to his astonishing repertoire of laughter styles.

He taught the Grinleys “argument laughter,” (laughing while wagging your finger at someone), “lion laughter” (laughing while sticking your tongue and “claws” out), “gorilla laughter” (laughing while pounding your chest) and laughing while doing the Chicken Dance.

They laughed musically, to the tune of the “Popeye” theme song, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Rossini’s William Tell Overture, prancing around on imaginary horses in imitation of the Lone Ranger. 

“Touche!” Savage said. “Take a drink, you deserve it. So if the ice isn’t broken by that, I’m going to reach into my trusty bag of gadgets.”

The “trusty bag of gadgets” was his collection of stress toys, which everyone tossed across the room to explosive laughter.

“I feel a bit like I’m being punked,” Anna said. 

“Seriously, you’re not being punked,” Kendrick said. “We have so much fun.” 

They also played the kazoo.

“I don’t think people would pay to see us, but we could go on the road,” said Kendrick, who lamented that she left her kazoo in her car.

“I have extra kazoos, too,” Savage reassured her.

“I’m out of breath,” Jeff said at the end of the class, “but it’s fun. I could do it again.”

“I thought it was uncomfortable at first,” Anna said, “but I can see the benefit of it. I think we all do need to laugh more, and I’m definitely feeling less stressed than I felt when I walked in.”

They finished by doing the “ha ha ho ho dance” and chanting the words “You are awesome, I am awesome, we are awesome.”

Then, they all laughed.