"It's called the Lion Pose," says our instructor, Kaz Henderson, pushing back her blonde hair and spreading her bare feet on the grass to demonstrate.
"Okay, bend your knees, and crouch, with your claws up in front of you, like this. Now, open your mouth wide, and stick your tongue out as far as you can."
Eight tongues tentatively poke into the middle of the small circle. "Come on, further," says Kaz. "That?s it. Now laugh. Laugh! Ha-ha-ha, haaa, ha-ha, hee, hee-hee, haaaaaah!"
I feel ridiculous. Crouching on a patch of grass in front of a trendy office building, hooting away with my tongue lolling out. In cars parked nearby, people sit and snicker. Passers-by giggle. Chortlers point and stare from face-brick balconies. What?s wrong with these people? Haven?t they ever seen a pride of guffawing lions at 4.30pm on a Friday?
My day was bad to begin with. An editor trashed one of my stories. I fought with my sister. To make matters worse there was a Westlife concert. This meant I had to sit in blood-curdling traffic for an hour to make my session with the Cape Town Chuckle Club.
All the while the thermometer in my car read 37 degrees Celcius ? I tell you, it was no laughing matter.
Fake it until you make it
On my arrival, Kaz hustles me into the circle. "Laughter Yoga is about faking it until you're making it," she says, smiling expansively. "Your body can?t distinguish between fake and real laughter, so the effects are the same. You breathe deeper, shoot out endorphins and pump oxygen through your system. Plus, it?s excellent exercise ? actually, it?s exhausting."
We start with the first element of Laughter Yoga: clapping. Well to be precise, marching around, chanting "hoo-hoo, ha-ha-ha", and clapping our hands in time. It feels strange and silly, but kind of okay because everybody?s doing it. Nervous laughter comes naturally. Element number two is deep, yogic breathing, punctuated by loud, forced laughs. But this is just the warm-up.
The third, and most ego-challenging element is child-like play. "Adults have repressed themselves," Kaz explains. "Children laugh 300 to 400 times a day, and adults only 15 to 20. So I want you to pretend you?ve just opened your cellphone bill, and it's the funniest thing you?ve ever seen. Now share the joke."
We work our way through a comic Kama Sutra of laughing positions. We laugh in a circle, in a row, eyes closed, eyes open, holding hands, arms around shoulders and even back-to-back so we can feel one another?s bodies jiggling hysterically.
A madcap orchestra
We make a madcap orchestra. Kaz is the tinkler ? her laugh is like a merry string of bells, or a jazz piano solo. Then there's Gabriella, the wide-throated trumpeter, accompanied by the clash of chandelier earrings. Carlo is a high-pitched titterer, Nikki a wild warbler and George, a lovely, sonorous rumbler. Me? Well, I suppose I'm a bit of a cackler when I get into it. A cackler who croaks in air between outbursts. You'd probably want to smack me if I sat behind you in a Jim Carrey movie.
For most of the session, I fake it. But there are some sterling moments when real laughter bubbles up and over me in its wonderful way. There are also moments, when I try so hard to laugh that an intense sadness surfaces ? so intense I almost cry. Somehow, that would be more embarrassing.
Tapping ones emotions
But laughter's like that. It's a tap-root to your emotions, even if they aren't happy ones. Perhaps that's why it's such an honest form of self-expression ? even if you are faking it.
After the session, I walk from the field to my car, abs aching, brain tenderised with emotion. In the space of half an hour I've felt all the things normal, adult life doesn't usually allow: silly, sad, child-like, crazy, gawky, snorty, odd and lovely.
I look down at my grubby feet. There are wads of grass between my toes. I wiggle them. I giggle at them. My day just got better.
For more information, visit www.laughteryoga.org or contact Kaz Henderson on +27 82 339 1199.Article courtesy of the Discovery magazine, published by Touchline Media