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Laughing to Heal
By The Editors
When we're not spotlighting authors, musicians, and other typical "artsy fartsy" types we adore, we also love discovering anyone who has brought something uniquely innovative to the world. Enter Slash Coleman, a man who has brought the joy and healing power of laughter to Richmond, Virginia after a life-altering event re-routed his purpose. Unsurprisingly, he's also an "artsy fartsy" type as well. We can't break Quail Bell tradition.
Read on to find insightful answers about a healthy work-life balance, the benefits of nonprofit work, and incorporating all kinds of art in your everyday life:
What is a laugh club and what does it bring to a community?
Laughter yoga, AKA Hasya yoga, is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. It’s based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same benefits as spontaneous laughter. Typically done in laughter groups or laughter clubs, it’s a unique concept because it doesn’t depend on comedy, jokes or humor.
Each laughter club is led by a certified laughter yoga leader who is trained through Laughter Yoga University. During the hour session, the club leader guides participants through laughter exercises and deep yogic breathing. Though the "simulated" laughter exercises range in time from 15 seconds to 5 minutes, the simulated laughter soon turns into real and contagious laughter which brings even more oxygen to the body and brain.
It actually feels like you’re taking shots of oxygen, which is why some members call it the happiest happy hour they’ve ever experienced. I’ve since coined the slogan “Pure Oxygen. No Regrets.”
Because the exercises combine childlike playfulness with eye contact, it’s not for everyone. I’ve found that only one in twenty people who try it ever come back for a second session. But, those who do are super fans and form tight-knit bonds outside of our weekly sessions. As an aside, nearly 90% of our laughter club attendees are introverts.
In terms of what it brings to our community, it’s unlike any other physical activity or mindfulness practice I’ve witnessed. I’ve found when I share laughter with a stranger it helps me form an extremely profound bond. I’d say one hour of laughter in a laughter club setting with a stranger is the equivalent of sitting down and having coffee and exchanging stories with that stranger for an hour a day for seven days.
The bonds that are forming outside our sessions are genuine and a handful of small-scale scientific studies indicate that they stem from the "endorphin-mediated opiate effect" that occurs through laughter. In a world in which where social media makes us feel more isolated, stressed and depressed there’s no two ways about it - laughter yoga is powerful medicine.
How common is laughter yoga?
RVA Laugh Club is part of an international network of 8,000 laughter clubs in more than 72 countries that keeps growing. But, the thing is… you’d never know it.
In some ways, laughter yoga is still trapped in 1995, which is the same year the first laughter club was established when laughter yoga’s founders, Dr. Madan Kataria and his wife Madhuri, Kataria (a yoga instructor), walked to a park in Mumbai, India with three friends to tell jokes.
Today, the mindfulness practice is still considered strange and on the fringe of the mainstream. It comes as no surprise that ten years ago regular yoga, at least in Richmond, was in the same place. And look at it now. You can’t drive two blocks without passing a yoga center.
Why did you decide to make your club a nonprofit as opposed to charging per class?
In 2014, I began volunteering weekly at a non-profit. This was my first experience working as a long-term volunteer in my community. Although, in my twenties I sensed the value of service work and went as far as applying to the Peace Corps, I never accepted my assignment and went to grad school for creative writing instead.
Through volunteering, I got my first glimpse into the magic of service work. My rabbi refers to it as the magic of the “mitzvah,” which is a good deed we do without wanting anything in return. Ultimately, he says, “the reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself.” Esoterically speaking, when you perform a mitzvah, you and your world are one with God.
Understanding how service work helped my life work better, I began to seek new ways to give back to my community. I created RVA Laugh Club with the mitzvah philosophy in mind. Although I may not profit monetarily from my work, I benefit in many other ways.
In the past year, I’ve laughed with strangers 2-4 hours each and every week - including programs I established with ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation, Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Medical Center and dozens of elementary schools and YMCA’s. In the process, I feel like I’ve become a more compassionate, forgiving and loving person. I’ve built a strong community around me and my world is more joyful, playful and positive because of it.
Many creatives struggle with their work/life balance. How do you balance your writing, yoga, and other ventures in a healthy way?
Growing up in a family of artists (many who struggled with addiction) I was raised on a steady diet of crisis and chaos. It’s taken a long time, but I’ve finally come to value the serenity and peace that come with setting healthy boundaries. When I think back on it, it’s hard to believe I’ve been as prolific as I’ve been considering from the age of twenty to the age of forty I went through a breakup, a cross country move and changed jobs every three years. My lifestyle gave me plenty of interesting material, but I paid a price. I’m now in a place where I value my writing time and so, when I’m drawn to make a choice that might affect it, I choose differently.
Whereas writing is a gift that I’ve been called to do, everything else is a way to support that gift. My daily yoga and mediation practice gives me health, working as an art conservator and upholsterer in my family’s business keeps my relationships with my family strong, surfing brings me magic and volunteering as a laughter yoga leader allows me to give back.
You mention on your website that you were on a book tour for your book Bohemian Love Diaries. We're bibliophiles, so you have to tell us what it's about!
That’s right. In 2014, I was I was living in an east village high-rise with a rock star postcard view of Manhattan, engaged to the girl of my dreams and in the middle of a 23 city book tour for my book “The Bohemian Love Diaries." It’s sounds like the start of a Lifetime channel movie, doesn’t it?
The stories in that book were about love, Richmond, my off-beat family and my childhood obsessions with Evel Knievel and the rock band Kiss. They were stories I’d been performing on stages all over the world for nearly a decade, including one that became an award-winning PBS Special.
I guess you could say I’d been experimenting with how to create the right conditions for laughter in my work as a storyteller years before I discovered laughter yoga.
Between stops in San Diego and Houston I stopped in Richmond for Thanksgiving and after dinner something terribly unexpected happened. When I picked up my book bag, I felt like I pulled every muscle in my back. I sat down for a few minutes to catch my breath and continued on my way, albeit a little more slowly.
On the next stop on my book tour I noticed a significant change in my ability to perform. I couldn’t stand on stage for more than ten minutes at a time without sitting down and at night when I slept, a strange noise came out of my mouth.
A month later, when I stopped in Richmond for Christmas my mom suggested I go to the doctor. It was Christmas Eve. I figured it would be quick. Perhaps, he’d give medicine for what I assumed was a chest cold and a pulled muscle.
For some reason he decided to take an x-ray of my chest and within the hour I was admitted to the emergency room for a medical condition known as a Spontaneous Pnuemothroax; a collapsed lung.
After two surgeries and two months in bed, I gave up my life in New York and moved home to Richmond. The next year, one of my surgeons recommended laughter to help my lung heal. After trying a laughter yoga class, the rest as they say, is history. I received my training as a Certified laughter Yoga Leader in 2017 through Laughter Yoga University and decided to make a commitment to offering the weekly classes in our community as part of a yearlong experiment.
Anything else you would like to add?
To satisfy the bibliophiles….I’ve got two books I’m finishing up right now. One is a young adult novel about baseball and the other is about my year-long experiment with laughter. If any of your readers are curious about trying laughter yoga, I invite them to check out my schedule at www.rvalaughclub.com.
You can also purchase The Bohemian Love Diaries on Amazon here:
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