At Laughter Yoga Richmond, instructor Slash Coleman guides sessions in laughter to reduce stress, boost the immune system, and even heal pain from injuries.
Richmond has no shortage of activities and places for people to improve their health. Gyms, health food stores, and yoga classes are scattered across the city, but while activities like yoga get the bulk of attention from health-conscious folks, the benefits of laughter are often overlooked.
Slash Coleman hopes to change that. After all, a good laugh session reduces stress and boosts the immune system. It’s these bodily benefits that Coleman chases when he partakes in “Laughter Yoga,” a relatively new activity that combines the social and disciplined aspects of yoga with the health benefits of laughter.
Coleman is the founder of Laughter Yoga Richmond, and he runs two public events a month instructing and guiding each session.
“Beginners come with mats and yoga clothes and think there’s yoga, but there aren’t poses in Laughter Yoga,” said Coleman. “And it’s strange, because the laughter is not based on jokes, comedy, or humor.”
Instead of stretching and doing poses, Laughter Yoga practitioners begin with breathing exercises to prepare the body, followed by forced laughter that eventually becomes genuine and contagious. It’s this laughter that creates the aforementioned health benefits.
“If the simulated laughter is the appetizer, then real laughter is the juicy stuff that’s the main course,” said Coleman.
A Richmond native, Coleman has been running Laughter Yoga Sessions in the city since 2018. Beginning this March, he’ll begin training Richmonders to become Laughter Yoga instructors themselves. Classes will be held at the Integral Yoga Center of Richmond from March 13-15. Students will learn how to run their own Laughter Yoga sessions and expand the practice in the city.
Before becoming a Laughter Yoga instructor, Coleman worked as a professional writer and storyteller. During this time, he published books like The Bohemian Love Diaries, ran his own PBS one-man show called The Neon Man and Me, and performed in the National Storytelling Festival. Coleman’s career shift from professional storyteller to Laughter Yoga instructor came after he received a life-changing injury in 2015 during a book tour.
“I didn’t know if I was having a heart attack,” said Coleman. “It felt like I pulled every muscle in my body.”
Despite getting injured on Thanksgiving, Coleman continued his book tour until Christmas. His bodily pain had not reduced at all during that span of time. Coleman visited the doctor, and learned that he had been living with a collapsed lung since his pain began. He spent the next two months in the hospital after undergoing surgery.
“When I was leaving [the hospital], the Surgeon said that laughter, sneezing and coughing would help the lung heal,” said Coleman.
Over the next year, Coleman spent most of his time in isolation, with little help toward progress in his recovery. Laughing, sneezing, and coughing still caused him pain. But after that year, he decided to take his Doctor’s advice about laughter and joined an improv comedy group.
“I hated it,” Coleman said. “It was like a comedy competition. So I dropped out, Googled ‘laughter’ again, and found Laughter Yoga. Something really strange happened.”
Coleman’s first experience with Laughter Yoga filled his body with oxygen, he said, in a way that no medical procedure had.
“I [also] felt this real, profound connection with everyone in the room. It felt a little uncomfortable… but I felt like I left with 12 really good friends,” he said.
Coleman decided to pursue training as a Laughter Yoga Leader, and began running weekly sessions for the activity. During that time in 2018, he worked with over 9,000 Richmonders. After a year of guiding sessions, he was contacted by Dr. Madan Kataria. Kataria created Laughter Yoga in 1995, and founded Laughter Yoga University. He reached out to Coleman to congratulate him on his work.
Coleman travelled to India in 2019, and spent a month training with Dr. Kataria. While he was there, he also received the Laughter Ambassador Award. Since then, Coleman has continued to run Laughter Yoga clubs and experiments in Richmond. He’s even worked with addicts to see if laughter could reap any benefits in the recovery process.
“I published a piece in Psychology Today,” said Coleman. “I’d like to do a more formal study. I’m working with MCV now to do that.”