By Sarah Sekula, published in Central Florida Lifestyle
Show up on the Rollins College campus in Winter Park any given Thursday, and you’ll discover something quite hilarious. At 1 p.m. each week a group of students gathers under an oak tree on a patch of grass behind the oldest building on campus, to laugh. That’s it, just laugh.
Here’s how it goes down: There are no jokes, just laughter. The students form a circle, and 22-year-old Christian Kebbel, the group’s founder, welcomes everyone and talks about laughter’s positive effects on the body, including stress relief, improving the immune system and burning calories.
After the opening speech, there’s a brief breathing exercise, borrowed from Bikram yoga. Basically, it helps get the blood and oxygen flowing, which eases everyone into the bigger breathing exercise of laughter, and it preps everybody to look silly.
Then, the giggles begin.
One person starts snickering, and it spreads immediately. In order to keep it going, the person who began laughing then points to someone else in the circle, who then is challenged to laugh even harder. This continues for 15 minutes.
“In the final minutes, it can get pretty crazy,” Kebbel says. “We’re all pretty much screaming by that point. Once it starts to finally fizzle out, we start clapping –applauding each other and signaling the end of a good laugh.”
So where does one come up with an idea like this? Kebbel says when he started college four years ago he was already feeling stressed. He had declared a self-designed major called language and ethnography, which blends the disciplines of anthropology, French, and English. As if that’s not enough on his plate, he’s also a Cornell Scholar, which means he has a merit-based full-ride scholarship that covers tuition, room, board and fees at Rollins. In turn, he must maintain pretty high GPA requirements. So for him, the Laughing Club is a clever way to balance the academic with the social, the cerebral with the silly.
“I knew that other students and faculty had stresses, too,” he says. “So I started a laughing club to help the Rollins community, myself included, to de-stress and keep lightness and laughter in life.”
Believe it or not, laughing clubs exist elsewhere, too. Not just in the bubble of a liberal arts college. In fact, they are part of an Asian tradition that extends back several centuries. More recently, in the last twenty years, an Indian doctor by the name of Madan Kataria created a form of laughter yoga in parts of India, which he shares with people around the world — people in good health who want to keep their spirits high, patients who are ill and want to boost their immune systems, even prison inmates who want a reprieve from the monotony and melancholy of prison life.
“I encourage students to come laugh around midterms and finals time, when they feel the most stressed — when they feel like they can’t even spare 15 minutes,” he says. “That’s when it’s most important to come out and laugh. Usually, I find that attendance does increase around exams.”
At the end of the day, Kebbel says, “The Laughing Club isn’t for everyone. It requires an openness to be silly. We all have to check our self-awareness at the curb when we come to laugh in a circle, and some people can let go more easily than others.”