KOCHI – “Ho ho ho, ha ha ha!” someone cried out, while another said, “Good, good. Yay!”
Arranged in a circle, several people moved their bodies and laughed while clapping along to a chant. They were practicing laughter yoga – a wellness technique that combines laughter with the breathing techniques of yoga. It is said to be the brainchild of an Indian doctor.
Sayaka Ono, 27, has devoted herself to getting more people to learn about the joys of laughter yoga and creating an environment in which people can release stress.
OVERCOMING NERVES WITH RAKUGO
After Ono left her hometown in Kochi Prefecture to attend a university in Osaka Prefecture, she realised she found it difficult to express herself in front of people. She was nervous and fumbled her words when giving a presentation in class, which frustrated her.
One winter, as a freshman, Ono watched her university’s rakugo comic storytelling club perform at the cafe where she worked part-time. She met a female freshman there who confidently performed rakugo in front of spectators. Ono wanted to be like her, and immediately joined the rakugo club. She was then given the stage name Hananoya Konatsu.
Ono became comfortable speaking in front of people after performing at various locations in Osaka Prefecture, such as nursing homes and salons for the elderly.
Less than a year after she joined the club, Ono successfully organised a rakugo event in Kochi with the aim of revitalizing her hometown using the traditional Japanese entertainment form.
BECOMING LAUGHTER YOGA ‘LEADER’
Ono was introduced to laughter yoga in March 2013 by a male psychiatrist who is also an amateur rakugo storyteller.
“I was embarrassed at first to shake hands and make eye contact with strangers. But above all else, it was fun,” she said of the experience.
Ono returned to her hometown to work at a company, and continued performing rakugo at senior homes and community centres. On one occasion, she added a roughly 30-minute session of laughter yoga to her rakugo performance. It helped her to foster unity with the audience, as opposed to simply making people laugh.
Ono then saw laughter yoga as the most convenient way of energizing people. In June 2014, she became certified as a laughter yoga leader by the Japan Laughter Yoga Association.
Ono left her job a year ago after getting married, and has since made more efforts to promote laughter yoga. Her desire to heal people who are suffering psychologically has also grown.
A laughter yoga class she held for mothers at a kindergarten was particularly well received, with one participant saying, “It’s been a while since I laughed so hard.”
Ono offered elementary school students the chance to try laughter yoga at an after-school care facility. Afterward, she learned from a worker at the facility that a girl who had been struggling to express her emotions gradually learned how to do so.
When she was a child, Ono saw her mother’s health deteriorate due to the stress of taking care of three children and her father, who suffered from a disease that left his left limbs paralysed.
These days, some children who cannot fully play outside are also said to be stressed. Given the situation, Ono said, “I want to create somewhere – not a school, home or workplace – for people to be accepted as they are, regardless of status.”
EXPANDING THE CIRCLE OF JOY
Ono launched a regular laughter yoga class in Kochi this year. She has a reputation for being a trustful, humble hard worker with a strong will.
In May, Ono became a qualified trainer of laughter yoga leaders.
“If there were [laughter yoga] leaders at workplaces and schools, giving people the opportunity to laugh even for 10 minutes a day, everyone would be more cheerful,” she said.
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Published at Sat, 26 Aug 2017 03:00:00 +0000