8 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY JANUARY 25-31, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com 831 For Pacific Grove native Leah Johnson, aka Ginger Joy Johnson, the path to discovering Eastern medicine—and the therapeutic value of laughter— started in her childhood home. Her father, Jerry Alan Johnson, founded the International Institute of Medical Qigong. What is qigong? Leah Johnson defines it as “Chinese energetic medicine,” and it was developed in the same period as acupuncture. But as Johnson was immersing herself in her Eastern studies after graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in speech pathology, her interests veered toward something many in the West—or East, for that matter—may have never heard of: laughter yoga. The first thing to understand about laughter yoga is that it’s not at all like yoga in the sense most would understand it—it’s not about poses. Rather, it’s all about laughter, whether it’s authentic or manufactured. Both, Johnson says, elicit the same chemical response in the body. The practice of laughter yoga was brought into the mainstream by India native Madan Kataria, aka the Laughter Guru, who wrote about it his 2002 book Laugh For No Reason. Johnson, who in 2019 became a certified laughter yoga teacher through Kataria’s Laughter Yoga International University in India, knows laughter isn’t a cure-all for our ills. On the other hand, she believes it can help—a lot. “I’ve seen it work. Laughter yoga helps people reduce stress for things that are super stressful and painful,” she says. “We’re joyful, loving human beings, you can look at children and see that. We forget that.” In her sessions, Johnson leads exercises like pretending one is crying—or maybe actually crying—and then laughing one’s way out of it. “Whenever we do [a laughing] exercise, we’re using our body, and bringing joy to it,” she explains. During exercises, people are encouraged to make eye contact. “When you laugh with people…you start to like those people.” In terms of its overall positive impact on the body, Johnson contends that 10 to 15 minutes of laughter is the equivalent to 20 minutes in a gym. Part of that, she says, is that it opens up the veins and lowers blood pressure. Johnson earns her income as a happiness coach for private clients, including companies. But after moving back to the area just over a year ago from New Mexico, she’s taken to offering free Saturday classes at 10am on the grass next to the volleyball courts in Monterey along the Rec Trail and near the beach. Just a handful of people show up regularly, and she’d prefer people to let her know they’re coming. The sessions offer both a chance for people to check out laughter yoga and, for Johnson, a chance to reconnect with the community she grew up in. In those sessions, especially if there are new folks, she starts off with a little history of the practice and its purported benefits: it decreases stress, improves mood and boosts the immune system. She also explains to the participants, “The main thing here is to allow yourself to be playful.” Then everyone starts practicing laughter: A manufactured ha ha ha ha, hee hee ho ho sort of thing, and then it speeds up. After around 45 minutes in, she leads the group to lie down on the grass, on a yoga mat or blanket, for a meditation exercise, if they’re into it. “Meditation is optional, people can pray if they wish. Laughter yoga is not political, religious or dogmatic. Anyone can do it,” she says. “We’re all one people, and we all need to be loved, just as we are…Let’s just focus on people laughing together.” Johnson is hoping to grow the local laughter yoga community, and the attendance at her free Saturday classes, and hopes it can help people feel more awake, more alive, and in turn, “love at a deeper level.” She’s also keenly aware of how challenging that can be given all that’s going in the world. “I choose to feel happy,” she says. “You have to work for it to make it a reality, to be a positive light in this world.” To learn more about Happiness Coach Ginger Joy Johnson, visit myljw.info or call (575) 342-8999. Laugh In For better mental and physical health, laughter yoga calls on participants to laugh—even if it’s forced. By David Schmalz The spiritual and wellness journey of Pacific Grove native Ginger Joy Johnson (center) ultimately led her to laughter as a form of therapy. She’s shown here with Jan Austin and Benjamin Forest leading a workshop at Window on the Bay in Monterey. “I choose to feel happy.” TALES FROM THE AREA CODE DANIEL DREIFUSS health & fitness The Chamber Informs We are informative, serving on advocacy-focused committees and task forces to stay on top of key business, government and community issues and educating our members on topics impacting businesses in our region. If you're looking for a platform to initiate important conversations and grow your business, we invite you to join our business association on the Monterey Peninsula! Join Today! • montereychamber.com • info@montereychamber.com • 831.648.5350