Matthew Wappett teaches teachers how to laugh.
Three years ago, at Harvard Medical School, Wappett went to a session on laughter yoga, where he joined 80 doctors in exercises that induce laughter.
“The doctors were all in suits and ties and uptight and starchy. She started doing the exercises and all of a sudden they became social and friendly and they relaxed. It changed the whole environment of this cohort,” Wappett said
When he came back to the University of Idaho, students requested he study laughter and become the adviser for the new UI Laughter Club, he said.
“I’ve done it the past two years,” Wappett said. “It’s taken over my life. There’s worse things to have your life taken over by.”
The club typically meets a couple times a week to do activities that stimulate laughter, such as fake laughter.
“Especially within a group, fake laughter turns into real laughter pretty quickly,” Wappett said.
During their meetings the club laughs for about 30 minutes.
Wappett now travels across the state to show teachers and education students the importance of laughter. Earlier this month he trained 200 people at a conference in Boise and met a woman with Stage IV breast cancer who does standard yoga to deal with the effects of chemotherapy.
“She had to miss her yoga appointment that morning to come to the conference, but she came up to me afterward and said she was so glad she missed her regular yoga appointment,” he said. “To have someone with cancer come up to you and tell you they feel better than they’ve felt in months is an incredible thing.”
Laughter clubs have become popular in cancer treatment centers and a lot of laughter research comes from cancer research facilities, Wappett said.
Laughter yoga is already a popular movement across the world. Paige Reid, former president of the UI Laughter Club, has traveled to laughter clubs in Germany, Portugal and Spain.
“She didn’t speak the same language, but it didn’t matter because laughter is a universal language,” Wappett said.
The first laughter clubs started in India by Dr. Madan Kataria in 1995, Wappett has written, and have become popular, with clubs in prisons and factories. The trend hasn’t caught on as quickly in America, Wappett said, because the nation is not as open to the idea.
“It’s part of Western culture that we think we need to be serious to be taken seriously,” he said. “Everybody can laugh but not everybody wants to.”
The advantages for using laughter in the classroom are numerous. From stress relief to stimulation to just cheering children up.
“Students are some of the most highly stressed people out there, and it’s affecting their ability to learn and pay attention, especially with more at-risk populations,” Wappett said. “We have students who come to school and don’t know if they’re going to get dinner that night, so they’re spending the whole day worrying about whether they’re going to have food.”
Many universities offer stress-relief courses and tools but Wappett said stress begins at a much younger age and teachers should provide children with activities to deal with it.
According to Wappett, laughter yoga wakes students up because it increases oxygen.
He said it also helps with classroom management problems.
“It’s an emotional release so it deals with aggression and promotes social bonding in the classroom,” he said. “We know that when people laugh together it lets down those social barriers and they start to see each other more as equals.”