WHOEVER coined the phrase ‘Laughter is the best medicine’ must have had a few hearty souls at Eastern Beach in mind.
Most Saturday mornings onlookers dawdle past Geelong Laughter Club bemused.
Phillipa Challis is used to the stares when running club sessions in the public eye.
Some onlookers stop for a moment, then smile a little.
But for others the incessant laughing finally proves contagious.
“Because this is so big in India and we have a number of visitors from the sub-continent, they often go past and give you a big wave, start clapping or join in for a couple of laughs,” Phillipa grins.
The club members’ chuckles, which build into a chortle then a guffaw and finally uncontrollable giggling, might be a parody of what humour is all about. The laughs might be fake, but the smiles aren’t.
Phillipa sounds out ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha in rhythmic choruses like ancient chants.
“I bet that’s raising a smile on your face,” she quickly asks.
She likens the laughing exercises to running on hot sand – lifting the feet up sharply and letting out oohs and ahs from deep inside the body’s diaphragm.
The good belly laughs come without resorting to a joke.
The laughing club’s members crack up silly to feel the rush of endorphins and improve their health.
“Although we do have humourous moments,” Phillipa says.
“We do it using laughter yoga, so if you come to a session it’s a series of laughs interspersed with a clapping activity and some deep stretching.
“It’s truly beneficial and helps people on a mental, physical and health level.”
Now one of the country’s foremost laughter therapists, Phillipa discovered the movement by accident.
When Australia’s first laughter club in Adelaide approached her to take enquiries in Victoria, the Manifold Heights resident realised the strong interest was no laughing matter.
She jotted down in a notebook more than 500 interested callers in less than a year.
“That’s when I realised a lot of people needed more laughter in their lives,” she says.
So Phillipa formed Victoria’s first club in Geelong months later in July, 2002, and has been the driving force behind 30 others in the state ever since.
One of only six certified laughter leaders in Australia based on the teachings of Dr Madan Kataria, an Indian guru who started the laughing phenomenon worldwide when researching its health benefits, the therapy allows grown adults to “let the inner-child out”, Phillipa says.
“We use fake laughter to start with but what happens is the body doesn’t recognise that,” she explains.
“The fake laughter has the same chemical reaction. When you laugh, you have an increase in serotonin, which is linked to the brain, and you can release endorphins, which are referred to as the happy hormone.”
A public relations and promotions event organiser, Phillipa also established a company that ran laughter programs for the corporate sector.
Live Life Laughing has grown so popular that most of her work is generated from word of mouth and repeat business.
Paying sometimes up to $5000 for a good laugh proves the benefits of a happy workforce, she argues.
“Those programs are done so people are less stressed, more energised, more productive – it’s a great morale booster and team builder,” Phillipa says.
“When I run these they find the correlation is the more they have a laughter session, the lower the absenteeism, higher staff attention and therefore increased profit.”
For this reason, strangers in suits now just call her The Laughter Lady – no joke.
“My passion is spreading the happy gimmick of laughter and I’ve become known for that,” Phillipa adds.