Eric Bourgault is a firm believer that laughter truly is the best medicine.
When the 42-year-old moved to Victoria three years ago after a five-year journey cycling around the world, he noticed a lack of connectivity amongst city residents.
He went through a personal breakdown, with a black cloud hanging over his head. So Bourgault began looking for ways to rebalance himself and connect with others. That’s when he heard about a yoga laughter session at Beacon Hill Park. He decided to attend with no expectations and was blown away by his experience.
“I saw a huge shift from being in my head to being in my heart and feeling the difference,” said Bourgault, adding participants tapped into their child-like spirit.
“We’re driven by this idea that we need to laugh because there’s a reason for it. Kids laugh for absolutely no reason because they are in touch with their emotions and as we get older we let go of that. To see a bunch of adults in a park laughing for no reason, it’s pretty refreshing.”
Being in show business most of his life, Bourgault was used to going on stage wearing a fake smile even if his heart felt heavy. But laughing for no reason with a bunch of strangers in the park was a freedom he’d never been able to find anywhere else.
Developed in 1995 by a doctor from India, laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. The practice is done in groups with eye contact and playfulness between participants. Forced laughter soon turns into real and contagious laughter.
According to laughteryoga.org, research shows laughter lowers the level of stress hormones in the blood and body, and can help change a mood within minutes by releasing endorphins from brain cells.
The concept has blossomed into more than 6,000 laughter yoga clubs worldwide, including a few in Victoria like the Victoria Laughter Yoga Club, which Bourgault is also a part of.
About a year ago, Bourgault decided to branch out on his own as a laughter wellness coach, focusing specifically on laughter for individuals and groups with specific needs. In his sessions, Bourgault uses a story board based on a specific theme emphasizing the dynamic of the group’s interactions.
He admits people at first feel silly and are hesitant to give forced laughter a whirl, but eventually they are able to step out of their comfort zone, tap into their child-like spirit and feel the power laughter can bring.
“It changed my life. It gave me a natural boost and the privilege to look at situations where I used to react negatively and see it for what it is,” said Bourgault.
“It’s the most convenient way to connect people together…The more you do it, the more you see a sudden change.”
Bourgault is offering free laughter sessions at the Quadra Village Community Centre Jan. 26 and Feb. 2. For more information visit laughterinmotion.ca. A Laugh Out Loud parade, organized by the Victoria Laughter Yoga Club, will be held on Sunday, Jan. 31 at Centennial Square at 1 p.m.