LAKEWOOD RANCH -- It's a laughing matter.
Laughter is the main order of business for Josie Melcher, who brought her teachings and her philosophy of joy to Thursday's Lakewood Ranch Asian Women's Club meeting.
The theme of her workshops is play.
"I believe stress is the major cause of illness," said Melcher, an Asian Women's Club member. "I'm naturally a very upbeat and joyful person, but I have a passion. I love seeing joy in people."
Some call Melcher's form of therapy "laughter yoga."
"Since I like dance, I have a passion for dancing and music, so I just throw it all out there when I do the laughter therapy," Melcher said. "What participants share with me after the workshop is that they feel the stress in their body is released. They feel more relaxed. They feel lighter so they feel that the stress is released and that is the main objective of my work."
Club Vice President Cora Sanders participated in Melcher's laughter presentation last year.
"It was very hilarious and we were doing laughter pretty much all the time," said Sanders, a businesswoman who will discuss how to do well in a job interview as a club speaker in June.
The club also raises awareness about Asian culture and contributes to community charities.
"The thing is, she involves the whole class in participation. It wasn't what I expected," Sanders said. "I thought it would be like a lecture and she would tell us stories and we'd laugh. But in this one, we do perform. There are some actions she prompted us to do that made us really laugh. She came up with some tools during the therapy and we used those tools to really do some of the actions she asked us to do."
One of the games Melcher described involved a stare-down like the kind children might engage in on the playground. The goal isn't to be the winner, but to reach the level of laughter.
Another exercise is to laugh mimicking the sound a baby makes.
"I encourage them to allow themselves to play and be connected with the child within, who is very timeless and very ageless," Melcher said.
"You really have to be there to see," Sanders said about the laughter activities. "It was not really about changing my life, but for all that it's worth, it relieved my stress. For an hour, a month, it relieves what problems we have or what goes on with our personal lives."
"It helps them sleep better," Melcher said of her students. "They had some inhibitions that they were not aware of and they broke through them just by following my instructions. When we are in the spirit of joy and laughter, those inhibitions automatically get released and we become who we really are and it's joy, the automatic nature of the human spirit."
One of the reason people suppress their own joy and laughter is because they allow inhibitions to run their lives, Melcher said.
"I create activities that invoke laughter from within. That way they can experience the true healing power of laughter. I just create the atmosphere that helps them create that inner joy."
Melcher takes her dance, music and laughter therapy to nursing homes, too. "When we are emotionally happy, I believe that alone helps heal us. It is more powerful than drugs and has no killer side effects, no overdose."
After reading a story in the Bradenton Herald years ago, Melcher went to Canada to study with Dr. Madan Kataria from Mumbai, India, who founded the Laughter Yoga Clubs movement in 1995.
Every six months Melcher creates a dinner dance gala "recognizing people who have done great deeds for the community."
By day, she works as a cosmetologist at New York Hair in Creekwood Plaza. For more information, go to allaboutlaughter.com
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7024, or tweet@DeeGrahamHT.