CASTRO VALLEY — People sometimes walk into Lydia Gonzales' yoga class equipped with a mat for floor stretches.

"I tell them right away, 'You're not going to need that,' " she said.

Her workshops focus on busting a gut with laughter. Gonzales is a certified Laughter Yoga teacher from the Dr. Madan Kataria School of Laughter Yoga.

During Gonzales' hour-long workshops, she leads groups in interactive, silly laughing exercises and uses props such as puffy red clown noses and blowing bubbles to incite random laughter.

Preparing for the start of a class Thursday evening at the Kenneth Aitken Senior and Community Center, she spreads out on a table stickers with the letters "IYQ," which if someone new inquires about the wearer responds, "I wyke you too,"

There are other playful knickknacks. On her shirt next to the "Silly is good" patch emblazoned across the front, she pins a yellow smiley-face button.

Class is ready to begin.

Madan Kataria, a family physician from Mumbai, India, developed Laughter Yoga 11 years ago combining sustained laughter with yogic breathing exercises. Gonzales, who was a professional clown for 26 years, went to a workshop in 2003 and became a certified teacher. She preaches the benefits of sustained laughter as a healthy, low-impact aerobic workout for all ages regardless of physical ability or age.

She leads classes twice a week for a $4 donation at the Kenneth Aitken Senior Center from 7 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and at the Dublin Senior Center from 7 to 8 p.m. on Mondays.


Advertisement

Once a month, she leads a free class at the Hayward Library on a Saturday.

In between the minutes-long laughing fits brought on by the activities she initiates — such as trying to shake the hand of someone near you and then pulling back as if you'd been shocked — Gonzales leads the group in deep-breathing exercises to replenish the lungs with fresh oxygen.

She explains that one minute of sustained laughter is equivalent to the aerobic workout one would get from 10 minutes on a rowing machine.

"What you're doing, really, when you're laughing is internal jogging," Gonzales said. "You're getting all kinds of exercise inside with muscles you don't normally use."

Although some of the people who attend her classes are in wheelchairs or use canes, the classes are open to all ages. She said the classes are an opportunity for younger people to connect with seniors.

"If I go into a senior facility, the whole family that comes to visit them can come and have a real fun time with them doing this laughter," she said. "They don't have to worry about how 'Oh, we're going to sit around and try to talk to Grandma' or something like that."

If it sounds silly, Gonzales will agree with you. Laughter is contagious. And even if simulated, real laughter is stimulated, she said.

"If you are doing it with people and you have eye contact, it's just really simple to start laughing."

Reach Alejandro Alfonso at (510) 293-2469 or aalfonso@dailyreviewonline.com.