By Jim Clark
It’s an adage as old as time: laughter is good for what ails you. For some, this simple statement masks a much deeper meaning as they put into practice what most people take for granted.
The Somerville Laughter Club has been “quietly” convening every third Saturday of each month at Unity Somerville, 6 William Street, from 11 a.m. to noon, for the sole purpose of exploring the beneficial effects of laughter and to simply share the good feelings it produces with others.
According to club coordinator Walter (The Laughter Guy) Ness, “There are people that laugh just fine, but there are other people that have a lot of trouble laughing. If they see something funny they can laugh, but if you ask them to laugh and just develop the laughter ability like singing they will get really uncomfortable.”
Ness spoke of how he was being interviewed by some reporters and he asked them to laugh just for no reason, just because they can. He noted that there was literally no air coming out of their mouths. “I didn’t know what to say to them.”
It wasn’t until later, when Ness discovered a publication by German scientists regarding experiments involving squeezing the left fist and laughing, then squeezing the right fist and finding the impulse to laugh had been suppressed, that he began to realize that laughter was predominantly a right-brain function.
“When I asked people to laugh they were using the wrong side of their brain,” Ness said. “It seems that the right side is really geared for laughing and the left side is not.”
Ness understood that he finally had a tool to help others to laugh more readily, by having them squeeze their left fist while doing it.
“In traditional laughter clubs you walk around a lot and make gestures,” explains Ness. “I ask people to pay attention to where the laughter is coming from.”
Ness’ research has further extended into the field of Neuroplasticity. “While science is always talking about the potential for what the brain can develop, I became fascinated by what the brain already has in the way of ability.”
Ness soon developed techniques whereby he could visualize information rather than simply memorize data. “You develop a certain intelligence. Like with typing, first you use one finger, then it’s with more fingers, and so on. At the same time there’s a part of your brain that takes that information on how to type and creates sort of a ‘mini-brain’ for you so that typing eventually becomes incredibly easy.”
Additionally, Ness has discovered various means for people to calm themselves by use of simple techniques of touch and self-awareness. “If you take three fingers of your hand and play them like a piano on the front top part of your head it creates a very pleasant sensation,” said Ness. “I’m looking at how you can use hand and finger position to calm hyperactive kids.” Ness is anxious to hear from parents who may try this technique to calm their children down.
Such techniques are being presented to the public via the club’s Energy Theater productions. A special presentation is scheduled for Saturday, November 17, 7:30-9:30 p.m. at Untity Somerville, as a fundraiser for the Unity Roof Fund. A donation of $10 is suggested. “It’s a combination of music, philosophy, and the presentation about how laughter and Neuroplasticity works,” according to Ness.
Ness also encourages the general public to drop in for the regular meetings of the Laughter Club. A donation of $5 is requested, but this is a family rate. One can bring as many family members to the meetings as one wishes to. Ness encourages parents to bring their kids and discover new and highly satisfying ways of laughing and finding ways to calm hyperactivity.
Ness is also available to give presentations on his programs to groups that may be interested.
Visit the Somerville Laughter Club’s website at http://www.somervillelaughterclub.com.