A group of area residents interested in creating the Phoenixville area Laughter Club were introduced to the concept and exercises involved by Barbara Hee, a Certified Laughter Leader, for the first time Sunday afternoon.

"Studies show what people have believed for a long time," said Hee. " That laughter is the best medicine." Hee, who is from Fox Chase, was certified in April after leaving her previous job because of stress.

The club uses a laughter therapy program created by Dr. Madan Kataria, of India, who believed that laughter could benefit both the ill and healthy. He organized a group near his home to share jokes and amusing stories.

Since that initial meeting, Kataria's therapy has become more structured and is modeled after yoga breathing exercises. Laughter exercises include affirmations of happiness, singing, laughter meditation, which is one minute of continuous laughter, and rhythmic laughter with clapping.

"Eye contact is very important because its the eyes that make people laugh," said Hee. Members are led by the leader to mimic situations that might, in actuality, make them laugh, like a snowball fight, splashing water toward others or riding a roller coaster.

Steve Wilson, a psychologist from Ohio, met Kataria in 1999 and brought the therapy groups to the United States, creating the World Laughter Tour, Inc. President of the organization, and a humor therapist, the trainings that Wilson created can be used as continued education and professional credit for nurses and mental health practitioners.

"Our hope is that there will some day be a laughter therapist in every nursing home and school," said Hee. The organization has no affiliations, religious or sales goals. The exercises, in part, are meant to help members alter their way of dealing with everyday situations.

"What I've been trying to do since going to laughter clubs is to laugh it off when things go wrong," said Hee. She gave examples of stressful situations and then led the group in exercises to laugh at missing an exit on the highway, computer problems and shoveling snow.

"The ultimate goal of laughter clubs is peace," said Hee. "Peace through laughter."

Laughter therapy, according to the organization's publications, is designed to help participants with their outlook, general well-being, community connections as well as physiological effects like lowering blood pressure.

In addition to individual meetings, conferences and work places have used laughter therapies to help employees deal with stress. There are 500 Certified Laughter Leaders in United States.

"I think we did great the first time," said Ellen Knapp, of Phoenixville. " By the end I am just smiling." Knapp, who invited Hee to the area to teach the exercises, is interested in creating a laughter club in Phoenixville.

"I don't need a bunch of studies to tell me it helps," said Knapp. "I really want it in Phoenixville."

For more information visit www. laughterclubs.com or www.worldlaughtertour.com.

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