My first class of laughter yoga almost didn’t happen. I was so close to turning around, so close to listening to the fear that told me it would be crazy. That I was crazy for even considering laughing with a bunch of strangers for one and a half hour.
Four months and a handful of classes later, I am lying on the floor, tears streaming down my face as wave upon wave of uncontrolled laughter rolls over me, rising and falling and merging with the laughter of the people around me. We are doing a laughing meditation as the final part of my final class before going back to Sweden, and a part of me wants to stay here on the floor of Sangdee café forever.
Before I leave Chiang Mai, I schedule an interview with my teacher, Fla Geyser, since I am curious to hear how she discovered the art of laughing and how it has affected her life. On my way to our meeting spot, a lake at the Chiang Mai University campus, a minor storm rummages through the streets, grabbing branches and roof sheets and throwing them onto the ground like a furious toddler. I steer my bike around a couple of neighbours who are trying to catch flying mangoes. It’s so absurd that I keep laughing long after I’ve passed them, even though my eyes are stinging from the stirred-up dust.
I realize something has changed since I went to that first class of laughter yoga. I take things less seriously. I take myself less seriously. And the joy that I have kept tucked somewhere deep inside for years has come to rest just beneath the surface, ready to emerge and embrace all the beautiful moments that my past self might just have pedalled past with squinting eyes, without even noticing.
Who are you, Fla?
I’m a laughter yoga teacher and trainer and a life and business coach. I have been living in Thailand for the last seven years, Chiang Mai for the last five years. It has been the most amazing time living in Thailand, because I have been able to be part of so many interesting groups. For quite some time I was doing theatre improv, and I have been able to study all these different kinds of arts, like dancing and yoga. In 2011, I went to India to study laughter yoga, and in India, I also studied Ashtanga yoga. Then in 2013, I did a life coaching course. So I’ve been putting all the pieces together, into this one big puzzle. And now, at this point in time, I feel like I’ve found the things that I love the most.
Did you have a plan or did you just follow your curiosity from one thing to the next?
My plan was to follow my heart. I had come from a career in architecture, and I got to a point with it where I could feel that it was not in line with my heart anymore. I reached a dead-end, in a way. It was quite painful, and then I decided that I was going to just follow the things in life that made me happy.
What is the most important thing you’ve learnt since you moved abroad?
The most important thing I’ve learnt is to be true to myself. This means that when opportunities come up, I always check to see if it is really what I want. Even if it’s just a small thing, like a friend inviting me to a party, I will check what my reasons for going are, and make sure that I am being honest and true to myself, and that everything that I do is for the right reasons – for good reasons – and that I’m not making decisions because I feel scared or want to make somebody else happy. It’s got to feel right for me. And it’s got to feel like it’s in line with my heart.
Could you tell me about your first encounter with laughter yoga?
In the beginning of 2011, we had a visiting teacher who offered a laughter yoga class at a healing centre here in Chiang Mai. I saw this class being offered and I was like: Ah, oh, wow, that sounds fun, let me go and try. And so I did, together with a friend of mine. It was just this one class, and I just thought: This is incredible. This is the coolest thing ever. I felt extremely inspired.
A few days later, my friend said she was going to India to study with the guru. And she said ‘Why don’t you come with me?’, and I was like ‘Oh my word! Okay, I’ll definitely do that!’ I was so totally excited. So we went off together to Bangalore.
In our classes, you have mentioned that you are actually an introvert, and that teaching laughter yoga is a way for you to challenge yourself. What was it like when you taught your first laughter yoga class?
Oh, it was very frightening. When we got back we started the club at the Yoga Tree in Chiang Mai, and I was very afraid of this. It created a lot of fear in me and I might not have been a very relaxed yoga teacher at that stage. I was very nervous and unsure of myself. So it was quite tough in the beginning, but it got easier and easier as I practised.
How long did it take for you to overcome this fear?
It really depends, because it depends a lot on the group. If I know people in the group, then it’s much easier, and it depends on the group size and on how relaxed the group is. Sometimes I can see people struggling to let go, and it challenges me to think of how I can adjust myself to make it more comfortable for everybody. So I continue to learn a lot from this. It’s not over.
What have been the greatest benefits of bringing more laughter into your life?
One thing that I really appreciate is that I’m able to just be light-hearted about things. And I never thought that I would be able to do this. I was such a serious person a few years ago. But when things don’t turn out the way I hope or expect they will, it really doesn’t bother me anymore, and I’m amazed by this.
Another benefit is just to meet people. When I make friends through laughter yoga, I feel like these are really good friendships, because they come from a very happy place. We have been able to unite in something that is joyful and uplifting. I get to know a lot of people like this, and it’s awesome.
Even my health has improved. I had quite a tough time when I was growing up, so I had accumulated all sorts of stuff that was stuck, and the laughing really helped to release this. It hasn’t always been so easy, because it can sometimes spark off strong feelings of sadness, or whatever. But I recognise that this is a very powerful way to allow those things to come out.
It also makes me more creative in the way that I speak and the way that I interact and respond to people. Through laughing practice, one can also develop more of a sense of humour, I think. I get ideas that will come to me when I’m more spontaneous, that wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t allowed myself to be playful.
Do you see any parallels between playfulness and creativity in general?
I see joy and playfulness as some kind of gateway. It’s like a door, in a way. And one can go into that space. This is what I do. I put myself in that space deliberately. And there are different ways you can do this: you can do it by laughing, or singing or dancing. It’s like a gateway to the imagination. If one is feeling tight or tense, ideas don’t come, so it’s a very good practice for writing or art or any activity where you want to be able to get into your right brain. When we’re playful, there is not much logical left-brain practical type of thinking going on. So it’s a way to bypass that part and get to the other part of the mind, which is more spontaneous and free.
What made you start coaching?
If I think of how I relate to other people, I have always found myself in a position where I am listening very carefully to other people and sometimes offering some solutions when people get stuck. So this was always my natural personality. When I started to see that happening more and more and more by itself, I thought let’s go and do the qualification, so I can call myself a life coach, and then I can actually earn a living from doing this, instead of just doing it all the time for free.
One of the things you do is to coach people who dream of starting a creative business. What would you say are the most common obstacles these people are facing?
I think the obstacles are always internal obstacles. When we do a bit of digging around, it always comes back to an internal obstacle. It’s quite amazing with business. As soon as you decide to become an entrepreneur and create your own business, then all that stuff comes up. Anything that’s trapped from your childhood, any fears or beliefs that you’ve picked up somewhere, from your community or your family, it’s going to come up and show up in your own business. So, emotion. That’s the common one.
What is your own greatest challenge right now?
Something I’m still learning to get better at is how to manage my time more effectively. In the beginning of the year I had set a resolution, which has now somehow disappeared, that I would only start replying to messages after 11 am in the morning, and I would use that initial time to do my own creative work. And I still haven’t quite got this right, so that I’m able to just shut the world off for a short time, and do my own work and then come back. I still feel like I’m going between the two, which is not time-efficient at all.
Looking ahead, how do you see your life and business evolving over the next few years?
Oh, I see myself growing a nice, big laughter yoga business. Like a giant sized. I also teach a laughter dance class, which is my own class that I’ve created, and I believe this is just from opening my right brain, that all these ideas came to me and I created this laughter dance. So, I want to put down some roots somewhere and openly declare my laughter school. And do laughing and dancing and coaching together, somehow. So I’m going to build a giant school. That’s my vision.