Inside Goddess Diana’s Hollywood Laughter Circle

There are no bystanders – no mere observers – at Goddess Diana’s Hollywood Laughter Circle. If you happen upon the outdoor laughter club, which meets for free Thursday evenings outside the Hollywood Beach Cultural and Community Center, you’re expected to participate.

I arrived one night this past summer to write a short article on the laughter circle for the “20 Ways to Change Your Life” story in our December-January issue. For a couple of minutes, I sat on a nearby ledge, reporter’s notebook in hand, watching people laugh at absolutely nothing while moving their bodies in unusual directions. It wasn’t long before Goddess Diana insisted I join the circle.

Needless to say, I’d never done anything like this before. Without the social lubricant of alcohol, I’m a fairly inhibited person. Laughing without an outside stimulant – a funny comedian, a hilarious TV show – seemed as difficult as crying on command, or so I thought. Indeed, the first minute in the circle was awkward: I was forcing the mirth, and I felt awfully self-conscious laughing to a platform full of strangers.

But it was amazing how quickly these feelings washed away and I was able to live in the moment – one of the minor miracles Goddess Diana is able to achieve through her laughter circle. Suddenly, my laughs were genuine and my body movements fluid. I was enjoying myself, the awkward space becoming a new comfort zone.

“Society has told us to stop laughing out loud,” Dr. Diana says. “You need to get past that initial moment, but once you get past it, you’re fine. It’s like all the people who watch you and think, ‘Oh, I would never do that in public.’ But once they’re in the circle, they’re fine. They like it. It feels good, and the benefits are amazing.”

Goddess Diana started the laughter circle more than five years ago alongside her husband, Noah Wiesenfeld. She was inspired by the work of Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from Mumbai and the world’s preeminent practitioner of laughter yoga. But her circle is her own – she avoids the yoga connotation, because the word suggests a sweaty, taxing workout, and she doesn’t like the word “club,” because it suggests member dues and commitments. “Circle” is a happier word, and it’s complete and harmonious whether it’s accommodating four or 40.

While laughing is the circle’s central glue, it’s not the only activity. Dr. Diana asks participants to speak to each other in gibberish, hug each other and bow to one another, construct sentences together and even dance the Hokey Pokey.

“The Hokey Pokey is really the philosophy of laughter yoga,” Dr. Diana says. “Do you put just a little bit of your hip in, or do you put your whole self in? Because laughter yoga depends on putting your whole self in. Life is about putting your whole self in.”

Laughing for no reason certainly makes you feel better, more refreshed and less stressed, but it has added health benefits. Dr. Diana says our endorphins go up, our internal organs jiggle around inside of us and we change the cell biology in our faces when we laugh.

“It’s not a workout, but I feel like I probably toned more parts of my body than if I were on the treadmill,” says Bonni Smith, a teacher at Memorial Regional South Hospital in Hollywood who attended the circle for the first time the night I was there. She said she’d be coming again.

Dr. Diana and her husband Noah love to hear stories like this; Smith and I were only the latest converts in their lofty, ongoing goal. “World peace through laughter, that’s our objective,” Noah says. “If everyone’s laughing, guess what? No one’s fighting.”

For more information on Goddess Diana’s laughter circles, visit zeblaru.com.