By Amber Roniger
Do you remember that childhood game of ha!? You know the one, where you lay down on the floor and everyone rests their heads on someone else’s tummy in a long chain of bodies strewn everywhere. Then the first link says ‘ha!’ and then the next, ‘ha! ha!’ and so on. And soon everyone is in peels of laughter, heads jiggling on jumping bellies, rapidly disintegrating into a frenzied feedback loop of laughter and ridicule, with stitched sides and gasping breath. We totally knew where it was at when we were kids.
What? You don’t remember that game? Okay, how about rolling down the hill like kegs, playing wheelbarrow, crabwalking or the Sit ‘n Spin?
Right now you’re either digging out your long-lost Spin Art and Shrinkydink key chains from the closet in a fit of nostalgia, or you’re completely befuddled and you demand to know where I’m going with all this. You uneasily suspect that this may be some plug for one of those re-birth centers where you digress into your own unborn fetus state and berate your parents for not taking you to Disneyland.
Well, sorry, no. This is about something far cooler; this is about laughter.
And although I’m unrealistically confident you read my blurb from last week, I’ll indulge you with a tiny scrap of background on this so-called laughter therapy offered by TranceBreath. Osho (nicknamed “Zorba the Buddha” a clear draw for a Buddhist-leaning Jew like me) was a guru in India whose work centered around the integration of spiritual practice into modern life. Akin to the yogic breath of fire, laugh therapy uproots stale air and releases repressed emotions stored deep within the body.
Did you say repressed emotions? Moi? I haven’t any repressed emotions. Pshaw! And I’m certainly not in denial.
I can’t help but wonder what my psychoanalytical, Jungian mother would think of all this.
If I might indulge for a moment, The Tom (Robbins, of course), my literary guru, so eloquently speaks of Osho: “In fact he [Osho] disavowed any connection to guruhood, saying that the very notion of a guru-disciple relationship is an affront to human dignity. He explained that since his emphasis had always been on just being oneself, the act of refusing to be anybody’s disciple is precisely what being a disciple of Bhagwan [Osho’s former name] was all about. Bingo!”
I do wonder if there’s some degree of irony in quoting The Tom musing on the fallacy of worshiping others. But that is food for another discussion altogether.
So what exactly is the deal with this laugh therapy, you sagely ask, and does the crazy on the corner cackling maniacally at the lamppost qualify for sainthood? Is the Laughing Cow in on some kind of cosmic joke of which we have no notion? Fortunately, since I have absolutely no idea, Kairava and Jordan are there to guide the way.
We sit in a circle and our fearless leaders explain that the evening’s work is to consist of three parts: dance, laughter and meditation. The greatest challenge is to do the work continuously without pause. Can you truly imagine laughing for a half-hour without stopping? Well, I couldn’t either, but I committed to try.
Apparently, Osho’s technique is very popular in Italy (Kairava, who is Italian, shares) because Italians are so open. This might perhaps explain the amazing prowess of Italian lovers (a theory at least worthy of exploration).
The lights are dimmed and we begin to dance. I find this dorky experience emotionally akin to the time I almost face-planted while walking across a slick gym floor in high heels in the fourth grade to accept a physical fitness achievement award, but no matter, because here I am now, boogalooing around a room with a bunch of other soul-searchers. I am irrationally self-conscious of the inadvertently raucous tap-dancing of my winter un-pedicure on the wood floor, but not surprisingly, no one notices.
I have fourteen years of modern dance training behind me, but in recent times, I’ve done all my dancing in nightclubs. All you b-girls out there know that every hardcore dance scene has that one boy in a pink tutu doing his own fusion version of break-dance and Spandau Ballet, spinning around the floor in a huge, fuchsia, sweaty crinoline heap. I never wanted to be that mess on the floor, so I tended to tuck my modern dance technique into the recesses of my body and just shake my gravy. At some point in the evening, my club partner and I would inevitably fade into the periphery and crack on all the lame dancers by making up snarky names for them like ‘no-butt magoo’ and ‘elbows mcfarley.’ Statler & Waldorf had nothing on us.
But with Osho, it’s the exact opposite. Once you start dancing, you completely forget yourself. There’s no showing off, no break circles; it’s an entirely self-absorbed state of dance. You simply go out of your mind. And much my to my own surprise (and perhaps chagrin), I find myself pulling out all the old modern dance moves and mixing them up with the electrified bungahoo, the freaky Friday and the do-si-do. It’s totally awesome.
A bell rings and it is time for the laughter.
So, how do you try and make yourself laugh? Well… is no try, is only do. You simply sit back-to-back with a partner and literally start pumping your diaphragm like a rusty old motor sputtering to turn over. And eventually it gets a bit easier, and a bit easier. You get going and at some point, just like playing ha! you realize you’re already in the throes of genuine laughter. Then you start hearing the peels surrounding you and you become seized with the utter riot of it all.
It’s seriously laughable when you think about how many different kinds of laugher exist. There are the predictable classics: the gaffaw, chuckle and deep-belly laugh. But there are also little-known countercultural subsets of laughter such as: the whooping crane, Singapore skree, shrieking eel, Loch Ness lambaste, humming hyena, Creole chortle, Slovakian snicker, primordial ooze and of course, the Chilean crimp, to name just a few echoing around me. And since I feel very close to you, I’ll reveal that my particular brand of laughter vacillates somewhere between a scrunched up woo-hoo and a budding yick-a-hee-haw.
And in case you think this is some kinda stroll in the park, let me assure you that laughing for 40 minutes without stopping is a serious mental and physical workout; I kid you not.
Do you know you can laugh with your toes? At some point, a pair of toes begins tapping on mine. At first I think it’s a mistake; but no, some unidentified feet are intentionally playing footsies with me. I also find myself laughing with all different parts of my body and am amazed (and my dignity perhaps a bit dismayed) to find myself rolling around, being spun on blankets and pounding on the floor.
A bell rings and then comes the silence, the silence.
We lie on the floor in meditation for 20 minutes. I implore of you to try and not think of me as an utterly freaky hippie (any more than you already do), but after a few minutes, I hear this merry voice whispering in my ear in a distinct mix of Greek and Indian accents, “hoopa!” and I feel this tremendous release of energy lifting off my body.
Afterward, we sit in a circle and share our experiences. By this time, I am already getting sore. It’s no wonder that Kairava and Jordan both sport amazing six-packs. Since I’m sworn to the magician’s assistant’s oath of secrecy (in perpetuity from a project I did with Lance Burton), I cannot reveal what others said, but as for myself, I, the wordy-wordsmith, am basically left… wordless.
I share my feeling of a profound sense of emptiness in that fuzzy, zen sorta way, which I’ll elucidate in a particularly appropriate quote, popular in Jew-Bu circles: “Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkes!”
But all joking aside, somehow, when I left, I felt as if all the nothingness had uncovered some somethingness that was very real. Check it out for yourself at: www.trancebreath.com.
PS: I’m pretty sure the guava martini I had at Stereo Club later on wasn’t exactly what Jordan and Kairava had in mind when they told us to drink twice as much water as we normally do, but hey, such is the downfall of doing spiritual work on a Friday night. Cheers!
Who Doesn’t Like A Hearty 9 and 1/2-incher?
By Jennifer Witt
On one of the most popular lunch-time destination blocks in the city, sits a gastronomically tempting venue boasting the motto “ours is 9 and 1/2 inches long.” No, this isn’t one of those elusive Turkish bathhouses or Chinese massage parlours, you’ve questioned the legitimacy of, but Mandler’s, a veritable sausage restaurant offering the real deal in wieners, heralding authentic Bavarian brats (the standard pork/beef variety and a lower fat chicken version as well) to spicy Spanish chorizo (a plethora of calories and worth every single one), all original recipes that are quite delicious and ever-more satisfying than that Hebrew National sliced into macaroni and cheese your mom used as a quick dinner fix when when you were a kid. With tempting side-dishes such as zucchini fries, corn fritters and potato-pancakes, plus dozens of dipping sauces (jalapeno being my personal favorite) and six varieties of mustards available, my recommendation is to go wearing elastic-waisted pants, because you’re going to experience a sensation much like post-Thanksgiving dinner, where you knew you shouldn’t eaten so much, but you couldn’t help it!
The restaurant was a dream seven years in the making according to Ronnie Mandler, the friendly owner, whose experience in the food industry was nil until the serendipitous consumer reaction to his dogs. A garmento by profession, Ronnie traveled to Europe and saw the sausage phenomenon first-hand on the streets in Germany and Spain and decided to bring the revolution to America, where his dream has turned into a lucrative reality. With plans to open two more locations in midtown for the hungry corporate lunch crowd, Mandler’s is soon to join the ranks of lunchtime maninstays Subway and Cosi.
“Sandwiched” between salad-extravaganza Chopped and Middle-Eastern sensation, Rainbow Falafel, and ordering Havana (a little taste of Cuba) and sushi delight Ennju, Mandler’s Original Sausage Company adds a little bit of spice to a neighborhood already brimming with international flair…
Mandler’s Original Sausage Company
26 East 17th Street
Off Union Square West
WHAT: Nutritional Q&A for expectant moms-to-be
WHERE: Liz Lange Maternity Manhattan, NY 958 Madison Ave New York, NY 10021
WHEN: Wednesday, April 5, 2006 1pm-3pm
WHY: Maternity fashion designer Liz Lange has formed a partnership with registered dietitian Keri Glassman to educate pregnant women about pre and post-natal nutrition and the importance of healthy snacking. Glassman will hold nutritional Q&A sessions for customers in the Los Angeles and New York Liz Lange Maternity Stores. In addition, KeriBars, snack bars created with the optimal amount of fiber, protein and healthy fat to provide satiety, will be sold in the stores as well.
ABOUT: Designer Liz Lange is owner of the chic and sophisticated Liz Lange Maternity clothing company as well as the author of Liz Lange’s Maternity Style, a guide for women who want to look great while pregnant.