Lemurs may cause a bellyache—but bear with us: it's the good kind. Laughing with Lemurs at Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary kicked off on April 23, and it’s hilarious fun. A group of roughly eight participants climbs into a large enclosure with lemurs Bob, Ziggy and Marley, and if you don’t crack a smile stat, you may need your pulse checked.
It’s guaranteed fun for the whole family, but it’s also good for the body and soul. Certified laughter wellness coach Beth Bongar, otherwise known as the Laughing Diva, created and leads the class. She uses laughter as an approach to healing, and she taught laughing yoga classes and happiness workouts for years in the Tristate area before moving to Sarasota. (She even worked in the Clown Care Unit of The Big Apple Circus, visiting kids in hospital ICUs as Dr. FunnyBone.)
Now, in Sarasota, Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sancatuary's lemurs are making it easier than ever for her to spread the lol treatment.
“When I got here, I started playing with the lemurs, and they’re just so naturally funny,” Bongar says.
Participants stretch bungee cords around their waists, between each other, giving the lemurs something to crawl on. Naturally curious and playful, they're happy to be there—especially because they've got the extra encouragement of their favorite treats, like fresh fruits and vegetables. (Raisins are their favorite.)
The science behind the power of laughter is lowering cortisol–the hormone sowed by stress. It also helps brings oxygen to the bloodstream by encouraging deep breathing.
“Deep laughter is a special form of breathing. It acts as a pump, energizing the lymphatic system and strengthening the immune system,” Bongar explains. And its benefits are more attainable than many people may think.
Did you know, for example, that "fake it till you make it" applies to emotions?
Take the "Superman pose," said to conjure confidence when you place your hands on your hips and push your chest out, chin on an upward tilt. Bongar says the body doesn't know the difference between simulated and real laughter, and that when you smile or laugh, the act makes your brain think you’re happy. So you get happy. “I can laugh without waiting for something funny to happen," Bongar says.
“We can lose [the sense of play] as we become adults due to the stress in our lives. We don't play enough, we're not silly enough," she continues. "The simple joy children have is what I want to help people rediscover."