New Age in an Old Town
When describing the personality of Tzfat's residents, people frequently refer to Tzfat as the "Berkeley of the Middle East". Tzfat is similar to the Californian Bay area, especially in its resemblance to San Francisco, since both cities are built on the side of a mountain and many American immigrants who take up residence in Tzfat are originally from Northern California. The atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance of "alternative" ideas and lifestyles is characteristic of both communities, and many former Berkleyites find Tzfat to be a comfortable fit for their views and lifestyles.
With this population, it's no wonder that Tzfat boasts more yoga teachers per capita than probably anywhere else in Israel. These teachers, each with his or her own methods and style, offer classes in a number of locations in the city, and slowly, the philosophy, exercises and discipline of yoga is catching on throughout Tzfat. .
Reduced Stress and an Increased Sense of Well-Being
Recently, a new form of yoga has been introduced in Tzfat, and it has caught on quickly. Called "Laugh Yoga", it is a form of yoga which was developed by Dr. Madan Kataria more than ten years ago. Dr. Kataria developed his unique form of yoga as a further way to utilize the strategies of yoga to reduce stress and enhance one's well-being. Laugh Yoga is a physically oriented technique that brings together a combination of simple laughter exercises in conjunction with yoga-breathing and stretching activities.
Participants chant and otherwise simulate laughter which, as they progress, quickly becomes real laughter - the resulting feelings of good-will and stress release is believed to strengthen participants' health, bring on necessary healing energies, and in general create a personal transformation in how one relates to the world. This comes about, Kataria teaches, in response to the inner stimuli which the laugh yoga session stimulates, and not as a result of the physical activity of laughing itself.
Today, five thousand "Laughter Clubs" exist throughout the world, and the number continues to grow. It is no surprise that Tel Aviv, the center of Israel's New Age community, would find so many interested participants for a Laugh Yoga club, and that their workshops are full.
A bigger surprise, however, has been the popularity of the laugh yoga workshops which have been held in Tzfat. The Tzfat Laugh Yoga Workshops for Women, held thus far in the coldest months of the winter, succeeded in stimulating the curiosity of dozens of women who have attended thus far. The women range in age from late teens to grandmothers, and religiously ranged from secular to ultra Orthodox. They all thoroughly enjoy the sessions and each session has attracted more participants who inhale, expel breaths, chuckle, giggle and laugh out loud together, forming a camaraderie with the good will engendered during the sessions
More workshops have been requested, both in Tzfat and throughout the country. The facilitators look forward to seeing the activity spread throughout the country. In the meantime, excitement about laugh yoga is spreading by word of mouth, and Tzfat is awaiting the next wave of laughter.