As owner of Learned Conversations, Caryl Derenfeld is someone who encourages others to share their life stories and wisdom by “deepening the roots of communication”. She can also bring out the inner child and playfulness in others, no matter what the age or stage of life, with Laughter Yoga, which is not Hatha yoga positions, but rather a series of mind/body activities developed to bring more joy into your life. Her programs are not only fun, they are revealing and thought-provoking, and always connect and engage others on multiple levels. I beam with exhuberance as I introduce you to her here.
Holly: What area are you from?
Caryl: I am originally from the New York Metropolitan area (with a short stop in San Francisco for 2 years), but am now more Midwestern than NYer, as I have been living in the Chicago suburbs since 1985.
Holly: In what ways do you develop awareness of your various involvements/businesses?
Caryl: Much of my marketing has been word of mouth, satisfied clients sharing info with one another. I have recently begun using more social media, ie Facebook, Linked In and Constant Contact.
Holly: What in particular, or in general, has helped you grow in your avocation to become who you are today compared to when you began? These may or may not be others in your field, perhaps family, friend, other…
Caryl: Before I owned my own business, I was an Activity Director in assisted living and independent living. I had a woman named Donna Horwitz who I employed as a lecturer on a variety of topics, and found she was unique in that she was not a performer, per se, but someone who stimulated the residents’ intellect, in a beautiful way, and I loved that. So before I started my business, I met with Donna and shared my desire to take this one step further and make it a conversation, and that’s how it started. To add to that, when I was at a client last year, I met a lovely resident who said his daughter does similar programming, and it was Donna’s dad! So I thank Donna, even though she may not realize it, for energizing me to start Learned Conversations.
Holly: What critical decisions did you have to make along the way to becoming who you are today? Perhaps there are particular milestones, or epiphanies, or just plain ole forks in the road.
Caryl: In 2011, my mother, who lives in Florida, was very ill and I was travelling there each month for 13 months or so. I had to rearrange my clients; they were extremely understanding. I did not lose one of them. However, I did lose the ability to attend the networking groups that had fed my business and I lost momentum in the marketing department. By mid 2012 I was contemplating shutting down my businesses. I applied for hourly work at a local supermarket, but then realized I loved the freedom of owning my own business, and truly loved and was fueled by my audiences. With the help of a professional life coach (something I thought I would NEVER do) I not only got my momentum back, I joined Constant Contact which jump started my businesses and am in process of creating a dedicated website exclusively for Hoo Haa Laughter Yoga. And, my 89 year old mom is thriving and living well. Woo Hoo!
Holly: What are some of the major challenges you face or have faced in the ongoing evolution of Caryl Derenfeld/ Learned Conversations/ and-or Laughter Yoga?
Caryl: With the drop in the economy in 2008, my business was not immune to that at all. Many of my clients book a full year in advance, and when the market fell and budgets were reorganized, there were times where we lost out and original plans had to change. All we can do is go with the flow, and being a Laughter Leader, laugh through it!
Holly: What mistakes have you made and what have you learned?
Caryl: In regards to Laughter Yoga, I laughed with people with dementia in one lovely building for about 2 years on a monthly basis. When I first started, my mind was so used to having people respond in a particular way, and those with dementia have their own way to respond that is different from a group that doesn’t have memory issues, that it really posed a challenge for me.
Initially, I ran around like a crazy person and put out so much energy that I was physically and mentally exhausted after each experience, and I didn’t think the group was benefitting. Even though I have worked with seniors for years, my experience with this population was extremely limited, if not non-existant before this time.
So I spoke to the administrator and asked her to observe. She pointed out a few things to me; the fact that they stayed for the whole time was profound, as those with dementia often wander and don’t stay in an activity as others do. Even though they might not laugh as exuberantly as my other groups, they were participating with more subtle moves, such as tapping their feet to a rhythm in the music, or keeping their eyes focused on the leader.
And even though they had dementia, which is typically described as no short term memory, each month when I would come in, one woman saw me and chanted the ho ho hahaha sounds that we use with each exercise. So I have learned to look for the subtleties in each experience, whether it is in a laughter session, or in presenting for Learned Conversations.
Holly: How do you balance your professional and personal life? Any strategies you’d like to share?
Caryl: Ah, the challenges of having an office in your home…most of the days I am home alone, as our kids are grown and out on their own. But when my husband walks in the door after his long day of work, I do wrap up and close the computer and take the time to enjoy our time together. I have come to know that although what I do is meaningful and purposeful, it’s not a business that is so urgent that it can’t wait. I can close down each day and complete my tasks tomorrow. It will all be there waiting for me, as I am a sole proprietor. A quote from a book called “A World Of Ways To Say I Do” says “If love interferes with your business, quit your business.” That says it all!
Holly: What people have you looked up to, respected, and/or admired? Do you ever enlist the services of a coach or mentor or someone who advises you?
Caryl: I admire my audiences, as they have so much life experience and are open to share it all. With laughter yoga, I admire them for their willingness to be silly and seek the benefits of that. I have used a coach recently and found he helped me focus on some very important issues; helped me stay on track and be more business-like. I still have much to learn and appreciate wisdom that comes from all.
Holly: How do you refresh, recharge and stay motivated?
Caryl: Laughter Yoga is a built in recharger. In addition to leading laughter sessions in various settings, I also call into LAUGHTER ON THE PHONE, on Tuesday nights at 9pm Central Time (I lead the same call on Thursday nights at 9CST). Here we laugh and then have a silent meditation. The laughter is great, and the silence afterwards is even better. It allows us to reap the benefits of the laughter; it is a time for prayer, for quiet thoughts. So I would say this and meditation in general helps me recharge.
Holly: What inspires you?
Caryl: Many different people. My audiences. They are full of wisdom and joy. What I do is very intimate, in that I am encouraging others to open their hearts and minds and share some very personal information, if they wish, and they DO. I am inspired when they do this, and other audience members who thought they knew a lot about a person, learns something new and meaningful. Stealing right from Oprah, I enjoy seeing people finding and sharing their AHA moments!
Holly: The nature of your role (in Learned Conversations) requires considerable trust on the part of the participants. How do you establish yourself as trustworthy, especially with their stories, in the relatively short amount of time you have?
Caryl: I think it is a natural evolution and process. I never claim to ‘know it all’ and I think that lets me in to the audience’s world. The value of the Learned Conversations is both in the moment and afterwards for those mingling in the group. It is a joy to see people leaving the presentation talking about the subject of the hour. I always encourage interaction; Learned Conversations is not a lecture, and what the individuals in the group knows and shares is as valuable as anything I can bring. That notion establishes trust.
Holly: What advice might you have for someone starting out in your profession or avocation (as a facilitator & catalyst!)?
Caryl: Do it only if you LOVE your audiences, if you are energized by the energy of others, and if you have the ability to facilitate a group, and not let it get away from you. Its an innate thing; not sure it is something that can be taught.
Holly: Have you ever had a particularly funny or embarrassing moment, and if so, please share it!
Caryl: Funny moments happen all the time in both businesses. One of the best was during a laughter session at a retirement community. I always encourage the group to create some of their own laughter exercises; they are clever and smart enough to do it. We were doing laughter exercises with every day activities of life, such as washing dishes, mowing the lawn, putting on sun screen, etc.
So we got to ‘toothbrush’ laughter and everyone pretended to brush their teeth with laughter toothpaste. Someone then said ‘we don’t all have teeth.’ After the laughter subsided, I suggested we do ‘denture’ laughter and I asked everyone to PRETEND to remove their dentures and brush them outside of their mouths. We laughed and laughed on this one, and thankfully, no one did it for real!
Contact Caryl and visit her sites:
Phone – 847-420-4930
Laughter on the Phone – Tuesday and Thursday nights at 9pm Central Standard Time 605-562-3000 x928864#
www.hoohaalaughteryoga.com (under construction)