Telling my friends that I was going to learn how to be a Laugh Yoga Instructor, I got responses like “You Hippie”, “Why?” and “What on earth is that?” which was weird since they all know I belong to a local Laugh Club.
Without a doubt, laughter yoga improves people’s lives in a multitude of ways. Ask any health professional – there are many reasons to develop social connections, improve circulation, boost your immune system and more! In a world where stress and anxiety are on the rise due to an ever-increasing range of factors, it simply makes sense to find a drug-free release that enhances these outcomes and more.
This certainly motivated me to take my laugh experience to the next level, along with a few other factors…
My journey started several years ago when I was hit with a case of Bell’s palsy. This is a condition where nerves controlling the face switch off causing one side to droop. Essentially, it’s a temporary paralysis. Most people regain their muscle tone and no trace of the palsy can be detected. Others have lasting effects and some degree of permanent paralysis.
The main therapy for getting muscle tone back is to do facial exercises which gradually turn the muscles back on. These include smiling and making all types of expressions to retrain muscles. As I did my exercises, I began to notice smiling actually lifted my mood, even though for the first few weeks outsiders could hardly tell I was doing anything due to no external success! On the inside, though, I was smiling and feeling good about it.
I was intrigued…why did I feel so good?
I did some research and discovered studies had been conducted on the subject of smiling and was fascinated to learn the brain’s reaction to a smile is the same whether the smile is natural or forced. That is, stress relieving serotonin and happiness enhancing dopamine are released regardless of whether your smile is genuine or fake.
At the same time I was dealing with the Bells palsy, I was facing some major challenges in my business. As a business owner, there are always new challenges and I have found it quite hard not to become anxious about things I cannot control. One incident was particularly draining and considerably impacting my state of mind. Nonetheless, I kept noticing smiling made me feel better. I deduced it was a matter of ‘fake it till you make it’ with smiling and gradually I managed to diminish my stress levels and even them out over time. It wasn’t a complete eradication, however it was remarkably better than previous attempts.
Since my 20’s, one of my main stress coping mechanisms has been yoga. I’ve been practising on and off (more on) for nearly thirty years and attribute this to helping me through some challenging life and business times. Whilst most non-yoga people associate the practice with twisted poses that look like only a nimble, youthful body could ever hope to achieve, yoga is actually a whole lot more than ‘asana’ (the poses). A significant part of it is breathing and breath techniques.
Like a lot people, my first 20 years of yoga was all about ‘getting into the pose’. But the joy I have discovered in breath techniques, referred to as yogic breath (or pranayama for the indoctrinated!) has been one of the best gifts that yoga has given me.
So, what is the link to Laughter Yoga? And, why is it called ‘yoga’ at all? These were the first question I asked when I was en route to my first laugh club session. Certainly, attending a Laughter Yoga session looks nothing like traditional yoga poses, you may break a sweat (laughter yoga is akin aerobically to running which surprises most people when they experience it) though you’ll never feel strained. Laughter yoga was develop by Dr Kataria, a medical doctor in Mumbai, in 1995. At its core, laughter yoga is designed to combine laughing with yogic breathing.
The six main benefits of Laughter Yoga are:
- It boosts the immune system. Long term practitioners cite fewer ailments and resistance to common colds and flu.
- It regulates blood flow. It’s an aerobic exercise! You’ll break a sweat in most cases and good cardio routines level out blood pressure.
- It increases oxygen. Laughter yoga really get you breathing helping to expel stale air from our lungs. (Typically we never exhale the last 40% of air in our lungs.)
- It decreases depression and anxiety. It’s almost impossible to be sad or anxious in a laugh session because the body can’t tell ‘fake happy’ from ‘real happy’ and participants carry this feeling through their day.
- It provides pain relief. It does this by circulating oxygenated blood through the body at a higher rate.
- It manages stress. Once in a session, participants state the outside world evaporates. They connect with others in the class through eye contact and the bond of doing something joyous together. Being part of something bigger than one’s self is always empowering. Oh, and let’s not forget the dopamine and serotonin doing their jobs.
If you are anything like me, you’re probably reading the above with a healthy dose of scepticism and rightly so. No one actually ‘sold’ me on going to a laugh session, though several years ago I was delighted to meet Philippa Challis who set up the first laugh clubs in Australia nearly 20 years ago. She suggested I visit my local St Kilda club. I promptly filed that away in the ‘one day’ recesses of my brain.
Well, that ‘one day’ came when I discovered how smiling changed my mood during my Bell’s palsy recovery. Additionally, buried in one of those articles I had read about the power of smiling was that one line that wouldn’t leave me. It was the line about how laughter yoga was a mood enhancing activity and the body could not differentiate between fake and real laughing.
The St Kilda Laughter Club was calling me.
Many people describe their first laughter yoga session as ‘a bit weird’ and to tell the truth, it is. But I took to it like a duck to water. Our laugh club meets in a local park, so everyone can see us laughing. Thankfully, in St Kilda, being a bit weird isn’t a problem and most passers-by seem to enjoy watching us roll around on the grass laughing until we cry. I like to think it enhances the flavour of St Kilda.
Soon I found myself wanting more. Laughter yoga was intoxicating and I needed more of this drug! I found another local group that met on a weekday evening and took myself along. The effect was the same. I left every session raised up and caring less and less about the challenges of business ownership.
I started to notice my smiling exercises (which I have integrated into my daily life even though I no longer need them for the palsy) became more frequent and spontaneous and this further enhanced my mood. I noticed I was laughing more and more during the day at simple situations that previously I had not reacted to. I also began laughing more when s#@* happened. I began to notice when challenges were thrown my way I was able to handle them better and those which were out of my control I reacted to less.
Needless to say, I am not perfect and I’m not always on a high. Yet I know my general outlook is better and I find being in my own skin abundantly more joyous than previously.
If for no other reason, this is why I continue with Laughter Yoga. It’s food for my soul.
But why teach this? Why take it to the next level of becoming an instructor? Well first and foremost, I am a firm believer that if you want to be better at something, teach it. I also believe that if we want to make a change in the world, we have to be the change. Life does come with its own set of challenges and I have noticed many people are coping less with these challenges, be they world politics, war, disease or the challenges that being human in the 21st century comes with.
My business, BNI, is a networking and referral business. We support members to generate business by building trusting relationships in a structured, professional and positive way. BNI is global and has 250 000+ members in 80+ countries. The organisation has experienced exponential growth for every one of its 34 years.
BNI has taught me people want to connect. They want to come together in a way that enhances their lives and businesses. I’ve learnt we are hard wired to support each other and doing something good for other people, while expecting nothing in return, is the single most powerful way to contribute to society. Best of all – it makes the giver feel good too! Like laughter yoga, the hormones released when we give are intoxicating. In BNI, we call this Givers Gain. It’s the law of reciprocity in action – the more one gives, the more one receives. (Volunteers out there will be nodding enthusiastically about now!) I see the power of Givers Gain every day of my business life and it never ceases to amaze me. I am humbled, that in some small way, I can contribute to this.
So this is where my drive to share the joy of laughter yoga comes from. I know that sharing this gift, this skill, will improve the lives of others. In particular I believe there is scope to take laughter yoga into our workplaces. Laughter yoga is a leveller – the CEO and the intern are on the same in laughter yoga. They may never have an opportunity to connect in their daily routine, but how impactful is it that teams come together to simply share the joy of laughter?
There is a process to laughter yoga and this process generates the effects of a session. I was fascinated with how each instructor managed to get strangers to connect and share joy. I needed to know more so I enrolled in the Laughter Yoga Leader Training.
The science behind why I was getting the high out of every session and why this was changing the way I went through my day is fascinating. I’ve learnt –
- Participants need to laugh for 30+ minutes to get the effect.
- There is an upper limit – too much laughter can negatively impact participants.
- There are processes to connect strangers and to help them feel comfortable laughing with each other even if they’ve turned up in a funk.
- How to ensure the CEO and the intern can connect.
- How to ensure participants leave feeling that the preceding hour was worth dragging them away from whatever important task was occupying them.
However, my main take away was much simpler… stuff really doesn’t matter. Business can be heavy and we can make it a lot more than it needs to be. Our laugh leader shared a story about a mediator who starts every legal mediation with both sides laughing for 5 minutes. Guess what? She’s known as the laughing mediator. Having recently experienced legal mediation, I suspect this leveller would have yielded very different outcomes for both sides and made the experience more pleasant than it was.
As a business owner, I want to take the ‘heavy’ out of business. If in some small way I can do this by delivering laugh yoga sessions into the workplace, then I will have given back in a meaningful way.
I have experienced the benefits of laughter yoga in my life and business. I’m not a zealot, but I know that I have to share this with any organisation that wants to bring joy into their workplace. Many businesses already bring laugh yogis in to run sessions and report improved workplace engagement, teams interacting more meaningfully and being more productive. They see people who previously have never engaged reach out and contribute to the business in ways they could never have expected. The benefits to business are real and I encourage any business owner reading this to reach out and discuss how laugh sessions can be incorporated into their workplace.
At our core, we want to connect with others and we want to be joyous. If I can marry my business experience with the weird and wonderful world of laughter yoga, how could I not want to become a laugh yoga instructor?
This is the reason I stepped out of my comfort zone and up to my power. Everyone’s soul should feel this good.
If you’d like Braith to lead a laugh yoga workshop in your workplace, please reach out. Sessions run for around 50 minutes. No special clothes are required and the session can be run in the workplace.
These sessions are ideal team building exercises and break down barriers across businesses. Sessions are particularly effective for:
- Cross-department engagement
- Engagement between management and front line staff
- Stress reduction in high-pressure environments
- New or developing teams trying to establish a collaborative culture
- Supporting positive mental health initiatives in the workplace
- Intergenerational engagement in the workplace (yes, Millennials love to laugh!)
- Supporting teams that are faced with negative client interaction, in particular, call centres and help desks
Sessions can be tailored for your business and can also include breathwork/mindfulness sessions.
I look forward to laughing with you in your workplace.