‘It’s time to take laughter seriously’, says Dr Madan Kataria, founder of laughter yoga. Laughter has benefits on every level, including mindfulness and presence. These benefits are activated by the act of laughing itself and not by humour, and this is the basis for laughter practices world-wide.
Laughter yoga practices have a long pedigree. In Awakening the Laughing Buddha within my co-author Stephen Russell, the Barefoot Doctor, writes that the state of laughter readiness is a core Taoist principle, one with great antiquity. The Taoist insight is that sometimes laughing at the madness of life is the only sane response. As my valued co-author, his Taoist perspective on modern laughter practices adds depth to contemporary techniques.
The heart of laughter practices, whether in laughter yoga, laughter therapy or my own nls: natural laughter skills is the practice of laughter for its own sake. The benefits come from the act of laughing itself, not from waiting to find things funny. The curious and rather lovely spin-off is the more you laugh, the more you find to laugh about. This is where the mindful, empowering and healing dimensions take effect.
Laughter practices make you present. Whether you use them as a meditative practice or as a distraction, they pull attention into the present moment. When we have our attention in the present moment, we are not fretting about the past nor worrying about the future. This is the state of mindfulness. Associated with this state is a sense of peacefulness and happiness because except in exceptional circumstances, when you bring your attention into the ‘Now’ you experience joy. The progression, therefore, is that via mindfulness and empowerment, laughter practices help you access your own innate sense of joy. After all, as Deepak Chopra says: “True spirituality means not taking ourselves too seriously.”
As we outline in Awakening the Laughing Buddha within, laughter practices are easily initiated by smiling exercises, the experiential approach to Louise Hay-style affirmations.
They are surprisingly effective: ‘Vedant has really taken what you said on board and now everyone at our hospice is doing their 15 second smiles morning and evening. The patients respond really well to such a simple device - it is lovely to see the effect it has.’ (Christine West, Chair, National Association of Complementary Therapists in Hospice and Palliative Care)
Smiling exercises are exactly what they say – exercises in putting a genuine smile on your face and holding it there for at least 10-15 seconds. To keep it genuine requires an effort of will, also known as willingness. This willingness changes your mindset by inducing a sense of positivity in the same manner as a classical Louise Hay affirmation.
Smiling exercises are an easy starting point into the 5-stage model of walk the walk, feel the feelings, speak the words, think the thoughts, and live the life. Using this model, your whole being becomes engaged with the process. The cumulative effect transforms people’s lives, as a student of Joe’s laughter therapy testified:
‘I am writing to tell you what a positive and lasting effect the Laughter workshop has had on me. The workshop itself was fun, but also deeply serious in intent. Since then my husband’s deteriorating condition has put an almost unbearable strain on me. I have been practising the techniques I learned that day and sometimes they transform the situation and lift my spirits. I can’t begin to tell you what a difference that makes.’ (Carer delegate, Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust).
With evidence like this, isn’t it time for us all to add this approach to our spiritual tool-kit?
Joe Hoare is one of the UK’s leading Laughter Yoga therapists. He has dedicated himself to encouraging people to connect with their benign, creative individuality and to perform at their best. A charismatic facilitator of courses, workshops, retreats and one-to-one sessions, he is author of new book Awakening the Laughing Buddha Within, co-authored with Barefoot Doctor.
Joe is facilitating his next LFS: Laughter Facilitation Skills course on Friday 25th & Saturday 26th April at the Unitarian Chapel in Bristol. This course includes his nls: natural laughter skills. He is also hosting a laughter yoga seminar with the legendary “Grandfather of Laughter Yoga”, Dr Madan Kataria of India, founder of laughter clubs international, on Monday 9th June in Bristol.
For further details visit Joe Hoare’s website: www.joehoare.co.uk