To Laugh or Not to Laugh?
That is the Question. Ha, Ha, Ha!
by Helen Bzdel
Do you believe that you laugh enough? How do you know whether or not you laugh as much as you would like to? What is it that keeps you from laughing when, how, and where you want? When was the last time you laughed? Have you ever laughed until you cried? Cried until you laughed?
When I ask these questions, most people answer that they do not laugh enough. Their reasons include stress, fatigue, aging, physical and mental illness or pain, self-consciousness about how they will be viewed by others, death of friends and family, having nothing to laugh about, and lack of time.
Laughter Yoga is a fun new exercise that has been sweeping the world. In 1995, Dr. Madan Kataria started the first laughter yoga club in India. In 1998, Steve Wilson (Columbus, Ohio) brought laughter to the United States when he co-founded World Laughter Tour. There are now thousands of laughter clubs in at least sixty countries around the world. Laughter Clubs are where simulated laughter becomes stimulated laughter. Everyone can benefit from laughter club programs, regardless of age, culture, gender, or income. There are laughter clubs in private homes, libraries, workplaces, and nursing and retirement homes. There are a few programs in schools and workplaces.
You will not hear jokes being told at laughter clubs. Humour is personal because we don’t all laugh at the same jokes. Some people might laugh at a joke that offends other people. Laughter, however, is universal. We can laugh with others whether we share the same language, cultural context, or interests. Laughter clubs are supportive and good-natured, with only the positive being allowed. You don’t even need a sense of humour!
One thing I appreciate most about laughter is that our body does not recognize the difference between simulated laughter and stimulated laughter. As long as our body is going through the motions of smiling, laughing, and making laughing sounds (i.e., Ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha), our body experiences benefits of laughter. Research shows that there are many benefits including improved pain tolerance, better cardiovascular function, boosted immune function, elevated mood, exercise of the internal organs, decreased stress, a better outlook on life, improved sense of humour, and better morale.
I am a strong advocate of practicing self-care. I have found that laughter is one of the best ways of reducing stress, alleviating physical pain, and taking our mind off our worries. I have had participants join laughter club for numerous reasons. Some are looking for an opportunity and place to add more laughter to their life. Others have been off work for extended periods of time due to depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders. Others have recently retired and want to put something fun into their routine.
I have worked through a huge amount of stress in my own life over the last two years. I have had challenges with depression in the past, especially when I am experiencing increased stress. I believe that my involvement with laughter clubs and presentations has prevented me from becoming so depressed that I would have experienced difficulty with daily functioning. I hate to admit it, but on occasion when I was feeling really low and unmotivated, I had to force myself to go to lead laughter club. I would be on my way there, telling myself that I didn’t really care whether or not anyone showed up because I didn’t feel like acting happy or being around other people.
But then I would remember why I became a Laughter Leader. I love to laugh! I find it so rewarding to share the benefits of laughter with other people! I couldn’t go into a laughter club in this frame of mind! So, I threw my head back and started to laugh, all the way to laughter club. I realized that this would seem ridiculous to most people. I was laughing for no reason. But it worked! By the time I got to laughter club I found that my mood had become more positive and I felt ready to lead others. After finishing, even if it is a small turn-out, I find that I leave grinning from ear to ear. Sharing the benefits of laughter with other people is fulfilling and satisfying!
Laughter yoga sessions or presentations make the perfect addition to staff development/training days, workshops, conferences, International Women’s Day celebrations, birthday parties, addiction treatment programs, and support groups of all types.
Helen Bzdel is a mental health professional, Certified Laughter Leader (CLL) and Certified Laughter Yoga Leader (CLYL). She has been a registered Social Worker for fifteen years. She reports that becoming a CLL in November, 2007, and later a CLYL, is one of the best choices she ever made. She loves sharing the benefits of therapeutic laughter and humour to help people reduce their stress and enjoy life more fully. She finds this to be very rewarding and wants to share with everyone possible. She is open to any requests she receives about presenting on the benefits of laughter and is particularly interested in how laughter positively affects people with anxiety and mood disorders, as well as addictions. Helen also has her own private counselling practice, “A Life’s Journey Counselling Services”, in Saskatoon in which she incorporates aspects of laughter and Good-Hearted Living (Steve Wilson, 2002). To contact her call (306) 222-0563 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also see the Directory of Services ad on page 30 of the 15.1 May/June
issue of the WHOLifE Journal.