Laughter – Joyful Movement, Self-Esteem Booster, and a Way of Finding My Inner Laugh
by Helen Bzdel
Sharing laughter with others has become a great stress reliever and a fun source
I have never enjoyed exercising, and I have not bought a gym membership in years, because I know I will not follow through with going to the gym. I would like to lose weight but life happens. Excuses come easily for me. Energy and motivation are nowhere to be found; especially after a long day of mentally, and sometimes physically, exhausting work. For years, I prided myself on looking out for my mental health, then worrying about my physical health.
I have always enjoyed laughing and was comfortable laughing out loud whenever something tickled my funny bone. While growing up, however, I experienced the devastating effect of being ridiculed for laughing like Woody the Woodpecker! As a result, I became embarrassed and self-conscious, then deliberately tried to change the way my laugh sounded. This made it very challenging for me to be able to laugh spontaneously!
Later in life, I remember watching a movie in a theatre with my partner. I found something funny in the movie and laughed out loud. My partner turned to me and asked, “Are you okay?” I will never forget that moment. With those three words and his look of disapproval, I learned that it was not acceptable to laugh in the theatre; especially, if no one else was laughing. I remember thinking, “What a killjoy.”
I found out about World Laughter Tour in October of 2007 and realized that engaging in therapeutic laughter is an activity where I can improve both my mental health and my physical health. Three weeks later, I became a Certified Laughter Leader through two days of intensive training and practice. I had never been to a laughter club before, but somehow I knew that anything I could receive training in that would provide me with the chance to share laughter and joy with other people was something I wanted to do. Becoming a Certified Laughter Leader somehow gives me permission to feel comfortable letting out a guffaw or a hearty belly laugh. If anyone looks at me with possible disapproval, I boldly and proudly state, “I am a laughter leader and this is part of my role.” I recently regained my “Inner Laugh”—the laugh that just naturally bubbles out of me without worry about how it might sound or who might criticize or ridicule. What a liberating experience!
Sharing laughter with others has become a great stress reliever and a fun source of exercise. Therapeutic laughter clubs and programs provide participants with the opportunity to interact with others in a healthy and non-judgmental environment. Participants are encouraged to engage in healthy breathing, gentle stretching, and therapeutic laughter exercises. Laughter exercises mimic things we do and/or encounter in everyday life. We laugh because life can be ridiculous and silly, and laughter clubs/circles offer a supportive and safe environment to have fun. Some of the groups I share therapeutic laughter with include people with brain injury, homeless women, incarcerated men and women, seniors, students, and corporate professionals. Research shows that there are many benefits of laughter, 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 my physical pain, and taking my mind off of my worries. It also gets me out and exercising in a joyful manner. I have had participants join laughter club for numerous reasons—an opportunity to add more laughter to their life, strategies to manage depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders, wanting to add more fun to their routine, getting some exercise, and meeting new friends.
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, hee, ha), our body experiences benefits of laughter. On occasion, I have been sad or angry and I decide to laugh. I feel better as a result.
For the last few years, Certified Laughter Leaders at the annual Advanced Workshop in Columbus, Ohio, have been focusing some of our attention on “movement”—engaging in music, movement, and laughter therapy. We have learned about neurobics—exercising both the right and the left sides of our brain. There is so much to learn in this area! We have also learned how to “play” as adults. What a concept, because most adults no longer play! I have a dear laughter friend, Debra Joy Hart, who says, “How can it get any better than this?” and I couldn’t say it any better. I wouldn’t miss the experiences and the sense of fulfillment associated with my practice of therapeutic laughter.
Therapeutic laughter sessions/presentations make the perfect addition to staff development/training days, workshops, conferences, staff retreats, bridal showers, birthday parties, addiction treatment programs, support groups, and so much more!
Helen Bzdel is a mental health professional, Certified Laughter Leader—Expert Level Practitioner (CLL-E), and the Canadian Trainer for World Laughter Tour. She has been a registered social worker (RSW) since 1994. She loves sharing the benefits of therapeutic laughter and humour to help people reduce their stress and enjoy life more fully. She is open to any requests about presenting on the benefits of laughter. 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) at www.alifesjourneycounselling.com.
To contact her, call (306) 222-0563, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, and/or check out her website at www.laffingoutloud.com. Also, see the two Directory of Services ads on pages 28 and 30 of the 19.6 March/April issue of the WHOLifE Journal.