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5 lessons in self-care learned laughing

  • Wellness
wooden shapes carefully balanced in a pyramid

Happy month! The Action for Happiness movement suggests September as a month to focus on self-care.

If you had asked me about ‘self-care’ 10 or so years ago, I would have shrugged it off. I ate relatively healthily, exercised, and slept pretty well, faced up to the dentist for 6-monthly check-ups and the doc for ‘those’ screenings. I was juggling child-raising, work deadlines and looking after my mum who was palliative. I didn’t have time for anything more. I dreamed of an ‘indulgent’ long soak in the bath, uninterrupted, with a few candles burning for good measure.

I had yet to realise that true self-care was a balancing act, requiring attention to dimensions of my life well beyond the physical: social, spiritual, emotional, financial, and intellectual.

It was also about 10 years ago that I first did laughter yoga. I didn’t expect to learn anything from it. It was just a bit of fun, surely? I remember my eyeball rolls, my judgement, my fear of being anything but serious… and how I went from ‘this is weird’ to ‘WOW!’ in less than an hour and wanted to feel that again. Read more about that first time experience.

What is laughter yoga?

Laughter yoga is a combination of laughter exercises interspersed with deep breathing techniques from yoga. It’s not about jokes. Let go of the idea that ‘yoga’ is about low lunges, downward dog, cobra, plank, or child’s pose too. It is a practice that combines childlike playfulness, clapping and intentional laughter with breathwork for better health: physical, psychological and social.

Self-care lessons laughter yoga has taught me

While laughter yoga is absolutely fun, it is in the repetition and practice that powerful lessons are learned. Here are some of the surprising lessons I’ve learned from practising laughter yoga daily.

1.      I don’t have to be ‘in’ the mood’ to laugh

I used to think that laughter was synonymous with good times. Being with friends. Having fun. Being happy. And sure, I laugh in those situations. I laugh without them too now.

With laughter yoga, I learned to laugh as a physical function rather than an intellectual response. I learned to harness my ‘laughter muscles’ just because I could and to laugh, not because something was funny or humourous but because I could just laugh.

I found that laughter acts like a circuit breaker. Laughter yoga can shift the way the body feels along with your state of mind. If you weren’t in the mood to laugh, you soon will be.

2.      When I’m laughing, I am in the moment

I used to struggle with the idea of mindfulness. I had this idea that there was only one way—sitting in lotus position, and muttering ‘Om’.

When I am practising laughter yoga, I am in the moment. I let go of thoughts, worries, anxieties and stresses.

Understanding this enables me to use laughter yoga at the drop of a hat. One of my favourite practices is when I’m stuck in traffic on the way to an appointment. That’s when I use an exercise called ‘red light green light’. I laugh throughout the time my car is stationary at the red light. My full attention is on the traffic when it’s moving. I get to my destination feeling relaxed.

3.      I don’t need to be perfect

I grew up on a diet of perfectionist expectations. “Why did you only get 99 out of 100 in the spelling bee?”  There was no celebration of the huge achievement of getting 99 correct. And so it continued…

Little wonder I grew up feeling inadequate, insecure, anxious, and very self-critical. Dismissive even of my successes.

Laughter yoga has taught me to be more accepting of what is. That includes me! The world is not perfect and neither am I, and that is absolutely fine.

I’m still not my own best friend, but I’m a much nicer friend to myself. I’ve found the practice of gibberish particularly useful. I like myself a lot more now in 2021!

4.      Better breathing for better health

Since taking up laughter yoga, I have become much more aware of the power of my breath.

Yoga encourages us to exhale longer than the inhalation. Prolonged laughter is like forced exhalation; we’re able to push out more stale old air when we’re laughing than in a normal breath out. So, when my brain and body feel sluggish, and I need a fast boost in focus, concentration, and energy, I’ll do a few laughter stretches, maybe even clap my hands and chant ‘hohohahaha’ for some minutes.

I use my breath to relax too. Slowing the breaths down, and lengthening that exhalation, helps lower blood pressure and heart rate.  I particularly enjoy a breath exercise such as ‘smelling the flowers’ (when did you last stop to smell the roses?)

5.      Thoughts are not facts

Thoughts are just thoughts. They come and go, and they can change.

In practising laughter yoga, I have learned to disengage from some unhelpful thoughts. I do this using ‘mental floss’ every day.

I’ve learned to laugh at situations that once upon a time would have made me cry or lose my cool. I’ve learned to take life more lightly… it’s no wonder laughter yoga is a firm part of my self-care plan.

Self-care September and you

The Action for Happiness September calendar of self-care suggestions includes:

  • Focus on the basics – eat well, exercise and go to bed on time
  • Have a ‘no plans’ day – slow down and be kind to yourself
  • Don’t compare how you feel inside to how others appear outside
  • Make space to just breathe and be still.

You can find the full calendar here.

If anything here resonates with you, or you’d like to give laughter yoga a try as part of your self-care, please get in touch! Perhaps you’d like to join an online laughter yoga session offered at varying times every day of the week. Maybe you feel inspired to do the two-day laughter yoga leader training. Maybe you’d like to organise your very own group session. Let’s talk — and laugh — soon!

© 2021 Heather Joy Campbell

Founder of The Happydemic and a Global Ambassador for Laughter Yoga International, HeatherJoy Campbell is an Australian-based professional laughter wellbeing facilitator, speaker and trainer using the platform of laughter yoga and positive psychology techniques to spread a happydemic of wellbeing within communities and workplaces.