I took the above photo a few years ago when travelling in Sri Lanka. I remember being fascinated to see fungi growing from a pat of elephant dung. It reminded me then that even when life is ‘crappy’, something good can come of it.
That’s easy to forget when you feel life is dumping on you from a great height.
Stress and struggles come in many forms: fear, shame, betrayal, trauma, adversity.
How we cope with them reflects our ‘resilience’.
My toolbox of go-to techniques is now quite robust but I didn’t always handle life’s challenges in the most healthful or helpful ways. There are times when I still don’t!
In riding the 2020 Coronacoaster, I’ve deployed a number of science-backed strategies to help me, and to help me help others.
Laughter’s part in resilience building
My fav go-to is laughter yoga. Why? Here are just a few resilience-related reasons.
- When we are laughing, we are in the moment. Painful thoughts are paused. Blues are banished, worries wane. Our attention is here, now. If that sounds like mindfulness, that’s because it is.
- Values-based laughter yoga exercises help us reframe our thinking of a situation. I liken it to changing the lens.
- I’ve found through practising laughter yoga that I am more accepting of myself. I am kinder to myself. I am forgiving and less critical.
While laughter yoga can seem to be ‘just a bit of fun’, when practised regularly it is a deceptively effective way to stress less and refocus your outlook on life.
As its founder, Indian physician Dr Madan Kataria, said to me recently:
There is not much laughter in medicine, but there is much medicine in laughter.
Evidence supporting resilience builders
But don’t take my word for it. For about 20 years, University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center has evaluated resilience practices alongside research-based exercises that foster kindness, connection, and happiness.
Greater Good Science Centre summarises resilience practices that help us confront emotional pain more skilfully as falling into 5 categories: change the narrative; face your fears; learn self-compassion; meditate and forgive.
What follows are some suggestions based on these categories using laughter yoga and other proven positive psychology concepts.
Change the narrative
Do you ruminate, rehash and relive something bad over and over again? I’ve done that! Greater Good Science Centre suggests instead expressive writing to gain new insights.
Another powerful practice GGSC found is journaling 3 good things daily, no matter how big or small. It’s something I do to reflect on the day differently.
I also change the narrative with laughter yoga, often using gibberish to ‘talkback’ at myself.
Face your fears
When I first started facilitating laughter yoga sessions, I didn’t have butterflies in my tummy: I had elephants somersaulting! Gradual repeated exposure can help overcome fears. GGSC research confirms this. The fear may never be extinguished but courage grows.
Do you expect a lot of yourself? A few years ago, I would have been Top of the Class for Self-Criticism. I expected nothing less of myself than perfection. Accepting that that was both unreasonable and unrealistic has been painful at times. In learning self-compassion, I’ve learned to be kinder to myself. I accept that I am not alone in my ‘struggle’ as a human being.
One technique I’ve found useful is speaking to myself as though I am my best friend. I’d never be so harsh, unkind, unforgiving, or mean to him or her so why be like that to myself!
In accepting my body—lumps, bumps, scars and all—I’ve found laughter yoga exercises helpful too.
An important lesson I learned from Brisbane’s serene queen Monica Rottmann of Cultivate Calm yoga studio was that I’d not failed in meditation if thoughts came to mind: indeed, simply noticing the mind jumping around was a win. If the mind quietened as a result of that observation, bonus! It’s worth remembering that we naturally have thousands of thoughts daily.
I enjoy breath-awareness meditation. My favourite beginner level is 4 by 4. Breathe in for a count of 4. Hold the breath for a count of 4. Exhale for 4. Pause for 4 before inhaling and repeating a few times.
A study of participants who did mindful breathing exercises before looking at disturbing images found they experience less negative emotions than people who hadn’t done the breath work. The breath anchors.
If holding a grudge is holding you back, research suggests that cultivating forgiveness could be beneficial to your mental and physical health. If you feel ready to begin, it can be a powerful practice. Greater Good Science Centre has a number of forgiveness guidelines to follow, based on research.
Again, as I apply laughter yoga, I tune into the Forgive and Forget breath, a beautiful slow stretching action combined with the whispering of those two powerful ‘f’ words: forgive and forget.
Some resilience boosting exercises to try
Here are links to some Greater Good Science Center exercises:
- Expressive writing
- Finding silver linings (3 good things)
- Overcoming a fear
- How would you treat a friend?
- Mindful breathing
If you’d like to find out more about building resilience using some of these techniques as well as laughter yoga, get in touch. You’ll find them integrated in my community and workplace laughter wellbeing workshops and the laughter yoga leader training. Let me bring them to your place, soon.
(c) 2020 HeatherJoy Campbell
HeatherJoy Campbell is a Brisbane-based wellbeing facilitator, who uses laughter yoga and science of happiness techniques in her tailored workplace and community wellbeing workshops. She hosts a weekly suburban social laughter club.