What do you do to self-care?
There is no ONE thing. Self-care is a process to restore balance in our personal and professional lives.
At one level, it can include healthy lifestyle behaviours like eating well and sleeping well, getting those regular health checks done.
It also involves self-awareness of what you need in the moment – and choosing an appropriate (healthy) option before hitting a tipping point where another (lesser appropriate but ‘justified’) option may be easier – like numbing the day’s worries with alcohol or drug use, over-eating, or unleashing the pent-up angst through road rage.
Recently I spoke at a national gathering of professionals who support individuals and communities affected by suicide.
Research shows that for every 1 person who takes their own life, about 135 people are affected, among them family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, first responders…
The professionals I addressed all advocate self-care to those they support. That self-care comes in many forms – from getting outdoors and moving, to talking to others, doing things that they enjoy and find comfort in, and allowing others ‘in’ to support them.
I alone can do this but I cannot do this alone.
The professionals who provide such support need to self-care for their own physical, psychological and social wellbeing. For many, exercise was a ‘go to’. For others, meditation, journaling, listening to music, having a massage…
So I put it to them that laughter yoga was a valid form a self-care too.
Take away the notion of laughter being about something funny—when clearly the stresses of dealing with something as traumatic as loss of life is anything but funny. Take away black humour. Laugh as an exercise, a physical function that is as natural as breathing.
And so we laughed as a group and felt the joy that comes when the body releases natural stress-busting ‘feel-good’ chemicals during prolonged belly laughing.
Laughter exercises can be effective practised on your own too. Below are some of my favourite ‘laugh alone’ exercises that can be done seated or standing. Listen to your body: you don’t want any pain. This is about self-care after all!
Start with warm-ups
Rise and Smile – Stand tall with legs about shoulder distance apart. As you take a deep breath in, raise your right arm, with clenched fist, above your head and stretch as much as you can towards your left. Exhale “haaaaa” through your mouth with a smile and an unclenched fist. Close your mouth and fist on the inhale and repeat three times. Then change sides and repeat as before.
Smiling Shrug – As you take a deep long slow breath in through your nose, lift your shoulders. Exhale through the mouth with a strong “Haaaa” and let the shoulders drop. Repeat a few times.
Calcutta laugh (as taught by Dr Madan Kataria) – Ideally standing, say ‘ho, ho’ and push your hands down. Say ‘ha,ha’ as you push your hands forward from the chest. Repeat slowly swaying the body and alternating the hand actions left and right. Speed up the ‘Ho ho, ha, ha’ chant and action.
Great laughter exercises on your own
One metre laugh – Stand with feet slightly apart, both hands stretched out to the left. Slide the fingers of the right hand over the left arm to the elbow while saying ‘Aeeeeeeeee’. Continue sliding the fingers across the chest to the right shoulder, saying ‘Aeeeeee’. Uncurl the right arm so that both arms are full outstretched, tilt your head back and laugh heartily, from the belly. Repeat for the right side. Do three times each side.
I always feel a wonderful sense of freedom when in this outstretched pose.
Mental floss laugh – Imagine that you have wrapped a thread of dental floss between your fingers. Now imagine threading the floss between your ears to clear out the ‘stinking thinking’ that can build up, like dental plaque, in the mind. Jiggle it around, to and fro, while laughing. Make it thorough! Then throw the ‘floss’ and the worries away.
Laughter cream – Take an imaginary jar of lotion, scoop a dollop out and ‘rub’ (tap) it into your skin —arms, face, legs, belly, back, ears—and laugh.
Silent laughter – Keep your mouth wide open and laugh without the sound. Imagine you are in a library or church, where it would be really inappropriate to burst out laughing. Try with your mouth closed too.
Intersperse your exercises with slow breaths and complete your session with mindful breathing.
For example, hold your arms out in front, at shoulder height, palms up. As you breathe in slow and deep, feeling your belly extend, draw your arms in towards your chest. Imagine you are dragging that breath in with your hands and lungs. Hold the breath for as long as is comfortable. As you exhale, extend your arms in front as though you are physically releasing the breath.
Could laughter yoga be part of your self-care going forward? After all, the proverb says:
The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter, the spirit heals with joy.
(c) Heather Joy Campbell 2018
The Happydemic’s founder Australian Heather Joy Campbell is a certified Laughter Yoga teacher and global ambassador for Laughter Yoga International. Brisbane-based, she facilitates laughter wellbeing sessions in workplaces, aged care centres and communities throughout Queensland and delivers training in laughter yoga techniques.