Category Archives: anxiety

Laughter yoga, naturally.


Some of us in the laughter yoga community like to see how much we can do with how little.

How much genuine mirth and enjoyment can we induce?

How few exercises do we need?

How much can we use the group’s / individual’s expertise?

How effortless can we make the experience?

There is a path in laughter yoga which I and others sometimes walk where we like to be delicate, un-forced, genuine and natural.

This is a yoga approach because it focuses on the yogic aim of laughter yoga (union / reconnection / with self & others), and uses laughter yoga principles and exercises as a means of achieving these ends rather than as an end in themselves.
This means the role of the laughter exercises is to help access this state of reconnection / being present / union.

Those of us who like subtle love this approach.
I often observe with this ‘inside out’ approach that people have the experience of laughing lots even if they haven’t laughed their sides off. It feels to them that they have laughted their sides off because their laughter has come from a deep inner place – so they have had the double benefit of lots of laughter as well as yogic connection.

I was reminded of this today because I had a client who came to me because they said, among other things they wanted to laugh more and have more fun again in their life.

I inquired about what was happening in their life and it transpired that they were stressed and anxious, and in particular fed up with being fed up and not enjoying their life. It transpired what they were wanting was empowerment and natural genuine laughter as an expression of enjoyment in their life.
They wanted the joy they associated with laughter.

I duly took them through a process, part of which was to smile.

Three things then happened:

  1. They immediately laughed out loud – spontaneously, genunely, naturally
  2. They said they felt a sense of inner peace & contentment
  3. They said they felt ‘present’.

Any astute laughter yoga practitioner would have observed in the session that we used movement (‘motion creates emotion’), deep breathing (obviously) and smiling, in a flowing un-forced way – all of which induced genuine, natural, spontaneous self-induced laughter, and a sense of joyfulness.

A further benefit came afterwards. Before or during the session, they lost some jewellry that was extremely important to them. They were temporarily distracted by this until we re-focused.
After the session they resumed their slightly frantic hunt – and then they decided to use what we covered in the session, relaxed, smiled, became ‘present’ – and immediatley found it, in front of their nose where it had been all along.

Finding jewellry – yet another result for laughter yoga, naturally?



Share Button

Embodiement & unexpected pain relief in laughter yoga


We never know how someone will respond to a session and what benefits they will experience.

‘I don’t have my shoulder pain anymore!’

My approach to laughter yoga ( #laughteryogawithJoe ) usually starts with an extended gentle physical loosening up & embodiment session.

We do this as a fundamental part of the practice to be enjoyed and savoured, not as an introduction to be hurried through.

Sometimes the majority of the session is taken up with loosening, and therefore experiencing the body /mind connection of mind/body ‘medicine’.

My original intention behind this approach was to help participants experience relief from over-thinking, and potentially to help establish new neural pathways to trigger movement as an antidote. Freedom from over-thinking is a core stress-buster & mindfulness practice and so helps induce calm and inner peacefulness.


Key practice: move your body. Move your body gently. Focus on gentle movement for & with your shoulders.


At one such session for the Macmillan charity we did a longer-than-usual gentle loosening up and also a lot of gentle arm-swinging & shoulder-tension release.
Afterwards, one person came up to me and told me their shoulder pain had gone.
They told me they’d experienced this condition for many years, and yet after 30 minutes of this gentle laughter yoga loosening, the pain had gone. They had visited many specialists over the years, and yet what had released it for them was this very gentle extended loosening-up.

‘I don’t have my shoulder pain anymore’

She was astonished and delighted.

I was delighted and intrigued. I reckoned this must be a happy one-off.


‘My yoga and pilates give me a headache. This doesn’t.’

Last week at after a similar but shorter session, someone came up to me and told me that their yoga and pilates sessions are generally energetic with a lot of tensing and straining, and they always get a headache.
Our session had been gentle and releasing while still being very energetic, and they told me it was the first time they had exercised yogically without getting a headache.

‘My yoga and pilates give me a headache. This doesn’t.’


Advanced practice: move vigorously but gently, as gently as you can.


‘I woke up for 1st time without a clicky neck.’

Even more recently at the International Federation of Aromatherapists’ conference, someone made a point of commenting after the session how relaxed they felt.
The following day they reported their neck had stopped being clicky.

‘I woke up for the first time without a clicky neck.’

They, like me, were astonished and delighted.


Complete practice (short form): relax, breathe, smile, feel.


What can we learn from this?

Evidently, the path to inner peace brings unexpected, important and welcome benefits!

Although the ultimate aim of laughter yoga is ‘inner’ & ‘outer’ peace, there are many benefits to be experienced along the way.
Relief from pain is an enormous benefit. It automatically releases stress & tension, helps us be more ‘in the moment’ aka mindful, and therefore happier and more at peace.

The key is practice.

Read the book.

Take an online course


Go on Retreat

Relax and enjoy. I’d love to hear any experiences you have had. And if you know anyone who might like to read this too, please share it?

Share Button

When your ‘It’ hits the fan (Hide? Smile? Run away?)

At times, we all have ‘It’ in our lives, that uncomfortable, troublesome, inconvenient piece of life that disrupts our calm or harmony.

It usually involves emotion and therefore means feeling something we’d rather not – hence the uncomfortable, troublesome, inconvenient quality.
It can appear as stress, anxiety, anger, and make us ill.
It often makes us afraid.
We’re often afraid because we know we’ve got to do something we’d rather not – face our fear, speak our truth, accept something about ourselves we wish wasn’t true.

Face it. Feel it. Don’t flinch. Embrace it.

‘The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek’ – Joseph Campbell.

Every time I see someone do this, enter their cave and face their shadow, I see beautiful transformation occur.  I see the shedding of a bit more ‘story’, a growth in authenticity, an inspiring vulnerability. I see people get stronger by owning their ‘weakness’.
To do this, we need courage. It has to be more important to do this, to enter our cave, than to cower, flinch or run away – however enticing these false friends appear.

How do we find our courage?
We all have our own ways. My preparation includes the ancient insightful worldwide tradition of smiling. I put a genuine smile on my face, feel the inner warmth this generates, connect with my zest for life, and open myself to feeling whatever ‘It’ is. I feel it as deeply as possible.

‘It’ can be a wild ride, and having set off and started, ‘It’ might take you across some jagged unexpected inner terrain. Hang on. Hang in there. When you have a pause, take the time to breathe, smile and regroup. Smile and reach in for your stillness. Keep going till the ride is over.

Always remember: the purpose of ‘It’ is to bring about self-healing, an increase in kindness, compassion, authenticity and connection.
Also remember: it’s a never-ending journey.

Smiling helps. That’s why it’s such an ancient recommendation.
‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’

Share Button

Gentle laughing mindfulness

I was asked on a recent Laughter Facilitation Skills course ‘How can I combine laughter yoga with mindfulness?’

2014 July 23rd 036

Laughter meditation and mindfulness are natural companions. Mindfulness is the practice of awareness. It is the act of noticing your body, breath, emotions, thoughts and environment, without necessarily responding to any of them.
People usually find this practice calming. Because of this calm, they often experience quiet joyfulness. This quiet joyfulness often brings a smile to their face.

Laughter meditation, whether through laughter yoga or nls: natural laughter skills, stimulates mindfulness. It brings attention into the here & now. People find they become more present and more aware of their own processes and environment. This happens in a naturally joyful way.
The act of laughter meditation therefore can stimulate joyful awareness.

The easiest way to combine these practices is through by smiling practices.
These smiling practices, as described in ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’, can add the specific quality of joyfulness into mindfulness. As a meditative practice, this is like the difference between a ‘zazen’ or observing meditation and a dynamic one.

Both approaches work well.

When you next do either a laughter yoga or nls: natural laughter skills meditation, make a point of being aware of your body, breath, emotions, thoughts and environment. The practice is to combine your laughter with your awareness so you are aware of both.
When you next do your mindfulness meditation, do it with a soft, small, genuine smile on your face. Notice any difference this smiling quality brings to your awareness. Be open to expressing it as occasional chuckles or laughs of delight.

This is gentle laughing mindfulness.

Notice how it can lift your mood, ease stress, anxiety and depression, give you a psychological boost, and promote a sense of wellbeing and happiness. If you practice this often, you will rewire your brain for greater happiness and an improved quality of life.

You can learn more about these practices in ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’ and on


Share Button

Can laughter yoga make me more confident?

Bristol Laughter Club‘How do you feel when you laugh?’ is a question I often ask in laughter yoga
sessions at the Bristol Laughter Club. The most common answer is ‘I feel better’.
When I then ask how people experience that, their responses include feeling more relaxed, grounded, intuitive and focused. When they continue this deeper reflection, people realise they’re more mindful, relaxed and happier, more aware of the totality of present moment rather than just what’s passing through their head.

‘Don’t believe everything you think’ say both the philosopher Alan Watts and the contemporary mindfulness & awareness guru Eckhart Tolle.

The upshot of this mindfulness is we feel happier and better about our own life experience, and a common way people express this is they feel more confident. This is an especially wonderful benefit for those who suffer from the modern epidemics of stress, anxiety and depression.

A recent participant on a nls: natural laughter skills course is a life model, i.e. she poses naked for artists to draw her. She now sits with greater confidence, and feels more confident about dealing with tricky clients.
The particular exercises that help her in these circumstances are the ‘Inner Smile’ and the ‘Inner Laugh’, covered in depth courses and described at length in ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’. Developing the ability to do either or both of these on demand gives her the ability to change her mood in an instant. Because this is empowering, she has gained enormous confidence in her work and day-to-day life.

The ‘Inner Smile’ is a quintessentially mindful exercise and at heart invites you to take your attention inside and smile, internally. There are many refinements but this is the exercise in its simplest form. It is easy, non-obtrusive, and you can do it anywhere. you can even practice it now.
These exercises also sit naturally alongside other disciplines like Positive Psychology, CBT and yoga.
If you practice your ‘Inner Smile’ and ‘Inner Laugh’ regularly, you become more mindful, less stressed, anxious and depressed. The benefits you experience include relaxation, being grounded, focus, the ability to prioritise your time and efforts, increased happiness, and greater confidence.

This comment from the life model expresses this well: ‘Now I’m with James (name changed) the tetraplegic, putting into practice the laughter from the course…….He admits he is being deliberately difficult. I am so much more powerful now.’

What can these practices do for you?

Share Button

Are you willing to laugh?

‘When I’m unhappy, stressed, or depressed, sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is laughing – can I really laugh myself into a better mood?’This is a common laughter yoga, nls: natural laughter skills, and laughter meditation question.

The psychologist William James observed ‘We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh’.
But does laughing always make us happier?

The key is willingness.

Willingness empowers every stress-busting, mood-lifting activity we undertake. Particularly when combined with mindfulness, willingness can break us free of anxiety and even depression. The impact and benefit can be long-lasting. We can become happier.

To activate our willingness, one way is to use the inner smile, a classic Taoist/Zen as well as mindfulness-based stress-busting technique.

How do we activate it?

  • Breathe: start taking slow deep breaths, breathing out more slowly than you breathe in
  • Relax: focus on loosening and dropping your shoulders, and do some backward shoulder rolls, maybe even backstroke movements
  • Smile: soften any habitual facial mask by allowing a hint of a smile across your mouth and eyes
  • Internalise: drop this feeling as deeply into your torso as you can, focusing especially on your heart, belly and perineum
  • Laugh: use the power of your mind to bring some pleasant, happy thought or memory into your awareness and have a quiet chuckle.
  • Feel – be mindful: in an aware, attentive, mindful way take a moment to feel and register the quality of what you’ve just experienced
  • Repeat as often and as much as necessary

This and other exercises are in the book ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’, co-authored with the Barefoot Doctor.

As ever, the more you use this practice, the better it works, because you’re learning new habits. You’re harnessing your brain’s neuroplasticity, its ability to create new neural pathways. You are increasing grey matter concentration within specific areas of your brain which are involved in learning & memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and re-assessing perspective.

What practical benefits do these bring? Among others:

  • You energise your stress-busting, mood-lifting, happiness-boosting processes
  • You strengthen your ability to be more mindful, to ease anxiety and depression, and to lift your mood at will
  • You develop the knack of becoming more optimistic, resilient and happier

All you need is willingness, and yes, you can laugh yourself happier. People do all the time. This why Dr Kataria, founder of laughter yoga, says: ‘it’s time to take laughter seriously’.

Share Button

Time: your ally or your enemy?

I was asked in a recent seminar: ‘how can my laughter yoga, nls: natural laughter skills, positive psychology and mindfulness practices help time be my ally not my enemy?’

‘The busier I get, the more I meditate’, says the Dalai Lama.

The most important aspect for all busy, stressed, anxious people to remember is to use time well, to deal with priorities, and to avoid mistakes and duplication.
The biggest mistake is to feel too busy to re-prioritise and re-assess current needs.
How do we achieve this?

The main specific tip is to:
– stop
– stand up
– stretch
– breathe
– smile
– chuckle
– take at least 30 seconds in this routine.

When you do this, you re-assert a measure of control into your life and therefore into your time management. If you are alert to your inner processes, you might experience a settling, like a Christmas snow scene which has all the snow swirling and shaken up, and when allowed to stand, it all settles again. You might experience the ‘noise’ of life quietening down, and the important ‘signals’ becoming more audible.
However you experience it, the act of deliberately inserting a break is an empowering action, gives you a greater sense of control, relieves stress, anxiety and pressure, and allows priorities to clarify. You come out of this break with a better sense of what to do next, and how to do it.
Specifically, this process allows you to identify your top priorities and the appropriate actions to achieve them.

Awareness and ‘now’ practices like laughter yoga, nls: natural laughter skills, meditation and mindfulness, especially when used regularly, help you identify when you need these breaks. The earlier you spot the need and take action, the better your time management. Consequently, you start to experience lower your stress levels, less anxiety, greater happiness & general wellbeing, and increased productivity.

Whatever else, you feel better because you feel more in control. When you feel better, you can be more focused. When you feel better and more focused, your time can become fun – and those who have fun get more done.


Share Button

Wake Up Laughing

‘What’s the point? Why would I do this?’ I was asked recently.
These questions take us to the heart of the healing power of laughter. Why is it such a good stress-buster? Does it ease anxiety and depression? Does it improve health, wellbeing and happiness?
Basically, does ‘laughter the best medicine’ deserve its reputation? The short answer of course is ‘Yes’. The long answer is also ‘Yes’. But why is this so?

When I ask people how they feel when they laugh, the most frequent comment is ‘I feel better’.
What does this mean to you? If you stop, breathe, smile and explore ‘feeling better’, what do you experience? Do you get a sense of an upward curve, of life improving?

I specifically invite you to stop, breathe, smile, relax right now, and simply feel what you’re feeling, whatever that is. Take a moment to feel the experience of your life before reading any further, and then add the phrase ‘I feel better’ into your experience. Do you notice a difference?

The longer I use nls: natural laughter skills, laughter yoga and laughter therapy, the more I appreciate the Dalai Lama (‘Be optimistic. It feels better‘) and contemporary psychological insight that ‘I feel better’ is significant and underappreciated.
It is arguably the most important attribute in our life because when we feel better, we have a sense of life improving, in particular:

  • We feel more in control, and we enjoy life more.
  • We beat back stress because we become more resilient, generous and open-hearted.
  • We improve our mood because we are having a better experience of being alive.
  • We feel more cheerful and optimistic because we ease anxiety, loneliness and depression.
  • We improve our relationships because we are a warmer, more approachable human being. We become someone people instinctively warm to and want to communicate with.

Aren’t these good enough reasons to ‘wake up laughing’?
The fact there are important, numerous and well-documented benefits for conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular health, depression, weight loss and many others is an added supportive factor. Physiologically and psychologically, these are highly significant, and they also combine well with disciplines like yoga, meditation, laughter meditation, positive psychology, as well as mindfulness practices.

However, the improvement in spiritual, psychological and overall wellbeing is perhaps the most fundamental benefit. This is another way of saying we become happier, and is why organisations like Action for Happiness support these activities.
Excitingly and interestingly, even a short exposure to nls: natural laughter skills and laughter yoga can activate this. One person came up to me at a healing arts festival and told me she’d taken part in one of my 15 minute sessions the previous year. She told me she had then spent a difficult and relentlessly demanding year as carer for a family member. She found that as a result of her 15-minute experience she felt so buoyed up that this kept her going all year.

All the other health benefits are important but to me sometimes they pale besides the improved life experience that these 15 minutes contributed to this person.

I leave you with this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882), and I encourage you to ‘wake up laughing’.
‘To laugh often and much………To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition…….. This is to have succeeded.’

Share Button

‘What if it’s too hard to force even a smile?’

In a recent session, the prevalent themes of depression, anxiety and stress came up and I was asked this excellent and classic laughter therapy question – ‘what if it’s too hard to force even a smile?’
There are two short answers. The first is: don’t.
If you don’t want to force even a smile, don’t. There’s no reason you have to smile. Whatever we do is a choice, conscious or not, and every choice is wonderful. Every choice is an experience, and every experience is valid and useful. So if you don’t feel like smiling because it’s too hard, don’t.
The second answer is that if you want to force a smile: do.
The short answer to any question on how to do something is always: by doing it.

However, as we peel away the layers of stress, anxiety and depression, we come to realise the question is how to motivate ourselves to do something we sense/feel/know will help us, even when we don’t really feel like doing it. This is a common occurrence for all of us but especially for people with extreme conditions like cancer and MS. Once we realise it’s a motivation question, that is, how to help us do something we know is going to help us, solutions start to present themselves and we start to relieve our stress and ease anxiety & depression.
One clue is that the question has even been asked. This indicates mindfulness and awareness. In my coaching practice, mindfulness and awareness are essential (and easily developed) because they underpin a willingness on the part of the asker to change their life experience from an often stressed or anxious state to something more positive and upbeat. As soon as there is willingness, there is a measure of space and separation around the situation, and this space allows the possibility of conscious choice, and a lifting of stress and anxiety.
Fuelled by this willingness, and using insights from nls: natural laughter skills, laughter yoga and positive psychology among others, there are two simple paths. One is experiential, and the other uses the power of our mind. Practicing either of these, we can all learn to lift our spirits by smiling more.
When we have reached the point where even though it’s too hard to force even a smile, we’ve decided we’re going to, if you’re an experiential person, just smile. Recently I was with a group of elderly people who suffer from macular degeneration (sight loss), and one of them said chirpily that when she starts to get ‘down’ she just smiles. She is naturally experiential and has discovered her own, and now widely used, antidote for low spirits and depression.
For others, it’s easier to use the power of the mind and in their mind’s eye either to remember something that generates a smile, or anticipate something. Both routes are wonderful, and both work well because they’re based on a positive choice you’ve made. They are empowering.
If you find you can’t bring yourself to do either of these but want to do something, hold a pencil in your teeth, or even your finger. Hold it across your mouth without it touching your lips. This facial position is the facial position of a smile, and simply having your face in this position tricks your brain into releasing mood-enhancing endorphins as if you’re smiling a genuine smile. There is a business coach I know who uses this technique when she’s driving between clients, to help her arrive in her most upbeat, positive mood possible.
There are of course many other ways we can change our mood, including exercise, yoga and meditation, but the beauty of the approach described above is that you don’t need any props, external stimuli or other activity. Because of their simple effectiveness, these smiling exercises are the starting point in the book ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’. People’s testimonials in the book speak for themselves.
Even if you’re stuck in a hospital bed or on a desert island, plagued by anxiety, worry or depression, with no access to friends, phones, TV or any other media, you can still force a smile this way, once you’re ready to.
Happy smiling.

laughing buddha


laughter therapy
nls: natural laughter skills
lift our spirits
Awakening the Laughing Buddha within

Share Button

How do YOU prepare for an important event?

Many years ago when I had that money-making genius Dottie Walters as my leadership mentor, she talked about one of her preparation tips for her presentations. She said that in her mind’s eye she always filled the room with pink light. After one of her presentations, a delegate came up to her and asked ‘Did you see all that pink in the room?’ In that moment, she came to appreciate how vital her mind’s eye preparations were.

Unsurprisingly, part of my own preparation is smiling and laughter. In my mind’s eye I always fill the scene with smiling faces and the sound of genuine, spontaneous, good-natured laughter. I picture everyone enjoying themselves and appreciating the experience. I also fill the room with light and dedicate the session to the highest good and so place the outcome in the Universe’s invisible magic hands. This is probably the single most important piece of preparation I do.

After I’ve done that, every time, without peradventure, sooner or later I have two further experiences.

The first is I want to run away.
I get a strong fear feeling in my gut with an almost overwhelming need to run away as far and as fast as possible. When I was 16 I once made myself physically ill, I developed a palpable stomach condition that meant I couldn’t take part in an end-of-course team show and was bed-bound for 2 days. So I’ve definitely done the fear thing. Nowadays I know it as part of my preparatory phase. I still feel that fear and it always surprises me but I recognise it as my old friend and just breathe through it.

The final experience is supreme calm.
It’s a weird and almost unnatural feeling. It’s as though I’m enclosed in cotton wool. I feel impervious to everything. I feel utterly and unshakeably still inside. It’s my final phase, like a supreme one-pointed meditation, where the only thing on my radar is the imminent event.
I think this must be what I heard President Obama refer to as ‘quiet time’, that final stillness before you’re ‘on’. You’ve done everything you can, you’ve done whatever preparation you’ve done, and the rest is just going to happen.

I find this cycle operates whether it’s a presentation for a large group, a 1-to-1 session, or even for an important matter of the heart. I experience this same complete cycle. In a funny way, it has become reassuring, a sign that I’m on track, a sign I’m prepared for the ‘event’.

How do you prepare?

Share Button