Category Archives: Action for Happiness

Beyond McMindfulness (hint: think ‘laughter practices’)

‘This makes me more present than anything else’, said the Maori homeopath, ‘more than my own meditation practice’

She was referring to the awareness practices she’d just experienced in a yogic laughter session at the Bristol laughter club.

blc logoIndividually at first, we explored awareness of feet, breath, hands, ears and so on.
We then explored them progressively and cumulatively.

Next, we explored how deeply we could maintain this awareness  while walking and moving.

Next, we took off our regular masks and added the quality of a soft face, ie a smile. We experienced the extra dimension the smile added.

Progressively we explored how there’s no limit to how deeply we can be aware, and how the smile deepens awareness.

Simple but not easy, to use Jon Kabat-Zinn’s expression.

The effect? Becoming more present, absolutely anchored in the present moment, connecting warmly with fellow human beings.
The quality of experience? Quiet, joyful contentment.

This simple exercise gets better the more we use it. ‘Gets better’ means becomes more effective. The more present we are, the better we can respond to the requirements of the current moment – with less stress, less anxiety, less frustration, more calmness, more peacefulness, more effectiveness.

McMindfulness does not deliver this. Mindfulness does. Yogic laughter practices do, par excellence.

Awakening the Laughing Buddha within

 

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7 tips for more happiness: the smiling mindset

It’s all in the smile

Whenever possible, whatever you’re doing, do it with a smile. This simple-but-not-easy practice is the antidote to over-seriousness. Who needs over-seriousness? It is not only a joy-killer, it hampers our communication, how we connect with others and limits our effectiveness. It tends to creep up on us, and makes us stressed, anxious and even depressed. If nothing else, over-seriousness limits our enjoyment, whether at work, home and in life.
Besides Eeyores, who consciously chooses not to enjoy their life?

Why smile more?

When we develop a smiling mindset, we enjoy life more. We find more enjoyment everywhere – at our desk, at our computer, with colleagues, while travelling, even in meetings. This simple benefit that we enjoy life more is good enough reason for many people to develop their smiling mindset and smile more.

In this vein, beware of Botox! When we limit our facial expressiveness with anti-wrinkle treatments, we might also be limiting our happiness.
Smiling improves our mood, eases our stress, and makes us happier. It is also good for our health as it tends to lower our blood pressure. We think, focus and concentrate better. The list of benefits goes on and on.

‘On the first day I woke up with a headache with general cold symptoms and was reluctant to start. Even though I felt ridiculous, I still smiled and by the end was genuinely laughing; it was a great start to the day and I actually made it to my lecture. It’s amazing how such a simple task can have a positive effect on your day. By the end of the week I did feel slightly happier and found that any task I was going to do post exercise became easier. I was able to write up lecture notes quicker and found it helped clear my mind and thus, improved my cognitive ability.’

The smiling mindset – smile with your eyes

While it is true that smiling is contagious, so are good vibes. The smiling mindset is an attitude and it can be learnt. More importantly, it can be felt, and so it flows naturally into a mood and energetic communication. The key to this attitude is to soften the muscles around our eyes (orbicularis occuli), the muscles that we use in a genuine (‘Duchenne’) smile. When we relax these muscles our whole face softens, we promote facial expressiveness and so communicate more authentically, and we naturally & genuinely build positive emotions in ourselves and others.

It is a simple yet profound practice, like mindfulness. It is a natural antidote to stress, anxiety and more, also like mindfulness. It is also inherently enjoyable.

Activate yours

You can activate yours while sitting, running, walking, driving, waiting – wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Use the power of your mind. Think ‘smile’ to yourself. Loosen up your body, and send it ‘relax’ messages. Start to move and swing your arms. Get up and stretch. Be as physical as you can. The saying from Dr Kataria and laughter yoga is ‘motion creates emotion’ so use all the resources available to you, and this includes your body.

While doing all this, smile. In particular, feel the quality of your smile from the inside out, your inner smile. Keep your face soft. Twinkle. Allow any feelings of good-natured enjoyment to arise, and welcome them. Allow all feelings to arise, be aware/mindful of them and welcome them – just keep the inner smile attitude going.

Make this a daily practice. Do it several times a day. Do it as often as possible. Keep practicing, diligently. This can change your life.

Smile:)

www.joehoare.co.uk

 

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Laugh – and be mindful (7 tips for happiness, tip 9)

Laugh – and be still. Express, and then feel.
Take a moment to breathe and be still – relax, breathe, smile, and feel.

The practice of laughter is a joyful path to mindfulness. Why is there so much attention on mindfulness nowadays? Benefits include:

  • Become more resilient to daily stress
  • Improve your health and well-being
  • Improve your relationships
  • Become happier

The apparent contradiction between the explosiveness of laughter and the calm of mindfulness dissolves when we feel the stillness after the laughter. When we develop our laughter meditation practice, through nls: natural laughter skills, laughter yoga and/or laughter therapy, and use it to become more aware, we are experiencing a mindfulness meditation practice.

What are the benefits?

Why use laughter practices? Benefits include:

  • Energising
  • Physical workout
  • Improved breathing
  • Produce natural painkillers
  • Relaxing
  • Antidote to the ‘blues’

The laughter meditation technique has two parts. First is to develop the ability to chuckle in a good-natured way as we exhale, on two or more consecutive out-breaths. Four consecutive chuckling out-breaths is a good number to start with.
The second part after this laughter practice is to stop, smile, breathe and feel. When we focus our awareness in this way, we are using classic mindfulness awareness. We are developing our present moment awareness.
As a practice, the more we use our awareness in this way, the more mindful we become and the greater the benefits we experience.

Why laughter practices?

The attractiveness of laughter practices as a form of mindfulness practice is enjoyment.
Some people find the laughter practices enhance mindfulness without having to go through the mindfulness process. They immediately start to experience the benefits through their smiling and laughing practices alone.

The psychology, science and medicine that underpin this are becoming better known all the time. It is not a coincidence or a fluke that these practices work. There is an ever expanding evidence base which supports it, from positive psychology, hard science, and psycho-neuro-immunology.

How do I use them?

The basic practice is to maintain a genuine good-natured smile for 10-15 seconds, and then relax, breathe, smile and feel.
You can extend this into a full-blown inner smile practice.

The more advanced but still simple practice is to chuckle in a genuine good-natured way on 4 consecutive out-breaths – and then relax, breath, smile and feel.

If you already have a mindfulness practice, you can explore doing it with a smile. The smile can be almost invisible as long as it softens your face and you experience this effect on your awareness. Meditate mindfully, with a smile.

If you are already very experienced, you can explore adding the good-natured genuine chuckle to your mindfulness meditation. As you are already experienced, no doubt you are comfortable with exploring new qualities in a non-judgemental way, just to see how they affect you.

There is a tribe for whom these additional practices bring unexpected benefits.
What I have learnt in the process of awakening my inner laughing Buddha is being able, at any moment, to choose to enter the  state of having a genuine warm smile and that this has a transformative  effect on me.  It is as if I have found the last piece of a jigsaw, which holds everything together, a magic key which enables me to access, without effort, those qualities that I have been ‘working’ towards.
Namely, acceptance,  peace, lightness, playfulness, joy in living, connection being more centred,  and being able to inhabit my body more.  It is so simple, yet so profound, it’s laughable!

Do let me know how you get on?

Where can I learn more?

Here are some helpful links:
inner smile
laughter meditation
laughter/mindfulness course
book

 

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7 tips for more happiness, part 7: laugh at your fears

When you’re afraid – or stressed, or anxious, or angry, or unhappy – laugh.

The ability to laugh under duress, when circumstances are hard, is a route back to sanity and inner calm.
The ability to laugh at ourselves in these circumstances is a path to psychological freedom, emotional intelligence, professional effectiveness, and personal liberation.
It helps us be more mindful, become more resilient & able to cope with life’s ‘slings & arrows’, and better able to find peace of mind under duress.
Fear is an example of duress. How do we face our fear and not let it rule us?

Laughter practices are one way.
In both laughter yoga and nls: natural laughter skills we learn to laugh for the sake of laughing. We learn to laugh for the psychological, emotional, physical, whole-person benefits. With practice this becomes an effective technique for dealing with pressure and regaining our equilibrium.
In group and organisational settings, it a classic way of raising morale. Watching ‘World at War’ footage of both Monty and Nye Bevan giving wartime speeches, for example, one theme they both tapped into was the morale-boosting effects of good natured laughter and humour.

Fear, which often combines with stress, anxiety and worse, is debilitating. It is, as Frank Herbert said, ‘the little death’.

Until we overcome them, they blight our lives.

When we overcome them, miracles happen:
At the weekend I only touched on the pain and trauma I have been through in the last six years. Over that time I had completely forgotten how to laugh, lost my confidence and self-esteem along with trust in others – all the negatives.
I think I had reached rock bottom – anti depressants from the doctor, high blood pressure, IBS all, I believe, caused by my ego dwelling on the past and going over things like a long playing record. Thankfully a visit to the doctor made me realise I had to begin to take control. I needed to laugh and find the fun in my life and also live in the NOW not the past.
(ie mindfully – Joe)
I read and researched Eckhart Tolle and then wondered whether there were any clubs that actually taught you how to laugh – that was when I happened on laughter therapy and it looked amazing………
The content, participants………..were uplifting, stimulating, thought provoking, certainly sowing the seeds and giving me strategies to help put my life back on a positive path………
Obviously I realise it is early days but I am sure with my inner strength and determination I will succeed. In fact my doctor, whom I saw today, has agreed to gently phase me off medication.’ (Retreat delegate)

The content she refers to was based on smiling & laughter practices, developing the genuine ability to smile and laugh at will, no matter what the circumstances. Like all practices, these have to be done diligently and consistently to be most effective, but hers is just one story of many.

On an organisational level, this approach helps empower people and generate enthusiasm. Who wouldn’t want a delegate coming out saying:
‘Thanks for the conference at the Victoria Hotel on Friday. I haven’t had so much fun at a conference ever. I still chuckle at the idea of the “respectful bowing laugh”.’
(Conference delegate, Healthy Living Initiative, Cornwall).

Evidence that these practices work is accumulating all the time, as this article in Psychology Today shows (see below).

As ever, though, the final proof is personal experience.
We all have to find ways to survive and thrive, to get through hardship & loss, and overcome fear.
We all need good tools to help us practice our mindfulness, become more resilient, be more emotionally intelligent.
We all want to raise our level of effectiveness for greater life satisfaction and happiness.

As ever with these things I learnt some things that I never could have imagined I was going to. I am practicing! (Retreat delegate)

Perhaps it’s time to develop your smiling and laughter practices?

 

Resources

 

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7 tips for more happiness, part 6: Don’t be so serious

‘But seriously…..’
Are you serious about your happiness?
In the west, there is a presumption, a conditioned response, that the most weighty and important things in life are the serious ones. ‘But seriously…..’ is the comment we often use when wanting to make a point or be listened to…..or be taken ‘seriously’.
But where’s the evidence?

One recurring comment from people who experience nls: natural laughter skills & laughter yoga is how much they enjoy a break from their seriousness. They start to enjoy life more. They become more  present & mindful, more aware of the present moment. They become more joyful. Spontaneously they smile and laugh more, openly and genuinely.
We all communicate & connect better in this state. We also feel happier.

Are these sufficient reasons for engaging with our light-hearted, playful and good-natured side? Perhaps they should be because communication & connection are perfect antidotes to stress, anxiety and depression.
However, we often want the reassurance we feel from scientific & medical studies especially when we venture into the workplace arena of increased productivity, resilience and endurance.

Positive psychology is producing & highlighting streams of studies linking happiness with improved communication, resilience and productivity.
So how do nls: natural laughter skills & laughter yoga overlap with positive psychology to make us less serious, happier and more productive?
3 ways  are:

  1. They encourage playfulness. There are excellent TED talks on why playfulness matters. Almost every aspect of our lives improve when we incorporate playfulness into it.
  2. They get us active. The right kind of physicality not only relieves stress & tension but also improves posture, and refreshes our creative thinking.
  3. Smiling & laughing are natural mood-enhancers, for ourselves and others. Done appropriately they are a personal and team tonic.

How can we become less serious? Besides reading the previous blogs for tips (!), make a point regularly of using senses other than just your head.
Mindfulness practices happen to work well here – sit or stand and be aware, using as many senses simultaneously as you can. Smell, touch, taste, feel, sense, listen, look, see – and smile.

Combining these practices adds an uplifting and connecting quality, with surprisingly long-lastig effects: ‘Just wanted to share with you that when I got home, talking to a friend on a phone many hours later,  I notice last night my cheeks where rosy and sore from so much smiling.  The same feeling has been all day today……… My thoughts of the event itself was ‘yes. Great fun. Really good’…  24 hours later it is now ‘yes. Great fun… truly amazing’. (Martin Schofield, Sales Executive)

Do your smiling exercises. Both the pencil in the teeth and the 15-second smilining exercise from the book ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’ generate profound changes in people.
I just wanted to let you know how I have been getting on since I came to the last Laughter Club meeting in September. I have been following your instructions to smile first thing every morning and last thing at night. Wonderful!
I have to say that I have felt a real change in me. My face seems lighter and I feel more positive.
Last week whilst reading the news on Bristol hospital Radio my fellow news-reader read a funny story and I laughed until I cried and neither of us could finish the news through constant giggling. I do not remember the last time that I laughed that much and I wanted to thankyou for giving me courage to laugh out loud again.’ (Jonathan Fifield)

When these practices make us less serious, more relaxed and happier, and happiness even makes us more productive, what are we waiting for?

Further resources:
‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’
Positive psychology – ‘Authentic Happiness’
TED talks on playfulness

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7 tips for more happiness in life, part 3

‘How do I laugh more?’ is still one of the most common questions I am asked in coaching sessions.
This is the third in the series of 7 quick tips on how to use nls: natural laughter skills and laughter yoga for more laughter in your life.

Tip 3 – ‘when feeling angry/stressed/‘blue’, laugh at yourself’

 

This classic reminder, used by both Alan Watts and Eckhart Tolle, is an essential step towards happiness. We tell ourselves stories all the time, and being human we tend to believe them.

How can we break this pattern, and how do laughter practices help?

As ever, awareness and mindfulness are crucial. The more we practice being aware and living in the ‘now’, the easier it becomes to remember we’re just telling ourselves a story. Consequently, the easier it becomes to break out of the pattern.

One way to stimulate this awareness is the laughter meditation practice of chuckling & laughing-out-loud on each out-breath.
When you develop this practice it becomes easier to use it when you’re angry, stressed or anxious. You find that in the middle of the drama you can still have awareness, and with this awareness, you can take this laughter meditation action step – and laugh out loud at yourself.

To do this:

  • Breathe in
  • Pause
  • Smile
  • Breathe out with a chuckle
  • Repeat
  • Repeat again etc

This practice, combining nls: natural laughter skills, laughter yoga and the Barefoot Doctor’s Taoism, is described more fully in chapter 2 of ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’.
It is an inherently mindful & joyful practice because laughter brings our attention into the present moment. It cuts through the drama of our story, and eases any anger, stress and anxiety.
Psychologically it helps because we start to exercise control over our state of consciousness.
Neurologically this practice works because our brain responds to our laughing rather than our worrying, so the more we practice this, the more we re-wire our brain for peace, calm and happiness.

‘Thank you……not sure I could have gotten through the year……to laugh again at all the right and ‘wrong’ moments’. (private comment)

 

A note of caution – this is not an easy practice!
I find when I’m in the thick of an anger, stress or anxiety drama, it requires considerable effort to do my chuckling meditation.
A note of reward – just one chuckle is enough!
Once I’ve had the presence of mind to take this action step, it immediately starts to break through and provide perspective, clarity and calm. I experience an immediate easing of the internal pressure my drama was creating.

I also find it the perfect antidote to over-seriousness and use it whenever I feel this tendency encroaching – so I use it several times a day! I now find it an essential, enjoyable, life-enhancing safety valve.

I’d love to hear your experiences.

Coaching

Happiness

Action for Happiness

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7 tips for more laughter in your life

‘How do I laugh more?’
This is the first in a series of 7 quick tips on how to use nls: natural laughter skills and laughter yoga to experience more laughter in your life.
It is a common question I get asked in coaching, workshops and conferences.

Tip 1 – ‘Permission to Enjoy’.

2013 July 15th 011Often the biggest barrier is in our own mind.
When you take this immediate, simple and often overlooked step – giving yourself permission to enjoy – laughter usually starts immediately.
What is guaranteed and always starts immediately is a lifting and lightening of the mood.

‘Permission to enjoy’ means putting laughter and enjoyment up your priority scale. It means remembering to enjoy the ride, not just to head for the destination, seriously, glumly, in resentment or even fear.
It means to take occasional little bits of the most irreplaceable quality in our life – our time – and spend it on appreciating the journey we’re experiencing.

‘Permission to enjoy’ means beating back stress, over-seriousness, anxiety and even depression, by flicking a simple mind switch.

Use it as a mantra.
Say it to yourself now, and see if you feel different.
Have a look round your environment, wherever you are, and see what you can find that brings a smile to your lips.
It’s even better if you can find something, anything at all, that elicits a little chuckle.
Set a ‘Permission to enjoy’ alarm/reminder on your phone at least once a day.

Give yourself permission to enjoy your life.
It feels better.
You’ll promote your own wellbeing.
You’ll feel happier.

 

www.joehoare.co.uk

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The challenge is to live

This lovely quote comes from a recent interview Howard Jacobson with Clive James.

Inside us all is the fire of life. It is our uniqueness, our own gift to the world. It is the person inside us who wants to break free, to rise to life’s challenge, live life fully on our own terms and live our life’s purpose.

Are you clear about your own life purpose? I am 100% clear about mine. 2013 July 15th 011

I’m here to cheer people up, to spread good cheer, to help us all access that place in ourselves where we say ‘I feel better’.
‘I feel better’ is the most common response when I ask people how they feel when they laugh, so I encourage everyone to laugh, live and find their inner ‘taa-daaah!’

Just imagine the whole world, all 7 billion of us, experiencing ‘I feel better’?

I’ve made so many mistakes and my teachers include surviving suicide, 18 months of insomnia hell, financial catastrophe, and dealing with Fear, stress, anxiety, depressed spirit and more.
The result is I know about pain and suffering and how to come through it. I’ve written about it (‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’) to give people hope, courage, and practical tips.

I know that the safest course is to take the risk and live because as we’re all going to experience pain and suffering anyway, let’s make them worthwhile? Let’s punctuate the in-between spaces with celebration so we enjoy them as fully as possible?
Let’s fill them with warmth and kindness?
Let’s reach out and help others when they’re down?
Let’s emit our own ‘taa-daaah!’ as much and as often as possible and make the ride worthwhile?

‘The challenge is to live.’

There are many ways to find your own fire, your life purpose. These include practicing getting out of your own way.

  • Develop the practice of just being – ‘sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit’ (attr. Mark Twain).
  • Practice mindfulness to develop your awareness and inner peacefulness.
  • Develop your inner smile. Learn to access your inner joyfulness with nls: natural laughter skills & laughter yoga practices. Use their smiling and laughing techniques to access your zest for life.
  • Remember to use your body, and not just your head, to experience life.
  • Take the risk to feel.
  • Take the risk to be open and non-judgemental, and to reach out to share heart-felt experiences with fellow human beings.

Your benefits will include greater wellbeing, and a healthier, happier, more productive, more love-filled life.

May my own experiences help you.

www.joehoare.co.uk

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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 www.joehoare.co.uk.

 

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Laughter meditation? Mindfulness? At Glastonbury Festival??

How is it possible to be mindful in the middle of a music festival like Glastonbury?  How is it possible to practice a mindful walking meditation in the middle of 250,000 revellers?

How do laughter yoga, nls: natural laughter skills and laughter meditation help? This what the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2 was curious about, and why they sent Alex Jones to find out.

Alex Jones from the Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Joe Hoare at Glastonbury 2014

Alex Jones from the Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Joe Hoare at Glastonbury 2014

The easy path when surrounded by noise, distraction, stress, anxiety, and wild revelry is to give up your own centeredness and get gobbled up by the madness. After all, isn’t that what we’re being invited and tempted to do?
And yet, you might find that even in these tempting circumstances, your own small voice of calm, your intuition, communicates with you and invites you to be mindful and hold your own centre.

Through discipline, commitment and persistence you can internalise your laughter yoga, nls: natural laughter skills and mindfulness practices and experience their calming, centring benefits in any circumstances. When you focus on the inner sensations, these practices develop a somatic quality. You feel them in your perineum, in your belly and in your heart, as described in the book Alex is clutching, ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’. They provide you with an anchor so you stay centred and grounded, in your own power, no matter what the external circumstances.

Your practice becomes:

  • walking steadily, mindfully, with awareness
  • feeling your inner sensations
  • your feet connecting with the ground
  • your breathing relaxed
  • your posture supported by your chi
  • your inner smile beaming

Your laughter yoga practices develop your relaxed breathing, your nls: natural laughter skills adds chi and your inner smile, and your mindfulness adds awareness.

When you practice these at home, or in classes, workshops and in coaching sessions, you’re developing your ability to tap into these stress-busting, anxiety-relieving, depression-lifting, happiness-inducing, health-boosting qualities at will. You can use them not just in noisy wonderful party places like Glastonbury Festival, but also at work, at home, and in times of stress, anxiety, worry and depression.

People find they work, so just keep practicing a little bit every day:

  • relax
  • breathe
  • smile
  • chuckle
  • feel

For further practical information to help you develop your own practice, visit www.joehoare.co.uk

For further insights about approaches to inner freedom, read Victor Frankl’s book
‘Man’s Search for Meaning’

For other research into the benefits of meditation, visit the BBC site here, and read a neuroscientist’s view here

 

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