Category Archives: meditation

What can I expect on a laughter yoga retreat?

 

‘Laughter yoga with Joe’ is about the journey back to joyfulness. We are all wherever we are on our own life curve, dealing with whatever we’re dealing with, experiencing whatever we’re experiencing.
Wherever we are is the perfect platform for our next step – and all we can ever do is take the next step, one at a time?

What if we can do this with lightness, joyfully? With zest for life?

Joehoare---front-Business-card---flat

Strategically, spiritually, on a soul level we have a yearning to return home. Inside us, that warm, loving, kind part of us yearns to connect, to reach out and communicate warmly with our fellow humans and beyond. So often our history, our ‘story’, gets in our way and hampers us. Sometimes we’re afraid, afraid of our ‘shadow’ or just afraid.
What if we can just march straight through our ‘story’, enjoying the journey and so focused on the joyfulness that it provides us with the energy to become more joyful ourselves?

How can we do this? The secret lies in the present, experiencing the NOW.
Start here & now by dropping your shoulders, taking a deep breath, putting a small warm genuine smile on your face, and breathing out slowly while keeping that genuine smile alive.

‘Laughter yoga with Joe’ is a very NOW experience in which we use all the resources we have, often discovering we have many more than we previously realised.

On a Retreat, we laugh, sing, dance and play. We explore lightness and joyfulness. We breathe & relax, and are quiet & calm.
We have space and permission to be free and spontaneous. In a safe and permissive space, we allow and welcome all emotion.

In this warm, generous and spacious way we practice being present, in the NOW. This is where the magic happens.

Resources:
www.joehoare.co.uk

www.bristollaughterclub.com

Hawkwood College laughter yoga retreat

 

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 www.joehoare.co.uk.

 

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’.

www.joehoare.co.uk

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.

www.joehoare.co.uk

 

Share Button

Need more time? Well, laugh more!

‘Purleeeeease – laugh? When I’m stressed and busy? Meditation? Laughter meditation? I just don’t have the time. Let’s get real here – how can I manage more things when I’m short of time already?’

Ring a bell, anyone? I remember this time management conundrum well, so I enjoy helping others out of it.

Funny things happen when you laugh, especially when you laugh as a health promotion practice. In our era of intensifying stress and time pressure, the quest for happiness, serenity and productivity is also intensifying. As anxiety and depression increase, so do practices like yoga, meditation, laughter yoga and nls: natural laughter skills.
As time monsters proliferate, so do subtle time management practices.

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

How is it possible that the solution to time shortage is to take up more time-consuming activities? Sound a bit funny, this? Yet this is what works.

First, following an earlier theme that laughter practices stimulate a sense of ‘I feel better’, this  gives us a sense of greater control in our life. This alone is an excellent reason to start laughter practices immediately. We feel more in control of our time,a pre-requisite for time management.

Secondly, laughter and smiling practices bring us into the ‘now’. The decision to use these practices breaks us out of our hamster wheel of mind-swirling overwhelming demands. Being mindful and in the ‘now’ immediately breaks the cycle of pressure, whether time pressure or pressure on the spirit.

Thirdly, time spent being mindful reconnects us with our intuition, our sense of inner knowing. This is where our time management solutions are. Allowing mindfulness and our intuition to guide us allows the important time management priorities to reveal themselves. Like cream, they float to the surface.

So far, so good – but how do we access all these benefits? Where do mindfulness, laughter yoga and nls: natural laughter skills fit in?

  1. Wake and Smile – W.A.S.
    Possibly your simplest and most powerful daily practice is to start your day with a smile. You start your day with conscious positive intention. You can either lie in bed and do it, or even smile in the mirror. The practice is for it to be a genuine, good-natured smile for 10-15 seconds. Use the ‘pencil in the teeth’ technique if necessary, as in ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’. Just do it, whatever it takes.
    Starting your day well gives you a sense of being in control and ready for what the day brings.
  2. Laugh at Lunchtime – L.A.L.
    At lunchtime, repeat this smiling exercise, or look around and find something to have a good-natured laugh about.
    Use the power of your own mind to access thoughts or memories that bring you a sense of lightness, wellbeing or joy.
    Listen to your intuition and re-prioritise your afternoon accordingly.
  3. Laugh at Work – L.A.W.
    During your working day, find moments to stop, relax, stretch, breathe, smile and chuckle. We all need regular breaks to keep our work focused, relevant, creative and productive. Add the L.A.W dimension to access your intuition and help you prioritise and manage your time well.
  4. Laugh at the End – L.A.T.E.
    At the end of your working day or at the end of your day, do one final smiling & laughing exercise. Besides the mild euphoria this induces, it also helps you settle and calm down. Whether you’re about to head home or head to bed, you do so with an enhanced sense of calm and peacefulness.

The more you develop your laughter practices, the more you improve your health, happiness and wellbeing – and your time management.

www.joehoare.co.uk

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.’

www.joehoare.co.uk

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

www.joehoare.co.uk

 

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

Share Button

How to find your guru or spiritual leader (it’s easy, just look around)

What is a guru? What is a spiritual leader? Who’s yours? Do you have one? Do you want one? Do you need one?

I meet mine all the time.

A guru is someone who teaches spiritual truths, a spiritual leader, someone we learn spiritual truths from. A typical portrayal of a guru is a venerable Asian person, either man or woman, wrapped in a cloth, sitting on an elevated chair or throne, dispensing wisdom pearls either through a discourse or in response to questions. Typically, they are surrounded by acolytes and seekers, all of whom are looking to find something through their guru’s special radiance, something they haven’t been able to find or maintain in themselves, like peacefulness, bliss or serenity. They sometimes find it in their guru’s presence, and then lose it again when they re-enter planet earth.

There is another way to find your spiritual truths.

First, what is the most important spiritual truth? Is it knowledge, insight, wisdom?
Or is there a more fundamental one, highlighted repeatedly by gurus and teachers everywhere, namely Loving Kindness & Compassion?

If this is the deepest spiritual truth, what more do you need to know?

Secondly, where are you going to find it? We’ve all heard the old saying ‘the answer lies within’.
What if it really does?
What if what we’re seeking is actually inside us all along, all the time, always? What if we always know what to do, even if we think we don’t? What if it’s just a question of looking inside in the right way? What if it’s more a question of feeling inside and receiving the message, even if it’s uncomfortable, not what we want to hear, and not what we like?
What if no one else can do it for us?
What if we have to do it ourselves?
What if we can find it whenever we look inside in the right way?

Thirdly, if the deepest spiritual truth is Loving Kindness & Compassion ,what else do you need to know?
If you already know this deepest truth, what is more information other than distracting entertaining brain-food, an avoidance of actually doing the work?
If you already know what to do, what is more important than doing it? Isn’t the doing of it as a diligent daily practice, the most important truth of all?

I’ve come to follow this approach for many years now. Once I realised it’s all about Loving Kindness & Compassion, I realised the most important thing to do is to keep filling as much of my life with it as possible. Everything else is secondary. Yes, I love my laughter yoga, my mindfulness, my ‘be here now’, my healing, my breathing techniques, but the main focus is Loving Kindness & Compassion.

I am aware, every day, how much more I have to do. I am a work in progress. Every day I fail constantly and am judgemental, unkind, and critical. I’m a daily failure. Fortunately I’ve trained myself not to focus on my failures but to focus on my expanding Loving Kindness & Compassion, and I use every opportunity I can to help me, because I need all the help I can find.

I need my guru, my spiritual teacher, badly. Happily, I’ve come to realise the truth in the saying ‘if you know how to listen, everyone is your guru’. I’ve become aware how everyone I meet, however casually, is an opportunity to practice Loving Kindness & Compassion. Everyone I meet is an opportunity to extend Loving Kindness & Compassion, whoever they are. Whether they’re teenagers being truculent, politicians telling lies, people being casually rude and unkind, they are all my teachers, my gurus. This is especially true when I feel the sting of irritation because they are doing me the service of highlighting my need for further practice. They benefit too because I make a point of extending Loving Kindness & Compassion to them, so they’ve helped me and I’ve helped them, aka win/win.

I now have many gurus, and I find them everywhere every day. I hope from now on you do too.

www.joehoare.co.uk

Share Button

Homage to Laughter Yoga

My debt to laughter yoga is huge. My delight at meeting Madan and Madhuri was enormous. The freedom they gave me to laugh out loud joyously is priceless.

I first came across laughter clubs in 1996, in the Funny Old World section of Private Eye magazine, where I read about laughing for the sake of laughing. I was already running personal development workshops (free your natural voice / toning & overtone chanting) where people laughed lots anyway. One person came up to me after a session and said they’d never laughed so much in their life before, and she was well into her 50’s by then. So I was accustomed to the liberating power of laughter. However, the thought of running a workshop called ‘laughter workshop’ was just too daunting, so I was intrigued by this article. I still have a copy today.
I was also aware of Patch Adams, had read about Robert Holden and the healing power of laughter in Matthew Manning’s excellent ‘Guide to self healing, so I dipped my toe in and ran my first workshop in 1997. I never really felt comfortable in these sessions because I didn’t feel I had the proper response to the vibe: ‘go on, make me laugh’ – until I met Dr K in 2002.
I have had several life-defining moments in my short life, and this was another of them. I drove up to Birmingham where he was running a workshop, we met the evening before, and I just loved every second. And this was before the workshop itself where he created a space where I finally gave myself full permission to laugh fully, joyously, for a long time. More importantly, the workshop also gave me an essential insight, that last piece of my laughter jigsaw, that one piece without which the picture was incomplete – connection.
My role was not to make people laugh, but to help people connect. When we connect in good-natured & open-hearted way, natural joyfulness wells up and expresses itself through laughter. Laughter itself can cause this of course, but when laughter combines with connection, magic happens.

I was so moved by this experience, I invited Madan and Madhuri back to the UK the following year where we had a couple of fabulous days in Bristol, more training – and some real life. When he arrived at the train station (from Birmingham), he’d lost his passport. I observed ‘that’s no laughing matter’, to which he replied ‘well, actually, I think I need to laugh more’, and did. There was someone walking his talk. Inspirational.

Madan, you lit a beacon in my life for which I will always thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Share Button