Category Archives: stress management

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

Train

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?

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Viktor Frankl, death camps and laughter yoga – what’s the connection?

 

Between stimulus and response there is a space,” wrote psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl in his unforgettable memoir of his life in a Nazi death camp, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. “In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” (Parabola magazine, April 2017)

Viktor Frankl discovered a profound place of inner freedom through his prison camp experiences. He discovered his power of choice, his power to choose how to respond to any given set of circumstances. For this reason he became a beacon and inspiration to others, both at the time and subsequently.

Yoga is about choice, choosing to undertake practices to promote reconnection, happiness, wellbeing and more. The more advanced we become with our yogic practice (whatever mode of yoga we practise), the more we recognise we need to practise it most at those times we least feel like it – because it is when we least feel like affirming life that we most need to.
This is how we develop our personal growth and inner freedom.

Laughter yoga is about choice, personal growth and inner freedom.

Although laughter yoga is based on laughter practices, when it is pursued more as a yoga practice than a laughing practice, it specifically & consciously develops our inner world. It promotes choice, personal growth and inner freedom.

Between stimulus and response there is a space,”……. Laughter yoga chooses to fill that space in a life-affirming way. This is what connects the threads in the title.

The more you develop your own laughter yoga, the more you use a daily laughter practice, the more diligently you apply yourself to this wellbeing and reconnection discipline, the more you find that you can laugh ‘inside’ as much as ‘outside’.
You don’t need to laugh out loud to be practising your laughter yoga.

I visited my dentist recently. During my treatment I laughed loudly – on the inside.
In this tiny way, I chose to fill my space between stimulus and response (how do you generally ‘respond’ to dental treatment?) with endorphin-releasing life-affirming silent laughter yoga.

When we choose to develop our ‘growth and freedom’ we can apply it everyday. At the very least, we can use it as an antidote to the modern epidemics of stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness and more.

The more we practise, the more readily its benefits will be available to us should we ever be unfortunate enough to need them in dire and extreme circumstances.

As ever, it’s practice, practice, practice. Let’s be wise and not wait till we have a life-threatening situation before we start.

Let’s choose to start now?

Viktor Frankl

Parabola magazine

Awakening the Laughing Buddha within

www.joehoare.co.uk

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What does laughter yoga add to mindfulness?

 

The short answer is lots.

Time and again, the feedback from participants after experiencing a session is they’ve never felt so present, so quickly.
It is extremely common for physical symptoms like headaches to disappear, for stress levels to drop, for energy levels to rise, for awareness to expand and consequently for people to experience an unexpected calm and serenity, all within fifteen or twenty minutes.

Whether the session is titled ‘Mindfulness’, ‘Gentle Laughing Mindfulness’ or simply ‘laughter yoga with Joe’, the core activities are the same. There are specific facial exercises combined with embodiment, breathing, moving, feeling, connecting. The delivery is light-hearted, flexible and spontaneous with ‘space to learn’ so participants can be aware of their own processes. This is an important aspect.
The cumulative effect is to activate people’s zest for life.

Why does this work?
The immediate answer is because it gets participants out of their heads.
Very quickly indeed it breaks them free of their endless thinking cycle. It moves their awareness into their fuller consciousness – their body, their breathing and their overall connection with self and others. When this is done as a repeating, deepening pattern, it becomes an endlessly beneficial practice.

A subtler answer is it works because of the difference between being aware and being aware with a smile. This is like the difference between a passive, observational meditation and a proactive, dynamic one. Both ‘work’, and both have their place.

The smile gives the experience a particular dynamic.

How long do the benefits last?
As with mindfulness itself, the more it is practiced, the better it ‘works’. Again, it is simple but not easy. The strong incentive is that even experienced practitioners feel so good so quickly.

What’s the best way to start?
Smile. Feel the smile. Be aware of the internal quality of the smile. Smile with your whole being, and be alert for any differences in how you feel and how others behave and react.

It might be the most enjoyable practice you ever do.

Do it now?

zest for life

laughter yoga with Joe

Smiling & embodiment practices

latest news

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Laughter wellness: what is it and why does it work?

 

At last.

‘Now we are 8’, 8 years into the Great Recession, one ever-pressing question is: what works? The harder the times, the more pressing this question.

Three of the threads proving their effectiveness are:

  • Mindfulness: present-moment awareness, encouraging emotionally intelligent and self-responsible behaviour
  • Positive Psychology: the impact of positivity on emotions, happiness and effectiveness
  • Wellness: overturns stress, anxiety & depression, and promotes connection and resilience.

In the ‘Wellness’ picture, the role of ‘laughter wellness’ has its place because it is upbeat & energising, simple & effective, and fast.

It combines wellness activities with enjoyment. The result is calmness, connection and resilience which manifests in happier productivity.

BNP (Banque National de Paris), among others, used ‘zest for life’ recently.
We moved around the space, walked at different tempos, internalised & isolated ourselves, communicated & connected with each other, and kept expanding our awareness – all in a framework of good-natured exploration.

Apprehensive, heady, pressured individuals turned up and surprised, relaxed, energised & connected individuals left.

The surprise was because of how little we did and how well it worked. We moved, we breathed, we kept expanding our connection. We all felt well, no matter how we were feeling at the start of the session.

The moral? Laughter yoga in the form of ‘Laughter wellness’ has the magic combination of simplicity, enjoyment and effectiveness.

It works.

Time to take laughter wellness seriously?

Laughter yoga, laughter wellness and ‘zest for life’

Huff Post laughter yoga

10 minute session video

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Laughter Yoga: time to start laughing with, not at?

 

There was a time not long ago when a client of mine was appalled at the possibility of yoga being taught as a stress management technique.

How times have changed.

Nowadays everyone knows about it, lots of us have tried it, and some of us use it regularly. The benefits from its breathing and stretching are so well established that it has moved from being sneered at to being welcomed.

Is this now the case with laughter yoga / yogic laughter?

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As we move into an era where personal, professional and environmental wellbeing are recognized as both essential & intertwined, the answer looks increasingly ‘yes’.

As with mindfulness, the benefits of yogic laughter include enhanced wellbeing (‘happiness’), reduction in stress, anxiety and depression, and improved resilience.
These benefits are also attainable through positive psychology and the likes of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and as research is starting to show, through yogic laughter practices as well.

Even the Pentagon has had happiness seminars.

These benefits impact our professional life as well as our personal life. Evidence is accumulating fast to show how we think more clearly, more creatively and for longer when we are in a positive mood.
Yogic laughter practices create this positive mood instantaneously.

The environmental aspect is becoming appreciated because in this arena too, health-inducing inner practices contribute to practical effectiveness. Leading figures and pioneers like Satish Kumar of Resurgence and Sir Julian Rose of the Soil Association use these practices.

What does yogic laughter offer?

Key yogic laughter practices include:

  • Willingness: being prepared to explore a practice for its benefits, even if the practice initially feels unusual
  • The smile: both smiling and laughing change brain chemistry and improve mood & effectiveness
  • The power of the mind: using the power of memory and anticipation for these same benefits
  • Movement and posture: we change our mind by changing our posture and how we move.

As with mindfulness, yogic laughter practices can require only a little time, they are simple if not easy, and are learnable.

If happiness and good mood are recognized as valuable across a spectrum as wide as Oprah, Google and the Pentagon, I’d say we’re getting there.

Time to laugh with, not at?

Resources include:
Learning yogic laughter practices

Wake Up Laughing’ in Resurgence & Ecologist magazine

Happiness at work – Shawn Achor

General information

Yogic laughter in action (video)

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Start. Laughing. Now.

 

Just, as they say, do it.

It’s good for your body, for your emotions, for your heart, for your health, for your mind, and even for world peace, as the Dalai Lama agreed with the founder of laughter yoga, Dr Kataria, recently.

Take a moment to reflect – how do you feel when you laugh? I pose this question to every group and the most common reply is ‘I feel better’.
What happens when we feel better? Life improves.
What’s the benefit when life improves? Potentially, every aspect of our life – health, relationships, effectiveness, and more.

Can we learn to laugh more? Emphatically YES. Watch how it was done at the recent Portland Centre for Integrative Medicine event.

In its simplest form, smile on the in-breath, chuckle on the out-breath. Its benefits include mood control ie we regulate out own mood better.
By doing this we are more emotionally intelligent and resilient, that is we are more in control of our own life and less controlled by external factors like stress, anxiety and anger.
We become more effective, even in the field of activism, as I wrote in Resurgence magazine

Because we are more in control of our mood, we communicate better and have better relationships at home and with colleagues. Life becomes more joyful.

We can all learn this. Here’s one way, on this next course.

Let’s all have a more joyful year, for ourselves, our family & friends, our colleagues, and the world at large?

www.joehoare.co.uk

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Enjoy the unenjoyable

 

A testing time is approaching for many of us. How can we best get through it?

Besides the relax/breathe/smile techniques, here are 3 you might not have used much before, if at all.

  1. Commit to enjoying. Before you leave your bed in the morning, affirm to yourself you’re going to have a good day, no matter what. At the very least, you start your day on the front foot, not the back. Your smiling practices help but beyond that, make a non-negotiable resolve to yourself that you’re going to have a good day. Do whatever you need to set that intention but give it the same kind of determination an Olympic gold-medalist would.
  2. Sacred space. At interval during the day, take time out for yourself. Joseph Campbell referred to this sacred space as perhaps the most important personal practice we have. It allows us to re-centre ourselves, which is vital when we feel under pressure. Leave the room, be somewhere else, but see it and use it as a safety valve.
  3. Imagine light. A successful no-nonsense self-made business-woman I knew was aware of the importance of working in a subtle as well as practical way. Before any presentation she’d do a visualization in which she’d fill the room with her favourite colour, which happened to be pink. One time someone came up to her after her presentation and commented ‘did you notice how everything looked a bit pink?’

Even if you just use this as a mental rehearsal exercise, it is surprisingly powerful.
It is also extremely easy to do as it only takes a second or so – longer if you like, but not necessarily.
It also works well in team settings and with meetings, by the way, because the net result is you build your resilience.

I guarantee if you use these tips your enjoyment increases.

Joehoare---front-Business-card---flatYou are also likely to find pleasure replaces dread, you become more relaxed and happier, and you connect better than you thought likely, or even possible.

You won’t be the first to have these experiences from using these tips.
Happy enjoyment.

Useful links:

smiling practices

relax/breathe/smile techniques

team settings and meetings

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You are awesome – yes, you.

 

I was thinking awesome this morning.

I suddenly realised that two of the most awesome people I’ve known in my life were both almost completely uneducated, yet they both had a spark that people still remember. That spark was their ability to figure things out, be nobody’s fool and therefore highly perceptive.

In today’s parlance, they were creative, intuitive and authentic. They understood themselves, and therefore life, well enough to see to the heart of situations. Neither of them had high flying careers yet they excelled,  and impressed everyone who met them because they were so ‘real’.

If they could, why not us too?

Can we be more ‘real’? We’re already unique, creative individuals, so can we learn to expand our uniqueness?
Why might we want to?

One simple way to expand our uniqueness is to become more aware of the flow of life. Life is swirling and changing in & around us all the time, yet how aware of this are we? If we’re ‘in our heads’ the answer is always: not very.
As soon as we engage with our embodied consciousness, awareness floods in, stress and tension ease, mood improves, life becomes more enjoyable, we communicate better, and relationships and effectiveness improve.

How do we do this? A simple mantra is ‘feet, breathe, smile’.

When we put attention on our feet, especially the soles of our feet, we get out of our heads.
When we become aware of and focus on our breathing, we relax and calm down.
When we smile, we imbue our awareness with good-naturedness.

One of the cumulative effects is to deepen our connection with our knowing self, our intuition – including perceptiveness and ability to ‘figure things out’.

I observe people entering this state of embodied awareness, and every time they become more radiant and beautiful.
They become relaxed, empowered and confident.
Without fail, they know what to do next, what their next step is and how to take it.
They become aware they have the resources to do what needs doing.
They do it.
They activate their zest for life.

Joehoare---front-Business-card---flatThey become awesome in front of my eyes.

Get out of your head and go for full awareness.
Use the mantra and practice: ‘Feet, breathe, smile’.
Give it a go. Get more awesome.

Tell me how you get on.

Useful links
Zest for life
‘Feet, breathe, smile’
Take your next step

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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, 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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