Category Archives: stress management

Gentle laughing mindfulness

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

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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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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?

www.joehoare.co.uk

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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

 

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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

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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

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Float, don’t sink – be a cork, not a stone

I was asked recently: ‘how do you stay buoyant when life gets ‘difficult’?’
How indeed? The question within the question in our modern stressful times is how to stay positive, how to avoid anxiety and overload, how to stay buoyant and float like a cork, not sink like a stone.
I find two approaches work well, one is insight, and the other is practice. The key to both is to give up resistance, accept that life is as it is, and change what you can. This way you stay on top of life, you float, not sink.
Many years ago, a lovely (and insightful!) friend observed that, given the slightest chance, things generally work out for the best. She is a good-natured soul, she always has adventures and laughs about them. She is a fine embodiment of this approach, constantly radiates fun, and finds the best in situations.
Not everyone is like this. However, her insight did get me pondering. I consciously and deliberately started exploring hypothetically: what if everything IS working out for the best? What if every experience carries its own resolution and its own answer within it? What if the purpose of the disappointment and even depression is not to hurt us but to strengthen us? What if the purpose of suffering isn’t to make us suffer, but to liberate our consciousness, and make us more compassionate, tolerant and happier?
Commentators from the Dalai Lama, to Victor Frankl, to daily social media users all observe that sometimes life’s difficult times produce beautiful and unexpectedly wonderful consequences. The wise course is to be open to this possibility as soon as possible – not to beat ourselves up when plans go awry but to treat the experience simply as information and use it to build a better future.
How do we do this?
A fine psychological practice is ‘benefit finding’, looking for the benefit in the experience. This practice trains us actively to look for positives. As with all practices, the more we use it, the better it works. We can all practice beating anxiety and stress and focusing instead on promoting our own peaceful happiness.
Squirreled away in the heart of this practice is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a stress-buster, a remedy for depression and is at the heart of empowerment. When we are mindful we experience the ‘now’ and we move from a place of resistance to one of acceptance. We move from a story of ‘I wish this hadn’t happened’ to ‘Here I am, life is what it is, what can I do now?’ We take control of our life again.
A complementary and experiential practice that fits well with ‘benefit finding’ is the key nls: natural laughter skills and laughter yoga practice of breathing and smiling. The practice is to breathe deeply & slowly and smile gently. It is a core exercise in ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’ because it is a simple and natural stress-buster. It works because it automatically induces calmness and peaceful happiness. It allows us to stop and take stock, to re-centre ourselves and find our buoyancy.
It helps us float like a cork, not sink like a stone.

Let’s start by breathing deeply and smiling gently?
www.joehoare.co.uk

laughing buddha

 

 

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‘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

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