The best medicine
Kirstin Innes gets in touch with her inner child at a laughter yoga workshop where sniggering at the back is de rigueur
My sides really do feel like they’re splitting. I am in a room with 15 other adults, none of whom I’d met an hour ago, and we are all rubbing nice big dollops of imaginary ‘laughter face cream’ into our cheeks, chanting ‘ho ho ho,’ ‘ha ha ha,’ ‘hee hee hee’. No, we really are. In the cloakroom downstairs, we’d been soberly-dressed adults discussing how difficult it was to park nearby or politely asking each other what we did for a living: up here, we’re all wearing stickers sporting the silly names that we’ve given ourselves and laughing incessantly.
We haven’t all been lobotimised; it’s just the transformative power of laughter yoga.
At the start of the workshop, Sharon Miller, a former drama therapist who has been running Joyworks Laughter Workshops in Glasgow for the past three years and has one of the happiest faces I’ve seen on an adult, tells us that children, on average, laugh over 400 times a day. Important grown-up people who make polite conversation about parking and jobs laugh 15 times a day, or less.
‘Laughter yoga is just about regaining that joyful silliness that came naturally to you when you were a child,’ Miller says.
She’s done a lot of research into the health-giving benefits of laughter, and can quote scientific studies to prove its stress-relieving properties. The laughter yoga movement was set up by Dr Madan Kataria in the mid 1990s. It might sound like another hokey alternative therapy run by confidence tricksters, but it materialises as simple, tension-releasing exercises based in mime and play, and has been used with great success in cancer wards in the US. ‘I like that it’s at once just so silly, and a world peace movement,’ says Miller.
‘Madan Kataria reckons that when you laugh with someone you love them.’
As humour is subjective, Miller doesn’t tell jokes. What we’re doing – we start out by laughing along to the chorus of ‘The Laughing Policeman’ – is essentially faking the physical effects of laughter. Our bodies can’t tell the difference and, by the end of the hour, I’ve been laughing for so long and so hard that I’m honestly no longer sure if my brain can either. I’m also quite happily shouting out the word ‘bloomers’ and screeching with laughter that doesn’t seem forced, pretending to ride an invisible pony round the room and answering only to the name ‘Cookie’ (long story).
‘It’s great, isn’t it?’ says Miller, gleefully. ‘When people come along for the first time, I think they do start off thinking “Ooh, this is a bit weird for me.” It takes them a while to get over their reservations. We’re not supposed to behave like this any more: people are programmed to be more reserved with each other, especially strangers. But people leave with a good feeling at the end of it. As the workshop progresses, people get cheekier. They get back being to that child who doesn’t care what anybody thinks of them. At the beginning, everybody cares.’
The benefits are almost immediate, too. In the days following the workshop, I find that I’m laughing more often, but that I’m also calmer in everyday life and better at dealing with small stresses and niggles.
I did mean it about my sides, though: still aching.
Joyworks Laughter Workshops run in the Glasgow Steiner School on the last Monday of every month. See www.joyworks.co.uk for full details.
Three others to try: Unstick your emotional constipation
You might have seen the well-meaning students with signs on main thoroughfares or at music festivals. You might even have hugged one. Free Hugs is the brainchild of lovely Aussie hippy ‘Juan Mann’ – find out when they’ll next be popping up in your ‘hood here: www.freehugscampaign.org
Stand Up Comedy Classes
We don’t necessarily recommend it as a fool-proof depression-beater, but if you’re interested in perfecting your punchlines, Glasgow Metropolitan College runs seasonal introductory evening classes (see www.glasgowmet.ac.uk/standupcomedy, current season has already started) and About Comedy runs Edinburgh-based courses in the Fringe (www.aboutcomedy.co.uk).
Touch is a basic human need. We’re talking non-sexual touch, here, so stop your hairy-palmed slavering. Cuddle parties allow adults, in pyjamas, the chance to spoon, hug and snooze together and eventually participate in a ‘human lasagne’. There are no instructors in untactile Scotland yet, but it’s growing down south. See www.cuddleparty.com