Love, Life & Laughter

‘Laughter is the best medicine’, isn’t that what they say? But what exactly is laughter the best medicine for, and while we are drilling down on the subject – what is the point of it?

Having realised early in the New Year that I would most likely be left to my own devices come Valentine’s Day, I decided to take pre-emptive action by booking myself into therapy – laughter therapy, that is. Known formally as Gelotherapy (yes that is a real word), the use of humour and laughter is gaining increased recognition as a legitimate therapy for patients, alongside other more conventional forms of therapy. In addition to its use in therapeutic settings, a growing network of Laughter Yoga Workshops (or Playshops, as they are referred to) are flourishing, and the Playshop was where I had chosen to make a Valentine’s date with myself.

Prior to the session, I deliberately avoided forming assumptions as to what I would encounter. Given that I would be part of a group of people who had congregated on Valentine’s Day for a bout of enforced laughter; this was harder than it sounded. My own reason was noble enough, fashioned around the idea of claiming a day assigned  to unfettered demonstrations of love as a means of expressing self love (or something like that). Besides, I love to laugh – it makes me feel good, and surely that is the feeling love in any form is meant to produce.

“I love to laugh – it makes me feel good, and surely that is the feeling love in any form is meant to produce”

I arrived early, blithely dodging the emerging surge of starry-eyed couples smiling their way to romantic destinations and panicked men clamouring for last minute floral purchases from petrol stations. The venue was a carpeted church hall, suffused in warm light reflected against soft cream walls. A circle of expectant chairs dominated the room, with a trestle table to the side, festooned with brochures and flyers. A particular piece of literature in the display caught my eye; a certificate awarded to Julie Whitehead, who was due to run the session, conferring upon her the title of ‘Laughter Ambassador’. The certificate in question was awarded to Julie by Dr. Madan Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga. I am usually unfazed by titles, having never been compelled to display the somewhat dreary title of LLb (Hons) after my name, but this title genuinely tickled me as quite inspired.

I asked Julie to tell me how she came to meet Dr. Kataria and attain such a playful title. “I was working in a residential letting agency, where there was not much laughter in the office” Julie began, “In 2001 I saw a television programme with Dr. Madan Kataria laughing on a beach in Mumbai with John Cleese. Soon afterwards, I saw Laughter Yoga being featured in a magazine with the news that Dr. Kataria was due to visit England, so I invited him to London. From there I set up the first Laughter Yoga session in Brixton Town Hall, inviting my friends to invite theirs. This resulted in 130 people turning up and from that point; I became the London Laughter Leader”.

“I then started running Laughter Yoga sessions on the first Sunday of each month, starting on Clapham Common, we did this in the outdoors for two years and it never rained once” I beamed at this fortuitous fact.

“I started the Laughter Network in 2004, aimed at promoting wellbeing and a positive outlook” Julie continued, listing the physical and emotional benefits of laughter: drawing more oxygen into the body, promoting increased circulation, releasing endorphins, dissolving stress and tension by suppressing the hormone cortisol, as well as intensifying that natural twinkle in the eye.

“It’s about allowing yourself to be playful, lighthearted and silly”

“Laughter Yoga is also relevant in stressful work environments” Cathy Collymore, a fellow Laughter Yoga Leader added. “It was very effective in a workshop I ran for carers of people with learning disabilities. If you can tease out people’s laughter, it reduces stress and is ultimately good for their personal wellbeing and approach towards the people they interact with”. I address Julie and Cathy with my original question, of the point of laughter and they come to a clear consensus on the issue. “It’s about allowing yourself to be playful, lighthearted and silly”. As the session began, Julie explained that the meaning of the word ‘silly’ has been subject to devaluation from its original Celtic meaning of being in a state of happiness and bliss, and the session was aimed at evoking the true spirit of the word.

With the session underway, we were encouraged to liberate our inner clowns, through interactive play, pranayamic breathing and exercises. We pursued the central purpose of Laughter Yoga with gusto; detaching from our inhibitions to enjoy the spontaneity of laughter for no particular reason. It was evident that some in the group found it more of a challenge than others and I recalled a poignant comment made by Julie earlier in our interview, that some participants she had encountered found it difficult to laugh. Some had not laughed in a long time, she had reflected, while others believed that their own laughter was ‘ugly’. I pondered with some sadness the very idea of suppressing or disowning what is a universal and beautiful instinct, for fear of how it appears to others.

The session flowed into Laughter Meditation, where we lay on the floor in a circle, with our heads together in the middle and our feet pointing outwards like rays of sunshine. This was personally my favourite part of the session; lying in the dimmed light, basking in the childishly joyful chorus of giggles, chuckles and guffaws bubbling infectiously around me, until it was impossible not to join in.

I drifted out of the session on a cloud of serenity, uplifted by the experience and pleased that I had chosen to connect with and share my love and joy for life, which to me, is the whole point of laughter.

For details of Laughter Network events in the UK, click the following link: Hahahahaha!


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