After a long day spent hunched over the computer or dealing with the stresses of work, a good chuckle can make you feel instantly better. Maggie Thompson believes chortling has many health benefits, so much so that she teaches laughter yoga.
The movement originated through Dr Madan Kataria, a GP in Mumbai, India, in 1995 and classes bring people together to laugh for no reason.
“It gives people the freedom to just ‘let go’ of their inhibitions and find the joy they would have experienced as children.
“The positive boost people feel from taking part is like an elixir and helps them to believe in themselves,” says Maggie.
So, what exactly does a laughter yoga session involve?
“Initially, I start with an introduction informing people that we shall be laughing for ‘no reason’ and I give some explanations why and also the reasons and benefits for laughter yoga.
“We then do a series of hand claps with chants of ‘ho ho, ha ha ha’. These not only energise us and get us in the mood but they help to ‘warm up’ our lungs, diaphragm and cheek muscles.
“Remember how much your sides and cheeks ached after a bout of belly laughter?. We then take a couple of deep breaths.
“A further warm up with ‘ho’, ‘ha,’ and ‘he’ and we are ready to start the session, which starts with a greeting laugh and mingling with everyone else.
“Then follows a series of laughter exercises interspersed with deep breathing and more ‘ho ho, ha ha has’.
“Towards the end of the session, when everyone is thoroughly warmed up, we sit or lie down to do ‘laughter meditation’, which is simply free-flow laughter for as long as everyone wants to do so.
“Everyone then needs to be ‘grounded’ through relaxation at the end of the session.
“The shortest session might last for 30-minutes but generally they are an hour long and sometimes 90-minutes,” explains the 66-year-old known as Merrie Maggie.
She first learned about laughter yoga while working for Age UK Dudley. “With the help of one of my colleagues, I engaged a Laughter Yoga teacher for a ‘Continuing Professional Development’ workshop.
“As facilitator, I also attended the session and by the end of the day I was completely ‘hooked’. I define that day as my ‘light-bulb’ moment,” says Maggie, who lives in Wordsley, Stourbridge.
Since then she has completed training to become a certified laughter yoga leader and also to teach other people to run sessions.
“When I am first approached to deliver a laughter yoga session, I advise the contact what the session consists of, including a brief history of how it started and also why it is important for people to practice laughter every day in order to gain the health benefits that it provides.
“Very often I laugh with a caller on the phone so they can experience how contagious it is,” explains Maggie who runs monthly Laughter Clubs in Wordsley,Dudley and Halesowen.
“It’s amazing to see the transformation of a group of people before and afterwards and how free and easy they feel.
“Delivering the training to new leaders is most gratifying to know that more people will then be qualified to spread the message and importance to people’s health and wellbeing.
“It’s also great to see trainees grow and become part of the laughter yoga family of professionals around the country and abroad,” she says.
Participants can vary to begin with and some may discover it’s not really their cup of tea, Maggie explains.
“Laughter yoga is not for everyone – some people feel very uncomfortable in such situations and it is important to let people know it is not compulsory for them to take part if they don’t wish to.
“There are some medical conditions it is not advisable for people to participate such as high blood pressure, heart disease and after a recent operation,” she says.
But Maggie believes very strongly that it has many different health and well-being benefits.
“It enhances a positive mental attitude, puts people in a good mood, a great stress buster and, due to the release of endorphins from the brain when we laugh, an improved immune system,” she tells us.
“One of the most memorable moments for me this year was when Dr Kataria presented me with the Laughter Ambassador award. I was absolutely stunned and felt very humbled.
“This year I also organised the Laughter Yoga Open Day event in Birmingham in October, bringing five influential speakers to the event with people attending from across the UK,” adds Maggie.
She says laughter yoga has changed her life. “I have been so overwhelmed by the effects it has on me as well as everyone I deliver to that it has taken over my life as a ‘calling’.
“In almost every walk of life, I can see reasons to laugh and I am aware more and more that it is something we are practically born with.
“A baby cries when it is born, then after watching its doting parents smile, it learns to smile and this is closely followed by the laughter – it’s first means of verbal communication.
“I firmly believe laughter is one of the greatest connectors of people. In the words of Wayne Dyer, ‘it is impossible for you to be angry and laugh at the same time. Anger and laughter are mutually exclusive and you have the power to choose either’."
l For further information about Maggie’s laughter clubs go online to www.merriemaggie.co.uk