Having fun and keeping healthy
“Everyone knows how to laugh – it’s a language we all use: no one’s taught it, and it makes us feel good,” says Steve Patterson. “A child will laugh on average 3-400 times a day whereas adults only laugh on average 16 times a day – if that.”
Steve Patterson moved to Cornwall in 2001 from Devon, and had numerous jobs but wanted a challenge. “I worked in drug rehabilitation as a support worker and knew the benefits of laughter but wasn’t sure how they could be utilised,” he says. “So I found a course in London on Laughter Yoga. We learned how to take groups including all the different meditations and breathing exercises – some of it was quite spiritual. And we learned how to take it into schools, old people’s homes, prisons, hospitals and businesses.”
Steve was asked to take laughter yoga sessions at the NEC in Birmingham, then at WOMAD and Glastonbury in 2010 which proved such a success that he formed the Cornwall Laughter Yoga Club and hasn’t looked back. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor, started Laughter Yoga with just 5 people from a Mumbai park in 1995. It has become incredibly popular and there are now several thousand clubs in over 65 different countries.
“In early 2011 I trained in India with Madan Kataria, and it was amazing. There were 29 people from 16 different nationalities and it was an amazing way to bring all these nationalities together. There was a man from Vietnam who spoke very little English but was able to communicate through laughter.
“Laughter yoga is a unique concept where anyone can laugh for no reason, without relying on comedy, jokes or a sense of humour,” Steve explains. “We initiate laughter as an exercise in the group, including eye contact, which gets everyone smiling, and lots of childlike playfulness. Soon, the exercises turn into real and contagious laughter. The reason we call it Laughter Yoga is because it combines laughter exercises with Yogic breathing. This encourages increased oxygen to the body and brain which makes you feel more energetic and healthy. The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on scientific fact that the body cannot tell the difference between fake and real laughter – you get the same physiological and psychological benefits.”
Steve believes that childlike playfulness is extremely important. “Children laugh when they’re running along whereas we adults have it drilled into ourselves that we haven’t got time to play - we have to be serious and work. In fact when you bring play and laughter into the workplace it can be so beneficial for team building, self consciousness and creativity.”
Laughter has also been proven to help relieve pain, cancer, depression, anxiety, grief and stress. “Laughter gets the endorphins going which is the body’s happy drug and pain relief. It also gets the body’s immune system going,” Steve explains. “Norman Cousins wrote a book called The Anatomy of an Illness – he was very ill and found that if he laughed heartily for 10 minutes he had 2 hours of being pain free.”
Steve currently runs sessions in Newquay and is looking to expand into Falmouth and Truro. “My ultimate dream is to have a laughter club in every town in Cornwall,” he says – with a laugh.
But he has found the western perception of Laughter Yoga different from that in India. “I’m concerned that the name Laughter Yoga doesn’t capture the essence of what it’s about,” he says. “We don’t do yoga poses - it’s all about yogic breathing, so we need to come up with another name. In India yoga is known as being very spiritual whereas here it’s more known for keeping fit. 10 minutes’ laughter yoga is equivalent to 30 minutes on a rowing machine for cardiovascular exercise but there’s more to it than that.”
Helen Young would agree, having been to Steve’s classes. “I’m a great believer in the healing power of laughter – none of us laugh enough,” she says. “A lot of women release stress from crying and I think it’s more healthy to release stress through laughter. It also exercises the lungs and keeps me feeling younger. The idea is to try and get people to regain their sense of humour, which I think has really gone downhill – because of political correctness people are afraid to laugh these days.”
And how did she feel after the first class? “It was a definite release of stress and put me in a good mood for days,” she says. “A great place to practise is in the car – I tried and felt a lot better for it. It made me see things a bit differently.”
A sentiment that Steve echoes. “I’m passionate about how fantastic I feel after a session, both as a teacher and a student,” he says. “Laughter yoga has taught me the importance of laughter and playfulness in life for everybody. We don’t laugh as much as we could, and I think that could be why we get ill and stressed.” He pauses and his eyes crinkle up into another smile. “The best times we have are when we’re laughing and having fun.”
Cornwall Laughter Club has sessions on Thursdays at 7pm at the Hotel Victoria in Newquay
Cornwall Today March 2012