Laughter Yoga: No Mat Required

When people hear the word ‘yoga,’ they typically think of poses that require flexibility that are performed on a mat.  Of course there is the spiritual side of the practice as well as the physical fitness side that people understand. But when I tell people that I lead ‘laughter yoga,’ there is a misunderstanding. I can’t imagine trying to laugh while in the downward dog position, yet people think that laughter yoga is a combination of yoga poses and laughing. That is simply not the case.  Let me show you in this short video what laughter yoga really is.

Life has its challenges. Even with the best attitude, we sometimes feel overwhelmed and need to laugh more. Rather than waiting to hear a joke or watching a funny video online, we can also choose to laugh, just like we choose to go for a walk when we want fresh air and exercise. So give laughter yoga a try. Invite friends, family and co-workers and let the contagious laughter erupt!

The Weekend of Saying, “Yes”

Most of us get up and go about our day without planning how much we will accept others’ ideas or determine how many times we will say, “yes.” It would probably feel odd to sit at the kitchen table early in the morning and write out how often you will agree with someone or support their ideas. Yet, we either do that throughout the course of a day or we don’t. And many times it’s human nature to: not even hear what someone has said because we’re tuning in to our own thoughts and concerns; hear what someone says but instantly say “no,” or “yes, but….” wasting no time to critique their idea and offer what we would do or say. That’s habit for many of us. This past weekend was all about saying “yes,” for me and the nearly 300 people I shared my message with.

Through my business, Laugh to Live!, I have the self-appointed pleasure of standing in front of people, sharing some humorous material about my life – like how I live next door to my parents who love me but don’t quite appreciate the disorganized state in which I keep my home, a method I like to call the poor woman’s security system because if someone breaks in they’re sure to think the place has already been ransacked and go right out the door – talking about the research that states how valuable laughter is for our well-being, and then leading the group in some laughter yoga exercises or some improvisation activities, depending upon the group and what I was hired to do.

Ladies Love to Laugh

This past weekend I was able to share laughs with nearly 300 people – 98% of which were women – in a 26-hour span of time. And once again, I can say to you, “Yes” laughter works and I can’t wait to share more with the next group –  a small club of retired women who gather monthly for lunch in a resort community – this Thursday.

Fear, anxiety, nervousness, doubt and self-scrutiny are the emotions I feel before I interact with a crowd and 9 out of 10 times, it’s satisfaction, pride, relief, affirmation, and joy that I feel after my encounters with participants.  Friday morning I had the pleasure of sharing some humorous stories and interactive laughter yoga with a group of nearly 200 child care workers at an end-of-year celebration. This group of mostly women came from four different counties to share in festivities at the Lackawanna County baseball stadium. Yes, we had a glorious view of the baseball field while sharing some “ho ho ho’s” and “ha ha ha’s.” While it took a little while to get everyone warmed up, by the end, I felt that the majority of participants were bound to feel better than before they started laughing – even if they did think these laughter exercises seemed a bit odd.  One woman made a point to tell me after the presentation that she really enjoyed it and even though she liked to talk a lot, she didn’t think she could get up and do what I do and seem so comfortable. She thanked me and gave me credit for what I do. That meant a lot to me and I told myself, “Yes” you do have skills and talent to share to help enrich people’s lives and it’s time that you truly believed that.

What Better Place to Laugh than Happy Valley?

Then I was on the road to State College to present at an IAAP Conference, which was a gathering of administrative professionals from across Pennsylvania. I presented to one chapter of IAAP last year and those women enjoyed it so much that I was asked to present something a bit different for the larger group. I was very excited to present my relatively new program: “Using Improvisation to Address the Three Cs: Communication, Conflict Resolution and Collaboration.” I was eager to share the golden rule of improv, “Yes, and…” with these women and to see what we could create together. I was equally excited to be back in Happy Valley. I am a 1993 graduate of Penn State University and have been back to visit about a dozen times but I never seem to have enough time to get fully reacquainted. What I do notice, is how much the campus continues to grow and change. I found myself feeling a bit like a stranger among modern, glass buildings for chemistry and science that clearly replaced something that I was familiar with back in the early 90s.

After settling in to our room at Tofftrees Resort where I would be presenting on Saturday, my boyfriend and I walked around the grounds, which had very green, finely manicured grass for the golfers and hosted an assortment of creatures from ducks to chipmunks and squirrels to a number of gophers. Yes, we talked about “Caddyshack” and Bill Murray. How could you walk on a golf course, see not one, but four go-pher go-phers running across the grass and not reference that classic movie? On our way back to our room we spotted an archway and rows of white chairs set up for a wedding the next day. Within minutes I had posted the picture to Facebook asking “Should I say, ‘I do’ in 15 hours, or run in 15 minutes?” I couldn’t resist putting that out there as a social experiment of sorts and fun. By Saturday there were mostly positive affirmations of congratulations and best wishes with a few women and men encouraging me to run. Even though my event Saturday was not to say “Yes” to getting married, I did say “Yes” to sharing the concept of improvisation with about 70 women who all experienced similar barriers or conflicts in their workplaces.

When We Say Yes, The Possibilities Are Endless

It’s interesting how we encourage children to try  different things that require bravery but adults tend to be quite scared to venture outside of our comfort zones. While everyone in the group did participate in the exercises I shared Saturday, very few volunteered later when I wanted to conduct an activity at the front of the room to further illustrate the value of listening, supporting and contributing. I eventually employed the teacher in me and “called on” a table of people who seemed to be good sports and were the closest to the front of the room. The women who volunteered on their own to play some “Yes, and…” games with me seemed to really come alive when they were forced outside of their comfort zones. And the group I volunteered to play something called the “Ad Game” with me, seemed to have a ball, especially when the audience showed their support of their work through laughs, applause and squeals of delight. Our group task was to reinvent adult diapers so we created Dignity Diapers that were purple and changed colors when wet. With Arnold Schwarzenegger and Caitlin Jenner as our designated celebrity spokes people, we were set to launch the product in Philadelphia to Elton John’s  “Philadelphia Freedom.” Yes, we were free. Free to share any idea no matter how silly or unrealistic it seemed. It was our job to brainstorm and to fully support one another.

Sure this was just an exercise, but it was a lesson to show the workshop participants how important and influential our individual roles can be in group dynamics. The quieter contributors were not always heard while the louder, more confident ones were. And some people talked over others. The game showed the value of listening, accepting and really supporting one another with an enthusiastic cheer of “yay, great idea” every time anyone said anything, the value of giving and taking and of all being on the same page. It was a great way to practice being in the moment, focusing on one shared goal rather than being distracted by the ticker that runs across our minds almost constantly each day, reminding us of both personal and professional “to-do lists.”

Be Not Afraid, Say Yes

As I told the group a few times throughout the afternoon, doing these exercises may not change anything substantial but if it gets you thinking a little differently – even for a little bit – especially about how we support one another in groups and relationships, then we’ve achieved success. I felt rewarded and validated when two women came to me after the workshop to ask about using “Yes, and…” in two completely different, yet equally valuable ways. One wanted to learn how to say “Yes, and…” to her kids because she was always telling them, “No,” while the other wanted to help the gentlemen she worked with learn to work better together using improv but she said it would require each of them tying up their alpha dog traits for a bit.

Do I believe that the rules of improvisation can teach everyone a thing or two about themselves and about working with others? Yes, and… I hope that people continue to be open to accepting it and sharing it with people in their offices and homes to make life more fun and productive!

Laughing Nuns Generate Catholic Flashback to Plaid & Patent Leather

For a long time now I’ve been telling people that I’m either an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert because I can get up in front of hundreds of people to talk about the power of laughter and humor and I can perform stand-up or improv comedy. But when I’m at a business mixer by myself it’s a real challenge to approach a stranger and introduce myself. And if I’m in an audience I will never raise my hand to volunteer or ask a question.  After taking an online quiz -and we know how accurate those are – I have determined to my satisfaction that I am an introvert.

When I was in kindergarten I had some serious social anxiety. It got to the point where my kindergarten teacher called in the big guns. She had the first-grade teacher, Sister Ann Marie, speak to me in the presence of my mother. I won’t forget sitting on the curb in Holy Rosary School’s driveway as Sister told me, “We don’t take cry babies in first grade you know.” If I was a child today hearing that message, my mom could post on Facebook that I was bullied. I’m not so sure I think that it was that serious but it was kind of harsh. But it worked. I entered first grade and I was a champion. I no longer cried. When I donned my plaid jumper and patent leather shoes (alternated with saddle shoes) I became the good Stepford Child. “Yes sister.” “No sister.”  “The answer is …” I was even the kid that was asked to stand in front of the class to keep the peace, so to speak, when sister had to step out into the hall. It didn’t make me popular with the other kids but it did put me in Sister’s favor and I still had lots of friends so I was fine.

Fast forward about 35 years and put me in front of an audience of nearly 400 nuns. That was the scene about two weeks ago when I spoke at a conference for sisters gathered for two days at Misericordia University. I was there to share my message about the power and value of laughter and humor and to lead them in some laughter yoga. Now I had presented to conferences for Sisters there twice before but it had been about three years or more and for some reason I felt extra nervous this time. I felt unprepared and just didn’t have a great feeling in my stomach. I think part of that had to do with some personal things on my mind but I can usually separate that from my business.

When I saw the huge dining hall where the nuns had just eaten I got more nervous because I wondered if all the Sisters would be able to see me and if I would engage them enough.  I heard a few of the women talking in the lobby and one asked “So what’s next? The laughter lady..what’s that about?” And the other woman said, “I have no idea.” At first that made me worry but then I thought, “Hmm, if they don’t know what to expect then I can’t really fail to meet their expectations, right?”

After being introduced I had some technical difficulties with the lavalier mic but fortunately the handheld mic was given to me within a minute or two. I had my index cards and some other papers on the table near me – I tend to use these as a safety net although I rarely ever look at them during a presentation – but I got comfortable early in the presentation and just talked. I started off okay and when I saw the smiling faces of the Sisters and received the warm response from so many of them, something happened that rarely happens.  I relaxed enough to speak from the heart confidently and comfortably. The core of my message is always about the same: laughter is powerful and we need to use it more because it’s good for us. Scientists tell us that and real people validate how good we feel after laughing. And my laughter yoga exercises are usually about the same. But the part of the presentation around that, where I want to engage them and keep their interest with some humorous stories that are about my experiences, changes. This time it felt spot on because the Sisters were connecting and loving it… and I felt truly at ease, in my element.  I told them about my kindergarten order to lose the cry baby thing and they all seemed to go “oh….” with disapproval. I told them how I don’t really attend church these days and added, “I can’t help it, with so many nuns staring at me, I feel the need to unburden myself.”  And they laughed loudly. My personal favorite moment was when I said I earned a Masters of Communication Arts from Marywood University in Scranton and they politely and playfully booed. I laughed and told them I didn’t realize there was this “east coast versus west coast thing” going on between the orders of Sisters at Misericordia and Marywood. I wasn’t sure if they would get the reference but they laughed.

The Sisters were all good sports about getting on their feet and laughing with me and doing chants of “ho ho ho, ha ha ha and hee hee hee.” Many participants came up to me after the presentation to tell me how much they enjoyed it and how important it is to laugh, saying that the work I’m doing is important and necessary.  I felt more than relief. I felt pleased and proud. I felt like these Sisters were my peeps! When I got home I almost slipped into my plaid skirt but decided to just dress myself in the memories of a good evening of laughs and fellowship shared!

Companies with a sense of humor get it! Profit that is!

Sure I’ve been saying it for a long time. Humor and laughter are valuable resources to help individuals and organizations succeed. But I drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago, so to speak. I believe in this so much that I left a secure, well-paying job in marketing communications to deliver the message and be my own boss. Convincing others can be a bit tough but I think that what SouthWest Airlines has achieved should get everyone’s attention. It may be time for you to get the pitcher of water out and mix in the flavor packet of your choice so you can drink too.

SouthWest Airlines closed out 2013 with record profits. The company must be doing a thing or two right, right?

I don’t know the airline’s whole story but the chapter I know involves having a sense of humor and not being afraid to empower employees so they are genuinely engaged and invested in the company’s success. Thanks to attending conferences through the years of the organization AATH (Association for Applied Therapeutic Humor), I heard about how successful companies were using humor from the top of their organizations down. One company that kept being mentioned was SouthWest Airlines. The president of the company has taken himself lightly enough to dress in drag and sure that’s good for a few laughs but he’s not just window dressing. He believes wholeheartedly in the value of creativity, imagination and humor and encourages it throughout the organization.

In fact, flight attendants are allowed to customize and inject humor in their pre-flight safety spiels. You know that time on most flights when people look at their phones, fluff their pillows, gaze out the window … basically tune out the boredom they’ve heard many times about buckling seat belts, floatation devices and emergency exits.  But when humor is added to this important information, people don’t just hear droning, they actually listen. They’re entertained. They’re engaged. Watch the magic on one of their flights.   Passengers will remember this flight and will most likely leave with a positive attitude about the company.

 

My question to you is: What is YOUR organization doing that’s memorable? Maybe a touch of humor could mean the difference from your organization being grounded or really taking flight. Why not buckle up and take off with humor?!!

 

 

Laugh in the Workplace for Serious Results

April is National Humor Month. It’s the ideal time for businesses and other organizations to put their proverbial foot in the humor waters to decrease stress of employees, potentially increase profits and unite to make great things happen!

When I worked at Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, I tried to have a sense of humor about my job, if for no other reason than to help myself get through tough times, but I often helped ease the tension of others when I could get them to laugh too.  Sometimes the emails that flooded my Inbox would make me wonder if I worked at a health care company or was back in junior high. Let’s say that there was a lot of time wasted on communicating about ‘what ifs,’ “Oh no, the sky is falling,” and tales of who said what and whose job it was to do what should have been done.  I’m sure that many companies lose time on ineffective email communications and meetings that accomplish little, especially when you have managers who do not understand how to manage effectively and know even less about what it means to lead. When you consider that organizations waste time -and money- doing things that are camouflaged as important, it raises the question – at least in my mind – why not at least consider adding humor and laughter to the workplace? You might think that’s a waste of time or inappropriate but it can be just the opposite. Rather than employees bickering or having petty disputes, they could be bonding, getting closer while blowing off steam through laughter.

I didn’t leave my day job in health care marketing four years ago because my business was making a ton of money at the time, but I did leave because I believe that I can help to improve people’s lives and help organizations better succeed when they realize the potential that humor and laughter have. Through my business, Laugh to Live, LLC, I promote laughter and humor for wellness, stress relief and to help people feel empowered over their stressful situations rather than letting their stress make them feel powerless and overwhelmed.

If you’re sitting there saying, “Our business has more important and more urgent things to consider than laughter,” please indulge me for a few minutes and read why you should Make Work Life A Laughing Matter.

Q: The American Institute of Stress estimates that stress costs U.S. corporations over $300 billion annually. In addition, employers may be held liable if they do not offer programs designed to reduce stress in the workplace. It’s obvious that stress is a serious problem, so how can laughter help?

A: Research continues to show the value of laughter for health and wellness, especially when it comes to stress management. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter helps:
•Activate and relieve the stress response. A good laugh increases heart rate and blood pressure in the manner that exercise does. The result? A good, relaxed feeling and healthy blood flow.
•Soothe tension. Laughter can stimulate circulation and aid muscle
relaxation; both help reduce some physical symptoms of stress.
•Improve the immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical
reactions that can impact your body by increasing stress and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts help fight stress and potentially more serious illness.
•Relieve pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
•Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can make it easier to cope
with difficult situations.
Q: Employees need to take their jobs seriously, so why should employers encourage humor and laughter at the workplace and what are some easy ideas?

A: Humor can be risky business but funny business can mean a bigger bottom line. Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, CSP, CPAE runs a program called “When Funny Means Money: Humor as a Serious Business Strategy” to show businesses how profitable humor and play can be. Google offers employees game rooms with foosball, ping pong and pool tables where they can take breaks as needed and Google has landed on a number of “best companies to work for” lists for a number of years.
•Start a “Laughter” or “Reasons to Smile” Board. Dedicate a bulletin board for employees to post cartoons, funny pictures (think cats wearing sunglasses or dogs in dresses to keep it non-offensive), positive quotes. Get creative; celebrate “Throwback Thursday” by inviting employees to bring in pictures from college, high school, grade school, or preschool if they dare.
•Encourage laughter breaks. Some Indian companies are encouraging their employees to replace their coffee and cigarette breaks with 10 to 15-minute laughter yoga breaks. While laughter yoga was introduced in India by Dr. Madan Kataria, it has become a stress-relieving activity in over 62 countries, including states across America. Just find a conference room with thick walls or head out to the parking lot where employees can inhale and exhale, chant ho ho ha ha ha, and laugh! That’s what laughter yoga is all about.

Q: Besides managing stress, what else can laughter and humor do to improve the workplace and potentially your bottom line?
A: For companies who are interested in making a bigger commitment and investment, there are workshops and training programs that use comedy techniques to help employees flex their creative/brainstorming muscles, bond with fellow employees and learn to adapt to changes more easily, in addition to having fun.
•Steve Cody, co-founder of the New York-based public relations firm Peppercomm realized so many benefits from the stand-up comedy class he took that he pitched the idea of having all Peppercomm employees go through stand-up training to his senior management team. At first his idea was met with resistance, but soon Cody’s colleagues saw the potential benefits. Cody said the program “really comes in handy for companies that are having morale issues, departments that aren’t working together very well, or they’re in a post-merger/acquisition situation where there are two different cultures that are trying to get along.”
Read complete article here.

•Improvisation is known as a comedy art form but its basic concept of “Yes, and…”which is about accepting and supporting what someone else (or life) gives you, is valuable for every facet of life. In an interview with CNN, Robert Kulhan, an adjunct assistant professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and CEO of Business Improvisations said, “Improvisation isn’t about comedy, it’s about reacting — being focused and present in the moment at a very high level.” As well as teaching people to react and adapt, he said improvisation can teach creativity, innovation, communication, teamwork and leadership.
Read complete article here.
If you’re ready to enjoy the rippling effects that laughter and humor can have on your employees/at your workplace or organization, contact Jeannine for more ideas, articles and useful resources.