Work-place stress is no laughing matter. Laughter therapist Jo-Dee Walmsley tells Kipp about the benefits of laughter yoga at the workplace.
April 4, 2013 2:15 by Eva Fernandes
I am standing in a sparse studio, hands deep into my pockets. I feel awkward. Laughter therapist Jo-Dee Walmsley has just instructed the fifteen others standing around me, on the science behind and the benefits of laughter yoga. We have now been assigned our first assignment: walk around the room, attempt to shake hands with each other and just before we touch hands we have to pull away and laugh. There is just one rule: at all points you must make eye contact.
If anyone else is feeling the kind of reservation I am, they don’t show it. Following the crackling belly-rippling laughter Walmsley is bubbling with, my fellow laughter yogis walk around hysterically laughing to some kind of in-joke I am not privy to. I decide to join in. Initially a confused would-be genuine gruff whimper emerges from me, but by the end of the one hour of session, I am on the floor, wiping the tears away from my eyes and catching my sides.
Laughter yoga is an 18 year-old practice first popularised by Indian physician Dr.Madan Kataria. Since he started the first laughter club in Mumbai in 1995, more than 6,000 social laughter clubs have sprung up around the world. And now it has come to the offices in Dubai.
Trained by Dr.Kataria himself, Jo-Dee Walmsley is hoping to bring the powers of laughter into the workplace. She offers corporate wellness workshops and team building exercises through her recently set-up venture called Simply Laugher.
“When people laugh together they work well with each other. It was mentioned in Forbes that people are choosing a happier workplace over better salaries and titles. What happens is when you are happier at work, you work better, you are more productive, you are more creative and you get on better,” said Walmsley.
“There are so many people who are bunking work all the time and this makes them go to work and they are happy to come to work. This is a great thing for team building,” she added.
Through strategically designed exercises, Walmsley teaches her students to learn to laugh at a bad result. From walking around the room laughing at an imaginary credit card bill, using gibberish to explain your story of heart-break or failure, these exercises are easy to integrate into real-life situations. My personal favourite is the “No Money” pose which involves turning out your pockets, gazing down at it and just shaking it off with a laugh.
Studies have shown laughter (even if it is fake laughter) releases endorphins and reduces stress levels—something most employees are in need of. It is all about retraining your brain to look at a difficult situation in a positive way.
“This is my third class. My attitude towards a few things in my work has changed dramatically which my colleagues have noticed the difference. I have just moved to Dubai, so there is additional stress. At work also there are a few things which are not stable from the company’s point of view-so changing is happening too suddenly and I think laughter is the only thing which is giving me a new stance looking at the issues” said Priyanka Pawar, 29, project manager.
While it is recommended do practice laughter yoga for 20 minutes thrice a week to really feel the benefits, by the end of the class I am in a significantly better mood than I was when I went in.
“I felt happy, I felt light. It is a platform to let go-to be free, to let go of all the tension and the stress. You never get to do this at home or at work, this is a safe place. The first time I did it, it was a bit awkward-but today is my second time and so I feel it is much better” said Kitoro Siraba Constance, 24, research consultant.
Will laughter yoga catch on in the board rooms of the UAE? It remains to be seen—but given the small following Walmsley has developed since she set up shop in the Emirates a few months ago, the future looks promising.
“Laughter, yoga-I couldn’t quite make out what the relationship would be like between the two-but the outcome is superb. When I was younger, I used to laugh a lot-but then later on, the corporate life tends to be a bit difficult” said Romain Saada, a 34-year-old entrepreneur.
He added: “I think I laughed more today than I have in a couple of years