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Laugh to live

Image: Pexels
Image: Pexels

Image: Pexels

We’re all familiar with the saying ‘laughter’s the best medicine’. Certified laughter coach Bronwyn kilroe has made it her mission to make people smile. 

What does a laughter coach do?

I teach people how to use laughter as an empowering tool(as opposed to an emotion) to help reduce stress and tension, improve health, enhance relationships and increase happiness. My passion is people development, so I enjoy educating my students about making laughter a priority. By practising simulated laughter exercises and positivity techniques, even for a few minutes daily, they can transform negative situations into positive ones, and enhance their overall health, happiness, vitality and wellbeing. 

Define laughter therapy.

It focuses on good health, stress management and happiness development. Scientific studies have proven the health- and happiness-boosting effects of laughter as it strengthens the immune system, alleviates pain, increases energy levels and reduces the damaging effects of stress. Medical journals have acknowledged that laughter therapy also improves your quality of life as it’s a powerful mood enhancer that makes you feel good so quickly some describe it as a ‘happiness shock treatment’. Laughter reduces depression and negative thoughts and improves your attitude and ability to have a positive outlook. 

When and how did you get into laughter therapy?

I was first introduced to the concept of laughter coaching when I was a director for the TV series Free Spirit on SABC 3. I was filming an insert with Dr Madan Kataria, the founder of Laughter Therapy Sessions, and I was blown away by the medical doctor from India, who provided examples of research and scientifically proven benefits of laughter on the human body – mental, emotional and physical. And I thought, ‘Wow! More people need access to this information because it can help them in their daily lives.’ Working in the corporate, high-pressured, film-and-television industry, I’d met many unhappy, stressed out, depressed, anxious and overwhelmed colleagues, each of them struggling to cope with life’s stressors. The purpose of life is to be happy, but for many people, this is challenging, as they face difficulties daily. That’s when I had an aha moment: I would become a laughter coach. I took a leap in 2012, followed my bliss, left my nine-to-five, corporate job, and decided to go for it. 

Where does laughter therapy come from?

Gelotology is the study of laughter and its psychological and physiological effects on the human body as a therapeutic form of alternative medicine. People became interested in laughter therapy during the ’60s. Dr William Fry, a psychology professor at Stanford University in California, was the first to suggest laughter was a field that needed to be studied. 

In 1974, Norman Cousins, author of the best-selling book, Anatomy of an Illness, was diagnosed with an incurable and painful form of arthritis in his spine, and his book documents how he used laughter therapy to ‘cure’ his illness. This raised public awareness of the healing power of laughter, inspiring the likes of Dr Lee Berk, a scientist from Loma Linda University who’s been studying the effects of laughter on the immune system since the ’80s. 

Then there’s Dr Hunter Adams, the inspiration behind the Hollywood movie, Patch Adams. He committed his life to bringing fun and laughter to hospitals because he believed it’d help patients to heal. The man who inspired me, Dr Kataria, created laughter yoga therapy in 1995 – which is currently practised in 65 countries. 

What happens at one of your laughter and wellness sessions?

People think I’m going to tell jokes to make them laugh; however, the sessions are based on the concept that anyone can laugh, for no reason at all, without using jokes, humour or comedy. You don’t need to feel good to laugh, nor do you need to have a sense of humour. A laughter session teaches you how to laugh without intellect, and allows you to achieve sustained, hearty laughter, without having to involve cognitive thought. It bypasses the intellectual systems that usually pull the brakes on natural laughter. Once released, it’s hard to stop. 

Your body can’t distinguish between pretend, simulated, fake or real laughter – that’s a scientific fact, which means that every time you laugh, regardless of the reason, feel-good hormones are released into your bloodstream. 

The benefits of laughter

• Physical:

It boosts your immune system, helping you to fight diseases, aches and pains, and high blood pressure and cholesterol. It also decreases your risk of having a heart attack and boosts your stamina, fitness and energy levels. 

• Mental:

It’s an instant stress-buster, reduces tension, increases motivation and mental alertness, maintains peak performance, improves stress-coping mechanisms, prevents burnout, and boosts creativity and innovation. 

• Emotional:

It combats depression and negative thoughts, improves your attitude, helps you build self-confidence, self-esteem and a positive mindset, decreases anxiety and increases happiness. 

• Social:

It improves your relationships by helping you to connect with other people and build trust. It decreases anger, reduces conflict and group division, and promotes teamwork and group bonding. Laughter can also spice up your love life: couples who laugh together, last together. 

• At work:

Here’s why it’s a business asset. Fortune 500 Companies, such as Google and Virgin, have proved that adopting laughter and fun in the workplace not only improves staff morale, but also increases productivity and performance levels. As this boosts profits, these companies are literally laughing their way to success. 

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