Laughter Yoga: The two Nottinghamshire women chuckling their way to happiness

Video: Deborah and Denise demonstrate the ‘laughter cocktail’ on the 6.30 Show

How do you laugh if there is nothing to laugh about? Ed Henderson meets two Nottinghamshire women who are giving people the giggles for the good of their health. 

The annual flu virus is doing the rounds. Christmas is over. January looms large. If only there was a quick fix, a way to make yourself feel better when it all gets too much.

Two Nottinghamshire women are striving to put that smile back on your face. In the weirdest possible way.

Deborah Hodson and Denise Tooley-Okonkwo became fascinated with the health benefits of laughter and now aim to spread their message through ‘LOL Yoga’, an alternative and engaging type of therapy.

“Laughter yoga was made popular by an Indian doctor, Madan Kataria, who developed it as a way of working with his patients,” says Denise.

“It is a great way of accessing those endorphins and feel-good chemicals that are in the body without actually having anything humorous to laugh about.”

Deb and Denise at a laughter workshop for Macildowie employment agency

Psychotherapists and clinical hypnotherapists by profession, Denise and Deb run a ‘giggle gym’ in Mansfield on the first Friday of every month where anyone can come and learn how to de-stress through laughter.

Deborah admits many find it strange to begin with, but says: “The mind doesn’t know you are faking it, we integrate our knowledge into feel-good sessions and by making yourself laugh for no reason, many people find that their natural laughter does come out.”

The comedy-duo also take their infectious laughter into the workplace and schools.

Denise says: “We show managers and employees how to deal with the stress and pressure of work because what often happens is people will go into work and let everything pile up on top of them which makes them stressed.

“Instead of dealing with that stress they will focus completely on work which builds up cortisol in the body and shrinks down the part of the brain that is for logic, reasoning and behaviour modification.

“We help people access their ‘zone’ through a range of laughter techniques that helps them release the cortisol and get focused again.”

A laughter workshop session at Peak Physique gym in Nottingham.

Both women have years of experience working with vulnerable young people who suffer with mental health problems that have led them to feel isolated or resort to self-harm.

Recently, the UK’s leading children’s charity, NSPCC, published their annual report showing an increase of 88 percent for ChildLine counselling about cyber-bullying.

It is an alarming statistic and Deborah believes more needs to be done: “I have two kids and am passionate about young people’s mental health; it really needs to be accessible from a young age because as soon as we can get to people that are hurting we can begin to help them.

“It is easier to build a strong child than mend a broken adult.”

The ladies believe laughter therapy can help combat the many challenges facing young people today and Denise, a mother of three, recalls fondly a moment a few months ago.

“We were at a school and a little girl came up to us after the session and said ‘my confidence has grown loads,’ it was such a brilliant thing to hear.”

The comedy duo at a giggle gym in Mansfield.

Deborah feels that the taboo surrounding mental health makes it difficult to raise awareness in schools by addressing the problems children may have directly.

“I used to work with young people who were self-harming or suicidal and it is still a big issue.

“That is why we wanted to get something into schools that is different, that is fun and engaging but also addresses underlying issues in a light-hearted way,” she said.

Both women are training to become multi-faith ministers in between giving people the giggles and it is clear to see they both love what they do.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve, it’s about getting out there and promoting the importance of positive mental health, what it can do for you and the different ways you can access it,” Denise says with a smile.

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