Mind and body:
Jo Bluett’s career was on an upward curve. She had been promoted at Standard Life and was looking to the future with confidence.
Just as she was relishing this new milestone in her life she fell ill. A rare virus led to prolonged time off work. Eventually she had to quit her job.
It was, she says, a “dark time”, but she used it to re-evaluate her life and career. She found relief in an unusual way – laughter yoga.
Jo is now running sessions in Edinburgh helping clients cope with loss, illness and stress.
As a self-styled laugher consultant, she has just seen her practice boosted by the fourth year of funding in a continued commitment from the NHS.
Laughter Club is a non-profit global phenomenon which takes the tenets of conventional yoga practices to encourage breathing through the belly.
“There are no yoga mats, and no leotards,” she says. “The only yoga element is the breathing. We have warm up sessions encouraging playfulness and enjoyment and changing our mindset.
“We have laughter exercises combined with yogic breathing. We shake hands, we make eye contact. It’s about human contact.”
The exercises include handshakes with pretend electric shocks, high-fiving and Mexican waves.
“They are designed to encourage laughter, and laughter is contagious.”
Originally from Weston Super Mare, 51-year-old Jo was a high flying business development consultant when illness struck.
She had spent almost 15 years in the financial sector when she contracted the virus.
She now offers therapies and a whole lot of hope to people with various health conditions, as well as to carers and stressed-out corporate employees.
“Happy staff are more productive and research shows they are less likely to suffer from stress related illness and low morale.”
Jo, who runs sessions twice a week, had years of illness before she realised she could not continue with corporate life.
She contracted a strain of Beijing flu in 1992 and was eventually diagnosed with M.E in 1997.
She continued to work in the corporate field for a few more years but had a particularly bad relapse brought on by jet lag following a family visit to her brother in New Zealand.
Six months sick leave followed.
“It was a really dark time. I had just been promoted to team manager and I had this massive relapse.
“I reached crisis point and tried every solution from leaving full-time to part-time. Nothing worked. I lost my job and became housebound, existing on benefits.”
This was 2002 and Jo was despairing, not knowing what was around the next corner. Still she was determined to hang on to her role in corporate life.
She now combines her time between running the non-profit club with giving workshops through her own company Laughter for Health.
Clients include employees and executives at Virgin Money, JP Morgan, various high street banks, as well as pro bono work with Scottish Women’s Aid, Care for Carers and Edinburgh bi-polar.
‘I laugh for 10 minutes every morning’
She has spoken at the UK National Laughter Conferences in Manchester and London and also at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, as well as at a number of medical and cancer conferences. She also addressed the Scottish Parliament.
Her work is now expanding beyond Scotland and she has out-sourced some of her English contracts, supporting other therapists and small businesses. She trains and inspires others to become laughter yoga leaders and start their own laughter clubs.
“There are areas of the brain where we hear laughter and we want to join in,” she says.
And with a life marred by illness it’s important to her that she practises what she preaches.
“I’ve made a commitment to myself to keep up my own regular laughter yoga routine. I laugh for 10 minutes every morning at 7 am.
“This is unconditional laughter to feel good. A sense of humour is a learned premise. It’s subjective and sometimes stems back to our childhood.
“Laughter yoga is non-subjective, it is not about intellect, it is from the body and the heart. It allows engagement with our playfulness our childlike innocence.
“Laughter has long been known to lift the spirits. Laughter yoga is a unique form of exercise that gives us a complete, holistic workout – influencing our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.”
Dr Madan Kataria along with his wife Madhuri – started Laughter Yoga in India in March 1995.
Laughter Clubs featured on the BBC2’s The Real Marigold Hotel in February last year.
There are now thousands of Laughter Clubs across the globe and the Edinburgh Laughter Club, the only one in the UK to have been funded by the NHS.
Now supported for its fourth year, the funding ensures support for the wellbeing of carers.
“A number of my laughter club regulars have embraced huge positive changes in their lives – losing weight, returning to work after years of illness or depression; coping with serious health diagnosis and grief, coping with the isolation and stress of being a full time carer,” says Jo.
“Scientific research shows that belly laughter is as effective at widening arteries and lowering blood pressure as taking statins and going jogging.”
Laughter Club is a non-profit organisation which accepts donations for mental health charities Healthy Mind and Care Programme. It meets on Wednesday evenings 6:30 – 8pm at A Sense of Some Place – Walpole Hall, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh.