Laughter Yoga with a Parkinson’s Support Group in London Laughing for the Health of it

Very excited to have worked with a Parkinson’s disease support group last month in London.

The call came through after they saw laughter yoga featured on BBC 2  “Trust me I’m a Doctor” You can see the video here.   Laughter Yoga is a very powerful complementary wellbeing tool. Click to Watch Laughter Yoga on Trust me I’m a Doctor

I have been a fan of my colleague in the USA Gita Fendelman since stumbling upon her work with those suffering from chronic conditions.  I had not realised that Gita is a parkinsons sufferer. This i found out when researching laughter yoga and Parkinson’s disease.  You can hear Gita’s incredible story here and there is no shadow of doubt that Laughter Yoga is helping not just Gita but those she works with. Gita has found laughter yoga to be highly beneficial to her quality of life.

So up until now in addition to working with laughter yoga in corporate wellbeing, I have been very lucky to share laughter yoga with people who suffer from various illnesses and ailments including Cancer, Chronic fatigue syndrome, CFS/ME, Bipolar, Chronic Pain, Depression, Anxiety and more…… This was a first for me to work with a group suffering from Parkinson’s.  I checked in with colleagues who had all had great results with such groups.

The most incredible thing to note is why Laughter Yoga is so good for those who suffer from Parkinson’s.  When we laugh we release a cocktail of chemicals including dopamine into the system and this is big one with regard to PK and helpful for alleviating some of the physical and emotional symptoms of Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s starts with the slow degeneration of dopamine. Dopamine helps to regulate muscle function and movement. Dopamine supports our overall energy production and feelings of happiness.  The symptoms of Parkinson’s occur as a result of a dopamine loss.

There can be various other symptoms connected to the disease such as low mood, depression, anxiety, pain which are all ailments and issues that laughter yoga can help with.  Laughter Yoga is an instant stress release, helps to reduce blood pressure and lifts depression. It also boosts the immune system and increases circulation and oxygen levels throughout the body and brain. The endorphin’s we release when we laugh are said to be stronger than morphine which helps with any pain. We also know laughter can help boost our immune system.

So I was delighted to be contacted by a Parkinson’s Support Group in London for a laughter yoga session.  After doing my research I planned a workshop  that I felt would work. I gathered as much info as possible prior to the session.  I was told that the participants were within different stages of the illness with one person in a wheelchair and all with differing degrees of mobility.

I planned a seated session where we were seated in a tight circle with a space in the middle to allow for movement. This way I could include everyone. Each exercise was prepared so it would be suitable for both seated and movement so those who could stand were encouraged to  interact with those seated.

I arrived early and very quickly noticed there was one lady who was very obviously less mobile than the rest of the group, with her head down and she was sat next to a guy who was helping to care for her. A few people did not have any obviously noticeable symptoms so it was a very mixed mobility group.

Started the session with a song that I felt everyone would most likely know and took copies of the words to hand out.  The song, “My Bonny lies over the ocean” turned out to be a good choice. I also took some egg rattles for a couple of reasons. We could create some movement and rhythm whilst we sung the song. This also allowed me to see how much movement people had at the start of the workshop. It was a lot of fun to shake the rattles as we sung creating lots of rhythm and movement. When we sing it instantly lifts our mood and raises the energy.  Actually singing and laughter share many of the same benefits.

I handed out the egg rattles, and the guy helping the less mobile lady wrapped her hand around an egg rattle.

Everyone managed to shake the rattles, and we sang My Bonny. I also gave everyone the option of replacing the song words with Ha Ha’s and Ho Ho’s etc: so same tune, and laughter sounds.

The song did exactly what I wanted, and we were ready to roll. I managed to check out movement etc and then started the sharing of name intros followed by Ha Ha’s, sending lots of smiles and giggles around the circle.

For all exercises we had an option of standing up or remaining seated, greeting laughter where we greeted one another by shaking hands and laughing. Cell phone laughter (receiving the funniest call ever), laughing at our self, laughing at aches and pains and more.

The most incredible thing happened during this session and I felt like i was witnessing magic, the magic of laughter 🙂  The lady who appeared less mobile than the others stood up and joined in. She started off a little uneasy on her feet but I could not believe she had stood up. By the end of the session her head was up, she shared a few words too. It was almost like she had come alive. It felt like the group in the main really enjoyed the session and everyone remarked that they felt better at the end of the session.

This was one of my most personally satisfying sessions. I so so enjoyed working with this group and hope it will be one of many.

The way forward, I recommended telephone and skype laughter to the group and a daily dose of laughing for the health of it.  The group were given various exercises and tips which they could bring in to everyday life. It will be fabulous if they choose to do some more laughter yoga sessions or if members of the support group can attend a local laughter club.

Following on from this session, I have been approached by a Dementia support group which is amazing.

In my research I have found the following articles really useful.

and the article below by my colleague in Australia Connie Costa

Laughter As A Complementary Therapy For People with Parkinson’s

For more info on Parkinson’s please visit Parkinson’s UK – www.parkinsons.org.uk