Laughter Yoga and Learning English. What’s the connection?

You spend hours, days, weeks, months, maybe even years studying English.

The desired result…

To feel confident and communicate effectively.

The reality…

A quivering mess when you speak in English (at least that was me when I was learning French)

Why?

We spend most of our time learning vocabulary and grammar, some of us might even make an effort to improve our pronunciation, but we forget about the other bits of the fluency puzzle.

One of these “bits” is how our brain learns. From neuroscience we know that if we are stressed we are not open to learning. It will be much more difficult to learn, remember and retrieve information. If we want to learn effectively, we need to keep our brain happy and a happy brain is definitely not a stressed brain!

Is your brain happy when you’re learning English?

I interviewed my good friend Annie Harvey, founder of The Still Effect, about how laughter yoga can help us calm our brains and learn a language more effectively.

Annie is a teacher, TEDx speaker, author, well-being educator and mindfulness trainer. And if that wasn’t enough she also “teaches 4-90+ year olds to laugh unconditionally.”


Annie Harvey TEdx speaker


We chatted, we laughed and here’s what I learned…

Annie became interested in laughter yoga after finding herself in a difficult situation when her parents were diagnosed with dementia. Not only were her parents losing their laughter, but as their carer, so was Annie. It was at a conference in 2013 that Annie experienced laughter yoga for the first time, which she describes as “one of the most powerful 30 minutes of my life.”

IN 2016, this led her to convince the organizers of TEDx Adelaide that she could make 1000 people laugh out loud with no jokes for 3 minutes (they actually gave her 6!) I challenge you to watch Silence to LOL without laughing out loud!

Now laughter yoga is something that Annie uses every day to keep her sane, no matter how insane it all might sound.

What is laughter yoga?

Laughter Yoga is not laughing while sitting on a mat cross-legged or in downward dog position (like I thought.) It’s intentional laughing for no reason, there’s no humor, there are no jokes, it’s just laughing on purpose because you can.

What are some of the benefits of laughter yoga?

It boosts the immune system, regulates the blood flow and tricks the brain into releasing our happy chemicals. Our body doesn’t know the difference between fake and real so when we laugh intentionally our body and facial muscles move and send a signal to the brain. The brain thinks “They must be happy” and releases dopamine (the reward hormone), oxytocin (the love or cuddle hormone), serotonin (our natural antidepressant ) and endorphins (our natural pain-killer).

Wow!

What are the benefits of laughter yoga for language learners?

Although not much research has been done in this area, the same benefits of laughter yoga for our general well-being can be highly beneficial for language learners.

It opens the subconscious part of our mind, making us more open to learning.

It creates positive emotions and reduces stress: t calms the amygdala (the part of our brain we associate with stress and anxiety when it is aroused) and allows access to the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain we associate with learning, memory and problem-solving.

Are you convinced yet?

Can anyone do laughter yoga?

Yes, most definitely!

“[Laughter] is a wonderful tool we all have.”

Annie Harvey – The Still Effect

There are thousands of activities for different age groups.

Young learners are often thankful for being given “permission to laugh” as they would usually get into trouble for laughing.

Even teens who might be the most resistant to laughter yoga, feel great at the end of a session even after “faking it” as some do. The fact that they are engaging in 40 minutes of aerobic exercise is hugely beneficial to well-being.

Positive results have been seen with students who show signs of selective mutism, a severe anxiety disorder where a person is unable to speak in certain situations, for example, in a foreign or second language class. Although these students were unable to speak in class, they happily engaged in laughter yoga activities.

Laughter yoga is also helpful for students who have experienced trauma in their lives and students diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) It can help these students express their emotions and calm them down.

How often should we do laughter yoga?

Some say we should aim for 15 minutes a day, however 5 to 10 minutes a day should be enough to keep our brains happy.

A 20 second laughter break can do wonders too!

Research suggests that on average, adults laugh less than 20 times a day compared to kids who laugh around 300/400 times a day! Adults even feel guilty sometimes when laughing, when it is precisely in these challenging times that we need laughter in our lives!

What are some laughter activities we can do?

There are thousands of laughter yoga activities you can find online but we can also invent our own activities.

Why not pick the chore you least like doing and just laugh while you’re doing it? Annie (almost) enjoys vacuuming since she started laughing while she works.

Laughing at our mistakes is another thing we can do to reduce stress and silence that inner critic. This is extremely useful in language learning where we make mistakes all the time. Try laughing instead of criticising yourself next time you make a mistake. My many mistakes in Spanish are often the cause of great amusement amongst my colleagues and students, and I’ve learnt to laugh with them instead of feeling embarrassed and annoyed at myself.

Annie kindly shared some simple activities that she uses to get people laughing. Watch the full interview to see these activities in action (You’ll see me looking very silly, talking into my mouse!)

  • The Smile String
  • Mental Floss
  • Laughter Cream
  • Fake Conversation
  • Silent Laugh

What’s the best way to get started with laughter yoga?

Try it!

Below you can find some links to help you get started.

A big thanks to Annie for this interview. If you have any questions for her or you need some help to get laughing, drop your comments below.

If you’re looking for more ways to keep your brain happy, check out my interview with teacher and Mindfulness Life Coach, Marusya Price How mindfulness can help us learn English better.

Happy learning!