My upcoming course:
I am so excited to be planning for my Antenatal Wellbeing course: Laughter, Love & Joy.
The program focuses on using Laughter Yoga during pregnancy to boost hormones that support positive health for both mum / the birthing person and baby in utero. Additionally, by boosting these hormones during the antenatal period, we stand ourselves in better stead for a positive birth experience, and you will be able to draw on the breathwork and simple laughter exercises that you are taught as part of this course.
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which means to connect or integrate. By engaging in laughter yoga, we connect the mind and body together in a positive way and not only that, engaging in laughter supports positive bonding experiences, as such we connect with those around us through love and joy.
My Story & why I am bringing Laughter Yoga to you:
I trained as a Laughter Yoga Leader back in 2011, after attending a workshop at a festival and finding it transformative…. I had to do this!! I trained and started delivering sessions in a number of settings, alongside my employment at that time. I have run sessions within charitable organisations, with young carers, for adults with learning disabilities, at arts & music festivals and later on when I returned to university as a mature student to study Occupational Therapy, on placement with my patients, with university students, at with charities I volunteered at and at Occupational Therapy conferences. Everyone loved it and always found it to be more than they expected, and for some it was life-changing!
My own turn to really experience the healing benefits of laughter yoga occurred in 2018, following the birth of my daughter. I had planned a holistic birth experience; I was studying on a hypnobirthing course to be a hypno-mamma, I was attending at least three additional antenatal classes on an evening, I was planning for the perfect most idyllic birth experience – fairy lights, aromatherapy, everything… except I was not relaxing for fretting over this birth perfection! In addition, after having our blood screening tests, we were told that I had extremely low levels PAPP-A hormone, which could be indicative of baby having a chromosomal disorder with the only option of testing for this through the NHS being amniocentesis which carries a risk of miscarriage for every 1/100 pregnancies. As such, I had an extremely stressful time, with various unsolicited opinions being thrown at me. We did find out later on through having blood tests taken privately that our baby was in good health, but throughout this time we had adrenaline and cortisol building up.
My husband was at university and working towards the end of my pregnancy, and though he had attended the NCT group and attended the private hypnobirthing course that we paid for, when it came to doing the reading that I wanted and expected him to do and to practicing hypnobirthing together regularly… he wasn’t able to commit around his work and study. This again caused friction and increased my stress hormones.
Alongside all of this I wanted to use Laughter Yoga for birth, but when I asked my hypnobirthing teacher how I would incorporate this with being a hypnobirthing mum she was unsure, and I started to feel anxious that I wouldn’t be “doing it right” and that if I did want to use laughter yoga during birth, would healthcare staff be supportive of this? My worries amassed.
Then despite being a hypnobirthing mum and understanding that “baby knows best” all of the questions around my due date, comments about my pregnant appearance and that I looked like I was about to pop, all of these things added to a growing sense of insecurity. And then when I was asked to go and see a consultant when I “refused” to be induced at 40 weeks to “present my case” to them and advise them that I wanted to be monitored instead (which btw, I did not want to be), I politely agreed (because the midwife had her boxes to tick and she needed me to do this?!!... I should have said hells no, because that’s what I wanted to say… but I didn’t listen to my gut and instead I trotted along dutifully into the jaws of the beast.
When I went to my appointment with that consultant, I was basically scare-mongered by her… thankfully I had my AIMS book that my doula had loaned me and my gosh, it was needed! I was having to argue my case to not have her do a sweep just because I was at 40 weeks… despite going in to discuss the fact I wanted no interventions. She was repulsed… how dare I?! And didn’t I know she was “very good” at doing sweeps… well, I told her she would have to force my legs apart and that I did not consent to this, she also dropped a choice statement in about the fact that if I didn’t do this I’d be risking my baby’s life. I felt feeling bullied, stressed and as though I had undergone battle… my adrenaline was raging and it raged for the entire week after. No wonder I started Googling, how big was the biggest baby and how long was the longest birth. No wonder I started to question everything I truly knew… and then started to use natural induction methods, gulping down raspberry leaf tea (which by the way can potentially lead to more intense contractions), and eating 10 dates a day, and taking fenugreek supplements and whacking a load of aromatherapy oils for natural induction in the humidifier and on my pillow… well, my labour hit me like a tonne of bricks with intense contractions from the off…. Adrenaline, and a system pumped full of things to support natural induction, who knew this might cause issues?!!!!!
I was so glad of my hypnobirthing techniques and I got to over 20 hours using nothing but my visualisations, breathing exercises and my TENS machine, but then at around 25 hours, I was exhausted and begging for relief from the exhaustion… I remember looking up at my doula, feeling guilt and telling her that I could not longer do this to be given that permission that I needed to let myself step onto the path that I had wanted to avoid. I ended up having an epidural and from there, unfortunately I ended up having an emergency caesarean section.
We spent over a week in hospital, I was in pain, I was sore, I felt as though I was a burden on staff (though I likely wasn’t, but this was my perception) when my husband wasn’t there. I wanted to be able to lift my baby up to me, but I couldn’t. I hated relying on others to do this for me. I hated that I wasn’t offered any means to express and instead my baby was given formula around the times I was awake and able to feed her. I hated that on a night I could not go to sleep in case anything should happen to her… I would lay there for hours watching her, ensuring she could breathe, because she wasn’t against me and I could not feel her or see her properly. I was in a nightmare.
After bringing my daughter home my perinatal OCD started to creep in and unfortunately, I experienced a long journey of recovery with being undiagnosed. However, I know that laughter yoga was key during the early stages in helping me remain present, calm and supported me in parenting my daughter positively when I was facing anxiety and experiencing intrusive thoughts and ruminations.
What is Laughter Yoga?
Laughter Yoga was created by Dr Madan Kataria, a GP in Mumbai, back in 1995. Based on his research into the benefits of laughter, Dr Kataria created a body-mind exercise with laughter yoga using deep yogic breathing, clapping and child-like play. We are physiologically we are unable to differentiate between real or fake laughter and so we get the same real benefits as when we engage in natural deep hearty laughter. Some of these benefits include lowered blood pressure, increased blood flow, increased endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin; however, laughter provides so many more benefits in addition to this.
Laughter Yoga is a simple form of mindfulness, allowing us to remain in the present moment and cultivates positive mindset, joy and a sense of playfulness.
Laughter Yoga guarantees that if we engage in a session we will laugh and there will be real benefits. We cannot guarantee genuine laughter daily, nor can we guarantee that 'natural laughter' will be extensive enough to reap results (we need to engage in deep diaphragmatic breathing for 10-15 minutes for there to be significant change).
How and why laughter yoga helped me:
When engaged in laughter yoga, I was stimulating the Vagus nerve and boosting happy hormones, which then took me out of my fear / flight, fight, freeze response, where adrenaline was pumping through my system like crazy, and instead switched me into the parasympathetic nervous system, my calm or rest and digest state. In addition to this, my daughter saw me laughing, playing and having fun instead of seeing a stressed-out mummy who would have otherwise been spiralling out of control.
I then started to use other forms of mindfulness on an evening, focusing on my breath when in bed with my daughter and I started to read up more on self-compassion and acceptance and became more forgiving and understanding of my health difficulties.
Without laughter yoga, I would likely not have had the initial strength that was needed to continue on my healing journey and address some very difficult things that were brought up by my health at that time.
If I were to go back in time, I absolutely would have also reached for support… but I was afraid to, because I did not have the education that I now have around perinatal mental illness. Therefore laughter yoga absolutely saved me at a time of real darkness and allowed me to still be my best parenting self.
Following my experience, I read up a lot around the benefits of laughter in relation to not only perinatal mental illness, but also whether laughter could support individuals during pregnancy, birth and in relation to wider postpartum matters… and what I found was incredible!
Why consider Laughter Yoga during pregnancy, birth & postpartum?
Laughter yoga boosts essential hormones of benefit to mum / birthing person and baby during the antenatal period (pregnancy), for birth and onwards. Additionally, there has been research to show that laughter may even support with fertility and conception.
By regularly engaging in laughter yoga sessions, we create a positive mindset, we boost happy hormones, we reduce any stress hormones, and this not only has huge benefits for us, but for baby too… with our hormones passing through to baby via the placenta and once born, via breastmilk and with maternal / parental mental health having an impact upon bonding and baby’s development.
What better thing to do than to engage in an easily accessible, gentle exercise that brings laughter, love and joy to our lives and allows us to be the best version of ourselves?
I am running my free Antenatal Laughter Wellbeing course to introduce laughter yoga to expectant parents and I hope that if you are due a little one, you might consider attending. The trial sessions over the 2nd, 9th and 16th October cost nothing and could make a massive difference to you during pregnancy for the better!