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Letting it loose…through laughter!

by Archives November 23, 2005

With midterms recently completed and finals swiftly approaching, many students are looking for ways to relieve the stress they feel is mounting daily. There are various well-known methods of relieving stress, but some pressure-plagued individuals may be seeking an alternative cure.

Tamra Steen, creator of Stress-Less Solutions company, has a suggestion: Laugh it off! Steen, a certified laughter therapist, has been running “Laugh With Me” workshops for the past two years and she is convinced laughing is the answer to stress-related problems.

With a background in teaching, yoga and theatre, Steen has created her own tailor-made training sessions for those looking to beat the effects of stressful living. Her courses are offered both in English and in French.

A typical session starts with some relaxation exercises. Participants then get involved in some more individual work such as journaling. Open discussions follow the private time, and then the laughter begins.

The man who is credited for having started the laughter technique is Dr. Kataria, of India. Steen says Kataria created “laughter clubs” in the mid 1990s. Steen calls her laughter club “Laugh With Me” and she follows some of the principle guidelines of Dr. Kataria’s original practice.

Steen finds she needs to ease people into the exercise of laughter because “not everyone’s boisterous, not everyone’s an extrovert.” People need to relax, she said, before they can participate in, and benefit from, the laughter.

Steen gives reluctant newcomers a special greeting that is sure to make them crack a smile at least. With a firm handshake, Steen looks into the person’s eyes and breaks into a deep fit of laughter that seemingly comes from nowhere.

Steen says laughter is contagious and this open display of laughter eventually brings newcomers around to a place where they can start to get involved.

“[When] someone laughs at you you can’t help it; you’re either going to give a smirk, or laugh . or leave!” she said.

While the laughter technique is very easy and can be done in a number of different ways, there are a few key points to a successful session at “Laugh With Me”. “Eye contact is necessary, laughing from the belly is necessary, and participation is necessary!” she said

To those who believe laughter is a reaction that can only be generated spontaneously, Steen offers one of Dr.Kataria’s famous quotes: “Fake it, fake it, fake it, until you make it!”

Steen believes that laughter is a natural exercise that human beings can take part in easily when they are willing.

“They say that five minutes of laughter is equivalent to about 15 minutes aerobic activity” Steen said, “But we’re talking deep belly laughter!”

According to Steen, various medical professionals have cited health benefits of laughter.

“Dr. Kataria advocates it boosts the immune system,” she said.

Laughter is proven to release endorphins; the same “feel-good” hormones generated by exercise. Regular practice can “get rid of depression, (and) relieve stress,” Steen said. “It can help you with interpersonal skills . it has a lot of benefits.”

Steen first got involved in the practice of laughter therapy after a car accident in 2003 left her bedridden for about a year. Having broken many bones, Steen had to endure a long healing process and she eventually decided to explore new avenues of recuperation.

Steen heard about laughter clubs one day on a talk-show program and thought it might be a good idea for her. She did some research on the subject and found a center that held free workshops. Soon, after being introduced to the new method of therapy, Steen was hooked.

“I love it, I really do” she said. “They do say laughter is the best medicine!”

Steen will continue to run regular sessions of her “Laugh With Me” program, along with yoga, nutrition and communication workshops she holds under the Stress-Less Solutions company. Plans for the future, she said, include the opening of a centre offering alternative health retreats.

Steen would like to take her workshops to another level by giving clients the chance to step out of their daily lives completely and become involved in the beneficial process of laughter and creative therapy techniques.

“Montreal is so full of stress,” Steen said. “It’s such a high-pace city. People are so in their bubble, you need something like this to bring them out, to bring the stress down, to bring some compassion in this big city rat-race.”

Steen also hopes to take her current “Laugh With Me” workshops into schools to work with younger children. Having been a special education teacher in the past, Steen would enjoy the opportunity to bring her laughter to a younger audience as well.

The focus of the future retreat facility, and quite possibly of all the Stress-Lesss programs Steen offers, is “Joy!”

“Because everybody’s got it,” Steen said. “It’s just that we forget that we have it!”

New sessions of courses will begin in Jan.2006 Courses are held in English and French. Steen teaches in the downtown area, and in Lasalle. There is a rebate for registration before Christmas.

For info, email Tamra Steen at stress-lesss@videotron.ca

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