Is forcing yourself to laugh in front of strangers worth it?

Usually people laugh because someone's cracked a good joke. Laughter's typically only forced because someone said a bad one.

So, how would it feel to stand in a group of strangers and be told to laugh on command?

I journeyed to Waiheke Island to give it a go, and now those who want to deepen their connection to their self and nature, rather than wine and cheese wine, can too.

Since 1995 forced or self-initiated laughter has been used as a unique brand of mindfulness - a way to practice breathing, to bring oxygen into the brain, de-stress and access your 'inner child.'

Two Waiheke women, Mel Burdett and Del Morgan-Coghlan, have combined mindful laughter with mindful walking, as part of the Waiheke Walking Festival. The festival runs from November 10 to 20, allowing people to explore the island through public tracks and private land with a range of expert guides.

Mel is a mindfulness coach, she typically teaches yoga and other wellbeing practices on the island and online. On the mindful laughter walk, she leads the group through mindful laughter exercises (think deep breath in, deep belly laugh out).

"This is something that gets people out of their comfort zone quite a bit. My job is too make people feel comfortable in these zones."

Mel says the concept of laughter is based on the fact that the body can't differentiate between fake and real laughter if done with willingness.

"One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits."

The laugh yoga website which accredited Mel says these benefits include lower stress, boosted immunity and a cardio workout.

Del, the other guide, usually runs a team building business. When Mel isn't instructing laughing exercises, she leads the walking group through conversation on the power of laughter and how it builds connection.

"What we see when people start laughing is that they're letting their guard down," says Del.

"When you let your guard down, what you're doing is revealing yourself to other people around you and to yourself."

Del shares this while telling a story about a recent experience working at the Rugby World Cup, saying at one point they were all so stressed they burst into uncontrollable hysterical laughter. After sharing her recent story of laughter building bonds, she invites different people from the group to share stories as well.

"My parents had dementia and it really is stressful and sad... but then every now and again something happened and it's just so funny that you have to laugh.. even though it's both embarrassing and sad... but the laughter is the survivor," says one woman.

Another woman spoke about her experiences as a teacher to dyslexic children.

"Sometimes it will be frustration one minute then the the next minute we're laughing over something completely different and irrelevant, and it eases all their tension. Then we can go back to what we were doing."

Through the course of a couple hours, a few people and I walked, laughed, cackled and giggled. A certain amount of vulnerability and bravery was required to laugh in front of these strangers. Did it feel foolish? Yes. Did it feel great? Absolutely.

When we weren't putting our laughs on the line, we were having stimulating conversation walking through native bush.

So, whether or not you're chasing a better connection to yourself, deeper breath or better immunity, the forced laughter often turned to real laughter. Mindful or not - it was pretty crack up, and if you get the chance to laugh your way around a place like Waiheke Island, I highly recommend you take it.


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