WHEN Jo Bluett is stuck in traffic or is cut up on the motorway she laughs, not because she finds such road rage-inducing acts particularly funny but because laughing is her secret weapon.
The 52-year-old has harnessed the power of laughter to turn her life around after ME and fibromyalgia put an end to her high-flying business career. She was housebound and on benefits when she found herself at a laughing workshop that ended up changing her life and inspiring her to spread the good cheer.
A Bowen therapist by day, Jo, from Tollcross, facilitates laughing yoga groups that combine playful exercises with yogic breathing, across the city that have relieved people’s ailments and raised a whopping £12,000 for Edinburgh-based charities.
Jo founded the Edinburgh Laughter Club in 2010 and sees a difference in people even after the first time they come, so transformative is the power of a good giggle.
A belly laugh has been proven to trigger physiological changes in the body that can reduce pain and inflammation, strengthen the heart and lungs, lift mood and release stress. The body and brain can even be tricked into laughter which brings about the same mood-boosting benefits, even through a grimace. In short, you can fake it until you make it and still reap the benefits.
Funds have been raised for The Eric Liddell’s centre’s Ca(I)re Programme that supports carers’ good health and wellbeing, Health In Mind, Waverley Care, the Edinburgh branch of Parkinson’s UK and Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland.
The laughing skills she teaches aren’t about humour or comedy, they’re a toolkit for changing your mindset in the moment to boost health and mood: “All you need to do is hear the sound of laughter. The more you do the better you get at it. I know that if I laugh I’m going to feel better”, she breaks into laughter and she’s right, it’s catching.
Some of her clients are recovering from strokes, cancer and heart attacks or living with long-term conditions like Parkinson’s disease. Jo’s warmth and enthusiasm, as well as her personal experience of using laughter to return to health are what keep people coming back for more. She said: “People are stressed and have lost connection with their joy. The Laughter Club is about giving people back control”.
Her work has made it on to the small screen too. BBC2 featured her in November last year on the show Trust Me, I’m A Doctor, with GP Zoe Williams taking part in a session to feel the benefits.
Jo still lives with ME and fibromyalgia but they are less limiting now she knows that laughter truly is the best medicine. She said: “I still have to manage my energy and stress and I still have bad days but laughter helps me bounce back and stay positive.”