13 February 2020 Teesside University, The Hub, Southfield Rd, Middlesbrough TS1 3BX, UK

Last week, a free 'Laughter Yoga' session was held for students courtesy of Simon Richardson from Golden Tree CIC. Always game for a laugh, The Southernist went along to take in the experience


"Ho, Ho, Ha, Ha, Ha...!" is the continuous chorus alongside a rhythmical clap, as our small group is introduced to the downward dog equivalent of Laughter Yoga.

Throughout, bewildered eyes lock focus from across the floor, transmitting an obvious subliminal question to each other; "what have we let ourselves in for?"

As if he knows reassure is required, our instructor for the session, Simon explains how "laughter can be associated with shame" and that one of the goals of this session is to remove that sensation "out of that domain."

It doesn't feel like we've moved beyond that point yet.

Nervous titters can be heard, as each of us try to come to terms with the ridiculousness of our present situation; myself more than most given I had turned up full sports kit, shorts and all.

And yet, despite that unease, the feeling that something from within is happening is inescapable with each inhale and exhale of breath.

Well, Simon did mention that Laughter Yoga can make you "a bit farty!"

Going full sports kit proved to be a mistake

What is Laughter Yoga?

A free taster session put on Simon Richardson of Golden Tree CIC, courtesy of the Teesside University Psychology Society, 'Laughtercise' as it is also know as is described as "an exercise system that combines laughter based exercises, yogic breathing (pranayama), gentle stretching and meditations."

Originating from India, the practice devised by Dr Madan Kataria play's on the notion that "laughter is the best medicine" and claims that it's benefits include reducing personal cortisol levels - a hormone our body naturally releases when stressed.

But for our instructor Simon, Laughter Yoga is about much more than that;

"I'm really interested in the way it actually changes our thoughts and feelings around the situations that we're actually in, but in a very subtle way. It's actually just changing our brain chemistry slightly.

"It's laughing for no-reason, but not without a purpose, the purpose being moving towards well-being."

Simon was also clear to signal that Laughter Yoga should not be seen as a one time thing and that regularly engaging with the exercise is as important as the things we do to maintain our physical health.

"I actually use laughter yoga probably every day" he said, continuing "just as someone might think 'well I'm going to my 10,000 steps, I'm going to do my active ten', I make sure I laugh a little bit, loud and long, every day.

Simon creases himself, as he's about to reveal what's so funny

Pass the laughter cream

As the session continues, we are introduced to humour toffees, the funny side of our multi-page credit card bills and instructed to cover ourselves in laughter cream.

All of these exercises are met with a degree of laughter, however the feeling it is somewhat forced is unmistakable.

But we shouldn't worry about this Simon claims, because apparently the brain can’t tell the difference between fake and genuine laughter.

After each exercise, we as group all then revert back to our newly learned mantra;

"Ho, Ho, Ha, Ha, Ha...!"

Quite what others would think looking at us we dare not to think.

And unfortunately, that moment presents itself as a group of innocent bystanders happen to walk in on our session mid way through.

But despite being a little perturbed by that unfortunate intrusion, our group continue to faithfully follow the programme and as we moved deeper into the session a definite shift between us all could be felt.

We had started bonding with each other, becoming more at ease with our situation and indeed, our laughter had now become bona fide giggles.

The guys prepare to lather themselves in laughter cream

The man behind the "Ho, Ho, Ha, Ha, Ha...!"

With our session coming to a close, I was left with an urge to know more about Simon, his background and how we came upon this unique form of Yoga.

As he began setting out his "tangled pathway" towards becoming a Laughter Yoga instructor, it instantly became obvious that in Simon, your mental well-being was in good hands.

A former mental health nurse and award winning mental health trainer for over a decade, the former Law and Child Law (Masters) graduate has a CV that boasts an endless list of impressive credits in the field of mental health.

But it was the sudden end of a 10-year role as a Drug-Education Team Coordinator, working with close to 300 schools across Teesside region, that would see Simon come across Laughter Yoga, "quite by chance."

"When I got made redundant 10 years ago, it was something I just saw on the internet, and thought that looks like it might be interesting."

"I absolutely loved it, it was one of the best training things I've ever done purely because it was just such good fun.

"I could actually feel it changing me slightly and really help with the outlook with what I was going through. How was I going to cope being out there in my own business."

The session constantly had the group in stitches

Laughing in the face of adversity

A further aspect that became abundantly clear from talking with Simon is that his life has been dedicated to the rebuilding of people, so much so, that his counselling and psychotherapy practice draws its name from the Japanese art of porcelain repair; Kintsugi.

Explaining the link, Simon says;

"What happens with broken pots and things, in Japan they'll be repaired using gold or silver lacquer, that makes the object more valuable than they were before.

"People will come to me and be worried about the break that they've got and how damaged they feel, but perhaps we can celebrate that repair, because that person will be enhanced by their repair."

But it would be a few days later before I would reflect on these words and fully understand the impact Laughing Yoga can have on a personal outlook on life.

There I was, stood in a queue, getting frustrated at the general disorganisation of those before me, with my brain becoming dominated by thoughts of everything else that needed to be achieved that morning.

But suddenly, out of nowhere, a vision appeared alongside a now familiar sound and my mouth began to crease upwards.

Checking around to make sure I was in my own moment, a freeing relaxation was about to becalm me, as I indulged myself in releasing a few simple words under my breath;

"Ho, Ho, Ha, Ha, Ha...!"

If your interested in Laughter Yoga or engaging with Simon about the wide range of support he can offer, you can find contact details and more via and

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