Meet the Queensland woman who teaches laughter

HEATHER JOY CAMPBELL, 56

LAUGHTER WELLBEING FACILITATOR, ASHGROVE

 

As a child I was always extremely serious and took so much of the world on my shoulders.

I wanted to be a journalist because I had this noble intention of wanting the world to know "the truth" and to advocate for people.

I started working full-time for The Queensland Times at Ipswich a few weeks before I graduated university [QIT, now QUT], before moving to AAP in Brisbane and then Sydney.

I was back in Brisbane working for The Sun newspaper in my mid-20s when I took a job as junior press secretary for Queensland health minister Mike Ahern.

He was making a few waves in politics at the time and I was ready for a new challenge. When he became premier a short time later [in 1987], I became one of his press secretaries, which was a really intense, busy job.

I left after 18 months because I wasn't handling the stress.

I worked in PR and communications jobs for a couple of years but after my children - Corey, now 27, and Ashleigh, 25 - were born I decided to become a freelance writer and editor, and that's what I've done ever since.

My first marriage ended when the kids were really little and I was a single mum for about 13 years before I met my second husband, Craig Campbell, 57, who has five children of his own.

About eight years ago, I heard about someone in Victoria who was doing this thing called Laughter Yoga and I thought, oh, there's a story in that, so I rang them for an interview. When I found out there was a local laughter club [practising laughter yoga] at [inner Brisbane's] New Farm Park, I went along.

 

Heather Joy Campbell: “When we laugh you have all these lovely feel-goods – dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins – floating around in your body. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Heather Joy Campbell: “When we laugh you have all these lovely feel-goods – dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins – floating around in your body. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

 

I saw a handful of people standing under a tree chatting and I thought, oh God, can I run away now? because it wasn't what I was expecting and it was in such a public place, but I was coaxed in and before I knew it I was doing it and time flew, and I found myself going back every week.

At that point I was caring for my mum [Joy Grant] who was terminally ill and I was trying to freelance and keep all the balls in the air and I hadn't realised how stressed I was, and how seriously I was taking life.

When I came home after the first session, Craig told me I was glowing. Within a few weeks I just felt lighter and could laugh more easily at things; it was like flicking a switch of positivity in my life.

Laughter Yoga was developed by an Indian doctor, Madan Kataria, and it combines the deep, slow breaths of yoga with simulated laughter exercises.

When we laugh - whether it's because something is funny, or because we are doing a fake or intentional laugh - our brain doesn't know the difference; it just sends signals to the body to relax.

Then suddenly you have all these lovely feel-goods - dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins - floating around in your body.

In 2016, about a year after Mum passed away, I went to India to study with Dr Kataria and learn more about the science behind it.

When I came back I thought, why keep this a secret? So I formed a new community laughter club at [inner-northwestern suburb] The Gap, which meets every Saturday morning for 40 minutes.

The club doesn't make any money; I just see our sessions as a way of giving back to the neighbourhood that has been there for me and my kids.

We're just one of about 10,000 laughter clubs around the world.

I also deliver laughter workshops to groups for either team-building or stress-busting: residents in aged care homes, government departments, community organisations and businesses.

I've done a few sessions in farming communities in western Queensland, which led to me presenting at the Tasmanian Women in Agriculture conference last year.

I decided to dive into laughter as my full-time job this year.

Looking back, I can see that depression and anxiety have dogged me through much of my adulthood, whereas my mood is generally lighter now.

That doesn't mean I don't have dark days or dark moments, but I bounce back faster.

My dream is to see laughter clubs in every community and regional town.



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