Kathryn Armstrong (sixth from right) with participants of her laughter yoga class

Abu Dhabi: A British expat who overcame multiple sclerosis to become a yoga teacher is holding a free laughter yoga session this weekend as part of a women’s empowerment workshop.

Abu Dhabi based Kathryn Armstrong, 53, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2008 said she wants to demonstrate the physiological and psychological benefits of laughter, which she claims brought about a positive change in her own condition.

Sustained laughter, the hallmark of laughter yoga, releases endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers and mood modulators), which helps boost immune system function, improves breathing, strengthens trunk muscles, lowers levels of the stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol, helps with sleep problems, and reduces blood pressure, according to medical studies.

Armstrong who conducts laughter yoga classes for individual groups as well as companies said she discovered the health benefits of laughter yoga when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis

“For 29 years I was an adviser for the Department of Working Pensions in the UK, dealing with work training and social issues of families. When I arrived in Abu Dhabi 10 years ago I was looking for something new but as luck would have it I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and had to undergo neurophysiotherapy.

“It was not easy being in a new country and having to face these issues,” recalled Armstrong. “That’s when the idea of laughter yoga began to sound appealing.”

During her frequent trips to the UK, she attended laughter yoga courses which she found to be very therapeutic. In 2014, she did a Laughter Yoga Leader Course and followed it up with Laughter Yoga Teacher Course and Laughter Therapist Course (all in the UK).

“In the last three years, I have conducted six courses in the UAE and the region as well. I have also certified 12 Laughter Leaders who are now conducting their own courses,” said Armstrong.

Leaving a legacy

As a side effect of MS, Armstrong developed optic neuritis (inflammation that damages the optic nerve) two years ago. She also suffers from spasticity (a condition in which certain muscles are continuously contracted) in her right thigh. But this doesn’t stop her from being a powerhouse of energy during classes. A typical session starts with a jovial ice breaker by Armstrong. It is followed by clapping, breathing and playful exercises. It ends with 10 minutes of ‘free laughter relaxation’.

For more information or registration, visit ww.pureholisticswithkathrynarmstrong.com

The writer is an Abu Dhabi-based freelancer