Karen Joanne – Laughter yoga and First Dates

Without her prior knowledge, Karen Joanne’s best friend put her forward for the TV show “First Dates”. She thinks Karen Joanne has been single for far too long. She thinks this is the solution. Karen Joanne seems horrified at the prospect, but I wonder if secretly she thinks it might be quite fun. Don’t get me wrong, not fun as a match making exercise, as I can’t see she would enjoy the prospect of two million people watching her on a blind date. But fun because I think she would end up in an absurd situation, trying to get her stern date to loosen up by teaching him some of her laughter yoga.

“It was like being a battery hen.”

Karen Joanne used to work eight hours a day in a call centre, sitting down all day at a desk answering phone calls. It was hard to leave her desk, as it would show up in her manager’s office that she had logged out from the phone system. This was not looked on kindly by her manager. “It was like being a battery hen,” Karen Joanne states indignantly. One day at work, a colleague remarked to Karen Joanne that she was at her most animated when she spoke about her Thai boxing training and had she considered working in the fitness industry. “Honesty, it was like a light bulb moment. I literally went YES!” So over the next few months she enrolled in fitness industry intense courses to gain some qualifications, ditched her call centre job, moved out of London and started on her fitness career. “I didn’t care I’d taken such a big pay drop, I absolutely loved it, helping people to move”. That was twenty years ago, and thankfully she hasn’t sat down at a desk for that long ever again.

Karen Joanne’s teaching style in all her various exercise classes around Dacorum, is very much about having fun. “In classes you have to give a lot of instructions, so if you were to give instructions in the wrong tone of voice, people will just feel like they are being told off… As soon as I get in the class I’m like ‘ooh, you’ve got a lazy bottom today,’” she giggles. I wholeheartedly agree as I remember going to a yoga class and feeling like I was at school again. I never went back.

It is infectious and so this in turn makes me giggle.

Taking in mind Karen Joanne’s style, it is quite fitting that one of the classes she runs is laughter yoga. She says that in the class you don’t need to tell jokes or try to be funny, so if you were thinking about a career in stand up and thought this may be the class for you to try out your material, think again. She shows me the greeting game she does at her laughter class. She grabs my hand and shakes it and just starts giggling. Although I know this is fake laughing, it is infectious and so this in turn makes me giggle, until we are both genuinely giggling away. And as Karen Joanne says, the body doesn’t know the difference between the first initial fake laughter and genuine laughter, so you still gain all the health benefits. “If you laugh you lower your stress hormones, your cortisol drops, you get endorphins, you breath better and it feels good”.

But Karen Joanne is very well placed to know not to fake her own happiness. Ten years ago she left her last boyfriend because, in her words, “he wasn’t very nice, so that was good to leave”. And in those ten years she has spent a lot of time, “just being who I want to be, buying my house, deciding what I wanted from my business.” But she doesn’t come across as being cynical about relationships either. She tells me about the wonderful relationship her brother and his wife have. “They give me faith that I might actually meet someone who is perfect for me. They make my heart sing, they are so lovely together”.

I would still love to see her on First Dates, although I admit that it is from a purely selfish point of view. I can see her in the toilets at First Dates, giggling down the phone to her best friend at how mismatched her date is and hatching an escape plan. I think I would just laugh and laugh, and it certainly wouldn’t be fake laughter.

RAW publishes interviews regularly about a community member from Hemel Hempstead or the surrounding villages. To keep up to date with RAW’s interviews, click follow at the top of this page or like RAW’s Facebook page, highlighted at the side of the page.

Rebecca – Sport for All

Rebecca is a plodder. “I’m happy plodding,” she laughs. I immediately warm to her as I too am a plodder. We are talking running and I tell her I have long got over the embarrassment of my 10 year old son beating me at Park Run every week. Rebecca has run a few marathons; London, Chicago and New York, but to her it’s not about the time. “It’s a challenge, it’s a target and it’s that overwhelming achievement at the end”. Saying that, competitiveness, or maybe it’s pride, does still play a role in her marathon running, which she tries to do in just under five hours. When she ran the London Marathon she was pleased to be on track, and indeed finished in 4 hours 57 minutes. But it didn’t come without a moral dilemma in the race. Towards the end, she saw someone she knew. “I was going to stop and talk to this lady I recognised, who was struggling…I looked at my watch and I just thought I can’t. And even if I see her now, I feel guilty…She probably just needed a little ‘come on’ but I had twenty minutes to go – that’s awful isn’t it!” 

Her plodding running style is in sharp contrast to everything else she does. When I interview her she bounds in to the room and talks at a million miles an hour. Maybe her running is her way of slowing down. Recently she came home looking exhausted and her husband asked how a particular meeting had gone. “I just went blah blah blah blah blah…I just unloaded for 40 minutes”. But she has good reason to rant.

“I am really lucky to do the job I do. I really love it”.

Rebecca works at Sportspace. She has worked there for 34 years. “I am really lucky to do the job I do. I really love it”. She started as a teenager in an admin post and is now the Operations Director. She has always loved sport; team sports when she was younger and now running is her passion. The thing that really drives her, and her eyes light up when she talks about it, is how to get as many different people as possible, from all walks of life, more active. “It’s about more people, having more opportunities, in whatever way and whatever form works for them”. The way her and her team have done this is by appealing to the things people enjoy, not by forcing everyone to the gym. The XC Centre is a great example of this. By bringing together a skatepark, caves and a climbing wall, Rebecca and her team have encouraged a younger crowd who probably don’t think of themselves as sporty in the traditional school team sport way, to get active.

Just before Christmas it emerged that council had made a decision that Sportspace should to be taken over by a national profit-led company, ceasing the partnership they had with the local not-for-profit they had set up to run it since 2004. Rebecca and her colleagues were very emotional. They didn’t know what would this would mean in terms of their jobs and, importantly for Rebecca, what it would mean in terms of the philosophy to encourage sport for all, not just to those who could afford it. Under a company that is ploughing money back to shareholders rather than the community, what would happen in the future to people, like the elderly lady who told Rebecca, ‘this place saved my life’. One night at home she was completely overwhelmed by the whole situation, but didn’t want to talk to anyone. She just thought she would burst in to tears. But she tells how her 25 year old son was unusually tender. He said, “Mum I totally understand, you’ve been there before you had me, before you and dad. I totally understand where you are coming from”.

“It was an angry run”

There is one time when Rebecca hasn’t been a plodder. When she was furious about the situation with council, she went on a run to let off steam. “It was an angry run…and I vividly remember it”. Her sister, who often runs with her, saw her run on Garmin (an app that shares your running speed and other data). “I got a text later (from my sister) to say ‘what on earth made you run at that speed?’”. Rebecca giggles. “I don’t think I could ever do that speed again!” Maybe I need to get angrier to help with my running speed, and to be honest, reading all the details about council and how they have treated Sportspace, believe me I am. Depending on which way the council meeting goes on Wednesday, I may yet beat my 10 year old son at Park Run on Saturday.

RAW publishes interviews regularly about a community member from Hemel Hempstead or the surrounding villages. To keep up to date with RAW’s interviews, click follow at the top of this page or like RAW’s Facebook page, highlighted at the side of the page.

Zane – Buddhism and basketball

“The Olympics is still like a dream. It was amazing. You would be walking in the campus and you would see all these superstars from all over the world.” Zane is a 6’6’’ Latvian professional basketball player, and she is the last person I would have expected to find living at Amaravati Buddhist monastery in Great Gaddesden. She played for the Latvian national basketball team and represented them at the Beijing Olympics. At high school she won a scholarship to play basketball in the US and was drafted in to the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association). She married a professional basketball player in the States; “he was tall, he was good looking”. This perfect couple were the envy of many, travelling the world, driving expensive cars and following their passion. She was ticking off the list of her ten wildest dreams she thought would bring her the happiness she craved.

Zane felt her world had broken down.

Zane’s early life was very different from this life as a globe trotting basketball star. She grew up in a suppressed environment in Latvia. For the first nine years of her life the country was part of the Soviet Union. Her family struggled with money and their attitude was that life wasn’t to be enjoyed, you just had to get through it. Her parents worked, but sometimes they didn’t even receive money; they were issued with ration tickets for food. The family grew extra vegetables in the summer and tulips in the winter to supplement their income. Zane had a very difficult relationship with her father, who emotionally and sometimes physically, abused her. Her father was very critical of her, instilling her with low self esteem and blaming her for everything. Also being tall for her age, she was bullied by her peers for her height. Growing up in this environment Zane felt her world had broken down. Her saviour was a teacher who wanted to coach a basketball team. She walked in to Zane’s maths class, looking for students to coach, and that was the moment that Zane’s life changed. Basketball made her feel useful for once in her life and good about herself.

Moving to the USA, her basketball skills went from strength to strength and she started to earn good money, playing in the top women’s teams. But her insecurities her father had instilled in her were still there, just below the surface. She couldn’t believe she was worthy of this perfect lifestyle and every time she signed a new contract for a team, she would think to herself, “I am not this good to get this money”.

As her and her husband’s careers progressed and they started playing in different countries, Zane found out her husband was having affairs. Because of her low self esteem that had been conditioned in to her by her father, she felt the affairs were her fault. “I was always looking for the fault in me”. Her relationship with her husband was becoming like the relationship with her father, being bullied and criticised and always feeling she was the one in the wrong. “I was trying my best (in her marriage), until there was a point where I couldn’t move on”. Eventually her and her husband agreed to divorce and although she knew it was the right thing to do, it was a very painful time for her. “I could feel my heart was broken”. 

It was after her divorce that Zane found her teenage list with her ten wildest dreams on. Although she had achieved 90% of them, even down to the specific detail of owning a BMW, what she realised is how you appear to the outside world doesn’t make any difference if you are not happy within. Re-reading her teenage list she still felt in the same miserable place as she had before.

“Don’t believe everything you think”.

Coming to the Buddhist monastery with some friends, Zane felt for the first time in her life that she was in the right place. She felt the Buddhist philosophy was exactly how she wanted to live her life. It was “very close to my heart, even though I had nothing to do with Buddhism before”. She didn’t have to worry about what other people thought, a concern that had been conditioned in her since childhood. And she realised she didn’t need other people’s approval to feel good about herself. Although the experience with her ex-husband was very painful, she feels it was one of her biggest lessons in life. It opened her eyes to her childhood conditioning. She needed to break the cycle of self criticism and low self esteem. As one of the monks told her, “don’t believe everything you think”.

RAW publishes interviews regularly about a community member from Hemel Hempstead or the surrounding villages. To keep up to date with RAW’s interviews, click follow at the top of this page or like RAW’s Facebook page, highlighted at the side of the page.