Learning to Love

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Mama Dalila and Nedra Ghariani are a mother-and-daughter team of bestselling authors, motivational speakers, and human development trainers based in Tunisia. Looking to increase happiness and joy, they got started as laughter yoga practitioners and instructors. Attracting many eager students, their lessons turned into courses and live workshops titled “L’école de la vie.”

In 2014 Mama Dalila and Nedra published their first book Apprendre à Aimer, now in its sixth printing and translated into Arabic and English. Published by Networking Times Press in August 2017, the e-book Learning to Love is available globally on Amazon.com.

Mama Dalila and Nedra teach universal principles of self-love, forgiveness, tolerance, and heart-felt positivity. Their role models include Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Abraham (via Esther Hicks), and Louise Hay.

Mama Dalila and Nedra offer a unique perspective by showing their audiences how there is no contradiction between these “new age” teachings and the foundation of their Muslim religion as explained in the Koran.—J.G.

What led you to the work you do today?
Dalila: Growing up I was a very sensitive little girl. I had a difficult time with my mom, as she wanted me to be exactly like her. She really tried to shape me into her mold, so I was raised with lots of harsh words and punishments.

Even though my mother loved me, I never heard the words “I love you” cross her lips. The only way she gave me attention was by pouncing on the smallest things I said and did, to bring me back on what she saw as the right path.

Feeling unhappy, I was always looking for someone who could understand me, a hand I could hold to console me. But I could not find anyone. Even my brothers and sisters couldn’t make me feel better. The more I grew up, the more I suffered.

Finally one day I said to myself, “You didn’t find anyone capable to even say one sentence to console you. Your job in life will be to try to understand people, to guide them and show them that life doesn’t have to be this way.”

I promised to find my own words to console people, to love them, to show them that they don’t need to suffer. I wanted to teach people that life is beautiful and easy.

Everything changed from that moment onwards. After graduating I got hired by the Cultural Center of the British Embassy and this turned into a 30-year career. I spent my days at the library, where I discovered the works of T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, Henry James, and other classics. I loved reading, which led me to other books that shaped me.

Little by little I started giving advice to people who were suffering. Guided by my intuition, I offered to help them with communication skills, public speaking, body language, and so on. I had never studied these topics; my insights came directly from the heart.

“Laughter yoga completely turned my life around.”

One day in August 2004 I was swimming in Hammamet with my sister-in-law and there was a scene on the beach that made us laugh. We were laughing uncontrollably and just couldn’t stop. I felt this laughter was so liberating I could tell something in my body had shifted.

As soon as I got home, I googled “benefits of laughter” and I discovered laughter yoga as taught by Dr. Kataria. A few days later I signed up for his training in London. I told my kids and husband, “I’m going to do this training to bring laughter yoga to Tunisia. I have to do this for our people. Everyone here is stressed, people are getting angry in traffic jams, they are even yelling at their loved ones at home.”

Laughter yoga completely turned my life around. The training I attended opened all my chakras, all my energy channels, and when I returned to my country I was a different person. I was no longer carrying my burdens from the past. Gone was the little girl inside who constantly wondered, “Why don’t people understand me? Why are people not nice?”

Passionate about what I had found, I started giving laughter yoga sessions in the fall of 2004. I became an instructor, then a teacher, and finally I became the Ambassador of Laughter yoga for the Arab World.

My classes started with seven or eight people, but grew quickly through word of mouth. As I got more and more followers, radio and TV stations approached me for interviews and guest appearances, even in other countries. That is how my work developed and my lessons turned into trainings attended by hundreds of people internationally.

Meanwhile, what was happening in your world, Nedra?
Nedra: While my mom was progressing in her career and on her spiritual path, I was going through an identity crisis myself.

Growing up I tried to do everything perfectly so I could feel worthy of love. But instead, I felt bitter and sad.

I did well in school and earned a business degree from a reputable university. Everything looked great on the outside, but I felt lost and dissatisfied on the inside.

When I saw a happy person, I would think, “She must have some genetic predisposition toward happiness. I’m not that lucky. I’ll be fulfilled when my life is perfect, when the people around me act the way I want them to act.”

I kept searching, not really knowing what I was looking for. All I knew was that I felt unhappy. On top of that I felt guilty, because I had everything—a wonderful husband, a healthy son, and even my own business.

Naturally my unhappy feelings affected my business, my relationships, my finances, and my health. I didn’t feel like myself. Finally my mom said, “You should come to laughter yoga with me!”

I couldn’t relate to it at all in the beginning. I told my mom, “If you understood my problems, you would not ask me to come laughing.” This goes to show you how everyone has their own timing.When it’s not their time, there is nothing we can do for a person, because they will not be open to our message.

“Once you remove the victim hat, everything changes.”

My wakeup call came in February 2005, when I decided, “Nedra, you can’t go on like this.” I was tired of suffering. I had tried everything, except what scared me the most, which was stepping through the door of change.

I told myself, “You are not a victim. There is something you can do.” Once you remove the victim hat, everything changes. You start meeting the right people, finding the right books—everything falls into place. I already had the right books, because my mom had given them to me, but I couldn’t see them, even though they were sitting on my table.

I became receptive. I started attending my mom’s classes discreetly, as I didn’t want to be seen. Laughter yoga helped me rekindle my childlike playfulness and my natural joie de vivre. Doors started opening for me and   one day I realized my life had completely changed, because I had changed.

I was doing research and traveling to conferences. I started to speak up during my mom’s classes. People told me, “Wow, you just said something that really gave me clarity and helped me understand things.”

Realizing I could actually be of service encouraged me to speak more. It wasn’t a decision I made, it just kind of evolved and eventually I began teaching in tandem with my mom. It was as though a path opened up to me, like a calling.

People loved how my fresh perspective balanced my mom’s life experience. I focused on the practical side of things. I would put myself in the shoes of people who were resistant, because I had been there myself. My mom would say, “Happiness is simple. Life is beautiful.” I would say, “I understand you may not feel this way, but here’s another way of looking at things.”

We became complementary. Since we attracted people from all walks of life, some identified more with my mom, others with me. Our courses grew into weekend seminars, called “L’Ecole de la Vie.”

We covered different themes: reconciliation with the self, how to handle people who don’t understand us, how to release judgment, how to reprogram the subconscious mind with new habits, how the Law of Attraction works, and so on.

The way we structure our courses is first we give a teaching, addressing the mind. Then we do a meditation so people can internalize what they learned. Next, we do a laughter yoga session for emotional and physical release.

We always cover these three elements, because we’ve learned that if you just talk to people, not much happens. You have to involve the body if you want people to change. That’s what makes our work original.

Dalila: All the great spiritual teachers we respect talk about these concepts. What’s different in our classes is we add the physical side. We work a lot on the body because we know that motion creates emotion. When you smile or laugh, you release negative energy and you instantly reconnect with your inner child that’s naturally joyful.

After we do our laughter yoga, we play music and continue to move our bodies to release any residual stress or blockages. Everyone is in a great mood, and we close the session with a huge circle where everyone holds hands. We close our eyes and repeat affirmations: “Live and let live,” “Forgive and forget,” and “Peace and love.” Then we send love and happiness to all members of the human family.

By the end of our workshop, you are like a different person. The word that comes to mind is magic. People feel they are changing at a deep level, because we work on the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual body. This is truly what makes what we do different.

Nedra: We also work on releasing the program of “what will others think of me.” As we dance and have fun together, we shout, “I don’t give a damn, I don’t care what people think.” In the beginning of the conference, people can be quite inhibited. They are all dressed up, wearing their social masque, but as the sessions go on, they become more relaxed, and towards the end everyone is smiling and hugging each other.

Once we had a 70-year old man who had a hip problem and was walking with a cane. In our final session, he was dancing, waving his cane in the air. This is the contagious impact of the group; it increases everyone’s joy, which of course attracts all kinds of other good things and people into your life.

At other human development seminars, people hear, “You need to feel good to attract good things.” “But how?” they wonder. “How can I do it?” So we teach you to move your body, which is what changes your emotions. We dedicate an entire chapter to this in our book—how the body interacts with the mind.

The changes people experience are immediate, because the body doesn’t differentiate between laughing as an exercise and spontaneous laughter. The same “happy” hormones are secreted, including endorphins and serotonin. We don’t laugh because we are happy, we are happy because we laugh.

Dalila: Laughter yoga lowers inhibitions and helps us return to our childlike nature. People come with their identity: I am the president of the company. I’m a minister. I’m a professional.

I say, “No, you are much more than that. You are a beautiful soul. You are love, peace, and joy. You are forgiveness. You are tolerance. You are not your profession. You are a goldmine!”

People really appreciate this, because we show them who they are, not only through words, but through lots of exercises we came up with and refined over the years.

People tell us, “We can’t even remember the last time we laughed like this.”

I remember a woman who came in with a lot of physical pain. After the first day, she was no longer in pain. The second day she put on makeup, valuing herself again. By the third day, she was a different person.

We have filmed some of these trainings and it is amazing to see people change. Their eyes are sparkling. Laughter really brings people together. We also reprogram the subconscious with affirmations we say while dancing and playing.

“People are changing at a deep level, because we work on the mental,emotional, physical, and spiritual body.”

Some say laughter is the shortest distance between nations, cultures, and religions. It’s an international language.

Do you also talk about religion?
Nedra: Yes, we are Muslims and we make it clear there is no contradiction between our religious beliefs and what we teach, on the contrary.

We tell people, “Take off your victim hat. You are the co-creator of your life.” We have a verse in the Koran that says, “God will not change the condition of people until they change what is in themselves.” In other words, you can only change your external world if you first change your inner world.

Another verse says, “What comes to you of good is from Allah, but what comes to you of evil is from yourself.” So anything “bad” is something you created, or something you unconsciously attracted into your world, like an injustice.

What God teaches us through the Koran is love, tolerance, forgiveness, gratitude, and not harming others. There even is a verse that says, “You who believe, take care of your own selves,” meaning the person who deserves the most of your attention is yourself. Stop looking at others for change, focus on yourself and your path.

When we explain it this way, making reference to the Koran, people clearly get that there is no conflict with their religious beliefs, that we all are inherently good, that we are here not to suffer but to love each other.

Dalila: The people who attend our workshops come from all backgrounds and social classes. After our workshops, they invariably say, “I now understand my religion better. I feel more connected to God—not out of fear, but out of love. I now know Him in a different way.”

Nedra and I have found a simple way to convey the message that God is love, God is forgiveness, God is abundance—and people fall in love with that.

“The body doesn’t differentiate between laughing as an exercise and spontaneous laughter.”

Nedra: Sometimes when we get invited to speak abroad, the event organizers warn us, “Be careful. Stay away from anything to do with religion. It’s taboo.” But why? The basis of our religion is universal. We just weren’t taught well. We were raised with fear and punishment, and a wrathful God. But that’s not at all the truth of the Koran.

Our religion emphasizes the importance of living in gratitude and counting our blessings instead of taking them for granted. It also teaches us to cultivate an optimistic outlook on life and to start each day with unshakable faith that only good things can happen to us, and that with God everything is possible.

We have a Hadith that says, “Smiling at your brother is an act of charity.” Offering a smile and a kind word is very important in the Muslim religion, which admonishes us to “speak goodness or remain silent.” Our prophet teaches messages of love, so there is great alignment between what we teach and our religion, and people really like that.

When I read Wayne Dyer, I recognize my religion in his books. It’s all about love, forgiveness, and letting go. The Koran has a verse where God says about man, “I have fashioned him and breathed into him of My spirit.” If God breathed life into you, everything you need is inside.

The more you spread love and peace, the more you will attract what you want. There is no need to struggle. It doesn’t help to say your prayers from morning till night out of fear. Good things cannot come to those who live in fear.

Dalila: There are verses in the Koran that emphasize the importance of women. Our prophet was a tender man who never spoke hurtful words, and who had the highest respect for his wives.

Tunisian women are confident and strong. Our former President Bourguiba believed in the power of women. We receive equal respect as men in our society, thankfully. We are role models for other women in the Arab world.

In our country, we have all the elements necessary for progress. We just need to cleanse ourselves from negativity and old programming. This happens one person at a time, so we need a lot of people to carry out this message. That is why we do this work.

Nedra: It really needs to start in schools. That’s our next calling, and our second book focuses on this. Why not teach this to our children? Why wait till the damage is done and then try to fix things? Why not prevent the problem and teach children about love, that they are good?

Teachers here are very focused on academics and they often terrorize kids with grades. We want to create a handbook for schools that teaches this true foundation of our religion, rather than all the negative beliefs.

Peace starts at home, in the family. When I hear about world peace, I feel there isn’t much I can do. But when I think of inner peace and peace at home, there I can take full responsibility and really make a difference. Start small, and little by little it spreads from your home to your neighborhood, your city, your country, and the entire planet.

When people talk about world peace, they often focus on “the other.” They need to change. If every family cultivates peace and tolerance, that’s how it will spread. Be the change you wish to see!

You both are entrepreneurs. Nedra even has experience in network marketing. What’s your message for entrepreneurs?
Nedra: An entrepreneur is first a human being. “Entrepreneur” is a hat we wear, but who takes on this identity and makes it work? It is our soul, our inner being. I’m convinced that an entrepreneur reconciled with his true self will create extraordinary success on all levels.

Similarly, concepts like leadership are human concepts; they do not just apply to business. It’s about respecting others, influencing people, inspiring others. You have to feel good in your skin if you want others to follow you. I’ve never seen anyone who feels bad or angry having a lot of followers. These basic concepts we teach will help you do extraordinary things and make a global impact.

We regularly get invited by reputable companies with 300, 400, 500 employees to teach team building. They ask us to help people deal with stress and be more productive. But what is stress? Stress is caused by parasite thoughts in your mind. Stress is not in our nature.

It all goes back to making peace with yourself. An entrepreneur who wants to succeed in business needs to work on himself, on his emotional state. He needs to know himself and love himself so he can love others. He cannot take himself too seriously.

I have some experience in network marketing, and I loved the profession because it is based on love and helping others. You cannot succeed in network marketing if you don’t sow love. And how can you love people if you don’t love yourself? You can’t give what you don’t have.

Network marketing gives people the desire to grow, change, and create a better world. It makes you want to create wealth and abundance on all levels. Outer wealth always follows inner wealth. A network marketer needs to invest in personal growth more than in skills and strategies.

“Most parents lovingly pass on their own limiting beliefs to their children.”

Dalila: The foundation of everything is to be on good terms with yourself, to feel good. I do a yearly radio show called “Revolution Positive de l’Etre.” When I love and cherish my inner being and respect her, all the red carpets of life roll out for me. When I respect my life and I’m grateful, I have so much love I can love everyone.

Everything starts with me. We call it reconciliation with the self. This is true in Tunisia, in Africa, and in the entire world. There is war in the world because we are at war with ourselves. If I’m in harmony with myself, everything works out. We all need to take care of ourselves first.

We teach in French, Arabic and English. Beyond Tunisia, we have taught in London, Switzerland, Libya, Morocco, and Dubai. Soon we are going to Côte d’Ivoire, where an international bank in Abidjan invited us after some of its people read the chapter on the ego in our book. They say there are lots of “big egos” in their company, and believe that what we teach is key to resolving their issues.

You cannot be productive at work if you are not at peace with yourself. Your internal conflict will be reflected on the outside. Our message brings people closer and the result is greater productivity and collaboration, less tension and more energy. People become more tolerant and less judgmental.

“It doesn’t help to say your prayers from morning till night out of fear.”

What does your ideal future look like?
Nedra: My purpose is to make sure this message reaches as many people as possible. People are looking for this thread to lead them. Here in Tunisia a lot of people see the future in a somber light. They have lost their inner joy because of all the stress. Our message of positivity is something they can hold on to, because it makes sense to them. They feel comfortable with the language we use. Our vision is to bring these tools into as many households as possible, in our country and across the globe.

Too many people are suffering, and we want to teach them that life is not meant to be difficult. You just have to learn and understand certain codes and principles. We have been misinformed about a lot of things, and my dream is to start teaching the truth in schools. You see these little children with sparkles in their eyes, and it hurts my heart to see how we fill their heads with academic subjects, while the heart wilts away due to all the negative messaging. The heart of education is the education of the heart.

Here in Tunisia, 90 percent of the school curriculum is academic. Educators often forget to teach children about self-esteem, how to develop their unique talents, how to manage their emotions, how to let go of anger and find inner peace, how to access the limitless power God has given them.

Most parents lovingly pass on their own limiting beliefs to their children, and we want to stop this cycle. I believe we can build a thriving economy if we provide each person with the right foundation in their childhood.

Dalila: My vision may be utopic, and may not happen during my lifetime, but I yearn to see a world united. Please, no color, no race, no gender, no age, no religion, a world united as one body of which we are all healthy cells, with one heart beating, full of joy and tolerance.

Our goal is to keep it very simple and stay close to the people. Our message is profound, while easy to understand. We use everyday examples and we don’t mind addressing the religious side, because we love God. People who are not Muslim also love our teachings, because these are universal principles everyone can embrace.

Nedra: We believe a better world is possible, if everyone starts with themselves, then their family, and outward from there. Forget about what others should and should not do. I learned this personally: I had to start with changing myself.

It seemed like a drop in the ocean, but look at how our message has spread! We have over 100,000 followers on Facebook and people send us incredible testimonials every day, letting us know how our work is impacting their lives. Imagine how their lives are impacting other lives... this is how we change the world—if we all do our inner work.

Buy Mama Dalila & Nedra Ghariani’s e-book Learning to Love on Amazon