This Laughter Yoga teacher explains the power of the breath in our health and healing.
I use the name "oncolo-jest" sometimes as my pen name, hoping to tie the concept of using cancer and laughter together as partners in our health and healing. I was first introduced to the concept of using laughter to create beneficial deep breathing ten years ago — before male breast cancer entered my life.
Popularized my Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor in India, and supported by a decade of medical examination, Laughter Yoga or Laughter Therapy as it is sometimes called, isn't about what most people think it is.
I have found in writing and talking about Laughter Yoga for many years that there are some misconceptions surrounding the practice, and it's my hope to clear up some of those now.
Firstly, I'm not laughing at my disease. Cancer, after all, is no laughing matter. It impacts many lives on many levels. It's not fun and it's not funny. I'm also not laughing in defiance of my disease as this brings up a negative sort of attitude, at least for me. I sometimes explain it to those who are curious like this: "I'm laughing in spite of my cancer.” But that still misses the point, purpose and potential that the simple act of laughing has on our physical bodies, and ultimately on our disposition and emotional state.
Laughter as therapy is all about breathing. It's your breath, when utilized properly (and I'll get to that momentarily) that is the gateway to relaxation.
Let's face it, cancer is a stressful business. There have been several innovators in the study of humor and health. Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., is a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, which is a healing-oriented approach to health care which encompasses body, mind and spirit. He is based here in Arizona where I live, and while he often writes about proper and thoughtful nutrition, he has said that breath work has the greatest potential for contributing to good health.
I often use the word humor in conjunction with Laughter Yoga because when we laugh with a group, even a group of two, the very act of giggling in unison precipitates more laughter and deeper laughter — the right way to breathe belly laughter.
Most of us have a rather shallow breath, occupying the top area of our chest and lungs. Look at how you are breathing right now as you read these words. Chances are you have the aforementioned shallow breath going on: in and out, high in the chest, all day long.
Laughter actually forces us to breathe properly, and therein you'll find the key. A few minutes each day of laughing in a group (I recommend 10 minutes minimum) will soon turn into a new, less-stressed, more relaxed, better-able-to-cope-with-the-ups-and-downs-of -ancer, you.
Keep in mind, though, that this is a tool and not a treatment. Laughter doesn't cure anything, (except, perhaps, for the blues) but it has been shown to lower stress hormones while increasing endorphins in our bodies.
There is some controversy about whether fake laughter has the same benefits as real laughter, but pretending to laugh often leads to a change of attitude which in turn can make it easier to see the humor in laughing out loud with others, which ultimately initiates a chain of fun, spontaneous, deep belly laughter.
This service, manned by volunteers, has been brining laughter to people for the last decade.