Romantic poet Lord Byron once wrote: “Always laugh when you can. It’s cheap medicine.”
But is it really medicine? Some say yes!
As early as the 13th century, doctors and philosophers documented how humor distracted patients from feeling pain, as well as exercising the muscles, lungs and other inner organs.
The publication of Norman Cousins’s 1979 “Anatomy of an Illness,” in which he credited laughter for curing his painful rheumatoid disease, popularized the belief that laughter reduced pain.
“Although some predicted effects have been obtained, [these] findings are often inconsistent…to draw firm conclusions,” University of Western Ontario psychology professor Rod A. Martin wrote in his 2001 study on laughter and physical health.
However, Martin said the most well-controlled studies examining the effects of humor show “increased pain threshold or tolerance.”
Despite the lack of scientific evidence to prove those theories, many hospitals and cancer centers incorporate laughter as a complementary treatment to traditional therapies such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
“Laughter, in and of itself, cannot cure cancer nor prevent cancer,” social psychologist Harold Benjamin, Ph.D., said. “But laughter as part of the full range of positive emotions, including hope, love, faith, strong will to live, determination and purpose, can be a significant and indispensable aspect of the total fight for recovery.”
The Mind-Body Medicine Program at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America offers patients humor therapy sessions, also known as laughter clubs or humor groups.
These sessions help patients deal with their illness and the side effects of conventional cancer treatments. A team of experts host these groups at the cancer centers for the convenience of patients and their caregivers.
Laughter therapy sessions are not based on humor or jokes but rather on laughter-related exercises and “fake laughter” designed to stimulate genuine laughing responses from the participants.
Another form of laughter therapy is a mind-body approach to health and wellness known as laughter yoga.
Laughter yoga therapy is a combination of unrestricted laughter and yoga breathing techniques that enables people to laugh heartily without involving logical thinking.
Participants in laughter yoga treatment sessions are taught to shift breathing from the chest to the abdominals to control their emotions.
Medical doctor Madan Kataria founded the Mumbai-based Laughter Yoga University in 1995. Since then, laughter yoga became a worldwide phenomenon with more than 6,000 social laughter clubs in operation.
There are more than 450 laughter clubs across the U.S., and most of them hold free weekly meetings.
Techniques used in laughter yoga require no equipment and can done in the privacy of your own home.
According to Kataria’s website, physical and emotional benefits of laughter therapy include:
No one wants to be sad all of the time or surrounded by unhappy people.
More than anything, those with cancer want and need to be greeted and treated in the same way as before they became ill. Cancer has not changed who they are or the things they enjoy doing.
If having a good laugh is one of those things, they should be encouraged to do so at every opportunity. Caregivers, family members and friends should laugh along with them without feeling guilty.
The natural diversion of shared laughter can bring a sense of closeness and lift one’s spirits, making it possible for everyone to forget about cancer for a while.
Remember: Laughter is fun, free and can be enjoyed anywhere at any time. If you are caregiving for a loved one with cancer, here are some things you can do to bring laughter back into your lives:
In good times and in bad, there is nothing better than a good laugh to calm our senses and bring our mind and body into balance.
More than any other activity, laughter can lighten our burden, connect us to others and keep us centered. Our ability to laugh frequently is a wonderful tool we can use to enrich our relationships and improve our physical and emotional well-being.
Laughter is contagious. Whenever we hear laughter, it’s impossible not to smile and want to join in the fun.