Can you still laugh if you have cancer? Yes, in fact you should do it more often, according to research.
It may seem difficult to find humour when one is facing a serious matter like cancer. Yet, laughter can be helpful in ways you might not have realised or imagined.
Medical studies around the world have shown that minutes of hearty laughter has a sudden and dramatically powerful effect in strengthening the immune system and reducing stress, among other benefits. A study published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B in September 2011 found that laughing increased patients’ pain thresholds, probably due to increased production of endorphins—hormones in the body that relieve pain.
Various research on the effects of laughter conducted universities in India and the United States have shown that laughter lowers the level of stress hormones including epinephrine, cortisol and dihydroxyphenylacetic acid(a metabolite of dopamine) in the blood while elevating mood-elevating hormones called β-endorphins, as well as immunity-enhancing human growth hormone.
In fact, so many evidences have pointed to the enormous benefits of laughter in helping people to cope with cancer that numerous centres and organisations specialised in laughter therapy have been set up throughout the world. In these centres, laughter therapy is mainly used to help cancer patients improve their quality of life, manage pain, promote relaxation and reduce stress.
These centres offer humour therapy sessions, such as laughter clubs or groups, to help cancer patients and their families use and enjoy laughter as a tool for healing. These leader-led groups take patients through a number of laugh-related exercises including fake laughter and laughter greetings.
The sessions do not use humour or jokes to make people laugh; rather, laughter is practised as a physical exercise. For example, patients are told to stand in a circle, with the leader in the middle, put their fingertips on their cheekbones, chest or lower abdomen and make “ha ha” or “hee hee” sounds until they feel vibrations through their bodies. It is hard for people not to join in and laugh during these sessions because laughter is naturally contagious.
The American Cancer Society states that humour therapy is considered safe when used with conventional medical therapy. However, relying on laughter alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.
Positive Effects of Laughter
- Laughter helps counter stress and fear. Laughter causes the brain to release chemicals that reduce stress within minutes. It is typical to measure a 70% reduction in stress indicators after just 10 minutes of laughter.
- Laughter promotes a positive outlook. A positive mental state is very important for a person who is fighting a deadly disease like cancer. Hearty laughter quickly counters depression and negative outlook, especially when practiced in a group, as it provides a powerful emotional response due to group dynamics.
- Laughter oxygenates the body. Mere minutes of hearty laughter fill the body and all major organs with large amount of oxygen, making it less friendly to cancer cells. Cancer is shown to thrive in anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions by Dr. Warburg, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1931 for his discovery that cancer is caused by weakened cell respiration due to lack of oxygen at cellular level.
- Laughter helps deal with pain. Hearty laughter causes the brain to release endorphin, a natural morphine that is also responsible for the ‘runner’s high’. A typical laughter yoga session can provide two hours of pain relief without drugs, making it easier for patients to retain control of their mental abilities and keep their spirits high.
- Laughter improves circulation. Improved circulation increases oxygen-rich blood flow to cells and organs, thereby promoting cell growth and organ function. Good blood circulation also helps improve brain function and keep your mind sharp and focused.
- Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughing raises the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boosts the level of immune cells, including natural killer cells (NK cells) that destroy tumours and viruses in the body.
Laughter Yoga is a unique exercise routine which is fast sweeping the world. It is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughter yoga is practised in groups, with eye contact and playfulness between participants. It is the brainchild of Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian physician from Mumbai who started the first laughter club in a park in 1995 with just five people. Today, laughter yoga has become a worldwide phenomenon with more than 6000 social laughter clubs in 65 countries.
Laughter yoga uses a combination of laughter exercises and yoga breathing to train the diaphragm and abdominal muscles to breathe deeply. This increases the supply of oxygen to body cells and can play a significant role in preventing cancer. Besides, laughter yoga’s ability to strengthen the immune system is also believed to help keep cancer at bay.
In Malaysia, laughter yoga was started by a group called JB Laughters in September 2008. The group is led by Lee-Jean Fung, a practising pharmacist for over 30 years trained by Dr Madan Kataria as a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher in August 2008.
The group conducts free laughter yoga sessions in various places in Johor Bahru and Muar. It also offers the Certified Laughter Yoga Leader program. To date, more than 120 Certified Laughter Yoga Leaders from various states of Malaysia including Johor, Melaka, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Pahang and Sarawak, as well as Singapore, have graduated from the programme.
To fully reap the health benefits of laughter, it has to be loud, deep and coming from the diaphragm. Joining a laughter yoga group provides a safe environment where one can laugh loudly and heartily without any social implication. For more information, log on to: www.laughteryoga.com.my.
“How to laugh away stress”. Nature International Weekly Journal of Science. (www.nature.com)
Laughter Yoga International (www.laughteryoga.org)
“Humor Therapy”. American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org)
Laughter Yoga Malaysia (www.laughteryoga.com.my)