So my mom and I went to the Cancer Overcomers Support Group meeting last Saturday organized by the Volunteers at the Union Church. My days which I mostly spend either at home or at the hospital have become uneventful over the past few months so you could just imagine how excited I was to have a reason to set foot in Makati. I expected the typical support group set-up where you would listen to others share their stories of coping with and surviving you-know-what. While we were held up by the one-way streets we passed through, I took the time to rehearse my would-be monologue in my head whilst figuring out a way to inject an apology in there for being late. Finally, we reached the church. As we entered the hall, we were startled by the noise of people engaged in heavy laughter. I had to do a double take because I thought we were in the wrong room for it sounded more like Kevin Hart’s stand up comedy gig than anything else. Thankfully, one of the volunteers saw us walk by and confirmed that we were at the right place.
You could tell that we were bewildered by all the laughing. We felt out of place and just plain confused. The confusion was self-inflicted because we were late and missed the introductions so we had no choice but to laugh along like we knew what was going on. It was such a relief when the facilitator prompted us to stop from the mass hysteria so that he could speak to us in silence. It appears that he was the resource speaker for the day and that the meeting was not the pow-wow that I envisioned. Then I remembered the flyer that the lady at the registration table gave me and glanced at what it said. It bore the guest speaker’s name and title in bold letters – Paolo Trinidad, Renowned Laughter Advocate and Trainer. Laughter Advocate and Trainer? That’s a first. I knew right there and then that it would be an interesting two hours.
Paolo went on to talk about Laughter Yoga, a global movement led by Dr. Madan Kataria from whom he received his training. Laughter Yoga is done through the performance of “exercises” that require minimal physical effort. We walked around, flexed our neck and jaw muscles, clapped to a rhythm and chanted “Ha” repeatedly while flashing gum-bearing smiles. For it to be effective, the “laughter” must be done in such a way that it allows your diaphragm to vibrate. So if you plan to do this, laugh with deliberate force resonating from your abdomen.
According to the proponent, Laughter Yoga offers a spectrum of benefits – from an increase in the ever elusive happy hormone serotonin to lowered levels of cortisol aka the stress juice. Sounds sketchy I know, but there are actual case studies done to prove the efficacy of the practice. Norman Cousins, as described in his book Anatomy of an Illness, even went all out by just laughing and injecting intravenous Vitamin C to cure his ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis affecting the spine that he suffered from for years. He claimed that 10 minutes of laughter (he loved watching Candid Camera) a day gave him relief from the pain and helped him achieve complete recovery. He went on to research how human emotions affect biochemistry to heal diseases normally associated with stress.
You may ask, “What if there is nothing to laugh about?”. Fret not, for according to the principles of Laughter Yoga, the brain does not recognize the difference between a genuine laugh (one that is induced by something funny) from a premeditated laugh. So in this case, faking it is just as good as the real thing. Furthermore, starting out with an intentional laugh will cause you to eventually have a lighter mood which makes the laughing feel more natural. Just try not to do this in a public area where Laughter Yoga may be a foreign concept if you do not want to be thought of as coo-coo.
Paolo led us through exercises throughout the session and I can honestly say that I felt lighter and more energetic afterwards. Seriously, I was smiling the entire day and I noticed how relaxed I felt. But if you ask me, I would not brave the road to recovery with laughter alone just like how Norman Cousins did it. That may be too radical for me. To the hard core believers of Laughter Yoga, the adage “laughter is the best medicine” is more than just a cliché. For them, laughter is the actual non-metaphorical medicine. So if I could give a piece of unwarranted advice to those who wish to try this out, it is that you chime in with your trusted physician first before you ditch your prescriptions. Always remember that taking chances with your health is no laughing matter.