By TOMISE MARTIN
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
To help cancer patients better cope with their diagnoses, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has added laughter yoga to its extensive list of complementary and integrative therapies.
"By its very nature, M.D. Anderson is a serious place. People are dealing with varying degrees of stress, anger, grief and pain," said M.D. Anderson chaplain Stephen Findley. "This practice allows patients to take 25 minutes to forget about their troubles and to rekindle joy in their lives."
Created by Indian physician and holistic enthusiast Madan Kataria in 1995, laughter yoga combines humor, gentle exercises and stretches, and yogic breaths. The practice is inspired by the belief that simulated hilarity has the same benefits as genuine laughter and creates an environment where jokes and words are not needed, only amusement and a child-like attitude.
"Cancer patients deal with a lot of stress and anxiety," said Findley, a certified laughter yoga facilitator. "With something as basic as expressing joy, they can release tension and hopefully view a difficult situation like fighting cancer as manageable."
The sessions have three parts: rhythmic clapping and chanting; laughter exercises; and meditation. One of the exercises involves conducting a "body scan." Starting at the head, patients use their finger to scan their body for pain or discomfort. When an ache is found, everyone is instructed to find amusement in that ache and then express it.
"Laughter yoga allows us to incorporate humor in cancer care and help patients discover a playfulness that reduces stress and anxiety and increases their pain tolerance," said Moshe Frenkel, M.D., medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at M.D. Anderson. "We know from multiple studies that laughter causes a positive physiological response – it lowers cortisol levels, improves our immune system function as noted by increased natural killer cells and endorphins, and above all, reduces stress and anxiety."
Chaplains Findley and Christiana Liem are certified laughter yoga leaders with the Dr. Kataria School of Laughter Yoga and facilitate three classes per month at M.D. Anderson. The class is open to all touched by cancer and is free of charge. For a complementary and integrative medicine therapy schedule, visit www.mdanderson.org/departments/wellness