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Cheer and Joy Emerge from an Unexpected Place

M. D. Anderson's Place ... of wellness offers new program to those touched by cancer

M. D. Anderson News Release 01/15/09

To help cancer patients better cope with their diagnosis, the Place ... of wellness at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has added Laughter Yoga to its extensive list of complementary and integrative therapies.

Created by Indian physician and holistic enthusiast Madan Kataria in 1995, this complementary therapy 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 Stephen Findley, chaplain in the Department of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Education and Laughter Yoga facilitator at M. D. Anderson's Place ... of wellness. "With something as basic as expressing joy, they can release tension and hopefully view a difficult situation, such as a fighting cancer, as manageable."

As a group, class participants follow their laughter leader through a series of exercises to help everyone bond, diminish individual inhibitions and warm up the body. During the sessions, participants are encouraged by their instructor to maintain eye contact within the group and to "fake it until you make it."

"When cancer patients join the class, they may not feel like participating at first," said Findley. "Because this therapy is a body-mind exercise, as your body feels more relaxed, then mentally you'll allow yourself to be more childlike and adopt a positive attitude."

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 brings a unique element to the Place ... of wellness," said Moshe Frenkel, M.D., medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at M. D. Anderson. "This complementary therapy allows us to incorporate humor in cancer care and help patients discover a playfulness that reduces stress and anxiety while increasing their pain tolerance.

"We know from multiple studies that laughter causes a positive physiological response - it lowers cortisol levels, improves our immune system function noted by increased number in activated T lymphocytes, increase in number and activity of natural killer cells, increase in salivary IgA, increase in endorphin release and above all reduces stress and anxiety."

By providing these sessions to those impacted by cancer, participants learn how to better manage the every day concerns of fighting their disease with something as unexpected as expressing fun and happiness.

"By its very nature, M. D. Anderson is a serious place. People are dealing with varying degrees of stress, anger, grief and pain," said Findley. "This practice allows patients to take 25 minutes to forget about their troubles and to rekindle joy in their lives."

Chaplains Stephen 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's Place ... of wellness. The class is open to all those touched by cancer and is free of charge. For a complementary and integrative medicine therapy schedule, please visit http://www.mdanderson.org/departments/wellness/ for more details.  

01/15/09


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center