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Therapy Is a Laughing Matter

CancerWise - February 2009

By Tomise Martin

A complementary therapy that combines yoga breathing with the benefits of laughter helps some patients touched by cancer cope with stress and anxiety.

Created by Indian holistic practitioner Madan Kataria in 1995, Laughter Yoga allows participants to escape the worries of their lives through amusement.

“Fighting cancer is tough. Patients need a break from thinking about it every day,” says Christiana Liem, chaplain in the Department of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Education and laughter yoga facilitator at M. D. Anderson. “Laughter Yoga is a nice tool to help people not think about cancer but just to laugh.”

Laughter helps heal emotions

After researching Laughter Yoga on the Internet, Liem brought the practice to M. D. Anderson. Since then, she has become a certified Laughter Yoga leader and teaches a class at the Place … of wellness.

“Facing cancer every day, we’re not often given opportunities to laugh,” Liem says. “When I found information on a complementary therapy that focuses on laughter and cancer, I knew it would be a great fit for our patients.”

Class participants follow the Laughter Yoga leader through a series of exercises to help them bond, release individual inhibitions and warm up the body. During the sessions, participants are encouraged to laugh without relying on jokes or words.

“Because Laughter Yoga is a body-mind exercise, I encourage everyone to participate, even if they don’t feel like it,” Liem says. “At first they may pretend, but eventually they’ll find themselves truly laughing.”

Liem and Stephen Findley, chaplain in the Department of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Education, lead three classes per month at M. D. Anderson's Place ... of wellness. The free class is open to all those touched by cancer.

If you are interested in Laughter Yoga, ask a local yoga instructor or training center if it is available in your community.

M. D. Anderson resources:

Other resources: 

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center