by Lynn Lizarraga
“Jingle Bells, Myositis smells, symptoms go away, It’s no fun to work so hard to sing or laugh or play…”
My bad parody to “Jingle Bells” describes how I felt shortly after my diagnosis of IBM in 2003. I knew I had to shake off those feelings and meet my new challenges, so I began searching for ways to keep busy and make myself happier and healthier.
Daily activities had started to become a struggle, I could no longer bend my fingers into chords on the piano, and visits with my grandchildren were hampered by my lack of mobility and ability to participate in their games. So what could I do to feel fulfilled and buoyant about my life again?
In 2006 I attended a Senior Living Trade Show in southern California. I heard an announcement over the PA system that there would be a Laughter Yoga session in 5 minutes. Feeling a tingle of anticipation, I hurried over to investigate. After a few fun exercises and winning the contest for the longest laugh (I have the lungs of a lifetime singer), I was hooked! I spent two weekends training in San Diego with some of the most joyous people I have ever met. Their positive spirits helped me believe I had found my new path to fulfillment—Laughter Yoga.
Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor in India, developed Laughter Yoga or Hasyayoga in 1995. He believed anyone can use laughter as an exercise, relaxation, or social connection without having to use jokes or comedy. Dr. Kataria developed Laughter Yoga into a program of three parts: first, warm ups of gentle stretches, tapping, clapping, and controlled laughter; second, laughter exercises interspersed with clapping, diaphragm lifting, and pranayama, or yoga breathing; and third, cool down activities to create a feeling of relaxation. Within a few weeks there were 200 laughing groups in parks all across India. It has spread more slowly here in the United States even though there are huge medical, social, and emotional benefits associated with the use of sustained laughter on the body, all backed by numerous medical and psychological studies. Dr. Gulshan Sethi, head of cardiothoracic surgery at Tucson Medical Center, likened a laughter yoga session to internal jogging because the program “is providing a good massage to all internal organs while also toning abdominal muscles.” And, according to Dr. Michael Miller, Director of Preventive Cardiology, University of Maryland Medical Center, “The magnitude of change we saw in the endothelium is similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic activity, but without the aches, pains, and muscle tension associated with exercise.” After receiving a life-threatening diagnosis, Norman Cousins healed himself completely through a program of jokes, comedy, and laughter. So what do we have to lose besides a bit of our uptightness and reserve?
Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” I certainly find that to be true as I have formed strong connections with all the participants. I motivate seniors during weekly laughter yoga sessions at an independent living facility where 95-year-old Grace is my most ardent supporter. I facilitate a monthly webcast through UnderstandingMyositis.org (the first Laughter Yoga group specifically designed for Myositis participants), quarterly sessions at Unity of the Desert, and I led a session recently at PFLAG (supporters and allies of LGTBQ persons,) where the comments were overwhelmingly, ‘best meeting ever—I loved having a reason (or no reason, really) to laugh—I felt good about myself!”
And that is how I feel when I plan and create a session, when I meet and greet the participants, and when I lead the participants through the program of laughter exercises I developed—I feel good about myself, I feel fulfilled, and I feel happier and healthier. I enjoy the challenge of creating my programs around a theme: tongue twisters, time travel, the farm, and teddy bear’s picnic, for example.
A famous proverb states: “The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter, and the spirit heals with joy.” I know my spirit of joy, my laughter yoga sessions, and my growing sense of playfulness now lead me to sing:
“Jingle bells, laughter swells, pain has gone away, Oh what fun to have a dose of playtime every day…”
Jingle bells,” hoho hahaha” yells, laughing all the way, Oh what fun to feel such mirth and share through joy and play!”
Join me August 15th at 1 pm Eastern time for the next session of Laughter Yoga via webcast. The theme will be Tell-A-Joke Day. Feel free to share your best clean joke. There is no special equipment needed, just a willingness to act with childlike enthusiasm, laugh, and breathe. Hopefully, once you give it a try, you, too, will be laughing all the way—toward greater health and happiness.