Laughing away the ‘Big C’ blues
They closed their eyes, took a deep breath, and let out a loud “Hahahahaha!”
A symphony of laughter filled a room in the Makati City central business district Saturday morning. The orchestra: cancer patients who were being introduced to “laughter yoga” as an approach to battling the disease, by lifting the psychological and emotional weight that comes with it.
One woman punctuated a giggling fit by blurting out: ‘’I need to pee!”—setting off more laughs.
Organized by the nonprofit Cancer Resource and Wellness Community (Carewell), the two-hour session of mirth and merriment drew about 30 mostly female participants, all in various stages of the “Big C.”
“I just forgot about everything,” said Jenny Rose Fevrer, 37, who was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in August last year. “Back home, you feel all that stress. But here, it was all fun. It just feels good.”
Holding the baton, so to speak, was Paolo Trinidad, a family counselor and founder of Pinoy Laughter Yoga (PLY), a 5-year-old movement that prescribes “diaphragmatic” laughter as a way to relax, improve one’s mood and boost the immune system.
Trinidad promotes PLY as a communal exercise consisting of prolonged, voluntary laughter.
Backed by medical studies
In an Inquirer interview, Trinidad said PLY takes off from the work of doctor Lee Berk of Loma Linda University in California, who had studied laughter for the last three decades and found that “it can melt tumor cells and, at the same time, kill cancer cells.”
“There is a medical study proving that laughter increases the natural killer cells, lymphocytes, which enhance the immune system,” Trinidad added.
The exercise, he said, is also designed to increase the level of serotonin, a chemical regarded by some researchers as responsible for maintaining mood balance. A low serotonin level in the body is said to lead to depression.
Through PLY, “those negative thoughts can disappear,” he added.
Trinidad was trained in Bangalore, India, by Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga International.
Carewell managing director Oliver Calasanz agreed that keeping cancer patients stress-free is an important part of their healing process since their “state of mind” can affect their level of response to treatment. And the better the response, the longer the life expectancy, he said.
State of mind a healing factor
“When you have a (cancer) diagnosis, people think of it as a death sentence. A lot of people would say, ‘Ah, they’re sure to die,’” Calasanz said. “But it depends on how they deal with it. One’s state of mind is really a factor. We’ve seen patients whose cancer progressed very quickly when they were in a lot of stress. That’s an empirical observation.”
For Calasanz, the stress-relieving power of activities such as laughter yoga also lies in their ability to make people relate to each other’s condition, giving them the psychosocial support they need to overcome the feeling of “helplessness, isolation or loss of control.”
“It’s about people coming together—and in this case, their common denominator is cancer,” he said.
After her first PLY session, 47-year-old Anne Quesada, who discovered in March that she has breast cancer, said she was fully convinced that “laughter is the best medicine.”
But aside from the hilarity, she said, the session also included a talk “about extending our hands to God as we laugh, like we are telling Him that we have already accepted everything.”
That part, she said, sent tears rolling down her cheeks.
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