So last week, I attended the American Cancer Society’s Living With Cancer Conference in Augusta, Maine. Among other wonderful things at the conference, I attended a session of Laughter Yoga with Katie West. She’s officially my new mentor.
She co-founded The Levity Institute, whose mission is to “create social change through laughter, play and celebration.” How great is that? She taught in the workshop that the body doesn’t know the difference between fake laughter and real laughter, so even when you fake laugh you still get the benefits of real laughter, which are many, including stress relief and diffusion of difficult feelings.
It got me thinking about humor and cancer, which to most people, don’t seem to go together. However, most people with cancer of course know they do. Here was a room full of people, all touched by cancer, laughing together…playing together. I didn’t know one person in the room, yet I felt connected to all of them. She had us breathing in and on the exhale, laughing on purpose in different ways and at different volumes (hahahahahaha… heeheeheeheeheehee… hohohoHOHOHO… HOOOHOOOHOOOOO!) She had us singing opera and even talking in gibberish, among a bunch of other crazy exercises. I think we all probably felt a little silly, but I think that was the point…to bring the silly back. Everyone seemed to get over themselves and just enjoyed the experience.
Many people who have been touched by cancer are so used to pain and suffering day to day, physical and emotional, that we can tend to forget about what Katie calls “the deep well of joy inside us.” Furthermore, even if we’re not necessarily suffering, we can be so darn serious. (OK, well, I’ll speak for myself…I can be so darn serious!)
She talks about laughter as exercise, part of our overall fitness and well-being. She said laughter puts space between you and a problem. I agree.
Let’s face it, recovering from cancer takes a sense of humor. I don’t know where I’d be without mine. Is it possible to be living with cancer or recovering from cancer and still have a sense of humor…still laugh, play and celebrate? I know the answer is yes. And that’s not to minimize the difficult feelings…you know I’d never do that…and crying is important too. But we can take those lighter moments when we find them. Or like Katie taught us, we can create them…we can fake laugh even when we don’t feel like laughing, and the body won’t know the difference.
Like I learned in the workshop, you often start out fake laughing and then end up laughing for real. I don’t think one person left the workshop feeling sad or angry, or even thinking about cancer for that moment. At least for me, I left feeling invigorated, joyful, and connected.
Cancer survivors…how has laughter and humor helped you in your journey?
Learn more about Laughter Yoga and Check out Katie West and The Levity Institute at thelevityinstitute.com. (Be sure to check out the grocery store dancing video!)
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Photo Credit: Bunny Spice via flickr