A cancer diagnosis is not usually associated with laughter, and believe you me it was far from my initial response. Who could laugh at a bowel cancer diagnosis at 42 – or any age really?
But as a laughter yoga facilitator and lecturer in health promotion, from the moment I was first diagnosed I knew somehow laughter would be integral to my healing and recovery.
As a seasoned laughter-yogi perhaps this should have come naturally. But the first laughter session I had after diagnosis, a corporate lingerie party, felt undeniably forced. It had been too late to cancel, so, like being pushed into a room before the door is rudely shut behind your back, I was trapped.
Thirty or so chatty and excitable ladies filled the room. Their energy was palpable while mine sat quietly in the corner, too shy to introduce herself. How could I muster the strength and state of mind to run a laughter session when in a few days I was scheduled for major surgery – a full bowel resection together with a temporary ileostomy? All I wanted was to hide from the public and cry.
Almost like an out of body experience, captive audience in hand, I outlined the social, emotional and physical health benefits of laughter. I even managed to grind out my elevator pitch: the more we choose to smile and laugh, the better worn those neural pathways become so we actually rewire the brain to a complete and constant state of calm, joy and awareness. Then, as I led the group in the laughter session comprising laughter exercises, deep breathing and clapping, I noted how in no time my laughter became real, as did theirs.