By Nicole Barrios
Many have heard the old saying that laughter is the best medicine, but at Seton Medical Center Hays, that saying might just be true.
At the June 10 meeting of the Seton Hays “Very Important Hearts” group, members participated in a laughter therapy session featuring Laughter Yoga. The Very Important Hearts program is a group of people or family members of those who have experienced cardiac events such as heart disease or heart attacks.
Six members took part in the Laughter Yoga class.
Linda Gillen, laughter yoga therapy instructor, began the class by explaining the history and benefits of laughter therapy.
Gillen said laughter yoga takes stressful experiences and turns it around to create ease instead of disease in the body.
“Laughter yoga teaches people how to take those every day experiences and instead of holding on to them as stressful, find a way to release it and laugh at it,” Gillen said.
Unlike traditional therapy, laughter yoga is fun, non-stressful and anyone can do it, Gillen said.
The only yoga aspect of the class is “deep belly breathing,” Gillen said. Participants do not actually perform yoga poses.
Gillen said Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from India, created laughter yoga when studying the effects of laughter on his patients.
Kataria collaborated with his wife, a yoga teacher, to find what people could do to laugh for no reason, Gillen said. His wife understood the benefits of increased oxygen with deep breathing in yoga, she said. Together they merged laughter and yoga to create this therapy, she said.
The first exercise of the session at Seton Hays had members shake each other’s hands while laughing and looking in each other’s eyes. Gillen then led the group in rubbing their feet on the floor and shocking each other with the static while laughing enthusiastically.
The class went on to play a number of games involving interaction, playacting and different types of laughing.
Gillen focused on fostering participant interaction during the exercises, telling people to make eye contact and share in each other’s laughter.
Many studies have been done on laughter and its effects on the brain and the entire body, Gillen said. Studies have shown that laughter opens blood vessels and increases oxygen flow through the body when one laughs, she said.
“Ten to fifteen minutes of continuous laughter gives you the same increased oxygen as 35 minutes on a rowing machine,” Gillen said to the class. “Pretty cool. You don’t need to go to the gym today, you’re gonna laugh.”
After half an hour, participants said their abdomens felt tightened and some were sweaty from the laughter exercises, but all were smiling.
Barbara Goodson, laughter yoga participant, said it was her first time participating in a laughter therapy session after hearing about it from a friend.
“I thought it was exhilarating,” Goodson said.
Shelley Key, participant and member of “Very Important Hearts,” said she attends meetings every month. She said the laughter yoga was interesting and different from the usual meeting format. This meeting involved much more participation.
Key said she thinks it is important for the hospital to provide programs like this for patients.
“It’s a place to come where you can be around other people who have been through some things that you’ve been through with the heart disease or heart attack and rehab part of it,” Key said.
The group is important, Key said, “Because it allows people to talk and share with others who have been in the same boat.”
The group holds informative programs and speakers, with this laughter yoga session being on the lighter side, Key said.
Near the end of the hour long session, Gillen took the class into a cool down, meditative relaxing time. The lights were lowered as the class was instructed to take deep breaths and relax.
“Feel the joy and the energy and the love in this room today,” Gillen said to the class.
After the session, participants said they felt more relaxed than when they began. One member said her shoulders were less tight, and another said her neck was now loosened.
“They come in feeling anxious or stressed from all their life issues or their physical problems and they go out feeling light,” Gillen said. “They go out feeling happy and content and more compassionate — just overall feeling better.”