I had just been diagnosed with cancer for the third time (Hodgkin's lymphoma twice in the 1990s and breast cancer in 2011), and as I unwrapped the Laughter Yoga training DVD that sat in front of me, I thought blimey, what on earth is my friend Stephanie Hill getting me into this time?! She really is barking mad! Little did I know that later that evening, I would be sat on the sofa giggling away with my parents and partner. We started with some of the exercises, and it wasn't long before the laughter became infectious. Despite none of us really feeling like laughing at this point in time, here we were giving it a good Ho Ho Ho.
I was devastated to have to deal with cancer again, and this time it hit me much harder emotionally. I don't know if it was the optimism of youth that carried me through the first two, or the cumulative effect of 'here we go again'. Perhaps there was even an element of the unfairness of this breast cancer being caused by the radiotherapy I received for my first bout of Hodgkin's lymphoma 20 years ago.
One way or another I experienced an overwhelming sense of emotion. I found myself just crying for no real reason, I couldn't sleep, I'd often wake up with tears streaming down my face and I found it really difficult to articulate what was going on. Mortality had smacked me in face again and at least some part of me felt shattered, whether that be my loss of innocence, my sense of who I was, my view on time, my view on what next.
I never thought that Laughtercise would become such a useful tool at this time, but it did, and continues to be so.
So what is Laughtercise and how does it help?
Laughtercise essentially uses laughter as an exercise as opposed to laughing at comedy, jokes or such-like, and is based on the principles of laughter yoga - combining laughter with deep breathing. Stephanie at Grin and Tonic created Laughtercise in response to a growing need for a set of exercises that would make it is easy for people to build laughter into everyday life.
Laughtercise brings a number of methods including:
• The four basic laughs - useful when you can't find your own
• Techniques - such as anchoring laughter into household objects or the stress buster for dealing with difficult situations
• Laughter beats - combining laughter with music
Like many I found it a bit bonkers at first and could have easily discarded it as "I'm way too reserved for that kind of thing" but by simply letting go a little and bringing it into daily life, it was just brilliant. I felt more in control of my life at a point when it seemed like cancer had taken over everything and every thought. Physically the act of laughing and the deep breathing also helped release some of the tightness I felt in my chest following reconstruction for my bi-lateral mastectomy.
Laughtercise gives me more energy, and significantly reduces some of the stress and fear around cancer. It also helped me connect with my family and friends in a really meaningful way. At times like this, people don't know if they are allowed to laugh around you. It was easy for me to effectively give 'permission' for them to laugh with me, and although it started as an exercise, it was contagious and incredibly powerful, helping them to relax and deal with my illness too.
I know it all sounds a bit mad, and I acknowledge that it won't be for everyone, but honestly you have to try it! I am passionate to bring more laughter into the lives of as many people as possible to help them deal with this distressing disease, and together Stephanie and I have created our first DVD called Dealing with Cancer? Laughter Works. We're not medical practitioners but simply wanted to share our vast personal knowledge.
Stephanie felt powerless when hearing about my diagnosis. She could see the emotional turmoil I was in and she just wanted to find some way to help my family and me, and I am very glad she did. And it's a hugely invigorating thing to do anyway, whether you're happy, sad or just need a little pick me up. Who doesn't want more laughter in their life?