Laughter Yoga for Cancer Patients

Soon, Israel's Rabin Medical Center will offer laughter yoga therapy to its cancer patients and their families. A $50 gift can provide someone in Israel with a weekly laughter yoga class. This yoga session offers valuable medical benefits as well as a bit of perspective on life apart from cancer.

The Rabin Medical Center's revolutionary Davidoff Cancer Center is a locus for innovation in cancer care, from its cutting edge research facilities to the building itself, which was specially designed to suit the needs and sooth the souls of cancer patients. Amongst its various initiatives is the Integrative Medicine Unit, which works to provide therapy to the entire patient - body, mind, and everything in between - that complements more traditional treatments.

Laughter Yoga classes at the Davidoff Cancer Center will hopefully provide cancer patients with a short time-out from their daily struggle with the disease and a chance to do something uplifting for body and spirit. It is a simple activity that can make an enormous impact. Laughter Yoga combines laughter with yogic breath exercises. Laughter is simulated as a body exercise in a group; with eye contact and childlike playfulness, it soon turns into genuine and contagious laughter.

The body cannot differentiate between real and fake laughter, so one gets the same physical benefits either way. These may include anaesthetic, cardiovascular, and immunological benefits. Studies show that ten minutes of belly laughter can trigger the release of dopamine, a chemical that creates a sense of wellbeing, and endorphins, which alleviate pain. Laughter can also reduce blood pressure and strain on the heart. Most importantly for cancer patients, whose treatment both relies on and severely taxes their immune system, laughter can also promote the production of immune cells. Moreover, laughter also diminishes the release of stress-related hormones, which have been shown to have a deleterious effect in all of these areas.

Laughter Yoga is also simply fun, which has its own benefits. Cancer treatment requires resolve and resilience, as patients repeatedly submit themselves to often lengthy, boring, and painful procedures, only to suffer for days afterwards. They endure this for months on end, hoping at best for a return to normalcy, all the while aware that they will possibly never achieve it. Laughter yoga is an opportunity for them to step out of such long-term concerns, to enjoy a few minutes of one of life's simplest pleasures, and to be reminded of what they are fighting for. This allows cancer patients to approach their treatment with renewed vigour and a healthy attitude, empowering them to adhere to the strict regimen and renewing their stores of patience, which helps them better carry out their treatment and thereby benefit more from it. Cancer patients who have participated in Laughter Yoga workshops elsewhere say it makes them happy, healthy and energized, effecting a transformation in their lives. Luz Rodriguez, a breast cancer patient, said, "I feel healthy when I laugh and find myself focusing on living not dying."

Unfortunately, this innovative program, although its virtues are well understood, its principle is simple, and its price is quite reasonable, falls beyond the scope of most traditional forms of funding. It has fallen upon us, the American Friends of Rabin Medical Center, to find support for it and the Rabin Medical Center's many cancer patients. If it is at all possible, we ask any contribution that can be offered. $50 will give one patient a weeks' worth of laughter yoga classes. Our hope is to raise the necessary money to support a dozen students a week for a year. Any support will make a huge difference.

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