Brenda Crook paws the air as she stands laughing with eyes wide open, her tongue out and a red foam ball pinching her nose. About 10 other clown-nosed people surround her and mimic the same “Lion Yoga Pose.” The image seems absurd, but Crook, 34, needs a little silliness in her life. She is battling breast cancer at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at the Western Regional Medical Center in Goodyear. She rarely gets to laugh freely. The CTCA is using a new type of therapy to help its patients: laughter.
“I had kind of a crummy week. I miss my kids and family. This makes me feel rejuvenated,” Crook said of a recent laughter session.
“Laughter leaders” take patients through different laughter exercises where patients pretend to laugh while walking on hot pavement, talking on the phone, slipping ice down their shirts or riding a roller coaster. In therapeutic laughter and laughter clubs people learn how to laugh without the aid of jokes in order to reap the emotional and physical benefits of laughter.
“I like to present it (the therapy) as laughter fitness,” nurse and laughter leader Debbie Harbinson said.
Steve White, also a laughter leader, said laughter therapy is an extended part of patient care.
“We look at the whole person . . . and help them spiritually,” White said.
Laughter leaders are certified by the World Laughter Tour, Inc. through a two-day workshop that teaches laughter therapy benefits and techniques.
According to the organization some of the benefits of laughter therapy include:
• stress relief
• improved immune functions
• muscle relaxation
• aerobic benefits.
“It (laughter) isn’t valued in our society the way it should be. It connects you to others and it helps you handle problems,” Harbinson said.
Laughter therapy sessions also provide some much-needed diversion from the daily pressures of living with cancer.
“It helps you loosen up and let go of your fears,” Annette Saucedo, 41 said. Saucedo is a Goodyear resident and patient at CTCA, who is being treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The CTCA laughter therapy meetings are held once a month and are open to patients, family, caregivers and employees.