About seventeen elderly people with chronic respiratory disease are sitting in a half circle – many of them have brought along oxygen tanks. They’re following the instruction of two Laughter Leaders. Shannon Plaster is one of the teachers. He starts the class out with a few warm ups.
Plaster: “The first element of good pulmonary rehab is the breath. And we have combined laughter with some of the breath exercises that you do in pulmonary rehab. And the first one that we’re going to do is called the humming laugh.”
Barbara Rife is a respiratory therapist at Mercy San Juan Pulmonary Rehab Center. She says laughing circulates air.
Rife: “And what happens when you’re laughing is it forces everything in your abdomen to wiggle, to move, and your abdominal muscles, your organs, they all, as you’re laughing...they push up on the diaphragm which helps to push the lungs, to help push the air out. So that’s a huge medical benefit for them because the more of that carbon dioxide they can get out the more oxygen they can get in for that next breath.”
She says patients enjoy rehab more when laughing is one of their exercises.
Rife: “Because it does release the serotonin it releases endorphins, it reduces pain and a lot of our folks definitely have pain they’ve got other conditions besides the COPD or emphysema, they may have arthritis and they actually tell us when they work on their laughter they don’t hurt as much.”
After the group goes through several techniques Erin Cote, the other laughter leader, explains another benefit.
Cote: “Interestingly enough, one minute of laughter, now this is really good belly laughter, is equivalent to 10 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, which is pretty amazing.”
Laughing improves breathing…and it can make conflicts easier. Like the day after a laughysema session it helped Ann Haines, of Citrus Heights.
Haines: “I look down and I’m feeling good I just got back from this laughysema and all of the sudden there was an envelope from the bank and I open it up and insufficient funds, I look at it and said one little cuss word and all the sudden it just beeped in, laughter, and immediately I just kept laughing…all the way to the bank 5 miles down the road. But it worked.”
And to end the class it’s time for a little dancing…and don’t forget the laughs.
“Alright, do the laughter twist…”
With the popularity of the classes for patients and therapists Mercy plans to include laughter exercises in daily respiratory therapy programs.