It is often said that, regardless of time or situation, simply smiling will improve one’s mood.
And if smiling is good, laughing must be better. That is the creed of Shary Oden, who has spent 40 years extolling the virtues of a good giggle on people’s mental — and physical — health.
“It’s wonderful what laughter can do, particularly with cancer patients or anyone struggling with a life-threatening illness,” Oden said. “It can lift them out of depression, give them hope, but it does so many wonderful things for the body. That’s why they say it is the best medicine.”
Oden is an Apache Junction resident who spends much time near Tijuana, Mexico, where she is a laughter therapist at Oasis of Hope Hospital, an alternative cancer treatment center. When in the Valley, she leads “laughter workshops,” with the next one Saturday at Community Church of New Thought in Mesa.
Doctors believe laughter — or humor — therapy has therapeutic benefits, including lower blood pressure, strengthened immune system and increased muscle flexibility.
Hospitals have incorporated such therapy into treatment. Perhaps its most famous practitioner, Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, was portrayed by Robin Williams in a 1998 movie.
Banner Baywood Medical Center is among the local facilities utilizing humor therapy, with clowns — with such names as “ICU Giggle” and “Steffi Scope” — entertaining patients.
“There are studies that show the medical benefits, but the most important thing is that laughing just makes us feel better,” said Amy Sanders, senior manager of volunteer resources at Banner Baywood. “It has a tangible effect on the patients (and) puts them at ease. It also lifts the spirits of the staff.”
Author and professor Norman Cousins credited his longevity after diagnoses of heart disease and arthritis to a daily regimen of vitamin C and Marx Brothers films.
“I made the joyous discovery that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” Cousins wrote in his book “Anatomy of an Illness.” “When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.”
Oden said that one need not scour through “Seinfeld” episodes or Bill Cosby albums to start practicing humor therapy. One just needs to laugh.
“That does more for the body than if we laugh at a joke or unusual situation,” Oden said. “Not everybody has the same sense of humor, and what is funny to me might not be so to someone else.”
Among Oden’s other influences are Thomas Walsh, one of Arizona’s first humor therapists, and Madan Kataria, the Indian physician who founded Laughter Yoga. Her 12-technique workshop has a heavy emphasis on singing, which Oden feels is easier to commit to memory.
“We have a lot of fun while we learn things to help our emotional, physical and spiritual human being,” Oden said.
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