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“Laughter Prevents Hardening of the Attitudes”:  Laughter Coach
by Eileen Gosman

            If you have ever stepped inside Gilda’s Club in Shorewood, then you surely remember leaving happier than when you arrived.  There is something warm and welcoming about the place, and it isn’t just the people, although they are awesome.
            People leaving Gilda’s Club on June 20 walked out happy—and laughing.  I was there for the second in a series of three lectures on the power of healing.  The program was co-sponsored by Pathways to Healing, a program of Jewish Family Services and the Jewish Community Center, and Gilda’s Club.
            Gilda’s provides free social and emotional support for people living with cancer and their family and friends.  The program, “The Healing Power of Laughter,” was led by Diane Kane of Glendale, who is variously called a laughter coach and/or certified laughter leader.
            Kane is small in stature but big in smiles.  Her smile lights up the room, as does her laughter, which is contagious.
            If her name rings a bell, perhaps it is because she used to be a substitute teaching in the Glendale schools, grades K-8.
            Kane confides that she had always wanted to be a clown but that never came to be.  Instead, she attended a laughter program through the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.  “I liked everything about it.  I became intrigued,” Kane said.
            Now she presents programs for businesses, schools, hospitals and, one of her favorites—the Parkinson’s Association—and most recently Gilda’s Club.  She says the bigger the group, the more contagious the laughter, so she must have been pleased with the program last week.  Sixty to 70 people were there, and there was a whole lot of laughing going on.
            I think you had to be there to understand the laughter.  It’s not that Kane stands up and tells jokes or anything.  But picture a room full of men and women of all ages and sizes standing up and doing laughter exercises, which are a lot like aerobic exercises, except going “ha, ha, ha”  accompanies the movements.
            I am as inhibited as anyone can be when it comes to making faces and flailing my body around, but I did all those things, and it was funny.  It really was.
            Laughter, Kane explains, “is like a good aerobic workout, a mood elevator…When we worry, we cut off our supply of optimism.”  Laughter is a stress reliever, she says.  Humor brings laughs, and laughs, in turn bring renewed optimism.
            “If you can laugh at it, you can live with it,” she says.  And besides, “laughter is fat free, salt free, calorie free, no assembly needed.”
            Kane has observed through her reading a research that hospice patients feel excluded from the laughter in the halls, and at the nurse’s station.  She says they say that false solemnity when visitors enter their room is not welcome.
            But she doesn’t stay serious for long.  She tells this story;  Humorist and columnist Art Buchwald enjoys holding court in a hospice in Washington, D.C.  When his friends come in complaining about the parking situation, Buchwald lightens the mood, “Dying is easy; parking is impossible,” he says.
            Kane also gives a laughter-introducing imitation of an old uncle.  She says when he meets his friends for breakfast, he starts off with his “organ recital laugh,” the one that accompanies complaints about whatever body part hurts that day.
            She ends her presentation on a sweet note as she passes a box of Hershey’s kisses.
            The third and last lecture in the Healing Power series at Gilda’s will be at 7 p.m. Tueday, July 18.  Michael Luber, a doctor of psychology, will share his experience living with muscular dystrophy and discuss the importance of positive thinking.

The above article appeared in the North Shore Herald,   Community Newspapers, Inc.
Thursday, June 29, 2006


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