Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J=Jokes, Humor, and Laughter

Have you ever heard the story of Norman Cousins? The movie, Anatomy of an Illness, details his struggles with arthritis and heart disease.  Mr. Cousins devised some unusual ways to combat his pain, such as playing practical jokes and watching Marx Brothers movies.
"I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep," he reported. "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."                                    - Norman Cousins 
I, too, have found that laughter can be a powerful painkiller.

In 2009, I was working out at Curves, but even their gentle exercises caused me to limp home exhausted. My Mom has been an aqua-cizer for many years, and she suggested that I try water exercise.

In February 2010, I joined a class for Fibromyalgia patients, designed to cause no further pain, to stretch and tone muscles, and to improve balance. I needed all those things, and the morning classtime was late enough for me to sleep in. So I went. What I had not considered was how FUN this class would be! We have 45 minutes together in the water. First, just being in the water takes the pull of gravity away, and my pain recedes significantly. Woohoo! Second, the gentle workout really does make me feel better. Granted, for the first month, I had to go home and take a 2-hour nap to recover, but eventually I gained more stamina. Now (more than a year later), I actually feel energized after pool exercise. (More about this later, at S=Swimming).

But, the best part of the water exercise class is the people. Most of them are ladies, and most are over 60. All of them understand chronic pain (they are either experiencing it now, or have recovered from it and are still exercising to keep it at bay). And, these ladies are FUNNY! We sometimes have "joke-telling time" while we workout. We have practical jokers who get others (and themselves) into funny troubles. But, best of all, we laugh together about almost anything ("elbows together for the 'boob squirt'"; "auditioning for the rockets"; "if figure-8's are too hard, try 7's and 1's"). Indeed, laughter is powerful medicine for all of us.

We know that there are "bad days" when it's hard to laugh; on those days, just getting to the pool can seem overwhelming. But, for me, it is really worth the effort. I ALWAYS feel better afterwards, even if I just float and bob in the water (rather than actually exercising). There are people nearby who understand, who encourage, who sympathize, and (best of all) who help me laugh.

What I've learned: even in the hardest times, laughter is truly good medicine.

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