For those of you unfamiliar with Gilda’s Club, it was founded by actor, Gene Wilder, after his wife, Gilda Radner, comedienne of Saturday Night Live fame, died at the early age of 43 from ovarian cancer. The clubs, located in major cities around the country, offer free support to those living with cancer, as well as their family and friends, in warm and welcoming clubhouses that have been renovated for that express purpose. The clubs offer an opportunity to join with others and to express a full range of feelings, as well as a place to learn new skills and gather information regarding cancer.
For six years I had volunteered at Gilda’s Club Royal Oak (Gilda Radner’s Michigan hometown) with a special laughter and movement program I had designed specifically for breast cancer survivors with lymphedema…..then cancer struck me and my work there ended. Last October I received a call from an entertainment agency telling me that Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids was going to have a 10-year celebration, LaughFest, which would last 10 days in March 2011. They had seen my name on the Laughter Yoga website (had no knowledge of my prior connection with Gilda’s!) and were wondering if I would consider doing Laughter Yoga for 10 days at Gilda’s LaughFest. I did not even have to think twice before I told them absolutely!
The theme for LaughFest was “Celebrating Laughter for the Health of It”….and celebrate it we did – evenings with famous comedians, such as Bill Cosby and Betty White, along with a myriad of other laughter events throughout the 10 days, including Laughter Yoga twice a day at the clubhouse.
My first question to every class was, “How many of you have ever heard of Laughter Yoga?” and consistently, the response was the same….almost no one had. My brief explanation to them was that they did not need yoga mats, jokes, or comedy, only a willingness to laugh…and did they ever!
The response was phenomenal, as the clubhouse literally exploded with laughter! Following one meditation, a woman came to me to say tears started coming as she could feel the presence of Gilda, herself, smiling down on us – I felt it too. During those 10 days, more than 300 people experienced for the first time, the happy, healing power of laughing for no reason and more than 40 signed up to be trained as Laughter Yoga leaders!
It was my honor and pleasure to share with the community of Grand Rapids, Michigan and the members of Gilda’s Club, the wondrous, but simplistic beauty of Laughter Yoga. Yes, it was a blessing for me, but an even greater blessing to those who took part - those who came to me afterward, as so many did, to express their gratitude for this work.
Three women specifically, touched me with their stories. One who was in treatment, came afterward to say she had been so depressed and had not wanted to laugh, but was glad that she did, because she felt so much better. Another very frail woman, told me she was having difficulty taking a deep breath and generally felt not good, but that after the laughter session, she was breathing more freely and felt good all over.
The third lady I had noticed the first day I stopped at Gilda’s to introduce myself – she had been tearfully standing at the door with a staff member, her hands thrown up, saying, “I have no idea what I am going to do!” The very same woman came to my class the next day and told me later that she really wanted to sneak out, but she did not want to offend me, so she stayed. She went on to say how much better she felt, that she had not been able to smile or laugh since her diagnosis February 28 – her surgery was scheduled a few days later. I encouraged her to return before surgery and she did. Much to my surprise, she looked like a different woman, smiling from ear to ear! Before she left that day, I told her we would all be laughing for her on the day of her surgery…and we were. She told me that she had signed up to become a Laughter Yoga Leader…and hoped I would postpone the training until she was sufficiently healed from surgery…and I will!
Love and Laughter to those who invited me, to all who attended…and also to you, dear Gilda, who truly knew how to celebrate laughter for the health of it!