Laughter Yoga helped me with Chronic Pain and Reflex Sympathetic Dystropy Syndrome (RSDS)

Sukumar Satpathy

Margaret Mason, USA: Margaret Mason was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSDS). It is a very painful chronic disease with possibly no cure. The pain is very intense and at times unbearable. She has been laughing all by herself. She and her partner watched Dr. Kataria’s Laughter Yoga videos on YouTube and then she started laughing alone.

This has really helped her to get over the pain as well as the anxiety. Her partner has Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and laughter yoga has benefited him, as well. We interviewed her and here is some excerpts from her responses.

What is Reflex Sympathetic Dystropy Syndrome ?

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome, RSD, is now referred to as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, CRPS. CRPS is a progressive disease of the Autonomic Nervous System whose pain is characterized as constant, extremely intense, and out of proportion to the original injury. The pain is typically accompanied by swelling, skin changes, sensitivity, and can often be debilitating. It usually affects one or more of the four limbs but can occur in any part of the body.

CRPS is ranked as the most painful form of chronic pain that exists today by the McGill Pain Index.

  1. There are FOUR Main Symptoms/Criteria of CRPS:
  2. Constant chronic burning pain (includes allodynia – extreme sensitivity to touch, sound, and vibration)
  3. Inflammation (this can affect the appearance of the skin, bruising, mottling, etc.)
  4. Spasms-in blood vessels and muscles of the extremities
  5. Insomnia/Emotional Disturbance (includes the major changes to the limbic system such as short-term memory problems, concentration difficulties, etc.)

There are a great many additional symptoms that can also occur over the course of the disease. Not all patients will have all symptoms.

For a more detailed explanation of the 4 Main Symptoms as well as a complete listing of the Symptoms/criteria involved in a diagnosis of CRPS please visit CRPS SYMPTOMS

How did you discover Laughter Yoga ?

In November 2009, I was seeing a psychologist in Ashland, Oregon for my anxiety; this was before I developed Reflex Sympthetic Dystrophy. I did laughter yoga a few times with my partner who is a United States Marine and suffers from PTSD; we both found this very helpful and we practiced alot. I started up laughing again a couple months ago. I was so weak and sick from coming off of the lowest dose narcotic painkillers. I had lost 40 pounds from my system shutting down from the narcotics. General surgeons wanted to take my gallbladder out thinking it had stopped functioning. I am happy to report my gallbladder and I are functioning quite well.

How Long have you been doing Laughter Yoga ? I started back up with laughter yoga by myself alone in my house two months ago. I have always found laughter to be the best medicine, so if I’m not doing laughter yoga, I’m watching standup, or some very witty comedy that makes you laugh. Otherwise, I am telling jokes to myself or entertaining those around me (which brings me great joy).

Do you laugh in a Laughter club or Laugh on your Own ? I am very shy even though I’m the life of the party. I get really nervous at the idea of calling the laughter line, so I do all my laughing alone or with my partner, Andrew. There have been times when we have been having a ridiculous argument over nothing (chronic pain makes you kind of touchy) and one of us would bust out in a laugh from one of Dr. Katria’s YouTube videos, and we would just laugh and laugh. And we would then completely forget about the ridiculous nitpicking nonsense we were arguing over. Laughter helps to bring us present, in this moment, right now which is not only helpful for chronic pain but for life in general.

How long do you typically laugh at a time ? I laugh with laughter yoga at least 15 to 20 min. a day. I laugh in general at least an hour a day. The days I don’t laugh are truly horrible days, sometimes I get really caught up in that the pain and sensations and forget all the good stuff I do to help myself get out of it.

Do you laugh throughout the day ?

Oh yes I try very hard to make sure I laugh every day! It is how I survive, I could not survive this without the ability to laugh even at the most horrific moments. Before I knew anything of laughter yoga five years ago my father died of Agent Orange, he was given three weeks to live and he lived a year. We laughed so much in that year, I truly don’t know if some people even laugh that much in their whole lifetime. That is when I learned no matter what you have to be able to laugh, because no matter what if you can’t laugh a part of you is dead.

What was your experience before doing laughter yoga and then after ? I will use the example of this morning, I have massive night sweats and they wake up in a total panic-I mean I look like a Gatorade commercial my eyelids sweat in between my toes sweat while I sleep. Since RSD this goes on for about two weeks out of the month, it affects my sleep which in turn affects the pain and sensation level and anxiety. I got up went into the bathroom to tell myself off and find more towels to put on the bed, and I started sobbing ‘the why me sob’ which quickly turned into the I should just be in the hospital sob- And then just like being hit with a brick to the side of the head I just started laughing. In all the funny ways I could, in all the different voices, and all the different types of laughter I just started laughing. My heart rate came down, I felt grounded, I felt safe with in myself and in my home and I felt safe with what I was going through that I could get through this. After laughing I feel like I can survive, like I can make it through the day and have fun even though- Like remission is an impossible, and that Western medicine doesn’t have to be my healer. If that ain’t a gift, I truly don’t know what is.