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“Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live.” –Author unknown

When I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 1993, I had been ill for six long years. During those six years, my husband and I had consulted with numerous doctors and I had undergone countless tests and several courses of therapy, but nothing proved conclusive or effective. Somehow, we knew there was an answer out there, we just hadn’t found it yet—and even after we received the diagnosis of Lyme disease, it would be several more years until our path led us to the healing modalities that would eventually restore my health.

My husband, Chris, and I have often been asked: how did you do it? How did you hang on through all that uncertainty? How did you survive?

The answer is simple: faith, hope and love, a positive outlook and laughter.

Though simple, the answer was not always easy. There came a point during that first year when the weight of inescapable illness, disorientation, fear and despair became overwhelming. In the face of the terrors that would one day in the distant future be categorized as Lyme disease, we came to realize that the only certainty and true freedom we possessed was our choice in how we would approach our lives, including the illness and all that came with it.

From the beginning, Chris focused as much as possible on the humor of things, one of his natural gifts. He would tell me silly jokes, sing silly songs, make ridiculous comments—just to keep us laughing.

During that first year, my mother-in-law, Charlotte, gave us a copy of Norman Cousins’ book, Anatomy of an Illness. This life-affirming, triumphant book details Mr. Cousins’ courage and tenacity in the face of a mysterious, crippling disease from which he was not expected to survive.

Earlier in life, Norman Cousins had battled heart disease; he had fought back with massive doses of Vitamin C and, according to him, by training himself to laugh. Cousins served as Adjunct Professor of Medical Humanities for the School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he did research on the biochemistry of human emotions, which he long believed were key to human beings’ success in fighting illness.(1)  He wrote a series of successful books on illness and healing, and when he again faced the specter of life-threatening illness, he developed a recovery program that incorporated laughter induced by watching Marx Brothers films. “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.” (2)

Inspired by Cousins’ words, Chris and I increased our watching of funny movies and television programs, including: Candid Camera, M.A.S.H., I Love Lucy, The Bill Cosby Show and Frasier. To this day, just thinking about our favorite Candid Camera episode, The Hungry Hand, sends us into peals of laughter.

Laughter was a means for us of holding on and fighting back; those good, old-fashioned belly laughs made us both feel so much better! The pure, simple joy of laughing out loud not only eased the painful symptoms I was experiencing, it helped us to remember what it was to be truly alive and grateful for every moment.

Years passed and, ultimately, I was led to Osteopathy and then to the miracle of Traditional Chinese Medicine. All the while we continued to laugh. I began to grow stronger; I no longer had chronic flu-like symptoms, I could walk again, I had less pain, less pressure in my brain and spinal cord, my neurological system was calmer and not so prone to seizure activity. After three years of consistent improvement, I sensed there was still something more I could be doing to restore myself to full health. I asked in prayer to be guided to the next step in the healing process, and the words Tai Chi came to me.

At the conclusion of my very first Tai Chi Chuan lesson, I knew that this was what I was meant to do for the rest of my life. I had found a path and a renewed purpose for my life.

I had the opportunity to study the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Short Form at our local Junior College, and then a Dragon and Tiger Qigong class at our Community Center. One of my early teachers recommended that I apply for an upcoming Wu Style Tai Chi Retreat. I didn’t know if I would be able to manage a 5-day intensive, but I did well and loved every minute of it!

My brother, Tony, a life-long martial artist, recommended that I study with Masters Donald and Cheryl Lynne Rubbo of Rubbo Art of Energy. I met them at a World Tai Chi & Qigong Day event they were sponsoring and in the raffle I won a month of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong classes. I had found my teachers. After a few weeks, I asked about the Teacher Training program and within the space of twelve months I was on my way.

Throughout my years of study, laughter in our classes, workshops and training programs was emphasized over and over again. Sometimes, our teachers would do funny things just to make us laugh and lighten the ‘concentrated seriousness’ that can sometimes accompany the learning of new movements. I often heard them say that everyone—particularly the elderly and those suffering from illness—should have at least nine good belly laughs per day, and we would always end our Wellness classes with nine rounds of Laughing Qigong.

In addition to producing a general sense of joy and well-being, laughter has many health benefits, including:

  • Purifies the entire system and helps to flush toxins, similar to deep breathing
  • Massages the organs
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Engages and relaxes the diaphragm, increasing lung capacity and oxygenation of the blood
  • Increases healthy cell metabolism
  • Stimulates production of pain-suppressing hormones, endorphins (3)
  • Reduces certain stress hormones such as cortisol, dopac and epinephrine (4)
  • Activates the immune system by increasing the response of tumor- and disease-killing cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells (5)
  • Improves alertness, creativity, and memory

The practice of Laughing Qigong is very simple and can be employed at any time, alone or in a group!

Laughing Qigong Practice:

  1. Sit or stand comfortably. Place the palms, left over right, over the lower belly, just beneath the navel.
  2. Smile inwardly, authentically and inhale deeply into your lower abdomen without strain or tension, feel the belly rise against your palms.
  3. Exhale as you make a jolly Ha, Ha, Ha, sound. Gently pressing the palms into the belly with each Ha sound. Exhale fully and allow the belly to be relaxed.
  4. Inhale and repeat a minimum of nine times. Do this every day and notice how you feel today, next month, next year!

***

Laughter as medicine has been recognized for centuries. The following paragraph is taken from one of my favorite books, Healthforce:

“Chinese Taoist physicians say that the liver churns and exercises when we laugh. The liver circulation is quickened, the respirations are deeper and more profound, and we feel warmer all over. Mirth promotes digestion, while gloom and depression of spirits will produce dyspepsia and indigestion. He or she who is habitually joyful, calm and happy will generally possess good health. A philosopher once said that he would always trust one who whistled while working. . .Of all man’s functions that affect the body and soul together, laughter is the healthiest. Laughter aids digestion, circulation, sweating, and has a refreshing effect on the strength of all organs. Cheerfulness and gladness are not only of value in preserving health, but they are of equal service as a remedy in disease. No one should visit a hospital who is gloomy or despondent; the patient will pick up the vibrations and feel more depressed and ill. A calm, happy and positive attitude lifts the soul and body, and inspires all who come in view of such a person. The longest lived and healthiest people throughout the world are always happy and full of inspiration and good cheer.” (6)

The intentional choice of living every aspect of our lives from a place of joy and love and hope is vital, particularly for those suffering from illness. Personal experience has shown me that illness never strikes a single person; it strikes everyone who cares for that one, unique person. All individuals suffering from life-threatening illness, and their loved ones, tend to live in a contracted environment that can impede hope and the free flow of life force energy (chi). The healing power of laughter helps us break free from the physical and emotional shackles of illness and stimulates the strength, flow and function of chi; laughter is an uplifting, expansive tide that floods the body, mind and soul with hope, and brings miraculous life and health-enhancing benefit to all.

Laugh well, and laugh often!

Notes:

(1) Wikipedia article on Norman Cousins http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Cousins

(2) Ibid

(3) Findings based on the research conducted by Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California on the benefits of laughter. For additional information on their work, please consult this article on Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100426113058.htm

(4) Ibid

(5) Ibid

(6) Healthforce, The Health Books’ Health Book, by Robert T. Lewanski and Robert A. Zuraw, p. 62, Taoist Publishers, Waterford, MI, 1982.

© 2011 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.

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Our teachers, Masters Donald and Cheryl Lynne Rubbo, have founded World Takes a Breath Day with the intention of sharing the profound healing benefits of deep, diaphragmatic  breathing with the entire world.

Could it really be possible for you to automatically feel more relaxed, increase your mental power, boost your energy, strengthen your immune system and feel happier with one easy-to-learn exercise? In a word, YES!

The Extraordinary Breath practices intentionally influence the biological and chemical changes in your body and brain, and bring instant relief from stress, anxiety, depression and low oxygen intake.

Join us in celebrating the second annual World Takes a Breath Day as we breathe as one world!

On Friday, November11 at 11:11 a.m. take several Extraordinary Breaths and help us create a moment of peace, joy and healing that ripples out across our planet.

 

World Takes a Breath DayA Global Event
Date/Time:  Friday, November 11, 2011 at 11:11am.
Place:  Across the globe!

 

Why is deep, natural breathing so important?

Shallow breathing results in hyperventilation (rapid breathing), breathing out too much carbon dioxide (over-breathing), and an oxygen deficiency in the organs and tissues. Symptoms include feeling jittery, nervous, an increased heart rate, dizziness, disorientation, and a feeling of being disengaged from your life.

Deep, diaphragmatic breathing, the type of breathing we did when we were infants, will calm your nerves, slow your heart rate, reduce pain, bring clarity to your thoughts and an easing of your overwhelming emotions.

The importance of deep breathing for body, mind and spirit cannot be emphasized enough. Download the free Extraordinary Breath free eBook (translated in several languages), to begin practicing the Extraordinary Breath now!

“An extraordinary breath is when our intention and our breath are one;  with every long, deep and even breath we consciously balance mind, body and spirit.”

Click here to learn more about World Takes a Breath Day, the Extraordinary Breath practices, the benefits of deep breathing and to download the free ebook: http://extraordinarybreath.com/

The following piece chronicles my own experiences with deep breathing and is excerpted from the book, Extraordinary Breath: Making the Power of Deep Breathing Work for You, by Masters Donald and Cheryl Lynne Rubbo.

CREATING SACRED SPACE

“We create a sacred space within ourselves; and then all things outside ourselves can hold that sacred quality.”–Donald Rubbo

When I first heard my beloved teachers speak of creating sacred space, my heart jumped up; this is what I had longed for.

As a child, I had felt a strong connection to the divine and the immutable qualities of grace. I had been born with a sunny outlook and an even sunnier disposition, but over time and with the experience of loss, injury and illness that connection grew less tangible and my life became burdened by struggle and uncertainty.

My journey with Sifu Donald and Shirmu Cheryl Lynne Rubbo began in the spring of 2000. One of Sifu’s first instructions to me was, “Breathe!”

It seems strange to think of it now, but at the time deep breathing was a thing that was almost unnatural for me. I had been challenged with asthma for most of my life and then a long, life-altering illness further compromised my respiratory system. My situation was grave and our doctors could not be certain that I would recover; my husband and I continued to search.

In 1997 we were referred to a Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioner, and under his care I began to improve; the hope in our hearts was kindled. After two years of steady improvement, I sensed there was still something more I could be doing. I asked in prayer to be shown the next step and over the course of several months the words ‘Tai Chi’ came to me. My brother, a life-long martial artist, referred me to Master Donald Rubbo.

In those early months of study, I learned the importance of the breath. Even though I had been an accomplished athlete, I had for years—forever—tried to ignore my noisy lungs and persistent cough, but Sifu helped me to see that I needed to treat my injured organs with the same love and nurturing quality that I would show a baby.

Every day I practiced the exercises and forms that he and Shirmu taught me, and before long I began to see improvements in my energy and strength. My breath became smoother, more expansive and my lungs less irritated. I was also sleeping better because the crushing weight of what I had described throughout my life as ‘the elephant sitting on my chest’ was now gone.

And there was something more, much more. . .

The Extraordinary Breath practice helped me to penetrate the physical and emotional distress of asthma and chronic bronchitis, and gain entrance to a calm and luminous place at the core of my being. It was in this luminous place that I could rest in the sacred, beyond the constraints of fear or pain or illness. The more I rested in this sacred space, the more my everyday life took on that same luminous quality.

Sifu had shown me that the sacred space within is just a breath away.

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Qi (Chi)  =  “vitality, energy, life force.”

Gong  =  “time and effort spent perfecting a skill.”

Qigong can be understood as mindfully cultivating, developing and refining through practice one’s life force energy (vitality, health) and joy in life.

Qigong is an ancient system of health from China and one of the four pillars of Traditional Chinese Medicine, along with Acupuncture, Massage and Herbal Medicines. 

Qigong is most often described as systems of exercises that use meditation, gentle movements and breathing to cultivate internal energy, and integrate and balance the body, mind and spirit.  But, Qigong is so much more than that!  It is a way of living in the world with mindful awareness, using the power of your intention to change your own personal paradigm, to master and liberate your inner world and bring yourself into balance with the natural order of the universe in every moment. 

Qigong is one of the most powerful self-healing traditions developed in human history.  Those who use Qigong faithfully tend to need less medication, less acupuncture and heal faster.  The primary mechanism that is activated by one’s practice of Qigong is a spontaneous balancing and enhancing of the natural healing resources in the human system.  Over thousands of years, millions of people have received the benefit of these practices, believing that improving the flow and function of the qi (chi) reverses the effects of aging and empowers you to reclaim health and joy in your life.

The most important component of Qigong is your mind.  By directing the internal systems of your body with your focused intention and listening inward with all your senses, you are cultivating the ability to bring health, resilience, stability and freedom to your body, mind, emotions and spirit.

While Qigong has strong roots into mystical and philosophical ground, the practical healing and stress management applications are the most popular aspects of the tradition in China today.  Both the health and spiritual applications are rapidly gaining in popularity in the Western world as people realize that disease and stress are relieved by peace of mind.

From Stillness, comes Awareness. From Stillness and Awareness, comes Sensitivity. From the integration of Stillness, Awareness and Sensitivity, Wisdom arises.” –Donald Rubbo 

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