PUBLISHED: 3:27 PM on Wednesday, January 3, 2007
Teaching patients funny business
Laughter boosts the immune function. It lowers the cholesterol level. It lowers the blood pressure.

Just ask Valla Dana Fotiades, a certified laughter leader.

Fotiades teaches laughter once a month at Winter Haven Hospital. In the sessions, Fotiades teaches participants how and why to laugh.

As part of that session, participants do laughing exercises while learning the importance of laughter.

"It's like anything," she said. "If you exercise it, it gets better."

She brings along a bag of props that includes stuffed animals, noise makers and more for her class.

"I'm very much into setting the stage with what I do," she said. "Because if people walk in and only see a white paper and stuff, it's pretty dull. So everything I do is usually colorful."

Fotiades said everyone in the sessions takes part in it, even if apprehensive to begin with.

"Even if you fake it, it's OK, because your body doesn't know the difference," she said. "When you laugh it showers your brain with oxygen and it triggers the thymus function which boosts the immune system."

Fotiades said she encourages people to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and laugh. She said laughter is important because it reduces stress and helps people to be more successful, because people will want to be around them.

"Stop global whining," she said. "Start global laughing."

Believe it or not, she said participants are often tired by the end of her laughter session.

"Laughing is a very charged up exercise internally. It jogs all your organs," she said.

Though she says she has been a lifelong laugher, it wasn't until after her husband died unexpectedly and her daughter was involved in a serious accident that she decided to get the laughter training.

"I think going through what I've been through taught me that even in the deepest of times of darkness that there's still a spark that we can get to," she said.

She said in life she hopes to teach others to do something for others to make their days brighter and spread what she calls "funshine."