THE HEALING POWER OF MAH JONGG

Frugal Nurse mahjong I recently happened upon a website called Frugal Nurse.  Several years ago this Frugal Nurse site published a posting about the healing power of Mah Jongg. Since I have been posting a number of articles recently about Mah Jongg being good for our health, I thought yet another article could never be too many! So, here it is from the woman who seeks better health for all of us, written on New Year’s Eve, 2012…and keep on playing Mah Jongg! For more than five years, one of my best friends has been battling ovarian cancer. A fierce fighter (and fabulous friend!), she has endured surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy to keep this grim disease at bay. Her oncologist monitors her condition with the blood test CA-125. Early last summer, her CA-125 began creeping up into the “let’s watch it but not get too excited–yet” territory. She knew from past experience that she might be facing another round of chemo. Then we began playing mahjong. Or, more accurately, American Mah Jongg, which is a variant of the arcane Chinese game that is played with tiles. American mahjong was introduced in the 1920s but has become increasingly popular in recent years. Friends and neighbors are coming together to form weekly Mah Jongg groups, often advertising on local blogs for new members. My friend had learned to play Mah Jongg a few months earlier and was thrilled to teach me when I asked. We joined a local gathering that met once a week and included a pot luck dinner. The soft click click click of the tiles being washed (shuffled) punctuated the laughter and chatter. Our bodies relaxed as our minds engaged. We happily spent the summer playing innumerable hours of Mah Jongg. We played weekly in the larger group, but also catch-as-catch-can with just ourselves, or with whatever friends we could find who had an hour or two (or three or four) to spare. And throughout the summer and fall, my friend’s CA-125 steadily went down. Of course, no research has been done to tell us if playing Mah Jongg typically lowers CA-125 levels, but research has shown that laughter and music, two other pleasurable activities, lower stress hormones in our bodies and raise endorphins, the happy hormones. These stress-reducing chemical reactions help boost our immune systems. Mah Jongg is also a complex thinking game, just the kind of activity that neuroscientists recommend to ward off dementia. In fact, in 2006 a small study in The International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry concluded that playing Mah Jongg produced “consistent gains across all cognitive performance measures,” such as improved memory. And it was deemed low-cost therapy! Mah Jongg is a social activity, too, which is encouraged for optimal brain health. So even if you don’t have ovarian cancer, check out your neighborhood blog for a Mah Jongg group. Elaine Sandberg has written a great book, Beginner’s Guide to American Mah Jongg, if you are interested in learning more about the game. There are also neighborhood game nights that meet weekly to play Scrabble, Boggle, Pictionary, etc. Or start your own. Whatever you enjoy. It’s all good. If nothing else, spending an evening with friends allows us to turn off our TVs, our laptops, our tablets and our smartphones for a few hours and escape media’s relentless efforts to convince us we are sick. Sláinte and Happy New Year! Frugal Nurse

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