By Gabi Paterson:
‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ We’ve all heard this expression before but it’s not supposed to be literal, is it? Most people laugh at the movies, with friends or when they hear a joke, but laughter yoga inventor, Dr Madan Kataria says we should be laughing every day just for the sake of it.
Dr Kataria, dubbed the ‘Guru of Giggling’, founded the laughter yoga movement in Mumbai in 1995 after reading a number of studies that showed the extensive mental and physical health benefits of laughing. Kataria wanted to find a way to share these benefits with his patients, so laughter yoga was born. It began with five people in a local park in Mumbai and in the last 20 years, has grown into a worldwide movement with over 6000 clubs in 60 countries.
The first attempt at laughter yoga can be quite daunting. For many, the idea of doing childlike actions, clapping, chanting “ho ho ha ha ha” and laughing, all while maintaining eye contact with complete strangers is very uncomfortable.
Laughter yoga instructor Denise Gibbons from the Brisbane laughter club said, “Not everybody gets it, we have loads of people who come and go. Some people find it really threatening, too weird. I’ve had people say it feels fake. You’re faking the laughter but it doesn’t matter because the brain still thinks it’s real.”
Gibbons recently led a course that helps people use laughter yoga for stress management.
“I wanted to explore taking laughter and turning it into a bit of therapy and applying it to a particular problem.” She said.
Research suggests that our bodies are unable to differentiate between real and fake laughter so we are able to reap the benefits even when the laughter is forced. Usually in laughter yoga, what begins as fake laughter quickly turns into uncontrollable giggling. Dr Kataria’s Laughter Yoga International website claims that participating in real and fake laughter for 10 – 15 minutes every day improves mood, relieves stress, strengthens the immune system, reduces blood pressure, inspires a positive mental state and increases quality of life.
At the JalVayu Laughter Club in Delhi, a club for retired air force and navy veterans, the enthusiasm and passion for laughter and its health benefits is profound. Daily attendee Surinder Grover said,
“I was a disabled person for around 40 years. A lot of doctors tried their best. I had to go in for steroids, painkillers and other medicines to revive the nerves in my back. I thought my life was finished. I was forced by my wife to come here. After that I have never looked back. All medicines are gone and I am moving around. This laughter has made me realise that there is still more to come.”
Another member of the club, ex-navy commander Jetinder Kumar said,
“I hardly used to smile, forget about laughing. This was my wife’s class but ever since I joined this club I laugh, how I laugh. Joining this club has improved my sense of humour. Even though I don’t have any physical problems, I found that this does make a difference.”
Laughter yoga also encourages a bond between people as they seek to let go of their inhibitions and enjoy laughing loudly without social implication.
“Laughter is a great social connector.”
Says Dr Santosh Sahi, the founder of the JalVayu Laughter Club. Sahi conducts sessions with cancer patients and their caregivers, school children, adolescents, senior citizens, corporate businesspeople, people with mental and physical disabilities and even the inmates of the Tihar jail in New Delhi.
“I work with all sorts of communities and with people who have different challenges. It’s a wonderful experience. I myself get a lot of pleasure and happiness working with these people.” Said Sahi.
“I had a wonderful experience very recently. I was invited to one of the charity run schools where I laughed with 500 plus children. Normal children as well as children with different disabilities, physical and mental handicaps, children in wheelchairs and with crutches and children that were hearing and eyesight challenged. They all laughed together with me, they the most amazing, fantastic energy.”
Sahi has been a laughter yoga instructor for around 9 years and is deeply passionate about sharing it with whomever she can. To date she has launched 10 clubs in Delhi and surrounding areas.
It seems that all who regularly participate in laughter yoga develop an intense enthusiasm for the way it makes them feel.
Laughter yoga relies on a simple but profound concept, that laughing is a highly beneficial, social, contagious act that doesn’t have to occur for any reason other than because it is fun and sessions encourage peace and happiness.
Dr Kataria’s laughter yoga has helped people all over the world. Gibbons says, “I feel happier all the time. Yes I get sad, yes I get angry and all the other emotions but I just find that there’s just this underlining sort of hum, almost of joy, that’s just there. I’m sure it’s because I do the laughter yoga.”
Regardless of if the benefits are physical, mental or consist solely of putting a smile on someone’s face, laughter yoga is a positive force in the world.