Spontaneous Combustion: We Found The Man Responsible For Laughter Yoga & Sat Him Down For A Serious Talk
Posted On 8th May, 2017 @ 16:24 pm by MTV Editor

20 minutes of provoked laughter with a group of your favourite park friends has a sky-high list of health benefits.

You know that geriatric gang-hang you often stop and stare at in the neighbourhood park every other morning? A band of the seemingly senile, throwing up their hands and laughing maniacally at nothing in particular? That’s a Laughter Yoga (Hasyayoga) club. Because, it turns out, 20 minutes of provoked laughter with a group of your favourite park friends has a sky-high list of health benefits. Stress, depression, the immune system, a broken heart…there’s a lot laughter can fix. Started in Mumbai in 1995 by Madan Kataria, there are now thousands of laughter clubs across 106 countries. We tracked him down and had a quick chat about what made him do it, and why we never spot any young kids in these groups.

 

Laughter yoga! How the hell does someone come up with something so zany?

It all started with wanting to write an article on ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’. I started researching it, and found that laughter has so many benefits, but no one is laughing enough to reap them. So I started a laughter club with five people on 13 March 1995. We used to sit together in a park and I used to tell jokes. Except that within 10 days, I ran out of genuine jokes and soon it turned into humour derived out of insulting, hurtful, and vulgar punchlines. And everyone said we should stop it. I insisted that we should continue to laugh, and that I will find alternate ways of laughing without jokes.

 

 

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How’d you work your way around that?

I stumbled upon research that says that the body cannot differentiate between real and forced emotions. The mind can tell whether you’re really happy or faking it, but the body cannot. And you get all the benefits of laughter, even when it’s not real. That’s how the idea of turning laughter into an exercise came about. Because if forced laughter can also release the happy chemical, then why not? And when you laugh in a group, even if it starts out forced, it quickly turns into genuine laughter because it’s contagious.

 

Ok, could you tell us more about the benefits laughter has on the human body?

The health benefits of laughter are scientifically proven. Firstly, it’s the quickest way to reduce stress. It also helps eliminate depression, which is the most glaring problem in the word right now, and is known to strengthen the immunity system. I have been laughing for the last 22 years, and in all these years I have contracted no cold, cough…nothing. Laughter is also a social connector—everyone wants to hang out with a smiling face, not a grumpy one. And the most important benefit is that it brings about a positive mental attitude—this is very important right now, when we seem surrounded by a sea of negativity—and laughter yoga does exactly that; it releases endorphins that helps you establish and maintain a positive outlook.

 

And you turned this into an exercise…

It turned into yoga because I found a lot of similarities between laughing and breathing exercises. When we laugh, our lungs exhale stale air, which gets replaced by fresh air. Laughter yoga became a new exercise where we urged people to laugh without a reason, without any humour. We started this with five people, and it has now become a worldwide movement with thousands of laughter clubs across 106 countries. Why it also spread is because it was available for free and everyone could experience it. The only thing I spent on it was my time and energy to train leaders across the world in countries like Japan, the USA and Germany to conduct this exercise.

 

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So how did it go from being a routine exercise in a neighbourhood park to… a world phenomenon?

It took about five years for me to turn this into a day the world observes. The main motive of World Laughter Day is to spread awareness about laughter yoga and its health benefits. I thought there should be a day to celebrate it, so I picked a date in January—I believed that the year should start with laughter. But my students in western countries insisted that January is not the right month because winters are so severe that side of the world; it’s impossible to get everyone to step out in the bitter cold and laugh. So we shifted it to May because it’s pleasant everywhere. Thus, the first Sunday of every May got designated as World Laughter Day.

 

 

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We don’t see many youngsters engaging in laughter yoga. What’s up with that?

In India, the usual age group that participates in laughter yoga is the older lot. But in other countries, we see an active participation of people between 30-70 years of age.

 

Why do you think the Indian youth hasn’t taken to it yet?

That’s probably because we still haven’t bought out the benefits nicely with the current generation. But we are focussing on that now. Right now, for instance, I am in Punjab at a school. And for the first time ever, we are introducing something called the Smart Brain Laughter Yoga. I believe that the foundation of positive mindset and happiness should be established at a young age. Children these days have lost their childlike spirit because of academic pressure, and their addiction to phone and technology—they are not going out to play, they are not laughing enough. So we’re introducing Laughter Yoga in a school where there will be a five-minute laughter session every morning as a part of the assembly.

 

 

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