In an interview with DW, Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga International, speaks about making laughter therapeutic by combining its healing properties with yoga.
Dr. Madan Kataria founded the first laughter yoga club in Mumbai in the mid-1990s. The idea was to promote the physiological and psychological benefits of laughter. There are now more than 10,000 laughter clubs in India and in some 70 countries worldwide.
DW: What exactly is laughter yoga?
Dr. Madan Kataria: It is a unique idea where any one can laugh for no reason. We don't need to spend time on jokes, comedy or humor. We initiate laughter as a form of exercise in the beginning but when we laugh in a group, it becomes a real and contagious laughter. It combines breathing exercises and laughter. It increases supply of oxygen to the body and brain, makes us feel more energetic and healthy. This therapy is based on the scientific fact that our body can't differentiate between real and fake laughter but still the health benefits are the same.
When did the idea of starting a laughter club come to you?
While writing an article in 1995 for a health journal, I thought why not write about the benefits of laughter as I had already heard a lot about it. A lot of research has already been done on this. From there came the idea of starting a laughter club. Initially there were only five people telling jokes but it didn't work for more than 10 days.
I read a book, "Emotions and Health," in which it was written that even if you act like a happy person your body will create the same response as if it were real; pretending to be happy is just as good as being happy. The body starts creating physiological, psychological and bio chemical changes. So we tried it and it worked. And based on this, we created laughter exercises and called it laughter yoga.
Kataria leads prisoners in a laughter class at Mumbai's biggest Arthur Road jail
Isn't laughing out loud without any reason considered crazy?
Yes, if you do it alone in public and people don't about know it. Laughter yoga has been established and accepted as a very beneficial exercise as proven by scientific research. So now people understand about it but still those who are ignorant might think it is a crazy idea. People who perform it think it is a great idea.
Did people initially laugh off this concept?
In the beginning, there was lots of trouble. People thought it was a crazy idea. A public park where I started initially objected of noise pollution. But eventually, when people got involved and started practicing it and reaping health benefits out of it, it became a success.
How has the concept been received in India?
In India it is very popular with some ten thousand laughter clubs. Indians very readily follow what someone says, whereas in Western countries, people analyze everything and are far more rational. Since scientific studies have been conducted on this method and it has been scientifically proven, it is now widely practiced in the US, Europe and other South Asian countries.
Recently Mumbai's high court told police to take some action against members of a local laughter group as the neighbors had complained about the noise. What is your take on this?
I respect the court's decision. I think Mumbai is a very crowded place with hardly any open space. Even the public parks are situated close to residential buildings. So, if our laughter disturbs others we shouldn't do that. My advice to members of laughter clubs is that our laughter should not be a reason for someone else's sorrow. Now we will be more careful. It is a good step for the laughter movement. Someone with a physical or mental ailment can be disturbed by loud laughter. Their plight should be taken into consideration.
Laughter and spirituality - how are they related?
Laughing is done unconditionally without making fun of anyone. It is like being a child and our childish nature is the true spiritual nature. We found that after practicing laughter yoga there was a lot of attitudinal changes in people. It helps not only in good times but also in bad times. It keeps the mind positive and spirits high in tough times and difficulties. When there is nothing to laugh about, it keeps the spirits high.
What was your best experience with the laughter club or laughter yoga?
I receive 300-400 emails everyday from people all over the world telling me about their experiences after practicing laughter yoga. They write how positively it has changed their lives. I never thought it would make such a positive change in the lives of so many people. Some nine prisons in Mexico and Philippines are practicing it with prisoners. Many schools in India after their morning assembly or prayers practice 10 minutes of laughter, big corporate houses use it as a stress buster tool. Hospitals, colleges, universities and old age homes also practice laughter yoga. To see so many people happy is the best experience!
Interview: Tanushree Sharma Sandhu
Editor: Sarah Berning