Would you laugh if there was nothing to laugh about? The majority wouldn’t but Dr Madan Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga, believes that you should. Not only that he also travels around the world conducting sessions where he makes people laugh without cracking a single joke.
Dr Kataria had been invited to Coimbatore last weekend by the Kumaragur College of Technology to work with corporate employees, students and yoga teachers. “This is not a comedy show,” he said, while conducting a workshop at Gandhipuram. As he took his audience through a set of ice breakers, people looked around sheepishly, checked if their neighbours were watching and tried to control their sounds.
Does it matter that the laughter was forced and faked initially? Not at all, says Dr Kataria. “Even fake laughter gives you the same benefits as real laughter. The body cannot distinguish between the two.” He points out, that, as you keep laughing, you slowly calm down and lose your inhibitions and stress levels reduce. He hastens to add that it is not a cure for illnesses but it helps you cope and face challenges. “Practice it everyday and you feel more positive and in control,” he says.
Asked how he hit upon this concept, Dr Kataria goes back to 1995, when he was a practising physician in Mumbai and editing a health magazine called My Doctor . He had formed a laughter club with a group of friends as a way to destress. “It lasted just 10 days. The nature of the jokes changed; they became hurtful, vulgar and I was not comfortable.” That was when he hit upon the idea of “laughter as a form of exercise. My wife and I practised traditional yoga and we noticed that laughter had a similar breathing pattern to pranayama. So we thought that laughter and breathing exercises would make an excellent combination. And we created Laughter Yoga.”
After around 40 minutes, the mood in the hall had changed. Between exercises, there was more chitchat and an air of bonhomie among the participants. Some found a couple of exercises hilarious. “Hold out your hand and imagine you are looking at your credit card bill,” instructed Dr Kataria. “Now laugh at it.” That set off genuine loud laughter and more than one person commented, “I wish it were that easy to get rid of.” When he led them through an exercise that led to patting themselves on the back, one man commented, “We don’t need anyone to teach us that. We’re very good at congratulating ourselves,” leaving his neighbours in stitches. Someone’s mobile phone rang and Dr Kataria turned that into an exercise.
“We have a set of 15-20 exercises but people develop their own depending on their environment and cultures,” he explained. “It makes a great blend with traditional yoga, which is quite serious.” Which is why he works with yoga teachers to incorporate Laughter Yoga in the last 10 minutes or so of their classes.
Throughout his session, Dr Kataria spoke about how destressing with Laughter Yoga could help improve productivity, build team spirit and emotional balance. When dealing with children, he says, the approach is more playful. “Children also have also forgotten to laugh. Now the focus is on marks and being a topper,” he rues. So he incorporates song, dance and games into those courses.
Whether it is a student, a working professional or a senior, everyone needs to laugh, he emphasises. “It’s fun and not very difficult. People think fake or artificial laughter is not good. That’s not so. It changes the mood. You don’t need to be happy to laugh. But keep laughing and bring happiness into your life.”