“Laughter and yoga are a strange combination, because laughter is about spontaneity, and yoga is about control,” says 26-year-old Sameer Bhattacharya, summing up his feelings neatly when asked about this form of group therapy. But on the occasion of World Laughter Day, sceptics like Bhattacharya are in a minority.
Mumbai’s chapter of the International Laughter Yoga Club was begun by physician Madan Kataria in 1995.
It was in March that year when Kataria, who was researching an article on the benefits of laughter, realised the “medical and social” benefits of laughter. So, instead of letting his findings disappear in an academic quagmire, he and his wife decided to apply his findings. At a garden in the Lokhandwala Complex, he started with four people a form of therapy that would, in time, result in more than 7,000 laughter clubs in the country, and 3,000 overseas.
The exercises include the namaskar laughter, the kite laughter, the penguin laughter, the argument laughter, and many more.
“People are initially very embarrassed to be partaking in this exercise,” explains Kataria. “But your body can’t differentiate between real and fake laughter. So the health benefits are still manifested.” The physician recounts the example of a 75-year-old man who, once he had experienced the benefits of laughter therapy, declared the first day at the laughter club to be his new birthday.
This therapy finds its most avid fans amongst the elderly or people facing daily work stress. “As you get older, you forget to laugh,” says 48-year-old Siddharth Mahajan, a businessman. “At first, I felt so stupid laughing at nothing, and everyone was staring at me. But I kept coming back. The day would start on such a great note, no matter what happened at work after that, I remained calm.”
On the other hand, some admit to not understanding the appeal. “I attended a class, for fun,” says college student Neha Gargotia. “I didn’t feel any different after the class. I much prefer physical yoga.” But Kataria maintains, “Only those are skeptics who haven’t made this therapy a part of their life. Laughter yoga is scientifically proven to be effective.”