Source: SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE [Hearst Corporation] - By Amy Moon - October 14, 2007
It has been said that through meditation, we can bring about world peace.
Dr. Madan Kataria, co-founder with his wife, Madhuri, of the laughter yoga movement, believes it can be done with laughter.
Although this idea may seem outright laughable to many, Kataria is serious. Kataria says he routinely sees and hears miraculous stories from people whose lives have changed simply by laughing regularly.
Judging from the peals of laughter emanating from the Harbin Hot Springs conference center, where Kataria and his wife were leading a Laughter Yoga training last week, participants were certainly enjoying themselves. Or maybe they were just faking it. It doesn't matter, says Kataria.
"Even if you laugh for the sake of laughing, your body doesn't know the difference between real and self- induced laughter." And, he claims, the benefits are the same.
The main benefit is obvious. Laughter yoga reduces stress. Kataria claims that it also reduces blood- sugar levels in diabetics, lowers blood pressure, reduces depression and alleviates insomnia.
The seed of laughter yoga was planted in March 1995, when Kataria, a practicing physician in Mumbai, India, was writing an article for Health magazine about the many benefits of laughing. A week later, he woke up and thought, "Why not start a laughter club?" So, said Kataria, "I went to a park in Mumbai and asked people there to join me. In the beginning, only five people joined me, but then it became 60."
Kataria started by telling jokes but soon discovered that humor didn't work for all comers. That's when he found out that the body doesn't know the difference between fake and real laughing. So, he thought, "Why not make it an exercise?"
Today, 200,000 people in India laugh every day in Laughter Clubs, a phenomenon that filmmaker Mira Nair documented in her 1999 documentary, "The Laughing Club of India."
Worldwide, there are 6,000 laughter clubs in 60 countries, including the United States - where, Kataria says, "it's now becoming a craze," European countries, Israel, Iran and China. Kataria's ideas and techniques have landed him in news and television stories worldwide.
The technique is simple. Laughter yoga combines yogic breathing exercises, also called pranayama, with laughter exercises. In the workshop, participants start by softly sounding "ha, ha, ha" from the belly. It's fake chuckling, but it soon turns into real chortles and guffaws and then even screams of laughter.
"We laugh in a group as a form of exercise, and when we make eye contact," Kataria says, "it turns to real and contagious laughter.