In March 1995, Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor in Mumbai, India, decided to write an article called ‘Laughter – The Best Medicine’ for a medical journal. Through his research he discovered a large number of modern scientific studies that described in great length the many proven benefits of laughter on the human mind and body. In particular, Dr. Kataria was impressed by Norman Cousins’ book ‘Anatomy of an Illness’ and the research done by Dr. Lee Berk.
Profoundly inspired and being a man of action rather than an academic, Dr. Kataria immediately decided to field-test the impact of laughter on himself and others.
At 7 am on March 13th, 1995, Dr. Kataria went to his local public park and managed to persuade four people to join him in starting a ‘laughter club’. They laughed together in the park that day to the amusement of bystanders, but the small group quickly grew to more than 50 participants within a few days.
In the initial meetings they stood in a circle while one person would step to the center to tell a joke or a funny story. Everybody enjoyed this and felt good for the rest of the day.
After two weeks they hit a snag as the stock of good jokes and stories ran out, and negative, hurtful and naughty jokes started to emerge. Two participants were offended and complained that it would be better to close the club than to continue with such jokes.
Dr. Kataria asked the club members to give him just one day in which he would give them a breakthrough that would resolve the crisis. That night he reviewed his research and finally found the answer he was looking for: our bodies cannot differentiate between fake and genuine laughter, both actions producing the same ‘happy chemistry’.
The next morning he explained this to the group and asked them to try something new: they would laugh without jokes. He asked everyone to laugh with him for one minute. Amid skepticism they agreed to try….
The results were amazing. The group acted out laughter, but after a moment a few people burst into real laughter in reaction to their group ‘silliness’ — this was contagious and very soon others followed. Soon the group was laughing like never before. The hearty laughter that followed persisted for almost ten minutes.
This was the breakthrough and the birth of Laughter Yoga. Realizing that there were many ways other than humor to stimulate laughter, Dr. Kataria developed a range of laughter exercises including elements of role-play and other techniques from his career as an amateur actor. He realized the importance of childlike playfulness and thus developed techniques to stimulate this in the group.
As yoga practitioners, Dr. Kataria and his wife Madhuri Kataria (co-founder of Laughter Yoga) saw the similarities between laughter and Pranayama (yogic breathing) exercise, and incorporated elements from this ancient form of yoga into Laughter Yoga, including deep breathing techniques used between laughter exercises to deepen the impact. The resulting laughter yoga technique is a blend of yogic deep breathing, stretching, laughter exercises and cultivated child-like playfulness.
The Laughter Club Movement started with just five people in 1995 and spread across India. In 1999, Dr. Kataria made his first foreign tour to the United States at the invitation of psychologist Steve Wilson (USA).
Mrs. Kataria accompanied her husband Dr. Kataria through years of intense travel as they visited dozens of countries to spread the message and techniques of Laughter Yoga around the world.
Today Laughter Yoga is a world-wide phenomenon, with more than 8,000 clubs today in 60 countries including India, South Africa USA, Canada, Australia, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Netherlands, Finland, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Dubai, Cyprus, Greece, Iran, Egypt and Lebanon.