“But you don’t require one to laugh,” chortles Kataria, founder of ‘Laughter Yoga’, a movement that has attracted fans worldwide including celebrities Oprah Winfrey and Goldie Hawn.
Kataria — who travels constantly spreading his ‘laugh with no reason’ gospel — has been hired by multinationals ranging from computer giant Hewlett-Packard to automaker Volvo to hold team-building laughter sessions.
Now, he is setting up a Laughter University in the southern city of Bangalore on land donated by a building contractor and a donation from an anonymous tycoon.
“In three months we will start building and by the end of 2013, we will be up and running. We want to build a worldwide community headquarters of laughter yoga,” he said.
Kataria envisions holding laughter sessions and conferences at the centre and setting up an alternative medicine unit to expand medical knowledge about the beneficial health effects of laughter.
Studies already suggest laughter releases feel-good endorphins, the brain chemicals that are linked with a sense of wellbeing.
“Laughing is the healthiest thing you can do — it’s the best medicine,” said the towering, bald 58-year-old, whose movement has inspired thousands of ‘Laughter Clubs’ in India and around the world from Beirut to Dublin.
Kataria also holds laughter sessions in schools, prisons, hospitals and retirement homes, and a few years ago testified before a US Senate committee that laughter yoga could help the country cut healthcare costs.
A qualified doctor, he hit upon medical literature advocating laughter as a stress-buster and remedy for other ailments. In 1995 he decided to field-test his findings before setting up the first of his clubs.
Kataria started with four strangers in a Mumbai park. They stood in a circle and ‘laughed like hyenas,’ he recalled. Numbers soon swelled to around 50.
They recounted jokes but realised they didn’t have enough gags — then he found that the body was unable to distinguish between fake and genuine laughter with both producing the same ‘happy, healing chemistry’.
“Anyway, fake laughter turns into real laughter after a few moments. Try it,” he said. He persuaded his group to laugh with him for one minute with no reason. It stretched into 10 minutes as the laughter turned infectious — and the Laughter Yoga movement was born.