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Medical expert shares benefits of laughter clubs, and lists Mumbai's favourites

Updated on: 13 March,2023 11:00 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Shriram Iyengar |

On March 13 1995, laughter yoga began as an experiment by Dr Madan Kataria. We speak to the pioneer on the benefits of laughter in a post-pandemic world, and list places across Mumbai to get your chuckles in

Medical expert shares benefits of laughter clubs, and lists Mumbai's favourites

Dr Madan Kataria with participants at a class

Walk down any park in Mumbai on an early morning, and chances are you will spot a group of people laughing hysterically. Amusing as it may seem, laughter yoga has been recognised across the globe as an effective way of coping with physical and mental ailments. It began as a humble effort in the suburb of Andheri two decades ago.

>> An idea is born

Dr Madan Kataria is revered as the founder of the idea. “I was a medical professional, and under stress,” he recalls. While researching for a medical magazine, he discovered the detailed results of studies on laughter. “Despite all the evidence, I realised people around me were not really practicing it,” he recalls. The journey started with four of his friends at Lokhandwala Park in Andheri West. They tried to recreate laughter. It lasted only for 10 days before Dr Kataria realised jokes could only get them so far. “That was when I came across the book, Emotions and Health, which revealed that even when you ‘act’ happy, your body reacts positively. I decided we could transform laughter into an exercise,” the now-Nagpur-based physician shares. This discovery laid the foundation for what is known today as laughter yoga.

A laughter session at Girgaum Chowpatty on World Laughter Day, in May 2022. File PicA laughter session at Girgaum Chowpatty on World Laughter Day, in May 2022. File Pic

>> Positive energy

Today, the movement has spread across 120 countries with laughter clubs opening across cities in India. “The first benefit of laughter yoga is that it puts you in a positive frame of mind to face the day,” Kataria reminds us.

Seventy-year-old Dr Leena Katkar agrees. A firm believer in the exercise, she has hosted a laughter club for women in Kalyan for 10 years. “It improves oxygen circulation, and helps release serotonin into your system.” Katkar insists that doing the exercise early in the morning doubles the benefits.

>> De-stressing

In a bleak post-pandemic world, stress, anxiety and depression have emerged as the major killers, notes Dr Kataria. “There has been a rise in negative thoughts and anxiety among people. Laughter yoga is the easiest way to cut down on these stressors,” he says. Medical studies suggest that laughter, lengthened to periods of 15 to 20 minutes, can activate the parasympathetic system and help lift your mood. “Natural laughter is not sustained,” the doctor adds further, “But regular practice will train your body to release these endorphins and cut down on stress.”

Participants practise laughter at a yoga class in Denmark
Participants practise laughter at a yoga class in Denmark

>> Exercising the right laughs

For the uninitiated, laughing forcibly might feel awkward or fake. Kataria counters this by comparing it to exercise. “Breathing is a natural activity. Yet, pranayama has to be practised,” he points out. Laughing in a group also helps reduce embarrassment around the exercise, he observes. “It is contagious, and becomes more natural and genuine when you see others laugh.” This is also a good way of bonding. Dr Katkar admits laughter has helped women from conservative families lose their inhibitions and gain self-confidence. “Many senior women avoid going to the gym because they are self-conscious. Laughter yoga is like cardio, and it helps them forge friendships and improve their self-image,” she says.

>> Emotional release

Rakhee Mehta, founder of Magicrise Wellness, has been a student of Dr Kataria’s programmes. She shares that people often discover emotional build-ups during these exercises. “I remember an exercise during the pandemic, when a couple of participants broke down in tears while laughing. Like laughter, tears also bring about emotional release,” she reveals. She adds that many people have suffered emotional numbness through due to the pandemic. “Laughing in a group is a release.  After all, humans were not meant to be isolated. Plus, you still maintain a safe distance when laughing,” she says. For Dr Kataria, the nature of the group activity spurs  the community spirit. “Many people felt it was weird, initially. But as they joined in, they realised its benefits. The challenge is to get them to participate.”

Dr Leena Katkar
Dr Leena Katkar

>> Immunity from laughter

The therapy also has evident physical advantages. “Even as a medical professional, I would be downed by flu five or six Time: s a year,” Dr Kataria reveals. “Laughter strengthens your immune system’s ability to combat ailments like flu, cough or cold.” This is a much-needed advantage in a post-pandemic society threatened by new infections. Despite the increase in the number of physical sessions, Dr Kataria continues to hold online classes regularly. “I try to interact with participants every day,” he says. With a training centre coming up in Nagpur, the doctor is certainly taking his mission of making the world laugh to the next level.

Time: 7.30 am (daily)
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Join the club

>> Juhu laughter club
Time: 6.45 am (daily)
At: Juhu beach. 
Call: 9323738787

>> Priyadarshini laughter club
Time: 6.45 am (daily)
At: Girgaum Chowpatty, opposite Wilson College. 
Call: 9323273127

>> ABC Laughter Yoga Club
At: Shree Rang Ground, Brindavan Society, Thane West.
Call: 9833546362

>> Ramabai Udyan laughter club
Time: 6.30 to 8.30 am (weekdays)
At: Ramabai Ambedkar Udyan, Kalyan West. 
Call: 9821187700
Cost: Rs 100 per month

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