Laugh for one minute with no reason: guru

Dr Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga.
Dr Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga.

India's "guru of giggling", Madan Kataria, who has got thousands of people guffawing globally in pursuit of better health, has an unexpected confession - he hasn't got a very good sense of humour.

"But you don't require one to laugh," chortles Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga, a movement that has attracted fans worldwide, including Oprah Winfrey and Goldie Hawn.

Kataria travels constantly spreading his "laugh with no reason" gospel.

Now he is setting up a Laughter University in the southern Indian city of Bangalore on land donated by a building contractor and $240,000 from an anonymous tycoon.

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 well-being.

"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.

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.

"Laughter is more about social connection and bonding than something being funny," Amit Sood, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in the United States, said.

"Studies show all kinds of benefits from laughter, from better immunity and coping skills, lower stress, better relationships to improved digestion," he said.

Many Indian parks now host sessions every morning with peals of laughter ringing out from people standing in groups.

Kataria says you need 15 to 20 minutes of giggling daily to reap the full benefits.

Researchers believe it may be the use of abdominal muscles in laughing that triggers the release of endorphins - a phenomenon also associated with exercise.

"It's not enough to just watch a funny movie because you just laugh a few seconds at a funny line - you need to laugh for a stretch to get the rewards," Kataria said.

"Laughter is contagious - like yawning.

"We need to laugh to help us deal with life, which can be very difficult," he said, briefly sounding serious. "When you laugh you're joyful - you're living in the moment." AAP


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