In March 1995, DR. MADAN KATARIA, a medical doctor from 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’, as well as the research work done by Dr. Lee Berk from Lome Linda University.
Profoundly inspired, as well as being a man of action, Dr. Kataria immediately decided to field-test the impact of laughter on himself and others. At 7 am on March 13, 1995 he went to his local public park and managed to persuade four people to join him in starting a ‘laughter club’. The small group laughed together in the park that day to the amusement of bystanders, but within a few days, the group of 5 had grown very quickly to more than 50.
Initially, they stood in a circle while one person stood in the center, telling jokes or funny stories. Everybody enjoyed this and the euphoria lasted for the rest of the day. However, after two weeks the stock of good jokes and stories ran out, and negative, hurtful and off-color 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: the body can not tell the difference between fake or genuine laughter, both produce the same "happy chemicals."
The next morning he explained this to the group and asked them to try something new - try to laugh without jokes. He asked everyone to just laugh with him for one minute. Skeptically, they agreed and the results were amazing! The group pretended to laugh which evoked even more laughter because of the groups silliness. The entire experience was contagious, with everyone laughing at one another. They laughed harder than they had ever laughed before and for absolutely NO reason! The hearty laughter persisted for almost ten minutes.
That experience was a major breakthrough and truly, the birth of LAUGHTER YOGA. Realizing that there were ways other than humor to stimulate laughter, Dr. Kataria developed a range of laughter exercises, including elements of role playing and other techniques from his career as an amateur actor. He realized the importance of childlike playfulness and thus developed techniques to stimulate the inner child while laughing in the group.
As yoga practitioners, both Dr. Kataria and his wife, Madhuri, saw the similarities between laughter and pranayama which they incorporated into Laughter Yoga, including deep breathing techniques used between laughter exercises to deepen the impact. Thus, Laughter Yoga is a blend of clapping, yogic deep breathing and stretching exercises, combined with child-like playfulness.