Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Laughter becomes a serious business for Mumbai doctor

When doctor Madan Kataria began "laughing yoga" classes 13 years ago, many people laughed at him. Now they laugh with him.

In cities across India, groups of people meet every morning and stand in the open air, stretching their arms, attempting to touch their toes, and chanting: "Ho, ho! Ha, ha, ha!" Crowds that gather to watch invariably end up laughing too.

After all, laughing is infectious and the "Laughing Yoga" movement has proved that, with clubs now in about 60 countries.

The man who started the movement is the bubbly 52-year-old Dr Madan Kataria who lives in Mumbai.

What amuses him these days is that his ideas, at first were thought a joke, have grown in acceptability globally. This year's 10th World Laughter Day on Sunday was one of the most celebrated.

"You don't have to laugh at jokes or humour to get the medical benefits from laughter," he told Reuters.

"Laughing increases the oxygen in the body, which physically makes you healthier. As an exercise, laughter might start out pretend, but the body doesn't know the difference."

Over the years critics have questioned the medical basis for Kataria's amusing yoga but the movement has proved contagious.

Life has changed for Kataria since he came up with the idea while researching an article for a medical journal about laughter being "the best medicine".

"I became so convinced of the health benefits that a few of us got together and told jokes for 10 days. But eventually the jokes became negative, vulgar and racist. That's when I came up with laughter exercises."

Four years later, in 1999, Kataria wrote the book "Laugh For No Reason", gave up his job as a family physician, and travelled to 35 countries training others on his laughing yoga techniques.


While joining a laughter club is free, Kataria charges for his services as a trainer. He has taken his idea to the corporate world and even prisons.

But is he laughing all the way to the bank?

"I have more than I need. And I like sharing with others."

He has lived in the same comfortable but not ostentatious apartment complex in the northern Mumbai suburb of Andheri for over 16 years. But he has big ambitions.

"One day I'll be flying my own planes and sailing my own ships, but that will be for the mission, not me. We started as five people. Now there are thousands of laughter clubs all over the world. But I want a million clubs. My goal is world peace."

Kataria is less of a solemn guru and more of bubbly showman.

He greets people with big, smiling eyes, open arms and, of course, a warm belly-laugh. He even answers his phone with a laugh. But he maintains he has not overdosed on his own medicine.

"Look at my shoes. I wear one white shoe for laughter and one black shoe for tears. I express all emotions. But, yes, when I'm publicly speaking, I laugh a lot."

His wife of 22 years, Madhuri, said the movement had not changed him.

"He was always a fun-loving guy," she said. "Making faces at children, talking with strangers. And if he saw people arguing, he would stop them and make them laugh."

When his wife was in intensive care for 9 days after a road accident, Kataria said: "I went into my room and laughed. Not because it was funny, but because laughing made me feel better."

By Lyndee Prickitt


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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