Laughing for a better life
Laughter is indeed the best medicine to find release from a variety of woes, and joining a laughter club ensures you don’t chuckle alone, says UTTAM MUKHERJEE
Let’s start with a joke: Santa and Banta were fighting after an exam. The teacher asked, “Why are you fighting?” Santa replied, “Sir, this fool left the answer sheet blank!” The teacher was puzzled and asked, “So what?” Santa replied, “I did the same thing. Now you will think that we both copied!” If you laughed at this joke, it would have made you feel good; it would have fostered a positive and hopeful feeling, and this would have helped lower the level of stress hormones in your blood.
Almost two decades back, Dr. Madan Kataria and a group of friends got together regularly to share a joke and a laugh. The group felt happy, energised and healthy. And even when they ran out of jokes, and simply laughed, they felt the same positive effects. It was then that the doctor discovered that laughter, whether real or unreal, delivered the same benefits. And so was born the concept of the Laughter Club, with the first one launched in Mumbai on March 13, 1995. Since then it has become a worldwide phenomenon with more than 6,000 Laughter Clubs in more than 60 countries, including Australia . Don’t be surprised to find a club near you.
Revolutionary and reviving
Now, Laughter Yoga is a revolutionary idea – simple and profound. Sometimes we call it ‘internal jogging’. Laughter Yoga combines laughter with yogic breathing. Laughter for no reason, that is, without relying on humour or comedy, has the same physiological and psychological benefits as real laughter. In a group (like the Laughter Club), laughter is simulated as a body exercise; with eye contact and childlike playfulness, it soon turns into real and contagious laughter. It is based on the fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter.
There are many benefits of laughing. It helps control high blood pressure and heart disease by reducing the release of stress-related hormones and bringing relaxation. Laughter is an effective antidote for depression, anxiety and psychosomatic disorders as it boosts the production of serotonin, a natural anti-depressant. It keeps us healthy by enriching the blood with ample supplies of oxygen. It alleviates pain and offers a sense of wellbeing by releasing endorphins, the body’s painkiller hormones. For those who want a glow on their faces, laughter is the key as it makes your eyes shine with a thin film of tears which are squeezed from the lachrymal sacs during the act of laughter.
A concept for all
Here are two unique applications of this phenomenon. Laughter Yoga has been introduced in many schools which schedule a fixed time for laughter, either in the morning assembly or in the classrooms. These have shown that the mood and atmosphere amongst teachers and students get energised.
Believe it or not, Laughter Yoga is being practiced in several prisons in India , Europe and USA . During the making of documentary for BBC on human expressions, it was found that laughter had a profound impact on prisoners as it was an effective tool to release negative emotions. It is a great method of dissipating negative feelings of anger and frustration.
Laughter Clubs are social clubs. They are free for all. There are no formalities like registration, membership fees, meetings, protocol, and most importantly, no fuss. They are run by volunteers.
You may wonder what we do in a laughter session. The idea of Laughter Clubs is to gain the benefits of laughter. This is done through a series of short laughter exercises combined with yogic breathing and stretching. A session generally starts with light exercises, including breathing. Laughter routines stem from innovations and improvisations of a laughter club, and get passed on from one club to another. Routines could commence with greeting laughter. The intensity of laughter increases with every routine. There are laughs on everyday life activities like laughter after getting a huge bill, applying a magical facial cream, or other situations. There are laughs that mimic the natural world, for instance the call of a kookaburra. At laughter clubs, we practice laughing until it becomes natural. It is often said in laughter circles, “Fake it till you make it!”
Join or begin
So, if you’re thinking of joining a Laughter Club, check the following link: www.hohohahaha.com/LC_in_NSW.htm. You will find clubs in Sydney CBD, Camperdown Memorial Park , North Sydney Community Centre, Hornsby Park , Ashfield Park , among others. They have their own timings of sessions.
Or are you brave enough to start a Laughter Club? It is as simple as laughing! No one needs permission/license (or registration with ASIC or Office of Fair Trading) to start one of these. Although no affiliation is required, it makes sense to join a group like the NSW Laughter Club, as it helps to put more people in touch. There are no rules and regulations in the conducting of Laughter Clubs. However, there are basic guidelines for its functioning: they are non-political, non-religious, non-exploitive, non-competitive, non-perfectionist and non-threatening. The Laughter Yoga Movement does not recognise any hierarchy, position or title.
Usuff Omar is a veteran laugher in this part of the world. “Laughter to me means a way of life that isn’t too serious,” he says. “Laughter can also mean pleasure and euphoria. And a way of connecting with people, to overcome social fears. Laughter is also a way of relaxing myself in tense situations.”
A happy exercise
In many parts of the world, thousands of people go to Laughter Clubs in public parks. Most members proudly report that they hardly miss a laughter session. They say it makes them happy, healthy and energized – effecting a transformation in their lives. It results in the release of positive energy that makes it easy to cope with the stresses of daily life and saves them from depression. In fact, the impact of laughter is so profound that many members claim they no longer need anti-depressants. Their sustained positive emotions keep them coming back for more.
It is often said that too much of anything can be bad. And so it is with laughter too. A typical laughter session lasts about half an hour. Anything beyond 30 minutes may be in the red zone and may adversely affect some people, especially seniors. Let this disclaimer not dampen your spirit, though. Laughing is a powerful form of exercise that can give you a cardiovascular workout more than many regular aerobic activities. So, wait no longer; join a ho-ho-ha-ha-ha club near you or be brave and start one!
Let’s end with another joke… well, you don’t really need one to laugh; you can laugh for no reason and reap the benefits anyway!