Interview - Complementary medicine
Music of the soul


Dr Madan Kataria, renown worldwide as the giggling guru, visited Dubai earlier this year to show off his home-grown yogic laughter therapy at the Wellbeing Show. Callan Emery, the editor, spoke to Dr Kataria about laughter and its benefits as a complementary health therapy.

“Laughter is the music of the soul” Dr Kataria says. “It is holistic. It involves the body, mind and spirit and its beneficial effects have been known for as long as mankind has been laughing.

“It is good as both a preventative and therapeutic medicine,” he emphasised. Dr Kataria is a qualified physician in allopathic medicine, practising in Mumbai, India for the past 20 years. He was ex-registrar at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Bombay, in Internal Medicine and Cardiology.

How did it all begin? Kataria said the idea of starting a laughter club came to him in 1995 when he was writing an article for his health magazine and remembered how the phrase “laughter is the best medicine” had fascinated him.

He discovered a large amount of scientific literature showing the benefits of laughter and figured “if laughter is so good for you, why don’t I start a laughter club” which he then proceeded to do at the local park in Bombay. “At first people thought it a bit strange,” he said, “but when the benefits of laughter began to manifest, the club grew.”

There are now laughter clubs around the world where participants gather regularly to practice Dr Kataria’s unique style of laughter therapy. Dr Kataria is fondly referred to around the world as the giggling guru or the laughing doctor. The laughter clubs follow a technique he developed which involves group laughter based on yoga.

He calls it yogic laughter. The exercise combines laughter, yogic breathing and stretching. At present there are more than 2,500 Laughter Clubs in India, United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Portugal, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Israel, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

“Just laugh,” he explained, “even if it is forced laughter. Laughter is contagious and infectious. It may begin as an exercise, but soon it turns into real laughter as people lose their inhibitions.” He said that scientifically there is no difference between forced laughter and real laughter. They have the same beneficial effects. He points out that generally people only laugh for a few seconds but that this isn’t long enough to significantly change one’s physiology.

“You need to laugh for at least 20 minutes along with yogic breathing and stretching.” Laughing for this length of time will affect one’s physiology in several ways. “Laughing increases the production of endorphins, the ‘feel good’ hormones. It lowers hypertension. It increases oxygen intake and, as such, is a fantastic aerobic exercise,” Dr Kataria pointed out. “It is also a strong stimulant of the immune system.” There have been many clinical studies that have shown the physiological and psychological benefits of laughter therapy.

Some of these include: “The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity” – Bennett, Zeller, Rosenberg, McCann, (Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Mar-Apr; 9(2):38- 45.) – concludes “laughter may reduce stress and improve NK (natural killer) cell activity. As low NK cell activity is linked to decreased disease resistance and increased morbidity in persons with cancer and HIV disease, laughter may be a useful cognitive-behavioural intervention.”

The authors of “The impact of humour on patients with cancer” – Christie, Moore (Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2005 Apr;9(2):211-8 ) – carried out “in-depth literature reviews that demonstrated a positive correlation between humour and comfort levels in patients with cancer. Humour frequently was used for relaxation and as a coping mechanism that aided in promoting general wellness.

The literature indicated that various types of humorous material lessened anxiety and discomfort, which allowed for patients' concerns and fears to be discussed openly. The literature also showed that humour had a positive effect on the immune system.

Improvements in pain thresholds and elevations in natural killer cell activity consistently appeared in quantitative experimental studies. In addition, measurements of specific neuroendocrine and stress hormone levels revealed biochemical changes that suggested improved physical stress responses and increased feelings of wellbeing after humorous interventions.”

At the Wellbeing Show volunteers took part in a demonstration of laughter yoga. Dr Kataria began the session with warm up exercises like clapping and “Ho Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha” chanting, followed by laughter exercises combined with stretching which he has distinctively named ‘greeting laughter’, ‘milk shake laughter’, ‘one metre laughter’ and ‘lion laughter’.

“When we laugh in a group it turns to real laughter when people make eye contact with one another.” The next part of laughter yoga session he calls laughter meditation. “We sit on the floor in silence and keep looking at each other. Then we start faking laughter. We do this until it becomes spontaneous. After a while we lie down on the floor and let the laughter flow from deep within.

Dr Kataria said doctors were initially skeptical, but as the laughter clubs grew it helped many people with depression, anxiety, insomnia and other illnesses, and they saw its benefits.

“Some doctors even came to the laughter clubs to see for themselves and now many recommend their patients join a laughter club.” To find out more about laughter yoga and to contact or start a laughter club in your country visit: www.laughteryoga.org

                                  
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