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.
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
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
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.
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
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
“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