Laughter yoga is the best medicine

Laughter yoga is the best medicine

Laughter yoga clubs in India -- pretending to be airplanes, kicking imaginary footballs and tickling are all part of the program
Laughter yoga
Laughter yoga can be a real riot.

‘If you laugh on the first floor, you should be able to hear it on the seventh floor,’ says Mr Kuvavala. ‘Try to feel the energy – you’ll burn off calories.’ I’d never really equated laughter with losing weight before, but the almost entirely thin and slender collection of Indians standing in a circle on the beach looked to be a pretty good testament to the powers of sniggering your way to slimness.

I was halfway through my first laughter yoga session and my teacher was clearly not yet completely convinced by my devotion to the cause. The gentle reprimand of my giggling strength didn’t last long, thankfully. Turning back to the group Mr Kuvavala had another idea in store for us. ‘Now everybody!’ he bellowed with another quite impossibly wide grin spread across his face. ‘Let’s start picking flies out of a bowl of lassi!’

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The dawn laughter sessions inadvertently began to represent a grass roots spirit of cash-free group activity in sharp contrast to the moneyed élite living, working and partying in the neighbourhood surrounding them.

Laughter yoga clubs have sprung up throughout India since their modest origins in the mid 1990s. Madan Kataria, a doctor who had been writing about the possibility of curing disease through laughter, decided to experiment with the perceived everyday health benefits himself. With four complete strangers as his recruits, they stood in a park in Lokhandwala, his home suburb of Mumbai at dawn and told each other jokes. Impressed at the response, within days there were dozens of people joining them for this totally free al fresco stand-up comedy collective.

Soon Kataria realised he was facing a problem he hadn’t reckoned on: an increasing number of the female congregation were becoming upset at the bawdy nature of some of the jokes being told. Kataria had a novel solution. He decided to dispense with the jokes altogether, substituting them with physical games. He called it ‘laughter for no reason’ (the title of the manifesto of his art that 
he would later write) and the games the group played involved such innocent playfulness as pretending to be airplanes, kicking imaginary footballs and tickling each other.

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The popularity of Kataria’s group mushroomed and over the following decades hundreds of clubs began to meet at dawn everyday of the week in Mumbai, and other cities and villages throughout India. Kishore Kuvavala (or Mr Kuvavala as I was requested to call him; such is the respect in which elders are held in India) invited Kataria to speak at his walking club to explain the benefits.

Inspired by the idea, he decided to start his own club on Chowpatty Beach, the long stretch of sand at the edge of South Mumbai that commands some of the most expensive real estate in India. It is known as the Queen’s Necklace because of the loop 
of neon light that gleams out from the top-end hotels, restaurants and apartments that are sprinkled along the beach road at night.

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The dawn laughter sessions inadvertently began to represent a grass roots spirit of cash-free group activity in sharp contrast to the moneyed élite living, working and partying in the neighbourhood surrounding them. Read the rest of this story on CNN Traveller

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