Achieving one million laughter clubs in the world is an inspiring and lofty goal as envisioned by our dear Dr. Kataria, creator of Laughter Yoga.
A close friend (and fellow champion of the Laughter Yoga training programs) expressed the idea that the Million Laughter Clubs goal could occur by urging the growth of the Leader- and Teacher- Training programs, since “more Teachers means more Leaders, and more Leaders means more Laughter Clubs.” But with the way Laughter Club Leadership is growing - at a gentle yet steady pace - there’s no way we will reach 1,000,000 clubs in the world very soon.
Since 1999, when Dr. Kataria first expanded Laughter Yoga outside India, the total number of regularly meeting Laughter Clubs has grown by perhaps seven or eight thousand - an average of around 750 clubs per year. This commendable but modest growth can be attributed at least in part to the development of the programs (since 1999) whereby people were trained to be “Laughter Leaders” and encouraged to start Laughter Clubs. Thus the 2-day “Certified Leader Training” came into existence (including the USA variation known as “World Laughter Tour”), as did the 7- (now 5-) day Laughter Yoga Teacher Training, which educated and authorized individuals to give 2-day Leader Trainings. But the odd fact is that despite the growth in number of certified Leaders, there are not all that many more Laughter Clubs. From any given Leader Training, only a small percentage (perhaps 3 to 10%) actually start a lasting Club. (I understand this is true for the World Laughter Tour Leader Trainings as well as those of the Kataria School.) If we stick to this system (Teachers -> Leaders -> Clubs), then in order to have a million Laughter Clubs, we’d need to train more than ten million Leaders!
The first step we must take (if we want to have there be a million clubs) is to acknowledge that the Teacher-Leader Training structure (as it currently exists) is not likely to achieve this goal.
Our next step is to look at: how might we do it - how might we genuinely increase the number of Laughter Clubs in the world to have there be a million (that’s about 990,000 more) within 25 years?
Let us look at how the Laughter Club movement grew in its first 4 years of existence (1995-1999). During that time, Club growth was exponential and fast, even though there was no organized marketing effort, not even a website. How did the Laughter Club movement grow so vigorously in its first few years?
1. The laughter-without-reason technique - and learning it - was easy and simple, and
2. The education was available for free.
I spoke with two medical doctors in India, each of whom started over 100 Laughter Clubs. They did not run all of these clubs themselves, but they did bring them into existence. They would give one of their patients sufficient training in leading Laughter Exercises such that the patient was competent, and then the doctor would promptly send the patient off to start a Laughter Club in their own neighborhood. The fascinating parts:
1. The training (like the technique) was easy - usually lasting less than one hour. In just one brief educational session, the patient was ready to go home and start their functioning social Laughter Club. Also noteworthy:
2. The training was provided at no charge.
These numerous, simply-trained individuals who started Laughter Clubs were called “Anchor Persons” (as described in Dr. Kataria’s book Laugh For No Reason). They did not receive diplomas and were not listed with Laughter Yoga headquarters in Mumbai; they did not become “Certified” Leaders. They were just-plain-folks, from all walks of life, who did not need a document to do what they did: start a local social Laughter Club. Simple. Easy. And Free.
Also, Laughter Clubs grew virally. One laugh-educated person, with their minimum of training (perhaps an hour or less) and just a little experience could easily train another (or several other) person/s to go start their own (simple, easy and free) Laughter Clubs. Brothers taught brothers, workers taught colleagues, neighbors taught friends. The movement grew so fast (and no one bothered to report the truly “grassroots” Laughter Club growth to Laughter Yoga headquarters) that Dr. Kataria would sometimes be invited to go to visit a club in a certain city, and when he asked if there were any other clubs in the area, he would be surprised to learn there were dozens, perhaps a hundred Laughter Clubs already in that town.
Imagine what it would be like if each person (and there are a few thousand) who has taken a Leader Training program had started one hundred Laughter Cubs?
We’d be well on our way to a million clubs!
We need to un-collapse the notion that “more Teachers/Leaders means more Laughter Clubs” - at least, not enough to make a million clubs come into existence anytime soon. Instead, I suggest that we develop the joy (and a good clear method) of sharing, starting and running a Laughter Club so that it is super-easy, very fast to learn, and people want to spread Laughter Clubs around (like they might share a good recipe, a great movie or a fun website.)
And, in order to cause (not just “support,” but to cause - to be the source of) huge and rapid growth of Laughter Clubs, I suggest we follow the way which has proven to work: that the ability-to-laugh be shared and spread at no charge. Yep - we need to give it away for free.
I am not proposing that we end the Leader/Teacher track; not at all. It is a vital and important part of Laughter Yoga education, especially in terms of preparing professionals for tasks for which they will be well-suited (such as: working with special-needs populations, in corporate environments; supporting scientific research, presenting to the media, and representing Therapeutic Laughter in the field of higher education). Leader/Teacher Training is essential to prepare people for presentations to the mass public, increase skills in marketing, more deeply understand Laughter Yoga philosophy, and develop the ability to laugh alone. And such advanced training merits being offered for a fee.
But I am suggesting that, if we want to achieve One Million Clubs (simple, basic social Laughter Clubs) we need to let go of our attachment to the idea that the current Teacher/Leader program is the means to achieve that (Million Club) goal. Instead, we need to come up with a way whereby many people can be given the fundamental education of leading Laughter Exercises - and get them out into the world starting and running Laughter Clubs!
Consider the story of our dear buddy and colleague Arya Pathria (who lived near San Francisco, California USA, and who passed away some months ago). When Dr. and Mrs. Kataria first came to the USA (in 1999) Arya was an “old friend from home” who welcomed them to California near the end of their first laughter tour. Arya used to teach people how to lead laughter exercises and run laughter clubs, and frequently he did not charge for this (as had been the custom in India since 1995). Starting around 2008, after the Teacher-and Leader- Training programs were in existence, newly-trained Certified Teachers in his area asked Arya to please stop offering Leader Trainings for free. The newer Teachers wanted to charge a fee for their Leader Trainings, but Arya was giving such trainings at no cost, and the new Teachers had a hard time “competing” with Arya’s price (which was: no price). Despite their requests that he only offer training for a charge, Arya just laughed. He would say something like: “I’ve been in the Laughter Yoga world since long before you, darling. I know what this is about; and giving it to the world as gift, for more health, happiness and love - that is what it is about. And for that, a charge is not important.” Arya trained many (and inspired many Laughter Yoga Leaders and Teachers), even though his trainings were often offered for free.
It has always seemed to me a little unauthentic when our training programs claim that “Laughter Clubs have no hierarchy, there are no posts…” when in truth there is a most definite and obvious hierarchy. The director of the Club is a trained L.Y. Leader (an exalted post, certainly “higher in the hierarchy” than a person who has arrived for the first time; also higher than a person who has been attending for months). The trained Leader has the "top post."
Laughter Clubs as they exist in the west are (for the most part) not a “grassroots” movement (despite our claims that they are). They are the result of one individual who - alone, or by assembling a team - initiates and operates a program. This person is the “Laughter Club Boss” (more elegantly put: the “Certified Leader” or “Club Director”).
“Grassroots” implies that the ordinary everyday folk of the land bring forth a program which they perceive as needed. But western Laughter Clubs are almost always the result of an “Expert” (an extra-ordinary individual) who tries to convince their audience (the local folk) that what the Expert offers is valuable. If Laughter Clubs were genuinely grassroots, then the people in the community, becoming aware of the benefits of healthy laughter, would have one of their regular folks learn the desired technique. This education might occur by attending a training program OR reading an authoritative book (like Laugh For No Reason), or watching videos, or attending a Laughter Club in another community. Then that now-a-little-smarter person would return to their community and educate the others in their locality. A Laughter Club would not need a certified “Leader.” Every member of the club (with half-an-hour’s experience!) could take on the leading of exercises.
It was in this truly “grassroots” way that Laughter Clubs grew in number from one in Mumbai (1995) to thousands (by 1999), all in one country - in a land with no history of public laughter sessions and no organized media program. And it is by cultivating and responding to such a genuine grassroots demand that we can anticipate social Laughter Clubs sprouting up by the tens of thousands.
Imagine what could happen nowadays, when a video on YouTube can attract millions of views within one day of its posting. Watching a “Cat on a Surfboard” might not inspire a million “Surfing Cats” Clubs, but seeing a 90-year-old grandmother crack a smile and then laugh heartily for the first time in 40 years (I am thinking of Alex Sternick’s touching video clip - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKW1qqfjB6o , watch 1:43-2:07) could result in thousands of Activities Directors (from Old Peoples’ Homes) seeking out sufficient education to have regular laughter sessions where they spend most of their waking hours. And face it, friends: a motivated person could learn enough to run a basic social Laughter Club in about an hour.
Our task seems to be twofold:
1. Get the word out and let people see how great it would be to have a Laughter Club in their neighborhood (exposure via press, networking, social media, online videos, public seminars and festivals, etc.); and at the same time
2. Offer a fast-and-easy training program (at no charge) so all people - LOTS of them! - can learn enough to get their clubs going!
I wonder if we can have the humility to offer Laughter Club growth in such a truly grassroots form - to fulfill the need of many people to have more health and joy, and give it to them fast, and without being stopped by there being a fee.
One Million Laughter Clubs… ‘Anyone have a better idea?
Master Trainer for the Dr. Kataria School of Laughter Yoga (hey, am I “suggesting” myself out of a job here?) http://tinyurl.com/JBriarBioLYIntnl
Founder, Laguna Laughter Club www.JoyfulB.com