In the early 90’s an Indian medical Dr. Madan Kataria worked as a registrar in a local hospital in Mumbai, and also wrote papers for medical journals. In his scholarly work he became interested in the growing body of scientific evidence showing that laughter is extremely beneficial to mental and physical health. He decided that more laughter was needed to improve health and cope with the stress of modern living and started a quest to find ways that laughter could be prescribed to patients and people who needed it.
In March 1995, while writing an article ‘Laughter - The Best Medicine’ for a health journal, he discovered many modern scientific studies, which described in depth, the many proven benefits of Laughter on the Human mind and body. In particular, Dr. Kataria was impressed by Norman Cousins' book Anatomy of an Illness and the research work by Dr. Lee Berk. Profoundly inspired and being a man of action, Dr. Kataria immediately decided to field-test the impact of laughter on himself and others.
Starting with just five people, at 7 am on March 13, 1995, at a public park in his neighborhood in Mumbai, India; he launched the first ‘Laughter Club’. These five founding members laughed together in the park that day to the amusement of bystanders; and the small group quickly grew to more than 50 participants, within a few days. In the initial meetings, they stood in a circle with one person in the center, to tell a joke or a funny story. Everybody enjoyed and felt good for the rest of the day. However, after two weeks, the Laughter Club hit a snag. The stock of good jokes and stories ran out, and negative, hurtful and naughty jokes started to emerge. Two offended participants complained that it would be better to discontinue the Club than to continue with such jokes. Dr. Kataria asked the Club members to give him just one day to develop a ‘breakthrough’ that would resolve the crisis.
That night, Dr. Kataria reviewed his research and finally found the answer he was looking for: Our body cannot differentiate between pretend and genuine laughter. Both produced the same ‘Happy Chemistry’. The next morning he explained this to the group, and asked them to try to act out laughter with him, for one minute. Amid skepticism they agreed to try…. The results were amazing. For some, the make believe laughter quickly turned into real laughter - this was contagious and in no time others followed. Soon the group was laughing like never before. The hearty laughter that followed persisted for almost ten minutes. This breakthrough was the birth of Laughter Yoga.
Realizing that there are ways other than humor to stimulate laughter, Dr. Kataria developed a range of laughter exercises including elements of role-play and other techniques from his days as an amateur theater actor. Giving a thought to the importance of childlike playfulness, he developed further techniques to stimulate this within the group.
As Yoga practitioners, Dr. Kataria and his wife Madhuri, Co-Founder of Laughter Yoga, saw the similarities between Laughter and Pranayama exercises, and incorporated elements from this ancient form of Yoga into Laughter Yoga, including the deep breathing exercises now used between laughter exercises, to deepen the impact.