In March 1995 this medical doctor in Mumbai, India was writing an article ‘Laughter – The Best Medicine’ for a health journal. In his research he discovered many modern scientific studies that described at great length 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.
At 7 am on 13th March 1995 he went to his local public park and managed to persuade four people to join him in starting a ‘Laughter Club’. They laughed together in the park that day to the amusement of bystanders, but the small group quickly grew to more than 50 participants within a few days. In the initial meetings they stood in a circle while one person would step to the centre to tell a joke or a funny story. Everybody enjoyed and felt good for the rest of the day.
After two weeks they 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 close 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 he reviewed his research and finally found the answer he was looking for: our body can not differentiate between acted 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 acted out laughter quickly turned into real laughter — this was contagious and very soon 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 were 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 dramatic actor. Realizing the importance of childlike playfulness, he developed further techniques to stimulate this within the group.
As Yoga practitioners, Dr. Kataria and his wife Madhuri Kataria (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. What resulted is Laughter Yoga: a blend of yogic deep breathing, stretching, and laughter exercises that cultivate child-like playfulness. The Laughter Club Movement started with just five people in 1995 and spread across India like wildfire. In 1999 Dr. Kataria made his first foreign tour to the United States at the invitation psychologist Steve Wilson (USA). Mrs. Kataria accompanied her husband Dr. Kataria through years of intense travel as they visited dozens of countries to spread the message and techniques of Laughter Yoga around the world.
Today Laughter Yoga is a worldwide phenomenon, with thousands of clubs worldwide which includes India, USA, Canada, Australia, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Netherlands, Finland, Mexico, Brazil, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Dubai, Iran and many other countries worldwide.