Laughter Yoga is a revolutionary new technology whereby anyone can laugh, without the need for comedy, jokes, or humor. Yogic breathing is integrated with laughter as a form of exercise; the resultant practice delivers numerous health benefits.
Laughter Yoga was created by Dr. Madan Kataria (a physician from India) in collaboration with his wife Madhuri (a yoga teacher) in 1995.
Laughing feels great, and it is good for your health: laughter can enhance the immune system, undo many of the negative effects of stress and improve cardiovascular health.
Video clip: Medical Benefits of Laughter
Dr. Michael Miller on laughter’s benefits for cardiovascular health
Frequently-reported benefits include relief of depression and anxiety, and better resistance to disease. Participants live life more joyfully, and find themselves better able to cope with whatever stresses life may bring them.
History of Laughter Yoga
A burst of inspiration transformed research for a newsletter article into a group of people laughing in a Bombay park. Sixteen years later, thousands of groups worldwide share in the practice of Laughter Yoga.
The Birth of Laughter Yoga can be traced to the first days of Spring in the year 1995.
Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor in Bombay (Mumbai) India, was writing an article to be entitled “Laughter: The Best Medicine” for his monthly health magazine “My Doctor”. Scientific literature verified laughter’s health benefits for both mind and body. In particular, the book Anatomy of an Illness by American journalist Norman Cousins had led to a considerable body of research, and the Cousins-sponsored work of Dr. Lee Berk in California validated many of the physiological benefits of laughter.
But how to apply these benefits in the stressful real world?
In the early morning of March 13, 1995, Dr. Kataria received the inspiration to start a “Laughter Club” where people would gather to practice laughter as a form of exercise to improve their health. A group of five met in a nearby public park; the group grew to more than 50 within a few days.
The Liberation of Laughter
Initially, participants would bring a joke or funny story to share in order to elicit the laughter response. But after about ten days, the stock of good jokes had run out. A few people began to offer insulting or sexual jokes. Some participants found this offensive and told the Doctor they would not laugh at such jokes and they would not continue to attend club meetings.
Dr. Kataria returned to the research on laughter and discovered that laughter for any reason produces a beneficial Biochemistry of Happiness. In a book entitled Emotions and Health he found the key: the human physiology does not make a distinction between simulated and genuine laughter. “Motion…” (the Action of Laughing) “…creates Emotion” (the Neurochemical Equivalent of Joy). Even if laughter is generated deliberately, the body makes little difference between this and “real” laughter, and many health benefits are delivered. Thus the concept of laughing for no reason was born. Dr. Kataria’s wife Madhuri, a teacher from the Yoga College of Bombay, added dynamic aspects of Yogic Breathing and several Yoga Exercises to enhance the effectiveness of the practice.
Another benefit quickly appeared: the laughter became genuine. To the delight of all involved in the Laughter Club, it was found that even if the laughter started as self-generated, it quickly became real — when the participants kept their eyes open and connected, laughing playfully, with one another. The predominantly social aspect of laughter has since been verified by sociologist Robert Provine, whose studies show that over 80% of laughter occurs as a social phenomenon (expressing friendliness, comfort, and/or tension relief). In the real world, very little human laughter (less than 20%) occurs as the effect of hearing a joke.
As the Katarias’ Laughter Club members chuckled with each other, their delight expanded, and the movement grew. Laughter had been set free from the demands of the Critical Mind. Laughter could now be practiced as a purely physical expression of joyfulness. This is why young, uninhibited children may laugh hundreds of times per day, while self-conscious adults may laugh fewer than fifteen times daily. Now, thanks to Laughter Yoga, anyone and everyone can laugh with the joyful abandon of a child.
Laughter Yoga is thus a blend of yogic deep breathing, easy stretching, self-generated laughter exercises and intentionally cultivated childlike playfulness. The foundation principle of Laughter Yoga is that anyone can laugh, without the need of any reason to laugh. One does not need to feel good first, witness comedy or hear jokes, or even have a sense of humor. The health-building laughter protocol is effective regardless of differences in language or culture. Unconditional Laughter is truly for everyone.
In 1999 the Kataria’s were hosted on their first American tour by psychologist Steve Wilson, an accomplished advocate for therapeutic humor. Although Laughter Yoga is based in unconditional laughter and is not dependent on humor, Wilson adapted and developed the concept of the Laughter Club in the West. He shares his vision of therapeutic laughter through his organization, World Laughter Tour.
The Laughter Yoga Institute’s founder Jeffrey Briar became a Certified Laughter Leader under Steve Wilson in 2006.
Jeffrey Briar also offers the Laughing Meditation (as inspired by the Osho tradition) having completed his training and certification with Sarito Sun in 2010.
Started with just five people in 1995, Laughter Yoga has grown into a worldwide movement with thousands of clubs in over 60 countries. Dr. Kataria now travels all over the world delivering presentations to scientific, medical, and philanthropic conferences, and educating Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher/Trainers through the Doctor Kataria School of Laughter Yoga.
Jeffrey Briar studied with Dr. Kataria in Switzerland and became a Certified Teacher in May, 2005.
The Laughter Yoga Institute was founded by Briar in 2006 with the vision to offer the highest quality training and the most innovative and effective programs available in the world of therapeutic laughter. Briar’s Laguna Laughter Club (the first in the world outside India to meet seven days per week) has welcomed more than 20,000 laughers since the club’s inception in 2005. His media appearances have made him one of the best-known spokespersons for Laughter Yoga in America.
In 2010 Mr. Briar was certified by Dr. Kataria as a Master Trainer for the Doctor Kataria School of Laughter Yoga. He regularly delivers Laughter Yoga International’s 5-day Teachers Certification program (the training of trainers).