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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Laughter, the best medicine

If Dr Madan Kataria has his way, all IT and BPO offices in Bangalore will have a laugh room soon. “Instead of taking coffee and cigarette breaks, the employees will take a laughter break. It gives an equally good high,” says Kataria, who runs a School for Laughter Yoga in Mumbai.

Kataria is not joking. Last month, he conducted research with 30 employees in two Bangalore-based IT firms — MPhasis and Kyocera — to determine the effects of laughter therapy on people suffering from work stress. “We measured the stress levels of the employees before and after a laughter yoga session,” says Kataria. The researchers found that stress levels reduced significantly after an hour of laughs and yogic exercise.

Kataria is still tabulating the findings of the research. Once that is done, he plans to float a proposal to start laughter yoga sessions in software firms — known for erratic hours and work stress.

Kataria believes a good guffaw a day keeps the doctor away. “Laughter is a natural cure for many ailments like asthma, gastric ulcers and certain sexual disorders,” he says. “It helps asthmatics because laughter improves lung capacity and oxygen levels in the blood,” explains Kataria. If you laugh uninhibitedly, it clears all pent-up negative emotions and helps keep the mind clear, boosting the immune system and relaxing the body, adds the laughter yoga proponent.

At a time when medical drugs and self-help literature rule, Bangalore boasts of 160 laughter clubs — the highest in any Indian city, according to B.K. Satyanarayana, founder, Bangalore Laughter Clubs. “As work related stress is on the rise in Bangalore, more and more people are heading to laughter clubs. People are realising the benefits of a simple hearty laugh,” says Satyanarayana. He adds that on an average, each club has over 50 members.

Daylight is yet to break as people start streaming into an open area near Ulsoor Lake, in the heart of Bangalore. The mostly middle-aged members of the local laughter club start the session at 6 am sharp. It takes off with a prayer which is followed by a Namaste laughter — that is, laughing with folded hands.

The one-hour session is a mix of yoga and laughs. Each yogic exercise - which includes pranayam, kapalabhati and bhastrika — is followed by stimulated laughter, each of which have names like ‘one meter laughter’, ‘forgiveness laughter’, ‘break dance laughter’ and the ‘AK-47-without-a-bullet laughter’.

L.G. Vishwanath Shetty, who anchors two clubs in R.T. Nagar, Bangalore, says his club members have mastered 40 ways of laughing. “One meter laughter is when you laugh at a stretch. Forgiveness laughter is when you hold your ear lobes and laugh looking at someone, as if to say that you’ve forgiven and forgotten,” explains Shetty.

Newcomers to the club admit it’s not easy to laugh for no reason. Madhav Swamy, who recently enrolled at a laughter yoga club, says he initially felt odd when he was asked to break into peels of laughter for no reason. “I felt awkward,” says Swamy. “But I gradually grew out of my inhibitions. Watching 50 people bend backwards and laugh heartily is very infectious,” he adds.

B.K. Satyanarayana feels laughter is a much-needed medicine in a world that is turning into a dreadful place to live in. “Unhappy news and negative thoughts abound today. We are trying to break the seriousness of life and alleviate stress through laughter clubs,” he says. Satyanarayana calls laughter the easiest form of meditation.

The physical benefits of laughter are an added plus-point. “More than 70 per cent of all illness has some relation to stress. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, insomnia, migraine, anxiety, allergies and peptic ulcers,” says Kataria.

Researchers have found that laughing increases the count of antibodies present in the mucous membranes of the nose and respiratory passages. This means that people who laugh a lot catch fewer colds and chest and throat infections. Also, a laugh a day strengthens the human body’s immune system by increasing the count of natural killer lymphocytes — a type of white cell — and raising the level of antibodies, he adds.

Laughter is also an effective pain killer, claims Kataria, adding, “Laughing increases the level of endorphins which is a natural pain killer. So it reduces the pain from migraine, spondilitis and arthritis.”

There’s good news for those who want to look good. Laughter tones up facial muscles and increases blood supply to the face and thus gives it a glow. “Laughing can make you look younger,” claims Kataria, adding, “But the biggest benefit of laughing is the bonhomie it creates among people. If people laugh together, they bond better and shed ill will.”

Clearly, laughter therapy is no laughing matter.

laugh lines

Pain killer

Laughing increases the level of endorphins which is a natural pain killer. It also helps people to ‘forget’ pain.

Heart exercise

A good old belly laugh is equal to an internal jogging.

Blood pressure

Laughter keeps BP at bay.

Safety valve

Laughter reduces the release of stress related hormones — like epinephrine, cortisol and dopac — and helps in relaxation.

Strengthens immune system

Laughing strengthens the immune system by increasing the count of the natural killer, lymphocytes.

Muscle relaxation

When you laugh, the muscles that do not participate in it relax. After you finish laughing, those muscles involved in laughing relax.

Breathe easy

Laughing improves lung capacity and oxygen levels in the blood. It has a cleaning effect on the lungs.

Looks matter

Laughter tones up facial muscles.

Confidence booster

Laughing helps people shed inhibitions and gain confidence.

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