There’s a scene in the movie Mary Poppins where Uncle Albert (played by Ed Wynn) gets stuck on the ceiling of his sitting room, buoyed upwards by uncontainable glee. Uncle Albert, it seems, was given to fits of laughter that literally lifted his spirits—along with the rest of him—right off the floor.
According to Madan Kataria, a Bombay, India-based physician, author of Laugh for No Reason and founder and president of Laughter Clubs International, laughter may indeed be the best of all medicines. Kataria has developed a form of laughter therapy called Hasya Yoga (hasya means laughter in Sanskrit) that combines deep, controlled breathing and stretches with various types of forced laughter.
Kataria’s exploration of laughter therapy began in India with small groups of people who met regularly for morning walks. Pre-walk sessions began with a breathing exercise similar to Pranayama, followed by a structured chanting of “ho ho, ha ha” that requires a rhythmic muscular movement of the abdomen much like kapalabhati, or breath of fire, a breathing technique in which the practitioner rapidly inhales and exhales to clear the respiratory passages.
“This laughter practice,” explains Kataria, “moves progressively from the ho ho, ha ha exercise to other types of simulated laughter. It’s what I call my ‘laughter cocktail.’” Kataria’s “cocktail” includes hearty laughter, greeting laughter, open-mouthed silent laughter, humming laughter, lion laughter (an adaptation of Lion Pose), and swinging laughter, with arm movement. Each laughter is sustained for up to 45 seconds, and followed with deep breathing and stretching exercises.
The laughter exercises are designed to be done together, with participants progressing from one type of chuckle to another in the company of others. Says Kataria: “Laughter in laughter clubs is the purest laughter because it is not for any reason. It is not directed at others but we learn to laugh at ourselves.”
Is there anything that Kataria can’t laugh about? “Life can be a challenge,” he admits, “It helps if you’re able to laugh.” In fact, he claims the benefits are positively life-enhancing. Not only does laughter help you to lose your inhibitions and gain self-confidence, Kataria explains that by embracing the spirit of laughter, it’s possible to achieve a more positive outlook on life, as well as improved lung capacity and abdominal tone.
Kataria likens the use of abdominal muscles during the practice of forced laughter to yoga exercises which tone the digestive system, emphasizing that strong abdominal muscles contribute to a healthy digestive system. He further maintains that laughter practice raises both pulse rate and blood pressure, stimulating and toning the circulatory system, and strengthens the respiratory system by utilizing the entire capacity of the lungs. Prana—or life force—he explains, gains entry to our bodies via breathing, so clear respiratory passages and strong lungs are essential to the well-being of both body and spirit.
So dust off your sense of humor, take a deep breath, and do what Uncle Albert did: Laugh. Long, loud, and clear.