Laughter Yoga did not appear in a vacuum. It followed decades of ground work done by many great people around the world – some famous and others not – who helped raise mass consciousness about the preventive and therapeutic benefits of laughter.
Where It All Began: Mumbai, India, 1995
In March 1995 Dr. Madan Kataria, a family physician from Mumbai, India, decided to write an article called “Laughter – the best medicine” for his monthly health magazine “My Family Doctor”. The outcome of his research for this article surprised him greatly. Decades of scientific research had already proven that laughter has a documented positive impact as form of complementary preventive and therapeutic medicine.
In particular he was impressed by the findings of Norman Cousins, an American journalist was diagnosed in 1964 with a degenerative disease and given at best 6 months to live, yet managed to heal himself completely using laughter as his main form of therapy. Norman Cousins died in 1991.
Dr. Kataria woke up on March 13th, 1995, with what he thought was a great idea: he would start a laughter club. At 7 am he went to his local park and somehow managed to motivate four people to laugh with him. This small group quickly grew to over 50 participants within a few days. The format was the turn-by-turn telling of jokes or anecdotes.
Within days the stock of good jokes was depleted and participants complained. They did not want to listen and even less take part in the telling of stale or vulgar jokes.
Rather than abort the experiment Dr. Kataria had the idea of dropping jokes altogether. What he had observed was that when the joke or anecdote being told was not funny, one person laughing was usually enough to get the whole group to laugh: laughter is contagious. He experimented with this idea of laughing for no reason and it worked very well.
His wife Madhuri Kataria, a Hatha Yoga teacher, helped build upon the yoga connection of laughter. Together they designed a sequence of simple laughter exercises with gentle yoga breathing exercise (Pranayama) for maximum benefits.
A journalist heard of this unusual gathering of adults behaving like children in a public space and wrote an article about it in the local newspaper. Inspired people started to come to Dr. Kataria for advice on how to start their own “Laughter Clubs”. Everything else is history.
Since its humble beginnings in 1995, this unique idea has grown into a worldwide social grassroots movement of many thousands of mostly free and public Laughter Clubs on five continents. Laughter Clubs have been featured in every single major media network around the world (press, radio, television).
The American Chapter
The American Laughter Yoga movement owes a lot to the ground work realized by psychologist Steve Wilson from Ohio who invited Dr. Kataria and his wife to the USA for 1.5 months in 1999 and was the first one to expose them to the American media.
It wasn’t until 2004 however that Sebastien Gendry, another American of French origin, became highly interested in this subject and went all the way to India to train with Dr Kataria. A strong connection ensued and Sebastien went on to serve as World Operations Director for Laughter Yoga International for 2 years. He facilitated several Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher trainings for Dr. Kataria in the USA, which led to still more, and tirelessly promoted Laughter Yoga with the national media. He organized the first All American Laughter Yoga conference in 2006 which led to a national television coverage of Laughter Yoga on CNN, the Associated Press, and not long after that ABC Dancing With The Stars, ABC Good Morning America, the Oprah Winfrey Show and many many more national, state and local media outlets.
Here is a brief recapitulation
- 1995: Laughter Yoga is conceptualized in India by Dr Madan Kataria. The first Laughter Club is born and is an immediate success. The local media wonders “how [otherwise sane] adults can have so much fun behaving like idiots everyday at 7am in a public park”. News spreads.
- 1997: Over 200 Laughter Clubs already exist throughout India, all free, all public, all independent. Laughter Yoga becomes a social phenomenon. ABC news reports on “a somewhat different take on what it takes to live a better life“. Dr Kataria quits his medical practice and dedicates his life to teaching and promoting Laughter Yoga.
- 2000: Laughter Yoga reaches Europe. 10,000+ gather on Coppenhagen’s townsquare on January 1st and laugh for a full hour to greet the new millenium. Laughter Clubs mushroom in the EEC. World renown comic John Cleese goes to India to investigate.
- 2004: Sebastien Gendry becomes the first American to train as a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and the 2nd person in the world to dedicate himself full time to teaching and promoting Laughter Yoga. The American School Of Laughter Yoga (ASLY) is born.
- 2006: There are now several hundreds Laughter Yoga professionals in the USA and over 250 Laughter Clubs there. ASLY organises the first All America Laughter Yoga Conference and manages to get CNN USA to report. Hollywood gets interested: “this stuff works“.
- 2007: ASLY orchestrates a coverage of Laughter Yoga on the Oprah Winfrey Show (49+ million viewers in the USA alone). The show proves so successful that it is re-broadcasted 3 times.
- 2008: ASLY acts as local liaison with the TED team and is instrumental in helping Dr Kataria laugh for 1 minutes with over 20 million people in 180+ countries via satellite. Sebastien Gendry introduces Laughter Yoga in Russia. AARP (40 million members) says Laughter Yoga is good for you.
- 2009: Sebastien Gendry flies over 100,000 miles on Laughter Yoga business only. Dr Kataria flies even more. The world Laughter Yoga community grows strong. People want to laugh and heal. Laughter Yoga can help.
- 2010: Dr Andrew Weil tells a US Senate committee, during a hearing about health-care reform, that Laughter Yoga could help lower American health-care costs. He’s right.
- 2011: The American School of Laughter Yoga announces the official birth of Laughter Wellness. It had been years in the making and promoted up to then by Sebastien Gendry as Laughter Yoga, but it adds so much more to Dr Kataria’s teachings that it is time for this method to fly on its own.
- 2012: The American School Of Laughter Yoga launches the Laughter Online University and becomes the first worldwide to offer true 24/7/365 online education on Laughter Yoga and Laughter Wellness.
(R)Evolution of Laughter Yoga
Laughter Yoga was created as a social experiment, and is still primarily found today in social settings.
Its core idea as its primary advocate Dr Madan Kataria puts it, is to “laugh for no reason.” It has a very strong focus on the expression of childlike playfulness.
While this works well in the East where the group plays an important cultural part and individuals have less inhibitions in public, it has led to a mitigated impact in the West where people are much more reserved.
Many people in Europe, the Americas and the Pacific region are involved in a gentle (r)evolution of the traditional Laughter Yoga method and adapting it to their local needs. Laughter Wellness was born out of this need to adapt Laughter Yoga to the needs of a Western audience.
Laughter Wellness is a complete wellbeing workout that integrates Laughter Yoga exercises and the power of breath, movement, sound, cooperative games and more into a well codified and substantiated, low-cost methodology that’s grounded in science and cognitive psychology. This is Laughter Yoga 2.0. It’s lots of fun and filled with laughter, but there’s nothing funny about it. This is alternative complementary medicine and personal development at its very best. It is a powerful tool that is is used by many professionals around the world who help their clients to laugh to “live fully until they die” in a variety of social, professional and corporate settings.