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 (Learn more about the history of Laughter Therapy
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 both a substantial preventive and therapeutic effect.
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.
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.” There is a method, but it is not seen as truly important. Laughing, alone or with others, is. 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, the absence of a clear and documented protocol has led to a mitigated impact in the West where the importance of the individual dominates and 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. We at the American School Of Laughter Yoga have been leading the way and created our own protocol that we call the Laughter Wellness program. The message and motivation is the name, but the protocol differs and in our case follows a systematic activity approach that all can follow and benefit from.