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What is laughter yoga?

        Science | Emotions

Laughter Yoga Founder
Laughter yoga instructors such as Jeffrey Briar have followed in Dr. Kataria's footsteps.
Laughter yoga instructors such as Jeffrey Briar have followed in Dr. Kataria's footsteps.
Associated Press/Chris Carlson

Laughter yoga's founder is Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian physician. In 1995, he was researching an article called "Laughter: The Best Medicine" for his medical magazine. Impressed by the potential health benefits of laughter, Kataria wanted to make laughing part of people's daily routine, so he went to a nearby park in Mumbai, where he asked people to join a laughter club. On that first day in the park, four other people, including his wife, joined him. The group stood in a circle and took turns telling jokes, trying to make the other members laugh.

However, after only a few days, the group members were out of jokes, and the jokes that were being told had devolved into vulgarity and smuttiness, which was offensive to some members. Not wanting to relinquish these afternoons of shared laughter, Kataria asked the group to give him a day to come up with something else to get them to laugh. He decided to try different ways of acting out laughter, even if the laughter was forced and fake.

Kataria came to the park the next day with a repertoire of silly expressions, poses and sounds that would come to form the basis of laughter yoga. Though the laughter was fake at the beginning, it soon turned into honest belly laughter. One of Kataria's signature moves was something he called the lion laugh: He'd roar with laughter while his hands, like paws, clawed the air. He combined laughing exercises like this with the stretching and mindful breathing that are hallmarks of more traditional yoga practice.

The practice of laughter yoga has grown tremendously since that first laughter club in a park in Mumbai. Today, there are more than 6,000 laughter clubs in 60 countries [source: Laughter Yoga International]. Laughter yoga has been practiced in schools, prisons, homes for senior citizens, offices and hospitals. Kataria hopes that one day, we might have world peace because we're all so happy from laughter [source: Cheng]. Ready to see how you can have this kind of happiness? On the next page, we'll take a look at a typical laughter yoga session.