The first Sunday in May is World Laughter Day, and several thousand yoga practitioners intend to celebrate. According to a report in Time magazine, members of laughing-yoga clubs around the world have the date marked on their calendars. Madan Kataria, 45, a medical doctor based in Bombay, India, started laughing yoga when he founded a laughter club in 1995 after reading about the medical benefits of a good giggle. Laughing yoga combines laughter with breathing, yoga and stretching techniques for no reason other than to enjoy a good, hearty chuckle.
The laughing-yoga concept seems to have spread like sunshine. Today 1,800 laughing-yoga clubs exist in India, and an additional 700 clubs are active in countries from Finland to the Philippines. Kataria told Time magazine that faking laughter is okay if you don’t feel like chortling, since, she explained, “Your body doesn’t know the difference.” Kataria continued, “Laughter can’t solve your problems, but it can dissolve them.”
Laughing-yoga instructors lead workouts with a “ho, ho, ha-ha-ha” chant or a “lion laugh,” in which participants stick out their tongues and flap their hands by their ears. The laughing segments last about 30–45 seconds and are performed between breathing exercises and yoga postures. Alka Bhatia, one of Kataria’s laughing yoga students who is also a laughing-yoga instructor, told Time that laughter pulled her out of depression. “There’s a lot of pressure in my job. But now if I get stressed, I just have a little laugh at my desk and forget everything.”
The laughing-yoga sessions are similar to a Buddhist practice of forced laughter. According to Kataria, laughter is one of the simplest and easiest forms of meditation because one does not need to concentrate to clear one’s mind. “While laughing you cannot think of anything else,” Kataria said in 1998. “Either you think or you laugh, but not both.”