The Guru of Giggling shares how it’s possible (and beneficial) to laugh—even in the face of a pandemic.
“Sometimes crying or laughing are the only options left, and laughing feels better right now,” says the narrator in Veronica Roth's dystopian novel Divergent. But is it okay to laugh (is it even possible to laugh?) when the world feels so dark during the coronavirus crisis? Yes.
Madan Kataria, MD, aka “the Guru of Giggling,” is the founder of the laughter yoga movement, which he started in 1995 in Mumbai. He is the author of the very timely new book Laughter Yoga: Daily Practices for Health and Happiness. “Everybody can laugh when times are good, but laughter yoga can help you laugh when times are hard,” he says. “It’s not comedy; it’s an exercise and breathing program.”
The most important thing, he says, is that the body can’t tell the difference between voluntary laughter, done in the absence of humorous stimuli, and natural laughter. Laughter releases endorphins, reduces stress, and brings oxygen to the body and brain. “It keeps your lungs properly aerated,” Kataria explains.
For laughter yoga, the goal is at least ten to 15 minutes of sustained laughter, with some breathing exercises in between. “Natural laughter doesn’t last that long,” he says. “We don’t have many reasons to laugh, but with this type of exercise, you laugh even when you don’t feel like it.” There are lots of free videos online to teach you how to do laughter yoga. (Here’s one with Dr. Kataria.)
He demonstrated with me, and, sure enough, you can laugh on command—especially when there is a jovial sounding laugh expert on the other end of the phone line. “See?” says Kataria, after a long chortlefest. “In laughter yoga, you really exhale and get a lot of carbon dioxide out. The first exercise is to breathe in, and laugh. Hold the breath, and then laugh it out.”
Kataria suggests trying to “fake it until you make it.” One way to get started is to have a laugh challenge and laugh for one minute before lunch or dinner.
He also suggests turning routine experiences or chores—like doing the dishes, cleaning the house, taking a shower—into an opportunity to laugh and breathe.
In the 25 years he’s been practicing laughter yoga, Kataria says, he’s become a changed person. “I was a serious doctor who hardly ever laughed, and now I can laugh anytime, anywhere. I’m laughing much more than I used to. I don’t get sick. My immune system has gotten stronger.”
He also noticed changes in his attitude. “I became more extroverted. And I don’t get irritated as easily by little things. It’s a spiritual thing too—laughter. When you laugh, you give joy. That’s the outcome. If you can raise your spirit and raise that of those around you, it’s spiritual. Unconditional laughter brings physical, social, and mental benefits. Please, laugh every day.”
Want to dive deeper? Read more about laughter as medicine.