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Delirium: Mumbai

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62919.  Thu Mar 30, 2006 3:54 pm Reply with quote

Stephen looks straight at Alan, laughs in a very forced and stylised manner for several seconds; then stops, and asks his question:

There, Alan - do you feel better for that?
- or, more straightforwardly, and without the preamble:
What do they laugh at in Mumbai?
- in which case:

English cricketers.

Everything, anything, and nothing at all.

We’re talking about the Laughing Clubs of Mumbai - groups of keep-fit enthusiasts who meet in parks and other open spaces all over the Indian city of Mumbai/Bombay, first thing in the morning, for the purpose of getting the day off to a good start with a laugh.

The movement was founded by Dr Madan Kataria, who has spoken of his mission to bring to the world “the healing power of laughter and” - oddly enough - “sensible living.” There are dozens of Laughing Clubs in Mumbai, and hundreds more around the world, under the leadership of Laughter Clubs International, which also runs a research programme into the health and other benefits of laughter. Sadly, a few clubs have failed to thrive, it seems, because of a lack of proper leadership and motivation. Obviously, this is a pretty serious business, and there’s no point going into it just for a giggle.

Kataria was a writer on self-help medicine, and a former hospital doctor. It was while researching the literature on the health benefits of laughing that he came up with the idea of the clubs. On March 13 1995, he invited four people to stand in a corner of a public park in Mumbai with him, and start laughing.

Unbelievably, the laughers met with initial ridicule. However, once the doctor had explained that it was all to do with health, the laughter stopped (if you see what I mean), and the ranks of the club grew.

At first, the laughers would stand in a circle, and one of their number would go to the centre and tell a joke or anecdote. The health-seekers would enjoy 10 or 20 minutes of first-thing hilarity, and would feel the benefit all day.

Problems arose within just a couple of weeks, however: they ran out of decent jokes. Dirty stories, gags which insulted particular groups, and hurtful humour began to creep in. This was off-putting for a lot of club members, “especially the ladies.” What to do? Obviously, it was impossible to come up with fresh jokes 365 days a year. Let alone clean ones. Even if they'd hired Stephen Fry, they'd have run out of anecdotes after the first thirty years or so.

The Doc went back to the chuckling-board, and came up with a plan for joke-free laughter - “a beautiful package of stimulated, simulated laughters.” He identified various types of laughter which the group could use, including:

- hearty laugh
- silent laugh with mouth wide open
- jumping laugh with mouth closed
- medium laugh
- jhoola laugh
- cocktail laugh
- arm-swinging laugh
- one meter laugh.

Each laughter lasts about 30-45 seconds, between which the laughers practice breathing and stretching exercises. A whole laughing session lasts about 15-20 minutes. The “sensible living” recommended by the doctor includes paying people compliments, and asking regular forgiveness for overdeveloped egos which can cause many of life’s problems and prevent laughter.

Kataria’s laughter clubs are free, non-sectarian, and open to everyone. There are no forms to fill in, no formalities - you simply stand with the others and laugh with them, and you're a member.

The doctor offers these tips for anyone wanting to start their own Laughter Club:
- Choose a spot away from “residential complexes,” preferably outdoors, to avoid causing disturbance.
- Start the sessions between 6 and 7 in the morning, ideally combining them with a morning walk. Pollution levels are lowest in the morning, which lets you take advantage of fresher air. And a morning laugh session will “energize your body and charge you with happiness.”
- Your group should start with at least 25 people; the more people, the easier it is to laugh.
- If your new group is in India, Kataria will send a team of experts to help you laugh. They will demonstrate the techniques of Laughter Therapy and train some of your members as Anchor Persons, who are responsible for initiating the various kinds of laughter. The Laughter Clubs aim to encourage “inner laughter” as well as physical laughter. They end their meetings by chorusing the credo: “I am the healthiest person in the world, I am the happiest person in the world because I am a Laughter Club member.”

Extra, If Not Actually Excessive Notes:
It’s said that the Australian cricket team finally managed to win a series in India - cricket’s most elusive prize - after batsman Matthew Hayden was awoken at dawn by a group of men, gathered outside his hotel, laughing in chorus. He discovered that they did this every morning, and that there were hundreds of similar groups, all over India. From that moment on, legend has it, Hayden and his colleagues abandoned their traditional view of India - as a “hard tour” in an alien land - and began simply to enjoy it for what it was. Their play was transformed, and they won their greatest-ever victory.

One convert tried to start a Laughter Club in a basement in St Louis, Missouri:

“The attendance has been relatively low, White says, but that has to do with people's comfort level. Some people simply do not like to laugh out loud in the presence of others. ‘But the rest of them can hear us laugh. And they can laugh at us. They know what we are doing and they think it is funny. So they get the benefit as well.’

There is apparently an ancient Buddhist tradition of starting the day with forced laughter, though Kataria says he wasn't aware of it. Some Buddhists teach that, upon waking, one should lie in bed laughing for between five and fifteen minutes. (Possibly not on your first day in the Royal Marines, though.)

On the 11th January 1998, World Laughter Day, more than 10,000 laughers from all over India gathered at the Race Course in Mumbai to “tell the whole world that we need to take laughter seriously.”

Dr K teaches international workshops in “Laughter Yoga.” During the course, students visit various cities to witness laughter therapy amongst prisoners. He’s the author of a book, Laugh for no reason.

And just to make it all nice and scientific, here’s a great statistic:
“A German Psychologist, Dr. Michael Titze did a study that showed that in the 1950's people used to laugh 18 minutes a day, but today we laugh not more than 6 minutes per day despite the huge rise in the standard of living.
[Possible alternative question: What did we get 18 minutes a day of in the 1950s, and only six minutes a day of now?”]

Links to:
Differences (between different cultures’ keep-fit preferences)
Days (post 58705)

Picture ideas:
Picture of an Indian person looking as glum as possible.


62941.  Thu Mar 30, 2006 5:31 pm Reply with quote

I quite like the alternative question, especially in view of the name of the guy who did the research. Googling him just gives page after page baldly repeating the same assertion, though.

62999.  Fri Mar 31, 2006 5:41 am Reply with quote

Here is Titze's website FYI.

63042.  Fri Mar 31, 2006 9:08 am Reply with quote

... entitled "Therapeutischer Humor". No wonder we're all laughing less.


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