Letter from India The Laughing Guru Madan Kataria’s prescription for total well-being. by Raffi Khatchadourian August 30, 2010
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ABSTRACT: LETTER FROM INDIA about Dr. Madan Kataria and laughter yoga. In the pantheon of celebrity doctors, Madan Lal Kataria has claimed for himself what is surely the strangest mantle. He is a physician who has transformed himself into the leader of an international movement that promotes laughter as a cure for just about any ailment - physical, psychological, or spiritual. He is known as the Guru of Giggling. Estimates of the number of people who engage regularly in Kataria’s exercises are as high as two hundred and fifty thousand, but there is really no way to gather precise figures. Kataria has said that in India alone there are six thousand laughter-yoga clubs. His clubs, like Tupperware parties, are not really his: the people who form them do so without centralized direction. Kataria sells his services as a public speaker and trainer for his own profit. That is how he earns his living. Writer travels to Bengaluru, India to witness a five-day laughter-yoga session given by Kataria to twenty-one trainees. “Laughter is a choice,” he said. “A connector of people. No barriers. No language.” Kataria told his trainees that laughter yoga “is based upon the scientific fact that, even if you laugh for the sake of laughing, even if you are pretend laughing, your body cannot tell the difference.” There is no such scientific fact, but the idea may contain elements of the truth. Discusses scientific studies of the health benefits of laughter and describes the difference between Duchenne (or involuntary) laughter and non-Duchenne (or voluntary) laughter. Kataria believes that true mirthful laughter can have a liberating, transformative effect—one that momentarily erases all practical concerns, fears, needs, and even notions of time, and provides a glimpse into spiritual enlightenment. Tells about Kataria’s youth in Punjab, his early career as a doctor in Mumbai, and his hopes to become an actor. In 1991, he started a magazine that offered medical advice to lay readers. In 1995, he decided to publish an article called “Laughter—The Best Medicine.” He tested the idea out by asking passersby in a public park if they wanted to laugh with him. Describes the evolution of the club and his decision not to make money from his idea. Considers whether laughter has curative powers and discusses research by Norman Cousins, Lee Berk, and others. At the moment, perhaps the most solid scientific argument one can make about laughter and healing is that it can briefly limit physical pain, though exactly how this works is not fully understood. Writer visits Kataria’s home in Mumbai. Discusses his plans to build an ashram to be called Laughter University.
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