The Joy of Laughter Yoga, by Dr. YooWho
Dr. Kataria, in fine Indian clothes and shaved head, is rolling on the floor in stomach clutching hysterics as his workshop participants engage in similar laughter. The explosion slowly dies down, with numerous mini bursts of laughter from around the room. Two minutes later Dr. Kataria is telling everyone to relax and breath. One person will issue a burst of pent up hilarity escapes from a participant sending the entire chorus back into waves of laughter. Dr. Kataria has urged them as laughter leaders to engage in eye contact with all their laughers, and I notice lots of connections of bright eyed gazes. The collective laughter is quite generous, something out of most comics’ dreams.
I sit on the outer edge of a tight floor seated semicircle facing Dr. Kataria. enjoying the immersion into laughter yet somehow unable to summon up the energies. At the beginning of laughter meditation we do three series of an exercise where we all do a ha ha ho ho energetic mantra propelled by flat palmed arm thrusts slightly outwards on ha ha and downwards on ho ho. These accelerate as we increase the rhythm of the laughter exercise. Dr. Kataria has instructed that 3 series is enough to generate laughter. I have a pleasant buzz, however my curiosity has won over my participative desire, and I find myself more of an observer as laughter spreads around the circle facing Dr. Kataria.
I observe moments where the group connects in great waves of laughter where most everyone is laughing. Then there are momentary disconnects, and reconnects, then after a few minutes it begins to die down to smaller pockets of laughter. There, Dr. Kataria asks everyone to relax and breathe, at this point in the cycle, someone would break the quiet with a suppressed explosion of laugh, can’t help themselves. The infectious nature of that arouses the general funny which generates new waves of laughter. This happened three or four times in a row, the group welcoming the new waves with enthusiasm. Childhood memories of great laughing spells with my brothers, with childhood friends are called up by the laughter meditation session; reminding of moments when it was so funny that it was hard to stop laughing, and one little suggestive burst, even an outtake of breath, even a sideways glance was enough to send all into hysterics for another minute or two.
Dr. Kataria has generously invited me to sit in on the laughter meditation session, in the morning session of the 4th day of a 5 day laughter yoga teacher training session being held at Harbin Hot Springs. I have been hearing about Laughter Clubs, and Laughter Yoga for a number of years. A flick of the Harbin Hot Springs catalogue the day before made me aware of his nearby presence; only 2 hours away, although a random traffic incident/back-up made it 40 minutes more.
I run into the Laughter Yoga Doctor on the quiet road that traverses the backside of Harbin. I have just set up my tent, he is returning to the conference center after a walk. “Come” he says with open arms as I stop the car to talk to him on the little Harbin road.. . After a hug, he graciously invites me to come eat dinner with the group.
Dr. Kataria, who is a medical doctor, has been doing laughter yoga since he first started the laughter club in 1995. The medical values of laughter, and it’s usefulness as a rapid ‘destressor’ is quite amazing. Dr. Kataria tells me of several studies that have been completed. Numbers are what people want to see he tells me, proof. I don’t doubt that for a second. He is on a crusade for laughter yoga, dedicating all his energy to expanding the reach of laughter yoga. His goal he explains is to create more peace in the world by encouraging people to connect with their joy through laughter.
We discuss the nature of humor and laughter, territories where many purveyors of laughter venture. Unlike comics, comedians or clowns, Dr. Kataria has a unique approach to the matter. It goes something like this:
Create laughter through physical inducement, rather that through humor. This has medical benefits whether or not they are laughing about something funny. This laughter will stimulate and open up people’s sense of humor. Then they will be engaging in joyful play with laughter.
As we discuss, Dr. Kataria explains his view of the relationship between humor and laughter-that they feed each other, linked on opposite sides of a circle. As he talks, he explains with his hands something like this
I take this thought home with me, because despite all the laughter and joy in the room, there is something about laughter yoga that is not quite sitting right with me. An intuitive feeling you might say. It has to do with Dr. Kataria’s theories about humor and laughter. For practitioners of sacred mischief, it is perhaps of interest.
In Dr. Kataria’s view, laughter has two basic forms:
-one that comes from the perception that something is funny, so the impulse comes from the brain.
-the other is from the body, from the heart, it is innate and generated by a joyful state. if I am understanding Dr. Kataria correctly, laughter and joy is what he is after.
His book is called “Laugh for no Reason”, and again if I am understanding correctly, this joyful laugh is available without the stimulus of something funny to trigger it.
Dr. Kataria’s finds that by physically laughing, we awaken our sense of humor. I certainly had that impression during the laughter meditation session when it seemed that a heightened awareness of funny was alive in the momentum of so much laughter, and the slightest gesture or sound invested with a sense of funny would trigger the next wave of laughter.
What also struck me in that moment is the richness of that laughter, the positive nature of experience for this group of people letting go with laughter, caught up in hysterics. How often does life these days offer opportunities to laugh. Isn’t that also one of the impetuses towards the spread of laughter clubs. Do you laugh out loud in front of your TV?
I admit to having been a little confused when Dr. Kataria told me that through laughter one ‘develops one’s sense of humor’, which he likened to unblocking a clogged pipe. I told him that I prefer to think of it as opening one’s sense of humor, which seems to be what is arm gestures were implying.
Halfway through this article I feel obliged to make a certain confession, I am biased one could say, and not a completely objective reporter. Not talking about my performer status, however it is a series of e-mails that I traded with one of Dr. Kataria’s disciples that runs laughter clubs there. He kept insisting that babies laugh for no reason. I kept insisting that babies laugh because they find something funny.
This is a point I am not too sure about, this idea of laughing for no reason; the idea that babies do that inately. I would still suggest that a baby embodies their sense of joy in response to interior or exerior impulse, perhaps their sense of funny, and that laughter is the result. There is a reason.
Personal experience around babies is that when I offer up a ‘humorfull’ joyful energy n a chanel that they can click into, they embrace it with their own and respond.
About Dr. Kataria’s perception of the linkage between humor and laughter, it’s a little puzzling. As a performer, someone whose objective is levity, Doctor YooWho ( guess who) sees it somewhat differently:
Laughter is triggered by one’s sense of humor, they are intimately linked. A state of joy is also capable of triggering laughter. One’s sense of joy and sense of humor live in the same place.
Dr. YooWho… …also believes that human’s have many different forms of laughter. He proposes that one’s sense of humor reacts differently if the humor comes from language or physical impulses. In one case the receptor is the eyes, the other the ears. Do they have the same pathway to the brain? “ The eyes are the window of the soul” and the ears are ??
Then there is voice and the emotional qualities that a tone of voice contains, and how that affects the listener’s perception of the humorous moment. Sometimes the sound of a voice is funny, or the exaggeration of emotional qualities in the voice trigger one’s funny bone.
Dr. YooWho in the past proposed theories that there is laughter that comes from each body chakra.
Recently Dr. YooWho has been considering a new theory, that there is laughter based in mind and laughter based in the heart. This theory was thrown a looper by ( Zen) Roshi Egyoku who suggested that one should think in terms of Kokoro, or heart-mind, rather than mind and heart separately. Dr. YooWho has adjusted his theory for the zen-minded to suggest that there is laughter based in thought, and laughter based in being.
Is this akin to Dr. Kataria’s dualism of perception and joy.
Does one have to transcend dualism of laughter in order to become enlightened?
One can laugh at good fortune, and at misfortune.
So Dr YooWho is convinced that not all laughter was created equal. There is laughter and then there is laughter. Laughter that is generated by a heart warming experience has a different effect on one’s psyche than laughter that comes from a crass joke.
Just last weekend, during an informal discussion between professional variety performers after a group show at the Portland Juggling Festival, one conversational moment that stood out:
“Did you hear that laugh that David got? That was no ha ha laugh, that was a heartfull laugh! It had a really warm feeling about it.” That was a great laugh.
Well why rely on the theories of Drs. Kataria and YooWho?
Neurobiologist Robert R. Provine discovered that no scientist had ever looked into the weird, uncontrollable, and very human phenomenon of laughter(amazon.com blurb). He has written a book about it following extensive research. If you don’t want to read the whole book, there is :
Robert Provine, his article “The Science of Laughter” in Psychology Today.
A trip to Dr. Kataria’s laughter yoga website is full of research on laughter.
Regardless of research and theories, Dr. YooWho certainly thinks that Dr. Kataria’s Laughter Yoga is of great value to humanity, and is most thankful for his presence on the planet and all the laughter that he is generating. The world it seems is always in need of less fear, and more joy and laughter so it is a good thing. There is still a nagging sense of things not sitting quite right. Dr. YooWho remains in the belief zone that laughter generated by an emotional impulse inside has different quality than laughter generated from physical exercises. Even if you end up in the same place, it didn’t come from the same place. The laughter may have all these wonderful physical benefits, however it is not necessarily touching that deep inside. However, on the whole,Laughter is Good, Beneficial to Humans and Humanity.
Disclaimer. Dr. YooWho attempts non sectarianism here by declining to attempt to define what mysterious force blesses most every human being with a sense of humor.
Dr. YooWho also declines to theorize on what twists certain tortured soul’s sense of humor towards the sadistic or hurtful state of being that finds humor in other’s deep pain or misfortunes.