Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 4, Issue 25, Tuesday June 26, 2007




Laughter therapy: Grin and bear it

These are stressful times. From the child who struggles to excel academically and cope with peer pressure to the adult juggling home, family and work responsibilities, tension has become a fixture of our times. Despair, anxiety and depression have also raised their heads. No fear, help is at hand. The panacea comes in the form of laughter therapy-loud, uninhibited laughter that can alleviate stress besides combating diseases, strengthening the immune system, promoting muscle relaxation, pain reduction and cardiac exercise. Also the technique expands the lungs and helps asthma, migraine and cancer patients while reduces blood pressure and deals with diabetes.

The first Sunday of May was celebrated as World Laughter Day. In Delhi's estimated 44 laughter clubs, groups of people gathered to celebrate the day. One such spot was Nehru Gardens where 1,000 people gathered to practice hasya (laughter) yoga. The scene was repeated across India's approximately 400 clubs.

Explaining the pluses of the therapy, laughter therapist, Vastu consultant and Reiki master Anil Madhyani says, “Laughter is a mind blowing therapy effective for everybody. It can be used by individuals, in hospitals, schools, colleges, companies, senior citizen homes and even in jails.” Madhyani has put this into practice and he seeks to introduce the therapy in Indian organisations such as Narayan Seva Sansthan (Udaipur), Vimhans Hospital (Delhi), Akanksha Hospital, Spinal Injuries Centre, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute (all in Delhi), Godhuli Senior Citizens Home (Dwarka), Can Support and Akshay Pratishtan School, both also in Delhi.

The feedback? Madhyani has received a pat on his back from the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute where he recently conducted laughter therapy sessions for doctors and nurses. Another positive experience was the Narayan Seva Sansthan where polio patients reported a relief in pain. He has just concluded a summer camp in Gurgaon, where he trains 40 students in three groups in the age bracket of 8 years to 16 years. Now on the anvil are laughter therapy sessions at the Air Force Bal Bharti School where he will introduce the technique to students from Class 3-5.

Madhyani points out that laughter therapy comprises 77 exercises ranging from yoga and aerobics to pranayam (breathing exercises). Among the laughing exercises are deep breathing laugh, silent laugh, belly laugh, lion laugh and even the interestingly named cell phone laugh, double shake hand laugh, namaste laugh and forgiveness laugh.

Those individuals who have opted for the laughter therapy report superb results. Says Shyam Chopra, “Laughing without reason is possible only in laughter clubs, when you laugh in a group with others and not at others. This can go a long way as a catalyst for change in one's attitude and health barometer.” Another votary is Priyanjana Ghosh, senior consultant with Youth Reach in Delhi, who learnt the technique from Madhyani when he conducted a small session in the office of this NGO. “ With laughter, hand and body movements it is possible to alleviate stress.”

The pioneer of the concept of laughter clubs in India is Dr Madan Kataria, a Mumbai-based general practitioner. As founder of Laughter Club International, he has initiated over 300 laughter clubs over India. Working on the premise that laughter is a therapy for the body and the mind, these clubs conduct regular group laughter sessions.

And the positive effects of laughter are backed by scientific studies. Researchers at the University College London have found that laughter reduces cortisol level of stress hormones, while keeping the heart rate stable and healthy, easing blood circulation and reducing the effects of diabetes in the body. In addition it increases oxygen intake because when one laughs heartily, every muscle becomes active and releases toxins from the body. Also it helps one focus since one can only do one thing at a time-laugh or think. Apparently the ideal time frame for laughter is 15-20 minutes daily.

Humour therapy has been widely accepted in the West. Remember the film Patch Adams where Robin Williams plays the role of the eponymous hero who develops laughter therapy over 35 years at the Gesundheit Institute in Virginia, USA. Adams helps many patients, including those terminally ill, to recover their laughter and thereby improve their quality of life. Each year Adams organises a group of volunteers from all over the world to travel to Russia as clowns and to bring joy and hope to orphans, patients and people.

Though oft repeated, the adages of 'Laughter is the best medicine' and 'Laughter is contagious' still clearly reign supreme.

British writer and editor Dan White who attended a laughter session at an urban park in Mumbai at the unearthly hour of 4 am is a good spokesperson for this therapy. Starting with 'Birdy laughter' which involves running around flapping one's arms, the group then goes on to argumentative laughter in which the protagonists look at each other with mock seriousness and wag their fingers.

“Lion laughter is the one that really gets everyone going, says White, light heartedly concluding with the statement, “This is where you stick your tongue out as far as it will go and then laugh your head off. I don't know what relationship this has to the wild beasts of the African plain who probably only laugh when they are searing the flesh of a brutally murdered Zebra; but never mind. It makes me feel good.”

By Kavita Charanji

On A Different Note

Change of view

For the past 24 years I have been living in America as a second generation immigrant, and had considered myself as an American first and Bangladeshi second. I grew up loving the western views on the world and had a strong distaste of Bangladeshi views. One could call me the typical arrogant American who thinks that they are better than everyone else.

Growing up I used to visit Bangladesh every few years and witnessing first hand the poverty, the filth on the streets and especially the living conditions of the poor was enough to validate my point of view.

Many of the above mentioned views I had were made during my adolescence. Looking back now, I am appalled at how much of an elitist I was. Recently I visited the Bangladesh National Museum and it left me with a lasting impression. There were two sections of the museum that stood out to me, the paintings of Zainul Abedin on the 1943 famine and the photos of the Liberation War. Seeing the despair and the struggles of Bangladesh to become an independent nation was quite impressive and depressing at the same time. For the first time I felt proud to be a Bangladeshi. How could I not be? Seeing my people fighting for their dear lives, just to survive, was a very endearing moment for me. There is always a moment in ones life that changes they way one sees the world. For me it was that moment. In that instant, I was able to overlook all the flaws that I had always focused on while growing up. The fact that Bangladesh was able to overcome so much adversity and achieve what it has was quite remarkable.

It is amazing and somewhat ironic that a country that has been through so much anguish, has the most hospitality of all the countries I have been to. In America, every time my friends had relatives staying at their houses, they were extremely upset. They could not understand why their relatives would put them at such an imposition and not stay at a hotel. They seemed to ignore the fact that they had empty bedrooms to spare. In Bangladesh, the attitudes towards guests are quite different. From what I have seen in Bangladesh, it does not matter how poor you are, or how small your house is, guests are always welcomed with open arms. Not only are they welcomed, they are treated like royalty.

In fact, I am treated so well everywhere I go, I usually feel embarrassed, feeling that I do not deserve this much hospitality. It does not matter if they have never met me or if they were extremely poor. Everyone makes me feel like I am a part of their family.

While many may see Bangladesh as a third world country, I see a country with limitless potential. I am not saying Bangladesh does not have its troubles, it does. I just don't dwell on the negative qualities as strongly as I used to. It was not too long ago that I used to think a nation was great based on its wealth, but now I have realised the true measurement of a nation should be based on its people.

By Leon Khan


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