Laugh yourself to good health, says India’s giggling guru

Updated 30 November 2012
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Laugh yourself to good health, says India’s giggling guru

India’s “guru of giggling” Madan Kataria, who has got thousands of people guffawing globally in pursuit of better health, has an unexpected confession — he hasn’t got a very good sense of humor.
“But you don’t require one to laugh,” chortles Kataria, founder of “Laughter Yoga,” a movement that has attracted fans worldwide including celebrities Oprah Winfrey and Goldie Hawn.
Kataria — who travels constantly spreading his “laugh with no reason” gospel — has been hired by multinationals from computer giant Hewlett-Packard to automaker Volvo to hold team-building laughter sessions.
Now he is setting up a “Laughter University” in the southern city of Bangalore on land donated by a building contractor and $250,000 from an anonymous tycoon.
“In three months we will start building and by the end of 2013 we will be up and running. We want to build a worldwide community headquarters of laughter yoga,” he said.
Kataria envisions holding laughter sessions and conferences at the center and setting up an alternative medicine unit to expand medical knowledge about the beneficial health effects of laughter.
Studies already suggest laughter releases feel-good endorphins, the brain chemicals that are linked with a sense of wellbeing.
“Laughing is the healthiest thing you can do — it’s the best medicine,” said the towering, bald 58-year-old, whose movement has inspired thousands of “Laughter Clubs” in India and around the world from Beirut to Dublin.
Kataria also holds laughter sessions in schools, prisons, hospitals and retirement homes, and a few years ago testified before a US Senate committee that laughter yoga could help the country cut health care costs.
A qualified doctor, he hit upon medical literature advocating laughter as a stress-buster and remedy for other ailments. In 1995 he decided to “field-test” his findings before setting up the first of his clubs.
Kataria started with four strangers in a Mumbai park. They stood in a circle and “laughed like hyenas,” he recalled. Numbers soon swelled to around 50.
They recounted jokes but realized they didn’t have enough gags — then he found that the body was unable to distinguish between fake and genuine laughter with both producing the same “happy, healing chemistry.”
“Anyway, fake laughter turns into real laughter after a few moments. Try it,” he said.
He persuaded his group to laugh with him for one minute with no reason. It stretched into 10 minutes as the laughter turned infectious — and the Laughter Yoga movement was born.
“Laughter is more about social connection and bonding than something being funny,” Amit Sood, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in the United States, told AFP.
“Studies show all kinds of benefits from laughter from better immunity and coping skills, lower stress, better relationships to improved digestion,” he said.
Many Indian parks now host sessions every morning with peals of laughter ringing out from people standing in groups.
“It relaxes me. If I laugh in the morning, the rest of the day goes well,” said Lisa Singh, 39, one regular “laugher” in New Delhi.
Kataria, who runs his non-profit Laughter Yoga Institute with a dozen employees from his Mumbai home, says one needs a full 15-to-20 minutes of giggling daily to reap the full benefits. Researchers believe it may be the use of abdominal muscles in laughing that triggers the release of endorphins — a phenomenon also associated with exercise, such as running.
“It’s not enough to just watch a funny movie because you just laugh a few seconds at a funny line — you need to laugh for a stretch to get the rewards,” Kataria said.
Kataria was the youngest of 14 children from a poor farming family in the state of Punjab. Six siblings died as medical help was too far away and his mother set her heart on him becoming a doctor.
She sold her gold bangles so he could go to medical school. He qualified as a physician but was more drawn to acting and admits he was a “bit of a showman.”
“My family was rather disappointed — but now they have seen how big Laughter Yoga has become, they’re proud,” he said.
His talent to engage people came across at a recent financial analysts’ team-building session in New Delhi.
He stretched his arms out and led off with his signature “tee-hee, ho, ho” that finally gave way to unrestrained bellows.
There were a few nervous titters, then within minutes the room was engulfed by laughter and some people were wiping away tears.
“Laughter is contagious — like yawning,” said Kataria who intersperses the merriment with deep breathing yoga exercises and stretching.
“We need to laugh to help us deal with life, which can be very difficult,” he said, briefly sounding serious.
“When you laugh you’re joyful — you’re living in the moment.”


Celebrities born in the Arab world

Updated 21 April 2018
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Celebrities born in the Arab world

Arabs love to boast of any famous person who was born and/or raised in our homeland (or have even visited it). To help you out at your next dinner party, here’s a list of A-listers that were born in the MENA region.
Lebanon: Keanu Reeves
The “Matrix” trilogy star was born in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut on September 2, 1964 to an English mother and Asian-American father. He barely lived in Beirut before moving around with his family until his parents’ divorce when he was just three years old, but hey, Neo was one of us for a while.
Oman: Isla Fisher
The “Confessions of a Shopaholic” star was born in Muscat, where her father worked as a banker for the United Nations, in 1976. The family moved to Scotland before heading to Australia, where Fisher spent the majority of her childhood before finding fame on Aussie soap “Home and Away.”
Morocco: Jean Reno
The “Leon: The Professional” actor was born to Spanish parents in Casablanca in 1948 and lived there until the age of 17, when he left to study acting in France. The glum-faced thesp went on to star in several blockbusters, including “Mission Impossible,” “Godzilla,” and “The Pink Panther.”
Yemen: Eddie Izzard
The British comedian, actor and writer was born to English parents in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden. Izzard rose to fame in the 1990s with his surreal, good-natured stand-up, and has gone on to appear in a number of box-office Hollywood hits, including “Ocean’s 11” and “The Lego Batman Movie.”
Kuwait: Sanjeeda Sheikh
The Indian actress (pictured here with her husband Aamir Ali) was born in Kuwait in 1984. She moved to Mumbai to help a friend open a dance academy before landing the role of Nimmo in TV show “Kyaa Hoga Nimmo Kaa” in 2005. Sheikh recently starred in the romantic drama series “Love Ka Hai Intezaar.”
Saudi Arabia: Melora Walters
The US actress, perhaps best known for her role as Wanda Henrickson in the Emmy-winning, Mormon-baiting TV show “Big Love,” was born in Dhahran in 1960. The well-respected actress is a favorite of acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson, appearing in several of his movies.