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.”


Azzedine Alaia exhibition at London’s Design Museum captures the essence of his creative spirit

Updated 27 min 31 sec ago
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Azzedine Alaia exhibition at London’s Design Museum captures the essence of his creative spirit

LONDON: For lovers of fashion, a visit to the Azzedine Alaia exhibition, showing at London’s Design Museum until 7 October, is a must. Looking at the wonderful displays there is a sense of loss at his passing in November last year, but this is a great retrospective of the Tunisian designer’s life and work, which allows you to go right up to the garments on display and take in the breathtaking quality and detail of Alaia’s designs.

Alaia, born in 1935, trained as a sculptor at the School of Fine Art in Tunis. That background is evident in many of his figure-hugging designs — particularly the stunning, pared-down evening gowns.

When you look at the super slim-line garments on display it can be a bit disheartening when you see the tiny hips and waists. It makes you think of the remark attributed to Wallis Simpson: “You can never be too rich or too thin.”

But Alaia’s world was not for ordinary mortals — it was an extraordinary place for beautiful people living a dream. In the film made by Ellen von Unwerth during the preparation, staging and aftermath of an Alaia show in 1990, you see Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen  and Christy Turlington at the height of their beauty and fame reminding us of the ‘supermodel’ era, when these women dominated the international tabloid press.

Alaia himself said, “I make clothes, women make fashion.” And you only have to think of stars such as Rihanna and Penelope Cruz wearing his designs on the red carpet to understand what he means.

The film of models walking in his designs is mesmerising – each model is filmed in sequence with close up shots of what she is wearing — an excellent way of showing the fabrics, cut, patterns and innovation and how they are all brought alive through movement. Alaia’s designs flatter the female form and seem enhance women’s beauty.

The influence of Arab architecture is evident in some of his designs. His use of lace and perforated fabrics, especially broderie anglaise and punched or laser-cut leather, recalls the mashrabiya.

His ability to transform leather into such a soft, wearable, high-fashion fabric was stunning to see up close.

Also notable was his avoidance of surface embellishment such as embroidery or applied decoration. Instead, Alaia keyed pattern into the very fabric of his garments, making it an integral part of their structure, altering both their weight and form.

His fascination with African influences is also evident in his use of unusual materials including flax rope, raffia, shells or Nile crocodile skin and animal patterns.

Alaia was also deeply inspired by Spanish culture — his earliest fashion memories were reportedly of the girls in Diego Velazquez’s 1656 paining, “Las Meninas” and his voluminous ball gowns evoke the formality of the hooped gowns of the Spanish royal court during that time. He also took inspiration from Spain’s vibrant folk costumes, as seen in the effusive flamenco-inspired ruffles of some of his designs.

Through the photographs mapping his life you get a sense of the creative process and hard work that went into his couture. You also realize that this was a man who was at the top of his profession for several decades.

The exhibition does a fine job of conveying Alaia’s creative energy, and reminds visitors that his legacy lives on in the inspiration his work provides for young designers today.