The Laughter Story


The history of laughter yoga, which is the inspiration for our work with laughter, began in March 1995 with a medical doctor named Madan Kataria in Mumbai, India. The story of the origin of what is now a global health craze has been told many times. This telling offers an uncommon twist, placing the story in the context of hypnosis and setting the stage for the rest of this book.

As the story goes, Dr. Kataria was testing the premise that laughter is the best medicine. He gathered together a small group of people in a park where they told jokes and laughed. 

They did this each day for a short while and found that after a little bit of time the jokes wore thin, getting rude and nasty and raunchy. People weren't enjoying it quite as much. Even though the group had grown in numbers at first, participation began to decline. 

Not to be defeated, Dr. Kataria asked everyone to give him one more chance to make this work. 

He then did a little bit of research about what happens to the body physiologically when laughing. What he found was that the body and the brain work together to produce the same effects whether laughter is conditional (inspired by something funny) or unconditional - meaning laughter consciously initiated for the purpose of feeling good and improving health. 

This is very similar to what hypnotists have long understood: the body can't tell the difference between what is real and what is vividly imagined. The most current brain scanning technology supports this premise.

For example, when a person is in an fMRI machine (functional magnetic resonance imaging), parts of their brain will register similar activity whether they are exposed to an actual stimulus or it is hypnotically suggested that they imagine that stimulus. 

Similarly, with laughter, whether laughing at a joke or laughing unconditionally the brain produces what we call "happy hormones." These are dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. There is also a drop in production of the stress hormone cortisol. 

In our book, we explore in greater detail the ramifications of these particular biological changes. For now,  just note that the similarity between the premise in hypnosis and in laughter yoga is the inspiration for this book. 

So Dr. Kataria discovered through his research that even laughter that seemed to be for no reason would in fact reliably produce physiological changes known to have many health benefits. He went back to the group in the park and together they made funny faces and sounds simulating laughter. The laughter quickly became real and contagious.

Dr. Kataria recognized the role of the diaphragm in laughter and realized laughing can be a cardio workout all on its own. His wife is a traditional yoga instructor, which of course involves great emphasis on breathing. Thus, as the practice of unconditional laughter grew, it included more focus on the breath and took on the name laughter yoga, even though it does not involve the same kinds of stretching and posing.

Over time, different pretexts and games were created to inspire doing different types of laughs. We might laugh like Santa Claus or a dog or pretend to be a sprinkler watering the lawn. The variations are endless and in fact are constantly being augmented with new games or "laughter exercises." 

From that park in Mumbai, similar "laughter clubs" began springing up all around the world. Now 20 years later Dr. Kataria estimates there are more than 10,000 laughter clubs in over 100 countries. That qualifies as a health craze!

Note: Our book contains a wonderful transcript of Dave's personal interview with the incredible Dr. Kataria!

Dave Berman attended his first laughter yoga session in February 2009. It was a seated class for older adults at a senior center in Carlsbad, CA. Class was led that day by a couple named Gaga and Khevin Barnes. Afterward, Dave did a video interview with the instructors in which they mentioned their pioneering work leading laughter sessions multiple times each day for people around the world who call in to laugh together by telephone.

That party line is still used today:

Laughter by phone - (701) 432-3900, Code: 6071292#

More recently, a similar set of daily international laughter calls began happening on Skype:

Skype laughter club -

Meanwhile, in the years since attending that first class in Carlsbad, Dave became a devoted regular laughter yoga practitioner. In 2012, he became a certified laughter yoga leader and now combines the principles and techniques of unconditional laughter with hypnosis for his private hypnotherapy and coaching clients, as well as when leading group laughter programs.

The logical next step was presenting these beneficial strategies to other hypnotists and coaches, which he started doing at the HypnoThoughts Live conference in 2014. That's where Kelley Woods took notice and the idea for our Laughter For the Health of It book emerged.

Keep reading...