Laughing is good exercise: it forces you to contract your diaphragm and 300 other muscles in your body. Laughing for 15 minutes every day can help you lose two kilograms a year, according to the International Journal of Obesity. Whether spontaneous or induced, every burst of laughter releases a flow of endorphins that makes you feel better, both physically and mentally. Babies learn to laugh when they’re three months old. By the age of four, children are on average laughing 300 times per day; most adults only manage 20. Laugh more.
On an assembly line in Maya Puri, an industrial district of New Delhi, India, about 30 men work night and day producing car and truck batteries.
This is Sparco Batteries Private Limited, where the workers are paid an average of 40 rupees (US$0.80) an hour, have a bare minimum of space in which to operate, and can’t communicate with each other because of the noise. All things considered, they don’t have much to laugh about. Nonetheless, it’s 4.30pm on a normal workday and they’re giggling and playing “Ring a Ring o’ Roses” between the machines.
“Laugh is not outside; laugh is inside,” explains Jiten Kohi, 45, standing in the middle of the ring. “Once you are ready to laugh, you can laugh with anything.” Ten years ago, Jiten embraced hasya yoga, a technique that combines yogic breathing with laughter, and he is now one of the most famous practitioners in India. Since it started in Mumbai, in 1995, hasya yoga, commonly called laughing yoga, has spread to 60 countries worldwide, including Zimbabwe, Israel and Vietnam, where it is practiced en masse by members of the Vietnamese People’s Army.
Jiten’s session with the workers at Sparco Batteries follows the same rules as any of the world’s 6,000 official laughter clubs. After a series of breathing and chanting drills, he asks the group to perform several laughing exercises. Particularly popular are the Visa Bill Laugh (a choking, incredulous eruption) and the One-Meter Laugh, which involves measuring an imaginary fabric, then bursting into laughter when it’s one-meter long. The laughter exercises are all jokes, after a fashion. They’re not particularly funny, but it doesn’t matter.
“Once you are ready to laugh, you can laugh with anything”
Jiten Kohi, 45, laughter yogi, New Delhi, India
“Fake it,” says Jiten. “Fake it until you make it. We are just motivating them to start. Within a fraction of a second it will convert into a natural laugh.” At the beginning of the session, the factory workers at Sparco Batteries appear disorientated. Some cross their arms instead of clapping and repeating “very good,” as the exercise demands. Others look questioningly at their workmates. But when one of them jumps in the middle of the ring and starts dancing with Jiten, everybody goes wild. This is precisely Jiten’s plan – laughter is laughter, however it comes about.
“Scientifically, the benefit is the same,” he explains, “whether it’s a spontaneous laugh or a laugh by exercise.” These benefits are widely recognized: researchers in Athens, Greece, found that people with a strong propensity to laugh are less likely to have heart attacks; a study at Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, Iran, prescribed laughter yoga to depressed elderly women, with good results; and tests at Moriguchi-Keijinkai Hospital in Osaka, Japan, found that showing new mothers a Charlie Chaplin film (specifically, Modern Times) to make them laugh increased levels of melatonin in their breast milk, making their babies better able to cope with allergic conditions such as eczema. The principle is simple – laughing forces you to breathe with your diaphragm, opening your lungs, oxygenating your blood, and lowering your levels of stress hormones, while muscles spasming in the abdomen trigger release of endorphins.
Jiten knows laughter yoga won’t necessarily lead to permanent happiness. “Working conditions won’t be changed,” he says, “but definitely the satisfaction level will increase. Say a person makes 100 pieces of one product. If he does laughter yoga, he can make 150 or 120.” So while the workers might be feeling happier temporarily, it’s Ranjit Sain Tuli, the factory owner, who has the last laugh.
Videomaker: Boris Austin
Video Editor: Lea Dicursi
How to laugh
More than 6,000 laughter clubs have been set up in over 60 countries, so here’s how to start your own. Gather some people and choose a Laughter Leader. Begin with some deep-breathing exercises, followed by the mantra (see right). Then mill around for a minute or so, laughing the designated laugh to each other until the Laughter Leader says stop. Repeat the mantra; choose another laugh. There are 40 official international laughs, but it is rumored that more than 2,000 new laughs have been invented by Laughter Leaders worldwide.
Swing your body from side to side, chanting “Ho! Ho! Ha! Ha! Ha!” three times, clapping your palms at each syllable. Standing upright, shout “Very good! Very good! Yeah!” twice. Clap for each “very good,” and throw your hands up into the air for the “yeah!”
Put one arm out (the trunk), reach under it with your other arm and pinch your nose. Bellow with laughter.
Open your palms close to your ears, put out your tongue and laugh as loud as you can. Roar, even.
Hold your forearms horizontally, together over your face. When you bump into someone, open your “shell” and laugh in their face.
Shuffle around the room with your arms by your sides and your feet together, cackling with glee.
Lean back and rub stress away from your body under an imaginary power shower, while laughing maniacally.
Unroll your invisible floss, gently insert into one ear and pull out the other side. Floss your brain with laughter.
Pour imaginary milk into imaginary coffee, then pour the coffee back into the milk. Drink with an explosive chuckle.
Laughing constantly, take an imaginary ladle and begin cheerfully stirring a huge bowl of laughter soup.
With wide smiles, crazy laughter and complex hand gestures, direct your colleagues as if they were traffic.
Answer your imaginary mobile phone and listen to the funniest thing you’ve ever heard. Swing from side to side with delight.
Resolve conflicts, real or imaginary, by chuckling while shaking your finger admonishingly at other members of the group.
Empty your pockets and rejoice as you see that they’re empty; it can’t get worse than this.
Stretch out your arms and put them together, then pull one back as if holding a bow. Shoot your laugh.
Hold your imagined handlebars and press the imaginary pedal until the engine starts. Drive among your friends screaming with joy.
Take position, focus, lift both arms as if holding a club and tee off your best laugh.
Put both hands in front of your mouth and start blowing, blowing, blowing, until you burst into uncontrollable hysterics.