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Laughter As Medicine

A growing number of people in India say they've discovered the secret to health and happiness. It's free, and best results obtained in large crowds - literally, the more, the merrier. Lucy Craft traveled to southern India recently to test-drive one of the fastest-growing health crazes.

Some people get up early to do a few laps. But in India, tens of thousands say they've found a better way to keep body and mind fit: they flock to parks to work out by cracking up. It looks like organized lunacy, but make no mistake - these mirth-a-thons are serious business.

They're called "laughter clubs." Proponents claim heavy doses of hilarity keep the blues - and even illness - at bay. "It rejuvenates the body, takes care of the emotional system of the body," says one man. "We look at life in a more contented way."

According to another man, "A person would not normally laugh at home, because people might think he's mad. So, the individual laugh situations are much fewer at home. When a person comes to the club, they can laugh together, so he will not feel ashamed."

Laughter clubs were started about a decade ago by an Indian doctor who decided that laughter was the best medicine. Now there are thousands of these clubs both here and in India and around the world.

Guffaws on cue, as the antidote to stress? It sounds like a joke - but I decided to join in. There is method to this madness, and for an hour, I marched through the laughter club's drills.

We practiced something called the "machine gun laugh", the "teasing laugh" and the "hot soup laugh". The bizarre ritual made me feel like an extra in a horror movie, but laugh-a-holics swear that working out their funny bones works up a sweat and promotes overall well-being. They feel it's good for just about anything from arthritis to insomnia. According to one woman "Cosmetically, it will help. You get fewer wrinkles." Another person, a retired engineer, claims he was having knee pain and now he can walk easily.

The birthplace of yoga, breathing exercises and lifestyle gurus was a natural for giving the world a refresher course in hilarity, demonstrating once again, the simple pleasures of a good laugh.

By Lucy Craft

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