2010.09.29 Ha, ha, ho ho ho

Written by David Green.

The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.” -Mark Twain

By DAVID GREEN

I watched a video of a ritual in India where babies are thrown off a temple in order to bring good health and fortune.

They drop about 50 feet onto a sheet held by a circle of men. There’s one person below—perhaps the father—who catches the child after the first bounce and whisks it away. Then the next baby is tossed.

Good luck indeed. Supposedly there have been no fatalities in 500 years of the practice.

I read about an Indian man who claims to transfer divine energy through his feet. He claims to cure young children of respiratory ailments by standing on their necks. He’s been arrested.

Another man claims to cure any ailment, including cancer, by beating the patient. Kicks, punches, standing on the head—he says he has special healing powers that are delivered through physical violence.

Oddly enough, all of his patient/victims are women. He’s not in jail only because he managed to leave town when the police were on the way.

So it comes with great relief to talk about the Laughing Guru. There have probably been many laughing gurus over the centuries, but it’s Dr. Madan Kataria who caught my attention recently in a New Yorker magazine article.

Kataria teaches people to laugh, not that there’s much to learn. But he wants you to laugh when there’s really not much to laugh about, so it does take a little study.

He doesn’t want people to rely on humor to laugh, so instead they practice fake laughter. That might seem a little silly, but that’s the point. It gets silly enough that sooner or later, everyone is laughing for real.

There are many splinter laugh groups and there’s even a yogi in California who claims that he started laugh yoga (just ask his Hollywood agent).

Dr. Kataria can laugh the others off. He’s the leading laugher, and though he has a staff of only nine people and an annual budget of about $60,000, he’s led the formation of thousands of laughter clubs in 66 countries.

There’s no fee. There are no rules. Just stop in and laugh for a while.

Kataria was trained as a physician, but never had a successful practice. At one point he started a magazine to give medical advice and he planned to write a story about Norman Cousins who claimed to have laughed his way out of a degenerative disease. If laughter is so good, Kataria thought, why not start laughter clubs?

He went out the next morning asking people to laugh with him. Instead, they laughed at him or just declined. He came up with four men who got together and told jokes. The group grew to 50 people in a week.

They soon ran out of good jokes and turned to dirty jokes. It wasn’t going as the doctor envisioned, so he told the club that tomorrow they would laugh without jokes.

He read something from an American writer about going through the motions of happiness, like the power of positive thinking. That would serve as a start, Kataria thought, and it worked.

There’s no strong science behind the connection of laughter and health, but there are hints that it’s a good relationship. The best that can be shown so far is that laughter can briefly relieve physical pain, although scientists don’t know why it works.

Kataria says your body doesn’t know if laughter is real or fake. It works either way.

I remember thinking several years ago—probably after I read about Cousins—that I should wake up laughing. I needed to hang something from the ceiling over my bed so I would see it the first thing in the morning, but I never came up with the right item. Maybe a laughter club would do the trick.

I sat down next to my wife on the couch last week and started in with Kataria’s “ha, ha, ho ho ho” and making silly faces. We laughed a little, but Colleen wasn’t having it. She told me later it was actually a little frightening, a little demonic.

“Fake doesn’t matter,” I reminded her, but she quickly—and with no humor—said, “I don’t believe that.”

It looks as though I’ll be laughing alone, and that really seems demonic.

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