June 9, 2008
Laugh and the world laughs with you,
Weep and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
- Ella Wheeler Wilcox, US poet (1855-1919)
The sad old world has more trouble and tension since the above lines were penned. Beyond mirth, there is now an extra dimension to laughter as reflected in the famous vintage registered trademark of a popular column of Reader’s Digest - “Laughter, The Best Medicine”. Beyond the written jokes, like in Reader’s Digest, people laugh without the aid of laughing gas in thousands of laughter clubs which have mushroomed all over the world over the last thirty years. Initiated into India about 25 years ago, they are a rage in metro cities and have now made even tertiary cities, like Mangalore, their home. Laughter is now sought to be exploited as a tension-reliever and health restorer. Many anecdotal accounts and expert opinions support the positive contribution of laughter to better health.
The book, Chicken Soup for the Soul, notes that the famous writer, Norman Cousins, was diagnosed as “terminally ill” and given six months to live. He reasoned that if worry, depression and anger were the cause if his illness, can wellness be created by positivity? He resorted to laughter as a way out of his illness. He saw funny movies, read funny stories and asked friends to call whenever they said, heard or did something funny. He fully recovered and lived another 20 happy, healthy and productive years. Since Cousin’s groundbreaking subjective work, scientific studies have shown that laughter has curative effect on the body, mind and emotions. The book wryly observes that ‘Some diseases may be contagious, but none as contagious as the cure…laughter.
That people can laugh without the aid of laughing gas is demonstrated by numerous laughter clubs that are functioning in the metros and now percolated even to district towns. The Bondel Laughter Club in Mangalore has notched up over 1500 days of uninterrupted daily sessions (Sundays excluded) with scores of participants lustily laughing away with even more curious spectators cheering the laughter cracks from the sidelines.
Bondel Laughter Club came to Mangalore via Mumbai through me as its anchor and promoter. I have been an anchor for many years at the Gateway Laughter Club in downtown Mumbai. I had pioneered a laughter club for office fraternity at lunch break. It was an abridged executive package lasting 15 minutes conducted on the pavement of L&T House in the business district of Ballard Estate.
I was perhaps the first to bring laughter sessions to Mangalore. While on a holiday in Mangalore in mid-1990s, I conducted week-long laughter sessions in the evenings at the Lighthouse Hill Car Park, with help from traffic Pplice to secure the space. I also conducted demonstration sessions at the Roshni Nilaya College of Social Work and Hotel Taj Manjarun. Since my retirement and return to Mangalore in July 2000, I was keen on spreading laughter club culture in the city.
Bondel Laughter Club commenced its daily sessions, at 6.15 am and lasting 20 minutes, on December 8, 2002. Computer-generated hand bills were distributed to surrounding residents and morning walkers were buttonholed with request to participate. These sessions were held on local maidans.
Many types of laughter that are sequentially raised during a session. The session starts with a silent prayer followed by Aha-ha, Ho-hoe, in a clapping mode. Then there are a series of light exercises lasting about 7 minutes – a type of foreplay for the laughter proper. These include deep breathing, side bends, joints and eye exercises, fast breathing, stationary jogging and free floating. To catch one’s breath after these exercises there is a spot of meditation.
The laughter proper part of the session starts with greetings/welcome laughter when participants approach each other with folded hands and light laughter, exchanging high-fives Then there is Aha-ha, Ho-hoe in the laughter mode with related body movements. The third laughter is called social/drawing room laughter which is interactive. This is followed by Patiala laughter, named after the famed extra-large Patiala peg. This is full throated, accompanied by upward movement of hands. The fifth laughter is called mouth-open-no-noise which is followed by pigeon laughter – mouth closed, head turning up and down as when pigeons are in a romantic mode. The seventh laughter is called crescendo wherein as the hands move upwards, the laughter intensifies from low to high. The next laughter is vowels – two bursts of laughter after calling out A E I O U. The participants step forward and backward after each laughter. The ninth is named after the tiger. Participants put out their tongue and imitate a tiger jumping at its prey, with forward stretched paws (hands). The last laughter is called the cocktail wherein the participants can laugh as they please. After two sets of laughter there is a break marked by physical stretches.
Apart from not using laughing gas, there is also no body touch or tickling. It is a matter of self combustion and interfacing with neighbouring participants through eye contact and facial expressions.
At the close of the laughter sequences start the self esteem declarations based on the premise that one is what he thinks he is. These declarations are: 1. I am the healthiest person in the world. 2. I am the happiest person in the world. 3. I am the luckiest person in the world. 4. I forgive everyone. 5. Every day and every hour I feel better and better. 6. I am not alone; God is with me. 7. We are members of the Bondel Laughter Club. The declarations are made twice each followed by lusty bursts of laughter. The rear is brought up by rhythmic clapping to the words:
“One, two, three; laughter is free.
East or west, laughter is the best”.
The Bondel Laughter Club has no membership list, no entry fee and no officials. Anyone can anchor the sessions. To facilitate this, the exercises, laughter sequences and self-esteem declarations were initially listed on placards and fixed to a defunct tree-guard.
“The most completely lost of all days is that on which one has not laughed.” – SRN Chamfort, French writer (1741-1794). That is why a group of morning walkers, dawn-cracks as I call them, banded together to launch and sustain Bondel Laughter Club. Many participants say that the happy mood for the rest of the day is set by laughing away in the morning. Even before Chamfort, another French writer, Jean De La Bruyere (1644-1696) had decreed: “We must laugh before we are happy, for fear we die before we laugh at all.”
John B. Monteiro, author, journalist and Editor of his website, www.welcometoreason.com, is also the founder and chief anchor of Bondel Laughter Club.
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