Susan Buckland: A healthy laugh from Bombay

By Susan Buckland

COMMENT

My mornings are about to change. For I have met Mr Om - or Ominous, as my travelling companion nicknamed him. He introduced himself with a winning smile as co-founder of Laughter International.

And it has been a jaw-aching experience. Om was masterful at persuading me to "laugh without a purpose".

I laughed until my face muscles hurt. Nourished them, Om preferred to say. And I confess that uplifted was how I and my initially cagey friend felt after a belly-aching session with Om.

He had entered our lives on a bus in Kuala Lumpur. "I'm Om from Bombay." His handshake was as confident as his smile.

"Please excuse me. I could not help overhearing your conversation about the cheap price of five-bedroom houses in Malaysia."

It is customary in Malaysia to build enough bedrooms for your parents as well as your children so the parents don't go to a rest home, he explained.

In his country, India, it is the same. His 84-year-old mother, for example, lives in his house.

And every morning at 6 he takes her for a walk before conducting his laughter class in the garden.

A class of about 200 people, beginning at 7am and ending 20 minutes later. Om's mother laughs loudly along with the others.

By this stage my friend and I were hooked. Om knew it. Without encouragement Om told us how his class of 200 laughed in 10 different ways, interspersed with light yoga exercises and deep breathing from the diaphragm.

Om, so resonantly and aptly named, said the last laugh runs out at precisely 7.20am. At this point everyone heads off into their day, stress-free and raring to go.

Indeed, this 20-minute dose of laughter medicine, formulated by Om's friend Dr Madan Kataria, has been so conducive to well-being that it is being administered at more than 1000 laughing clubs around India.

"We are also exporting laughter," says Om. To places like Scandinavia where melancholy winters may be a reason for the burgeoning laughter clubs.

Germany likewise. Clubs are growing in Europe, USA, Canada and Australia. And a few months ago in New Zealand, after Dr Kataria held a workshop, "a mushroom group sprouted", Om says.

People used to walk past Om's garden pointing fingers at his laughers but now the finger-pointers are joining in. Jokes are forbidden. "Jokes go stale, isn't it."

After warming up with purposeless laughter, one moves into acupunctural hand-clapping accompanied by rhythmic laughter.

Ha-ha, ha-ha-ha. Ho-ho, ho-ho-ho. Then into more types of laughter, such as the 100 per cent tax-free laugh, the electric shock laugh, the tiger laugh and the mobile phone laugh.

I was shy at the start of my lesson but Om came to the rescue. "You are not knowing how to get started, isn't it."

Whereupon he threw back his arms and laughed uproariously. It was infectious.

My friend and I accelerated from tentative giggling to hysterical, unrestrained hooting. "Ho, ho, ho," we shouted, "Ha, ha, ha," we gasped.

Then we did yoga exercises for what Om called "the neglected body parts".

We told each other we looked great, which is apparently part of the laughter tonic.

We felt euphoric. Om emphasised that the objective was to prevent ill health rather than to cure it.

And the classes are free because they are intended to benefit people.

Do they? Laughter International health clinics test the effects and Om says the results are encouraging, especially for blood pressure.

Relentlessly positive, he is certainly shining into his 60s.

So, do I have what it takes to get out of bed every morning and guffaw?

What will Benson (my dog) think as I stagger helplessly round the privacy of my home, arms fully extended for the 100 per cent tax-free laugh?

I'll rely on his unconditional love while I limber up for World Laughter Day on May 5.

The seventh anniversary of the laughter clubs will be celebrated on that day. I hope I can keep laughing until then.

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