New Delhi: As dawn breaks, a group of men and women standing in a circle in a neighbouring park twirl their arms in the air, waddle like penguins and start laughing. They are part of an increasing number of people who are choosing laughter therapy to cure distress.
According to doctors, laughter therapy entered India around 1995 and as of now, there are over 7,000 laughter clubs and 10,000 members across the country. World Laughter Day is celebrated on the first Sunday of every May.
The Delhi Laughter Club, which includes National Captial Region (NCR) towns like Gurgaon and Noida has 27 clubs and over 1,000 members.
Laughter therapy involves laughing for about 20 minutes without any specific reason while laughter yoga therapy combines gentle breathing exercise and stimulated laughter at regular intervals.
According to Delhi Laughter Club, the therapy has gained more steam in recent years.
"I started the laughter clubs in the national capital in 2001 with just 10 members. But now there are over 1,000 members," Umesh Sahgal, a dentist and president of the Delhi Laughter Club, told IANS.
"Mirthful laughter is the equivalent of internal jogging because it can lower blood pressure, stress and boost the immune system, much like moderate exercise," he explained.
On the other health benefits of laughter therapy, Sahgal said: "People practising laughter therapy report several positive changes. Many diabetics have switched to pills from insulin after laughter therapy."
He said shared laughter is one of the most effective stress-busting tools and fake laughter turns into real after a few months.
People practising laughter therapy say they have seen tremendous change in their lives for the better.
"Laughter provides instant relief and gets you out of depression. Dealing with criminals day in and day out made me so stressed that I became like a robot. I have been practising laughter yoga for past few months and it has made me happier and calm," a senior officer of the Delhi Police Crime Branch said.
Thirty-eight-year old Satish Chawla, a businessman, said, "The session makes me feel better. I feel healthy and it`s more than just laughing: You bring your good energy to whatever you do in life. The simple and playful exercises - waddling like a penguin, roaring like a lion and hooting like an owl - pump up your energy levels and elevate your mood."
Psychologists say that when one laughs, the body responds by releasing feel good neuro-chemicals into the brain.
"The brain is divided into two sets of nerves - the sympathetic system and the para-sympathetic system. Each of these nervous systems releases chemicals that affect mood, behaviour and body," Nikhil Raheja, psychiatrist, National Institute of Psychiatry told IANS.
According to cardiologists, laughing together not just binds people but increases happiness and intimacy, besides instigating healthy physical changes in the body.
"Laughter is good for overall health. It has positive benefits on mental health and also helps the body fight infection, besides relaxing the muscles," Z.S. Meharwal, director, cardiac surgery at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, said.