Dentist Umesh Sahgal's life is all about teeth. In his clinic, he takes care of their health; outside, he exhorts people to bare them - in laughter. Sahgal is the president of the Delhi Laughter Club. He has been running a laughter movement in the city for the past 10 years and has helped set up 25 laughter clubs in the NCR.
"I am a dentist who believes there is no laughter in medicine, but laughter has all the medicines," says the doctor, who is fast acquiring a reputation of being the laughter king in the city.
At the reception of his clinic in north Delhi, you see several booklets and pamphlets on the benefits of laughter in life. When you enter his cabin, he greets you with a few jokes and a broad smile.
Sahgal turned a believer in the power of laughter when he met Dr Madan Kataria, the man credited with starting a laughter yoga movement in Mumbai and many other countries. "I first held a laughter camp in a neighbourhood park in north Delhi about 11 years back for some of my friends and neighbours who used to accompany me on morning walk. The benefits were soon visible. All my companions felt more relaxed and energetic throughout the day. I felt a lot of people will benefit if I could spread the laughter movement across in the city," Sahgal says, sitting in his clinic in Malka Ganj.
The dentist-cum-laughter yoga guru has held camps both in India and abroad, most recently in Sydney. "All we do at these camps is laugh like mad," says Sahgal, adding, "Those who attend our laughing sessions aren't morons. Most of them are doctors, engineers, businessman, lawyers, etc." He has also organised laughter sessions in hospitals for mental health, corporate houses, old age homes, cancer hospitals.
What differentiates laughter yoga from yoga, he says, is that while the latter is a combination of the mind, body and a little bit of meditation, laughter yoga combines the mind, body and soul. "They say water, air and food are necessary for a healthy life, but I believe we need to add laughter to that list. Laughter is a wonderful therapy. It gives you best results early in the morning. But one can also do it three or four hours after meals," he says.
Sahgal explains that this form of yoga keeps the lungs, heart , brain and digestive system in fine fettle. He also says that countries such as Japan, which has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, are conducting a lot of research on the benefits of laughter on patients. "The research has shown that patients, both in general wards and ICUs, for whom comedy films were regularly played, recovered much faster than those without such a facility," says Sahgal.
Some of the exercises performed at the laughter yoga club are named quite curiously: Sky laugh, boat rowing laugh, balloon laugh, giggling laugh, joker laugh, lion's laugh, greeting laugh, signifying the action, the expression and the position of the body during laughter yoga exercises.
"These are basically the derivatives of normal physical and yoga asans, which only take care of muscles and joints. When physical exercise is combined with uninhibited laughter, it leaves a positive feeling and flushes out negative thoughts. In fact, I have developed many of these exercises myself, including the sky and boat rowing laugh," says the 62-year-old.
Sahgal says that his laughter yoga movement in the city has received a huge fillip in the past couple of years. The laughter clubs have also given the dentist an insight into urban loneliness. Elderly people and rich housewives, he contends, are the most depressed. "Rich women often complain of emotional alienation within family. Elderly complain how they are often left to fend for themselves in the company of maids and peons."
So, what is the best way of tackling this growing stress and urban loneliness? "Just let your woes drown in the din of your own laughter. Never bother about what will people think if you start laughing aloud all of a sudden," says Sahgal, with a boom of laughter.
But isn't the laughter evoked in such sessions artificial? Sahgal nods in affirmation, then says, "We believe in the dictum: fake it, fake it and fake it till you make it. And it works. After the first few sessions, most people start laughing naturally."