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It's 7 a.m. in Mumbai. Time to laugh.

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

(Read caption) The Gateway to India Laughter Club does the ‘lion laugh.’

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Most of us don’t do a lot of laughing at 7 a.m. But for members of the Gateway of India Laughter Club, it’s become a life-changing start to their days.

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One morning in Mumbai (Bombay), four men and four women stood in a circle for half an hour chuckling and guffawing. The club taps laughter to loosen up and lighten spirits.

“In the beginning it was a little tough, how to laugh, because we are not used to it. Now we cannot live without it,” says Girdhar Peshawaria, the leader of the group.

The group starts with some easy stretching done with a smile. Motions start sliding into the silly, such as breathing through one nostril and hip swivels that probably should be left to Bollywood actresses. Pretty soon they are clapping above their heads, marching in place, and saying little ditties like, “one-two-three, laughter is free; east or west, laughter is the best.”

Properly warmed up, exercisers shift to some pukka (genuine) laughter. Eyes twinkling and gray curls jiggling, Krishna Aujla crouches down, makes cat claws with her hands, and laughs uproariously during the “lion laugh.”

The group has a different type of laugh for a litany of countries, thanks to foreign tourists who sometimes join in their circle. For Australia, they “coo coo coo” like a kookaburra; they hold their hands behind their backs for the Spanish laugh; for the Danes, they chuckle while covering their mouths. America? A slap of the thigh on an upraised leg.

“I get energy from the morning time.... Doing exercises like this – ‘ha ha ha’ – makes the whole day go nicer,” says Ms. Aujla.

Club member Saifee Sauliwass explains that the laughing helps circulation, works the muscles of the face, and dispels sadness.

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“Laughter comes automatically, from inside; it is a natural thing, whether you are in the mood or not in the mood,” says Dr. Sauliwass. “We have to heed that instinct to laugh.”


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