Sunday, December 26, 2010

Touching human lives with laughter

Jagat and Radhika Bisht

During the last hundred days, we (Radhika, my wife, and me) have laughed with more than a thousand people. It has really been a life changing experience! We are now proud to have a life skill with us with which we can connect to any group of people anywhere, anytime and make them laugh unconditionally. We feel cheerful throughout the day. The life is full of joy. We have converted our bodies into factories that utilize oxygen from the atmosphere, rejuvenate each and every cell of our system and manufacture feel good endorphins. We are as healthy and energetic as one can be, touch wood, and have not taken any medication since we turned Laughter Yogis. We feel deeply fulfilled as we are instruments of happiness and health for others and are able to touch their lives with a new joyous way of life. Our lives now have a meaning and a mission – to make others happy and healthy!

I had my tryst with Laughter Yoga one fine morning in Mumbai, more than a decade ago. Dr Madan Kataria and Madhuri Kataria, the founders of laughter yoga, were leading a laughter session in Lokhandwala park. The experience was simply out of the world! I had to wait for more than a decade after that. In the month of October this year, Radhika and myself, along with more than 20 laughter professors from all over the globe, were baptised by Dr Kataria himself at Bengaluru.We have never looked back after that..

We run two laughter clubs – the Suniket Laughter Club and Laughter Club of State Bank Learning Centre, Indore - regularly. Here are some experiences shared by the members..

Let us begin with ourselves. The pain in my knee joints is a thing of the past. I get up early in the morning every day and work till late in the night without any feeling of fatigue. Radhika doesn’t need her blood pressure pills any more and her frequents bouts of sinusitis have simply disappeared.

Many among a group of newly promoted bank officers felt nervous to face the audience in their public speaking sessions. They were asked to join laughter yoga sessions, after which they shed all their inhibitions, and gathered the courage to speak freely.

Another group was required to appear for a tough test for promotion to the next cadre. They felt tired at the day end and had no energy left to study. Those who attended laughter exercises in the morning not only improved their attention span in classes but could also study for a couple of hours more in the evenings.

An elderly businessman felt severe pain in his neck which travelled across his shoulders and back. The pain was acute and disabling. After he joined our laughter club, the pain is gone. He has developed a regular habit of getting up and going for morning walk. His wife tells us that he seldom laughed earlier and never mixed socially with people. She is pleasantly surprised at the transformation.

An income tax officer, who has retired recently, has shared that his lungs are fully cleared after the laughter session and the feeling of freshness lingers throughout the day. We get feedback of feelings of well being, energy and health on a continual basis from our member friends.

We were also invited to conduct a laughter therapy session for about 80 persons in a camp organized recently by the National Institute of Naturopathy, Pune at the Naturopathy and Yoga Research Centre, Indore. The response was overwhelming. They found such great value in this alternate therapy that they decided to honour us on the spot after going through our session. The standing ovation, with chants of Very Good Very Good Yay, lasted for more than ten minutes..

We look forward to touch many lives with joy and bliss.

Wish you a very happy and joyous new year!

Jagat Singh Bisht
Laughter Professor

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Laughter Yoga – A Life Changing Experience

Laughter lowers blood pressure, relaxes muscles, improves blood circulation, increases oxygen level in the body, elevates mood, brings hope, enhances communication and boosts immune system. Dr Madan Kataria has contributed to the happiness of mankind by successfully blending free laughter with yogic breathing and evolving the unique concept of Laughter Yoga.

Laughter Yoga is a revolutionary idea – simple and profound. It is a breakthrough laughter delivery system that enables a person to laugh continuously for fifteen to twenty minutes. It is a powerful exercise routine and a complete wellbeing workout which is fast sweeping the world.

Dr Madan Kataria, an Indian physician, along with his wife Madhuri, started the first laughter club in a park in Mumbai on 13th March 1995 with just five members. Today it is a worldwide phenomenon with more than six thousand social laughter clubs in sixty countries.

It combines unconditional laughter with pranayama – yogic breathing. Laughter is simulated in a group exercise with childlike playfulness and eye contact, which soon turns into real and contagious laughter, without relying upon jokes or comedy. The concept is based on a scientific fact that the human body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter – one gets the same physiological and psychological benefits from both types of laughter.

Natural laughter comes just for a few seconds here and there but to get scientifically proven health benefits of laughter, we need to laugh continuously for ten to fifteen minutes at least - loud and deep from our diaphragm - which is possible only in social laughter clubs. They are non-political, non-religious and non-profit social clubs run by volunteers trained as laughter teachers and have no membership fee, no forms and no fuss.

A typical laughter yoga session includes clapping and warming up, deep breathing exercises, childlike playfulness and laughter exercises which may be yoga based, playful or value based exercises. Laughter yoga exercises are sometimes followed by laughter meditation where laughter may flow spontaneously like a fountain. The session ends with guided relaxation and grounding exercises.

Clinical research on laughter yoga methods has shown that laughter lowers the level of stress hormones in the blood. It fosters a positive and hopeful attitude and one is less likely to succumb to depression and helplessness. The regular club members say it makes them happy, healthy and energized. In effect, it has changed their lives.

Laughter yoga is an effective cardio workout and helps in staying fit. It increases blood circulation and relaxes muscles. Laughter yoga changes your mood within minutes by releasing endorphins in your brain. One feels energized and fresh throughout the day and can work more without getting tired. Laughter clubs provide a rich social network of people who care about one another. One learns to handle difficult situations effectively without losing composure by imbibing the essence of laughter yoga.

In India, laughter yoga has been introduced in many schools in Baroda, Surat and Bangalore. It has recently been included as a subject in the curriculum in one of the universities in the United States. Scientific research shows that laughter can help to resolve many workplace issues and is gaining popularity in companies and corporations across the globe. Laughter yoga is being practiced among seniors in many aged care facilities in Canada, USA, Israel and Europe. There are hundreds of people in laughter clubs all over the world who are suffering from cancer but laughter has brought a new hope into their lives.

The ultimate objective is to bring good health, joy and world peace through laughter. This innovative concept has been widely accepted and reported in Time magazine, National Geographic, BBC, CNN and many others.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Tantalizing Cheque That Bounced


She was statuesque. I was spellbound and gaped at her like a boor as she walked into the Bank with an elegant ease. My heart missed several beats as she looked around with her doe eyes. Her exquisite charm brought the hustle and bustle in the banking hall to a standstill. The atmosphere suddenly turned ethereal.

Those were the days when I was posted in a sleepy little town and had nothing better to do than pass cheques in “good faith and without negligence”. The era of class banking was fading away and the concept of mass banking was yet to catch on. In the process, we were deprived of both – the classic beauties as well as the village belles.

Nonetheless, there was an occasional lucky break. There she was! Ravishing and gorgeous. The beauty that I always dreamt and fantasized about. She presented a cheque at the counter for payment and I waited expectantly to pass the most tantalizing cheque in my life.

A series of silly thoughts passed through my mind… Should I call her closer and tell her that the signatures do not match perfectly? No-no, that would be too amateurish. I should be more subtle…

My counter clerk pushed the ledger towards me. I could clearly see the mischief in his sparkling eyes. He proclaimed a bit too loudly, “It seems, sir, the cheque is bearer.”

I felt embarrassed as he cast a meaningful glance at her. I knew he was speaking in our code language in which a bearer cheque meant an unmarried girl. Likewise, we referred to married ladies as account payee cheques. School-going girls were post-dated cheques and ageing aunties were, of course, stale cheques.

The cashier made the payment with a flashy smile as I had never seen him do earlier. After counting the notes, she turned back towards our counter. Gracefully, she approached my counter clerk and said, “Thanks a lot for the prompt service. Well, let me introduce myself. I am Mrs Kapoor.”

Mr Kapoor, the new Branch Manager, had just taken over and had gone away to attend a seminar at the head office. Keeping a hand over her mangal-sootra, she remarked with a gentle grin, “Now, you know, the cheque isn’t bearer. It is account payee!”

And, she walked away triumphantly…

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Citizenship as a way of life

I have found my Guru

A Life Transforming Encounter With Citizenship

I feel quite fulfilled in my journey of life. I have reaped sufficient outer fruits, plenty of inner fruits and countless joys of contribution. The only fruit that eluded me is promotion. Of late, I have also started hoodwinking it as a return gesture! I have a well located house, a decent lifestyle, cheerful health (touch wood!), a loving family, good friends of both sexes (much to the envy of some of my dear friends!), some publications to my credit, a steady growth, an understanding of human behaviour, taste for arts and culture, satisfaction of contributing significantly to my extended family and an ever growing pool of well wishers.

Though I always felt at peace with myself, I had no one to look up to in intriguing times. My friends went to temples and prayed, some of them pursued yoga and meditation and others had their own ways of finding solace. I do not believe in any rituals though I don’t mind going to temples etc. During times of crisis, I felt a sense of void. May be it was because I had a predominantly scientific view of life.

I have been a sincere student of human psychology and a behavioural science trainer (minus the eccentricities, of course). I delved in to positive psychology and was for a while thinking of designing a programme on authentic happiness (based on the work of Martin Seligman and others on the subject) as my mission in life is to make people happy. The school of thought I was following laid down various components of happiness beautifully and, in the end, stipulated that all these would bring happiness but you should also do something worthwhile and meaningful in your life. Making a positive contribution was just one of the building blocks of authentic happiness among so many others.

Beginning of my citizenship journey

It was sometime in June 2009 when all the Circle Development Officers and Intervention Leaders gathered for the first workshop on Project Citizen-SBI at the Corporate Centre, Mumbai. This was the first time we saw and heard Mr V Srinivas – half-sleeved white shirt, curly hair and the glow of conviction. He propounded the concept well but most of the audience at that time felt that it was too abstract. I remember interacting with him during the lunch break to share with him my experience with Parivartan and the need for Hindi and vernacular versions of the programme. I extended an invitation to conduct pilots in Bhopal Circle and also complimented him for his outstanding oratory skills, knowing little then about his deep conviction and intense engagement with the subject.

Then we had a longish workshop and pilots at Taj Banjara, Hyderabad during August where I found time to go through the foundation notes on various dimensions of citizenship. This was followed by pilots at State Bank Academy, Gurgaon where we had a solid apprenticeship in all nuances of Citizenship and also the art of facilitation. Here, I would like to add that this programme has given us a rich pool of well equipped facilitators and prompted our Training System to take a giant paradigm leap forward. Later on, the facilitator gym back home was a unique experience. We shuttled many a times to the multi purpose hall at the Bandra-Kurla complex to fine tune the programme versions and our own understanding of citizenship.

A new way of life

As the citizenship orientation programmes progressed, I found myself deeply immersed in citizenship – classes, travel, talking with participants over phone, contributing for the Google groups of Intervention Leaders and Facilitators, setting up and propagating the CitizenSBI blog, answering all the queries from across the country (as if I was an expert in citizenship!) and developing a real as well as a virtual citizen community. I found that I was working and thinking citizenship 24x7 and felt charged up all through with no traces of fatigue. Some friends started saying that I have internalized citizenship and was becoming more and more citizenized with each passing day. All put together, we looked at 101 dimensions of citizenship from 1001 different angles. Don’t believe? Just go through the groups and the blog!

It then dawned upon me that I have discovered a new way of life. I had started contributing positively on a regular and continuous basis in so many spheres and was in a state of flow. In my college days I had adopted cricket as a view of life. Cricket helps you to develop sportsman spirit, accept defeat as well as victory and is a gentleman’s game. The citizenship philosophy gives a lot of fulfilment as we continuously get opportunities to touch lives of others. It is not just something swantah sukhai, it caters to the welfare of others.

Some faces of my success

The facilitators and participants have reposed so much trust on me that I have developed confidence to find a pathway to any problem under the sun and overcome the challenges. This strength is derived from the faith that others have on me.

One of the citizens who had suffered an unforgettable hurt and found life meaningless, has found solace in contributing to the cause of citizenship daily. May I reproduce the exact words – aaj phir jeeney kee tamanna hai…What more impact can a programme have on an individual’s life?

One of the master facilitators told me that whenever we need anything in citizenship, we know that you are always there.

I have already shared the story of the citizen union leader who contributes regularly for my learning centre and is a regular visitor. He finds something amiss if he doesn’t have a cup of tea with me on any day. I know I can depend upon him. He is my Man Friday.

One of the intervention leaders says that he has developed the writing habit because of my continuous follow up with him to contribute for the blog. We converse almost daily and he reveres me like his elder brother.

I know that I can touch lives. For that I realise that I should be pure in my heart. Not that I was lecherous in my deeds but I have curbed my baser instincts even in thought and feelings.

Tasting some success out of CitizenSBI blog, I created some other blogs too. One of them was for my son who is a biker and loves to perform stunts. When his friends praised the blog, he had this to say to his friends on Facebook – No yaar, I have not done it. It’s my dad. He is an expert blogger now.

Aur merey paas Maa bhee hai! I understand that my mother told folks in our native place the other day – Bhagwan sabko merey Jagat jaisa beta deh! What more can I aspire for after this?

Eklavya finds Guru Drona

During my entire journey of citizenship, I have been watching one man with a lot of respect. I have read all his writings like we read scriptures (and here I don’t mean “without applying my mind”!). His dedication and devotion to the cause of citizenship is simply amazing. I have never witnessed such conviction earlier in my life. In my heart of hearts, I have accepted him as my Guru. I am his follower in words and deeds.

Just like Eklavya found a guru in Dronacharya, I have found my guru in Mr V Srinivas, CEO and Lead Researcher, Illumine Knowledge Resources, Mumbai. The similarity hopefully ends here. I presume he won’t ask me to present my thumb to him in guru-dakshina.

Many of the readers would already know about him but for those who don’t and feel curious, I provide below a link to know more about him:

I invite you to be my guru-bhai or behen and join my community.

P.S. – I also love and adore his entire team – Biren, Joyeeta, Rebecca, Mahima, Parul …

State Bank Learning Centre, Indore