Germany

Give us a laugh, Germany

There's booming and there's booming, and Germany does one better than the other. At least on the surface. But if you dig a little, as Tamsin Walker did, you might just discover a country that's game for a guffaw.

Listen to audio 05:22

WorldLink: Yoga-to-laugh

My youngest child is still at the age where any reference to "bottom," be it that of a glass, a pigeon or a person, elicits giddy giggles. A double mention gets double the laugh. And so it goes on. Knowing this, and knowing her, I work the word into our conversations with bottomless (that would get her going) regularity, just to hear another of her chuckles. Because they're contagious. And who doesn't enjoy a good chortle?

I do. Which is why I dragged myself out on a damp, grey evening at home earlier this week to visit one of Berlin's growing number of laughter yoga clubs. I went once before, years ago, but had forgotten what it entailed.

But when the teacher, 72-year-old Sigrid, took her high spirits over to a CD player and started pressing buttons, it all came rushing back. Accompanied - given my troubled relationship with dance - by a rising note of panic.

But there was no escaping the beat in the room. "Just freestyle," one of the participants told me as she sashayed across the floor. Would that I could. But there really was no way out of it, and so, in a well-lit room on the banks of Berlin's river Spree, I danced with strangers. Like I meant it.

Lachyoga (DW/T. Walker)

There's no stopping Sigrid's laughter

And that turned out to be good practice for what was to come. Because doing it like you mean it is the basic idea of laughter yoga. You fake it until it comes naturally. Which it does, through Monty Python-esque exercises that see sane adults pretending to fill lawn mowers with laughter fuel only to then push them around cackling to and amongst themselves, and invites them to mix laughter cocktails or come face-to-face with each other as they thump their chests to release the roar.

Howling for health

But there's more to laughter yoga than monkey business. The movement was founded in India in 1996 by doctor Madan Kataria, also known as the Guru of Giggle, who recognized the enormous and varied health benefits - which range from stress reduction, to helping deal with asthma, depression and heart problems - of a good old guffaw.

Against that robust backdrop, what began as five people gathering in a Mumbai park at the crack of dawn to share jokes quickly became a global phenomenon. Two decades on, there are 70 plus clubs here in Germany, which let's be honest, is unlikely to win any stereotype contests for being the master of laughter.

Chortle at that irony, if you will, but Sigrid is convinced that some nationalities genuinely find it harder to laugh than others. And Germany, which is more cerebral than emotional, is one of them.

That doesn't stop her from doing what she can to tickle the nation. And she's onto something. By the time, at the end of the session, we were invited to lie down and laugh without any guidance, my ribs were aching, and I could feel the positive effects from top to bottom. But don't get me started again…

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