FREMONT — Every weekday at the Forest Park Elementary School playground, a group of senior citizens literally laughs in the face of aging.

The Fremont Laughter Club meets for an hour a day, when park-goers often hear bursts of laughter emanating through the air in the early evening.

The group practices a unique form of yoga, which combines traditional yoga practices with an element of routine laughter, used for both its physiological and mental health benefits.

Komandur Yilayavilly Narasimhan, who helps lead the group's exercises, rubbed his face upward, motioning for everyone else to do the same. "Removes wrinkles. You'll become young!" he joked.

This particular yoga regiment has been specifically designed for seniors, who often are afflicted with age-related conditions such as arthritis and gout, said Lilitha Sakleshpur. Her father, Balachandra Narsipur, started the club in March 2007.

"For us, it might look easy. But it's just right for their aching limbs," she said.

Narsipur, who is 68, has been practicing laughter yoga in Bangalore, India, where he lives, for the past five years. Though he is back in India now, he has left the club in the able hands of good friend Krishnamurthy Srinivasan, said Sakleshpur.

Narsipur, whom the club members described as their guru, comes back to the United States to visit his daughter and check up on the club about every six months.


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Each time he returns, he finds an ever-growing club.

Since its inception, the club has mushroomed from a loose-knit group of three or four friends to a legion of 30 to 35 seniors, Sakleshpur said.

Though this is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States, gaining momentum for about a decade, according to Sakleshpur, it is more time-tested and popular in India.

The club begins its session with a quick prayer and thanks while members, all older than 60, hold hands in a giant circle.

They then begin a rhythmic chant, accompanied by hand claps, that they repeat periodically after every few exercises, signifying the end of each phase.

"Very good, very good, very, very good," they proclaim in unison.

This form of laughter yoga was pioneered in Mumbai, India, by Dr. Madan Kataria, who has led the movement since he founded the very first laughter club in 1995.

The Fremont Laughter Club employs his technique using such exercises as balloon laughter — where one's laughter explodes out as if bursting a balloon — and ice laughter, where one arches his or her back and laughs as if someone has poured ice down his or her spine.

Other laughter exercises include lion laughter — complete with claw hand motions — and continuous laughter, where one laughs until he or she physically can't anymore.

"Laughing, deep breathing, prolongs life. All our exercise strengthens our cells and keeps us young," said Dharam Pal Gupta, a member of the group.

And though some cynics may dismiss the exercises as silly, research backing the techniques suggests that the brain cannot tell the difference between contrived laughter and natural laughter.

But this eventually proves to be irrelevant because in most cases, the forced laughter becomes natural by the end of — or during — the exercise.

In the middle of numerous exercises, many of the women break out in laughter and joke in Hindi.

But members say it is about more than just health.

"It's a good way of socializing, of using time. Here, we are people from all states of India," member Veena Mahajan said.

Though they all happen to be of Indian decent, members stressed that all are welcome, regardless of ethnicity, age, or religious denomination.

This is reflected in part of their mantra, which they recited at the close of the session:

"We are the happiest people in the world. We are the healthiest people in the world. ... We are the peace-loving people of the world," they said.

Very good, very good, very very good.