Fair or not? Sun, Sun go away!

The title might not make sense to a lot of people, but as with a lot of aha titles, this baby has a story behind it. My Indian friends might be able to relate better to the title. You see, of all the irrational things we(Indians) base people(especially women) on, one of them is fair skin. It is akin to having a clean body and beauty. It is not known for what it is – less or more production of melanin pigment in the skin. It is this pigment which has decided the fate of many Indian women, especially their ‘capacity’ to get a good groom and their general acceptability in the society. Of course there are other factors based on which society may or may not accept you – how you walk, talk, whether you wear semi transparent clothes or whether you wear opaque clothes, whether you speak English well or not and whether you know how to make stuff like halwa(type of Indian dessert) and chapati(Indian bread) or not.

For the people with a higher secretion of melanin pigment on their skins, fret not! Coz they have the perfect solution.

Fairness creams and extremely low exposure to sunlight! 

Little me didn’t know the whole deal on melanin pigment and how deeply it impacts how society views those who have more melanin secretion. Gori(fair) and sundar(beautiful) were words that were synonymous just like popcorn and movies or cricket and Tendulkar. From a very young age, people started giving me tips on how I had to do stuff to become more gori(fair). Honestly, I did some of the things that my ‘well wishers’ wanted me to do, including applying those fairness creams. For me it was the only way for a wheatish person to get accepted in the society and to be praised as much as the fair kids.

This led me to take extreme steps, including banishing sun without wearing sunblock, from my daily life. It became a habit so deeply entrenched to apply sunblock on every exposed part of my body, to avoid getting more dark, because that translated into a lot of other consequences and what a kid or teenager learns from observing the society, stays in his mind forever as a deep fear, if nothing else.

This story got a new turn when I went to India and got a couple of blood tests done. It turned out that the Vitamin D levels in my blood were low — 5.98 ng/DL as opposed to a healthy range of 30ng/DL to 100 ng/DL, and an ideal Vitamin D level — 50ng/DL. But who cares about Vitamin D as a fairly young person, right? It is related to bones and all the stuff that we don’t want to think about until the creaking sounds start. Plus with adrenaline drenched terms like YOLO , boring old Vitamin D doesn’t fit in. Wrong!

Let me bring in some of the research I did like a maniac since the last few days.

Vitamin D is now being termed as the miracle vitamin, the lack of which can cause the following:

  • Osteoporosis and Osteopenia
  • 17 varieties of Cancer (including breast, prostate and colon)
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Bursitis
  • Gout
  • Infertility and PMS
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic Pain
  • Periodontal disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Fatigue
  • General muscle pain and weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Joint pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Restless sleep
  • Poor concentration
  • Headaches
  • Bladder problems
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Source- http://www.drfranklipman.com/symptoms-diseases-associated-with-vitamin-d-deficiency/

There are a few points I want to make here:

Firstly- I am not putting down anyone with fair skin. I am just reaching out to people who have fallen prey to the whole concept of wheatish or dark skin being not as good and wanting to correct it.

Secondly- the safe limit of sun exposure(risk of skin cancer,etc) varies for people depending on their skin colour.

Thirdly-You still might need to protect your face skin more(use a sunblock) because it is more prone to skin damage(wrinkles, pigmentation, et al).

Let me now throw in a fact- Approximately 80% of Indians are Vitamin D deficient.


I am not claiming that the fetish for fair skin is what is making most of us deficient in Vitamin D. I am saying that it certainly adds to one of the reasons of not going out in the sun without sunblock for a few minutes every day. As I understand, the melanin pigment acts as a natural sunscreen for a few minutes- which means you can have your skin as it is and expose it too. I now enjoy a good half an hour basking in the sun. Optimum health comes before entertaining a society which may have lost its way in terms of overestimating the value of fair skin and underestimating the value of good health.

Watch this video below for more information on Vitamin D.

Hope you have a sunny day ahead.

Like what you read? You can sign up for a dose of chuckles sent to your inbox once every few days here.


Simplicity and a cough of relief.

I had updated my website last year- got a wordpress.org account and the fancy stuff along with it. The tech gizmo made my head reel initially, but I controlled the reeling of my head by raising my eyebrows enough number of times. Anyhow, the company which hosted my website gave me the shiny black dashboard and lots of tools to play around with it. I downloaded plugins, themes and customised the website to no end. In fact, changing themes became akin to changing dresses before a party. But…But…But… Did someone tell you that too many of these but’s is not good news?

The code-speak was too much to handle. I longed for the simpler days- imagine me with a cloud over my head reminding me of the simple blogging days where I didn’t have to worry about files ending with .php. The longing got stronger. In the meantime, some of the stuff I had written started sounding too wise even for me. I wanted to let go, to break free and to write silly stuff(like this) which didn’t make sense all the time. I wanted to let go of the need to be perfect, to know-it-all.

Some powerful guy sitting up above the clouds answered my prayers and my website got hacked. I felt slightly giddy, but it turned out that was due to the lack of caffeine that was supposed to be coursing through my body for me to function like a human. So then, after my cuppa joe, I felt better. It felt right to let the old baby with the wise speak go. It felt good to have fun and to not know it all. Then I contacted the hosting company who told me that the website had not been hacked.

Now you need to understand how a person like me thinks. Everything, including an ant sneezing has to have a purpose and a bigger meaning in my life. If the website was not hacked, it meant that the powerful guy sitting above the clouds, wanted me to continue writing the same stuff that I used to and wanted me to learn more of the tech stuff.

I did something else entirely.I started avoiding the shiny dashboard and writing online at all. I lazed and grazed around on the internet and kept looking at people’s blogs which seemed so effortless and so much fun.

Until one day. Tadah!

The hosting company told me that my website had indeed been officially hacked. I blessed the hacker for a few seconds, who had freed me from the shackles of my earlier blogging voice which had become more bothersome for me than fun. I let out a cough of relief as well. Oh, did I forget to mention that I have a bad cough and cold since a few days?

Note: I am convinced that coughing might be one of the ways to develop six pack abs.

Now, I am going to write whatever catches my whim and with the limited capabilities that this platform offers, I am going to bless it a 100 times because it helped me let go of a huge know-it-all-itis that I had been carrying on my back.

Here’s a toast(of cough syrup) to simplicity and going back to a world where I can jabber whatever I want to.

Like what you read? You can sign up for a dose of chuckles sent to your inbox once every few days here.

Interview with Dr Madan Kataria- Founder of Laughter Yoga

Dr Madan Kataria_Profile

I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Dr Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga. Laughter Yoga had a humble beginning with just 5 participants, but it has now flourished in 100 countries around the globe.

1. How did you get the idea of starting Laughter Yoga? Were there any stressful situations in your life which propelled you towards Laughter Yoga?

Dr Kataria: My pushing point was the stressful life that I was leading in Mumbai. I was practising as a medical doctor as well as editing and publishing a health magazine. I was passionate about what I was doing for the magazine- educating people about health, healing, yoga, wellness,etc. It gave me a holistic approach on health and healing as opposed to my practice as a physician using allopathy, which had no preventative component that I could teach.

I started studying homepathy, ayurveda, acupuncture, acupressure, yoga as well as meditation and spirituality. I thought I would give people knowledge in terms of holistic approaches in order to avoid the use of too many medicines. The work for the magazine was very interesting because I learnt something every time I published an article.

It was then that I thought of writing an article- ‘Laughter is the best medicine’. It then struck me that I needed laughter the most. I realised that although people knew the benefits of laughter, nobody really practised laughter consciously.

I excitedly did a research on the benefits of laughter, which has been proven by science over the last 4 decades. But, there was no effective delivery system to dispense the benefits of laughter. At that time, the delivery system was mostly humour, comedy, etc which might not have such a profound effect on the immune system because one experiences the benefits of laughter only if one laughs for a sustained period of time, as proved by one of the studies.

I thought of starting a laughter club at the park. I floated this idea around to people and they started laughing at me. But eventually, we started a laughter club, wherein we told jokes. People started joining our club and our attendance grew. In a few days we ran out of good jokes. People started saying vulgar jokes which were not that well appreciated by everyone. I requested the club members not to close the club. I asked them to give me one day for me to find out an effective way to laugh without having to indulge in such jokes. I wanted to look for a breakthrough solution which would enable people to laugh easily.

I always believe that if there is a problem, there is a solution to it. I started frantically searching through magazines and books on how to laugh without jokes. I found a book which talked about fake humour which said that the body cannot distinguish between fake and real laughter. I read a research piece which stated that holding a pen between the jaws such that it represents a smile sends a feedback to the brain similar to what the feedback would be if a person is smiling. The brain on receiving the feedback, triggers the release of happy chemicals, like endorphins.

Laughter Yoga is not a mind-body medicine. It is a body-mind medicine.

If faking a smile can release happy chemicals, faking a laughter can do a lot more. That gave me the idea that I could make laughter as an exercise. We came out with exercises which would prompt us to laugh- like milkshake laughter, namaste laughter, etc. Within a month, we could come out with 20-30 laughter exercises.

But, we used to get tired laughing continuously for half an hour every day. We then started doing some breathing exercises in between. It then dawned on me that we could name it ‘Laughter Yoga’, because laughter in itself is a form of breathing. Breathing and laughing together helps to exhale stale air from the lungs and helps to oxygenate each cell of the body. Slowly our focus became only laughter and not the cause of laughter. This gave us the freedom to laugh in a sustained manner for a longer period of time which really brought out the benefits.

2. What benefits did you experience on a personal and spiritual level due to Laughter Yoga?

Dr Kataria:  It has been almost 20 years since I started practising Laughter Yoga. My day starts with laughter. I wake up at 4 am and start laughing all by myself in another room for 30-40 minutes. I then go on to laugh on Skype and other places.

My immune system has become very strong and I have stopped falling sick. Earlier I used to fall sick 4-5 times a year, but laughter has changed that.

My capacity to laugh has gone up. Earlier, my brain used to be judgmental about what is funny and what is not. But now that has changed, due to the laughter exercises. My sense of humour has gone up. My perception of what is funny and what is not has changed a lot. Even small things crack me up now.

My mind has become very positive. There is a lot of negativity around us, which can easily influence us. My inner resilience has gone up and my reactivity has gone down. I have achieved calm and peacefulness within myself and with others. I have become spiritual through laughter.

I have become very generous. I love helping people. As a young man, I used to focus more on my achievements, but now I feel I have everything. I am getting lots of love and affection from people. I am not in the race for money. I have become more conscious about how I can be more service oriented. I have become aware of the environment. If I see a chocolate wrapper on the road, I just pick it up and throw it in the dustbin, thinking that even a small action can drive a change. Now if I see a cockroach in the house, I don’t kill it. I sweep it out of the house. I am a vegetarian for more than 25 years now, purely because of my love for life.

Spirituality for me means being able to raise your spirits by yourself and others’ spirits by any method. You don’t have to do anything religious to be spiritual.

Laughter Yoga has given me the tool to keep my spirits high right from the morning all throughout the day. Through laughter I am contributing to the entire world, even with all the doom and gloom in the world. I continue to be a crusader for world peace. My understanding about world peace is that ‘what is inside is outside’. So, world peace has to achieved through one person at a time. I am multiplying these laughter clubs all over the world. In this way I am contributing to the world peace in a big way, because Laughter Yoga clubs are now in 100 countries around the world.

3. What are some of the common beliefs amongst people which prevents them from laughing?

Dr Kataria: Firstly, people are not aware of the benefits of laughter. People still think that laughter is only for relaxation and entertainment. They don’t know the impact laughter has on one’s health-physical, spiritual, mental and emotional. That is changing now, thanks to media and articles.

Secondly, people think that this laughter is not real laughter. They look for spontaneous laughter. My challenge is to make people aware that this laughter is much better because there is no guarantee of laughter if you rely on only spontaneous methods, through comedy or jokes.

4. Are there any stressful situations in your life when you don’t feel like laughing? How do you get into a mood to laugh?

Dr Kataria: Yes. I do have stressful situations in my life.

Firstly, lot of people want me to react. By choosing not to react, you make things easier. If you don’t react, and just be with the situation by responding appropriately if required, it helps you and other people as well. They can also vent out their stuff. I still react 5-10% of the times, but I have overcome 90-95% of it.

Secondly, there is no control on what happens to us. We have 110% control over what we do when something happens. Rather than getting involved in the problem, laughter has helped me to swing into action, to understand how I can make the situation better. Reaction complicates things. Nowadays I laugh when I miss my flight. It makes me feel better instantly and I don’t feel stressed out. I laugh at practically every situation which is not in my control.

Thirdly, laughter gives you acceptance. Sometimes people criticise me and my laughter and make nasty remarks. I can’t do anything about it. I feel that you can only accept those situations and they way you can accept those situations is by laughing about them.

I get problems every day, despite me being a laughter guru. But the way I deal with problems is amazing. That is the way yogis will handle the situation.

5. How important is childlike playfulness in day to day life and Laughter Yoga?

Dr Kataria: Children can laugh so much because they play. The problems with grown ups is we don’t play because we are conditioned that way. But there is an innate desire within all of us to be like children sometimes.

Laughter Yoga provides a safe environment for people to revisit their childhood. We do a lot of child play activities like clapping hands together and saying- “Very good. Very good. Yay!” Playfulness is an important for nurturing creativity. Laughter Yoga club is like kindergarten for grown ups.

<End of Interview>

To find out more about Laughter Yoga, head to www.laughteryoga.org.

Watch Dr Madan Kataria on Satyamev Jayate, a popular show hosted by Aamir Khan in India.


 Like what you read? You can sign up for a dose of chuckles sent to your inbox once every few days here.

Why you should take laughter seriously?

Christmas is around the corner  and this merry season is associated with Santa Claus and his cheerful ho ho’s . It is a jolly season full of laughter and joy. Perhaps this is the best way to live life, considering how stressful things can get. I recently came across the concept of “Laughter Yoga ” and I was truly impressed with it. Laughter Yoga works on the concept of fake laughter having the same effects as real laughter. As per Dr Madan Kataria(the founder of Laughter Yoga), our brains cannot distinguish between real laughter and fake laughter. Hence it can be practiced mindfully, without the aid of humor. You can read more about Laughter Yoga here.

Laughter has emotional, physical and spiritual benefits. It may seem silly, but trust me, once you try it, you’ll be laughing your way to a healthier and happier you. Below are some of the benefits which laughter provides us with.

Emotional Benefits

1. Cheerfulness: If you start your day with laughter, you are blessed with a great mood all day. The stresses of the day don’t seem to creep in that easily and small worries tend to seem almost miniscule. Instead of starting your day with a heavy heart and dreading the worst, start with ha has to see a mammoth difference.

2. Better bonding with people: If you have a smiling face, people will be drawn to you and will want to spend more time with you. You will end up making more friends because of your cheerful attitude. As the saying beautifully sums it up “Laugh and the world laughs with you, smile and some smile with you, weep and you weep alone”. Nobody wants to spend time around complainers. Spread cheer everywhere and you’ll see more of it crawl into your life.

Physical Benefits

1. Release of endorphins: Laughter releases endorphins,the “feel good” hormones. These help with the feeling of well being and can even reduce pain in the body.

2. Reduces the release cortisol: Levels of cortisol, better known as the “stress hormone”  is reduced after a hearty laughter session.

For more on the physical benefits of laughter, click here 

Spiritual Benefits

1. Reduces ego: Ego is the biggest blocking factor when it comes to spiritual growth.  It makes us believe that it is us against the world and we have to keep fighting with others to make a mark in our lives. Laughter is a great way to dissolve this ego and move towards unconditional love. We all are manifestations of life and we are not separate. Laughter dissolves the boundaries between us and others. Laugh in the company of others and you’ll truly find yourself as an expression of others.Also, the easiest way to reduce ego is to develop the knack of laughing at yourself. If you’re able to laugh at the tiny mistakes you make, it becomes easier to let things go and to relax into life. And life is much easier when you stop taking it so seriously.

2.  Brings back focus to the present moment: When you are laughing and having a good time, you don’t feel the need to think about the past and the present. The focus is on the present moment; the moment when you are having fun. This powerful exercise of laughter teaches you to live life in the present which in turn helps you to be in control of your life . Read more about living life in the present moment here.