Meet Anju Shahani, a Professional Coach, Human Connection Enthusiast and Laughter Yoga Expert whose inspiring journey has taken her across the globe, embracing diverse cultures in Hong Kong, London, Russia, Kuwait, and Dubai.
Initially passionate about fashion, clothing, and jewelry, Anju attracted a lot of local Russian friends because of her personality and style, who then got interested in her jewelry and fashion style. That’s how she got the idea to start her own fashion business in Russia. It was a beautiful journey for 6 years. After that, Anju discovered the profound positive impact of laughter yoga, inspiring her to become a laughter yoga trainer. Now, she spreads happiness and positivity, seamlessly bridging the realms of laughter and mindfulness, touching countless lives with her unique approach.
In this exclusive interview, delve into Anju Shahani’s awe-inspiring journey, gaining insights into her unwavering dedication, the wisdom she imparts, and the transformative potential of laughter and mindfulness combined.
The Beginning Of It All
We asked Mrs. Anju Shahani, “Could you start by telling us what inspired you to start your professional journey?”
“I got married at 21 and moved out of India in 1989. Over the years, I have lived in various countries, including 12 years in Hong Kong, a few years in London, 12 years in Russia, and a couple of years in Kuwait, and now I am based in Dubai. Since 2014, my family and I have been living in the Gulf.
My journey began with a deep passion for fashion and clothing while residing in Hong Kong, where I represented clothing brands and was fully immersed in the world of style. Upon relocating to Russia in 2002, I pursued my love for fashion and opened a store named Khazana Treasures. We showcased collections from renowned designers like Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Bahl, Ritu Beri, and Malini Ramani during an Indo-Russian fashion weekend catered to the Russian market. However, sustaining the business throughout the year became challenging due to Russia’s cold climate, with only three months of summer.
Finding joy in clothing and sharing the jewelry line from Amrapali with my Russian friends, who admired silver and unique designs, became a source of inspiration for me. As I contemplated my next steps, I realized the significance of aligning passion with profitability, a crucial aspect of discovering our true Ikigai.
In 1995, I had a serendipitous encounter with the laughter yoga movement, introduced by my mother-in-law during a holiday visit to India. Visiting Joggers Park in Bombay, we witnessed elderly people laughing, and though laughter yoga initially seemed amusing, participating in it left me and my kids feeling energized and positively impacted.
After closing down my clothing business in 2010, I stumbled upon Dr. Madan Kataria, the Founder of the laughter yoga movement, while watching TV. He spoke about training, teaching, and becoming laughter yoga trainers, piquing my interest. Considering my experience of living in Moscow since 2002 and noticing a lack of laughter among people in Russia, I realized the importance of bringing laughter into their lives. Without hesitation, I quickly booked a flight to Bangalore for a five-day training session and officially became a laughter yoga trainer.” she replied.
Laughter Yoga: A New Path
That sounds very inspirational, and we love how you never gave up, even when entering a completely different industry. Could you tell us a bit about your laughter yoga classes and it’s beginning?
Anju Shahani added, “During the 40-minute classes, I explained the concept and the science behind laughter yoga. It’s not about telling jokes; it’s pure science. I began conducting sessions in various yoga centers across Russia. Even though I wasn’t making money then, I felt immense happiness and energy after each session. I brought positivity back home, and the endorphins released during laughter played a significant role. This was the beginning of my journey in Russia as a laughter yoga coach.
As part of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), I was involved in the Russian chapter, serving on various committees, including the chapter committee, the regional committee of Europe, and the international committee. Whenever I had meetings or sessions, I always encouraged everyone to participate in laughter yoga as a team-building activity before starting the agenda. Once we all connected through laughter, the entire meeting became more successful because everyone had a positive energy. Although I provided these sessions free of charge, it was gratifying to see that people valued what I was offering. It served as validation for me after my previous setback in the clothing business and motivated me to continue this new path.”
On The Way To Become A Happiness Coach
After finding this new path, how did you end up becoming a happiness coach certified with Berkley School Of Wellbeing California?
“I personally believed that my role as a laughter yoga instructor could be further enriched to create a more profound impact. Simply making people laugh wasn’t enough; I sought to incorporate additional elements that aligned with my vision. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I discovered the concept of a happiness coach, which resonated with my ideas perfectly. This holistic approach encompassed endorphins, mindfulness, meditation, and overall well-being. Embracing this opportunity, I ventured into the realm of happiness coaching, dedicating myself to spreading joy and positivity.
Adapting to the new normal, conducting laughter yoga sessions over Zoom during the pandemic was a transformative breakthrough for me. This platform allowed me to reach a wider audience, especially a generation less familiar with laughter yoga, even among fellow Indians, as it was commonly perceived as an activity for older individuals.
Leveraging my experience, passion, and the confidence gained from my involvement with YPO and other corporate engagements, I engaged in meaningful discussions about integrating laughter, happiness, and mindfulness under a unified umbrella. This journey has been immensely rewarding, and I’m driven to continue uplifting lives through this integrated approach.” said Anju Shahani.
Growth Post Covid & The True Purpose
Now that you are talking about COVID, how did your business grow during and after the pandemic?
“During the pandemic, as families faced increased tensions and conflicts due to being confined at home, online yoga sessions, including laughter yoga, proved to be a valuable source of relief and frustration alleviation.
With the onset of the post-COVID era, there was a growing trend of people seeking joy and connection through laughter. It was during this time that I had a revelation— “This is it! Happiness, Mindfulness, and Laughter—this is exactly what I need.” As inquiries for corporate sessions poured in and individuals trained with me virtually, my sense of purpose and Ikigai began to take shape. Recognizing that this integrated approach is precisely what the world needs, I found myself on the path I had desired. Although the journey had its ups and downs, I remained steadfast, never losing sight of my goal.” said Anju Shahani.
How did you find your purpose in bringing positivity and happiness to the world?
She continued, “At a young age, I was given the responsibility of starting my business in Russia with an investment of over half a million dollars. However, despite my best expectations, things didn’t go as planned. Nevertheless, from that experience, I drew inspiration and made valuable connections, realizing that my purpose is to bring happiness and positivity into the lives of each person I encounter.
When someone shares a testimonial during my sessions, they often say, “It was really unexpected. I came in not feeling great, physically and everything, and I was just letting it go during the laughter session. I didn’t even realize that I was letting it go. And then, as we walked around the room, I couldn’t help; it just came out. And I was thinking, oh my God, she’s so contagious. I couldn’t stop the laughter. It’s because Anju embodies what she does. Anju is absolutely in the story. I also think that there’s this story of authenticity and genuineness that just happens, and we start laughing. And suddenly everything feels better.”
I approach it naturally, without any specific plan or hiccups. I simply get into the zone, and it has been successful. I haven’t encountered anyone, including top corporate heads, who didn’t leave without laughing.”
Certifying Laughter Yoga Experts
What are you working on, and to whom do you provide laughter yoga classes?
Anju Shahani states, “I’ve worked with notable companies such as PepsiCo, MAGRABi Group, AkzoNobel, YPO, NATIXIS, The MBS Group, Landmark Group, The Blossom Nursery, etc. During one of my sessions with The Blossom Nursery, I had the experience of engaging and laughing with a total of 700 participants. Overall, I have collaborated with more than 50 companies and individuals globally. Additionally, I have the ability to certify individuals as laughter yoga leaders. The organization provides the certification, and I serve as the global ambassador. I provide the certificate signed by the master, and I train them to become laughter yoga leaders.
People come to me for various purposes. Some seek to bring laughter into their lives, ultimately transforming them. Others already work as yoga teachers and want to incorporate laughter yoga to broaden their platform and reach. Some individuals aim to introduce laughter yoga to the corporate world. I have also had the privilege of working with Yogafest Middle East, an annual event in the Gulf, and also honored to open the first 7 days of Expo 2020 at the Indian Pavilion with laughter yoga.”
The Concept of Laughter Yoga: What’s it all about?
You are doing exceptional work, making people happy and letting them get a positive atmosphere around them. This makes us more curious about laughter yoga. Could you tell us more about the concept?
“Sure,” says Anju Shahani, ”The techniques used in laughter yoga are deeply rooted in yoga itself, emphasizing deep inhalation and long exhalation. In laughter yoga, the science behind it is truly captivating. When we engage in hearty laughter, our bodies release endorphins, the natural “feel-good” chemicals in our brains. These endorphins create a profound sense of happiness and elevate our mood, making us feel more joyful and positive.
What’s intriguing is that laughter yoga doesn’t require humor or jokes to trigger laughter; it utilizes simulated laughter exercises. When done in a group setting, these exercises have a contagious effect, causing genuine laughter to emerge naturally. This process releases endorphins and reduces stress hormone levels like cortisol, bringing about a remarkable sense of relaxation and inner calm.
Moreover, laughter yoga incorporates deep breathing techniques that stimulate the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. The rhythmic movement of the diaphragm during laughter exercises helps massage the internal organs, promoting better digestion and enhancing blood circulation. This belly movement also improves lung capacity, oxygenating the body more effectively and supporting cardiovascular health.
As we laugh heartily and with abandon in laughter yoga, we engage our facial muscles and experience increased blood flow to our face. This, in turn, leads to a radiant and healthy complexion. Additionally, the act of laughing together fosters a sense of belonging and strengthens social connections, benefiting our emotional well-being and resilience.
By combining intentional laughter, deep breathing, and joyful movements, laughter yoga creates a powerful mind-body connection. This unique approach enhances our overall physical and mental well-being, leaving us feeling rejuvenated, uplifted, and positively connected with others. So, the science behind laughter yoga illuminates the myriad ways in which laughter and intentional mirth profoundly impact our health and happiness.”
Anju Shahani further gives an instance, “Allow me to provide a real-life example, which I do very often when I am late for meetings, and it works wonders. Imagine you find yourself stuck in traffic when you’re in a hurry for an important meeting. It’s easy to get stressed and complain about the traffic, allowing negativity to fill your mind, which is counterproductive for the meeting. However, if you practice laughter yoga, you can change that moment. For instance, while sitting in your car, you can hold your phone to your ear and start laughing. You can’t control the traffic, but you can control your mindset. You’ll make a significant shift by approaching the meeting with positivity and energy.”
Filling The Gap Of Awareness
What Is your purpose with laughter, yoga, and happiness coaching? What characteristics of yours help you make an impact?
“The power of positivity can be observed simply through a smile. It’s right there in front of us; we own it. Yet sometimes, we fail to recognize the power of smile and laughter. When they feel depressed or sad, we go for therapy and pay so that we can feel good. However, all we need is awareness of what we have with this power.
Laughter yoga has been around since 1995, and I believe that as I train more individuals, the movement forward and the awareness will continue to grow. However, there is still much work to be done in this field. This presents a significant advantage for me because while people are familiar with yoga, they may not be familiar with laughter yoga. I have the opportunity to bridge that gap and fulfill my purpose in this world.
I believe self-love and self-acknowledgement are crucial and more important than any external validation. Sometimes we mistakenly believe that we need validation from others. However, it’s essential to recognize and appreciate our own unique qualities. When describing myself, I use words like authentic, caring, charismatic, dedicated, energetic, inspiring, fun, positive, spiritual, and full of integrity. I aim to bring the energy of these characteristics into the world and make a positive impact.” replied Anju.
Overcoming Setbacks With Positivity
What inspires us is your incredible journey starting in Russia, where you faced various challenges and learned valuable lessons. What were the major hurdles you had to overcome throughout your path, and how did you navigate them with resilience and determination?
“Describing myself as mentioned earlier, the initial lessons were challenging due to the amount of script to learn and express. It wasn’t as simple as telling people to laugh; there is a scientific approach behind it. Extensive research, reading, and personal experiences were crucial, especially since I was in Russia and language was a barrier.
However, being able to conduct the entire class in Russian gave me a lot of confidence. Empowerment came from making Russians laugh in their own language. During one session, I encountered a situation where someone didn’t laugh, but they later expressed that they were in a very low stage of mind and wanted to train as a laughter yoga leader. This cultural difference was my only initial problem, but I overcame it because of my open and friendly nature.
Laughter yoga is an authentic and remarkable practice that beautifully taps into our inner child, allowing people from all walks of life, regardless of their position or authority, to embrace playfulness and joy. Children, naturally uninhibited, laugh heartily more than 400 times a day, while as adults, we often hold back, burdened by expectations, and our ego comes into the scenario where we need a reason for validation to laugh. Laughter is universal. Laughter yoga transcends language barriers and cultural differences, fostering connections that leave a lasting impact. Hence, being in Russia made it easy for me to experience the initial growth stage of laughter yoga.
Continuing to follow my passion, I faced the challenge of turning it into a career. However, after experiencing the impact of COVID-19, I became certain that pursuing laughter yoga as a career was the right path because it aligned with what the world needed, what I loved doing, and what provided financial success – my Ikigai.”
Can you tell us about some of your most proud moments throughout your life?
Anju Shahani replied, “I have successfully certified over 100 laughter leaders worldwide. While living in Kuwait, I was invited to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. During my time in Riyadh, I trained 22 women from the royal family over the course of two days, certifying them as laughter yoga leaders. In the Middle East, there was widespread curiosity about laughter yoga. I conducted sessions with many corporates and had many regular laughter yoga sessions at the Radisson Blu hotel, which led to the name “Laugh with Anju.”
Personally, I have the ability to easily tap into laughter. Even when I am feeling low and on the verge of tears, I can change my mood by simply laughing. I find it incredibly powerful. Practicing, studying, progressing, and understanding the science behind laughter yoga and preparing myself before any sessions or meetings have worked wonders for me and always get me so excited.”
She added, “Apart from that, my kids and the point of life they have reached make me proud as a mother. My son, who is a well-known rapper in India going by the name Shah RuLe released his album “Call You Right Back, I’m In Therapy,” which was number 8 on India’s top hit charts. It’s very authentic, where he shares his experience and emotions in the album. He had a personal backstory about his breakup with his girlfriend last year. He talks about his personal journey in the album and how he came out of it, and how he’s feeling now. This album is very related to the current situation of many youngsters who are going through a similar situation but don’t have the courage to share and, if needed, go for therapy. It’s because they are scared of going to therapy, thinking it’s taboo, and people will think something’s wrong with them. I feel very proud to see where my son reached today since he started at the age of 13.
One significant source of pride for me, both as a mother and a woman, is witnessing my daughter’s remarkable journey. Priyanka Shahani Haribhai, a partner at True Search, has been excelling as a working mother, making significant strides in her career. I am immensely proud of her accomplishments and growth in the business world. What amazes me is that her journey is inspiring women to take off on their own career pathway while also managing work-life balance.”
The Ability To Stand Out
We further asked, “What sets Laugh with Anju apart from others in the laughter yoga industry?”
“Each laughter yoga teacher brings a unique dimension to this transformative practice. The Founder of laughter yoga, celebrated for their remarkable ability to connect with people from all walks of life, has attracted a global audience. Since 2012, my journey has led me to work with organizations and prominent leaders worldwide, catering specifically to the corporate and business world. However, I firmly believe that practitioners who engage in laughter yoga in community settings are equally invaluable, each contributing their own specialties and uniqueness. I aspire for individuals in leadership positions to recognize that laughter extends beyond humor; it is a profound practice that liberates them from expectations and societal norms, tapping into the depths of their souls and inspiring a ripple effect of contagious positivity. My experience in diverse settings has provided me with insights into distinct cultures and specific adaptations, tailoring laughter yoga for each setting accordingly.
Everyone in this field brings their own uniqueness. I’ve witnessed the struggles of company owners and CEOs feeling isolated in their positions. With my personality and energy, I can break the ice and create transformative experiences for them before they start their meetings.
In the business world, laughter yoga brings immense advantages. It fosters better communication, boosts creativity, and reduces stress, leading to increased productivity and employee satisfaction. By embracing laughter, businesses create a positive and harmonious work environment, unlocking the potential for growth and success. These are a few of the elements that I aim to bring through my laughter yoga sessions with corporates.” says Anju Shahani, laughter yoga expert, and professional coach.
Pieces Of Advice From Anju Shahani
Lastly, we asked, “Do you have any advice for beginners in this field?”
“If you are embarking on the journey of becoming a laughter yoga trainer, my advice is to dive right in. Practice, read, be authentic, and be true to yourself.
The key is to practice because you need to experience laughter with others. Personally, when someone tells me I have to conduct yoga sessions with 700 people, I get excited. It may seem challenging to make just one or two people laugh, but laughter becomes contagious, and it becomes easier to make a larger group of people laugh.
I strongly believe that you must practice, educate yourself about laughter yoga, and incorporate it into your life. When you do that, you can bring it out into the world. That would be my advice. Only when you start living laughter and embodying it naturally will it radiate from you and touch others in the right way.” Anju advised.
Want to get into this immersive world of happiness and share it with others around you? Contact Anju Shahani to get started with your own journey with her laughter yoga leader certification training for the next 2 months. Start your journey of bringing positivity to the world by contacting Anju at +971 50 905 2882