Companies in Hong Kong are turning to laughter to cure their employees' blues, hiring giggle specialists to tackle grumblings about lay-offs and high-stress work environments.
"Ocean Park is entertaining mostly mainland clients. They brought us in to help their employees manage the stress of cultural differences with laughter," said Mahesh Pamnani, who is a partner at motivational consultants Inspire2Aspire.
The company uses laughter yoga, a practice that was started in India by a Mumbai-based cardiologist, Madan Kataria, back in 1995 when he realised that his patients' immune systems improved dramatically following explosions of mirth. It combines simulated laughter with stretching exercises and yogic breathing techniques.
Teachers lead participants in laughter sessions lasting from 45 minutes to two hours, featuring chants like: "Ha ha, ho ho, let go."
"It's a little weird for people at first, laughing for no reason, but laughter is contagious. After a while everyone starts laughing," said Veena Dansinghani, one ot three partners at Inspire2Aspire.
At Ocean Park, they try to teach staff to make a joke, see the positive side and move on instead of focusing on the irritations of the job.
"Lots of companies are approaching us because their staff are unhappy, and higher salaries and bonuses aren't enough," said Dansinghani.
"They want to find new ways of making them happier."
The company boasts a list of clients that includes Bloomberg, the British Council, PR and advertising agency Ogilvy, HSBC, Citibank, the MTR Corporation, the Hospital Authority and even the Hong Kong Police.
HSBC wanted to help its staff cope with the stressful lay-offs of recent years. A company spokesman said he was not authorised to comment.
"I had a client with depression and I referred them to laughing yoga," said Sara Soon, a wealth coach with Asset Plus Global, who attended a training workshop on the technique that was sponsored by the government about 18 months ago.
Laughter clubs are common in India, but in Hong Kong the community is still relatively small, with around 5,000 laughter yoga practitioners.
There are over 6,000 laughter clubs in more than 65 countries, according to Laughter Yoga International.
Today the company will join other laughter yoga instructors, mental-health workers, care organisations for the elderly and the Social Welfare Department in World Laughter Day celebrations.
The day will feature a laughter flash mob at The One shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui, laughter yoga and dancing at the Tsim Sha Tsui East promenade, and workshops at the Boss Commercial Centre in the evening.