June 2015 By Maria Wirth Maria Wirth offers a first-person account of a Sudarshan Kriya workshoporganized by the Art of Living Foundation India is unique. In no other country are there as many impressive spiritual personalities as in India, who are appreciated the world over. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is one of them. Sri Sri, as he is often called, was born on May 13, 1956, in a village in Tamil Nadu. He showed a fondness for meditation early, and started reciting verses from the Bhagavad Gita, when he was only four years old. His parents supported him. They allowed him to study the Vedas as well as physics. Several gurus influenced him, most of all Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced the West to Transcendental Meditation. Sri Sri lived in Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh for some time. While on a meditation retreat for several days, he had an idea. This idea has spread around the world in the last 30 years, and goes by the name of Sudarshan Kriya. It is a breathing technique, whose meaning is to purify internally. Sri Sri has imparted it to millions of people so far – and the numbers are steadily increasing. As early as in the 1980s, a man sitting next to me in a long distance bus gave me the address of Sri Sri’s ashram some 20 km south of Bangalore. He told me that the Sudarshan Kriya had helped him a lot. The term did not mean anything to me, so I ignored the entry in my address book for years. In the late 90s, however, I came across an article in a German magazine about Sri Sri and his centre in Bad Antogast in the Black Forest. His youthful, relaxed face beamed over a whole page – his long, black hair falling over his shoulders, a beard, a calm expression in his eyes, and a likeable countenance. I remembered my address book and went to Bangalore. In my early years in India, while practising yoga, I had noticed for the first time, how often I unnecessarily held my breath, how shallow it was, and that I never fully breathed out. Even while doing simple chores my breath would stop. I had every intention of observing my breathing, but most times I forgot. Now finally I wanted to do intense breathing under professional supervision. Intense breathing was the core of Sudarshan Kriya. That much the person next to me in the bus, who had given me the address, had revealed. In the large ashram, which spreads over hilly terrain, I saw a number of young men who all looked like Sri Sri: their black hair fell over their shoulders and their beard over their chest. They were slim and wrapped in white cloth. They were friendly and seemed likeable, except for one person, who fell somewhat out of line – the portly, short-haired and very determined cashier in the office. He decreed that I had to pay the fee for foreigners, which was much higher than that for Indians. The fact that I had already lived 20 years in India, and did not draw a regular pay from Germany did not cut any ice. Yet, I could fully understand the directive that foreigners were to pay more. We, anyway, benefit immensely from the low cost of living in India. During the registration, I was asked whether I had any illness, especially whether I had any heart problem, and had to sign a form that I would not hold the Art of Living Foundation (that is the foundation which Sri Sri had set up after his inspiration of Sudarshan Kriya) responsible, if something went wrong. I was a little nervous. My health had never been robust, and I was not sure what the Sudarshan Kriya would entail. At the medical check-up before being admitted into primary school, the doctor had diagnosed a ‘hole in the heart’. I was not to cycle or climb mountains. This injunction remained in my memory, even though, of course, I rode a bicycle, and climbed mountains, and had even walked at the height of 5,600 metres, the highest motorable pass in Ladakh. I did not mention the hole in the heart. It was too vague. Probably I did not even have it. And if my heart was meant to fail, then let it fail, I thought. I signed the form, which included an injunction not to divulge the content of the course. We were 44 participants, all Indians except for me, and men and women almost equally represented. Our teacher was a young doctor by the name of Jayshree from Bangalore. In earlier times, Sri Sri himself conducted the courses, yet those times are over. He established a wide network of teachers whom he selects and trains. They work on a voluntary basis. “You can feel in every situation as much at ease as if you were sitting on a couch in your own living room,” says Sri Sri. He talks from experience. I once saw him dozing off during bhajans before an audience of around 500 people. Occasionally his head fell to the side; he put it up again, until it fell again. He was supposed to give a talk after the singing and his assistants exchanged partly amused and partly helpless glances with each other, as his talk was long overdue. The music suddenly stopped, perhaps due to a resolute decision taken by the disciples, and unusual silence prevailed. Sri Sri slowly opened his eyes, briefly oriented himself, smiled and started his talk. No embarrassment, no wanting to hide anything. He appeared as if he were indeed in his own living room, with family. Draped in a green sari, Jayshree sat in front on a cushion on a small, raised platform – calm, confident and beautiful with her huge, dark eyes. She, too, seemed to feel the ease of sitting in her living room and belonging to us. Sri Sri greatly values this feeling of belongingness. It makes sense, if we all are basically one. The first thing Jayshree asked us to do was to get up and introduce ourselves to each other ending with the phrase, “I belong to you.” Afterwards we talked about how uneasy we had felt with this last sentence. Some had mumbled it quickly. Some had not said it at all. Some had said it loud and clear. I had taken the easy route out: I merely copied the other person’s approach when they introduced themselves to me. If somebody mumbled quickly, I also mumbled quickly. When somebody dropped the sentence altogether, I also was immediately ready for it. And if somebody said, “I belong to you” loud and clear as Jayshree did, I managed to say it loud and clear, as well. We started with preparatory pranayama, the ancient Indian breathing techniques. “How do you feel?”, Jayshree asked after the first exercise. “Dizzy,” I answered. My capacity for air or prana, the life energy contained in the breath, was obviously not much. The dizziness left after some time. Jayshree created a familiar atmosphere with a combination of yoga, pranayama and psychotherapeutical methods and soon we felt that we indeed belonged to each other. On the first evening, when we arrived at the reception with our bags, we were sceptically scrutinising each other. While saying good-bye, we all liked each other and were grateful for the time spent together. The core of the course is the Sudarshan Kriya. It is an intense breathing technique, about which a number of medical and psychological research papers have been published. During a conference on Indian psychology, medical doctors gave presentations about how the Kriya helps cure not only depression and psychosomatic illnesses, but also reduces diabetes and high blood pressure. For me, the Sudarshan Kriya had a big impact. Maybe because earlier I had never done such long and conscious breathing, and my system was flooded with so much oxygen for the first time. Occasionally I even felt that I had reached my limits. But I strictly followed the instruction: “Keep breathing! Come what may!” Sometimes drowsy thoughts overwhelmed me and I forgot to breathe. We were, however, under supervision. Immediately some assistant would be by my side, loudly breathing into my ear. This woke me up and I continued breathing. While relaxing flat on the floor afterwards, I felt absolutely blissful. All my cells felt alive and throbbing with ecstasy. I followed the request of Jayshree to practise a short form of the Kriya, which takes half an hour, for at least 45 days at home. I even practised it for full eight months because, apart from the nice feeling it induced, the Kriya gave me more energy, increased a feeling of general well-being, and made me more aware and sensitive of my surroundings. It reduced my inhibition with others. I realised that another claim of Sri Sri is also true: nothing and nobody can make you unhappy, if you have decided to be happy. There are only two conditions for happiness: on the one hand, a stress-free and relaxed body and mind. On the other hand, your decision to be happy. That is all, claims Sri Sri. It is amazing what far-reaching consequences the idea of one single man has had. According to a pamphlet, the beneficiaries included: scientists at NASA, WHO officials, computer engineers at Microsoft, students and professors of reputed universities, the football team of Manchester United, oil barons in the Gulf, actors in Hollywood and Bollywood, politicians in Costa Rica, hoteliers in Singapore, and musicians in Australia. The list continues: Rickshaw drivers, porters on railway stations, terrorists in Bihar, inmates of Tihar, the biggest prison in Delhi, residents of Dharavi, the most densely populated slum in Mumbai, refugees in Kosovo, tree cutters in Siberia, belly dancers in Brazil, and street children in South Africa. The list is impressive. Furthermore, Sri Sri has initiated countless projects to uplift the underprivileged. Members of his organisation work in tens of thousand villages. Sri Sri is travelling a lot, yet he happened to be in the ashram, when I participated in the course and came for bhajan every evening to an open, round hall situated right on top of a hillock. He himself sang bhajans with his clear, boy-like voice and afterwards answered questions.
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