India is unique. In no other country there are as many impressive spiritual personalities as in India. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is no doubt one of those outstanding personalities.
Sri Sri, as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is often called, was born on 13th May 1956 in Tamil Nadu. He started reciting verses from the Bhagavad-Gita, when he was only 4 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 Transcendental Meditation in the west. Sri Sri lived in Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh for some time. Once, when he retreated in meditation for several days, he had an idea. This idea has spread around the world since over 30 years and goes by the name of Sudarshan Kriya. It is a breathing technique that purifies internally. Sri Sri has imparted it to millions of people so far – and the numbers are steadily increasing.
Already in the 1980s, a man sitting next to me in a long distance bus, had given me the address of Sri Ravi Shankar’s ashram some 20 km south of Bangaluru. He told me that the Sudarshan Kriya had helped him a lot. “Sudarshan Kriya” 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. I wanted to do intense breathing under professional supervision, because intense breathing was the core of Sudarshan Kriya – this much the person next to me in the bus, who had given me the address, had revealed.
We were 44 participants, all Indians except for me, and men and women almost equally represented. Our teacher was a young doctor, Jayshree, from Bangalore.
“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, and he obviously feels like this wherever he goes. Jayshree, too, calm, confident and beautiful with her huge, dark eyes and dressed in a green sari, seemed to feel like sitting in her own living room amidst family. Sri Sri greatly values and encourages the 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. Everyone should talk to everyone else – and 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 reacted to the person opposite me in the same way, as she introduced herself to me. As I was the only foreigner, the others walked quite naturally up to me. I did not have to take the initiative. 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 loud and clear, and Jayshree was one of them, “I belong to you”, 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. I felt dizzy. 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 scrutinizing 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 curing 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 never had 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 reached my limits. But I followed strictly 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 was by my side and loudly breathed into my ear. This woke me up and I continued breathing.
While relaxing flat on the floor afterwards, it felt absolutely blissful. All 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, daily for at least 45 days at home. I even practised it for 8 months without leaving out a single day 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 for my surroundings. It also reduced my inhibition to get in contact with others. The Sudarshan Kriya strengthened indeed a feeling of belongingness – yes, I belong to you and everyone.
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 one hand, a stress free and relaxed body and mind are required and the Sudarshan Kriya takes care of that. On the other hand, your decision “Yes, I want to be happy” is necessary. That is all, claims Sri Sri.
It is amazing what far-reaching consequences the idea of one man has had. I read on a pamphlet, who all had benefited from the Sudarshan Kriya: 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, musicians in Australia, and so on.
The list continues: Ricksha 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, street children in South Africa, and so on.
Furthermore, Sri Sri has initiated numerous projects to uplift the underprivileged. Members of his organisation work in tens of thousand villages.
The Silver Jubilee Celebration of the Art of Living Foundation in February 2006 was attended by a million of visitors, and the 35 years anniversary in March 2016 in Delhi will again be a mega event in every respect with 2 to 3 million of visitors expected.
Abroad, too, Sri Sri draws huge crowds. When he was in Malaysia in March 2015, some 70,000 people thronged his event. Islamists did not take kindly to his obvious influence in a majority Muslim country. He received a death threat from ISIS while he was there.
I am grateful to Sri Sri that he gifted us the Sudarshan Kriya. The course had intensified again the aspiration for a spiritual life. And I felt grateful to India, where this aspiration seems so natural.
By Maria Wirth