I am lying on my back feeling utterly relaxed but also incredibly aware. I listen to the sound of a mynah bird outside, and the heavy breathing of someone near me, and realize that for once my mind is actually still instead of buzzing with its usual relentless chatter.
I am one of six participants on a three-day Art of Living course and we have just completed a rigorous regime of breathing exercises called Sudarshan Kriya before being allowed to sink down onto our yoga mats and feel the full effects of this huge oxygen intake.
“It’s every human being’s birthright to live in a disease-free body and a stress-free mind, ” says Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who derived the Sudarshan Kriya, and is founder of the Art of Living. “Yet, neither at school nor at home have we been taught how to deal with our negative emotions. ”
The Art of Living is relatively new to Australia, but is practised in over 140 countries worldwide by millions of people. The course, which is taught by volunteers, is designed to help participants reduce stress in their lives, and increase their happiness, health and wellbeing. In America, South Africa and India it is taught extensively in prisons and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, and has been effective in helping overcome addictions, anxiety disorders and depression.
The teachers of the course, Sarah Sweeting and Ivan Brownrigg, explain that the pattern of the breath is related to the mind and our emotional state. For example, when we feel anxious our breath is short and constricted, but if we are happy we take long inhalations. Also, they explain that the lungs are one of the most important organs in the body for the elimination of impurities, but most people only use about per cent of their lung capacity.
The course is designed to be a physical, emotional and mental detoxification process. We are asked not to drink alcohol, take drugs, smoke cigarettes or imbibe caffeine over the three days, and to eat only vegetarian food. My friends look a little perplexed on Saturday evening when we meet at a pub to watch the Waratahs playing and I order peppermint tea and minestrone soup, while they down beers and tuck into large steaks.
Each day we do some gentle yoga exercises to release tension in the body, followed by a couple of breathing exercises and then the Sudarshan Kriya. This technique is a series of specific breath rhythms that vary from slow and deep to moderate and then fast. Apparently they are very effective for oxygenating the cells and flushing out impurities, which helps eliminate stress and negative emotions.
Sweeting and Brownrigg talk at length about the mind and its effect on our wellbeing. They point out how, for much of the time, many of us live our lives trying to elicit the good opinions of others, rather than making our own journey our priority. A piece of advice I find really valuable is when Brownrigg says: “Don’t see intention behind other people’s mistakes. Don’t think ‘he did that to me‘. Save the mind. ” I realize how often, particularly with the people closest to me, I jump to the conclusion that they have it in for me, when that’s really not the case at all.
Although the Sudarshan Kriya has the most exhilarating effect on me every time we do it, at other moments during the course I feel quite despondent and also rather irritable. Sweeting says these effects are often felt when you first release mental or emotional toxins that have been held in the body for a long time. The process affects other participants in different ways. One woman says she feels nauseous and another person falls asleep.
The final day of the course includes instructions on how to practice Sudarshan Kriya at home, and Sweeting assures us that this half an hour a day will have profound effects on our lives.
I have practiced every day for the last couple of weeks, and although I am terrified that I’ll be ridiculed forever if my partner ever catches me doing the exercise called Bhastrika, in which I am puffing like a walrus while throwing my arms into the air, I have to say I feel great. The self-criticism I usually have just doesn’t seem to be there, and normal worries are no longer continually darting through my mind as they were previously. I seem to have more focus and clarity, and an incredible sense of wellbeing.
For more information
The Art of Living runs a range of courses including those for children, youth empowerment, trauma relief and also prisoners.
For more information on the Art of Living go to www.artofliving.org.au or contact Sarah Sweeting on 0439 449 165 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Ivan Brownrigg on 0421 320 611 or email@example.com