Think life sucks? So did we until we took lessons in the art of breathing. Doing it right is not as easy as you think. Honestly!
Picture the scene: You’re eight months old, snuggled up next to ‘Bear Bear’ your comfort toy and dreaming of Mickey Mouse. Life’s pretty good. There’s no mortgage to pay and the nine-to-five slog is light years away. According to Niranjan Rao, teacher at the Art of Living (AOL) Centre – an organisation that focuses on breathing, spirituality and peace – this is when our ability to inhale is spot on.
‘As babies, we didn’t think about the ‘proper’ way to breathe,’ he explains. ‘We instinctively inhaled deeply, lowered our diaphragms and allowed our lungs to fill with oxygen. As grown-ups, work-related stress can cause rapid, shallow breaths, while depression leads to slow, lethargic intakes (think of that post-McDonald’s sigh). And money-related trauma can lead to periods where you aren’t breathing at all.
‘Irregular breathing can throw the body out of balance, fray the nervous system, overtax the vital organs and weaken the immune system,’ Rao says. ‘This can lead to a whole host of illnesses, including anxiety disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, allergies, chronic pain and clinical depression.’
Sound a little distressing? Well there’s a positive to follow this negative and that’s where Sudarshan Kriya – a precise, systemised technique that’s taught at AOL centres worldwide – comes in. And in true guru-style, it was Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (not the sitar-maestro Ravi Shankar, by the way) who coined the technique while on a spiritual jaunt to the Himalayas in 1982.
According to Shankar, the Kriya is designed to reinstate the healthy, stress-free self you were as an infant, before you had to go to school, get jobs and worry about paying the car insurance. ‘Doing the Kriya helps you remember what that joy and simplicity was like,’ Niranjan says. (And you can tell by the smile on his face that he remembers.) Regular Kriya-goers confirm they have healed themselves of asthma, allergies, chronic pains, crippling depressions and even obesity.
‘The Sudarshan Kriya not only helps calm down the stress response system – which is what antidepressants do – it also activates the recharging, healing part of the system,’ he adds. High levels of cortisol, a hormone released when the body is stressed, have been linked to depression, memory loss, high blood pressure and osteoporosis. Kriya allegedly lowers these levels. ‘The longer one practices it,’ Niranjan says, ‘the more your psychological and physical health will increase.’
Each 90-minute AOL course begins with a three-part pranayama (yogic breath-awareness exercise), a series of ‘bellow breaths’ (energising pranayama), three chants of Om and then the Sudarshan Kriya itself, which guides the troupe through a series of breathing rhythms by Niranjan. Despite assurances that it’s improving our frazzled state of mind, the troupe looks like a bunch of High School Musical rejects – but sans pom poms and jazz hands.
Our comrades were a mixed bag: models, stay-at-home mums, footballers; psychologists; a former Jesuit priest; some Business Bay bankers; a ruddy-faced manicurist and her air hostess daughter; and a guy who ‘dresses up as Modhesh for Dubai Summer Surprises’. If Barack Obama had turned up to the humble Bur Dubai abode, we’d have hardly batted an eyelid. ‘People from across the globe need this, so they come in their hordes,’ he says. In the New York AOL arm, there was even a programme dedicated to helping the firemen, post 9/11. ‘If you faced physical or mental trauma, AOL is definitely a good port of call.’
But that’s not to say it’s one to try in the comfort of your own home. ‘When it’s done correctly, chances are you will benefit enormously,’ he says. ‘Doing the Kriya helps you remember what that joy and simplicity was like… But if done incorrectly, you can experience dizziness, disorientation and confusion.’
That said Niranjan doesn’t think breathing cures all worldly ills: ‘Just like medicine can’t. But breathing gives you an opportunity every day for at least half an hour to be genuine, to be yourself. Yogis have known for thousands of years that breath is life.’
In a nutshell
It takes about 20 hours for a new student to complete the programme, or learn the Kriya. Once a month, the AOL centre in Bur Dubai offers an intensive course. In addition to learning the techniques and postures over the six days, participants also engage in self-exploration and encounter groups – discussions, exercises and question-and-answer sessions – that challenge students to think about who they are, what they want from life and how they can react (or not react, as it were) to challenges. In other words, they receive guidance on the ‘art’ of living.
A six-day AOL course is Dhs750 and then sessions are free from thereon in. For more information you can contact Niranjan Rao on 050 558 2233.