By Rula Al-Nasrawi
In through your nose, out through your mouth.
The Art of Living is a nonprofit, world-renowned program designed to eliminate anxiety from everyday life through the simple act of inhaling and exhaling.
Inspired by the teachings of spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the Art of Living seeks to promote stress reduction and peace of mind around the world.
Suresh Iyer, UC Santa Cruz graduate student and local workshop organizer, helped expand the foundation to Santa Cruz.
“It’s basically social transformation through individual transformation and to create a sense of belonging among people,” Iyer said.
Iyer explained that over 5 million people worldwide have used this program in 140 different countries. Since being founded in 1983 the Art of Living has been run completely by volunteers.
“It is the ancient wisdom of staying in the present and accepting people as they are,” Iyer said. “It’s about taking care of yourself.”
The fundamental core of this program lies within the practice of the Surdarshan Kriya, the healing breath. The Kriya’s main intent is to create a natural rhythm within the body and help bring the mind into focus.
Graduate student Rosie Wacha took the five-day workshop in the spring of 2008 and has not looked back since. The Kriya has become a permanent fixture in her life.
“When I do the Kriya it’s a sort of meditation and I can go through my day without much distraction,” Wacha said. “It’s definitely made an impact.”
Iyer, who organizes Kriya courses at UCSC, explained the importance of the breath.
“There is a rhythm within the breath, and finding that rhythm helps deal with emotions,” Iyer said. “Everything in the world has got a rhythm.”
Second-year Nathan Taylor, an Art of Living veteran, found the Kriya practices beneficial in everyday life.
“It helps you actually rest,” Taylor said. “You do it, and it just brings you through it. You really don’t have to try anything — it just happens.”
Iyer began coordinating the workshops almost two years ago, and launched the first workshop in November 2007. Iyer discovered the Art of Living in 2001 when he attended his first workshop.
Each workshop, at $100, is normally split into 24 hours over a course of five days, leaving participants with a flexible yet intensive week.
“It’s about living in the present,” Wacha said. “Just think about what’s going on right now.”
The Art of Living Foundation has begun extensive research on mind and body techniques. Scientists have been studying the impact and long-term benefits of Kriya Yoga, although benefits have yet to be proven.
“[The Kriya] takes some time out of my day but I really enjoy doing it,” Wacha said. “It helps relax me.”
The classes require participants to continue to use the Kriya in their everyday lives. Daily Kriyas and weekly group Kriyas help bring the community together while still giving each individual the opportunity to find themselves.
After three successful runs, between 30 and 40 UCSC students have already taken the workshop.
“It’s a way of giving back,” Iyer said. “It’s part of the service.”
The next Santa Cruz Art of Living Workshop will take place in February 2009. For more information about the Art of Living Foundation, visit artofliving.org.