The air was filled with the droning sound of “Om.” I felt a miraculous and positive feeling as I stood among thousands of people at an Art of Living session presided over by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, in March 2008 in Mumbai, India.
Art of Living courses are held all over the world by volunteer teachers, who teach breathing techniques to eliminate stress and tension in our lives. They also help us learn techniques to reduce negative thoughts, thus improving relationships at home and at work. The course relies on low impact yoga to promote good health.
I agreed to attend this session after having a chance encounter and conversation with a bank manager in Mumbai. My father and I had gone to the local bank, when I noticed that the manager had a photograph of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on his cell phone. I questioned him on this unusual choice, and this led to a delightful conversation. He invited me to attend an Art of Living session conducted by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and I accepted. At the appointed time, we stood outside the Somaya Medical grounds located on the Eastern Expressway in Sion. Around me, hundreds of people were alighting from cars, taxis, and buses. I looked around, and realized that the crowd represented a true melting pot of people from various Indian states, with a few foreigners as well. The smells wafting through the air, the sounds of many languages, and the incessant honking of cars assailed us, as we waited at the security check line. People from all walks of life came flocking in the afternoon to take part in the Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful breathing technique that purifies and rejuvenates through the elimination of toxins at a deep cellular level.
We finally entered the grounds where the session was to be held. I saw thousands of people who had already laid out their mats. People were sitting down, stretching, and some had even fallen asleep waiting for the event to begin. We found a place and settled in for the kriya session. The large stage had a photograph cutout of silhouettes of people dancing and holding hands, with a sign that read, “Stress Free and Violence Free.” Five thousand people filled the space, waiting for the session to begin.
There was a hushed silence when Sri Sri Ravi Shankar entered onto the stage. Then, everyone in unison, with smiles on their faces, called out in unison—Jai Gurudev. With his soothing and gentle voice, he asked us to close our eyes, and we began our breathing exercises. I closed my eyes, and relaxed my body and mind by taking normal breaths in and out. Thoughts darted in and out, until finally my mind calmed down into a pattern of serenity and tranquility. The breath stabilized; my body felt relieved from tension and anxiety. I found myself delving into a deeper state where the self remains aware, but I did not feel connected or attached to my ego. I immediately felt a rush of peace and inner energy. Meditation is indeed an indescribable experience. I was amazed to realize that I had felt this deep inner connection even as I was surrounded by thousands of people under the Mumbai skies.
This was my first time at an Art of Living satsang. As the afternoon gave way to a cool evening, I listened to the bhajans being performed on stage. Guruji had his own orchestra and the music was harmonious. The voices were strong, lilting, and they rung beautifully through the cool night. The music was lively, and people around me clapped, danced, and swayed to the music.
Many around me including the bank manager’s family, had been part of these sessions in the past. As for me, it was a new experience. The wonderful music, the energizing voices, Guruji’s peaceful smile, and the audience’s reactions made me feel peaceful and joyful at the same time.
I walked through throngs of people and went to the side of the stage where Guruji was sitting. I felt an overwhelming need to cry and laugh at the same time. A feeling of positive vibes surrounded me in the presence of Guruji. I closed my eyes and with this exhilarating feeling, I felt like an innocent wide-eyed child and forgot everything and just danced with not a care in the world!
Looking back, I realized how fortunate I was to have met the bank manager, who invited me to attend the Art of Living session conducted by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I am thankful to him for letting me experience this unforgettable spiritual event. I carry this wonderful feeling of peace within me, even as I try to lead a life filled with less anxiety and stress here in California.
Geetanjali Arunkumar is an artist, active community volunteer, and a mother of two who wants to explore different ways of attaining balance and peace in the fast-paced life of Silicon Valley.