Art of Living is a worldwide initiative led by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, its spiritual leader who started the movement in India in 1982. It is not strictly physical yoga because the central activities tend to concentrate on breathing exercises, meditation and the spiritual realm. I am not even sure how to qualify AOL (its shortened form is preferred internally) within the Indian religious spectrum.
The Art of Living Foundation is an international non-profit educational and humanitarian organization run by volunteers active in over 140 countries. Its mission statement is:
“Art of Living Foundation is dedicated to serving society by strengthening the individual. We do this by offering programs that eliminate stress, create a sense of belonging, restore human values, and encourage people from all backgrounds, religions, and cultural traditions to come together in celebration and service.”
This page has two purposes: to bring together a lot of diverse online resources about the Art of Living, both AOL’s and other sites, and to help someone new to AOL and thinking of taking the Art of Living introduction course. When someone first thinks about taking the course, lots of ideas flow through your hear:
- Is Art of Living a religion?
- Is Art of Living a cult?
- Who is this Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and why does he look so weird? And does it matter that he does not look like a yuppie?
- Is there a scientific foundation to the breathing practices taught by AOL instructors?
I took an AOL introductory course in March 2004. It took about 20 hours, stretched over six days. I took a meditation course (four evenings, two-three hours each) in June 2004. I do a daily morning practice (45-50 minutes) of breathing and meditation, and an evening practice of 20 minutes of meditation. I also attend a weekly kriya in downtown DC once a week where I join friends listening to a recording of Sri Sri that leads us through the main practice. My involvement in AOL is part of a greater interest in yoga, meditation and other matters. You can see my weblog for more details about my daily practice. I continue to be a practicing Christian, and my Art of Living experience has strengthened my sense of being grounded and centered in my life. I have not be brainwashed or subjected to any pressure to continue my affiliation with the group. Aside from my participation in group kriya, I have not affiliation to the Art of Living Foundation.
Art of Living is gaining wide acceptance around the world. Here in Washington, the World Bank Group has sponsored many introductory AOL courses. Sri Sri has spoken at NASA, Congress and other events. The organization is based on volunteers scattered around the world, most operating with independence. The instructors do not receive any pay for their time and effort. Most are driven by a sense of service.
An appealing video explaining meditation and pranayama produced by the YESPlus organization, part of the AoL Foundation.
- Reduced stress
- Improved self-esteem
- Greater creativity and clarity of mind
- Increased health and well-being
- Enriched spiritual life
Scientific research into Sudarshan kriya has found several effects. Since 1996, Indian research has shown it to be an alternative treatment for depression. In Slovenia it was found that it also helped Multiple Sclerosis patients by improving their mobility, endurance levels, and lung capacity.
- Reduced cortisol — the “stress hormone”
- Relief of depression and anxiety
- Restores normal sleep patterns
- Increases EEG alpha and prolactin (“well-being hormone”)
Amy Weintraub’s Book
I came to AOL through reading the book Yoga for Depression: A Compassionate Guide to Relieve Suffering Through Yoga by Any Weintraub. Weintraub devotes Chapter Seven to “Art of Living — Breathing That Heals.” Over 15 pages, Weintraub goes into the details of the daily practices, stories of how it affected people’s lives and health, and the scientific evidence supporting the practice.
Weintraub points out that Art of Living methodology is attracting scientific interest. Dr. Richard Brown, of Columbia University, has been a strong supporter of the kriya practice.
Weintraub is a long-time yogini and instructor. She taught for many years at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, which has long focused on the health and spiritual benefits of yoga. She also preaches the values of pranayama in general. The Art of Living’s approach is not going to appear unprecedented. In the end, Weintraub gives a very strong endorsement of Art of Living. She took the intro course and then took the intensive, advanced course at the Canadian ashram that AOL has in Montreal.