I think one of the distinguishing traits of Art of Living is that it puts an emphasis on spirituality through pranayama and meditation. In many yoga styles, you start with the asanas — hatha yoga. In most classes at a yoga studio, you’ll be go through the Sun Salutation and other postures, and maybe add Ujjayi breath or three-part breathing as a concession to pranayama. Breathing should be matched with movement, but no special attention is given to it. By the end of the class’s time allotment, the next class’s students are impatiently waiting outside to get in and grab space for their mats.
Art of Living is yoga for those who don’t want to break a sweat while getting the spiritual benefits out of it. If Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and Bikram want you to get buff, Sri Sri wants you to get mellow and let all that stress out of your system. You don’t have to master Down Dog unless you want to. Art of Living, however, does use hatha yoga as a preparation of Sudarshan Kriya, pranayama and meditation. It has also started a teacher program for training instructors.
I have been drawn to this approach because at my age (54), it will take me time get my body into shape again. But the breathing and meditation parts of yoga can be mastered more easily and quickly in the early phases of the learning process. I know that I am oversimplifying, and that there are traps incumbent in the Art of Living approach. But it’s part of the allure of practicing yoga to me.
I mention all this because from Tuesday through Friday last week, I was taking a Sahaj Samadhi meditation course in the evening. Michael Fishman, our instructor, was in town giving an APEX corporate course to World Bank staff, and made the meditation course available. He has been with Sri Sri since 1988, and is one of the first generation of Art of Living instructors. During the course, there was lots of handholding and patience with the students, answering score of questions that ranged from the operational (“Should I shower before or after my morning practice?”) to ideological (“If Sri Sri recognizes Maharishi Maheshyogi as his master and practiced Transcendental Meditation, why does he now practice Sahaj Samadhi Meditation?”).
Fishman provided a framework for meditation and its integration in our lives. He also discussed why Sahaj Samadhi Meditation works and what meditation is not — it is not hearing the voice of God or the prophets; it is not seeing visions, and it is not pondering the fate of the world. This technique is not aimed for a swami sitting in a cave on a Tibetan mountain.
In addition to our daily routine of 20-minutes pranayama and kriya in the morning, another 20 minutes of meditation is added with cooldown exercise. It’s easy to flow from the breathing into meditation. At the end of meditation, you use atlernate-nostril breathing (Nadi Sodhana) to ease yourself back into normal life. Art of Living doctrine also requires that you meditate another 20 minutes later in the day, at the latest before supper. Always do your Art of Living routines on an empty stomach.
It’s hard to describe what we were doing. Meditation is really something that you can’t teach, like hatha yoga. It’s all happening inside your head so the instructor cannot observe and correct your technique. He can only help you in the preparation for meditating and give you general guidelines. For Art of Living, daily meditation is a kind of spiritual hygiene — like flossing your teeth — for relieving stress. At its optimum, it’s an encounter with the divine within us.