Art of Living

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?
Photo: Sri Sri Ravi Sankar and the Dalai Lama
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Dalai Lama co-founded the International Association of Human Values (IAHV) in 1997 in Geneva.

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.

What sets Art of Living apart? Its emphasis on ecumenical outreach of the benefits of Sudarshan Kriya to those who can really use it: children, prison inmates, the HIV infected. The Prison SMART Foundation (Stress Management and Rehabilitative Training) addresses the needs of individuals and professionals affected by the criminal justice system.

  • 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.

16 thoughts on “Art of Living

  1. HI
    I have been practising sudarshan kriya for nearly 9 years but i always get confused wether I am doing it in right way especially the fast breathing ,I did attend the refresher course but still doubts on kriya haunts me ,Due to which I am unable to enjoy.

    Each time I do sudarshan kriya the fast breathing pattern will be different due to which I get confused and feel like lstoppping sudarshan kriya.

    I keep analyzing the whole day, hope I am doint it in the right way.

    The rythm of fast breathing is not the same everytime ,I become totally confused and frustrated and start doubting on kriya.

    someitmes I have to put a little efforts to do the fast breathing

  2. the most people in AOL behave Crazy and always speak about paranormal powers and Everything depends upon guru, and his blessings can make everything possible and his curse can make worse. how come before joining cult AOL everything was in our hand and just after doing AOL shifted Ravishankar hands and as per his wishes. if you argue or doubt on AOL and express it, all seems to feel something big blunder committed like 10/11-2001
    Even i heard many teachers request for permission to have sex with their wife. Sri Sri Ravi shankar controls everything. AOL most people are like behaves ,reacts similarly like Roberts in industry .

    It makes you living dead ,

  3. Mitch,
    For your points regarding hyperventilation, the bhastrika part of breathing in AOL is termed to be hyperventilative even in yoga, albeit controlled. Other rhythmic breathing, some of them can be termed as hyperventilation. So it is not a surprise. In fact Bhastrika – some people recommend to be used for high altitude acclimatization. While Bhastrika is Hyper, other pranayamas with holding breaths have the opposite effect. Unlike other hyperventilation, this induces a more active parasympathetic response and calms your system.

  4. I attended an AOL 4 daY course. Never before I have seen brainwashed people until then. It was quite eye opening and such a shame the instructors could not engage in informed debate. Rather than telling me that what they thought was right and everything else was wrong.

    1. Yes you are right, some people are saying Heaven in the Earth.It is really heaven because all the dead people go there without soul.They leave their families, friends even their carrier.They all work for a Man called Ravi Shankar like slaves.This is my humble request do not send your children in AOL because I lost my elder daughter there.

  5. Keep up the good work. God with you. Am christain by birth, was brainwashed to believe that jesus is the only way. Was never allowed to question some unclear verses of the bible. Yet the light of truth cannot be quenched. Where was jesus for 18yrs? I ask, they told me to have faith. Please, all i want to say here is; God is already with AOL. And no man can stop the Good work. Do you have branch in Nigeria. From. Goddey Thompson Orji. Nigeria.

    1. Dear Goddey,

      I have taken the AOL basic and advanced course and it has changed my life. I used to have a horrible temper and used to be very violent when angry – even the slightest thing would set me off. Once I did the course and the Sahaj Samadhi meditation course, I can honestly say I have become much calmer. Also, I do believe Jesus was a man of peace, though not the only way. As Hindus, we are taught that Jesus is one of the many avatars of God.
      Please look at the Art of living website for course in Nigeria – I’m sure they are some.
      Please stay safe, and good luck to you!


  6. Anand, I can appreciate your approach, with kindness. My experience with Art of Living was close and intimate with a woman who has devoted her life to this guru and followers for nearly two decades. We dated, performed home, long kriyas and she hosted many AOL gatherings, as well as served on the AOL board. Although her involvement was FAR more extensive than my would ever become, I was able to take the socialogical approach of peering into this sect from the outside.
    First, there was no one in the AOL who I met, that seemed a “whole person” on their own. Even my first class was filled with women going through difficulties in life or men having problems at work or home. So most of the AOL devotees were “seeking” something that they could not cure for themselves. AOL came to their rescue, of sorts, because they were given a pseudo-science to believe in. My girlfriend was from an abusive marriage, for example, and she used kriya and AOL retreats for escapes from him.
    My background in emergency medicine had trained me years ago to identify and treat the symptoms of HYPERVENTILATION. I capitalize here because I want all to know that “Sudar­shana Kriya” is nothing more than a form of hyperventilation. To the former writer who experienced headache, numbness, cramping fingers or toes, tingling around the lips… These are ALL common signs/symtoms of Hyperventilation Syndrome. Early practice of Sudar­shana Kriya might make these symptoms more pronounced. As more controlled practice is achieved, the symptoms of euphoric meditation states is gained by the seeker. An analogy of this can be noted in hyperbaric diving, where-by some deep divers using SCUBA can overcome the effects of high partial pressures of nitrogen, or nitrogen narcosis, but only because of repeated exposures or “practice.” Sudar­shana Kriya’s hyperventilation effects can also be calmed with “practice,” but the other “benefits” of hyperventilation cannot be measured nor claimed, as AOL like to report in all of their writings on the so called benefits of kriya.

  7. Hi Mitch,
    With all due respects to your faith in Jesus and belief in spirituality, I suggest you please stick to your faith. No where, nobody contradicts with you in AOL on your faith and belief.
    I even suggest out of my love and compassion towards you, Just drop all these thoughts arising from Chattering Mind. Ignore them for a while and just practice Sudarshana kriya and Meditation for few months and see yourself , where do you stand and what are you up to. Have a 1st hand Experience yourself. Dont believe in any Guru Concept and any ‘Clutish’ attractions, sincerely. Pay dumb attention to the one whoever influences you in this angle, if at all somebody does.
    This is how you can reap the benefits of ‘Sudarshana Kriya’ & Meditation, practically. Please post your experience once have evaluated/tested this over a period of months.– Don’t hesitate even if the result is not happy , not satisfied for you.

  8. Guru aggrandizement and guru-philia was the true troubling issue with my becoming involved in AOL.
    Having been raised as a Christian, believing that Christ, the Son of God, died during cruxifiction, then rose from the dead three days later to forgive the sins of man… has been the basis of my spiritual belief. Now through different interpretations of history, the lost years of Christ (age 13-30 approx.), and the willingness to give gurus the same elevation of Gods… There exists among AOL believers that Christ at age 13 began a quest for Vedic knowledge and teachings from vedic leaders in the arts of meditation and healing. “Issa” or Jesus, it is told, visited the northern regions of India, where he learned to be God-like by gurus and vedic teachings. Jesus then returned to the Holy Lands at age 30 to collect his followers and demonstrate his “vedic powers of healing” the sick and lame… Truth or fiction, one must decide. Does equating Jesus or Issa, in fact comparing His adult years to vedic or guru practicies… elevate the “vedic knowledge” of your present day guru? Shoud we treat SSRS as a mortal God? Some would think so. They even suggest that Jesus NEVER died on the cross, but went into a deep, meditative state, which he then rose from! What a perfect story to suggest that your guru is on the same plane as another Christ or God. Has the industry of western guru-ship, exported into our western thinking, discovered ways to warp our thinking into believing them to be “avatars”, the second coming of Christ-like teachers? SSRS has “performed healings” and creates senses and aromas… Are we to believe because we want to believe? I have seen nothing magical… thus far.

  9. AOL loves using MD or PhD connected to their follower’s names because they offer credibily where none is deserved, sometimes. If Dr. Amy Weintraub wasn’t a AOL/SSRS devotee, she might too be credible because of this following quote: “One problem here is that when people, experts or not, decide to review the evidence on an issue dear to their hearts, they tend to see what they want to…”

  10. In my experience with the Art of Living, having been introduced by a lady friend, who has been a follower/devotee for nearly 20 years… I became skeptical of the claims, the people seeking “enlightenment,” and the organization which supports the facade. No U.S. agency has been able to collect enough information from The Art of Living in order to rate or give legitimate advice to the use of the charitable donations. There is zero transparency in regards to the finances of AOL or Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
    SSRS also asks all students to keep “knowledge” of any course or practices within each course… SECRET… Sharing information about the actual breathing techniques, “kriya” practice, is forbidden, as is the “Silence” courses, etc.. I believe he even goes as far as to copywrite these breathing practices, so that only his organization can collect the monies to teach.
    Devotees hang on each and every word that Sri Sri utters, but none of it is new nor profound. I bothered to read two of his books… boring exercise. Yet, he does pull quite a following of rabid boot, or in his case, foot lickers.
    With the aggrandizement of His Holiness, Sri Sri, the followers who defend his life here as “God-like” or an “Avatar” or “Jesus-like” … the secrecy surrounding the use of money collected, the secrecy of lessons/practices, and the claims made using pseudo-science… ALL point to a powerful, mind convincing CULT/or SECT, which shoul be approached with skillful skepicism.

    1. Ha Haaaaaaaa…..
      Really are You Sure My dear one 🙂

      Just Come and be a Part of This SECRET knowledge 😉
      Good Luck

  11. You might be in a Cult if: Aggrandizement of one leader is demonstrated by “holy, holy” titles, leader’s photos in your home and car, excommunication of all others who refuse to believe-in your leader… and pretending to be of the same culture thru action and diet. These are the followers of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living, designed to capture minds/lives/money thru hyperventilation techniques called kriya/ meditation, then “proven” with pseudo-science by their own “experts.” Expertly crafted for those who believe they are just as crafty.

    1. As most of us have learned in life, human endeavor always has the potential for veering off into a misguided, deluded ego trip for the guy (or gal) at the top, even if it has spiritual trappings. In the case of Art of Living, many Americans would be put off my some of the Indian cultural penchants: the cultivation of guru status, being the most relevant in this case. Sri Shri Ravi Shankar is not the only holy man on top of a multinational enterprise that can sometimes seem a money harvesting machine: Ramdev and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi are to that immediately come to mind. Personally, I have not witnessed the kind of group behavior that could be described as “cult-ish.” To the contrary, my instructors gave great leeway to other people’s personal beliefs, but offered Art of Living methods as a universal tool. I was never “pursued” by AoL people, pestered for money or hassled in any other way. On the other hand, I have seen some blogs and forum postings by disgruntled former members, but that can happen in any organization. There is always a latent fault line between volunteers in a non-profit and those who are brought on full-time to manage an organization that spans the globe and requires major cash flow to keep itself running.

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