Spiritual leader has crowd breathing easier

If there was peace to be found on the Peninsula Tuesday night, it was in the lilting voice of a tiny man in a creamy, flowing gown.

“You are peace. You are peace,” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar whispered to the silent crowd of more than 600 people in CSU-Monterey Bay’s Student Center.

Not to be confused with the prominent musician of the same name, Shankar is a spiritual leader and international humanitarian from Bangalore, India. He visited CSU-Monterey Bay as part of his North American tour that will continue on to Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Mexico City, New York and Washington, D.C.

Tuesday night, the rapt crowd exhaled deeply, and at the end of the short meditation, when Shankar asked whether they were relaxed, 600 voices responded with a hushed and warm “yes.”

Sri Sri, as he’s known to devotees, smiled widely and nodded.

The developer of a powerful breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya that is supposed to detoxify the body and bring clarity to the mind, Shankar travels the world teaching his technique and bringing messages of peace and love. He is also founder of the Art of Living Foundation, which has established educational, vocational and social programs around the world.

Art of Living classes have been taught recently to members of the Delaware National Guard, the Washington D.C. Police Department and about 1,000 U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens in Baghdad.

Shankar told the crowd Tuesday that the Art of Living offices in Baghdad are just 500 yards from the former office of the International Red Cross. Though the Red Cross is gone, Art of Living teachers continue to counsel people and teaching breathing techniques.

“The people there have said that in many months time they could laugh again, they could sleep again, they could eat again,” he said.

Serving others was an important part of the message Shankar delivered.

“Have a commitment in life to do some service,” he said. “We need to share what we have with the people around us.”

Shankar offered another nugget, using his trademark humor.

“There is a technique to get depressed. Anybody want to learn?” he asked as the crowd responded with laughter. “Just sit in your house and say, ‘What about me? What about me? What about me?’”

Instead, Shankar offered his philosophy: that people can find their peace, their center through breath.

“Living in this busy world in society you encounter things you don’t like,” he said.

“Stress is going to happen, and you need to know how to manage it.”

“Breath is the secret, the link between emotions and body,” he added.

Debbie Munoz, a Monterey resident who attended the event Tuesday, said the breathing technique helped her cope with the loss of her husband, Ray, three years ago.

“Breathing was about getting the grief out of me,” she said.

Shankar’s Art of Living classes have reportedly been taken by 4 million people across the world.

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