Breathing lessons: Indian spiritual leader’s meditation world tour comes to Bay Area

Alameda Times-Star, May 6, 2003
By Jennifer Carnig – STAFF WRITER

In India, he’s like a rock star, attracting tens of thousands wherever he goes. But this Ravi Shankar isn’t the sitar player who hung out with the Beatles. He’s a spiritual teacher. A guru who’s brought lessons of joy, peace and yoga to more than 2 million people in more than 140 countries.

Performing the breathing exercises, called the Sudarshan Kriya, is like “taking a shower on the inside,” Ball says. “There’s a correlation between how you feel and how you breathe. Learning these techniques will lift your stress in a way that there aren’t really words to describe. … It’s just sensational.”

The exercises are actually an adaptation of a 5,000-year-old yoga breathing technique from the Vedic tradition, but were mostly forgotten until Shankar brought them back into prominence.

Simpler than they seem for the results promised, all of the exercises are basic modifications of the same thing — breathing and meditation. But the guru swears they’ll change everyone’s lives as they have his own.

Very charismatic and often referred to as a genius, Shankar is said to have memorized the Bhagavad Gita — the sacred Hindu text — when he was 4, and he had a college degree in science from St. Joseph’s College in Bangalor, India, by the time he was 17. He later studied with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation. He began the Art of Living in 1982.

“He’s wonderful,” says Milpitas resident Amitabh Sinha, a high-tech worker who used to literally ache from the stress of his Silicon Valley job but now laughs when he speaks of an upcoming deadline. He’s been practicing Shankar’s breathing techniques for six years now, never missing a day.

“The first time I did it, I felt like I was born again,” Sinha says. “Now, the stress comes, but it doesn’t stay. I still get angry, but I come back to myself very quickly. My whole life was transformed.”

Shankar’s popularity earned him a speaking engagement at the United Nations Millennium World Peace Summit, and he regularly speaks at the United Nations World Economics Summits in New York and Switzerland, as well as at world conferences on conflict resolution, human rights and racism and discrimination.

The Art of Living Foundation now has four retreat centers worldwide and also sponsors service projects and more than 100 schools in underdeveloped countries. Shankar’s techniques have been used to calm juvenile offenders in Los Angeles County and for three months after Sept. 11, New Yorkers were treated to his classes to help calm their stress.

“Our first and foremost commitment is to do service in the world,” Shankar once said on the purpose of life. “When you make service your sole purpose in life, it eliminates fear and brings focus and purposefulness in your mind, action and long-term joy — and maybe short-term problems.”

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar will be speaking and teaching Thursday through Monday at Rickeys Hyatt, 4219 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; Sunday at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, 150 West San Carlos St., San Jose; and May 14 at Zellerbach Hall, Telegraph Avenue at Bancroft Way, Berkeley. Cost for most events is $10. For a complete schedule, call (888) 909-7359, visit () or e-mail

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday May 7, 2003.
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