Breathing lessons: the latest New Age craze (Independent Online, South Africa)

Independent Online, South Africa: The first breath of life eventually leads to the last exhale at death, but for whatever span that lies between, breathing is an unassuming, if essential, part of living. It seemed odd to me that one would need lessons in how to breathe. Yet people worldwide are turning to the intensive Art of Living course on lowering stress and finding renewed vigour and clarity through age-old Hindu breathing techniques. More than two million people, from students at the Art of Living ashram in southern India to the techies of Silicon Valley, CEOs of Manhattan and prisoners in New Delhi, have taken breathing and meditation courses based on the teachings of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Shankar – who uses the double honorific of “Sri Sri” so as not to be confused with the Indian sitar maestro – has become the rage of New Age spiritualism.

He was welcomed by President Bush at the Oval Office in May and asked to pray for Americans; he intends to be the first Hindu spiritual leader to visit Islamic Pakistan to spread his message of love and peace.

A truncated, 16-hour course held over two weeknights and a weekend is for $33. The six-day course can cost $250 in the United States, though less for students and seniors.

The premise of the programme is to perform “sudarshan kriya” every morning for 25 minutes. If that sounds like the approach of Transcendental Meditation, it’s because Shankar was a disciple and associate of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Sudarshan kriya, which Shankar says came to him during 10 days of silent meditation in 1982, involves rhythmic breathing to infuse the body with oxygen and help rid it of toxins and stress. India’s ancient yogis considered fresh oxygen and calmness key to physical stamina, so breathing in tune with the rhythms of nature has always been an integral part of yoga. Having taken Hatha and the more strident form of Ashtanga yoga, I was familiar with some of the techniques, which move from slow, deep breathing through the nostrils to faster breaths while placing your hands in different positions to move the oxygen down varying paths, and finally, rapid bellows breaths that force you to pump air in and out of your lungs.

Some in the class got dizzy and needed to lie down. I asked if this “bhastrika”, or bellows breathing, wasn’t just a euphemism for hyperventilation, and was told, no, the giddiness comes from the release of toxins and negative thoughts.

By the third day, several people complained of sinus headaches and nasal congestion Read more

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