Twelve yogis nest under blankets, knees crossed, backs straight, eyes closed, breathing in and out. A pillar candle’s flame dances in the cold mountain breeze. The voice of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar guides them through a series of Pranayama (breath control) exercises. These students are not high in the peaks of the Himalayas; they are at The Yoga Spa in Incline Village practicing the Yoga of the Breath, a beginners’ course in the Art of Living.
Deena Granger has been volunteer-teaching The Art of Living in North Lake Tahoe for 10 years now. Her spiritual journey began in solitude with a Transcendental Meditation (TM) practice she took up when she said to herself, ‘I know there is more to life than all this garbage and small-minded stuff.’ After a couple of years of sitting alone, she hungered for a spiritual community. Deena caught her first glimpse of that community 15 years ago at an Art of Living course at the Conference Center in Kings Beach. She liked the processes she experienced in the course and the commitment of the group so much that she made the weekly Satsang (coming together in knowledge) a regular part of her life. When her teachers moved out of the area, she knew she had to pick up the ball and become a teacher herself.
I asked Deena about her favorite aspect of the course. ‘There is so much grace,’ she said, tears welling up in her eyes. ‘It can change the world, and I have the responsibility to share it – the knowledge and the grace.’
After a day of sitting with my question, she got back to me.
‘The concise answer to how this course can change the world became as clear as the bumper sticker on my car…Begin Within.
That’s how each of us individually can begin to make change in our world. If I’m stressed and unbalanced I am in survival mode, thinking only of myself. Art of Living is helping to restore that inner peace and balance that enhances not only our own life, but the lives of everyone we share space with.’
The six-evening Yoga of the Breath course includes gentle yoga, group exercises focusing on questions like ‘Who am I?’, and discussions about energy and presence, as well as guided meditation and Pranayama.
The masterwork of the program is Sudarshan Kriya, the healing breath. Using three basic breath rhythms, practitioners release stress, negative emotions, and toxins from their minds and bodies. Sudarshan Kriya creates a cellular rejuvenation, and with the focused breathing, one is able to arrive and be simply in the present moment – a perfect set-up for a deep meditation. The breathing practice, self-inquiry in a group, which leads to knowledge, and seva (selfless service) are the basis of the Art of Living.
We breathe, but are we conscious of how powerful our breath is? Do we recognize how the pace of our breathing is related to our emotions and see how we can control our reactions to life, including our physical reactions using our breath? While the American Medical Association (AMA) does not yet recognize (publicize) the health benefits of the 5,000-year-old science of the breath, breath work does seem to help people suffering from asthma, depression, pain, immunity disorders, ulcers, and more.
Fortunately, people like Deena are sharing the knowledge of the energetic power of the breath. Hopefully, someday soon, we will all be taking what my 8-year-old calls ‘belly breaths’ in long lines, and performing self-inquiry instead of taking our own stress out on the cashier or postal clerk. Maybe tailgaters will learn to take belly breaths, too. The world will be a better place.
The next Art of Living course will be June 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21, from 6 to 9 p.m. at The Yoga Spa, 880 Northwood Boulevard, Incline Village, Nevada, artofliving.org, Deena Granger 530-546-3422.