Art of Living Experiences.

Nature’s vehemence left a swathe of disaster in Uttarakhand. While most of the country was dazed and shaken, gazing helplessly at the images on their TV sets or newspaper, there were some who dived into action. Neeraj Kohli was one of those who decided that he just could not sit and stare or commiserate while people were in so much distress – he had to help. We asked the 45-year-old former IT professional from Delhi about his experience, and share his story:

AOLBLog- Neeraj Kohli

I grew up in Ludhiana, but I am from Dehradun originally. Having worked in the IT sector for two decades, I moved to the service sector in 2000, and am now a full time teacher of The Art of Living. I currently work in one of Asia’s largest slums in South Delhi, Sangam Vihar, with the project Manthan in addition to conducting regular workshops for defence, para-military, corporates, colleges and general public.

My family – a wife and daughter, as well as an elderly mother-in-law – are extremely supportive of my endeavors. I have a deep desire to serve, and when this disaster at Uttarakhand happened, I simply got into my car and drove to join my team already boosted by the presence of a doctor who came from Mumbai with 70kg medicines.

AOLBLog- Uttarakhand Relief

Though many Art of Living volunteers have been there for almost a month now, I was in Uttarakhand for twelve days. For the first couple of days I assisted Swami Divyanandji at Rishikesh base camp in establishing a volunteer base and in storing relief materials, packaging and distributing relief material. Then, with a 20-member strong team of professionals, businessmen, doctors and lawyers from various places including Kolkota, Mumbai, Indore and Lucknow we went to Chinyalisaur, where rescued people were being brought in by helicopter from Harshil Air Base.

AOLBLog- Uttarakhand Relief-2

At Chinyalisaur, the General Manager of an electric plant offered to house us. Our team took inputs from civil administration, rescue operation leaders and Air Force personnel and began the work. Lot of relief supplies were pouring in from all parts of the world. But this was not enough. The affected people had been deeply traumatized and shocked with the devastation. They had lost all hope with death of most people around them, loss of livelihood and total material loss. Many were almost delirious, needing emotional support and reassurance. Also the anger of the people at their own plight was palpable. There was a lot of anger – they could not appreciate the efforts of the disaster management teams who were doing everything possible to mitigate the tragedy.

AOLBLog- Uttarakhand trauma relief

We decided to immediately start trauma relief workshops for the affected people. Over the next few days, we conducted trauma relief sessions for more than 1500 people. We worked with groups of 70 to 80 people at a time, taking them through breathing practices, meditation and yoga to calm their minds and emotions and bring them back to normalcy.

AOL Blog Uttarakhand Relief

My team extended trauma relief sessions in Matli at Uttarkashi also. Art of Living trauma relief sessions helped people manage their minds and face the situation with calmness and courage. We’d notice the relief on their faces immediately, as they hugged or cried, and slowly began to look forward to living once again. It’s not easy to put this into words: people regained their faith, which is the nourishment for soul, and this became the reassuring factor in that terrible time of material & emotional loss. It’s at times like these that one realizes that we are all connected, no matter which regions or backgrounds we come from. Calamities bring us face to face with this truth.

AOLBLog- Uttarakhand food

The work done by us made the operations smoother – we became a sort of a bridge between the people and disaster management teams. People became cooperative and began to understand the efforts of the rescue teams. They stopped being irritable and angry and allowed those needing attention and priority evacuation to go first while patiently waiting for their turns despite having to waiting for long hours.

AOLBLog- Uttarakhand3

It was a tough situation for the army staff in the area – Matli, Uttarkashi, Chinyali. Stress levels were high among the disaster management and rescue teams as well, what with having to constantly return to the site of the catastrophe and witness its tragic consequences for over two weeks.

AOLBLog- Uttarakhand ITBP

We were requested by Brigadier Gautam to conduct a trauma relief workshop for soldiers at Chinyali, which we did. We also conducted workshops for police personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), and the contract labourers of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), who were working to reconstruct roads.

AOLBLog- Uttarakhand1

The result was that these people came to appreciate the importance of their own work. Instead of doing it as something in the line of duty, they went back to their work with a new inspiration. They became more sensitive to the needs of others and could deal with people without losing their tempers. Rescuing over one lakh people in difficult terrain is not the easiest of jobs, but the ITBP actually did it successfully.

AOLBLog- Uttarakhand Relief-1

The situation in Uttarakhand was so tough that even as a volunteer, you had to take care of yourself first – having enough water, tents, supplies, etc. I feel good that I could be of use here. Having said this, there is a lot more waiting to be done. Rehabilitation projects need to be taken up, homes need to be rebuilt – a proper survey is required. I will go back to Uttarakhand soon and join the team members who have stayed back and continue to provide relief and rehabilitation to the people.

 By Sheel Parekh

Yoga and Meditation.

It’s time meditation be made a vital element of our social support system. It can drastically bring down suicide rates.

Every year, millions around the world try to kill themselves; and nearly half a million to one succeed! That is a devastating statistic for a time that is hailed as one of opportunities and growth. Worryingly, suicide in India is slightly above world rate. Of the half a million suicidal death worldwide every year, 20% are Indians. In the last two decades alone, the suicide rate has increased from 7.9 to 10.3 per 100,000 with substantially high rates in four southern states.

Art of Living_ Suicide_meditation

Surveys have found a 64% correlation between domestic violence of women and suicidal tendencies. While domestic violence against women has been found to be a major factor for suicides in Bangaloe, financial and family issues too seem to be driving men to take this shocking step.

What is suicide? Suicide is the willful and intentional ending of one’s life. Before beginning to look at measures to prevent humans from taking this extreme step, it would help to understand briefly what suicide ideation is. Suicide ideation refers to a person’s thoughts about or an unusual preoccupation with suicide. It is generally associated with depression though there is evidence of its associations with many other psychiatric disorders, life events, family disturbances and conflicts, all of which may increase the risk of suicide ideation.

Art of Living yoga__meditation

The question is that can suicides be prevented? A resounding “yes” as can be seen in the various therapeutic treatments that have been effectively used for long. Amongst the many therapeutic measures undertaken, the one that is gaining momentum in a big way is meditation. Once just a ritual of monasteries, today meditation has gone mainstream. Almost 20,000 research studies have shown that patients prefer meditation to anti-depressants, psychotherapy, behavior therapy, and cognitive therapy. This is perhaps also due to the fact that meditation has no side effects unlike some medications, which have actually been linked to increasing or causing suicidal ideation.

So, what is it about meditation that is so effective in the treatment of suicidal ideation? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has said that, “meditation fulfills the natural tendency of human life to look for a joy that does not diminish or turn into negative emotions”.


Meditation brings about a major shift in mindset and approach to life. Much of emotional and consequently physical distress stems from either striving too hard to gain something we think we really want or clinging to things we don’t have. This brings on enormous stress and pain. In the practice of meditation, there is a huge reduction in stress levels that occur by diving deep into the deepest states of relaxation, a rest that is deeper than the deepest rest. In this state, there is a glorious mix of profound rest and high awareness. One lets go without any conscious effort… As we reach this state, there is a shift in the focus from the regrets, anger, and all things negative associated with the past and the anxieties and planning of the future. There is then a movement to the present moment. Meditation makes the present look so celebrated that it makes possible dreaming and planning for the future.

Meditation_stillness of mind

Meditation helps the mind to settle. Once it is settled, it brings back hope. It takes away the confusion and the feeling of being lost which is so classically indicative of suicidal ideation. Meditation will help release the judgment of pain and help you just observe it. As Sri Sri says, “every emotion has a definite sensation in the body. Many a times, we get carried away by thoughts or feelings, and we do not observe the sensation.”

Meditation helps us to learn to experience non-judgmentally. If we observe our experience closely, what is revealed is several aspects of our lives that we see and understand clearly and other areas where we are essentially blindly. Meditation clears the focus and thus diminishes self-harming cognitions. This helps to develop self-confidence, self-worth and become non-judgmental. This in turn will help one with suicidal ideation to have better control over their behavior.


Academic institutions must introduce essential skills like meditation into their curriculum. This would help to be a huge deterrent to those who have suicidal ideas and prepare the next generation of people to develop their inner strength and discover the purpose and meaning on their lives.

By  Dr. Prema Seshadri

Art of Living Experiences.

My life was defined by strange Idiosyncrasies – Oblivious to the existence of others, strongly preferring solitary activities, avoiding interacting in groups with problems in expressing emotions and understanding social cues. A World Inside & A World outside that was in a whirlpool for thirty long years; a Cry within that needed a release, a talent or rather talents that needed to manifest! How, Where, When, there was no idea!

A childhood spent in boarding schools, from one to the other. There was a deficit of English Schools in the small town from where me and my brother hailed. The memories I carried for indefinite years was the wound of insecurity from the moment my parents would drop me back after the holidays, each time!! It was a survival of the fittest in the Hostel.Vacations at home were spent in classes, all fixed one after the other, from music to baking to being coached in a game. Adolescence came & I was very distinct, notable and perhaps the Centre of Attraction. Naïve, cocooned in my shell, I would never match an eye with anyone. Life moved on with friends through thick and thin. With emotions all suppressed, a victim consciousness had stated taking birth inside.

Art of Living Blog- Richa Chopra beauty queen
I excelled in studies and after graduation, the natural course was a Masters. During the third semester of my Masters I was a ‘gap filler’ in the singing team for college’s annual function. There I was noted, proposed, families met and within three months was married. Not a single day did I spend not weeping from the day I tied the knot. Something knew within that it was not right. It was a marriage of compromise; I had to spend my days with my parents-in-law while my husband lived in another city. There was no reason given. This is how it would be, I was told.

There was yet another semester to be completed. I was married in a traditional Zamindar Family. My father in law would drop me at college and pick me back every day. Walking, or taking an auto rickshaw or an open rickshaw was out of question. I was very lonely, very alone. The only person apart from college mates I would see was the ‘Milk Man’ on the Bike and my parents-in-law. No one else. Food would be under lock and key and measured & any unannounced consumption would become a big issue! I started becoming very weak, depressed, lost all the confidence, would have black outs. By then, I had conceived and become a mother. A renowned neurologist diagnosed me as epileptic and put me on daily dose of 1200 mg Tegratol. I became a total wreck, physically, emotionally, mentally and was sure the child would be born as ‘not normal’.

Art of Living Blog - Malvica at 4 months
And, She was born on 9th September 96. 9.8 pounds, golden locks, fair skinned. I was 34 kgs then. Four months later, my parents came to see me and skillfully took me and my daughter away to Delhi and showed me to the best of doctors. I was diagnosed with, ‘Classical Migraine with Anxiety’, and started getting treated.

Negotiations happened between the two set of parents and we were sent back to in laws place on the condition that we shall stay with my husband hence forth. The next three years turned out to be the worst nightmare of my life — a daughter growing in an environment of abuses, an educated husband with no direction in life and addicted to forbidden vices.

malvica's first steps

With the support of my parents I started a clinic ‘Psyche & Soul’ for the mentally challenged children. During those hellish three years my daughter could not be kept at home, was not permitted to be brought to clinic and so I put her in a crèche, 2 kms away, accessible only through foot. I would walk 8 kms each day to manage all this. I did not know what The Art of Living was;  had never heard of It. Every night my pillow would be soaked with tears of helplessness — this is what me and my daughter’s life would be, “imprisoned for ever.’ Fear of society and parent’s embarrassment left no avenue for escape.

One Night, I dreamt of a bearded man in White robes instructing me to ‘Chant Om Namah Shivaya’. I had taken initiation at the age of 16 from Ram Krishna Mission. And on the same night, I saw this man in white merging with Ram Krishna Paramhansa. Ten days after I started chanting Om Namah Shivaya, clarity and strength dawned. I picked up my daughter and left the house of  in laws in 2000.

My Mother pushed me into the Art of Living Course and I was so resistant. She would sit on the door step with my daughter so that I would not run out. On the last day of the course, I saw Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s picture and told my teacher of my dream. She said, ‘You have a long way to go’. I liked the program so much that I ended up doing the Art of Living Part 1 Course 16 times

I enrolled for a PhD program in Gauhati University. I also joined the same neurosciences hospital as a Child developmentalist where I was treated for withdrawal of epileptic medicines. My daughter was put in a day boarding and we stayed as paying guests. Wherever there would be an Art of Living Course, or Seva I would somehow reach there with my little girl travelling in buses/ rickshaws.

Art of Living Blog - with Swami Brahmtej
My parents grew worried seeing my involvement with Art of Living and shifted us to Delhi. I was in a new city – jobless, frustrated, just out of a marriage and grappling with legal battles. One day, Swami Brahmatej ji visited my home and I was narrating my frustration. That night, I had the second vision of Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji, walking towards River Ganges in Rishikesh. And I was following Him. He turned around and showed me ‘Two’ with His fingers.

I got my job in a Swedish Embassy Aided Project exactly after two days. It is still a Mystery. I had not yet met Gurudev. Very soon I went to Rishikesh for Holi special Meditation and Celebrations with Gurudev. On the last day of AMC small groups were being taken up to Gurudev’s Kutir for private Darshan. Our group was on the stairs, waiting for the group inside to come out. Physically, it was impossible for Gurudev to see all of us on the stairs. HE told someone in the room, ‘That Girl from Shimla has come’. As I stepped inside, my mother was weeping. Gurudev said, ‘She is mine, She has come back’.

Art of Living Blog - Malvica in Sri Sris lap

I had quick professional growth in the NGO I was working and was awarded the best worker for three consecutive years. I got promoted to senior levels and simultaneously completed my Art of Living Teachers Training Course Phase 1 and 2. My Daughter Malvika was admitted to Army Public School. Litigation was on full spree and at each court hearing, I would almost faint with fear and anxiety of old memories.

Something was shifting inside beckoning me for something higher. And I knew I had to spend the rest of my life with and for my Master. I came to Ashram, my HOME on 18th March 2004.

I had no seva, no direction for what to do. Six months passed. My daughter would play all day in the mud, we were both lost. And there were constant threats from my father to leave the Ashram not only to me but others as well. One Day in agony, after 6 months, I went up to HIM saying, “I am very intelligent, You have no idea of my skills’. Sri Sri gave me an apple in return and I grew more angry thinking, ‘Here I am doing nothing and He gives me an apple, does not understand me’. I came out of his Kutir. It used to be ‘Kashyapa’ in those days. Gurudev came out after a while and held me hand and took me inside and openly stated, “This girl is going to lead projects and conference one day world wide’.

Art of Living Blog - UN Conference 2005 on Female Feticide
I had no idea what HE was saying. And then very soon, I started working on a project at the Sri Sri Ayurveda factory. Very soon with Gurudev’s blessings I conceived, established and sustained Projects Management Unit at Art of Living International Center, Bangalore. The first project got sanctioned from ministry of Health and Famliy Welfare, Central Government. I had no team, no resources and there was no one who understood this realm. I walked this path for almost 9 years all alone, my only volunteer and support being My Master.

96 odd collaborative projects with UN & Governments happened through this office. The most unimaginable global projects such as Stand Up Speak out 2007, Mission Green Earth 2008, Faith In Action -2010 with 500 dharma Gurus on HIV and the recent Youth Summits on 7 social issues is only and only a manifestation of My Master’s Grace.

During my first Music album Mehar
In 2007, during the management of the Stand Up Speak out event, I was coordinating with 26 states of India and 56 countries all alone. It was unimaginably crazy and hectic with no proper office set up, staff and managing with the world on one front and the UN systems on the other. I was choked with Work and was breathless each day. Not a word of appreciation from My Master, no acknowledgement from anyone. One day, Gurudev called me to His Kutir and there were many senior teachers around Him. He reprimanded me for something I had not done. I started crying and for fifteen minutes kept thinking, ‘Someone has filled His ears’ against me’. He ignored me for fifteen minutes and then looked at me and said “You think someone has filled my ears? What I am telling You is not for You but for all those standing here. Richa , I shall grind you (he did that circular motion with His hand) till the gold in you starts shining”.

From ‘Projects’ the Journey marched ahead to the Conception of ‘Punarnavahas’ (a series of back to back courses topped with various Art of Living services such as Nadi pareeksha, Sumeru Sandhya, Food fest etc) and then to the Pre TTCs. I was made the first Pre TTC teacher of India. What a faith my Master had in me, a life that was only and only a lump of charcoal.

Art of Living Bog - Dr Richa with daughter
And now, After 9 years, the long legal battle ended, I was set free. My husband later did the Art of Living”s Part 1 and Part 2 Course, met Gurudev. I visit my in-laws and do Satsang there every time I am in their city. My father is so proud of me. And, as a human being, I can proudly say today my life has truly blossomed. Nurtured by the love and wisdom of my master, I find that my Emotional Autism is gone, I can relate to and Love everyone unconditionally. I feel so free and complete as if I have re-united with my Self.

Today, I teach the Art of Living Courses all over the world. My daughter is an accomplished Sitarist and Life is a Full Circle. The Battle Inside and Outside is all over.

Dr Richa Chopra, is a Counselor, Psychologist and a Senior Art of Living Teacher.