Humanitarian, spiritual leader and ambassador of peace, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, will be in Montreal from July 12th to 14th to offer meditation workshops to Montrealers, as part of his “Unveiling Infinity” program and tour. He will be giving insight into an old Sanskrit scripture, the Vigyan Bhairav, which is a text that describes 112 centering techniques meant to take practitioners deep into their meditation.
To discuss this event, 514 blog interviewed Ralph Matta, a representative of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation, here in Montreal.
Ralph, you’re working for the Art of Living foundation here in Montreal, what’s your role?
I’m a personal development program facilitator and yoga instructor, and I’m a trainer with the foundation. I’ve been volunteering for the organization for 12 years. I’m the co-director of the Montreal Art of Living center in the Mile-End and a member of the Canadian Art of Living teacher training as well.
Can you summarize the mission of the Art of Living foundation, and how does the center here in Montreal uphold that mission?
The Art of Living foundation is one of the largest volunteer-based organizations. It’s a non-governmental organization and has presence all over the world in over 155 countries. The foundation’s mission is to create a stress-free and violence-free society. That’s been our motto. The foundation offers programs on meditation, yoga, stress-reductions, etc., that have benefited so many people all over the world, millions of people. And one of our main missions is to make life a celebration, help people give up their stresses, live more happy lives and to celebrate. We want to make life easier and better for them.
Montreal definitely holds true to that mission. I’ve started with this organization here in 2001, and I think it’s been around for at least 20 years. We have different chapters, one in the Mile-End that is our main chapter and we have a presence in the West Island, Pointe-Claire, Ville St-Laurent, Westmount and in NDG, where we teach our programs.
So how do we uphold the mission of the organisation? We teach courses, programs, on meditation and stress elimination that help people lead better lives. We inspire people to volunteer, to also reach out to people around them. One of the things we talk about a lot in our courses and that is very connected to yoga is to be of service to others. When you feel stress free and happy, you naturally feel connected to others and start helping them. This is one of the anchors of the organisation. It’s mostly run by volunteers like I said and as we help people release stress and be happy, they naturally start to volunteer. That’s how the organisation grew so much in the past few years.
During next week’s event, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar will be teaching about the Vigyan Bhairav. How is the study of this text going to build on an already established practice of the Sudarshan Kriya (the breathing practice taught by the Art of Living)?
As you know, the Unveiling Infinity program is open to everyone. Beginners who have never practiced meditation as well as people that have been meditating for 40 or 50 years. What’s amazing about Sri Sri’s teachings is that he’s always bringing new things to us. For example, last year I took a new course – and I’ve been practicing Sudarshan Kriya for 17 years now – and that course added a whole new dimension to my meditation. It’s like you’re going to school, and then you graduate and go to university, and then you get a job. And things evolve; your intellectual knowledge and your experience. As those two things evolve with time, then you’re ready to grasp more knowledge and you’re ready to go deeper into the practice. So people who have been practicing Sudarshan Kriya for a long time will definitely find something that will make their practice much more profound and rich. It’s going to be a combination of knowledge he’s going to share about the Vijñāna Bhairava text, as well as an experience. The three-day workshop is going to be about really experiencing that space of meditation during the program and walking away with not just tools that you can practice with, but more importantly, walking away with a deeper level that we will reach during the course.
Will it be accessible to people that have no background in the practice of the Sudarshan Kriya?
I think very much that it will be and I’ve seen this happen so many times. What’s amazing about the way he teaches is that it’s so simple and easy to understand that everyone is able to benefit from it. This program is mostly about introducing people to meditation. Beginners are definitely going to have a profound experience. What I’ve heard about it is – since I haven’t personally done this course – is that he’s going to be giving the bite-size techniques of meditation, techniques that people can easily apply and that will take them to that profound state of meditation. The Vigyan Bhairav has 112 techniques and Sri Sri is going to explain it in an easy way that we can understand, and he’s going to be giving different techniques that will work with different people. Our minds are so different, some people can meditate right away, some people take more time to get into it, so what’s beautiful about this course is that he’s going to be giving different techniques so that people can pick and chose what works for them in order to get into that deep state of meditation.
Do you have any resources you would suggest to people who don’t have the financial means or time to attend?
Definitely. We’ve been around for many years and we have programs that people can plug into. We really encourage people to go into meditation because we feel that its not just something that you add to your life like a new car or a piece of decoration on your wall. It’s something that I feel personally that is essential. So yes, there’s the Happiness Program, which is a beautiful 3 day, 9 hours workshop that is offered almost every week in different locations in the city, and where people learn about the power of the Sudarshan Kriya practice, which is just incredible. There’s the Art of Meditation course that’s offered also regularly. We have yoga and meditation class for people who want to come and find out more and experience something more light, and there’s also the silent retreat. We have a retreat 2 hours North-East of Montreal where people can go and be in silence, and this is also offered on a regular basis. So people who miss it can definitely experience something here.
Does the Art of Living foundation offer resources for people that have severe self-esteem or mental health issues? How can practices bases on the Sudarshan Kriya help people with traumas?
Absolutely yes. It’s on a case by case basis of course. The Sudarshan Kriya has been researched quite a bit because it’s shown to relieve depression and anxiety and poor sleep. People that have had severe anxiety and depression issues have been helped a lot and many of them have headed completely. I know that in terms of sleep, studies show that it has improved by 200%. There have been 70 independent studies on the Sudarshan Kriya practice and some of the highlights are as follows: depression decreases by 70% in one month. The stress hormone, cortisol, has been reduced by 56%. Immune functions, which are the source of so many diseases and allergies, have increased 5 times. So people with severe issues can definitely benefit.
As we go through life we accumulate so many impressions. Events and circumstances happen, and as we grow up, we build these layers of stress and tension, and we build those layers of perception of how the world is, some of which are very negative. What the practice of Sudarshan Kriya does is it peels off these layers of tension and stress and negative impressions, and as you practice, you feel a sense of freedom, you’re able to let go of your past. Sometimes we get attached to the past and the mind is constantly rewinding and reliving this, so it helps us to relieve and remove those impressions. So naturally one feels lighter. That deep meditation experience, it takes us beyond our feelings and emotions and our identity. It brings us to that balanced state where we’re not swayed by emotions and feelings constantly because we’re more than that. If you want to define meditation, what Sri Sri talks about, it’s really training the conscious mind to gain the silence that is our own nature. Because inside of us there’s this infinite source of joy and happiness, but it’s inaccessible to so may of us. So as we practice, we’re able access this state, and naturally feel more free, and not identify ourselves with the superficial layers of male and female, and this job that we have, and even the negative feelings we identify with. When we go beyond those identities of feeling and negative emotions, it really opens up the gate for that peaceful meditative mind.
Thank you so much for talking to us Ralph! Sounds like it’s going to be an exciting event!