Spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar epitomizes human values of peace, love and compassion. A revered humanitarian who travels worldwide educating people on the benefits of meditation and yoga to gain enduring happiness, his messages inspire, encourage, comfort and provide deep insights to daily living. Sri Sri has designed simple and accessible programs that offer tools and techniques to live a life of more joy, enthusiasm, resiliency and purpose. During his recent visit to the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, N.C., I interviewed him to understand the true meaning of yoga.
Q. June 21 marks the first International Day of Yoga. What role can yoga play in one's life?
Sri Sri: Yoga is like an ocean. It can provide you what you want. It benefits you physiologically, makes the mind sharper, intellect becomes free from prejudice, provides emotional stability and broadens your vision. It lightens you up and makes you smile. Yoga brings elasticity in not just the body but the mind too. For many, yoga means making one's body more elastic. Yet it is much more. The founder of yoga has said that the purpose of yoga is to prevent misery before it arrives. Another aspect of yoga is that it brings skill in action. Lord Krishna has said in the Bhagavad Gita, 'Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam' which means yoga brings skill in action and skill in communication. We communicate more through our presence than through our words. Yoga brings the skill to relate with people. And that's not all -- yoga also takes you to the higher truth to answer questions of who you are and what is this universe.
Q. A few weeks ago you gave a keynote address on yoga at the European Parliament. You also led meditation for Congressional leaders at the Capitol Hill. Do you see increased acceptance of yoga in the coming years?
Sri Sri: Yes. The trend in the society is to find healthier and happier life. People no longer ask for proof as they have realized that yoga delivers health and happiness.
Q. Technology has changed human life in many ways. What role do meditation and yoga play in today's age?
Sri Sri: The purpose of technology is to bring you comfort. Meditation and yoga bring inner comfort and enable you to access your intuitive ability, which is a necessary ingredient for any field -- be it business, arts, science or sports. Today, the world over, yoga has become synonymous with relaxation, happiness and creativity.
Q. Can yoga help cure depression?
Sri Sri: Yoga can be the lasting cure for depression, not just medicines. You can pop in medicines and it can give you momentary relief. But it stops working in the long run. As I said, with yoga, you can stop the misery before it lands on your doorstep. We have seen it work in 152 countries. It has helped people come back to a normal state.
Q. How can yoga help bring balance in one's life?
Sri Sri: To exhibit brilliance in life one has to be doing yoga. Yoga brings yogyata, meaning skills and abilities that help bring balance. Again, yoga is not just physical exercises, it is a state of mind and personality.
Q. How does yoga help in understanding the knowledge of the Self?
Sri Sri: Yoga expands and uplifts the consciousness, and when the consciousness is uplifted then the knowledge gets very clear and well-founded.
Q. Is there anything about human behavior that surprises you?
Sri Sri: I am amazed by the intricacies of the mind, the people and the planets.
Q. Does yoga conflict with one's belief system?
Sri Sri: Not at all. Yoga promotes harmony in diversity. The very word yoga means uniting--uniting all diverse aspects of existence of life. Yoga is uniting the body, mind and spirit. In fact, everything is already united. Realizing the unity is what real yoga is. Each one of us is looking for happiness irrespective of the profession and belief system we follow. How do you feel when you are happy? Have you noticed a sense of expansion in you? At the same time when someone insults us, do you observe something in you shrinking? Yoga is putting attention on this something that is expanding and shrinking. Often, we feel helpless about our negative emotions. Yoga has a secret to turn this state of mind. It makes you independent and empowered to feel the way you want at any time and not become a victim of your own feelings.
Q. What is the formula to keep moving ahead in life unfettered by challenges and disappointments?
Sri Sri: Meditation and yoga. They make you like a child again. Yoga not only revives your nature but also keeps your heart and mind young and bright despite the stress and tension of everyday life.
Q. Can yoga help with conflict resolution and good decision-making?
Sri Sri: Absolutely. The root cause of conflict is stress, mistrust and fear among people. Yoga helps you get over all the three. The fear of the other vanishes because you are able to broaden your awareness and feel that everyone is part of you and you are a part of them. The fear of losing one's identity which is deep rooted goes away. Yoga is the best thing to remove fear in the minds of people. It also balances the head and the heart allowing you to make sound decisions.
Q. You have been working tirelessly for the past 35 years. Your programs reach out to adults, high school kids, young professionals, corporate executives, war veterans to name a few. You have brought together people from diverse walks of life, mediated with some of the most dangerous groups to bring peace. What keeps you going?
Sri Sri: Just my nature which is to spread happiness. I am in my element.
Join Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center Plaza in NYC on June 21, 2015 to celebrate the first International Day of Yoga. For more, visit here.