Pura Veda! from sunny Sabana Norte, Costa Rica,
I’m taking a break from my full life in Canada to vacation in the lush and very sunny, Costa Rica. Through my travels here, I’ve met many interesting and provocative people. A case in point is one lazy afternoon, I was sitting at a picnic table in the heart of Sabana Park, the largest urban park near San Jose. I was minding my own business and switching my attention back and forth between a lively game of men’s soccer, and admiring a school aged boy flying his kite, thoroughly enjoying them both.
The moment came when the attention switching was interrupted when 2 young people approached me gingerly at the table. They wanted to talk about a meditation course coming up in a few days. They suggested the technique being taught would help to heal depression, alcohol and drug addiction and psychological trauma. They said too it was being actively researched in America. My ears really perked up when I heard all of this. And why not? It was in line with the work I was already doing back home, teaching Yoga and practicing therapy with people struggling to overcome the effects of trauma and addiction. How perfect this moment was! “The Universe is so smart!”, I thought. A 3rd fellow joined us, and we continued our spirited conversation about the value of attending the upcoming course.
What was of particular interest was the 2 young men at the table were both former drug addicts, who said they used this technique to help them get off illicit drugs. Interesting. Before I could fully commit to the course however, there were a few things that needed to be worked out, like a translation service from Spanish to English, and transportation to another community in the San Jose area where the course was being held. As our conversation began to wind down, we agreed to keep in touch via e-mail about the possibiity that I would attend. As I worked through the logistical details, I also decided to check out online the organization the young people spoke of so highly. Through it all, I could feel myself getting more and more excited about the possibility of learning a new researched practice to support the alleviation of trauma and addiction.
As I researched the organization, I learned ‘The Art of Living’ was founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in 1982. It’s a global organization that teaches a meditation technique that came to the founder in a meditation. The Sudarshan Kriya was made up of 3 breathing practices, Ujayi, Bastrika, and Kaptabhati, all sequenced together and practiced in a cyclical rhythm. Frankly, it sounded quite intense to me. Wouldn’t it overwhelm someone who wasn’t yet stable themself? Hmm. But I put my wondering on hold in favor of continuing on with my online exploration. I learned too that in addition to teaching the technique, the organization did service work in struggling communities around the world. I was also able to confirm what I’d heard from my young friends, that the technique was being actively researched in America for psychological trauma.
As I continued with my research, I learned there were people who said they benefited from the technique. Tauma survivors reported feeling more relaxed, having a calmer mind, and no longer experiening nightmares as a result of practicing the technique. Some said the technique felt like hyperventilation and that this led to altered states of consciousness. Now, there’s nothing wrong with altering consciousness, but some claimed to have had a harmful adverse reactions in the course of altering consciousness through the practice. This news stopped me in my tracks. My ears perked up again. Yoga isn’t supposed to do us harm.
Yes, it’s going to change how we experience ourselves and how we see the world, but a shift in perception or experience isn’t necessarily the same thing as bringing on harm. Hmm. Others reported when they were part of the organization they felt as though they’d been indoctrinated into having to revere the guru. Hmm, again. There were people who left the organization saying they believed it was a cult, and I discovered undermining language to describe the founder himself. Of course, nasty things get said about founders all the time, but all of this gave me pause. It really saddened me and deflated my enthusiasm for the course. And the technique itself sounded so outside of the careful and gentle approach we take to meditation, and Yoga for that matter, here at psychologicalhealingandyoga.com. Besides, there’s no one here to revere, except for the Guru within. But I digress . . . Who to believe? What to do? What was my body telling me?
To make a long story short, in the end I listened to my body and stepped away from involving myself with a practice that sounded as intense as this one, when people reported to having been harmed by it, and when the founder was spoken of in disparaging terms. Better safe than sorry as ‘they’ say. I just didn’t want to take a chance with my mind in a new country, with a different language, and on reports that didn’t instill confidence in either the technique or the organization. Maybe I’m a big chicken? Maybe I have no sense of adventure? And maybe I value my stable mind, and am willing to protect it. Anyways, at the end of the day I decided to explore more of this beautiful country I’m visiting for just a few more days. Pura vida!
One last thing, as a side note it’s very interesting where our curiosity and open heart can take us as we travel through life. We need discernment to help us navigate our decisions, to stay safe and out of trouble. Furthermore, who can we trust with our precious mind? Eventhough there are many wonderful teachers out there, how do we know when we’ve found one? This is a great topic for a future post! If there’s a moral to this tale it would be something like – Explore, learn and grow, and be careful too from whom you learn and practice. We’re not supposed to loose our mind to a guru, we’re supposed to work with a guru as a mirror to our own Teacher within.