By Sonya Rehman
At the behest of some friends, I finally got around to enrolling myself in a 6-day ‘Art of Living’ workshop in Lahore at the Al Razi Healthcare centre on MM Alam Road at the tail-end of November this year.
I’d heard about Shahnaz Minallah – one of the founders of the Pakistani chapter of the Art of Living Foundation – and was keen to experience the workshop under Minallah’s tutelage. Friends had told me she was thoroughly vivacious, had a hysterical sense of humour, and above all, was a great teacher.
I was intrigued. Besides, I’d always been interested in yoga and meditation – but never really got around to studying and practicing the subjects in too much depth. I had realized I’d needed a teacher to guide me through the process.
I’d always been big on psychology, extra sensory perception, dream interpretation, etc as a teenager. I would read whatever book I could find on the subjects and read in my free time. By the age of seventeen I began having premonitions, strong hunches and gut feelings about friends, family members, strangers and situations in general.
Every human being has a sixth sense, but it all really depends on whether or not we want to nurture or suppress it. But the ‘calling’ (so to speak) is always there, constant, within us – and if one has a strong, unflinching hunch about something, it’s probably correct. Anyway, I digress.
Initially, to be honest, I didn’t have any expectations from the workshop. I didn’t think my life would miraculously be put right in less than a week. But I was slightly at odds on a personal level, energy-wise. I felt sapped. Plus, I thought the activity would do me some good – and if nothing else, provide me with some entertainment rather than gassing about at coffee shops with friends in the city.
My class comprised of an interesting assortment of people: corporate types, housewives, artists and students, including some who’d come to Lahore from Faisalabad and Multan just to attend the workshop.
In a nutshell, the Art of Living classes with Minallah comprised of some yoga, heart to heart group discussions, meditation and some very intense breathing exercises. Infact, the breathing exercises made up a fair chunk of the workshop.
Each day we’d meet early evening and begin the session with some light cardio: dancing. After working up a bit of a sweat, our group would begin the day’s activities for the next three hours. For the first two days most of us were moaning and groaning over the yoga exercises: our bodies felt rigid and inflexible – due to sedentary lifestyles. But over the next few days, the exercises felt easy. My body felt far more flexible, energetic and supple.
The daily breathing exercises on the other hand were an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Performing Sudarshan Kriya – a rhythmic breathing technique – for a particular time period on a daily basis during the workshop left me (and my group) de-stressed, cleansed, light and happy.
Given the intensity of the technique and the (almost) immediate soothing after-effects, many of us were left intensely relaxed and emotional. As silly as this may read, some of us even wept a little afterwards.
Later, during a group discussion, some of my group members talked about how they were able to shed some of the emotional baggage they’d been hanging onto for years, and/or coming to terms with a particular aspect of their lives and subsequently were able to find closure.
I felt that way too. The Sudarshan Kriya was cathartic. And by the end of each Kriya session, I felt bright-eyed, inspired, affectionate and full of love.
It was true – everything everyone had ever told me about the inner and outer changes one goes through during and after the Art of Living course. Towards the end of the workshop I’d lost four pounds, shed some emotional baggage, and felt stronger and happier.
I’d bid adieu to the toxicity within.
Throughout the course Minallah spoke to us often about living in the ‘now’ – to quit dwelling in the past, in addition to worrying about the future.
Sounds so simplistic, right? But it’s true. We take our present for granted – we fritter away the hours worrying incessantly about things long buried, forgotten, and those which we anxiously anticipate – not really giving a toss about what can/could be achieved in the now.
On the last day, before our potluck lunch was to commence, all of us sat around in a circle with Minallah and talked about our experiences during the course so far and how it had changed us.
Nazish Nadeem, this wonderful woman who I’d had the pleasure of befriending during the course shared with us how good she felt as a result of the workshop.
“I feel happy all the time,” she’d said enthusiastically. She was beaming. I couldn’t have agreed more.
The Friday Times