15 November 2018Last updated

Can a workshop change your life?

Feeling stressed or depressed? Samantha Dobson reports on the stress-management workshops that are sweeping the UAE and changing lives

By Samantha Dobson for Aquarius magazine
1 Dec 2011 | 12:00 am
  • Yoga

    Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) incorporates specific natural rhythms of the breath which harmonises the body, mind and emotions.

    Source:Getty Images

A year ago the life of Dubai events manager, 39-year-old Ekta Keswani, was at a low point. “My father passed away – we were close and the loss hit me hard. At the time I was working for a software company, spending long periods away from home. The work was uninspiring, I felt unhappy and stressed out. I heard about the Art of Living (AOL) workshops and decided to pick myself up and give the Part 1 workshop a try.

Immediately afterwards I felt a change. It gave me the confidence I needed to follow my passion. I left my job and started my own events management company. Since AOL my outlook towards life has changed drastically. I am now more positive and deal with stress differently. I feel calm rather than agitated. Everyone dreams but only a few have the strength to pursue it – that strength I got from AOL.”

Image and fashion stylist, 33-year old Natalia Ushkova, also discovered AOL last year. Depressed and resentful, she was nursing a broken heart after a messy breakup. “I was so angry and hurt at the time. A friend recommended AOL. I felt I had nothing to lose so went along. I was astonished – the effect was immediate. After the very first night I felt a calmness I’d never experienced. I’ve forgiven my former fiancé; in fact, I’ve introduced him to AOL. It’s such a simple, peaceful tool that can help anyone in life.”

Founded by Indian guru and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sri Sri Ravi Shankar 30 years ago, AOL – a take-home yoga, meditation and breathing programme – has taught more than 300 million people worldwide in more than 151 countries to celebrate life. The stories of transformation are remarkable, varying from physical and mental wellbeing to improvement in social relationships and greater professional success. “Art of Living is about empowering people,” says Ajman AOL instructor Dr Sobha Menon. “We want to teach people to overcome stress, depression and aggression. Life is a privilege and it should be cherished.”

During the Part 1 workshop, students learn how to stay centred and how to deal with daily challenges through yoga, meditation and breathing techniques. At the core of the workshop is the powerful revitalising breathing technique, Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY), which incorporates specific natural rhythms of the breath. “This unique breathing sequence harmonises the body, mind and emotions,” says Dr Menon. “It takes just ten minutes a day but can be effective in eliminating stress, fatigue and negative emotions. You will be left feeling calm yet energised, focused yet relaxed.”

As a medical professional, Dr Menon is the first to admit that prolonged and unmanaged stress can affect the whole physiology. “Psycho-neuroimmunology is the medical term for the way in which the mind and emotions influence both the nervous and immune systems. Independent medical research has demonstrated how breathing can be
a powerful tool for regulating the mind. Exhalation flushes out stress and negative toxins, and deep inhalation brings energy, flooding each cell with oxygen. The resulting feeling of calm and fulfilment releases neuropeptides, which influence the immune system positively and hence our entire physiology. A lack of this energy results in lethargy, irritability, doubt and depression. But more of this energy results in an improvement in productivity, health and interest in life.”

Dr Menon uses AOL techniques to help relieve pain in many of her mums in labour. “I’ve also taught SKY to inmates and addicts in UAE prisons who’ve found it effective in alleviating aggression.”

Independent medical research backs up the benefits of SKY. A study by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) recorded significant increase in beta and alpha brainwave activity among SKY practitioners indicating a state of relaxation and heightened alertness. The research also found improvement in blood cholesterol profiles and a significant increase in the wellbeing hormone prolactin following the very first session of SKY. For 80 per cent of patients suffering severe depression, abnormal brainwave patterns turned normal following regular practice of SKY. Ongoing studies at AIIMS suggest SKY can also be effective in controlling addictive urges, as well as prolonging the life of cancer patients.

Bangalore-based leader and healer Swami Jyothirmaya was recently in Dubai for the ‘Wake Up and Shake Up’ mass yoga and meditation event commemorating 30 years of Art of Living. He has been teaching the AOL breathing techniques for the past 12 years and is a firm believer in the connection between breath and the way we feel. “Our breath and emotions are interconnected,” says Jyothirmaya. “Each emotion has a corresponding breathing pattern. For example, when we are angry we breathe fast, when we are sad our breath is shallow, when we are calm our breath is deep and relaxed. Those who are able to control their breathing are able to control their mind. Instead of being overwhelmed by our emotions, through regular practice of SKY, we can use our breath to positively change the way we feel.”

Jyothirmaya has witnessed thousands of people who’ve been touched by the healing power of the method. “Villagers, housewives, teenagers, trauma victims, soldiers, business leaders, government officials, prisoners, students and everyone in between,” he says.

Dubai resident Jenny Brown has just completed the workshop. “AOL has taught me to look at life differently,” she says. “I can now look from the inside and see my own strength. The breathing techniques give me a feeling of power, joy and peace. For the first time in my life, I actually like the woman I am finding in me.”

The benefits of AOL

  • Improved efficiency and productivity at work and at home
  • Clearer perception and observation
  • Enhanced health and wellbeing
  • Reduced stress
  • Greater self-esteem
  • More energy and enthusiasm
  • Improved interpersonal skills

Art of Living Part 1 workshops are held every 6-8 weeks across the emirates and run over three days from 5.30pm-10.30pm. Costing Dh1,000, all proceeds go to a charity supported by the AOL Foundation. Weekly follow-up sessions are offered free. For information on dates, contacts and locations, visit


By Samantha Dobson for Aquarius magazine

By Samantha Dobson for Aquarius magazine