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Any experiences with 'Art of Living' courses?
January 8, 2014 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Hello! I recently met a wonderful couple who are teachers with a worldwide organization called Art of Living. I'd vaguely heard of it before but didn't know much. What impressed me was how joyful they were - a joy they attributed to their practice (that is, they both said they weren't naturally joyful people prior). I was curious to learn more about their practices, which they described as specific breathing meditations and techniques. I am looking for input from anyone who might be more familiar.

What gives me pause is that different methods I've seen over the years, (e.g. chanting - ISG), also affected people similarly but didn't resonate with me so I was hoping to learn more about it before I drop 400$+ on an Art of Living course. If it's an intro to meditation, mostly, not sure I need it.

In the past, I've done a 10 day silent vipassana retreat, and a few shorter ones at Insight LA and Spirit Rock. I have had a sitting practice for a number of years. Anyone have any insight/input on Art of Living?
posted by namesarehard to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't answer your specific question, but given your background, you might find James Baraz's Awakening Joy program to be a good choice, which you can do on line or in person. You may have already sat with James, and you probably are really familiar with many of the teachers. If I were going to do a course in joyfulness, this is the one I would choose.
posted by janey47 at 1:27 PM on January 8


I am wholeheartedly in favor of joy. However, your ol' Auntie JulThumbscrew's First Rule of Sects applies here: the bare minimum of due diligence required before becoming involved with any group is this: Google their name plus the word "cult". When I did this with Art of Living, a LOT of angry blogs from former members emerged (here, here, here, here).
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:29 PM on January 8 [13 favorites]


haha, love it, julthumbscrew.
posted by namesarehard at 1:32 PM on January 8


A counter opinion to julthumbscrew's warning.

The words "cult" and "scam" are used way too liberally, often by angry people who blame external factors for their own internal failures, or entitled people who set unreasonable expectations, or closed-minded people who get scared after venturing out a little bit. As a reference point, since you said that you've done vipassana: google for vipassana + cult. Lots of posts here too, which is curious seeing how a vipassana retreat is essentially a low cost meditation class where all that ever happens is a bunch of people sitting together in a dimly lit room and mostly in complete silence.
posted by rada at 2:00 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]


I actually thought of that too, as well. Same even with MBSR (!!) hence, would love to hear from anyone with first hand experience. No one out there? Sorry, done thread sitting. Happy to PM too!

(p.s. Vipassana is free, not even just cheap)
posted by namesarehard at 2:25 PM on January 8


Re: The Art of Living:

I had a very nice friend who was into it, and invited me a few times (free) to local groups that practiced the breathing exercise. YMMV depending on who's present, but I didn't get a cultish vibe at all...it was just a little dippy and new-agey, and very well meaning. Honestly, I'm more freaked out by the acquaintance who keeps trying to get me to sign up for Dale Carnegie.

Do be aware that the breathing meditation is glorified hyperventilation, which generates feelings of euphoria/well being, and may not be safe if you have certain health conditions.
posted by blue suede stockings at 3:01 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]


rada: Yes, the idea that googling a few words paired together will somehow reveal the truth is just a silly and shorthand way to believe you know the truth of something, and excuse yourself from the work of finding out. And yes, words like "cult" and "scam" can be used by people who don't think about the meaning of them, or care, and have all sorts of motives for using them.

There is nothing diligent about googling a few words and thinking you've uncovered something merely by results that come up. Rather, it's the opposite of diligence, it's the laziness that tricks you into thinking you've understood something which you don't want to put the effort into.

I myself did do an MBSR course. It was a totally innocuous course in "mindfulness". Perfectly "normal" and not cultish whatsoever. We spent ten sessions doing the, I think, well known characteristic MSBR exercises such as eating a raisin super slowly, walking barefoot super slowly, paying attention to each part of your body with your eyes closed etc, etc. And homework exercises like showering or eating a meal in a similar manner.
posted by Blitz at 5:00 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


[Folks, OP has clarified. Please limit answers to personal experiences only and feel free to email the OP with other information you think they should have.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:34 PM on January 8


From an anonymous commenter:
The Art of Living used to do a 5-day course at my university, for which I got some credits I needed to do to graduate. They were incredibly hippy-dippy and New Age. The breathing exercises didn't help me "meditate." I felt bored. I didn't get any methods, or techniques. We breathed rapidly, and then we breathed deeply. Is that meditation? The exercises took place facing a giant framed photo of His Holiness whatever-his-name-is. Some people fell asleep. One particular dude was so into it I thought he was going to ejaculate (maybe he did). During every session, they reminded us they had a corner where His Holiness' writings were available for sale as books and audiobooks, if we wanted to go deeper into his knowledge.

At the end of the 5 days one of the instructors singled out under-age me, cornered me, and claimed I seemed "unhappy with my life" and asked me to "please join them in further exploration of my soul and enlightenment" as he put his hands on my shoulders, preventing me from removing myself from the situation. Super creepy feelers.

I don't know as I could go as far as "cult" and "scam" because I didn't get any further involved with them. But I certainly disliked the experience and reported it to the university (which stopped offering the course, so I suppose there were other complaints).

F----, would not meditate with them again, and would certainly not shell our $400.
posted by taz at 1:24 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


I took a 5-day course from the Art of Living. (Full disclosure: I did not pay for the course; I was comp'ed in because they were hoping I would recommend it for the population I worked with at the time.) Before the course, I asked very specific questions about if there would be any religious components to the course. Because I have an understanding of many Eastern religious traditions, I specifically asked if there would be darshan, sanskrit mantras, or other bhakti yoga. (By the way, if they had answered my questions honestly and let me know that all of these would be included, I would still have taken the course, but could have been prepared.) I was told specifically, in a written response, that none of these activities would occur and that the focus of the course was breathing, relaxation, and body awareness. The first day of the course was as advertised, though the instructor had an small shrine to her guru, Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, beside her in the front of the room. However, on the second day, we started using a recorded meditation by Sri Sri that included religious content. We were also given sanskrit mantras to chant in and between classes. The rest of the course included good breathing and body awareness exercises as well as lots of bhakti yoga. Because of the lack of honesty I experienced, I don't recommend Art of Living to my clients or friends. But, if someone asks specifically, I tell them this story. Unlike the anonymous comment above, I thought the breathing exercises, body awareness techniques, and relaxation practices were good, and, if the religious aspects don't bother you, I think you could get something out of those.
posted by hworth at 8:35 PM on January 9


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