35 kilometres from Bangalore's showpiece Vidhana Soudha (where
the government of Karnataka works from), as you head in a South-Easterly
direction, the traffic, intense thus far, lessens. Instead of
the dense concrete jungle littered with glittering glass and chrome
structures which dot the city's skyscape, large empty spaces beckon;
it is almost as if the clock has been turned back to another,
more peaceful era in the garden city's history. Welcome to Kanakapura
(literally, Golden City). However, on weekends and holidays, this
single-lane road suddenly bustles with activity. Automobiles of
every description-from the Ambassador of yore being plied as a
taxi to a Mercedes S class carrying a corporate bigwig-suddenly
choke this Golden City Road. There is a reason for that. This
is Bangalore's Spiritual Boulevard with three major ashrams located
on it. One is the HQ of the Art of Living (AOL) headed by Sri
Sri Ravishankar (of Sudarshana Kriya fame). Another is Nataraja
Gurukula Adventure Academy run by a Belgian-turned-naturalised-Indian
Guru Freddy, who emphasises martial training to calm the mind.
And the third is the ashram of Rishi Prabhakar who has his own
brand, Sidhha Samadhi Yoga.
In a city that employs over two lakh techies
and BPO associates constantly working against the clock to meet
seemingly impossible deadlines, stress is an inevitable way of
life and mental and physical fatigue is becoming increasingly
commonplace. Given the 80-hour workweeks and constantly looming
project deadlines, taking a break acquires a completely new meaning
for these stressed-out code-jocks. They are flocking to a raft
of spiritual sanctuaries for an extended dose of soul searching,
away from the hustle and bustle of the over eight million people
that live in India's Silicon Valley. "Stress is something
that people can live with and not be ruled by," says Sri
Sri Ravishankar, founder of the AOL movement, which recently attracted
around three million people to its Silver Jubilee Celebrations
in Bangalore. "People tend to lose their soul when they are
faced with stressful work. Indians have always been intensely
spiritual people," says Dr L. Manjunath, a practicing psychologist.
"After achieving levels of material prosperity in a couple
of years in contrast to a couple of decades it took their parents,
these youngsters are looking for a larger meaning to life."
|ART OF LIVING
Now a major movement, Sri Sri Ravishankar's Sudarshana
Kriya, a meditation-technique, targets both the body and the
mind; AoL even has a corporate wellness programme
Evidence that some techies find this meaning
on Kanakapura Road can be had at Sri Sri Ravishankar's verdant
70-acre ashram. The place overflows in a sea of white as a motley
crew of disciples and wannabes mingle in the tiled courtyard and
amphitheatre, waiting for instructions from their Guruji. Hundreds
more are in the midst of a session of Sudarshana Kriya in the
main hall. Intense meditation isn't, however, the only reason
drawing people like Sriram Chandrasekharan, 32, a Microsoft employee
to AOL. "I've been associated with this movement for 10 years
now and it's been very beneficial to me, both in terms of making
me less stressed and alert and improving my immunity and therefore,
decreasing my sick leave." "Over the last six years,"
he adds, "I haven't had even the smallest sniffle."
It's not just the young who believe in AOL,
with senior pros like A.L. Rao, the coo of Wipro, also being vocal
supporters. "This has had an extremely positive effect on
me, both physically and mentally, and the kriyas are something
I can't do without every day," says Rao. On his frequent
trips abroad, Rao meditates at airport lounges. And AOL itself
has smartly launched a Corporate Executive Programme (CEP) to
cater to the growing need for a 'wellness' aid.
"We have put over 2,000 of our employees
through the CEP and the benefit can be seen in terms of greater
alertness and focus on the job and a more balanced life overall,"
says Aadesh Goyal, Corporate Vice President (Human Resources),
Flextronics Software Systems. Interestingly, fresh recruits at
FSS have to go through the CEP within six months of signing up
with the company.
|NATARAJA GURUKULA ADVENTURE
Run by Guru Freddy (his disciple Eric Swami is seen
here), NGAAA is not for the faint-hearted. Think rappelling
rock climbing and a tough obstacle course
Despite its imposing presence on kanakapura
Road, however, AOL is not the only option for people looking for
some mental peace. A further 20-km down the road is the HQ of
Rishi Prabhakar, an engineer-MBA-turned-yoga guru, whose Siddha
Samadhi Yoga tries to calm down the restless mind through short,
but intense meditation. "People are too worried about the
kind of material goods they can buy and how quickly they can do
this. The onus then is more on material well-being than spiritual
peace of mind," says Prabhakar who has over 100 ashrams,
across 20 cities today and uses Rishi Tapokshetra, as the headquarters
(it is a 32-acre campus that is greener-than-green) is named,
as a yoga finishing school of sorts for a three-day advanced course,
after students have initially learnt the art at one of the centres
within a city or town.
"This course isn't as difficult as I
initially thought and the benefits were immediate," says
an Infosys employee, who'd rather not be named. "I am able
to either focus intently on my job or switch off completely and
Rishi Prabhakar believes that a sense of
self-fulfilment is often missing among the young techies who visit
him for some intensive de-stressing. "You have to be able
to say: If I am happy with what I am doing, I won't be stressed.
Happy people are always more productive," says the Smiling
Also on spiritual boulevard is the nataraja
Gurukula Adventure Academy (NGAA). Unlike the sheltered (and in
the case of AOL, even luxurious) confines of other soul kitchens,
this academy makes no bones about its down-to-earth nature. It
is run by Guru Freddy, a Belgian academic-turned-holy man (he's
unwell and cannot meet with BT; his disciple, Eric Swami, a German-turned-naturalised-Indian,
shows us around). The spartan ashram looks part military boot
camp, part nature resort. NGAA has been used by several it companies
to build team spirit, enhance bonding and a sense of responsibility.
And a group of 30 MBA students from a B-school is expected there
on the day we visit.
With over 100 ashrams, Rishi Prabhakar's Siddha Samadhi
Yoga seeks to calm the restless mind through short, but intense
bursts of meditation
For starters, NGAA is certainly not for the
faint of heart, with rappelling, rock climbing and a full obstacle
course among its main attractions. "It's not always about
finishing first or completing a course the fastest with us; we
try and judge who acted more responsibly while helping a colleague
or who had better ideas to finish a course," says Swami,
as he shows us the way to navigate the Burma Bridge, one of the
obstacles on the course. Dressed in a faded orange jumpsuit, the
eternally dishevelled-looking Swami speaks fluent Kannada and
is the chief architect of the place (literally the academy's Mr
Fix It, mending everything from a faulty electric motor to laying
down the flooring for a guest room) and says that raagi (millet)
is the staple for guests.
The amenities are basic, with the men sharing
bathing facilities and mud-floored tents being the only accommodation.
Given its tough as nails disposition (this reporter is still suffering
from Swami's vice-like handshake), NGAA is extremely popular with
law enforcement agencies. It has also gained increasing acceptance
with an increasingly adventurous tech crowd. "We've had a
number of tech companies, including Infosys, send people over
to take the course and their feedback was positive," says
Swami, adding that several others have now lined up to try out
the academy's "boot camp".
For code-jocks burnt out by a constant battle
against an ever increasing workload, it is not just the much-celebrated
pubs of Bangalore or a trip to the visiting on-site shrink that
helps them de-stress. There is clearly another option at hand.
All they need to do is hit the golden road.