Whole Life Magazine

April / May 2015

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yoga & spirit L ast year, a wild elephant was found dead in India's Periyar Tiger Reserve. An autopsy found that its intestines had been blocked by several pounds of plastic bags, aluminum foil and food packaging, most likely left behind by some of the 50 million pilgrims who pass through the reserve on their annual spiritual pilgrimage to the area's ancient temple. Traveling pilgrims consider it a holy act to immerse themselves in the reserve's Pamba River, which is a primary source of water for the area and a major source of irrigation. But even worse than the trash prob- lem, factory waste and untreated sewage from several towns empty into the Pamba, and illegal sand mining has caused a signifi cant drop in riverbed and water levels, and led to a depletion of area well- and ground water. Humanitarian and spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation and the International Association for Human Values (IAHV), was concerned that, "Millions have been spent on cleaning our rivers, but nothing has happened." A visit to the state's chief minister convinced him that the government could not fi x it alone. "We will have to come together," he said. "I invite industry, civil society and the government to take it as an emergency." In response to this need, approximately 1500 Art of Living Foundation volunteers from 14 districts sprang into action and consulted with local offi cials, engineers, forest workers and ac- tivists. Some traveled as far as 300 miles in monthly shifts to re- move 120 tons of waste and promote environmental awareness. So far, they have reduced the river's pollution by an estimated 80 percent. Designer Donna Karan's "philosophy of living" website, Urban Zen, describes Sri Sri as "a spiritual teacher who has rekindled the traditions of yoga and meditation in a form that is relevant to the 21st century. Beyond reviving ancient wisdom, Sri Sri has created new techniques for personal and social transformation." Sustainability is part of that transformation. In the book Man- agement Megatrends, management professor Sudeep Chandra- mana describes IAHV's approach as a new model for sustainable development, one that includes strengthening communities, developing local resources and uplifting individuals. This ap- proach empowers people and communities with specifi c skills to bring about change, and trains local youth leaders—to date, more than 110,000 rural and at-risk youth—who then volunteer to implement other projects. In India alone, the model has been implemented in more than 40,000 villages. IAHV is also active in the United States. Breath Water Sound, IAHV's Youth Em- powerment Seminar, has taught breathing techniques to more than 60,000 youth in the U.S., including sever- al thousand in Los Angeles. The workshop addresses individual mental and emo- tional needs and creates a sense of belonging and em- powerment in the communi- ty. Bill Herman, the program's international director, says that the breathing techniques "increase the sensitivity and aware- ness of the person practicing, so they are more inclined to take care of themselves and, by extension, the environment." The approach has been used to address societal problems, too. At one time farmers were committing suicide in India at an estimated rate of one every eight hours, but not a single suicide was reported in 308 villages after Art of Living programs were brought there. In addition to Breath Water Sound, the pro- grams included zero-budget organic farming and instruction in ancient Vedic permaculture methods. Among its many other environmental initiatives, Art of Liv- ing created partnerships that inspired the planting of 10 million trees around the world (including L.A.), and was able to mobi- lize 10.6 million people in more than a hundred countries to act on behalf of the environment. As a spiritual teacher, Sri Sri's programs and services have reached more than 150 countries. He points out that care for nature and contact with our own nature are linked. "We need to explore means to evolve and sustain healthy lifestyles," he says. "A disease-free body, a stress-free mind, a violence-free society and a toxin-free environment are vital elements of sus- tainable development." By Jeffrey Ainis Spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's holistic model for sustainable development and change SUSTAINABILITY AND SERVICE april/may 2015 21

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