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Enriching Lives

The force behind this month’s International Women’s Conference in Bangalore, Bhanumathi Narasimhan builds bridges for women across cultures and traditions.

To the world outside, she is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s sister who sings devotional bhajans and conducts meditation classes for thousands. Insiders know her as ‘Bhanu didi’, the momentum behind the Art of Living’s (AOL) women and child welfare programmes.

One of her pet projects as a social entrepreneur is the biennial International Women’s Conference that brings together inspirational women achievers and leaders across the world. On the eve of the conference, Bhanu didi tells us how the AOL programmes have enriched the happiness quotient in participants and enlivened human values.

Woman This Month (WTM): What are the main principles involved in the Art of Living (AOL) practice?
Bhanumathi Narasimhan (BN): We aim to bring a positive social transformation through individual blossoming. AOL has powerful tools like sudarshan kriya, a breathing technique that calms the mind and brings about health in every sphere — mind, body and outlook.

Meditation is food for the soul. It brings creativity, intuition and clear communication skills. Pranayama (breathing exercises) help to maintain physical heath. All levels of our existence — body, breath, mind and spirit — are taken care of. It’s a holistic approach to healthy and happy living.

February-2014_People1_001WTM: What’s the objective behind the International Women’s Conference 2014?
BN: The objective is to create a platform for women to come together and share common interests, achievements and success stories; to find solutions through dialogue and take home ideas from great thinkers.
It’s also a bridge between the rural and educated women, how we can learn from each other and how we can appreciate life. It’s not necessary for learning to happen through educated women. A simple woman can
teach you about value systems that are eroding today.

It’s wonderful to have women from 100 countries under one roof exposed to different cultures. It leaves one with a sense of connectedness and contentment. That’s what our ancient seers spoke of — the one world family.
Women from diverse backgrounds have the same aspirations, ambitions and concerns. One gets different perspectives to a challenge as solutions come from so many angles. It is an educative experience.

WTM: Women are increasingly stressed as they juggle careers alongside duties towards their families. What’s your advice for career women?
BN: We have to get our act together. As intelligent women, we need to manage our mind. A career woman is always looking outside to control situations and to achieve, but she seldom looks at managing her own mind, which is responsible for controlling situations outside. That’s why she needs to be more harmonious in coming to terms
with herself.

My experience has been that spirituality is the only answer to this. A few moments of quietude and mindfulness, focusing on one’s breath and some exercises will help career womento be stress-free.
If you want to build higher, you have to dig deep. The deeper and stronger the foundation, the higher the building. Like an arrow that has to be pulled back before shooting, a few moments of focusing within can help you be successful in your career outside. At the end of the day, however successful we are, success should be measured by the number of smiles and happiness quotient.

February-2014_People1_002WTM: There’s a lot of wisdom in books and many scriptures provide the secret to liberation. Is it necessary then to have a living guru?
BN: You’re right. Libraries can provide us with information, but only a living master who walks the talk can put us on the path of experiential and practical wisdom. I’ve read many books, gathered much information and appreciated all of it, but it was only when I found my master that I was able to put scriptures into practice. When you have a living master, it enhances your belief and deepens your understanding.

WTM: Have you considered making AOL techniques accessible to everyone through either lowering course fees or making enrolment free?
BN: Most certainly. In fact, we have more free courses than paid courses. All the paid courses help provide free courses for the rural communities, prisoners and slums. Many of our service projects are supported by the contributions received from the AOL programmes.

WTM: What does the term ‘women’s empowerment’ mean to you?
BN: Women’s empowerment doesn’t necessarily mean only economic independence. It’s about having a mind that’s courageous, contented and comfortable. An empowered woman communicates effectively and has the zeal to work not only for herself, but for the progress of the community and society. Empowerment extends from oneself to others. The feeling of empowerment comes from the very fact that you feel useful to yourself and to others.

WTM: Tell us about your project for educating the girl child in rural India.
BN: This project was started by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and spearheaded by my father. I’ve continued this and we have 383 AOL free schools to be proud of, enrolling over 35,000 children.

Everything is taken care of including transportation, school uniforms, supplies and books. Around 51 percent of the students are girls. Although everyone has the right to get educated, we’ve laid more emphasis on girls because they really need it in rural areas. We have free schools in 19 states of India, supported by well-wishers and volunteers.

WTM: Can women really be the agents of change in today’s society?
BN: Of course. I’d say that we have to take the power in our hands and move ahead for a harmonious and happy society. It’s our responsibility to move away from stress and violence and make a positive effort towards happiness, health and harmony.

WTM: What’s the one sure sign of spiritual progress?
BN: An undying smile, a kind heart and calm mind!

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