Indian guru takes yoga to Iraq to promote peace
Indian spiritual guru Ravi Shankar is visiting strife-hit Iraq to spread the message of peace armed with three simple but invaluable weapons: yoga, meditation and breathing techniques.
Having succeeded in making Iraqis embrace his Art of Living Foundation with a determination he is known for, Ravi Shankar will meet both government as well as religious leaders in Iraq besides the royalty in neighbouring Jordan.
The Foundation, which counts millions of followers in India and elsewhere, is describing the May 21-25 trip as a unique and dangerous one and the first by any Indian spiritual leader "into this hellish war zone".
Ravi Shankar will spend three days in Iraq at the invitation of Prime Minister Nouri al Malaki, who has invited the Indian to be an ambassador of peace.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis - besides American soldiers - have died since the US occupied Iraq in 2003 after ousting President Saddam Hussein. The insurgency, and a bloody Shia-Sunni conflict, has unsettled the once peaceful and proud Arab nation.
It is in such a setting that Ravi Shankar, a Hindu who believes in universal values and respects all religious, is foraying into Iraq.
The guru interacts with Jordan's King Abdullah and Queen Rania Al Abdullah on Tuesday, the first full day of his trip. He leaves later for Baghdad where he will call on Prime Minister al Malaki.
On Wednesday, he will address a public gathering where several political leaders, including members of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish parties besides ordinary Iraqis would be present.
On subsequent days, Ravi Shankar will visit the Art of Living trauma relief center in Baghdad and then return to Amman where he will talk at the University of Jordan and attend a VIP reception thrown in his honour.
Since 2003, the Art of Living and its sister concern, The International Association for Human Values, have been working under difficult circumstances in that country to help Iraqis overcome their deep pain and suffering.
The Foundation volunteers regularly teach ancient Indian practices such as yoga, meditation and breathing techniques.
The volunteers have also conducted trauma relief courses in various parts of Iraq, especially in Baghdad. Medicines, food and clothes have also been offered.
Said Foundation spokeswoman Sangeeta G Anand: "For the first time, people who had not been able to close their eyes for days together because of constant bombing and killing were able to sleep, thanks to the breathing and meditation techniques. Many got relief from depression, anxiety, blood pressure, migraine and other psychosomatic disorders resulting from war-related stress."
And at a time when most NGOs were compelled to evacuate their volunteers from Iraq in the wake of heightened unrest and kidnappings, Art of Living stayed put, impressing many Iraqis.
Last year, 43 Iraqis, mostly women, graduated to be Art of Living teachers. So far, 5,000 Iraqis have undergone the Art of Living trauma relief workshops apart from attending ayurvedic training camps.
Ravi Shankar's followers have also initiated a women empowerment project under which Iraqi women get vocational training such as tailoring and computer skills. Over 500 women have benefited from the programme.
Also, some 20,000 Iraqis have benefited from the assistance offered by medical personnel providing free consultations and medicines while 420 community leaders have been trained in providing trauma relief skills.
The plan is to set up three more Women's Leadership Centers in Iraq to train 10,000 Iraqi women to become community leaders.
Said Anand, "The organisation's primary objective is to assist, educate and encourage women to be catalysts, messengers, teachers and leaders who represent the importance of empowerment and education throughout Iraqi society."
She said Ravi Shankar's visit was likely to provide further impetus to efforts to alleviate the trauma and sufferings of the people of Iraq.