U meditation group aims to alleviate Sept. 11 anxiety

Amy Hackbarth

The Minnesota Daily sent a reporter to participate in stress relief meditation.This is a first-person account.

When I received an invitation to attend a Sept. 11 stress relief meditation last Saturday, I was skeptical.

The University chapter of the Art of Living Foundation will guide meditations every Saturday in November. The meditations aim to relax people who can’t let go of their Sept. 11 anxiety.

“If you’re constantly thinking about past anger and anxiety, you’re not concentrating on the present,” said Upendra Bhandarkar, president of the University Art of Living chapter. “You need to get your mind into this moment.”

Had the events of Sept. 11 stressed me out? Sure, I sleep with the glow of CNN as a night light and follow current events like a news junkie, but my life has returned to relative normalcy since the attacks.

Besides, my experiences with meditations didn’t give me faith. They usually occurred in high school gym class, with some mail-order tape that played gurgling water noises and Enya’s latest hit. By the end of the hour someone was always snickering or snoring on the other side of the room. I usually snickered, too.

This meditation started with more organization than my high school experiences. Hiyalah Indiga, a yoga teacher, led the handful of students in 10 minutes of stretching. While I almost snickered during the “tree pose,” which meant balancing on one foot with my arms stretched out “like branches,” the exercises did help me stretch out my knotted back.

Next, we watched a video featuring Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, an Indian spiritual leader and founder of Art of Living.

“Every part of the world has to be civilized and educated,” Shankar said. “Until that happens, no part of the world can be safe.”

After listening to Shankar mumble about the attacks for 20 minutes, I felt my stress level rise. He related glittering vagaries about “making the world a more beautiful place.” But it all seemed unrealistic.

Then Rosemary Hultman, an Art of Living teacher, put in the meditation compact disc.

The beginning of the meditation involved simple exercises, such as breathing in through your nose and out with a “ha” sound. While everyone else seemed to make the “ha” sound with ease, it made me feel embarrassed. I kept quiet.

Then we focused on our “navel region,” first by bloating our stomachs and then sucking them in. More exercises followed.

I don’t know when it happened, but I felt myself being pulled into the meditation. Nothing existed except my mind and Shankar’s voice on the video. His voice pulled me like a thread through a needle. It might have been an enlightened experience. For all I know, I could have been asleep.

When the tape ended, I felt loose, with relaxed muscles and a tingly stomach. My head felt fuzzy and large.

Archane Purushotham, a graduate student, said she felt relaxed after the meditation too. She knew more about meditation than I did.

“One session is not enough,” she said. “Most of these techniques take repeated doing to feel the effects.”

After talking to her, I said goodbye to the others in the room and ducked out of the building. Outside, the glaring sun made me squint. I biked home quietly and thought about buying an Enya CD.

 

Amy Hackbarth welcomes comments at [email protected]