AYAN ROY discusses stress management and more with travelling Art of Living teacher Purnachaitanya who started his journey as Alexander
With his long shoulder-length mane, brown beard, white robes and beatific smile, Swami Purnachaitanya can easily be cast as a Christ-like figure in any play or movie. But one realises there is so much more to the man once you start talking to him.
His slightly mischievous but self-assured smile and soft sing-song way of speaking draws you in. And the fact that his life story is so fascinating keeps you captivated. His whole life seems to have been pushing him towards his current role as a disciple of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and a guide who helps people try to make their lives less stressful and more meaningful.
The first conquest of Alexander
Born in Holland as Alexander, Swami Purnachaitanya showed a keen interest in Eastern spiritual practices and philosophies. It helped that his Dutch father and Indian mother were also spiritually inclined and initiated him into yoga, meditation and Eastern philosophies early on. Raised a vegetarian, this ‘gentle child’ even trained in a wide range of martial arts like as judo, taekwondo, ninpo bujutsu, wushu, aikido and capoeira. While talking of his childhood experiences, the ‘former Dutchman’ says that martial arts helped him understand the importance of breathing, balance and discipline. Over time his fascination with Eastern philosophy grew as he realised that while Western philosophies were more intellectual, Eastern ones were more practical and integrated into daily life.
At the age of 16 came what he calls the “defining moment of his life”, when he first met Sri Sri Ravi Shankar during a programme in The Netherlands in 2000. And thus began the journey of Alexander.
During his gap year, after high school, he volunteered at the ‘Art of Living’ headquarters in Bengaluru and then in 2007 after completing his studies came to India to fully commit to a life of trying to make this a stress-free world, which is causing most of the problems in the world.
Root cause of problems
As the discussion moves towards how meditation, chanting and doing pujas calmed his mind and reduced stress in his life, I ask him what is the root cause of many of the problems in the world. The Swami responds, “It is stress, the diminishing of human values and the human tendency of limiting their main identify – of being of a particular gender or a member of a certain community, belonging to a country. Gurudev once said that one of the reasons for many of the problems in the world is that we identify more with these limited identities, and not with the bigger one that we are all human beings and part of the planet. If we develop this sense of belonging then a lot of the problems will be resolved.”
He says that calming the mind can reduce our stress levels, but that it is difficult to achieve that state and people need guidance. He said, “It is very easy to give advice. A friend or family member can state, ‘Arre, just relax’. But they don’t share how to do that. A teacher may admonish a child for not paying attention, but doesn’t give the child the right tools to help him focus. That’s where you need meditation and chanting of mantra. It provides one with the ability to be peaceful and alert at the same time. You don’t need to recite the mantra or do meditation all the time. Regular practice will help condition the mind and it will learn to remain focused while, at the same time, be relaxed.”
How to calm your mind?
According to Swami Purnachaitanya, the three main ways of calming a mind are:
- Having the right knowledge and understanding – The Swami feels people experience stress and situations escalate due to their lack of having experienced real challenges and having never learnt to deal with failures. He illustrates his point with an example from his life. “I was a good student, but once I suddenly failed an exam. Instead of being angry or sad, my father was overjoyed and celebrated the occasion by getting a cake. He explained that he had been worried about me not spending enough time enjoying the simple joys of life like playing football, because he worried I was too focused on my studies, and life is more than just studies and grades.”
He adds, “A child’s complete personality needs to be developed, but parents now focus just on their academics. They pass on their stress to the child. Art of Living teaches people how life works and how to deal with it.”
- Breathing – One may find it hard to manage the mind through the mind but it can be done a lot more easily through breathing techniques. “We teach the Sudarshan Kriya or Pranayama which controls the rhythm of a person’s breathing. Controlling one’s breathing can help centre a person and also has many physical benefits.”
- Chanting mantras – The Swami explains, “The scriptures say mantras allow you to go beyond the mind. They are sound vibrations that have an effect on the consciousness, the space around you and your mind. Vibrations are sent out by chanting mantras and these affect our brain patterns. They have a soothing effect on the mind, as do bhajans that are mantras that are sung.”
Music of the Vedas
Interestingly, the Swami has released a 2-CD album, Suktanjali. Ask him about it and he says that the mind is made up of energy and thoughts too are energies. The chants on the CDs, series of Vedic Hymns or Suktas, each invokes different energies and qualities in our lives.
While this graduate in journalism, new media and Indology traverses social media extensively to raise awareness and get his message across, he travels extensively also, both in India and abroad, as the Director of Programmes and International Faculty of The Art of Living to ensure that not only him, but others too start on their journey towards Purna Chaitanya (pure consciousness or the consciousness that knows itself and also others.)
Three Maha mantras that can help deal with daily stress:
- Om Namah Shivaya
- Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
- Om Namo Narayanaya
Work in the North East
Swami Purnachaitanya believes some issues in the North East region are born out of a sense of neglect. Hence, The Art of Living has been working extensively in this region of India to:
- Provide rural development and skill-training projects like setting up weaving centres to empower the women
- Provide basic infrastructural needs such as solar-powered electricity
- Provide almost 100 free schools in North East and West Bengal
- Provide Personality Development (including teaching Yoga and imparting leadership skills)