Making Happiness a Priority

By Makenzie Holland (makenzie.holland@mountaintimes.com)



Article Published: Jun. 5 | Modified: Jun. 5
Making Happiness a Priority

Sejal Shah has been practicing yoga for 20 years and works with the Art of Living Retreat Center’s core Art of Living Happiness program and Sri Sri Yoga Faculty.
Photos by Makenzie Holland



Making happiness a priority can often fall to the wayside in today’s tumultuous, fast-paced society.

At the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, shaping, molding and teaching others how to maintain that oft sought-after quality of life is the priority. Finding and keeping happiness is the organization’s No. 1 goal.

Founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Art of Living is an organization with a presence in more than 150 countries, with its main headquarters in Bangalore in Southern India. Functioning as a non-profit, the humanitarian organization works with several educational and self-development programs taught in its centers spread around the globe.

The recently established Boone center is spread over a vast 381 acres of winding roads, green forests and misty mountains. Meditation halls, dining facilities, a spa and an organic garden, among other things, compose this restful haven near the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Sejal Shah, who works with the center’s core Art of Living Happiness Program and Sri Sri Yoga Faculty, said the center is more than just a place to practice yoga.

“I’ve seen that in Western countries more it has become a physical form,” Shah said. “It is considered as a fitness program or regimen, but it is very much deeper than the physical. The physical could be an entry point, but it has a lot more to offer.”

To find true happiness, Shah said one has to be well and healthy in all aspects, not just the physical.
“We can remain on the shore of a sea or ocean and be happy,” Shah said. “But if we go really down deeper, you get the real happiness.”

Shankar, founder of Art of Living, is a spiritual leader known around the world for his kindness, simplicity and intelligence, Andrew Keaveney said. Keaveney works with media development and marketing at the center.

“He’s kind of reignited the knowledge and meditation of yoga and its very practical aspect,” Keaveney said, “making it very simple and not too complicated for people around the globe. So, literally, in 150 countries people have benefitted from his programs, and it’s brought a new joy to life. And so that’s really the quality of the man, as well, I would say.”

Keaveney said Shankar has been able to adapt ancient meditation and yoga techniques to today’s modern society.

“He’s connected with millions of people across the globe,” Shah said. “Anybody feels very close to him very easily. He has made programs relating to the general masses, but at the same time customized to prisoners or veterans, so it’s a very kind of vastness of the things that are offered.”

Throughout the year, the Boone center conducts several retreats both for children and adults. From July 4 to 6, an international Ayurveda and Yoga for Optimum Healing conference, at which Shankar will be present, will be held to allow a greater understanding of overall health.

Ayurveda, Shah explained, goes hand in hand with the practice of yoga. A 5,000-year-old ancient Indian healing method, Ayurveda is a system that examines a person’s physical constitution, mental disposition and spiritual journey and outlook in the context of their entire existence. It aims to bring peace and health to a person’s whole being, not just the physical.

“It’s as much of a lifestyle as it is a set of alternative medicine, so to speak,” Keaveney said of Ayurveda. “So, it’s really focused on giving guidance, helpful tips and hints for living in such a way that the body doesn’t get thrown out of balance. Like when the seasons change, when cold weather comes, what to do.”

The center offers a variety of retreats, such as the Ayurvedic Detox Panchakarma Retreat, which will be led by Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar and his wife, Dr. Manisha Kshirsagar, Aug. 15 to 22.

Through this retreat, Shah said, people can develop a personal wellness routine tailored to a person’s specific constitution.

Cost for the full package, which includes vegetarian meals, Ayurvedic health lectures, cooking demonstrations and lodging is $3,455.

This Saturday, the center offers a $35 vegetarian dinner and concert, featuring Beth Nielsen Chapman. Dinner will start at 7 p.m., and the concert will begin at 8 p.m. This dinner and concert is a public portion of the Widows Peak retreat, taking place June 6, 7 and 8. For $995, the specially designed retreat includes sessions with thought leaders, authors and others to help women on their journey in moving forward from losing a partner.

“If you can smile under any circumstance, that is a sign of success,” Shah said. “That is Sri Sri’s message. Under favorable circumstances, everybody can smile. But when there are unfavorable circumstances, unpleasant situations, if you can smile that’s a sign of success. A true sign of success.”

For more information on the Art of Living Retreat Center location, retreats, programs and ideals, visit http://www.artoflivingretreatcenter.org. For a small introduction to the programs at Art of Living, free sessions are conducted every Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m.

Additional Images

Sejal Shah has been practicing yoga for 20 years and works with the Art of Living Retreat Center’s core Art of Living Happiness program and Sri Sri Yoga Faculty.
Photos by Makenzie Holland

Shah walks outside of the center’s main reception and dining hall.

The main meditation hall at the Center can hold up to 3,500 people and is designed according to Vastu guidelines, as are all the buildings at the center.

The Blue Heaven Spa at the Center offers a variety of treatments using Shankara skin care products.

Though massages, facials and other treatments are the focus of Blue Heaven Spa, yoga is practiced there, as well.

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