Several European and American Art of Living teachers first went to Moscow in the early 1990’s and led the first Art of Living Happiness programs there. The Happiness program contains a powerful breathing technique, cognized by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, called the Sudarshan Kriya. It has benefited millions of people around the world from all walks of life, including youth, corporate executives, homemakers, children, the underprivileged, and the trauma affected.
So in 1995, as a new Art of Living teacher, I got a visa to live in Moscow for three years and was determined to use the opportunity to make the life-transforming benefits of the Sudarshan Kriya available to as many people as possible in Moscow.
It turned out, however, not to be so easy.
At that time, the Russian Orthodox Church had persuaded the Moscow City Government to pass a law forbidding any activities involving yoga in public places. This made it difficult to find a place to lead our programs, since we usually rented school gyms and library halls. I lived in a university dormitory room, where such leading such activities with groups was also prohibited.
I had a small list of people who had taken the Happiness program in the past, but difficulties with the Moscow Phone system made it almost impossible for me to reach them. At that time of economic and social collapse, phone numbers dialed from pay phones often got mistakenly routed to a different number and I had no phone in my dorm room, nor were mobile phones affordable at that time.
To make matters worse, I was there in the winter time, when standing in lines outside in the freezing Moscow -25 degree Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) winter to use pay phones, which anyway didn’t route my calls to the correct numbers, seemed like a hopeless exercise. The cords connecting the receiver and phone were not very long, and there was no place to put my notebook with phone numbers, so I took a flashlight, left the notebook lying on the dry snow next to my feet, wore gloves with the finger tips missing so I could dial accurately, and bent over with a flashlight to peer at the number I was dialing. It was so frustrating when I lost my two kopeck coins, in vain, because the numbers I dialed had anyway been routed to some unintended number!! Two kopecks was a tiny amount of money, the equivalent of one cent, if that much. The problem was that two kopeck coins were hard to come by and the phones wouldn’t accept anything else.
When I finally had the delight of reaching a former Art of Living participant, I would have to give them a definite time and place to meet and hope they could
Come, because they had no way of reaching me if their plans changed, since I had no phone and there was no e-mail at that time.
Sending a text message on a mobile phone, such a widely used and convenient way of communicating in the 21st Century, was not possible because mobiles were too expensive for practically anyone to have.
As a result, I was in a quandary about where I could lead Art of Living programs regularly in Moscow, so that I could at least put up posters at places like universities (in the collapsed state of post-Soviet society, it wasn’t yet possible to do newspaper or public transportation advertising).
Then my problem got solved in a surprising and delightful way.
One day, while out walking, I saw a poster advertising a performance of Winnie the Pooh at a Puppet Theater. I was overjoyed! It’s hard to say which thrilled me more: a production of A.A. Milne’s delightful children’s book Winnie the Pooh done in Russia, famous for its high quality theater, music, and dance, or the chance to see Puppet Theater, another art form that’s well-developed in Russia.
So off I went to the theater, at my first opportunity. The show was lovely, but more interesting were the people sitting next to me in the theater. They were a lovely, elderly British couple, in Moscow establishing a charity childrens’ hospital. In the course of our conversation, I learned they attended the Moscow branch of an organization called The Society of Friends. I had come to know this group back in my home town of Urbana, Illinois in the U.S., so I was interested in meeting them in Moscow, and this lovely couple gave me their contact information. This was a fortunate turn of events because at that time, when post-Soviet society was in a state of collapse, there were no such things as telephone books or directory assistance or contact information bureaus in Moscow. Had this couple not helped me, I don’t know how else I would have found them, and Winnie the Pooh introduced us!
So I attended the next meeting of The Society of Friends. It was great to meet such like-minded people. They immediately became interested in taking our Happiness program and, of course, allowed me to use their office to lead it for all the interested members of their group, which was approximately 75% of them, or about 20 people.
They were very impressed with the results of the Sudarshan Kriya and the Happiness program as a whole, so they decided to provide their office in the center of Moscow as a venue for us to hold regular Happiness programs.
This gesture was like balm to my soul. Now I could use their office, with facilities and a kitchen, for our courses, and it was right in the center of Moscow, easily accessible to everyone. And that, my dear friends, was how it all began!
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