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BY PURVI GAJJAR
Everyday is the same for Kajal Shah when it comes to taking care of her 10-year-old daughter Rutvi. Kajal is a full-time engineer and mother, and like most parents, she devotes a large chunk of her time and energy attending to the different needs of her child, making sure that she is always available for her. But since the last four days tables have turned around. “Rutvi sets an alarm by herself and wakes up at 6 AM everyday. She animatedly walks up to our room and wakes me up!” says Kajal. “I never thought my daughter would take responsibility at such a young age,” she adds.
Having said that, today most of the dialogue and culturing from parents to children usually circles around "do this" and "do that," or "don't do this" and "don't do that". It is an incessant clamor of trying to fit them into our grown-up world. That’s why Kajal attributes the shift in Rutvi to the ART Excel Program (All Round Training in Excellence) conducted by the Art of Living Foundation.
“The ART Excel program teaches young people valuable life skills. Children learn practical techniques that they can use to handle stress and negative emotions. The course is designed to bring out their highest potential,” explains Mona Shah-Joshi, director of Art of Living Foundation Atlanta and teacher of the ART Excel Program.
Created by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation, the ART Excel program is designed for children between ages 8 to 13. As the name suggests, the program aims at developing all-round excellence on the physical, mental, emotional and social levels, intending to enhance and facilitate a young mind’s education. “Neither at school nor at home, have we learned how to eliminate stress or handle negative emotions. We tell children not to be angry, but do not give them a technique to deal with their negative emotions,” says His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. ART Excel seeks to counteract negative tendencies, such as fear, anger and frustration in positive ways, thereby introducing a balancing effect on children’s lives.
Taught through games and discussions in a friendly and joyful atmosphere, the program supports the overall well-being of children by teaching a variety of empowering techniques, including yoga, meditation and the unique Sudarshan Kriya devised for children, that foster peace of mind, mental clarity and focus, physical relaxation and emotional stability. It also teaches vital, non-academic skills, such as the art of making friends and promoting non-violence in the community.
One of the motivating factors in formatting the ART Excel program comes from the fact that formal education for children has become a fiercely competitive process. The anxiety caused by exams, added by pressures of the grading system has hampered the creativity and originality of children to an alarming state. Yet these qualities deem to be critical in cultivating the analytical and problem-solving skills needed in the contemporary world.
Last week Mona Shah-Joshi conducted the program for 33 kids coming from various backgrounds and cultures, with distinctive characteristics and concerns. In the words of 10-year-old Madhuvani Kamarajugadda, “Art Excel is the best gift for me ever. I have never thought this would help me by getting control whenever I am mad. There is a cure to every negative feeling without eating or drinking anything. All of the golden keys will help me so much in life. I love Art of Living because it keeps you smart, calm and alert. Overall, Art of Living keeps me awake and alive inside.” 9-year-old Shreya Nainwal sums up her experience by saying, “If everyone in the world takes this class then everybody’s mind would be peaceful and open.”
In keeping with the motive of ART Excel to nurse healthy and happy children, the Art of Living Foundation launched its first Know Your Child (KYC) workshop for parents in Atlanta last month. Director of Education for Art of Living India, Muralidhar Koteshwar conducted the sessions over a period of two days for three hours each. He has taught over 200,000 people in India, Middle East and Europe.
The main goal of KYC is to focus on the root cause of children’s behavioral patterns, which in turn facilitates parents in providing the knowledge to help them blossom to their full potential. “The primary message was to love the childlikeness of your child. Sometimes parents get so busy being adults that they forget the childlike wisdom, energy and freshness children have. We were taught how to recognize and honor that,” says Brenda Strickland, children’s choir director at Atlanta Unity, and elementary music teacher, who benefited from the workshop.
Through its interactive curriculum, parents learn the tools and skills for being the guide they need to be, so children can explore the world in the most natural, open yet safe manner. “Parents need to take the time to center themselves and care for their body and their spirit, because when your being is well then you are able to be a better parent,” Brenda sums up. Art of Living also offers the YES Program for teenagers aged 14 to 18.
For more information on the Spring-Break ART Excel Program and the YES Programs, visit http://us.artofliving.org/atlanta or call 1877-AO-Living or email