- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

Youth delegates of Take a Breath, D.C. left their loudspeakers and rowdiness at home, instead showing that silence can be just as deafening in rallying for a cause.

The delegates, from more than 35 states, held banners that read “Take a Breath, D.C.” and participated in a short parade last month that ended in a meditation session by 500 to 600 people in front of the White House to promote their Violence-Free, Stress-Free America campaign.

Lafayette Square, directly across from the White House entrance, is an area known to attract heated demonstrations, often with loudspeakers and graphic images. This unusual campaign, however, was marked by tranquillity and an unusual stillness during the 20-minute meditation on June 20.

“The root cause of violence is individual stress,” said Rajshree Patel, director of training and development for the Art of Living Foundation, the key sponsor of the event. “The foundation’s philosophy is that if we can remove stress, we can eliminate violence. And meditation reduces stress. In fact, Take a Breath, D.C. is part of the larger Violence-Free, Stress-Free America campaign that we launched in 2007.”

This unique philosophy forms the cornerstone of the Art of Living Foundation’s activities. The D.C.-based foundation, an educational and humanitarian nonprofit that has programs in 140 countries, offers individual empowerment workshops aimed at people of all backgrounds. The organization says it is one of the United Nations’ largest volunteer-based nongovernmental organizations.

Dalia Golchan, a D.C. resident who recently attended a foundation workshop, recommends it to others.

“I took the ‘Yes! Plus’ course with 125 other people,” Ms. Golchan said. “It’s a course that is geared toward empowering young people between 18 and 30. I did not know what to expect going into the program, but doing it has given me a renewed sense of hope and empowerment. I totally recommend it to everyone.”

The foundation mentors participants, such Ms. Golchan, who wish to take part in community development or become program instructors themselves.

“It is amazing what young people can do,” said Madhu Kadari, a D.C. resident and a longtime Art of Living volunteer. “Past program participants have spearheaded trauma-relief programs following Hurricane Katrina and the Virginia Tech shooting, initiated violence-prevention programs in New York City public high schools, Job Corps and Rikers Island jail. They have even taught programs in universities such as Cornell University, UCLA and Wharton Business School [at the University of Pennsylvania].”

• Jennifer Stevenson is a volunteer with the Art of Living Foundation.

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