Saturday, August 21, 2010

Gopika Prabhu Life Story!

About me
Entrepreneur, Designer and Art of Living Teacher in Washington, DC.  I grew up in Baltimore, MD and attended George Washington University in DC where I received a BA in Visual Communications.

My experience on this path... so far
People come to the Art of Living course for a variety of reasons – looking for something new, a deeper meaning to life, stress-relief, etc. I was 8 years old when I was introduced to the course, and as you can imagine it wasn’t because I saw a flyer and shortly after signed up for a course. I was blessed with two parents who had the insight and wonder in them to approach a new, more holistic approach to life. They met Sri Sri (who I refer to as Guruji for the rest of this entry) in Washington, DC and shortly after participated in the Art of Living workshop. I didn’t know what they were up to. All I knew was that I got to spend the night out at a friends house while they were gone. My parents are both physicians and I remember growing up with a lot of amazing nannies because they spent long hours at the hospital and running their own practices. My childhood was pretty fantastic, went to some of the best schools, had amazing friends, and two older siblings that to this day inspire me to be who I am. 

As a little 8-year-old girl I didn’t realize that I was walking on a path of knowledge that would end up guiding me through some of the toughest and most magical moments of my life. Before there were any Art of Living youth programs, me and my sister would spend summer after summer up at the Art of Living Ashram in Quebec, Canada. This was when Guruji would spend a few weeks of the year there. My parents would meditate for what seemed like hours on end, and the kids would play. And, every once in a while, we got to meditate too. To be honest, I enjoyed swimming and mini-golfing more than meditating.

What I didn’t realize was that all of these meditations and breathing techniques, the knowledge, friendships and experiences at the ashram were setting a very clear path for me. When I was little bit older, and started high school I never got stressed out. Later in college, people resorted to all sorts of crazy drugs just to stay awake and concentrate, but those issues never fazed me. People told me they liked being around me, not because of what I said or did, but because they somehow felt more relaxed. I didn’t connect those summers learning how to meditate with what my friends were saying to me almost a decade later.

A lot of my friends did Teach for America after graduating. I wanted to do something similar, devote my time to helping people in whatever way I could.  I didn’t know how to do that or if I could actually accomplish anything of the sort. But I was very interested in diving deeper into the service component of the Art of Living and had just completed my teacher training to teach YES! – the Art of Living program for high school students. And so right after graduating from GW I moved back to Baltimore where I started the first YES! For high school program in Maryland. I worked with a small team of traveling and full time teachers and helped secure a grant that would enable 120 inner-city kids to take the program.

To be honest I had no idea what I was doing. Upon entering the school I was nervous, wondering how I could possibly get high school kids who were bigger, taller, and frankly much cooler than me, to meditate?! I walked into an auditorium of 400+ students from 9th – 12thgrades. It was the first day of school and they were “welcomed” by a police officer who threatened to arrest anyone who behaved badly. I was up next. I was 21 yrs old at the time, had never spoken in front of such a large (and seemingly tough) crowd before, and perhaps it’s too much tv watching, but I could have sworn that a tomato would fly out and smack in my in the face. 

But to my surprise, when I started speaking about my experience growing up, not being stressed, feeling happy no matter what came my way, I realized the room had come to pin-drop silence. They were listening. They wanted this magic for themselves. The school ended up giving us a classroom and we started teaching YES! as part of the health education curriculum. There’s so many experiences I would like to share about teaching in this one particular school, but I have to save some stories for later.

I’ll end with this. I never thought I could make an impact. I was used to being the quiet, youngest sibling who liked to follow her older brother and sister around.

Looking back at the past 20 years, I realize that I am the person I am today because of Guruji. He taught me how to be a leader in my own way, how to step out of all those barriers that used to hold me back – like shyness, fear, etc.. – and just go out there and serve.

We all have our heroes and for me it’s always been him.  

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