Art of Living can make for prettier picture

Members of the Art of Living group practice hatha yoga and pranayama exercises during their meeting Sunday afternoon at the Baha'i Center in Denver, while awaiting the arrival of Rishi Nityapragya, a noted yogi.

Snap. Snap. The bearded, long-haired guru - imagine a cross between a jazzy Beatles' Maharishi and a stylish, Renaissance-era Jesus - snaps out a beat with his fingers.

"Can you hear the small little sounds?" he whispers, his voice filling the schoolroom-like hush. Sitting on the floor around him in a leased room at Denver's Baha'i Center on Saturday are about 35 attentive Westerners. "If your mind is not present, you miss so many sounds!"

Welcome to the world of Rishi Nityapragya, an affable, mischievously boyish 43-year-old Indian spiritual teacher, one of a handful deployed to the U.S. to help stressed or depressed Westerners achieve peace through a nonprofit, The Art of Living Foundation.

He answers to Rishi-Ji, or honored seer, although he sports the breezy informality of a next-door neighbor.

Until 16 years ago, he worked as a chemical engineer in India ("Oh yes, coat and tie, all that," he says cheerfully) who felt empty and anxious like everybody else.

Then he met Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

{josquote}Today, I feel I still handle chemicals. Happiness' chemicals!{/josquote}

"Now I feel the purpose of my life is to explain the amazing potential, the reserves of joy and energy and love, that exist in all of us," he said during a break.

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