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Mental Health and Well-Being: Strengthening Resilience for Individuals, Societies and Nations

Updated: Apr 24

Keynote Address of Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

at the Asian Development Bank

5 April 2024, Manila




On 5 April 2024, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gave a highly impactful keynote address at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Manila, Philippines entitled “Mental Health and Well-Being: Strengthening Resilience for Individuals, Societies and Nations”. Over 350 ADB staff participated in-person and virtually from several of its field offices across Asia and Pacific to learn about mental health and well-being and how these considerations can be woven into ADB’s support to their developing member countries through its development projects.  


Watch the keynote address here.


ADB’s Director General and Sectors Group Chief for Asia and the Pacific, Mr. Ramesh Subramaniam, warmly welcomed Gurudev and explained how we often talk about a country’s or company’s well-being a lot more than we talk about our own well-being. He said that although mental well-being is still considered a taboo topic in many countries and societies, one of the few good outcomes from the COVID-19 pandemic was the collective realization to focus on our “internal environment”. In 2021, ADB launched its Cultural Transformative Initiative, a major cultural and strategic change that puts staff overall well-being as a fundamental prerequisite for upholding its values of being client-centric, trustworthy, and transformational. “All of us are leaders at individual levels, but how do we internalize what need to know about ourselves. The focus is strengthening individuals who in turn are inspired to contribute positively to society as leaders who use both head and heart. Head, heart, and hands need to come together,” Mr. Subramaniam said as he welcomed Gurudev on stage.  





Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar started his speech by defining what stress is. Stress is having too much to do and too little time and energy to do it, which negatively affects our sleep, attention span, perception, judgement, and expression. He said that since we cannot reduce what we need to do and time is constant, the only variability is to increase our energy level. He explained the different sources of energy, highlighting the breath and its direct link to our emotions, and achieving a peaceful state of mind through meditation. “Meditation has become common language, non-denominational. What brings you joy, happiness, love, appreciation, sense of responsibility, responsiveness – all the qualities of consciousness is what we call spiritual. Anyone who loves being compassionate and helpful to others, this is the quality of the spirit. Anything that enhances our inner strength is spirituality,” Gurudev said. He explained how “mindfulness” or being attentive to anything you’re doing, is only a tiny aspect of our consciousness and can actually cause more stress and tension when you are worried about not being mindful all the time. Meditation, on the other hand, is relaxation, which gives rise to focused attention. You need to be both relaxed and centered – this is meditation. 


Gurudev shared that every 40 seconds, someone is committing suicide somewhere in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The mental health crisis – depression, aggression, and suicide rates significantly rising post COVID-19 pandemic, especially among the youth – is the biggest issue the world is facing today. “Wars and conflicts are generated from the minds of people. W.A.R. means Worst Act of Reason. People think that they are doing what is right but are coming from a stressed state of mind,” according to Gurudev. He shared that former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon once said to him during the declaration of the 1st International Yoga Day that “We need this (meditation) before every negotiation. If we had this before every negotiation, we would be more successful.” Gurudev said that a violence-free society, disease-free body, confusion-free mind, inhibition-free intellect, trauma-free memory, and a sorrow-free soul are what we all need to bring to this world. 





Gurudev then taught some physical exercises and guided everyone through deep meditation. This was followed by an active Q&A from staff working in project and regional operations asking wide-ranging questions about individual well-being and how to integrate well-being considerations into ADB’s work, based on Gurudev’s extensive work through Art of Living and the International Association for Human Values (IAHV), organizations that he founded and have benefitted an estimated 450 million lives in over 180 countries. 





Some of the key issues discussed during the Q&A include: 


  • Youth. When asked about what we can do to address the mental health crisis among the youth, Gurudev offered to provide ADB with technical assistance on how to effectively design and implement youth-focused mental wellbeing and resilience programs, citing the following best practices from AOL and IAHV: 

  • IAHV project co-funded by the European Union that assisted 30,000 Syrian children overcome trauma and regain their mental and emotional well-being; 

  • SKY for Schools Program that contributed towards New York City requiring all primary and secondary public schools to have 5 minutes of mindful breathing and meditation every day, which has led to lower violent incidents in the classroom; and 

  • SKY Campus Happiness Program, which can be found in 108 U.S. universities (i.e. Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT) as for-credit courses.


He shared that in a recent Art of Living survey among 1000 students in Delhi University, they asked who the students hated the most - 80% answered their parents. When asked who they hated second most – 85% answered their teachers. They did a 7-day course with Art of Living and their parents could not believe how much kinder their children were immediately after the program. Gurudev emphasizes that mental health, especially among the youth who have lost focus and are unhappy, is the biggest issue the world is facing now. 


  • Capacity Building. When asked about how multilateral development organizations, such as ADB,  can mainstream human values into their operational work, Gurudev explained that teaching technical skills is not enough. Skills in communication and handling one’s own mindset, how you present yourself, how your personality should outshine your qualifications, are what you need. Train along these skills set. Train young people to be resilient. 


  • Service and Responsibility.  When asked how we can translate our inner peace to the world around us that is in conflict and turmoil, Gurudev said that we cannot be peaceful ourselves if turmoil is all around us. We cannot be happy if people around us are not happy. That is why service activities are important.  Meditation coupled with service makes a huge difference. We can all make a difference to the lives around us. 


  • Trust. When asked how ADB can promote better trust, integrity and a transformational culture among its staff, Gurudev said that in his programs, there are people from all backgrounds, race and religion. We need to see who we really are beyond appearances. He cited one incident at the Bangalore campus where they brought 30 people from Israel and 150 people from Arab countries (i.e. Iran, Iraq), who did not know they were going to be there at the same time. They went through the Art of Living programs first separately, then jointly. At the end, they were eating, singing and dancing together – one Israeli and one Arab even fell in love. Gurudev said that we need to touch the human card, which is beyond the intellectual mind. Reason should rise more. He also shared how IAHV Philippines was able to bring together Maute-ISIS returnees, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Local Government Units for peacebuilding sessions, which was the first time all groups were peacefully together in one room, according to the AFP. 


With positive feedback from the ADB staff, Mr. Subramaniam expressed his gratitude for Gurudev’s visit and said that focusing on individual and societal mental and physical well-being and resilience will help amplify the development impact that ADB creates.  



For more information about Art of Living and IAHV, including interest for collaboration or partnerships, please contact charmaine.cuunjieng@iahv.org or visit www.artofliving.org, www.iahv-philippines.org, and www.iahv-peace.org.







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