But in 1997, Chopra, then 25, found herself overwhelmed with stress caused by problems in her marriage and at work, so her cousin recommended she take a course on breathing techniques.
Almost immediately, she began to recognize how breathing patterns affected her mind and emotions. What happens normally is that you begin questioning your past, present and future, she explained.
With yoga and meditation, "thoughts come and you let them go, and after 20 minutes, your state of mind is muchcalmer," said Chopra, 34, a native of Delhi, India, who now lives in Fremont and is an instructor with the Art of Living Foundation. "It's much easier to accept all situations without feeling hassled. If you feel bad or stressed, you know that within the next minute or the next hour, things change."
On Tuesday and June 19, the Fremont Main Library is hosting two free yoga and meditation workshops that focus on the teachings of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, an Indian guru and a 2006 Nobel Peace Prize nominee who is visiting the Bay Area in July.
Known as the "Art of Living," Shankar's technique combines Eastern philosophy, meditation, stretches and breathing exercises as a strategy to reduce stress, anxiety and depression and improve mental health.
About 16.5 million Americans regularly practice yoga, according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive Service Bureau conducted on behalf of Yoga Journal.
In 2001, Manik Advani, a Fremont resident in his 40s, was ready to quit his job in the high-tech industry, which seemed to consist of endless pressure to meet deadlines, along with little recognition from his supervisors.
"They had sucked the joy out of everything," Advani said. "I was fed up. I wanted to go back to India, or quit my job and work at 7-Eleven or Burger King."
In June 2003, he enrolled in an "Art of Living" class and broke down in tears. When he closed his eyes, he had what he describes as a flashback to his late grandmother's living room with what he remembered of her sculptures, statues and sofa. When he left India in 1986, he had promised to return to see her after earning his master's degree, he said. But life had become so hectic that he never made it back.
In the flashback, "She just looked at me and said, 'Don't worry, it's OK,'" he recalled. "Deep down in my subconscious, I had all this guilt. This process somehow released it."
Advani, who now serves as a volunteer with the Art of Living, said he sometimes used to vomit on the way to work because he dreaded the job so much. Now, instead, he spends 20 minutes to an hour each morning in his study, practicing breathing, yoga and meditation techniques. Sometimes he sings on his way to work, he said.
"I used to think that there were only good people and bad people in the world," Advani said. "Now I don't see things that way. Everybody has some good qualities, but whether they're nice or not so nice depends on the amount of stress they carry with them."
Anuradha Punyamurthala, a Newark resident in her early 30s, said she had read books on yoga and meditation throughout her life. But it was only after giving birth to her second child and trying to juggle her career and her family that she started looking for ways to deal with her emotions.
"I quickly became angry when someone said the littlest things," she said. "I was irritated very easily."
For the past four years, Punyamurthala has gone into her bedroom after work, opened the window and practiced breathing techniques.
"It's not the circumstances around you that changes," she said. "It's your reaction to them. (After meditation), you're more aware and centered."
Staff writer Jonathan Jones covers ethnic, religious and cultural issues. He can be reached at (510) 353-7005 or firstname.lastname@example.org.