Meditative Travels

What if you could close your eyes and be transported to the most beautiful place you have been to – completely visualize every shade of green in the trees, hear the sounds of wind in the leaves, feel the early morning freshness of the place in your skin – as if you were right there!

I just came back from a trip to japan and have been thinking a lot about conscious traveling. How to not only make memories but take them along. How to completely BE in the place, amongst all the crowds and tourist checklists and selfies!

Take a breath, slow down, close your eyes and take the place in

Tip 1: Take a breath, slow down the pace, sit down if you need to, as you reach your destination. Let go of the crowd anxieties and tourists checklists.
Take in the scene, enough to paint a picture worth a thousand words with your eyes closed. Notice the movements, the smells, the colors and how they shine in the light. Meditate for a couple of minutes or write it down.
Send postcards to friends, reminisce and detail memories.

Here to learn. Not checkout tourlist lists

Tip 2: Look out for what you will take back from the place? Every moment, every person, every place has something to teach.
Japanese gardens or even Japanese streets are a treat to walk around with their immaculately manicured trees and plants. They see god in nature and can create beautiful sights just out of simple stones. Going to Japanese temples is as much about zenning out on the natural beauty in the verandas outside as much as it is about the idol within. Looking at nature is uplifting, but walking around beautiful gardens is like falling in love

Japanese restaurants and trains maintain such silence that we often caught ourselves ‘shouting’. It seems like everyone is in a constant state of meditation. Talking soft and slowly brings purpose to their conversations

Japanese food is creative, flavorful, balanced and rich in ‘umami’ with separate sections for rice, pickled vegetables, fermented foods, soups, teas coming together in bento boxes. Creatively arranged food brings a smile on the face every time a new box is opened.

Tip 3: Come back and remember the place. In your meditation. Or Write postcards to friends. Describe the place. Very often we come back and feel like we have totally forgotten the vacation and are in dire need of a new vacation. Its a viscious loop.

Cheers!

Clear Veggie Rainbow soup, Vietnamese pho style

Third is the series of “How to eat a vegetable rainbow without eating salads everyday” is this simple clear veggie rainbow soup, vietnamese pho style.

The subtle flavors of star anise and bay leaf lend a cuddly warmth, and the crunchy veggies a refreshing body to the soup. With a soupy and solid texture, it is perfect as a main course of detox meals or start of the meals when you know the end isn’t going to be as healthy 😉

Recipe: Clear Veggie Rainbow soup, Vietnamese pho style

Prep time: 10min | Cooking time: 35min | 2 Big bowls

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of rainbow vegetables, finely chopped (carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, beans, cabbage, red bell pepper, mushroom)
  • 4 star anise
  • 1 medium size onion (sliced)
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lemon

Instructions:

  • In a pan, heat 1 Tbsp oil. Add onion and star anise, sauteing for around 5 min till the onion starts becoming translucent.
  • Add all the chopped vegetables, sprinkle salt and saute for 10min
  • Add water, cover the pan and let the veggies cook on medium heat for 15 – 20min.
  • Add soy sauce and give the last stirs for 2min
  • Check flavors, Squeeze half a lemon and serve 🙂

Notes:

  • It’s an extremely simple recipe, with one rule: Use 5 color rainbow vegetables 🙂
  • Chop the vegetables well, but not too fine to lose individual texture of each vegetable
  • Star anise and soy sauce are star ingredients here, turning a boring boiled vegetable soup into a fancy pho adaptation!
  • Enjoy a big bowl and snuggle in the warmth and health!

Rainbow Meal #2: Coconut Veggie Brown Rice, Indo Chinese Style

This second part of the Rainbow Meals series is one of the best recipes I have stumbled upon lately. A twist from the classic vegetable fried rice, packed with loads of vegetables that taste better with brown rice than white rice! How many times does that happen?

Usually when you go out to a restaurant, vegetable fried rice is practically all rice with few color pops of tiny cabbages and carrots. I feel its called vegetable fried rice just to differentiate it from the with-meat/with-egg fried rice on the menu! The flavors of soy sauce and chilli garlic sauces make-up for the taste, but definitely not the health.

Instead of replicating ‘restaurant style vegetable fried rice’, try this flavor rich, nutrition rich, 5 color eye pleasing recipe! Trust me you will fall in love and make it a weekly staple

Recipe: Coconut Veggie Brown Rice, Indo Chinese Style

Prep Time: 10min | Cooking time: 30min | Serves 2 BIG bowls

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup brown rice (cooked)
  • 4 cups of chopped colorful vegetables (1 medium carrot, 5 florets of cauliflowers, 5 florets of broccoli, 5 cubes of pumpkin, 1 handful of green beans, 1/2 cup chopped cabbage)
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes
  • 6 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 chilli (finely chopped)
  • 1+1/2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp soy sauce
  • Coriander (for garnish)

Instructions:

  • Start with cooking brown rice separately in a rice cooker (20-30 mins)
  • In a pan, add 1 Tbsp coconut oil, garlic and chillies. Saute for 1 min, till the garlic aroma starts fading and then add all the chopped veggies along with 1 Tbsp salt
  • Cover the pan and let the veggies cook for 15-20 mins on medium heat. Make sure the veggies don’t become mushy; they should be fully cooked, but retain a bit of crunchiness. Remove the veggies in a bowl and set them aside
  • Now in the same pan, heat the remaining 1/2 Tbsp coconut oil and add 1/2 cup of coconut flakes. Saute on medium heat for a couple of minutes, till the coconut flakes begin to change color; do not brown the flakes 😉
  • Add cooked rice to this pan. Continue to mix brown rice with the coconut flakes for 2 mins. Then, add the bowl of veggies, along with soy sauce. Mix well. Cover and cook for another 5min so that they absorb all the flavors
  • Garnish with coriander and serve!

Notes:

  1. Surprise folks with the 4:1 veggie rice combination in this dish!
  2. Coconut flakes and garlic lend an great unexpected flavor combination
  3. The nuttiness of brown rice goes well with all the veggies than white rice.
  4. Feel free to adjust salt, soy sauce, add chilli sauce in the end per your taste

Give this a try and let me know what you think!

How to eat a vegetable rainbow without eating salads everyday?

Our body needs 13 vitamins and 21 essential minerals! But with each of the 20,000+ species of known vegetables providing a unique set of these vitamins and minerals, how do we make sure we are eating the right nutrients, in the right quantities?

In the book Sapiens, the author Yuval Noah Harari argues that hunters-gatherers, before the arrival of agriculture, satisfied themselves with “a marvelously varied diet”, made possible by the fact that they had few needs and plenty of time to roam around the jungle gathering fruits, vegetable and herbs. Today despite modern agriculture and advanced trade that brings fresh vegetables and fruits from across the world throughout the season at our doorstep, we suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

It’s akin to the irony of movies. When there are too many movies to watch, we gravitate towards the blockbusters that follow a specific plot trend vs a wholesome portfolio to nourish our senses and inspire creativity.

Luckily, nature has made things simple with a color coding system. The 20,000+ vegetable species can be broadly divided into 5 color codes (Red, Orange/Yellow, White/Brown, Green, Red), each unique for its nutrient profile, together providing Yuval’s “marvelously varied diet”

Then all we need is a simple 3 step rule: (1) Shop veggies of 5 different colors, (2) rotate the mix with seasonal, exotic and experimental varieties (3) Cook and eat

I started off with salads to get around the third step – chop all the veggies, dress them up and eat. But eating raw rainbow salads everyday can get boring. So I gave myself the challenge to come up with fun, easy and delicious ways to eat rainbow meals. Below are three of the successful kitchen experiments that have been #SuccessfullyTasteTested

The Marvelous Yogic Veggie Bowl

Prep time: 10min | Cooking time: 20min | Serves two big bowls

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup beetroot, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrot, diced
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin, diced
  • 1/2 cup potato, diced
  • 1/2 cup cauliflower, diced
  • 1 cup broccoli, diced
  • 1 Tbsp ghee
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 cup water

Instructions:

  • Peel, dice, wash, strain all the veggies
  • In a rice cooker or a pan, add all the 4 cups of veggies along with 1 Tbsp ghee, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and 1/4 cup water
  • Cover the lid and cook without moving the vegetables, on medium heat for 10 – 15 mins. Make sure the vegetables are fully cooked but have a tinge of firmness / crunch
  • Remove in bowls and serve hot! Add lemon, salt and pepper as required

Notes:

  • Tastes best when served hot, immediately after cooking
  • Best eaten as a salad replacement or with rice and lentil Kichari
  • Eat with a friend or by yourself without TV/phone, to truly enjoy the subtle flavors and nourishments
  • Its real fun to chop the veggies!
  • Use rice cooker to keep things simple and not worry about adding additional water in between
  • Do not touch / move the vegetables while cooking as the colors of some vegetable swill override everything else (e.g. beetroots)

Upcoming recipes in the series:

Coconut Rice with loads of Veggies and a hint of Indo-chinese flavor (coming up soon)

Clear soup with lots of vegetables, Vietnamese pho style (coming up soon)

Trivia

*13 vitamins: vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate).

*21 essential minerals: Calcium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Sodium, Magnesium, Iron, Manganese, Copper, zinc, cobalt, molybdenum, iodine, selenium, sulfur, chloride, boron, silicon, vanadium, nickel, arsenic, chromium

*Our bodies need energy to survive and carry various bodily functions. We get this energy from the food we eat, specifically carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The enzymes in our body break down the three macronutrients to release energy via chemical reactions. Vitamins and minerals help keep the enzymes active, transport them to the right locations and keep the environmental conditions right (e.g. pH balance, blood sugar levels etc) for the appropriate chemical reactions to take place. Vitamins and minerals are also stores in our body parts (e.g., Calcium in the bones) that provides critical structure to them. Pretty damn important!

Who has time for yoga in a corporate lifestyle? 4 reasons it is indispensable

You think you are focused, till you close your eyes

Last month I attended a 28-day, 200 hrs intensive yoga teachers training course. On day 1, I had the biggest aha moment.

Sitting down to meditate, devoid of any significant work or personal troubles, in a beautiful ashram surrounded by a lakes and mountains, when I closed my eyes to ‘meditate’, I couldn’t tame my thoughts for even a couple of minutes! The mind kept jumping from thoughts irrelevant to thoughts unexpected. I thought I was calm and very much in the moment, but in reality the inner machinations of my mind were constantly dealing with a billion things – from making sense of past memories to deciding responses to future problems, from worrying about the mosquito that is hovering close to my ear to the imperceptible inner working of the cells. Most troubling was the fact that I had little control over any of it. 

Which led me to think, with so many friction points to concentrating, are we really being effective at what we are doing? What if we could reduce the friction and channel our mind, like a prism, on one point, one project, one objective? How incredibly powerful would that be!

As I contemplated and learnt more over for the next 4 weeks, challenging a lot of my own assumptions, I synthesized 4 learnings to take back to the corporate world.

1. Multitasking is NOT possible: We think we can multitask, i.e., doing two or more things at the same time. But the truth is that our mind CAN NOT process two things at the same time. It’s akin to saying, the new iphone screen has a smooth display because we don’t see any pixelated squares. When encountered with two things, our mind divides it into small tasks and processes them linearly, unless encountered with unconscious / subconscious / reflex activities. When we give it too many things to deal with it keeps jumping around like a drunken monkey and gets tired. To be more productive, to be creative, or to really solve a problem, we need to go deep and concentrate on one task at a time.

Experiment: Check your phone at 15min – 30min intervals. In the meantime focus on the task at hand. See your productivity rise. We think the world ends in 30min but it doesn’t 😉

2. Learn how to breathe and use it to your advantage: Breathing is the most powerful activity we do all day. It keeps us alive. However, ‘feeling’ alive requires breathing in the right way, allowing for more oxygen than carbon dioxide in the lungs, brain and all the billion cells to effectively do their functions. Insufficient breaths put incredible stress on the body, reducing brain activity and prematurely deteriorating it.

Experiment: Inhale, abdomen out, expand your chest, expand your shoulder to bring air fully to the bottom of the lungs. Exhale, abdomen in, chest relaxed, shoulder relaxed and let all the air out from the lungs. Just like a baby! Whenever possible, take a counted breath and exhale with twice the counts of inhales. Notice a slight calmness when you exhale and attentiveness when you inhale.

3. Digestion is more important than eating: Do you know that digestion takes up over 50% of the energy we get from the food we eat? Do you know that carbohydrates and proteins take 12 – 16 hrs to fully digest in our bodies? Do you know that feeling hungry can be a craving of the mind and not the need of our body? Constantly eating heavy meals can make us tired and counterintuitively reduce the amount of nutrient absorption in the body. We lose productivity of food and productivity at work!

Experiment: Find your favorite snack. Start with a glass of water, a cup of herbal tea, 3-5 dates, handful of nuts, a fruit bowl, or a yogurt cup and still if nothing works than you are really hungry for food! 

4. Exercise to focus on internal systems as much as external appearances: We have got to keep all the billion cells, 72K+ nerve centers, 650+ muscles, 206 bones and the 78 organs functioning well to be the most productive version of ourselves.This might sound overwhelming because who has so much time to take care of the body?! Just listening to it should be a blow to our lifestyles. Exercise to build bone strength, exercise to increase blood circulation, exercise to stretch the muscles and exercise to massage the internal organs. Yoga is an answer to all or a great supplement!

Experiment: The neck muscles are most susceptible to getting tired as they channel all the nerves through a critical, but narrow highway – from the spine to the brain. Do some neck exercises and you will suddenly feel fresh.

Take care, breathe, and build for sustainable success 🙂

28 Days of Yoga immersion – I learnt what yoga really means

From Feb 10 2019 to Mar 10 2019, I attended the 200hr yoga teacher-training course at The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanvantri Ashram at Neyyar Dam, Kerela, India.

The drive from Thiruvananthapuram airport snakes through narrow village roads to reach the ashram in about an hour. The ashram is perched on a small plateau on the foothills of Southern Western Ghats, flanked by a beautiful lake set against the backdrop of herb-laden mountain range. The nearest village (qualified by the presence of a restaurant) is left 10kms behind. Inside, people practice a simple life – dressed in clothes picked solely for the purpose of utility, sit on the floors, walk while stopping by to enjoy a blooming lotus, a playful cat or chasing sunsets. You hear incredible stories of people who have travelled from across the world to press a reset button in their worldly life and practice yoga.

There was a mystical energy in the place, part created by the environment and part by the people, which made the grilling 16hr day, 6 days a week, manageable. Our days began sharp at 5:20am with a communal bell, squeezing in 4.5hr of yoga, 3hr lectures of Vedanta Philosophy, Bhagvad Gita and Anatomy, 1hr of meditation, 1hr of chanting, 1hr of service, 1hr eating 2 meals a day and miscellaneous time to finish everyday homework till it was lights off at 10:30pm. To call it intense would be an understatement. On day 1 we were told that this experience would ‘change’ us and I was curious to learn how.

As we neared week 3, I found myself adapting to the ashram lifestyle. Sitting cross-legged for 8hrs everyday was becoming manageable, I felt comfortable with two meals a day, I could tame my thoughts for a couple of seconds during meditation, I got into headstand from crow the other day, I was learning a lot about yoga philosophy and postures… But unfortunately none of this qualified as ‘change’ but felt merely as signs of progress, till I was pushed, while getting out of the airport bus after landing back in Bangalore city from the ashram.

I felt like an alien who has come to the city after spending years in the jungle. I felt a sharp aversion to the craziness at the airport, the bags, the crowd, the lights. I wanted to rush back and find a calm place. I longed for simplicity. That’s when I knew something deep had changed inside me. After getting back home, I decided to pen down my thoughts for anyone who was curious about the path of yoga or was on his/her own journey.

What I learnt – The Why, How and What of Yoga

Why should we do Yoga and what is the purpose?

Our mind is our apex center. It has the power to make decisions and orchestrates the nerve signals and muscle movements to take necessary action. It decides if we should succumb and reach out to that cheese oozing pizza. It decides if we have enough time to overtake the truck ahead in a fast lane highway. Every second, the mind is getting signals from the billions of cells in our body on rate of metabolism, infections, pH levels etc. Every second, the mind is bombarded with sensory perceptions of the outside world through our 5 senses. The mind is constantly preoccupied and working very hard, splitting all the inputs into tiny tasks and defining a conscious / subconscious / unconscious response.

What if we could harness all this mental power and focus it on one point, one problem, one project! You might solve world hunger! The true purpose of yoga is to achieve that control on the mind.

Asana based yoga, uses body as a tool to rein in our breath and then mind. On the last day of the course, we did 2hr of meditative asanas, i.e. holding asanas for upto 5min with deep breathing and closed eyes. After the class, instead of being tired, I felt a strange sensation of peace. So strong that I just wanted to focus on something deep within me. I didn’t care about rushing for the last meal of the day. I didn’t crave for checking my phone. I wanted to be in the moment.

Yoga is the silencing of the modifications of the mind

How to do yoga the right way:

  • Start with Savasana to relax body and mind. Don’t jump into it. Even if you do yoga in the morning, start with 5min of Savasana (complete relaxation, corpse pose) because you never know what the dreams or checking that phone did to you.
  • Learn correct breathing. Correct yogic breathing goes like this: Inhale, abdomen out, expand your chest, expand your shoulder to bring air fully to the bottom of the lungs. Exhale, abdomen in, chest relaxed, shoulder relaxed and let all the air out from the lungs. Know the breathing routine to get into the pose and breathe rhythmically when in the pose.
  • Feel the pose. Focusing on how the pose is stretching your muscles and which organs are getting activated, will help to get deeper into the pose or to hold it longer or to do the pose with eyes closed. Just consciously bringing your attention to the body part will fire the nerves and bring amplified benefits to that part.
Breathe, Focus and feel the pose

What asana to do and where to begin?

  • Check your alignment. Take a picture of you standing straight sideways and notice how you are hunched forward or backward (in an ideal posture, you can draw a straight line through your ear, shoulder , hip, knee and ankle joints). Focus on asanas that counter the bad posture and correct the stance. Adopt right posture for sitting, standing and walking.
  • Do a full spinal workout. There is a Chinese saying that says, you are as young as the flexibility of your spine. If the nerves in and around the spine aren’t supple enough and unable to send the signals / nutrients across the body enough, than no matter what you eat or do, you will be prone to diseases and pains. An adult spine is a set of 26 vertebra divided into 4 sections, that can allow movement forward, backward, twists and lateral. Focus on all for a complete daily practice. Sun Salutation is a great all spinal workout that can be added as a warmup with 5 rounds or a full 60min workout with 108 rounds!
  • Pick up a challenging pose. Build strength, flexibility, balance AND endurance. There are 8.4M yoga asanas out there. Leave alone mastering them, even the account of these asanas is not mentioned anywhere. Based on our  practice we tend to gravitate towards one type. We are afraid of building strength or holding poses for longer thinking that it’s not “our” style of yoga. But in the end, it is all one yoga with one aim. Our muscles need all four actions, so challenge yourself and challenge them!

You are born with every breath.
So Breathe. Breathe consciously and breathe fully.
To be a better, stronger, calmer and more focused version of yourself…

Why stop at just drinking your 10 glasses of water? Go to the next level

It is recommended that we drink 8 – 10 glasses of water everyday (approximately 1 glass, 200ml, for every waking hour). It’s a seemingly simple step to keep our bodies hydrated that is composed of 70% water.

For most of us, getting to the goal of 8 – 10 glasses feels like an achievement as we forget or feel lazy to getup from our desks to fill up our water bottles in the middle of this important piece of work that we are doing or just don’t want to be that person that goes to the washroom every hour so pre emptively just avoid drinking water.

But there are those who have gotten over these social / mostly personal stigmas and built habits that are useful for our bodies. Are you one of those who will stop after achieving your goals? If no, read below as we will go to the next level of our water drinking routine.

Infuse water with Tea leaves

  • A morning affair with Black tea: the highest caffeine tea will instantly boost your body and wake you up. But drinking this 4-5times a day can bring your body to an unnecessary overstimulated state
  • Keep going through the day with green and white teas: they are not processed and have high levels of antioxidants
  • Energize your afternoons with flower teas (jasmine, rose, chrysanthemums, osmanthus): the smells and sweet flavor with leave you refreshed and in a positively elevated mood
  • Go to bed with lavender tea
  • Digest your heavy food with Pu’er tea: these are fermented teas aged over several years and should be paired with heavy meals to boost digestion.  If you find the taste very strong, then mix the leaves with orange zest or rose petals and be careful not to seep the leaves in hot water for more than 5 sec!

Infuse water with fruits and flowers

There are so many superfoods, herbs and nuts out there that sometimes it can be really overwhelming to think of recipes to include them in your diet. Yes, you can just drop all of them in your smoothie, but that doesn’t let the individual flavors out and can sometimes ruin the taste.

  • Goji berries
  • Chia seeds (add honey and lime to make it a perfect post workout recovery drink)
  •  Ginger (to build immunity)
  •  Apple cider vinegar (for post meal drink to balance stomach pH)
  •  Green tea, jasmine tea (for a mid afternoon refresh)
  •  Star anise, cardamom, cinnamon (fight cold in winters)
  •  Tamarind water ( digestive laxative and a fun tangy taste)

Infuse water with roasted grains

Did you know you can drink your grains? Roast them till they become effervescent then ground them or pack in tea bags to infuse your water. The smell of a roasted grain is satisfying and will be a good experiment to reduce dependence on caffeine as grain teas are caffeine free. If not all the way, blend half of your coffee with the below grains

  • Roasted barley tea: It is loaded with antioxidants, and helps improve digestion. Famous in Japan, roasted barley is infused in hot or cold water depending on the season.
  • Quinoa tea: Loaded with superfood nutrients

Ferment it!

Kombucha is a fermented drink, aged for 10-30 days. Every 2L of kombucha drink is made from 2Tbsp tea leaves, 1/3 cup of sugar, 1 disc of bacteria rich scoby, 0.5L of starter kombucha and 1.5lts of water

During fermentation, the bacteria and yeast feed on sugar and tea to release acetic acid and probiotic bacterias as byproducts, improving the overall bacteria flora in our stomachs and intensities to aid digestion.

How to?

For your everyday routines, start with enhancing one glass of water with any of the above infusions of your choice, going up to 5 glasses a day. You can choose one infusion type a day / a week or mix it up as you like and as much prep time you have!