I sit still with my eyes closed, 15 minutes every day

Meditation is an elusive word. The saints achieved nirvana and figured out the deepest secrets of our existence, the monks achieve higher sensory powers, people who meditate everyday claim to have achieved more peace and clarity in life.

Yes, Meditation is the cheapest and the simplest way to get more out of life. And Yes, we would all like to have all these amazing feelings just by closing our eyes! But when do we REALLY start seeing results?

I am a certified yoga instructor. Yoga, movement, poses, come naturally to me, but I always deferred meditation. It would be last on my list of things to do. Because after 2-3 days I would realise my mind is still all over the place and this is not for me. I can “relax” my mind by reading or sleeping or other things!

During the lockdown I decided to give myself one more chance to closely analyze my meditation journey. I decided to not even call it meditation – I sat a timer, and sat still for 15min, everyday for 30 days. Record what I feel every day right after the session. This is what happenned:

Self guidance hacks that worked: For me meditation is a journey of self, connecting with self. It should be in my power to close my eyes and get into it. So, this is how I started – sit in my go to cross legged pose, close my eyes, take a deep breath in, focus on the long exhale, feel the stomach going in and the breath coming out of the nome, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, bring the focus to the middle of my eyebrows, let myself sink into the focus and imagine the emptiness. If thoughts come in the middle – I refocus by bringing my attention to the seven chakras of the spine, finally setting on the middle of the eyebrows. If thoughts come again – I shift my attention to the sounds, smell and feel around me and then let them all go to come back to the center. I wander and come back. What worked is using different techniques to come back to centers as some time it is harder than others!

The thoughts dance: It was equally frustrating and fascinating to see the thoughts jump from one to the other. I was thinking of my breath, breathe in, breathe out, why the simple act of breathing is so important for life, the TV series where a child died in UCU because he couldnt breathe, air in the atmosphere! Stop! On my god, back to center focus on breathing! While I closed my eyes, I could see the restless of my mind. I felt I would be so tired and irritated after I open my eyes, because I am just constantly guiding myself to center

Activations in the brain: In the first few days, it felt the brain was on vibration overcharge! As the thoughts jumped from one to another, parts of the brain seemed to get activated.

The first breakthrough: In the first 7 days, I found myself getting discouraged by the barrage of thoughts and opening up my eyes just 2-3min after! But on day 8th, I achieved the first 15 minutes of sitting, and the next day I knew I could do it! I got the 15 minute power! My mind started getting used to the 15min. Somedays I foun dmyself peeking open my eyes at 55 sec left, 10 sec left, because I thought – maybe I forgot to set the timer on! haha

The 3min – 5min Bliss after: Even after the thought filled, self guidance filled sessions, I found myself opening my eyes to a new sense of calm. Just after opening my eyes, I would feel like closing my eyes again to experience that microsecond of peace. As I used to write my meditation notes, I found better focus. My eyes didnt wander around the room but were set on what I was writing. Now this didnt last for more than a couple of minutes ever in the last 30 days, but the couple of minutes were worth the results to keep it going 🙂

Fun sessions: Skin care + Meditation: There were days when you know you don’t want to sit still. But guess what, we all like sitting still with our face masks on. I combined my sitting still session with 15min face masks time! Worked!

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…

Make your dreams come true in this new year

For the last 8 years, I have been sleeping before the clock strikes 12 at New Year’s Eve, sticking to my everyday routine of sleeping by 10:30pm. But some years I remember purposefully getting to bed at 10am even if I wasn’t feeling sleepy just to make a point. I didn’t understand the New year craze. Every day is a fresh new day. It felt utterly pointless to stay up all night get drunk and start the new year hungover.

I never truly appreciated the magnamosity of the new year celebrations. Millions of people would squeeze together to watch the ball drop at NYC Times Square or take 30+hr trips to seethe fireworks in Australia, or plan all year the new year parties at their houses!

But now having travelled across the world, I have realized it is that one moment that’s celebrated across the globe at each of the tiny regions of the earth as it rotates towards the sun.  New year is a ray of hope. While every day is a fresh new day, new year brings a fresh 365 days – if you are lucky sometimes a fresh decade or fresh centenary like in 2000! There is something special about knowing you have a fresh start enough to achieve your dreams. Enough to become a new you, like starting a new venture or shaving off those 20 kgs! It’s a fantastical amount of time to draw an action map for our dreams.

But they why do only 1% people really stick to their resolutions? Why do things start falling off the very next day!?

Because while we all like a ray of hope, we all like that tingling of a new year, we all love to celebrate and sign up for new things.. We don’t create the right environment for change. We want to change a part of us, but we don’t make space for it, we are unwilling to change our routines!. For a change to work, esp if you are looking for a visible change, you need to Allow for the change. e.g., If you want to really start working out, you need to adjust your schedule and take something off of it, you need to be accountable to someone or a diary, you need to listen how your body feels every day and tell yourself you want to feel it again the very next day before you go to sleep.

So, don’t waste your chance. Dream something big in this new year and make it happen!

Just recently I finished reading the book ‘Gut’ recently (its a brilliantly written book on the intricate mechanisms of our digestive system, in a humorous layman language) and it talked about how our body tells us so much about our inner health with the the obvious (aches, sneeze) and the unobvious (stools, breath). Read the book and listen more for a healthier you this new year 🙂

Water – my best travel buddy

I am at the airport right now, on my way to Switzerland to attend a friend’s wedding. It’s 9am here and the food shops are starting to open, but I am starving. So I pick up a croissant from Starbucks and rush to my gate.

I get on the flight at 9:30, wait for 1.5hrs before the in-flight food service commences. I pick the vegetable pasta option, served with a side of hot bread and chocolate cake. It’s delicious and I gulp it down. But an hour later I start feeling heavy in my stomach.

This is usually my tale with airport food and post meal uneasiness. It’s really hard sometimes to find fresh and fulfilling options. But after multiple travels I have found my remedy. AISLE SEATS and a BIG BOTTLE OF WATER.

Weather control in the flight makes them dehydrating, coupled with carb loaded food can really take a toll on the stomach. Sometimes the food is unavoidable. But if you can keep drinking lots of water throughout the flight (300ml every 30min), than it really helps calm the stomach and keep you fresh.

Try it!

Cheers to Traveling heathy!

Stand up Strong

After a long time, I opened my yoga book “Light on Yoga” yesterday and instead of going over the details of tricky inversions poses, I flipped to the very first asana, Tadasana, the Mountain Pose. Its the first basic pose in the book, but the writer took five steps to describe the art of standing up strong, straight and unmoved.

  1. You start with Standing erect with the feet together, the heels and big toes touching each other, rest the heads of metatarsals on the floor and stretch all the toes flat on the floor.
  2. Tighten the knees and pull the knee-caps up, contract the hips and pull up the muscles at the back of the thighs.
  3. Keep the stomach in, chest forward, spine stretched up and the neck straight.
  4. Do not bear the weight of the body either on the heels or the toes, but distribute it evenly on both of them.
  5. Ideally in Tadasana, the arms are stretched out over the head, but for the sake of convenience, one can place them by the side of the thighs.

As I finished reading, I realized how bad my standing pose is usually.

These days, I don’t spend more than 30 minutes standing up. I am usually sitting, walking, sleeping or just moving around, but when I do stand I end up standing lousily (in my head its stylish and flattering) with weight set on one leg, and the other leg slightly ahead at an angle. It looks good in pictures and I feel relaxed with on leg resting. But unintuitively, the effects it has on my body are absolutely contrary. Not distributing weight across the feet of the ground, not standing straight with the hips tightened, abdomen pulled in and chest forward, puts excess pressure on the spinal cord, causing heaviness in the head, fatigue and knee problems. Come to think of it, I can not  stand straight in my current usual pose for more than 5-10min and have to sit down.

Since reading that chapter, I have started to follow a five step approach to fix my stance, whenever I can remember it. Point the toes straight ahead, distribute body weight equally on toes and heels, tighten the thighs, pull in the abdomen and straighten the chest. You have to play around with the movement in the beginning till you can feel the balance and lightness in the head. But once you do, you will feel more alert and in connection with the entire body, head to toe.

Cheers To..Learning back the art of standing straight as we did when we first stood up as a kid.

Namaste!

 

 

Satori

Satori is a Japanese buddhist term that simply means “understanding”. But it stretches the definition of understanding to awakening, i.e. “seeing into one’s true nature”. To strive to continually and truly understand something.

For me, Satori is a way of life. It is about not just leading a life but living a conscious life, absorbing the world around and asking questions to dig deeper into the whys, so that one day I could find peace with my role in this world, and if I am really lucky then make a positive impact on someone else.

My objective of starting this blog is to keep myself accountable to being curious, asking questions and sharing my learnings in the blogosphere.