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!

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 🙂

Forming new sleep routines

IT’S NOT EASY TO BUILD A ROUTINE. IT’S DEFINITELY NOT EASY TO FORM NEW ROUTINES.

Last week, I experimented waking up at 4:30am. Everyday I would set my alarm for 4:30am, but when the time came, I would just turn it off and go back to bed.

Now, I am a pretty determined person and have routine of sleeping at 10:30pm and waking up at 5:30am every damn day. So, then why was this so difficult for me? Every morning I would reflect back on what happened and why despite my best efforts I still couldn’t get myself out of the bed, three reasons came to my mind:

  1. Not having a strong purpose: I realized that I didn’t have a strong reason to get up at 4:30am, expect that I thought it will give me more time to meditate along with my exercises. I didn’t make a schedule of what exactly I would do with the additional 60min and honestly wasn’t fully convinced. I hoped that if I can get up it would be a good but it’s OK if I don’t. No one can wake up early with this attitude! In our half-conscious half-subconscious state when the alarm goes off, its very easy for the subconscious mind to convince the body to take the sheet up and snuggle in the bed
  2. Not setting an intention: When I would go to bed, I did not told myself that I wanted to get up at 4:30am. I would setup the alarm and hope for the best. Now I have definitely seen myself waking up onetime, even without alarms, without enough sleep. That happened because just before sleeping I told myself I NEED to get up at certain time. It works! The subconscious mind is powerful and trustworthy if you set an honest intention
  3. Too Big a change without regulating the sleep cycle: I was hoping to get by with 6 hrs of sleep. Sleep at 10:30pm and get up at 4:30am. I know Buddhists monks do it so then why can’t I, right? But that is not how it works. I was extra busy last week, slept at 10:30 / 11. No way I can get up an hour earlier! It would have been easier to start small. 15min ahead, 30min ahead and then 60min ahead..

Next week experiment: Get up at 5:00am

 

How to ease into a Headstand

Three years ago, I decided I want to learn how to flip my body up side down and get into a headstand.

It took me a couple of months to overcome my fear and get my legs up against the wall, another six months to learn how to maintain balance without the support of the wall and almost two impossible years to move into a gracious jerk-free, guaranteed headstand balance in the middle of the room. I had tried different tricks, watched several youtube videos and almost given up till I tried these three simple things that transformed my handstand in the last 10 days!

 

Exhale when you lift up: One of the most important things while being upside down is breathing.

After the dolphin pose, bring your legs as close to the forehead while maintaining a stable 90degree position of the top of the head, As soon as you feel you have achieved the limit and head is starting to lose balance, take a deep breath and start slowly exhaling and simultaneously lifting one and then second leg to the middle position. Exhale further and you will feel the stomach tightening that will help you move your legs further up to the final position. Exhale the last air out of your lungs to stiffen your core and get into the proper stable headstand

 

Divide the move into three stages: Headstand is not one pose. Its a final milestone of the journey and every-time you get into it you have to pass through the other milestones. You cant jump to it.

The reason it took me two years to master headstand was because every time I would just jerk my legs from the floor to the air hoping that I would catch my balance. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. The fear that it wouldn’t, esp in yoga classes, made sure that I could never get into a non assisted headstand in a yoga class but could do one at home.

Divide the pose into three or more stages – On the floor, legs half up in the air and both legs straight up in the air. When you are at each stage, take a second or just consciously move your attention for a split second to make sure you are stable with  a quick check of the key body parts (balance of head, even pressure distribution in the hand and stability). Just knowing this helps move onto the next stage smoothly

 

When falling fwd tighten the lungs, when falling backwards stiffen the legs: While you are learning headstand you fall. There is no escape. Loosen the grip and let the body fall to avoid injuries.

After you have mastered headstand, you still fall because the mind wanders. But knowing what you can do to adjust balance when you feel the bosy swaying fwd  / backwards helps to consciously stabilize the body.

How to know where you are falling: When you are falling fwd you will feel more pressure on your hands, but when falling backwards you will feel more pressure on your head

 

In the end, one you are in the pose, play with it. In a perfect headstand you balance all your weight in a tiny area at the top of your head. Its not easy and definitely looks like a serious pose, but play with it and have some fun. Because the rush of blood in your head and the energy you will feel afterwards is going to make it addictive for you!

 

 

 

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!

Mushroom on Avocado toast!

Sunday morning breakfasts are meant for hearty, filling and colorful meals, the ones whose mere thought can make you roll out of the bed and head to the kitchen. Better still if it can fulfill my three cooking filters – readily available ingredients, under 30min prep time and colorfully healthy.

One of my favorite go to is Mushroom on Avocado Toast. Its the perfect example of “sum of parts can be bigger than the whole”.

Mushroom on Avocado Toast Recipe

Makes: 4 toasts | Prep Time:

Ingredients:

  • 2 Avocados
  • ~30 button mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, per taste
  • 1tbsp chopper Cilantro
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1tbsp half lemon

Recipe:

  • Avocado Guacamole: Split avocados into half along the longer side and remove the big seed. Make a couple of slits and scoop avocado chunks into a bowl. Add in lemon juice, salt and red pepper flake and mix it all together. Taste and adjust spices as needed
  • Saute Mushroom: Clean mushrooms with a clean cloth and trim the end stems as needed. Cut each of them into 4-5 lengthwise pieces. In the meantime heat oil in the pan and add the mushrooms into it. Cook uncovered on medium heat as the mushroom loose water. Let it cook till most of the water evaporates. Add in salt, pepper, cheese and cilantro. Saute for 1-2 minutes and bring it off the heat.
  • Putting it all together: On lightly toasted bread, put first a layer of avocado guacamole and top it with mushrooms. Make a fold and take a BIG bite. voila!
  • Accompaniments: Have a juice / smoothie to complete the meal

Cheers to bright Sunday breakfasts!

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!