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…

Exercise your brain

Have you ever wondered, how do we take care of our most intricate body part, that is unique to us humans, we can only access it by our thoughts or some complex scientific procedure and that even science hasn’t been able to figure it out completely as yet!

Yes. Thats our brain. It actively works while we are awake processing millions of signals each receives from every cell of the body, and unconsciously streaming dreams while we are asleep. For this non stop activity, our brain needs some exercise.

Learning new things, stepping out of the comfort zones, solving complex problems keeps it active. But whatever we do we would still be using under 10% of our brain’s potential. And in our modern lifestyles we are making things even worse.

Most of us are in jobs where we do the same things over and over again. We are constantly deferring to ‘why remember something when you have google’. We stay in our lanes. The result – our memory muscles, creative muscles, sensory muscles, imaginative muscles.. get weak. And the ones we use more often get tired easily.

We can’t let that happen especially when there is such an easy and soothing solution to it. “The humming bee” Pranayama. This one exercise creates vibrations so strong that they can reach deep into the realms of the human brain keeping all its muscles supple and active.

How to?

  • Start with sitting in a comfortable position
  • Use your thumb and fingers to gently close your ears and eyes.
  • Take a deep breath and as you exhale, exhale from the throat keeping the mouth shut and tongue touching the top of the mouth.
  • You will feel ‘hhhhhummmmm’ voice, similar to that at the end of an ‘Om’ chant or that of a humming bee
  • Repeat this for 3-10times
  • And…before you rush to open your eyes, take a moment to feel the vibrations like a gentle massage to your brain

So don’t forget your brain, when you finish off your daily set of exercises!

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!