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It Starts With a Cleanse – Day 3

December 1, 2019

If you’ve ever consulted with me, or attended any class with me, you would know that I focus more on well-rounded asana classes more than ‘do this asana for this problem’. The reason is that yoga isn’t a quick fix. You will start to derive benefits from a regular practice even if you only practice for a week, but you need to put in that week. And once you reap the benefits, if you quit, then the benefits also disappear. It’s pretty straightforward.

It was my second (and last day) at the Spinal Disorders department at Arogyadhama. Here patients are called participants. Every participant is prescribed a combination of yoga therapy and at least one other treatment for the duration of their stay here. This other treatment could be allopathic in nature, it could be an ayurvedic treatment or even plain old physiotherapy. The point is, yoga is essential in their treatment. Which is why OM Meditation and certain other sessions during the day are mandated for everyone.

In alternative medicine the focus is not the symptom of the disease, it is the source of the disease. The source of the disease could be external (such as strained personal relationships) or internal (a congenital physical issue such as epilepsy). Here at SVYASA, treatment starts with cleansing. The daily OM meditations, the bhajan sessions, the Sanskrit chanting etc. are ‘prescribed’ to everyone to start the process of mental and emotional cleansing. It is believed that chanting raises your spiritual quotient and the particular vibrations of the chants cleanse your nadis, which in turn cleanse you emotionally and mentally. Which is why every single participant at SVYASA is put through a deluge of meditation sessions.

Another aspect of cleansing is internal cleansing of the body. For this there are several kriyas that are taught here. So this morning all the participants were marched to the ‘kriya‘ block. Kriya simply means a practice. And on Sundays at SVYASA everyone does Jal Neti, Sutra Neti, Vamana Dhouti and LSP. These techniques ensure a certain level of internal cleanliness.

Detox diets to ‘reset’ the body have become a fad around the world now. In fact, I’m about to go on one in Jan. SVYASA is doing pretty much the same thing. Treatments for all ailments and conditions start with a round of cleansing. Patients here report an instant feeling of lightness after the LSP (Laghu Shankha Parikshalana) and Jal Neti practices. After 4 days of OM meditation along with Cyclic Meditation, patients start to report a sense of calmness and relaxation. Once this happens, patients are ready for the treatment, both emotionally and physically.

The famous Swamy Vivekananda statue in the background, in front of which I have attended many yoga classes.


A Day Trip to Kaivalyadham

September 2, 2017

Swamy Kuvalyananda and his disciples.

A couple of days ago I decided to visit Kaivalyadham.  I first heard about the institute when I started to explore yoga courses.  This was many years ago and at the time Kaivalyadham seemed inaccessible.  I read that it was one of the oldest yoga schools in the world.  They’ve done a lot of research on Yoga, Ayurveda, Naturopathy etc. and have helped people world wide manage and treat ailments and illnesses.  I read up on Swamy Kuvalyananda.  References to him came up in ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ and a few commentaries in the first volume of the Yogamala Ashtadala.  It was fitting then that I got in touch with an old friend of mine from Bangalore who happened to be in her last week of internship there and invited me over to see her campus.  Things fell in place – I had a day off, was only about 60 km away from Lonavala and the weather was beautiful.

The last 34 aphorisms of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are grouped under a chapter called the Kaivalya Pada (pada = chapter/part).  Here Patanjali describes the many ways in which the practitioner can attain the state of Kaivalya.  Kaivalya is the state wherein the practitioner is emancipated from the cycles of birth and rebirth.  It is an indivisible absolute state of aloneness.  ‘Kaivalyadham’ then means the place of Kaivalya.

The drive from Pune to Kaivalyadham is amazing.  Mist covered the hills and trees and I couldn’t take my eyes off the scenery.  Sadly I forgot to take pictures.  By the time we reached Kaivalyadham it was pouring cats and dogs and we had to wade through deep puddles to reach the main building.


It’s always great to meet old friends.  We strolled around the campus as we talked.  Mamata took us to the gowshala where she spends a lot of time.  Kaivalyadham has a large Ayurvedic hospital and I even managed to get a quick consultation!  Like most residential yoga institutes, Kaivalyadham serves only sattvic food and we loved the lunch there.

They also teach cleansing kriyas as a part of their courses.  I was delighted to finally find clay neti pots in their gift shop and picked up a few for my friends as well.  Bangalore friends – now you know what I’m bringing back for you.



Ayurveda for the Winters

January 12, 2014

Yesterday I took a break to track down the local Ramdev shop here in Jorhat.  I stocked up on my usual goods such as aloe vera and amla juice along with honey.  A new product I found was Patanjali’s Tejus Tailam.  I’ve been meaning to start my daily Abhiyanga routine for this season, but hadn’t really gotten around to it.  Abhiyanga or abhiyangam is an Ayurvedic routine to keep your body healthy during the winters.  This is something that is widely practiced here.  It basically involves massaging your body from head to toe using an Ayurvedic or organic oil and letting the skin absorb this oil for about 10-15 minutes.  It’s great to let a masseuse work on you every once in a while, but a home practice of abhiyanga is something that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine and really reap the benefits.

How To:

  1. Make sure the oil is warm.  You can heat it or just immerse the bottle in some hot water.  Here too, like everywhere else, use your instinct.  Get the oil warm enough to get your skin feeling good.
  2. Next, take some oil in the palm of your hand and work the oil into your soles using your finger tips or your knuckles.  You want to get the circulation going, so be firm instead of gentle.
  3. Work your way up your legs using long straight strokes on limbs and circular strokes on the joints such as knees, elbows etc.  For your stomach, work up from the right side, across, then down the left.
  4. Use circular movements on your face.
  5. You can incorporate a head massage in your daily abhiyanga as well, although for people with long hair, this can be somewhat cumbersome.
  6. Make sure to use lots of oil, your body should get really greasy and slippery.
  7. Let your body soak the oil in for about 15 minutes and then bathe/shower.

Why do this daily?  Benefits?

  1. Great to flush out the toxins that tend to accumulate during the winter season.
  2. Keeps your joints healthy.
  3. Keeps your skin healthy and supple.
  4. By massaging your muscles every day, you decrease the risk of injury during the winter season.  Also, if you have sore muscles due to a workout or injury, abhiyanga massage speeds up the process of recovery.
  5. Because it is so relaxing, it promotes deeper and more restful sleep.  You wake up refreshed and rejuvenated.

Along with this Ayurveda also recommends sleeping at least 8 hours during the winters.  Attune your body to the sun, sleep as soon as you can post sunset and wake up with the sun.

Drink a lot of warm fluids throughout the day, even warming up your water.

For the winter months, avoid raw foods and veggies.  Steam your salads.



‘Tis Sesame Season

January 7, 2014

Here in Jorhat it’s really really cold.  In Delhi it’s colder still.  While in Bangalore I got phone calls from my mother in law fretting about my health because in Bangalore I wasn’t consuming the sweet goodies that are a staple diet during the winter season in Delhi.  When a yoga friend from Hyderabad asked me about sesame seeds, I thought I’ll gather my thoughts together about this seed and how it benefits us.  Here are the top 5 reasons you should consume sesame seeds during the winter season:

  1. According the Ayurveda, sesame increases body heat.  Which is why it’s used in laddoos and gajak made during the winter season.  However, moderation is the key.  Since most of us haven’t had our doshas examined and determined by a practitioner of ayurveda, it’s best to be safe and moderate the quantity of sesame that you consume, rather than taking a dosage every day (I’m anti anything which seems like ‘medicine’).
  2. Sesame oil is great for hair.  Personally I’ve tried Baidyanath’s Bhringraj oil, and it makes your hair strong and silky.  And conditions it too.  Add to that the heating nature of the seed, and you’ll have a stimulating head massage.  It’s great for a skin massage as well.  A lot of people use it for babies as well!
  3. Another reason for consuming these seeds in moderation is the high fat content.  However, if consumed in moderation these seeds actually help in lowering bad cholesterol, thereby decreasing the chances of heart disease, stroke and heart issues.
  4. In India, a lot of goodies made for expectant mothers contain sesame seeds.  This is because the folic acid in these seeds ensures healthy foetus growth as well as good health for the mother.
  5. Last but not least, sesame seeds are great for bones and therefore prevent osteoporosis.

So, buy the goodies if you’re in the colder parts of India and eat them without guilt.  Add them to salads.  And of course, get the oil and enjoy some invigorating head massages with it.  In fact, since the oil is edible, drizzle it on salads or use it for cooking!




The Ayurvedic Way.

May 19, 2013

I recently attended a talk about Ayurvedic diet and nutrition at the Sivananda Yoga Centre where I practice yoga these days.  The session was conducted by a yogi couple who used to own a raw food restaurant in New York.  I gleaned a lot of practical advice on how we can tweak our food habits to reap more from what we eat.

Yogis seek to delay the catabolic process of aging, which begins at 35.  Along with a balance in terms of proper breathing, relaxation and exercise, a proper diet can go a long way in combating a lot of health problems.  In fact, numerous lifestyle related health problems can be cured by diet ALONE.

Over the years focus has shifted away from unprocessed and natural (i.e ‘whole’) foods to impure products.  For example, the most commonly used grain is white rice.  White rice is NOT a whole food.  In order for a grain to be whole it must have bran, endosperm and the germ.  White rice has no bran, and bran contains the fibre.  White rice has been denatured, and polished white rice even more so.  Substitute white rice with brown rice.  Try basmati brown rice. 

White flour is not whole.  You can use barley, millet, wheat, gram, quinoa (not locally available in India), oats and buckwheat instead.  The best thing is to use products that are grown locally.  You would be surprised at how many healthy options are available at your local market.  You can ask the shop keeper for brown rice, kuttu ka atta, makki ka atta etc, and chances are that he will have it.  Flax is a great alternative to wheat.  You can grind your flax seeds and use it in lieu of wheat.  Also, for those who don’t eat eggs, flax seeds are a great alternative.  If you start eating whole even one day a week, then you significantly reduce the amount of disease causing matter that goes into your system. 

The more your body is able to digest and break down the nutrients that are available to it, the healthier you will be.  Sprouting is a great way to make your food more digestible.  Sprouts are sattvic. 

Seeds and nuts are another source of nutrition and are available abundantly.  Sunflower seeds contain protein and carbohydrates.  Pumpkin seeds have a lot of zinc.  Sesame seeds can be sprouted.  Snacking on nuts is a great option.  The best nuts to consume are almonds, walnuts and cashews.  Walnuts have omega 3 fatty acids as well.  Always make sure to soak nuts over night before consuming them.  This process will remove the toxins.  Remember to never eat raw peanuts.  They must always be roasted to get rid of toxins.

A discussion about nutrition in the Indian context is incomplete without talking about fried foods.  Why are fried foods so bad for us?  Besides the fact that they increase cholesterol in your system, fried foods also contain free radicals – unstable oxygen molecules.  These oxygen molecules lose electrons and these electrons then bind to other molecules creating more free radicals (unstable molecules).  We need anti-oxidants to combat this attack of the unstable oxygen molecules.  The most common and popular source of anti-oxidants is green tea.  Also, it’s an excellent way to combat dry skin.

Fruits are a good source of natural sugars, minerals and vitamins.  But they can also be a source of toxins.  Most fruits are grown with the help of pesticides and artificial growth hormones.  Try and get organic bell peppers because these require a large quantity of pesticides to grow.  Some fruits that you are better off eating organic are grapes and strawberries.  Also, it’s a good idea not to juice your fruits.   Juice has a lot of concentrated sugars without the added fibre of actual fruits, even if you’re making it at home.  Baked fruits also contain a higher sugar concentration.

About sweeteners:  White sugar is polished and dehydrates you.  Opt for more natural sugars such as honey, agave, brown sugar, stevia, jiggery and zylatol.  Zylatol is a product which comes from birch trees.  Other sources of natural sugars are dates and raisins.

White salt does more harm to your system that good.  It can cause hypertension and high blood pressure.  The best salt to use is sea salt.  Sea salt has a greyish hue to it.  It also contains natural iodine.  White salt on the other hand has iodine added artificially.  Rock salt is also a great healthy alternative and has a slightly pinkish hue.  Celery is a source of natural salt.

About dairy products:  In ancient Ayurvedic texts, milk has been classified as a sattvic food.  However, over the years the process of obtaining milk from cows has changed and this has changed the nature of milk.  Now cows are being injected with artificial hormones, they are underfed, they live in confined spaces which are dirty and sometimes they end up grazing on their own faeces!  A cow living under such conditions is an unhappy one and this alters the quality of the milk she produces.  So milk is no longer an ‘ideal’ source of protein and calcium.  Needless to say, yogurt made from such milk will contain all of the rajasic properties associated with cows.  Sesame seeds are an excellent alternative to milk.  In fact, they contain more calcium than milk.  The process of making cheese also deserves a mention.  To make cheese from milk rennet is required.  Rennet is a GMO – Genetically Modified Organism.  Furthermore, the body doesn’t have the ability to digest cheese.  So it pretty much passes through your system undigested and if you examine your stool you will see the undigested cheese in it.  Also, cheese causes excessive production of mucous, so that might be why some people are more prone to stuffed noses and congestion.  Remember this next time you’re tempted to shove pizza slices down your throat.  Soy and corn are GMOs too, so best to avoid these as well.

Some excellent sources of PROTEIN: Sprouts, pulses, legumes, avocadoes, olives, nuts & seeds and sea vegetables such as kelp and sushi.

Quinoa and hemp are complete proteins.  Complete proteins are essential proteins.  These are proteins that your body needs but does not produce on its own.      The combination of rice + pulses/legumes is also a complete food/protein.

Excellent sources of CARBS: Rice, fruits, veggies

Sources of STARCH: potatoes, bread, pasta and corn.

Excellent sources of FATS: Coconut oil, sesame oil, olive oil.  Always keep your oils in the fridge to preserve their properties.

Finally, always remember that what you eat is not as important as how you eat.  At least one meal in a day must be consumed in silence.