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The Last Month of the Decade…

December 9, 2019

After a long and dusty ride, I’m finally back in Bangalore.

It was a wonderful 8 days at SVYASA.  Yesterday I graduated to taking the vital statistics of a few patients and gave them health advice.  I also corrected postures during the asana classes.  During my free time I managed to study for the upcoming semester exams.  So all in all I had a good time.

December is always an interesting month for me.  Possibilities are in the air, there’s bonhomie, everyone wants to do something ‘before the year ends.’  For me it’s a time for lovely morning runs through the fog around the lake, cozy practice sessions in my living room, and meeting up with friends in warm cafes.  I actually take out warm socks (yes even in Bangalore!) and spend hours catching up on reading.  I make a point of reading ‘A Christmas Carol’ and watching it too!  Many Decembers ago I read Nora Robert’s ‘In the Garden‘ Trilogy and my December felt divine.

More to come in the following days about how I’m ending the year.  Bear with me, and do check-in every once in a while.  Meanwhile, I leave you with a clip of a little bird that was trying to get into my hostel room at SVYASA.  A friend told me it’s a barbet.  Another told me it is attracted to it’s reflection on the mirror – it’s mating season and it wants to mate!

 

Trying to flirt with it’s own reflection! #birdbrain

 

 

#angrybird

Lifestyle Yoga

Do You Need a Change? – Day 8

December 6, 2019

New patients come to SVYASA on Fridays. When I arrived last Friday I didn’t get a chance to see the in-patient process as I was registering myself as an intern. Today I saw patients coming in and consulting with the doctors. Doctors then refer them to the appropriate department where their vital statistics are taken and files created for each patient. The hospital at SVYASA doesn’t have your typical hospital feel. At any given time you have interns from other institutes and around the world and resident college students observing the processes and method of treatment. The mood is light and happy instead of somber and grievous.

It was interesting to observe the behavior of new patients today. Most described themselves as ‘no problems, just a little acidity all the time’ or ‘nothing as such, just from time to time some depression’ and ‘i have no issues as such, just a little bit of weight problem is there’…and so on and so forth. In a way there is lots of optimism, but somewhere I wonder, is there also denial? If you don’t truly believe that you need a change, regarding your health or anything else in life, will you put 100% into making that change? The only time I’ve been able to bring about change is when I’ve accepted that I need or want a change more than I want the status quo. It’s important to face your issues head on, rather than trivializing them.

Also tonight is my last night here! I can’t believe it’s been one week already and I’m really looking forward to getting back home, to my classes and daily practice.  I still remember Day 1.

In other news – my Liguria yoga retreat is on track and we’re excited to announce that seats are filling up fast! Below is a snapshot of what happened in the last retreat. The next one is going to be bigger and better.

 

Lifestyle Yoga

A Pranayama Sequence – Day 7

December 5, 2019

Pranayama is the fourth limb of the Ashtanga system of yoga. The other limbs are (in sequence):
1. Yama
2. Niyama
3. Asana
4. Pranayama
5. Pratyahara
6. Dhyana
7. Dharana
8. Samadhi

Most scholars believe that this is a sequence and practitioners have to gain a certain level of mastery in one to go to the next one. Which is why in many schools of yoga, pranayama is only taught after many years of intense asana practice. For instance, beginners in of Iyengar yoga don’t practice pranayama. In 2017 I experienced a pranayama class at RIMYI and wrote about it here.

However, some schools of yoga believe that these are limbs and not steps. They believe that it is therefore possible to practice several of the limbs at the same time. At SVYASA pranayama is taught to all patients, regardless of fitness levels and health conditions. Also, some pranayama is included in the asana classes and trataka (candlelight gazing) medition sessions.

I’ve been attending pranayama class every day here and although I don’t practice pranayama in my personal practice (yet), those readers who are interested are welcome to follow the below sequence. This sequence has been designed by SVYASA after extensive research.

Opening Prayer

1. Kapalabhati
20 strokes
40 strokes

Mudra: chin mudra

Relax in the Shitali dandasana.

2. Sectional breathing
Abdominal breathing 5x
Mudra: chin mudra
Thoracic breathing 5x
Mudra: chinmaya mudra
Clavicle breathing 5x
Mudra: adi mudra
Yogic breathing 5x
Mudra: brahma mudra

Relax in the Shitali dandasana.

3. Nadi Shuddi aka anulom-vilom pranayama 10x
Mudra: chin mudra with the left hand, nasika mudra with the right hand

Relax in the Shitali dandasana.

4. Brahmari pranayama using the N-kara
Mudra: chin mudra or shanmukhi mudra

Cooling pranayama practices

5. Shitali pranayama
Mudra: chin mudra

6. Sitkari pranayama
Mudra: chin mudra

7. Sadanta pranayama

Mudra: chin mudra

8. Nada anusadana
A-kara 3x
U-kara 3x
M-kara 3x

Closing prayer.

I’m missing practicing in my own space. This is from a practice session a few weeks ago. Although I’ve learned a lot here, I’m itching to head back home and resume asana practice.

Food Lifestyle Yoga

An Ayurvedic Therapist’s Secrets to a Healthy Life – Day 6

December 4, 2019

Meditating (or pretending to) somewhere in the hills of Kotagiri. How I long to be back there meditating and breathing the fresh air. pc: Animesh Jain

Today I was posted to perhaps the most interesting department. The Gastroenterology department.

And I’ve finally made a friend!!! She’s doing a BSc. here and is also employed as an Ayurvedic therapist. So she studies and works at SVYASA. She’s become my one stop shop for any queries, and it’s nice to have a friend who knows her way around!

Since the full time therapists are always too busy to answer my questions (and there are always so many questions), I usually end up discussing my queries with Aishwarya. I usually observe silently as patients describe their symptoms to the doctors. The doctors make notes in the files.

Later I pick Aishwarya’s brain.

The symptoms that most patients report are things like bloating and indigestion. If ignored or left untreated these can lead to more serious issues such as chronic constipation, IBS and ulcers. At SVYASA the first line of treatment is to put these patients on an Ayurvedic diet and have them attend various yoga and meditation sessions.

“But do you think the answer to a medical problem so prevalent is as simple as changing the diet and moving a bit more?” I asked her.

Apparently it is. Patients who come in with even severe cases of gastritis report a marked improvement after just a week on the SVYASA routine. Here their food and meal times are regulated. Although the quantity of food can’t be controlled but what the patients (and us) eat is very very simple. It is basically rice, roti, dal, a sabji and buttermilk. Not once has the food been too spicy or too salty. There’s never dessert. Fruit isn’t on the menu and in the evenings they serve a dairy-based malt instead of coffee/tea. We end up eating at the same time every day, which promotes healthy digestion.

We exchanged some personal anecdotes as well. She told me about how she was overweight before she came to SVYASA and her diet underwent a sea-change during the time she’s been here (the last 2 years). I described my weight-loss journey as well and how it was a solid asana practice and a supremely controlled diet that helped me. Aishwarya’s diet is similar to an Ayurvedic diet. Below are a few of the guidelines she follows:
. no sugar
. no milk
. no coffee or tea
. no refined flour, refined rice, refined oil

I didn’t ask her about alcohol but I’m sure that’s also a no. Also, she feels that the food served in the mess isn’t wholesome and so she also makes a malt for herself every once in a while. It’s a powder containing multi grains which she mixes with water and jaggery. Served hot.

Along with what we eat it’s important to eat at the same time every day. It builds regularity in digestion. Erratic meal timings lead to erratic digestion. Erratic digestion gives rise to every single condition treated in the Gastroenterology ward.

Sleep and stress are two factors that simply can’t be overlooked when it comes to digestion. Insufficient or disturbed sleep interferes with the secretion of digestive enzymes which is why you feel sluggish when you’re sleep deprived. It’s the same story with stress. Chronic stress inhibits the secretion of digestive enzymes. Chronic stress will also interfere with the secretion of melatonin, which will in turn lead to sleeplessness, which will cause digestive disorders…and the viscous cycle continues.

The only way to break this cycle is to wake up one day and commit to living better, one decision at a time.

Lifestyle Yoga

Learning New Cleansing Techniques (LSP) – Day 5

December 3, 2019

Yesterday was my first day at the Department for Metabolic Disorders. The person in charge was short, squat and had a very aggressive look to him. His name is Shan and I decided to stay clear out of his way.

Class was almost over. All yoga sessions here are similar. Today many supine and prone asanas were included in the routine because we were dealing with metabolic conditions. I was surreptitiously checking the time when all of a sudden I realized Shan was talking to me. “Do you know how to do DRT?” he asked me with an evil glint in his eye.

‘No…uh yes!’ I stammered.
‘Yes or no?’
“I know what DRT is and I’ve attended sessions also but I’ve never conducted it,” I told him, finally getting a hold of myself.
“Hmmm….meet me in my office after class.” He looked at the other intern pointedly, indicating that she was also expected.

“What course are you doing here,” he asked in his office.
“MSc,” I said. “But distance,” I added, hoping that was some sort of justification for not knowing the Deep Relaxation Technique, a meditation technique patented by SVYASA.

“OK, first – tomorrow you both will bring your mats,” he said. “You guys must also participate in the classes. Seeing you the patients feel motivated to move.”

“Yes sir,” we both said in unison.

“Also tomorrow we don’t have class, we have kriyas. You guys be there by 6 am and help the patients.”

I saw this as my chance to practice kiryas under supervision, and quickly seized it. “I can do jal neti, but sutra neti and vamana dhouti are really difficult for me.”

“Then I will teach you. Do you know LSP?”
“Heard of it but I’ve never done it. But I want to!”

I reached the kriya block with my neti kit and my nerves in a bundle. It had been years since I’d done the sutra neti and vamana dhouti. And I was hoping LSP – Laghu Shankh Prakshalana wasn’t going to leave me with the runs.

“Sir, this sutra isn’t going into my nose,” I said as I worked the rubber catheter into my nostril. But he kept encouraging me and eventually the catheter was in the back of my throat. In fact, this morning (because he threatened that he would do it himself) I was able to reach into my throat and pull out the other end of the catheter. This was the second time in my life that I was able to do this.

Vamana Dhouti

 

Sutra neti. I wish I had images of me doing the kriyas, but I was so busy doing them that I forgot to document them!

During vamana dhouti he told me about the importance and relevance of cleansing practices. “If you’re a regular practitioner you should do this once a week. Your asanas will improve. These practices are important.” I tried to re-gurgitate the water without resorting to pushing my fingers down my throat. In the end, it was my fingers that did the trick.

LSP is a technique to clear the entire digestive system. I drank 4 glasses of salt water and then did the basic stretching exercises. Then drank another 4 glasses and did them again. By the time I was back in my room I was ready to exploded in the thunderbox. It took a long long time. The water makes it way through the entire digestive system, bringing along toxins. You know your digestive system is clean when the water coming out of you is clear. As he said, “The water should look like your urine. If it doesn’t you have to go again.” It took me all of one hour, but I’m happy to report that my first time at LSP was good. I’m going to continue doing this practice at home too.

As I got the final sign-off from him, I noticed that his smile didn’t look evil or intimidating anymore. Note to self: the greatest lessons sometimes come from the most unexpected sources.

Lifestyle Yoga

Who Was Swamy Vivekananda? – Day 4

December 2, 2019

 

Swamy Vivekananda is arguably one of the most popular spiritual leaders of India. He was born on Jan 12, 1863 to wealthy parents. He was christened Narendranath. Born to priviledge he was also well educated and had a liberal upbriging. As a young adult the question of God and the Supreme Being fascinated him, and he tried finding answers to his spritual crisis with reason and logic. The quest for an answer took him to many religious teachers and masters. He finally found what he was looking for in Sri Ramakrishna, another prominent spiritual master at the time. This resulted in a deep spiritual bond and Narendranath became Swamy Vivekananda.

In 1893 Swamy Vivekananda represented India in the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago. His lecture was about India, Hinduism and Sri Ramakrishna’s philosophies. His speech drew a lot of interest and he spent the next two and half years in America, and eventually established the Vedanta Society of New York.

Despite a deep respect and love for Hinduism, Swamy Vivekananda thought of his countrymen first which is why he is considered to be an early nationalist.

This institute is named after him because he represents a scientific approach to Indian culture. SVYASA endeavors to explain the expansiveness of Indian culture and attempts to cultivate a love for the country among the students. For this reason we have bhajan classes and talks, students learn desh-bhakti songs as well, the national anthem and the national song are a daily affair and discourses are held on important lessons from the Gita. I know it sounds a lot, and maybe a tad bit too Hindutva for many of you. But…it’s not that bad!

Lifestyle Yoga

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.

Lifestyle Yoga

The OM Meditation Technique – Day 2

November 30, 2019

I’m dog-tired as I write this. Here at SVYASA they are very particular about routine. The first session of the day is at 5.30 am.

A chilly wind was blowing when I stepped out to make my way to the Sampurna Hall at 5.15 am. With uncanny foresight, I’ve brought along the warmest stole I have, along with warm sweaters. I reached the hall while it was still dark outside. The hall was dimly illuminated, making me want to go back to sleep. Surprisingly, not many people were attending the session and I found a space to sit quite easily.

My first session is the OM Meditation session. This is a technique developed by SVYASA after extensive research. It utilizes a combination of breathing practices and visualization to bring about a state of physical and mental relaxation in the participants.

This was my first time practicing this, but I was familiar with the components of the technique. The OM Meditation technique consists of 8 steps to be done in a specific order. These are:

1. Prayer
2. Kapalabhati pranayama/kriya. The teacher was particular about mentioning that those with high blood pressure, migraines and severe back pain should not practice this pranayama.
3. Anulom vilom pranayama. This is also called the Nadi Shuddhi pranayama. The teacher explained that this was one of the few techniques whereby you can purify all the nadis in your body. This technique aims to bring about a balance between the ida and the pingala nadis – and when that balance is attained then your are in a state of perfect balance. In fact, that is when the sushumna nadi gets activated and you gain enlightenment.
4. Brahmari. Through this pranayama we were trying to stimulate our heads physically with just the vibrations generated by the N-kara. Once the mind is stimulated, it is easy to relax it in preparation for pranayama.
5. Sadanta. This pranayama serves to cool down the body. This shouldn’t be practiced by anyone who has a cold as this willl aggravate a cold.
6. OM gazing. There is a huge OM in the front of the room which is illuminated by a green light. We were asked to gaze at the OM and note the details.
7. Dharana. After having focused and observed the OM for a length of time, we were asked to slowly close the eyes and visualize the OM in our mind’s eye. Then we were asked to imagine the OM within us, at the centre of the forehead. This is the dharana aspect of the meditaion.
8. Closing prayer. This happens after a relaxing savasana.

Meditation is something that improves with regular practice. I’ve come across several types of meditation techniques over the years and used to find guided meditations very helpeful. However, just like with asana practice, I realize that a meditation practice is also something that needs to be done independently as well. Depending on a particular teacher/show/recording leads to attachment and the practices ceases to be useful. The one meditation technique that has worked for me is free writing meditation, however, there don’t seem to be many takers for that here!

Do you meditate?  Do you have any favorite meditation techniques?

This sits at the front of the classroom, helping those of us who aren’t dozing early in the morning.

 

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

The Place Free of Disease – Day 1

November 29, 2019

As part of my Master’s program in Yoga Therapy, I’m required to intern for a total of 16 days at Arogyadhma – the hospital at SVYASA (Swamy Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana). I decided when I registered for the course that I would try to complete at least 8 days of the internship in 2019, to ensure that work doesn’t pile up.

In 2011, when I was a student of the YIC (Yoga Instructor Course) I once got a bad attack of allergies. I started sneezing uncontrollably, my eyes were watering and I could barely open my eyes. It was similar to my mother’s plight during Cherry Blossom season when we lived in the US. Although I was fine in the US, I had suffered from terrible allergies from the time I’d moved to Bangalore – the reason for that could be an entire medical case study. Anyways, the allergies became an yearly affair, and I’d somehow managed to live through the season. But this time the attack was the worst ever. I was (and still am) the kind that never takes medicine – unless my life depends on it. And that day it did.

I walked into the resident doctor’s office. ‘Help me,’ I squeaked, unable to even get a good look at who I was speaking to. The doctor made a sympathetic sound and said, ‘Take a Crocin!’

‘But I don’t take medicine,” I protested feebly. “I’m looking for a cure!”

‘OK then take a quarter of that Crocin to suppress the symptoms for now, and then do Jal Neti.’

It worked. Since then I’ve kept my allergies at bay just with the practice of Jal Neti. Theoretically, Jal Neti (nasal irrigation) should never be practiced during a bout of cold/allergies. However, in my experience Jal Neti can be used to prevent symptoms from getting worse. The first time I used Jal Neti (back in 2011), it was while I had a full blown allergy attack and I practiced it three times a day, and it helped more than anything else ever had.

Having experienced the efficacy of an alternative healing technique myself, I have a keen interest in alternative healing. Which is why I’m happy that a 16 day hospital internship is part of my Master’s program. The hospital here at SVYASA is called ‘Arogyadhama’ which is Sanskrit for ‘The Place Free of Disease.’ A combination of yoga, Ayurveda and allopathy techniques are used to treat various ailments here.

I’ve been allotted a hostel room – on the fourth floor, replete with an errant gecko in the bathroom, a swarm of ants, a few cobwebs, a grasshopper in the toilet which refuses to be flushed out and a family of monkeys. And I told them I wanted a room all to myself!

It will take a few days to settle in, and I look forward to a fruitful 8 days. I will be blogging daily from here – to give you insight into the kind of work I’m doing, the life of a yoga student, and general bits I learn about life here. Do check back in tomorrow evening for an account of my first day as an intern at a hospital for alternative therapy.

 

Just a purple Shiva meditating in the forest – a regular sight here at SVYASA.

Yoga

Cut Through the Noise and Find Your Centre

September 9, 2019

I recently enrolled for a Master’s program in yoga studies.  I went back to SVYASA (Swamy Vivekananda Yoga Anusudhana Samsthana).  It is a university dedicated exclusively to yoga and holistic health.  In 2012 I registered for their YIC (Yoga Instructor’s Course) never dreaming that in 2019 I would be back for a masters.

Two months ago I went to the university to attend a few lectures.  My days there were reminiscent of my Infosys Mysore training.  Until now yoga has largely meant asana practice for me.  Philosophy is intimidating.

I think this master’s program may just bridge the gap for me.  The faculty at SVYASA comes with a long list of achievements and experience.  All the members are well-known experts in their chosen area of study.

Our Yoga Therapy professor, Dr. Uma gave us some enthralling lectures.  She lectured on the importance of an integrated approach to health care.  One day the discussion turned to vegetarianism, veganism and other lifestyle related food choices.  She told us about her personal conflict with milk.  For years she had adamantly supported the consumption of milk.  She holds an MBBS, MD as well as a BHMS.  Milk is a panchamrit (five elixirs). However, latest research shows that milk is not good for you.

“Then I realized that milk as we know it now is not the milk Ayurvedic texts are talking about.  The cows, the environment, the people were different, and so the milk was also different.  Now I don’t have milk.”

“Nowadays disseminating information is easy.  You will find 100 opinions on everything under the sun.  What to eat, when to eat.  What to drink, when to drink.  Why to eat, why not to eat.  Why to drink and why not,” she said.  “You must not listen to everything.  Find what resonates with you.  What do you believe in-spite of all the information that you are being bombarded with?  You must cut through the noise and find your center.”