Friday, May 11, 2018

Stop Thinking and Just Do It.

So I had this one student in yoga today whose upper body and core strength was in very early stages ... kind of like where I was when I first started. She was a regular yogi though, and someone who enjoyed her yoga practice too. When we came down to Malasana (yogic squat) and I offered the option to do Kakasana (crow), she got iffy and wondered if she could, as it had been a while she'd attempted it.

So, I offered her steps to get into it. She seemed afraid of the floor - imagine the fear of falling flat on your face and hurting your head or breaking your neck. (My experience in falling down from crow has taught me that all you get is a tiny boo boo on your nose or forehead.) I waited a couple of seconds watching the fear on her face and attempts to take one foot off the floor, place that foot on the floor, then lifting the other foot, and repeat the process. I said, "Don't worry, the floor won't hurt as much as you think it will. I've fallen many times, and believe me, it doesn't hurt that bad."

I was just trying to help the lovely young lady enjoy herself and laugh a little. She giggled and to my surprise suddenly took both her feet off - it must have been just for 1.5 seconds. But for those 1.5 seconds and for the remaining 20 minutes after that, her expression changed. She was surprised at herself and happy that she did something she thought she couldn't do.

It reminded me of the first time I was able to get into Kakasana.

Over two years of nearly daily practice and no success at getting both feet off the floor, forget staying up there and allowing my arms bear my weight. I can't recall what got to me, but during one Malasana, happily compressing my legs after a lot of Surya Namaskars, and thoughts miles away from arm balances, lost in my breath, something hit me. The thought of not being able to get my feet off the floor. Only because I was afraid I'd get hurt. Then I convinced myself that the worst that could happen is that I'd fall on my face and break my nose or get a neck sprain. I had gotten neck sprains just by sleeping all night, so I said this was not going to be any worse. I'll call 911 if something goes terribly wrong and made sure my phone was next to me, just in case. With that I got both feet off the floor.

It's another thing that I didn't have enough arm strength back then to stay longer and so I did fall (and thus discovered that my fears about breaking necks and noses were unfounded). But it was only when I stopped worrying about consequences and trusted that nothing bad would happen that I couldn't handle, I was able to do something that I couldn't in two years.

That student was my reminder - and for that moment she became my teacher.

That if we want to do something for the first time but are unsure of the consequences, it is okay to try and fail and then try again in a different way, rather than not to have tried at all.

That after a certain point, we should just do what we want to do.

Enjoy the process rather than overthink and waste too much time cooking up conclusions that may never happen. Maybe laugh at ourselves and the situation while we are going through them.

If nothing else, life might just become a lot more bearable and a little worth living that way.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Bhakti as Wise Love

Learned something fascinating at yoga class today.
"Bhakti is wise love."

No, I'm not talking about romantic love or parent-child love. This is something else.

People say love has no place for wisdom. That love is blind and stupid.

But what if we were to perceive love from a place of compassion and describe it as the act of say, forgiveness? Forgiving those we love but who hurt us either intentionally or unintentionally or because their circumstances left them with no other choice? Or even forgiving ourselves for not being perfect enough to forgive?

There is so much beauty in loving wisely, and in the wisdom of love. Very often, our mind and heart are disconnected, or worse, are at conflict with each other. In the same way, our inner and outer worlds are often not in sync, and we are forced to live a life where we are not true to ourselves. Rather, we force ourselves to live in Asatya - by lying to ourselves. And when we live in Asatya, we also commit Himsa - violence - toward ourselves and the world around us.

Conversely, when our thoughts and feelings are in sync and our inner and outer worlds are at peace with each other, we can be in a state of balance, and then experience and express wholeheartedly, whatever concept the term "wise love" means for us, forgiveness, or something else. We may or may not immediately succeed in expressing or experiencing this Bhakti, but we will succeed in trying. And trying is our Dharma - our lifelong duty, thus creating Bhakti Yoga as a means to continue walking on our path as Karma Yogis or "householders."

Here is a Yoga mudra - a yoga pose with our hands - whose wisdom we can invoke when we wish to bring our inner and outer worlds in sync: Dharmachakra mudra, or the gesture of turning the wheel.

Step 1: Face your left hand toward your heart with your fingers spread.
Step 2: Bring the thumb and index figure together on your right hand and touch the tip of the ring finger on your left hand.
The left hand here represents our heart and inner world, the right hand represents our material world, both hands together represent the wheels of life, and the middle finger connecting the two represents Dharma, as the middle finger represents Saturn, the dispenser of justice and the activator of transition. This mudra therefore may be interpreted as building of the connection between inner and outer worlds (or our heart and material desires) and using that to trigger positive change through truthfulness to ourselves. (This mudra has many other interpretations, but for the purpose of this reading, we'll stick with this one. Gertrud Hirschi in her book explains this mudra more eloquently and elaborately.)
So, strive for love. Love others and yourself from a place of kindness and positivity, and with good intent. The good intent right there is wisdom and wise love. Many times, the Bhakti will help us build bridges with others and often make our day-to-day life easier to live. Sometimes, we will have to decide that we can no longer hold positive intent towards certain circumstances or people - that's okay, and that means it is time once again to call upon the wisdom of our heart to lovingly forgive and let go, in the knowledge that the Universe will do what is right for us and the world, and that all the good we give will lovingly find its way back to us.

Inversions and Changing Perspectives

"'Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam': When troublesome thoughts (vitarka) afflict (badhane) you, cultivate (bhavanam) opposite thoughts (pratipaksha), i.e., change your perspective."

~Yoga Sutra 2.33-34

This is what Vasistha taught Rama to do: To shift his perspective away from suffering and limitation to the infinite bliss of the present moment.

And because scriptures won't help unless we apply them in our practical world, a practical yoga-based tip to do this would be: practice inversions. Backward bends and twists also help, to a certain extent, in facilitating a shift in perspective because of the change in what we can literally see while in a back bend or a twist. But nothing makes our mind and body go topsy turvy like an inversion.

An inversion is, essentially, any pose where the heart is positioned above or at least at the same level as the head. It doesn't matter whether it is an active inversion such as a Headstand, Handstand, Shoulder stand, Down Dog, or a passive one such as inverted action pose or simply legs against the wall. Our body experiences a change in gravitational pull; blood flow is reversed, the heart rate is reduced the heart has to do less work, and the lymphatic system too gets more active (which is needed to drain toxins and improve immunity). Relieving mild symptoms of anxiety and depression is another great benefit. Not to mention reliving our forgotten childhood and a new fun way to connect with kiddos and loved ones!

When the brain is sane, things start to look positive. That in turn, results in a change in perspective.

What's the harm in trying anyway? There's nothing to lose :)

(PC: Internet.)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Dreams and Purpose

If you want to know what you really want in life, think about everything you have and everything you want. Look at everything you already have with a sense of kindness and show love and gratitude for the happiness you got - and still have - by having those things in your life.

Then, look at everything you want.

Think what you need to do in order to get those things - do you need to put in more effort in some part of your life? Do you need to do something differently from what you have been doing now? 

What about the things you have, are any of those things getting in the way of pursuing the things you want, or will those people and things work as catalysts?

How about the fact that we have only one brain, two hands, 24 hours in a day, and the fact that time once gone will never come back? Will the things we want and we have help us move closer to fulfilling our dreams and make us happy and content? 

How strong are we to stand up after we fall down, how resilient we are, and how strong is our will to be able to return to the light after going towards the dark side of the tunnel of life? 

Are we capable of turning ourselves into a martyr for the sake of someone or something else? Does our strength lie in becoming a martyr or by not becoming one? Are we strong enough to give up on our individuality and blend in with the society around us, or are we endowed with the courage and persistence to swim against the tide? 

By doing the things we do every day, and by not doing anything different in our day-to-day lives, are we chasing our own dreams, or the dreams of someone else?

"The two most important days in a man's life are the day he is born, and the day he finds out why." ~Unknown

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Questions ... and Answers

The thing with our psyche is that, we think we will get them when we are ready or simply when we ask them. But the reality about answers is that often, the answers present themselves before us when they want to, when the answers themselves are ready.

Life may not always be about knowing the answers.

Sometimes, it is more about asking ourselves and understanding whether those are answers are really needed and if knowing them is really worth it.

Either way, we must display heroic patience or non-attachment, because those are the only things that will serve us in the long run.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Guru Poornima: A Day for our Guides

They say that when a student looks for his teacher with earnestness, he finds one. Because the teacher is waiting for that earnestness, no one else but an earnest student finds them.

Sunflowers, when they bloom, turn toward the direction of the Sun. The Sun also wakes up each morning because it knows that the world looks forward to it every night. Sunflowers cannot bloom in their full glory without the Sun and even the Sun would feel worthless if it did not have the Universe waiting for it.

When we go through difficult times, we look for hope - a ray of light that will guide us out of our pain and bring happiness.

Just as a thirsty person looks for a well, the well waits patiently for the day a thirsty person will use it quench its thirst. If no one comes to drink out of the well, the water in it will go to waste. the well will dry up or the water will become stale, rending it useless.

A true Guru is also like a well waiting for its Shishya to whom he can impart his knowledge and wisdom. The Universe was created such that we all would be codependent. No one would be all-powerful and no one would become full of ego or too perfect to stop being human. Arjuna needed Dronacharya to become Arjuna, and no one would have known Dronacharya without Arjun ... he wouldn't have fulfilled his life's purpose of being a Guru.

There is also a difference between a teacher and a mentor or a Guru. A teacher teaches; a Guru gives guidance. Teachers make us literate. Gurus educate us, about ourselves and our lives. Most of us hunt for a teacher when what we really need is a Guru who gives us the tools to eventually not need him. We look for easy, short-cut solutions to our problems and in the process start living like parasites, thus stopping ourselves from living to a much higher purpose and potential.

Our parents selflessly birth and raise us. They teach us to walk by letting us hold their finger, until finally we let go and walk on our own, then run all by ourselves, not looking back. But maybe parents do that because they are our parents. We all still need that finger every once in a while, a guiding light to lead us along the path of our lives - whether or not we'd like to admit it!

A Guru would be someone who'd do that for us. He or she may not be related to us by blood and yet be that guiding light, that supporting finger, that nourishing sunshine.

Very few among us are fortunate enough to be blessed with a genuine, selfless, and giving mentor/guide. Maybe that is why Vedic philosophies say that a Guru is more important than a parent.

Many of us keep looking for one, travel length and breadth, and turn the world upside down, only to face failure, telling ourselves that we are not meant to find that guiding light. What we don't consider is the possibility that, more often than not, the light that we seek outside us is actually inside us. That we are our own guide. A Guru would take us to the point where we'd be our own guide some day.

Whether the guide is within or outside us doesn't matter. What matters is we take a moment to acknowledge that directing compass every once in a while. This write up is for all those Gurus in my life ... from mother who imparts me her tough love to my father who endures me silently, the janitor who humbled me ( to women leaders in this world who lead by example, my younger brother who stuns me with his ageless wisdom to my older one who constantly shows me the mirror, the people who through their cynicism teach me to be kind to myself when no one else does to my yoga teachers who gave me the tools to discover myself, and my endless list of great guides.

Thank you. I am in your debt.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Failure and Change

Often life presents us situations to change the course of the path we are walking on. We may not realize that these situations are in fact opportunities because we are too focused walking on our path. The opportunities may be the breakthrough to change our lives for the better; they could also be opportunities to learn something and therefore evolve.

There are times we spend eternity walking inside a dark tunnel searching for light. But by the time this this light starts to appear before us, we might be presented with another crossroad. Another situation, another opportunity, another tunnel whose end we may not know of.

At such times, what will one do? 

Most likely, walk towards the visible light that we were looking for in the first place. The freedom from the darkness that we were searching for, for so long ... the solutions to the problems we've been facing ... the happiness that had eluded us all this time.

But what if that little voice at the back of our head - our conscience - whispers to us that, maybe the light we are chasing will not be probably not as bright as we dreamed it would be? What if while moving closer to fulfilling our dreams we started to wonder whether the dream is really worth achieving, and that maybe our lives are meant for a completely different or a much higher purpose?

Of course, there is a difference between being crazy and being stupid. But bravery does come at the cost of being called stupid sometimes, doesn't it!

If we are not brave, we will not succeed. We will not understand the meaning of failure, which is in fact being successful in knowing what we shouldn't do.

Fear of failure is therefore fear of success itself. It is only when we are brave enough to fail that we will be ready to succeed.

When we were small children, we didn't know how to walk. Walking was a new concept, something unknown to us. We learned how to walk after falling hundreds of times. And once we started walking, we started enjoying being able to move around on our own. We even started running! Today that walking is so ingrained that we just do it involuntarily. It just happens from muscle memory.

Same with facing the unknown.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Comparisons: "I" v/s "Others"

You know the times we compare ourselves to others? Yeah, those times!

It's like noticing that the most popular kid in school has ice cream and so we want ice cream. Not because we WANT ice cream, but because someone else had ice cream. But what if we ask ourselves what we really want, and the answer is that we want chocolate? Chocolate is not bad, it's not worse than ice cream, but it's not better either. It is just something different.

Comparing ourselves to ourselves, instead of comparing ourselves to others is a lot more challenging.

Because then we will have to find our motivation within ourselves. Our passion - our reason for doing something will have a much higher purpose. We will keep striving because we will rarely feel satisfied. Most importantly, we will be driven from a place of strength rather than insecurity or ego. The biggest benefit of this kind of attitude is that we learn to accept each other a lot more. We learn to be more kind to ourselves ... Ultimately causing a lot less hate among each other.

After all, we don't need hatred and all that kind of negativity in this world, do we?

Why do we then compare ourselves to others ...

When they are apples and we are oranges!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Grief & Happiness

"We grieve, not because we lose those who loved us or those who mattered to us. We grieve because there is all this love in our entire being that we are want to give away but there is no one to give it to."

Most other sorrows become pale in comparison to this kind of unhappiness. We spend our lives trying to figure out our purpose in life, and most of us end up not realizing it, or it is too late by the time we do. Out of our fear of the unknown, out of fear of change, out of our subconscious lack of will to be driven from a position of strength, and most importantly - out of ego, we end up living for others when we could have spent the same time and energy chasing our own dreams and living our own lives.

The road may be tough, and many times we may want to give up in favor of the more familiar route, but at least we are on the right path... At least we will smile a genuine smile and enjoy genuine relationships with people and situations that actually matter to us. What else can help us bring closer to the most beautiful thing in this world, that is reuniting with the one who made this Universe?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

After Rainy Days

Put on your headphones, turn the volume really high, try to find a quiet place, and listen to the sounds in this video very carefully. They are very subtle, but if you really pay attention, you'll hear them in the background. (Okay just ignore the cellphone and chopping board. Sometimes one can cook and blog at the same time.)

Three days of rain, muck, and gloomy weather after which comes this: 

Quiet and stillness. And the ability to listen what truly needs to be heard. 

Sparrows and robins talking to each other, maybe about the cool, gentle breeze that blows every now and then. About the warm sun uncle that finally decided to peek out from behind white clouds. Or maybe exchanging notes over which is the best place to find food, now that they can finally step outside their shelter. 

The breeze makes wind chimes tinkle ever so softly, adding to the sweet harmony of sounds. 

Amidst all this chattering, ticks along a steadfast clock. It doesn't care what the sparrows and robins are talking about, whether they get food or not, or what the heck the chimes are clattering for. It just keeps ticking along, lost in its own world, marching to the beat of its own drum. It knows that no matter what, it has to and will always keep moving along. And the world will fall in line sooner or later.

Take a moment out of your crazy life to stop and sit still to listen to the beautiful sounds around you. Once we learn to get connected to these sounds, we learn to listen to ourselves. To the sounds inside of us. 

If we pay attention to the sounds inside us, and if we are doing this for the first time, then we might hear NOISE.


All anxiety, anger, fear, translated into noise inside that tiny little head of ours. 

The first time we access it, it might feel daunting, to suddenly come face to face with what are possibly our fears and insecurities. The cacophony might want one to shut out and run away from it and never want to open what appears as the "nothing box" from outside. What we think is our nothing box is actually the attic of our mind where our dark, unwanted, but hard-to-let-go-of stuff is conveniently stashed away, so that our mind can keep coming back to it over and over again. 

Why? Because those hard to let go thoughts, fears, insecurities are a habit, and thus, what the mind considers a safe space. Something that the mind is used to and finds its comfort zone in. The harder part is to sit with those unsettling thoughts - and sit peacefully with them. Face them, look them in the eye. Wonder why we held on to them for so long, and what would happen if we would let go of those negative thoughts that we know we don't need? 

It will take time. But if we take one day at a time, and keep trying a little every day, one fine day, we will be able to gather the courage to finally throw away that huge noisy box. Behind that noisy box will be our real nothing box. Where there is truly nothing, but everything. The sanctuary of peace and quiet. 

Once that real nothing box is opened, life will never be the same again.