Yoga is the latest hot commodity

I walked down a couple of blocks from where I was staying in Vancouver. There were more yoga studios there than I had seen in the whole of Chennai. As I went shopping for a salad dressing, I was amazed at the variety I could choose from. Any product and the variety was immense. So many choices to be made! But I am an aware customer. I usually read all the ingredients given on a product, whether it is organic and whether scientific research says it will provide my body with all the essential nutrients.


Hmm! That should guarantee me everlasting youth and freedom from all ailments and, of course, strong bones, good skin… . the list is endless.

Yoga shopping

Yoga, like many other arts and sciences, is now a product. How much will I get out of it — is what we all want to know. Will it give me my money’s worth? There is so much to choose from. In India, I would often see signs saying `Yoga for arthritis, weight loss, heart disease’ and so on. It was more need-oriented. In the West, it was more fashion-oriented. Hot Yoga, Power Yoga, Astanga Vinyasa, Yin Flow and even Burlesque Yoga!

I must have seemed like a country bumpkin when I asked the lady, who told me about the classes, what burlesque was! Was I hearing it right, I thought to myself when I heard it described. But that’s my ancient conditioning. Anyone could teach yoga, even the pole dancers. In fact, burlesque was the older version done in strip bars. They combined their moves with now archaic postures to create the improvisations! Who was I to judge it? In fact, I know that in the depths are inherent the heights and from darkness comes light. However I must do, for myself, what is right.

I am happy with the practice that I do with the playfulness of a child. I am happy with organic growth. I do not want too much pumped into my system. My little brain cannot handle an information overload. The same old thing makes me happy! I am happy with what I am constantly discovering. Everyday I discover more about myself, everyday I move closer to who I truly am. I know I am smarter for not having tried out every new invention. I am happier for not having tasted every new concoction. I know I am not missing too much if I have not used every soap on the stand! Go ahead and check if you are an aware customer by answering the questions asked below.

Are you an aware yoga customer?
1. I will buy it if someone promises that I will lose 5 kg in five days. Yes/No
2. I will go to a class because everyone in class has the hottest yoga pants. Yes/No
3. I will enrol only for a week as I don’t believe in any long boring commitments. Yes/No
4. If I am going for spiritual reasons and I will expect the teacher to look like a guru. Or at least the teacher’s teacher should have a long beard. Yes/No
5. I will be very impressed to see everyone doing sirasasana (headstand) in the first month.Yes/No
6. I feel I have got my money’s worth if the teacher promises to teach me 40 asanas is 20 days.Yes/No
7. I believe I can master meditation in a two-day class. Yes/No

If you have ticked

five to seven yeses – your awareness levels are low

three to four yeses – you have average awareness

one or two yeses – your awareness level is quite good.

All `no’s? Have you considered teaching or volunteering for yoga programs?



Yoga enables us to direct our own course of life

Practices that are common in many cultures are fast getting eroded with the hectic pace of modern-day life. We acquire all material comforts these days, but are deprived of genuine demonstrations of affection. Hugging creates a sense of unity and belonging. Touch, hug and massage therapy aim to create an awareness of what was part of day-to-day life. Practicing yoga awakens us to the feeling that we belong to God and the universe.

Passive yoga

I’ve had undergone massage a few times, recently. There was a lot of care in the way it was done. The masseuse lamented how the very words “Thai massage” invariably conjure up images of shady practices. But I feel, it is nothing but yoga. While I didn’t have much to do, my body was gently twisted and turned. I breathed deeply to facilitate the release of pent-up stress. It was an energizing, yet relaxing experience.


Yoga is the art of finding a common ground yet not being a stick-in-the-mud. People go through different phases and we must learn to respect that rather than wanting them to do what we want them to — to perform like machines or circus animals.

That’s what sours most relationships. We may have found something in common — an activity, an ideology or a feeling. Yet, when one outgrows it or simply needs a break from it, the other may be unwilling to let go.

The noose that binds

Animals are bound by conditioning. An animal in the wild has a particular way in which it relates to the environment and has certain behavioral patterns ingrained in it. A lion roars and a crow caws. A cow or a trained animal has a noose that binds it. It allows the animal to move only in one particular direction. Most human beings are also bound by conditioning or training. The better the trainer the more efficient the trainee is. However, one aspect that differentiates man from animal is “manas” or consciousness. He has the capacity to direct his own course.

Where do you want to be?

I have heard many say, “I should give up smoking or I should do this or that.” In yoga, there are no `shoulds’, as it is binding. A good premise to start with is to want to give up smoking. As aware human beings, we know the damage smoking can do to us. Being the creators of our own destiny, we choose to put good things into our system. Though the act of giving up smoking may be the same, the premise with which we begin is different if we want to rather than have to. This applies to all decisions in our lives. A series of decisions gives the direction. Once we are clear about the destination, we will take decisions accordingly.

Most of our goals are influenced by our parents. As youngsters, we seek their approval and hence want to accommodate their desire of where we should be. Not that this is a bad thing. It’s just that we tend to absolve ourselves of the responsibility if anything goes wrong. “You wanted me to do it, now look what’s happened” are phrases one often hears. So, whether parents, teachers or peers choose it for us, ultimately we should want to pursue that goal.

Our relationship with our parents can sometimes make us do things that are not healthy for us. We may do them if we are bound by the gratitude that they have given us life. Yet, out of gratitude to life, we need to work towards building harmony within and without. This cannot be done if we succumb to emotional blackmail or other manipulation. This parental pattern can be seen in all relationships. We need to recognize it and consciously work to move away. This does not mean that all ties need to be severed. It simply means we find a common ground for bonding and can recognize when we or the other person become excessively demanding. This is the awareness that yoga aims at cultivating. It helps us bond without being bound.



Yoga is a method of regeneration through touch

Practices that are common in many cultures are fast getting eroded with the hectic pace of modern-day life. We acquire all material comforts these days, but are deprived of genuine demonstrations of affection. Hugging creates a sense of unity and belonging. Touch, hug and massage therapy aim to create an awareness of what was part of day-to-day life. Practicing yoga awakens us to the feeling that we belong to God and the universe.
Passive yoga

I’ve had undergone massage a few times, recently. There was a lot of care in the way it was done. The masseuse lamented how the very words “Thai massage” invariably conjure up images of shady practices. But I feel, it is nothing but yoga. While I didn’t have much to do, my body was gently twisted and turned. I breathed deeply to facilitate the release of pent-up stress. It was an energizing, yet relaxing experience.

Pet therapy

There was Tia, the dainty cat in India, and abroad, I have the good fortune of getting another brilliant therapist in the form of Charlie girl, the most adorable thing on this side of the planet! When she needs petting she comes up to me, and most endearingly stretches out her paw. Sometimes she gets a good half-hour to forty-five minutes of petting and stroking. To see her eyes close in relaxation and hear her purr in ecstasy makes my day worth it. Try to touch her when she does not want it and you get nipped by her. Ouch! Sorry for crossing your boundaries, and thanks for letting me know!

Sparsha mudra

Sparsha means touch and by using the sparsha mudra we can facilitate the flow of prana or energy in that particular area. The skin is a sensitive part of the body and we find that by touching areas with love we can heal those areas. Research has shown that babies who are touched more have not only better immune systems but also better self-esteem. A lot of skin ailments and burns respond effectively to touch. If due to irritation or pain one cannot touch the skin directly one can also touch the space a couple of inches above the affected area. Though there is no physical contact, there is an energy contact.

Reiki uses the same principle, whereby one allows oneself to become a channel of healing. Healing is going back to our state of wholeness.


A prarthana or a positive thought is a way of touching someone or oneself. This is the principle by which distance healing works. It is not only a prayer where you ask for something but you enable it to happen. We are constantly touching people and affecting incidents with our mind. So let us communicate and commune with love by being constantly in prarthana. Let us also not berate ourselves if like Charlie we use our common sense or wisdom to nip someone if they are intrusive



Yoga can help you get back to the uncomplicated truths of life

I told someone who wanted my time that I was tired and would like to retire early. He remarked that I was a yoga practitioner and should not get tired. This misconception that one who practices yoga is infallible is common. It must be remembered that one who practices yoga is also human. Yoga is not a magic potion but a process of moment-to-moment and day-to-day learning, unlearning, healing and growth. One learns to be aware of one’s limitations and accept it rather than living in the illusion of being able to do everything.

Yoga helps one to realize when one is tired so that one takes enough rest to enable the body to recuperate instead of pushing it to the point of break down. The aim of my journey is to stop trying to live up to the illusions others have created about teachers or gurus. This simply satiates their desire to put another individual on a pedestal. It is a quirk of the human mind to constantly look for something beyond itself that can be put on a pedestal.

It is also the same mind that is quick to pull the same person down from the pedestal. Anyone who is even a little popular would have experienced this. The mind is fickle and that is why the whole training in the Yogic system is to `One Point’ the mind. The mind is one pointed on the eternal principle of goodness. This becomes the resting place for consciousness i.e., this principle of goodness shining through people becomes the anchor rather than the personality.

Any person in the healing profession, be it a doctor, psychotherapist, healer or yoga guide, would have seen that the patient wants to absolve himself of all responsibility for his/her health. There is tremendous pressure on the healer to magically transform the life of the patient. The illness could be minor or major, physical or psychological. Any healer needs to start taking responsibility not just for his patient’s health, but also for his own by setting aside relaxed time for himself/herself. Else, there will always be someone who needs his or her time.

Life points us back to the basics, the uncomplicated truths. You need enough sleep, to relax over a meal, drink sufficient water, get enough physical activity, have good friends and a congenial work and home atmosphere. It’s each person’s responsibility towards himself to create such an environment. This happens with restructuring one’s priorities and putting things into action. This should be emphasized to the patient as well as to oneself (the healer).

One needs to start taking responsibility for one’s health. Else, one feels one can do whatever one wants to and later go to the doctor to set right the wrong that has been done. After indulging in junk food, junk emotions and junk thoughts, one creates a junk life. The quality of life suffers. Yoga is a system, which ultimately points us back to ourselves. We are not only saving the world, but also ourselves.



Try kaya kriya to overcome physical and psychological traumas

Yoga is a method to get rid of traumas that can become chronic. As I sat watching myself, I realized how much I had misused my body. I constantly remind myself to sit straight and relaxed. The muscles can become tight due to wrong posture and emotions. Traumas which we have gone through as children or even when we are in the womb get stored in the muscular and nervous system. Conscious effort to achieve the right posture and breathing helps release these traumas stored in the body. These traumas manifest themselves as aches and pains.

I rarely meet anyone who does not have backache, headache or heartache.

We are constantly pushing ourselves to achieve more, and this causes disharmony between mind and body. This mentality has been imbibed from our parents and others. In yoga, we are looking at releasing traumas and becoming more comfortable with ourselves.

Though we may intellectually understand the concept, we need to internalize it. We have seen people who constantly change hairstyles, boyfriends/girlfriends or identities in the hope of becoming comfortable. As much as I am in favor of a good hairstyle or girlfriend, continual dissatisfaction is a dis-ease or lack of ease that needs to be addressed. The external signs are just an indicator of our internal state. We repeat the same patterns irrespective of the person or place and need to learn to break out of the loop. Of course, this internal quest is the starting point of growth and change. So we need to balance this restlessness with positive movement, driven by the higher goal of rising above our behavioral pattern. We should change what needs to be changed externally and also see what internal changes are necessary.

The Kaya Kriya
`Kaya’ means `body’ and the body is an indicator of sub-conscious conditioning. A person’s body language can communicate a lot about him. The kaya kriya cleanses the body of physical and psychological traumas. It helps release tension and aids in the healing of injury caused by accidents, abuse, traumas. It is a combination of conscious bodywork and pranayama.

Technique: Lie in the Mrityu (death) asana. In this position, one lies on the back with feet apart. It is similar to shavasana (corpse). However, in the classical shavasana, the feet are kept together to maintain the energy circuit. Take a few deep breaths. Roll the feet inwards so that the big toes touch the ground and each other. Breathe into the lower lobes of the lungs deeply. This lower lung breath is called the adham pranayama. Then roll the feet out and breath out. Do 9-12 rounds.

Roll the arms outwards and breathe into the mid-chest in madhyam pranayama. Roll the arms in and breathe out. Do 9-12 rounds.

Roll the neck to the right side. Roll it to the maximum and breathe into the upper chest or adhyam pranayama. Then roll the neck to the left as you breathe out. Do 9-12 rounds.

Now practice all the three movements together. As you breathe in, roll the feet in, arms out and head to the right. As you breathe out, roll the feet out, arms in and head to the left.

Do 9-12 rounds till you are completely relaxed. This is an excellent relaxation and concentration device. One can move into a state of meditation through the body.



Yoga helps you put everything to right use

Swami Gitananda defines a righteous person as one who puts all things to right use. Many are unwilling to make use of things or resources. There is a fear of abuse or of being abused. Once you allow yourself to be used, then the line between use and misuse becomes very thin.


For example, I may be an empathetic listener. I don’t mind people pouring their heart out. However, when it becomes a demand, I know where to draw the line. This may be met with sullenness or even aggression, but we need to keep such people at bay.

The minute we sense the line has extended from use to abuse, we have to assert our boundaries not just through words but also through actions.

The inability to express our displeasure can be mistaken for niceness. That is why in Asht anga Yoga, the first anga or limb is that of yama. Yama is control or the capacity to say `no’. We should be aware not to step on others’ toes, nor do we allow them to step on ours.

The law of atrophy
This law states “what you don’t use you lose”. People who meet with accidents are put through physiotherapy sessions so that the affected part regains its function. It is only by using that part of the body can its function be maximized. Similarly, only when you use your mind will its capacity develop. The emotions also need healthy expression. The more we love, the more we can love.

Sensitization to self-abuse
Today’s environment breeds abuse. We abuse the environment, we abuse power, our body and anything and everybody we can. This springs from a lack of self-respect. We don’t do this to hurt anybody but for self-preservation. This self-preservation gets distorted from need to greed. We ensure our survival by encroaching upon others’ territory.

The body immediately reacts to encroachment. The muscles tighten; we become tense; and breathing gets shallow. The more sensitive we become, the better we will be able to assess the situations and people causing this encroachment. Then we can step aside and decide what to do about these power struggles rather than reinforcing them. Sensitivity helps us identify our abusive patterns. We may abuse ourselves through drugs, cigarettes or junk food. Or it may be late nights, unhealthy expectations or unhealthy friends.

Even on a physical level, we are advised rest if we have abused our system. While lifting heavy objects, we can easily hurt our back if we do it unconsciously. We can avoid exertion, if we do things the right way. This awareness of use, abuse and misuse is what yoga brings to our life. It helps us put everything to right use.



When we identify too much with a clan, we tend to become clones rather than develop the capacity to think for ourselves

I was invited to speak at the International Yoga Conference. One of the other speakers was Asana Andiappan. He was past his seventies. His speech was interrupted by a couple of people who disagreed with him. Though I could understand why they disagreed with him, I am sure it was not easy for him to be cross-questioned. After his speech, I saw him complaining to his son who was in his mid-twenties.

His son came to the dais, introduced himself and spoke of how his father not only preached yoga but also practiced it. I was glad to see a son vindicate his father. Asana Andiappan had turned to his clan, lineage or kula for support. His son and student was part of the kula. The kula can be of great support in times of need. Whenever we face difficulties, we turn to the kula deivam for support. Modern day kulas are many. They can be the organization one works for, an association, a sports teams or a peer group.

Training ground
The kulas give us a sense of belonging. Looking at our kula will help us see the patterns of behavior we have picked up. It is like looking at someone’s family background. The family or kula is a training ground and can give an indication of the training a person has undergone. This training happens without the child being even conscious of it and it picks up the habits that are part of the kula. A gurukula is a space where training is imparted with awareness so that a student may become aware of the areas where he needs training. His goal is to see the truth behind the training. Though a training ground is important, it can easily foster a herd mentality and hence it is important to individuate. When we identify too much with a clan, be it religious or recreational, we tend to become clones rather than develop the capacity to think for ourselves.

Sense of belonging
We need to constantly create spaces where we feel we belong to ourselves. I find a lot of people feeling alienated from the world or their families. A sense of belonging is important and that is why one has to consciously decide what are the ideals one stands for. We not only find an external place of belonging but can also create internal spaces of belonging. This will happen when we are more in touch with ourselves. Then we have a choice as to how we can train ourselves, be it waking up early, not watching too much television or giving vent to pent up emotions. The word `Guru’ means `dispeller of darkness’. The gurukula starts off as an external space; however, one has to finally find the light and anchor within. Be careful as to what your anchors are. Are you part of a junk food kula or a gossip kula or a couch potato kula? Some kulas, however, may not be so obviously dysfunctional. Find spaces that help you feel the expanse within.



Don’t ignore the messages your body and being send to you

I saw a man riding a TVS moped on which six goats hung precariously. I stopped him and asked if he knew it was a punishable offense apart from it being cruelty to the animals. He said the goats were not hurt or bleeding but later apologized for the lack of awareness. Many times, I have ignored my space and time being encroached upon. The importance of awareness is learning the hard way in life. So, the entire lesson of our lives is to BE-AWARE. Ignorance springs from a tendency to ignore the messages our body and being send to us. It is an ongoing process and not a one-time solution. Being free is accepting life situations, even when we have to notice things about ourselves that do not fit into our self-image.

Taking risks
In life, we are mostly driven unconsciously. However, when Moksha (freedom from a conditioned limited state of being) is our goal, our life will somehow lead us to it. Many times we may feel we are groping in the darkness of Tamas (dullness, inertia). And then there are sparks of consciousness. Even if one does not understand the process but learns to accept it, life takes us to newer levels when there is sincerity. The process for attaining freedom from old patterns is to slip into new ways of being. You have to risk relating to a new you.

The arrogance of ignorance
The more ignorant the person, the more arrogant he is. Arrogance is different from self-esteem. A boorish mentality will always encroach upon the subtle. Those who allow loud speakers to blare, those who smoke without regard for others and those who misuse information and people are all examples of such a mentality.

How does one act in response to such encroachments upon one’s space? It takes discernment and trust in the universe. Sometimes, a soft reminder to make them aware of what they are doing and at other times aggressive action may be required. More than the act, the intention behind it is important. One has to relate from a space of strength and not weakness. Sometimes, one tries to forgive because one thinks one has to. This is the worst, especially when one has not learn to stand up for oneself. This causes depression. These repressed emotions will affect the body and manifest themselves in the form of backache, headache, ulcer and other psychosomatic illnesses.

Technique of body awareness
Through this simple yet effective body awareness technique, we can be aware of any energy blocks. Sit on the chair or floor with back straight. Scan your body from the tip of your toes moving to your feet, ankles, each body part and to your head. Just sit for a while being completely aware of your body. Concentrate on the areas of pain and help relax the areas that are tense or taut.



Enhance pranic flow and broaden your perspective



What got me writing this piece is the interest evinced by a reader about the hindrances to the flow of prana. The limited sense of self is what hinders pranic flow. The more we identify with one aspect or function of ourselves, the more we let prana flow in that direction alone. For example, if the hand is used in one particular direction alone, then it is flexible to that extent and a lack of ease is felt in other positions.

Similarly, by repeated use of the mind in a particular function, a habit is formed. Repeated use cultivates either a negative or positive habit. The mind starts identifying with that habit. So we identify with the role we play which may be that of a mother or a manager, which is a sum of habits, and fail to see we are much beyond that. We may also identify with our habitual ways of dealing with emotions and think of ourselves as an angry or sad person. This is a narrow perspective and hinders the flow of prana.

Enhancing pranic flow
Yoga is a practical approach to becoming one with the cosmos. The cosmos has an intelligent design that has a free flow of prana. One sees that by being aware of all aspects of our lives we can enhance the pranic flow. Through awareness we can replace negative habits with positive ones and then rise above them – lifestyle habits, emotional habits and thinking habits.

All Hatha yoga practices work on developing consciousness because the body has developed its habitual ways of sitting, breathing, or holding onto emotional stress. The Gnyana yoga kriyas use the mind that could block prana to open itself to higher realities. One such gnyana yoga practice is given below.

The Nadi Gnyana Kriya

This kriya helps bring awareness about all pranic pathways and release tension. We look at the blocks in an impersonal way. Pain is simply released rather than it becoming “My pain”. One gets so attached to it that one does not want to let go of the pain for months or years. I’ve known people who still speak about how someone had hurt them when they were five years old. This pain is constantly ruminated upon, leading to the formation of a negative circuit. Then they find the next person to blame. We need to be aware and break this loop of negativity. Consciousness clogged by unworthy thoughts makes it dull and muddy. The Nadi Gnyana Kriya is an excellent way to get rid of years of garbage. Like we take a bath regularly, we need to cleanse our psyche.

The technique

Lie with head towards the North in shava asana. As given in the polarity practice earlier, do 5-6 rounds of the savithri pranayama. Then imagine you are a pipe and the heaviness, the mud or dirt. Then visualize the dirt rushing from the top of your head and feel it rumbling out of your feet. You may visualize the cleansing agent as water, air or light. Continue till you feel clean and relaxed. Lie for 5-10 minutes and then do deep breathing to get back to an active state. Practice the kriya regularly and you will see that you have developed a broader perspective towards life.



Yoga helps you make optimal use of prana or energy

Yoga increases awareness and energy levels. The world today needs synergy. Synergy is a conscious `syn’chronisation of energy for a higher goal. Biologist Lyall Watson in his book “Life Tide” speaks of the Hundredth Monkey Syndrome where members of a species communicate with one another telepathically. I’ve had the experience many times; when I think of someone, I either receive a call or just bump into that person. Or the thought and the occurrence are in sync. This connectivity not only with fellow humans but also with a cosmic intelligence is well explored in Yoga.

Yogic practices help us become more receptive to the connection that is already there with the intelligent design. It helps us to be in sync with the Supreme. Or if you feel you are doing the same thing, remember it can become an addiction.

What is prana?
Energy is called prana in Sanskrit. Anu is an atom or a single unit. Pra is prior. Thus prana is that which pervaded before there was manifest matter.Energy or prana is the driving force. Energy does not have intent. It is like electricity. It can heat or cool. Like electricity, it flows through psychic wires or nadis. There are 72,000 nadis.

Energy dynamics
These channels get clogged due to wrong lifestyle and attitudes. The energy pathways are cleansed in yogic practices so that prana can flow through more easily. This has to be done gently. If one forces prana, they will short circuit themselves. Some want to grow fast without sufficient purification of the nadis. One may want to grab another ones talent, their state of being or the person itself. Though this person may initially feel that he/she is getting a lot of energy in this manner, he/she will also have to deal with the intense electrical impulses that his/her nervous system may not be ready for. This results in uncontrolled, extreme emotional states. A good synergy internally is when a person’s mind allows his material desires to unfold rather than resisting them. Externally, there is good synergy when two or more people can combine energy for a common goal. It is a conscious decision to move in a particular direction. It is a means of propelling growth through teamwork.

Exercise and yoga
In exercise, we merely apply the body. Still it is beneficial. In yoga, we apply the mind as well as the breath along with the body. So, it is a synergy of body, emotions and mind. This increases the benefits exponentially. The bridge between the body and the mind is prana. Prana is much more than breath. It is the subtle force that pervades everything. It is like an electromagnetic field. It is harnessed from air but is not air itself. Similarly, it can be obtained from food, water, positive thoughts as well as the pranic field of positive people. That’s why if you spend too much time with someone who is negative or depressed, you end up feeling tired or low on prana. Yoga is being aware of optimizing prana. One is also conscious of using prana positively. Energy and being in sync with our higher intelligence are the two principles that help our lives move effortlessly.



With yoga, you can make the mind work in harmony with the body

A couple of years ago, I conducted an 11-day workshop for the Symbiosis Institute of Management. On the first day, the participants were enthusiastic and alert. It was scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The next 10 days were two-hour sessions scheduled at 6 in the morning. I soon realized the focus needed to be on relaxation. Shavasana accompanied with kriyas (movements co-ordinates with breath) for letting go of tension was much needed. The students had pushed themselves because of examination and assignment pressures. Many complained of backache, restlessness and fatigue. Some were very sick. The mind had made the body to overstretch itself. This indicated that the mind was dominating over the body instead of working in harmony with it.

When two entities or organisms work or live together, then the relationship is symbiotic. There are different symbiotic relationships depending on whether the relationship benefits one or both the associates. Survival of the fittest is the rule of the jungle. In today’s age, it is survival of the smartest people. Many believe if they outsmart others, they can survive. They cause suffering to others to feed their needs and desires. In biological terms, this kind of symbiosis is called parasitism. So if you find such people, you have all the right to move or push them away. Or if you feel you are doing the same thing, remember it can become an addiction.

Synchronization of energy when directed towards a common, positive goal is beneficial to both. The strengths of two or more members can be used to propel the evolution of all involved. In the yogic system, the gurukula is such a set-up where the student and the teacher are benefited. If this is kept in mind, then disharmony arising from competition can be avoided. This does not mean there is harmony always. The teacher or co-students may mirror the student, which he/she may resent. This is in fact to show the student his own parasitic pattern or his indulgence of a parasite so that he may change.

Biologist Lynn Margulis says symbiosis is a major driving force behind evolution. She considers Darwin’s notion of evolution, driven by competition, as incomplete, and claims evolution is strongly based on co-operation, interaction, and mutual dependence among organisms.

According to Margulis and Sagan (1986), “Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.” As in humans, organisms that cooperate with others of their own or different species often outdo those that don’t.

Win-win situation
Thus one has to move consciously to a state of mutually beneficial associations. This is true yoga or yuj or union. It is a win-win situation. This kind of symbiosis is called mutualism in biology.

Yoga is an excellent methodology to train the mind to work in harmony with the body. Not force the body into contortions. This internal synergy will reflect itself as an external harmony. We automatically enlist others to combine their resources rather than force them. Thus we co-create harmonious environments.

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Jathis or conscious movements helps to regulate the functions of various parts of the body

We are getting busier by the day. The discovery of washing machines, telephones, computers and other time and energy saving devices does not seem to have eased our nerves. In fact, people seem more frazzled than ever. We feel pushed, shoved and living another ones wish. Demanding markets and cutthroat competition are the words associated with life today.

Then, how does one remain reasonably relaxed in such an environment?
The key is self-awareness, an awareness of our own pace.

Tune in
We need to learn to tune in to our own rhythm; else we are constantly dancing to the tunes of others. We can see this either in the work environment or in our personal lives.

To tune in, we need a mind that is turned inward. This sort of tuning in is like tuning an instrument, which can be perfected over a period of time. In the beginning, we will most likely be off pitch but slowly we will learn the keys to harmonic sound.

At different phases in our life, we will find we have to adopt a different pace. When we have overstretched ourselves, we need to regain our balance by giving ourselves some time off. This is where the art of saying “NO” is important. We need to prioritize. Else, we will find ourselves pulled in different directions. When we ignore our internal rhythm, we will learn our lessons from life the hard way. Disease is the way the body tells us to slow down. It is actually a means of self-preservation. Else, we will burn ourselves out. So disease, when viewed as a message, can be a beautiful indicator that helps us re-connect to our own bodies and emotions.

The incidence of disease, especially heart disease, is on the rise. This is a sign that our bodies are desperate for attention.

Body awareness
When we practise yogic techniques, we always start with jathis. A jathi is a conscious movement. When a movement is done consciously we move to our internal beat or rhythm. Irrespective of what goes on around, this beat helps us move with lightness and grace. There are many jathis for different joints and parts of the body. There is no competition and one does not do them fast in the beginning.

Yet, somehow, we tend to feel fast is better. Imagine if our hearts felt the same way. If they decided to beat much faster than their regular 72 times a minute, we could end up with a burst blood vessel. That is what is happening these days. Our hearts feel pushed by our competitive drives and we end up with high blood pressure. So the beat is there to regulate and regularize it. Similarly, jathis for different parts of the body help regulate and regularize the functions of that part when practiced regularly.

Through this regular tuning-in, we see life begins to move gracefully. We walk with joy and the journey becomes as beautiful as the destination.

We find that our systems begin to co-operate and work as a team. We will not need an artificial pacemaker to set things right for us.

A fortnightly column on yoga and holistic health



Balance the right and left sides of the brain for a sense of well-being

Yogic polarity as we saw the last time is the harmonious interaction between (so called) opposites. Loma is masculine or warm and viloma is feminine or cool. `Ha’ indicates the `sun’ and `tha’ the `moon’ in Hatha yoga.


While practising the asanas and pranayamas it can be either loma or viloma depending on the movement of energy. When we bend forward it is loma. Backward bends are viloma.

Breathing through the right nostril is loma and through the left is viloma.Breathing through the right nostril activates the left side of the brain and vice versa. The left side of the brain is termed as the masculine side.

Its functions:
Logic, linearity, lists, analytical, sequential, looks at parts, words, practical and safe.

Functions of the feminine right side of the brain:
Feeling, lateral thinking, creative, synthesizing, intuitive, looks at whole, symbols and images, impetuous and risk taking.

Yogic practices help balance and establish a harmonious interaction between the two sides of the brain. Thought different, one is not better than the other. However, the modern education system is more left brain-based.

The left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and vice versa. Hence, working consciously on the right side of the body impacts the left-brain and vice versa.

The Anu Loma Viloma Kriya is a practice that regulates the masculine and feminine aspects. It soothes and rebuilds the nervous system. It helps blend extremes. It regulates the electrical flow in the nervous system. Deep relaxation is produced during this practice that facilitates healing.

The technique
This is best learned under the guidance of a teacher. However, to see the ingenuity of the yogis in facilitating masculine-feminine balance is fascinating.

This kriya is done in shava asana with the head to the north. Breathe in the savithri rhythm 8:4-8:4, that is one breathes in for eight counts, holds the breath for four counts, breaths out for eight and holds for four counts. After 6-9 rounds of this start visualizing a golden warm solar energy from above the head moving downwards to the feet, penetrating the entire body. Hold in the breath below. Then on the out breath visualize a silvery cool energy moving upwards. Hold out the breath above the head. Continue for 5-10 minutes till a deep state of relaxation is reached. One needs to have a good grip of pranayama to practice this kriya and you can see the importance of starting with the basics.

A combination of body posture, breath and visualization was used by the ancient researchers to balance and build the system. There is a sense of well being, wholeness and abundance when one is in a state of polarity. Whatever we need, will come to us.

If you find yourself lacking then most likely the nervous system has been dissipated. Practice polarity and regain a sense of psychic and material prosperity.

(A fortnightly column on yoga and holistic health)



Polarity enables harmonious interactions

On December 30 was a guru puja at the Kambali Swami madam in Pondicherry. I was happy to be there just before the New Year. The decorations, fragrances and the people around added to the ambiance. Mantras and bhajans filled the air. I remembered the time when my grandfather would chant on Saturdays and the main attraction for being there was the sundal (chick peas) and chakra pongal (sweet rice). I have evolved beyond that, not that my taste for either has diminished but now there are other reasons too. I want to absorb the energies that would help me grow.

Yogic practices are aimed at perfecting polarity. In magnetism, like poles repel and opposites attract. In the polarity of romantic love opposites attract yet similarities endure. Cellular polarity is necessary for harmonious physiological functioning. Cosmic polarity or the order of magnetic, gravitational, time and energy fluxes on earth enable life to thrive here. Yogic polarity is the harmonious interaction between opposites.

The asanas are a means of cultivating harmonious communication between different parts of the body so that they work as a team. There is communication between the head and the feet, between the left and right side and between the front and back of the body. Pranayamas help interactions between emotions. We accept and allow communication among so-called opposite emotions such as love and hate, fear and trust and worry and ease.

The techniques facilitate harmonious interaction between the body, emotions and mind. They facilitate energy movement between the right and left sides of the brain and between the conscious, sub-conscious and UN-conscious mind.

There are many aspects of our lives that can cause De-polarity. The food we take, our lifestyle, our emotions that are suppressed, improper breathing habits, the people we associate with and our thoughts can make us De-polarised depending on their quality and quantity.

Signs of being depolarized
On a physical level it manifests as body aches, disease and fatigue. On an emotional level one feels off color, there is depression, rage, anxiety, dis-interest or excessive fear.

Mentally one is unfocussed, forgetful, agitated or negative. People who are constantly blaming others or themselves and morose are De-polarised.

Ways of re-establishing polarity
The yogic system has an elaborate and comprehensive means for the cultivation of polarity. The many things that can be used as aids to cultivate polarity are food, lifestyle and moral habits. The asanas, pranayamas and specific polarity kriyas are techniques available for re-establishing harmony. In the paramparya of Dr. Swami Gitananda, there are specific polarity visualizations that aid prana (energy) to move harmoniously. It does take a lot of practice and concentration.

Sometimes one needs a lazy man’s guide to polarity. I visited the Quiet Healing Center and looked at the therapies available. The one that caught my eye was “polarity therapy”. It was true to its name. I rushed to be on time for the appointment and the session started just late enough to give me time to relax. That was a good start, and spoke of things to come. When one is polarized everything moves in harmony and things fall into place.

Ayurvedic therapies and treatments like reflexology, aromatherapy, music therapy, various healing massages and body work are also a means of bringing harmony back into the system. Of course to find a good therapist is the challenge.

A polarized person exudes positivism. Not the ungrounded enthusiasm that can be observed in those who are unstable. People cannot but be attracted to this energy. Being polarized is a sure way to becoming popular. One’s consciousness expands to see opposite viewpoints and hence such energy can bring about a new-order of harmony.



Magic mantras for a better you

Chanting mantras is a discipline or practice of positive thinking

On December 30 was a guru puja at the Kambali Swami madam in Pondicherry. I was happy to be there just before the New Year. The decorations, fragrances and the people around added to the ambiance. Mantras and bhajans filled the air.


I remembered the time when my grandfather would chant on Saturdays and the main attraction for being there was the sundal (chick peas) and chakra pongal (sweet rice). I have evolved beyond that, not that my taste for either has diminished but now there are other reasons too. I want to absorb the energies that would help me grow.

A mantra is a fascinating tool in the yogic science and is a combination of sound vibrations, positive words and rhythm. It is a tool to redirect the manas or the mind that is easily influenced by the emotions. It is a tool to tune into our highest. Most self-help books speak of the power of positive thinking.

The rishis (researchers) had discovered this principle many centuries ago and had made it part of their lifestyle.Chanting mantras is a discipline or practice of positive thinking. Instead of giving in to the theme “life is hopeless, people are hopeless, I am hopeless” we redirect our thoughts to that which is positive. The mind is like a stuck tape recorder that goes on and on with its negative thoughts. The practice of positive affirmations is good to replace negativity. We are affirming to ourselves what we consciously chose. Thus by daily saying, “I am healthy and happy” we are firmly telling (affirming) ourselves that this is the reality we want to create. The yogis had many positive affirmations. When repeated often and practiced regularly they go deep into the sub-conscious mind. In Christianity also the japa mala is used. The chanting of the “Hail Mary” using the rosary is common.

Chanting is sometimes taken to be part of some black cult. I have heard many use the expression, “mayam, manthiram” (magic mantras or illusions). You get the impression that you can go to a magician and he will give you a charm or thread that will bring you whatever you want. Sure, anything can be misused. However the real aim of the mantras or charms is to make each one of us be in touch with our own charm. What can be more charming than one who is happy to be oneself, with all one’s strengths and inadequacies? You will be charmed each day with yourself if you see the infinite potential in you and redirected your life so that you may realize it. You will be a charming person and create a charming life for yourself. So go ahead and have the most charming year yet!

A fortnightly column on yoga and holistic health



It’s good to have a goal in mind but don’t get too hung on it

Just before the New Year I was taking some yoga sessions at the “yuva veer” camp of the Chinmaya mission. The youngsters were eager aspirants on the spiritual path and had committed to serving the mission for 20 months after their four-month residential training. The young women in the camp jumped up when they heard the word “yoga” and asked me if I could help them loose weight. Once again I was faced with the most common expectations attached to yoga.


Not wanting to disappoint the girls, I told them that it was a positive side effect of practicing yoga. Not the goal. Whatever our sankalpas (resolutions) yoga will help us move towards it. So we have to be aware of the sankalpas we create. The sankalpas that the rishis or researchers, as I prefer to call them, recommend, is going back to our true or original nature. Our original nature is sat (truth/ultimate reality) chit (pure consciousness) and anandam (bliss).

Nowadays the sankalpas or resolutions are recommended to us by various other sources, a major contributor being the media. Everyone is scrambling to fitness centers to look like supermodels. Of course, life is not worth living if we don’t possess the success or coolness thrust by the latest bestseller or movie.

Living others’ dreams
Even before we realize it, these media created resolves, have infiltrated our psyche. We crave to be perfect, at least externally and strive to live another ones dream. This undue pressure will only breed insanity. So we must learn to create sankalpas that help us retain or move towards our original sense of sanity and stability. To become who we truly are step by step. Such a kalpana or conscious dream is in tune with sat or the ultimate reality. We need to create sat kalpanas. There is nothing wrong in visualizing a beautiful body and creating it. In fact a yogic body is beautiful. It is also an integrated body, where the body, emotions and mind are in harmony. When there is harmony there is joy, not denial and unhealthy competition. Unhealthy competition causes mental and physical imbalances. One of the boys at the camp remarked, “The girls are torturing themselves, and are not eating. Yet they have not lost much weight. However the boys eat well, play well and have managed to loose more weight and have flat stomachs.” So enjoy yourself as you create your harmonious reality. Keep the goal in mind but don’t get too hung on it. Breathe deeply so you have space to grow. Sit firmly so you can ground. Sleep enough, eat sensibly and laugh heartily and things will fall into place. Before you know it you would have materialized your positive visualizations.



Neck pain is quite common these days. Here are some preventive techniques


STRETCH GENTLY This jathi will help ease sore neck muscles

After one practices the toe touching jathi, mentioned in the previous article, one may feel a tension in the neck and shoulders. An important part of body awareness is to release tension as and when we experience it. The accumulated stress can be released through simple neck stretches. The neck consists of seven cervical vertebrae. The top most bone of the cervical vertebrae is called the atlas. In Greek mythology, Atlas holds up the sky, separating it from the earth. The bone atlas holds up the sky, our head. It connects this vast expansive instrument of thought to our body, which is the ground for these ideas to materialize.

The neck is an important area because of this connection between heaven and earth, between thought and action, between intellectualizing and living, between thinking and being. The neck protects all the nerves that go from the head to other parts of the body. Hence injuries or accidents that cause structural imbalances in this region can lead to a lot of problems.

Due to physical or emotional accidents, the neck can be subjected to a great deal of stress. Symptoms of damage include dizziness, pain in the neck and shoulder region, radiating pain to the arms, memory loss and in some cases, even partial paralysis. This pain can be there either due to a muscle or ligament tear or a prolapsed disc. In both cases, the damage may not be evident in an X-ray and the neck has to be dealt with gently.

Neck pain and cervical spondylosis are quite common these days and even if you do not suffer from them, preventive techniques can be followed. Yoga is not merely a science of healing; it’s mainly a science of prevention. By focusing and working on the neck region we can be more aware of the impulses that the brain sends to the body.

The technique: Bring your hands to the ground and lean back. Gently move your neck to the left and to the right as if touching ear to shoulders. Do this nine times. Then gently and loosely shake your head like you are saying `No’ and then keep nodding like you are saying `Yes’. Feel the ease in the head, neck and shoulders.

Now stretch the neck to the right and hold the position. Breathe in and out deeply by focusing your mind on that region. Enjoy the prana (life force energy) moving to where your mind is. You will feel your muscles ease and elongate. Now stretch your neck to the left and hold. Breathe in while you stretch and feel the sense of well being fill you. Release. Once again shake your head saying `No’ and `Yes’. This can be done even if you’re seated on a chair. This jathi is excellent to prevent neck strain, which is the result of sitting for hours in front of the computer.



Here are the benefits of the toe-touching jathi

A stretch that relaxes the backWhat we see and desire is where we want to be. Nowadays there are many things that grab our attention and so we desire it. However, this desire lasts as long as the next attractive thing catches our fancy. With yoga, we learn to desire things that are good for us and ultimately desire to be free of desire. When we aim to reach the stars, at least we can be sure of reaching the treetops.

In this particular jathi (conscious, rhythmic movement), the mind aims to reach the toes in order to stretch the back. The stretch starts from the lower back extending all the way to the shoulders and the tips of the fingers. Be aware of keeping the fingers together. The fingers denote the senses and by keeping them together we are aware that our senses are disciplined.

Focused mind

When the mind is focused on the toes, you will find that with time you will easily be able to touch your toes. When a child looks at a mango on a tree and aims to reach it, his entire focus is on the mango. You can be sure he will get it somehow. Either he will jump to reach it or enlist the help of someone who is taller. So also in yogic life, when we have higher aspirations they may seem unreachable. However when we are focused and determined like children, we enlist the help of the entire universe. Even people of higher stature, our gurus, will stand by us in our endeavor. Help will come from many directions. So when you start practicing this jathi and feel it’s difficult, do not get discouraged. Stay resolute and you will realize your goal. Do take breaks when you are tired. The aim is to enjoy the journey as well as the goal. So be aware and do around nine rounds and then give yourself a break. These breaks actually help stretch and lengthen the muscles. But don’t push yourself too far. Tired muscles are less elastic. The more number of times you push a muscle to do a task, it leaves a kin-esthetic memory, which may cause it to lose some of its flexibility instead of increasing it.

The technique: Sit with your back straight and feet outstretched. Bend your left knee over your right. Stretch, reaching for your right toes. Keep reaching and releasing, each time being aware of how your back feels. Let the movement be slow, gentle and rhythmic. See to it that there are no fast or jerky movements. Practice for a few minutes or until you get tired. Then you can hold onto your feet or wherever you can reach and stay in that position for 30 seconds. Remember to breathe while doing the stretch. This will further stretch and loosen the muscles. Then release the left foot. Now bend the right foot and reach for your left toes. Once again stretch gently. Then hold the position and release.



Here’s a jathi that helps relax the hip joints

IMPROVES FLEXIBILITY Of the hip jointsThis jathi works beautifully on loosening the hip joints. The hip joints can lose mobility due to constantly sitting on chairs. Most Indians have much more flexible hip joints due to the traditional method of sitting cross-legged. This posture works on opening out the hip joint. This jathi gives the much-needed circulation to the hips.

The bouncing movements make the body feel light. Take care to do it gently and regularly and you will find that your legs and hips are ready to walk in the right direction. It will literally bring a bounce back to your step.

Constant fear of the future and fear of failure bring about pranic blocks in the pelvic and lower back regions. The stress to achieve is so much that many youngsters end up with back pain. This constant fear throws their body off balance.

This jathi loosens up the lower back region as well. Practicing the jathi enhances our creative approach to life. It helps us bounce back from life’s disappointments. If we are stuck in the linear survival-oriented thinking, we miss out on the many connections that are possible with fellow humans as well as the world around us. The more the fear, the more the disconnect. The leg bounce brings about a beautiful connection between the legs, the knees, the hips, the lower back and the pelvic region.

The technique

Sit comfortably on the floor with feet stretched out and back as straight as possible. Bring the right leg over the left thigh. Bounce for as long as is comfortable. Feel the movement of the legs. Be aware of how the muscles are feeling. Be aware of any discomfort. Keep the mind focused on the movement and enjoy it. Doing it with awareness enhances the pranic (energy) flow. Then alternate and bring the left leg over the right thigh. Bounce the foot. Then relax the feet by loosely shaking them and thumping the thighs. This can also be done sitting on a chair, if the person is not able to sit on the ground.



The leg to hand swinging movement not only soothes but also stretches out the muscles of the hands and feet.


This jathi helps build flexibility in the body

Any gentle swinging movement is soothing and comforting. It brings a nice rhythm into the system. It smooths out the pranamaya kosha, also referred to as the bio-magnetic field or the aura. It releases tension and helps when there is dissipation of the nervous system. The swinging movement is used to pacify a baby. The swinging or rocking motion of the cradle helps put the baby to sleep. Even the sight of the rocking waves comforts us.

It releases worries. The leg to hand swinging movement not only soothes but also stretches out the muscles of the hands and feet. Right from the shoulders to the fingers, the muscles are given a good stretch. The swinging enables co-ordination between hands and legs and puts the body to use in a way that we have rarely explored earlier. This is the advantage of the conscious movement. By working on the body consciously, we are reducing the risk of rigid muscles as well as mindsets. Spasticity of the muscle is helped.

where the muscles become rigid due to damage to the nerves.The signals are not sent or distorted thus causing anything from slight stiffness to extreme and debilitating rigidity. The damage to the nerves can be due to physical or emotional accidents, cerebral palsy or other ailments. This jathi is beneficial in such cases. This jathi is extremely useful for athletes who want to build flexibility and agility in the body. The jathis are useful not only in curing but also in preventing degenerative conditions. With regular practice, you will feel younger. The muscles atrophy if they are not used and the jathis prevent and even reverse the loss of muscle movement.

The technique
Loosen your legs by shaking them and thumping the thighs on the floor. With your right hand, hold onto your right foot and swing it from side to side. In the beginning, you may not be able to keep the knees straight. Be gentle and don’t overstretch. Do 6-9 swings on the right side and then gently release your foot. Now, with the left hand, hold onto the left leg and swing 6-9 times and release. Then relax the feet by shaking. As you progress, increase the number of swings. Then you can also co-ordinate moving the head with the leg swings. As you swing the leg out, turn the head in the opposite direction. So if you are swinging the right leg to the right side, then turn the head to the left. Similarly, do it with the left leg.