THE COMPLETE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO PADMASANA

Did you know that 74% of Indians are suffering from stress and 88% suffer from anxiety?  Depression, anxiety and stress levels around the world has hit an all time high. 

Are you one of them?

Then let me tell you that out of all the options available to manage stress, yoga is the one that has proved to be a guaranteed solution. 

And in all acts of meditation and pranayama in yoga, Padmasana is considered as the king of asanas. It not only helps you beat stress but also relax your mind, body and your entire nervous system.

Now you are thinking it is something only for advanced yoga practitioners, not my cup of tea. 

Then let me make it your cup of tea.  Admittedly, it would be easier for someone who has been practising yoga for a long time, to achieve this pose.  But there is no reason why you, as a beginner should not try and achieve it.

Here is a simplified yet effective method if you are a novice at this.

If you try to sit in Padmasana right away, without ever exercising, you are going to fail or worse, end up hurting yourself if you force it.  I am not trying to scare you.  But it is important to understand the process before you attempt it.  This step by step guide teaches you first how to prepare your body for the asana before you are able to achieve it.

Understanding Padmasana

Padmasana, also called as Lotus pose is a practice as old as time itself.  Padma meaning lotus and asana meaning pose, padmasana is a cross-legged sitting position typically used during meditation and pranayama.  Look anywhere in the ancient history of India, you see the sages, Hindu deities, icons of Buddhism and Jainism commonly assuming the padmasana.  

I am not going to tell you the fastest way to achieve this.  I will not promise you that you will be able to sit in padmasana within a short stipulated time. 

You must know that it all depends on your body, flexibility of your limbs and essentially, your practice.  While some may achieve it in one day, some others may take weeks, months or even years.  But regular practice is the secret if you want to see tangible results.  It is like an investment with compounding returns. 

Indians and easterners are one step ahead as compared to westerners because we have grown up practicing the common cross legged sitting position since childhood and have relatively flexible legs.  It can be considered a job half-done to prepare for padmasana.  People who are typically used to sitting on chairs may take a little longer to achieve this pose. 

Benefits of Padmasana

In today’s world people are constantly on the run.  Deadlines, targets and goals are always rushing you around.  Life is chaotic and your mind is always restless.

Padmasana quiets the noise around you and draws your awareness from the outside world to the inner being.     

It may seem like a person is simply sitting, but its benefits are beyond simple.    It is a key to bring about balance in four territories of your body; head, trunk, hands and legs.  Your mind rests effectively on the spinal segment resulting in psychosomatic harmony.  The various benefits of practicing padmasana are: 

  • Relieves anxiety.
  • Brings down stress levels.
  • Improves digestion.
  • Reduces menstrual discomfort.
  • Reduces muscular tension and brings blood pressure under control.
  • Strengthens knee joints.
  • Opens your hips and improves flexibility in knees and ankles.
  • Improves posture.
  • Helps to remove unwanted fat from the hip and thighs.
  • Helps pregnant ladies during child-birth.
  • Awakens your mental, physical and spiritual energy.

You can read what Inquirer.net has to say about the many advantages of practising padmasana.

https://usa.inquirer.net/19999/padmasana-benefits-the-lotus-pose-is-more-than-just-a-stretch

How to prepare your body for Padmasana?

Padmasana makes use of three key sections of your body – hip, knee and the ankle. This pose is difficult for most people because of stiffness in the said regions.  Therefore to begin with, you prepare each of these sections individually.  These warm up exercises are a must before you attempt the pose. 

Ankles:

a. Sit with your spine erect with your legs stretched straight before you.  (Sit on a yoga mat or a well carpeted area)

b. Rotate your ankles in the clockwise direction.

c. Now rotate them in anti-clockwise direction.

d. Bend your ankle backwards towards you while inhaling. Now bend it forwards pushing your toes and exhale at the same time.

e. Repeat each of the exercises for at least five times.

Knees:

a. Sit with your spine erect on the floor with your legs stretched straight before you.

b. Fold your right leg backwards bending at the knee while holding your thigh for support.

c. Rotate your leg from the knee down in clockwise and anti-clockwise directions.

d. Now fold your leg and unfold it front and back.

e. Do the above steps with your left leg.

f. Repeat each of the exercises for at least five times.

Hips

Sit with your spine erect and legs stretched straight before you.

Warm up 1:

  • Bend your knees and bring both your feet towards the pelvis, let the soles of your feet touch each other.
  • You may place your hands underneath and hold your feet for support.
  • Make an effort to bring your heels as close to the pelvis as possible.
  • Take a deep breath in.  Breathe out and gently press the thighs downwards pushing the knees towards the floor.
  • Now in the same position flap your knees slowly up and down like the wings of a butterfly gradually increasing the speed as far as you are comfortable. Feel the stretch in the inner thighs.
  • Relax breathing slowly and deeply and repeat the exercise at least 5 times.

Warm up 2:

  • Bend and lift your right leg and hold on to the right ankle and the right knee with both your hands like holding a baby and cradle it slowly from right to left for a few times.  This helps to open your hips.
  • Repeat the same with your left leg.
Warm up for opening your hips. It may not move that high the first time, hold it as high as your body permits.

Ardha Padmasana: (Half Lotus pose)

a. Sit on the floor with your legs stretched forward. 

b. Assume the simple cross-legged pose where the legs are folded.

c. Lift your right leg and place it on your left thigh.

d. Keep your spine erect and broaden your chest.

e. Stretch your arms straight, resting the back of your hands on your knees.  Bring together the tip of your thumbs and index fingers while keeping the other fingers straight. (Mudra position)

f. Breathe in and breathe out slowly for at least 5 times in this position.

g. Now slowly try pushing your right knee towards the ground.

h. Repeat the above steps with your left leg.

Ardha Padmasana exercise, Half Lotus pose with mudra gesture.

You can practice ardha padmasana until you are comfortable for padmasana.

Padmasana:

1.Sit on the floor comfortable.  Assume the simple cross-legged pose where the legs are folded.

2. Bend your knee and using your hands place it on the left thigh.  Make sure the sole of your feet point upwards and the heel is close to the abdomen.

3. Do the same with your left leg.

4. Place your hands in the mudra position keeping your spine erect.  You can also fold your hands in a namaskar.

5. Inhale and exhale deeply holding the position as long as comfortably possible.

6. Repeat the same with the other leg on top.

Padmasana, arms in mudra pose. Typical posture for meditation

Contraindications and Cautions

Avoid this asana if you have the following problems.

  1. Knee injury
  2. Ankle injury
  3. Sciatica

Why can he or she do it, but I can’t?

Mainly, don’t compare yourself to others.  This is true for any yoga pose or anything in life for that matter.  Each has his or her own pace of doing things and reaching a place.  Focus on your own journey and enjoy the experience.  Moreover, I cannot stress this enough – PRACTICE!

The major barrier that prevents you from attempting this is your fear, your determination that it is not something you can do. 

Once you break down the goal into minute achievable goals, you build your confidence on the way and before you know it, you would have reached quite far. 

Remember, that end goal here is not only to master the pose, but also to enjoy the process.  Appreciate the baby steps it takes to get there.  You incur no loss but gain plenty in every step you take.

Don’t let what you can’t do, stop you from doing what you can do.  The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  Take your first step today!

Writing on Writing

This mostly a note to myself, initially meant to be in the privacy of my diary and somewhere along the line it became something substantial, and I decided to share it.

I read something that made me pick up my pen, all of a sudden.  I may or may not make a habit of it.  Because if I tell myself I am going to do this every day henceforth, and for some reason I am not able to bring myself to do it, then I am going to feel terrible about myself, go down a guilt lane about it and go spiraling into over-thinking mode.  What is the whole point then? The point is to make myself feel good.  When I feel good, only then can I make others feel good.  If I don’t, I am going to be crabby, spread that vibe around and start a chain reaction of crabbiness. 

The reason I picked up my pen to write now, is because I read this article titled “How journaling can help you live your best life”.  I barely read a couple of paragraphs and I rushed to my diary and pen and got writing.  While I have the habit of journaling, I am not regular at it.  I do it occasionally, when at all, to “unburden” myself of my otherwise heavier thoughts.  I admit I have always felt better after.  Other times I just don’t feel like moving and I vent to anyone who would listen.  There are also times when I hold it in for an unhealthy length of time and that “burden” grows and grows until I release the jabberwocky on an unsuspecting loved one and upset them and then there is nothing but sulking silence! I know! Not good!  See, that’s why journaling is important.  The thing is it starts out as a New Year Resolution with a new diary and everything, do it for a few days, and it starts to feel like a chore and then it drifts away before it even becomes a habit.  But something about this article gave me a different perspective and sent me off looking for my writing tools way before I finished reading it.  I will go back to it once I have spilled out my stoked thoughts.  I know only too well what happens if I don’t do that.  The inkling of thoughts not recorded in time is lost forever.  It is a matter of urgency.  No let-me-do-it-in-the-morning or later-when-I-have-more-time.  NOW is the time.  It is important that I push these thoughts out so that, hopefully, it is followed by a series of them and I can write something substantial.

The article mentioned about writing for at least 10 minutes every day.  However, two key points caught my attention: firstly, make yourself the hero in a story of your own making and secondly, write in third person.  It is about making yourself this amazing person you want to become and write that story and let that story inspire you into becoming that person.  It is a common misconception to equate self-love to selfishness.  On the contrary, if one intends to be selfless, the more is the need for self-love.  It is the first step to everything else.  

Writing in third person, as I interpreted it, is a way to detaching yourself from a situation and this gives a different perspective.  Once it is on paper, it is no more about you, but this person on paper and out of your system.  Why am I usually able to advise someone else over some situation while I cannot apply the same to myself in the same or similar situation?  One, because I am outside the picture/scenario, and two, because I am not clouded by the emotions resulting from the situation.

Why I rather write than type

 “Journaling can be an excavation if you let it.  It’s getting to the root of what’s really going on with you and what is really the problem”, Lara Zielin, author and life coach.

It is no doubt an amazing tool for self-reflection.  I have experienced more clarity and understanding of a circumstance once I have “had it out” on paper.  I like to think that as we grow up, age-in years-wise, our minds get more and more complicated and knotty.  And when we write, these knots come detangled, or at least loosen up.   When I write I feel the thoughts drawn out through the pen onto paper, the satisfaction of which I do not get from typing.  There is a connection formed with the brain.  You stop everything else you are doing and you listen to your brain.  And when the brain knows it has your attention it calms down, relaxes and you work together on whatever it is on your mind, just your brain and you!  Am I making any sense?

Meanwhile I tried getting back to that article. The page got refreshed and it is asking me to sign-in or subscribe to read the full article.  SIGH!  But I think the article served its purpose on me. Not sure if I am going to write for ten minutes every day, but it got me thinking, and it got me writing for now, and I suppose THAT is a win-win!

The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis- A review

*contains spoilers*

My, oh my!  Where have you been hiding all my life!  Thanks to the Scott Frank and Allan Scott for bringing this literary gem to the mainstream! I heard plenty of positive reviews on the series and discovered that it is book based.  So I went by the thumb rule and read the book before watching the Netflix mini-series.  And here it goes!

It is the story of a chess prodigy- Beth Harmon.  The story begins with eight year-old Beth finding herself shepherded into an orphanage after her mother dies in a car crash.  Beth is unhappy with her bleak circumstances, but finds comfort in Jolene, a fellow inmate.  Beth stumbles upon chess through Mr.Shaibel, the janitor who is a habitual solitary player in the basement.  Though he reluctantly humors her in the beginning, it does not take him long to realize the little girl’s talents.  He encourages her to play more, teaching her the specifics of the game and also presents her a book to learn the techniques. 

Eventually Beth is adopted by the Wheatleys.  They are not the ideal of parents with Mr.Wheatley practically non-existent and the missus, an absent minded mother but Beth is content with her own space and studies.  Beth finds her way to chess and enters herself into a tournament.  The Wheatley woman is disinterested stating chess as a “boys’ game” but the prize money attracts her onboard.  Thereon, it is about Beth’s journey through win after win starting with the state championship, and other tournaments towards the US Championship and more.  Mother and daughter duo travel together to various locations far and wide providing themselves with the prize moneys, basking in the comfort of exquisite hotels and exotic cuisine and thereby develop a bond. 

The abrupt death of Mrs.Wheatley and the resulting loneliness and Beth’s inevitable defeat against Grandmaster Vasily Borgov among other things leave Beth crushed and she wastes away in substance abuse.  An unexpected defeat in a game jolts her back to reality as she is she gasping for clarity.

She reconnects with her childhood pal Jolene from the orphanage who though never gets adopted is doing quite well in life.  With her help Beth sets about getting her life back in order in time to prepare for the Moscow Invitational to face the ruthless Russian Chess Masters.

The book subtly touches on the subject of feminism though apparent in the storyline as Beth plays the ‘man’s’ game in a man’s world at the time. 

“Listening to the two of them, she had felt something unpleasant and familiar: the sense that chess was a thing between men, and she was an outsider.  She hated the feeling.”

The tournaments comprising of almost all male competitors underestimate her and are infuriated to be defeated by a woman.  However she commands inevitable respect even from the indomitable of contenders as she wins her way to the top with sheer skill and mastery in the game.

“And what did being women have to do with it? She was better than any male player in America.  She remembered the Life interviewer and the questions about her being a woman in a man’s world.  To hell with her; it wouldn’t be a man’s world when she finished with it.”

Reading this bildungsroman, the coming of age story of Beth Harmon has been absolutely thrilling and exciting.  The book is rich, does not lag at any point and you wish it would not end. The description of the games is delightfully detailed.  To Beth chess is an emotion, it is grace like ballet moves, and chess is all she knows. She is all alone and she likes itHer mind is a big beautiful place to be in.  The emotions experienced through the narrative whether of her victories or failures, her anger at finding herself trapped in a game, her lucid imagination and calculation skills in the game and determination to win are all profound. It is one of those books that you only put down to process what you have just read.   It is overwhelming.  I found myself reading and rereading several portions in the book for the mere joy of appreciating and relishing it.  It left me hung over for a considerable amount of time. 

    * * * * *

“Excellent!” he said again.  He reached down and picked up his king, held it thoughtfully for a moment and set it on its side on the board.  He smiled wearily.  “I resign with relief.”

His naturalness and lack of rancor made her suddenly ashamed.  She held out her hand to him, and shook it warmly.  “I’ve played games of yours since I was a small girl,” she said. “ I’ve always admired you.”

He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment.  “You are nineteen?”

“Yes.”

“I have gone over your games at this tournament.”  He paused.  “You are a marvel, my dear.  I may have just played the best chess player of my life.”

She was unable to speak.  She stared at him in disbelief.

He smiled at her, “You’ll get used to it,” he said.

* * * * *

The series was a joy to watch, excellently directed and all the actors playing their part like they have walked right out of the book.  They have understood their roles in depth, the whole psychology, especially Beth. It has maintained the pace and thrill on point.  They have picked content and dialogues from the book to a great detail which is gratifying.  The commentaries from the book have been cleverly imbibed in the conversations. I also loved how cleverly they have shown the metamorphosis of a young teenage into a mature woman, all with one actress. Kudos to that! However, they have improvised the story line, introduced new characters (Heaven knows why!) and jumbled up sequences to accommodate the series, some of which I felt unnecessary and irrelevant.  They have tweaked many segments that made me go “No! That’s not how it is in the book!” And as Mrs. Wheatley said it, my tranquillity needs to be refurbished.

Parva(Epoch) by S.L.Bhyrappa: A review

The era of Dharmasthapana

Disclaimer:  Contains mild spoilers. Oh well! It’s a familiar story in every Indian house-hold. 

Parva is but a renowned chronicle narrated differently.  We grew up listening to the epic of Mahabharata from parents and grandparents, watched it on TV in the form of various television series, and even read it in whole or in parts.  We know of the righteous Yudhishtir, the eldest of Pandava brothers, of Bheema the mighty hulk who killed the demon Bakasura, the skillful and ambidextrous Arjuna, the twang of whose Gandheeva (the name of his bow) sent quivers into the hearts of his enemies, Bheeshma the pitaamaha, the sworn bachelor Godfather of the Kuru family, Krishna an incarnation of God himself, and so on.  We know their stories and we know them as legends and heroes! 

But, have we thought about what they are as individuals, as people who eat, drink, feel, and think like us? You will when you read this book.  Bhyrappa gets a little personal here, rather more than a little.  He takes us into the privacy of the thoughts of these characters – What were their feelings during various situations, how did they react to them, how their relationships with other characters were like, what was their perception of various circumstances they faced?  Each had his or her own definitions of rights and wrongs. 

The book opens with the thoughts of the king Shalya of Madra kingdom.  The Great War is approaching and both Kauravas and Pandavas are seeking support from the kings of other provinces.  They now need to take either of the sides.  What they choose defines their understanding of Dharma!  Shalya would of course favour the Pandavas, as two of the brothers are his nephews, but his son thinks differently.  He is confused by the fact that the virtuous Bhishma whom he idolises, is favouring Kauravas. Meanwhile, there is the looming apprehension of marrying off his granddaughter, Hiranyavati, who is way past “the age”!  So the story develops with debate and arguments between father and son as to the right thing to be done. 

The storyline leaps from the perspective of one character to that of another in each chapter.  After Shalya it is Kunti, Bheema, Draupadi, Arjuna, Yuyudhana and others.  As the narrative proceeds towards the war, it goes back and forth recounting the major events through the characters’ reveries as they recall and reflect on the past.  As they analyse their situations, they wonder at the could-haves and should haves, they question their destinies, ponder over the rights and wrongs of the actions and decisions of the past.

Overall, the saga revolves around and converges to one question – WHAT IS DHARMA (Righteousness)?  The answer through the eyes of its different characters is stretched from black to white through different belief systems resulting in multiple shades of grey.    

Elements of realism

Parva, narrated as historical fiction is placed in the time of 12th century B.C in India after days of travel and profound study of five years in the social, political, economic and cultural aspects of that period.

The practice of polyandry, for instance, has existed in villages of the present day Himachal and also in other places, which seems to have rooted from Draupadi’s times.  Fraternal polyandry is still in practice as a way of life in some of the Himalayan communities.

The Sootha community is described to be comprised of the king’s illegitimate children born to servants.  The kings used to be gifted with women as slaves during their marriages.  And this also explained the 100 children of king Dhritarashtra.  While only 14 sons and a daughter were born to Gandhari, the rest were of the king’s slaves.  While these slaves married the servants of the kings and raised their own families, they were at the disposal of the king whenever he required their services.  Their husbands raised these children like their own.  They were not recognised as princes but as soothas.  They were bound to serve the kings as cooks, charioteers, blacksmiths, carpenters and in other vocations. 

Krishna who is said to have many wives was marrying women who were widowed victims of war and providing them with shelter, respectable lives and a name to their children.  These women would otherwise fall prey to atrocities and abuse from soldiers and rogues.  Polygamy was rampant probably due to dearth of men. It was also a matter of pride to the kings.

Dharmakshetre Kurukshetre

“Though Hastinavati had rivers, we have been put up in this darned place where water source is so far away.  This is so unlike our country which is rich with streams and glistening waters.  Let’s go back!” said one of them, trying to scrub himself with the little water he had managed to find.  There was not enough to wash his clothes with.

“Yes yes, let’s all go back.”, agreed another.

“So do you say that Kunthi’s children belong to the Kuru clan?”, quipped a third.

“Who are Kunthi’s children? Which is the Kuru clan, again?”, asked the first guy.

“Don’t you know that, idiot?  We are now waging war against Kunthi’s sons, and Kuru clan is of the folks from Hastinavati.”  the second guy displayed his knowledge.

“Are you saying that this Kunthi is not a son of the Kuru clan?” a fourth person who was over-hearing the conversation joined in. The knowledgeable one laughed at this, while others blinked clueless not realising the mistake.

“Fools! You are all fools! No wonder people make fun of us folks from the mountains as simpletons.  Do you call yourself Aryas, when you barely know anything about the Kaurava family?”, he said, laughing at the ignorance of the others.

“We don’t even belong here.  We had to travel for about 25 days, even further from the kingdom of Gandhara.  What do we have to do knowing all this? It is not this hot in our place.  I don’t’ like it here, I want to go back.” Said the first guy miserably.

***************************

Such are the likes of a war. As you go down in hierarchy, those at the lower rungs are clueless about the whats and whys of the war they are fighting. Especially the non-fighting population like the cooks and servants of the kings who are tagged along into the war vicinity without a choice.

The Kauravas successfully accumulate huge masses of army and assistance from kings of various provinces with tact, manipulation and bribery.  Some are true allies who are loyal supporters, some are bound to stick with them due to obligations, some give in to the power and riches and some others are coerced into joining them. He welcomes them to his kingdom with extravagant hospitality leaving each of them in awe.  Victory is certain while everyone is wallowing in pride at the vast majority that has joined together. 

While we already know who fought whom, who fought for whom, who survived and how others died, Parva tells you what each of them thought about the war before, during and of those who remained, after the war.  It gives you a verbal sketch of the soldiers and warriors trenching to the war field, the confusion and chaos of war and fills the gap between the known events.  The picture of the problems with respect to supply of food, water, shelter and sanitation at their camps during the war gets intricately carved in your mind.  It talks of war strategies, politics, cheating, differences of opinions, discord within team members.  Every bit of the narration echoes of tragedies, injustice, disgrace, insult, revenge, anguish, melancholy of the different characters.  What began with pomp and grandeur and royal hospitality dissolves into food and sleep deprivation, rotting bodies and stench of mismanaged human and animal excretion.  The worst thing about a war is what it leaves behind and realization of its pointlessness, death and loss, widowed women and orphaned offspring. Despair!

In conclusion:

It is a very fascinating insight into the Mahabharata, demythicalizing the heroes, stripping them of their super powers and depicted as mere mortals – as humans who are facing the ramifications of the worst enemies of the mind ; kaama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), mada (pride or arrogrance), and matsara (jealousy).  It reveals the deepest, darkest depths of the psyche of the characters. It also highlights the bane of patriarchal society, power politics and gross objectification of women.  While some people would find this blasphemous, it is indeed a treat for rational thinkers.  There is humour, drama and the animated narrative keeps the thrill alive till the end.  Mahabharata is not one story but an inventory of stories within stories.  A reproduction of such an epic by throwing light from various angles, replacing the supernatural with human elements and a detailed delving into human psychology, all the while sticking to the original story-line can only result in a master-piece.

धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः |

-Nivedita

Ease, Flow and Abundance

“Disclaimer:  This is something I have written from my experience and understanding, it may or may not be the same to everyone and anyone who may try it.  In any case, I am curious to know your experience and opinions too.”

“Hey,

It takes 21 days to build a neurocycle………..”

What’s a neuro cycle?  I have no clue.  I have read that it takes 21 days to make a habit. Maybe it is saying the same in fancy lingo?

“….importance of power of belief, attraction, positivity…..ta ta ta ta Deepak Chopra…I’ll be adding you to a group for 21 days…meditation….… task……….. Let me know if you are interested………………..” sound good!

“Hey! What’s this? I want to participate.”  I pinged.  It was a forward I got from Amruta and my thoughts as I glanced through the text it contained.

“Yo!” came her brief response.

“Soo…?” I ask curiously waiting for some explanation.

“I’ll add you to a group. I am a part of another group.” She said patiently.

I went back to the forwarded message to understand the know-whats and know-hows of the whole thing.  It was a 21 days’ exercise for which you become a part of a Whatsapp group, every morning at a fixed time, the admin gives you a task and a guided meditation audio which lasts for about 15 minutes.  You get 24 hours to complete both of them and once you finish them, you send “done” to the group.  And so it continues for 21 days.  No other communication in the group with other members, no good morning flowers, no meme sharing and no forwards with cures for COVID.  Clarifications could be made through the admin privately.  Fair enough!

There is also the clause of removing people from the group if they fail to complete the task.  I did away with it because the object of the whole exercise is ease and I did not want this to be a strict chore like finishing school assignments.  But if they wanted to leave they were free to.

What are the tasks?

Like I am going to tell you here! It is no Tri-wizard tournament and there is no Goblet of Fire waiting for the grabs.  It is an exercise which takes about 10 minutes.(I take longer because I love writing, the act, the process, the consequence, everything about it).  Each task takes you through every aspect in your life – your family, friends, non-friends (Note that I am not using the word enemy), income, dreams and desires.  It makes you think about them, systematically dwell on them and compel you to scrutinize it with a new approach.

About Meditation:

“When you can’t go outside, go inside” ~ Zita Fontaine.

While some of us know it and have appreciated its perks, I learnt that most of us are new to it and shirk from it for the sole reason that it seems like a tiresome task.  What, empty your mind? Like, not think at all? How is that even possible! It’s not my thing.   While attempting to empty your mind maybe exasperating, meditation is not. Wait, isn’t that the same thing? Well, not really! It is directed and selective thinking.  You do it all the time. Has it ever happened to you that you were watching a movie and totally missed out on that chore your mother asked you to do? Of course you heard her saying something and even responded! But couldn’t quite recall what it was! You were so engrossed in the movie your mind was wholly devoted to it. You listen to a song, watch a movie, play pubg, read a book, make art and you immerse yourself in it. Your entire thought process is directed at one thing at that time that other things don’t matter.   

Since it is difficult to do this when there is no such activity to engage you in, you begin with a guided meditation. The audio given is for about 15 minutes, it is completed in no time.   You concentrate on the voice of the speaker, and what he says and just surrender to him following his instructions.  You will get distracted, but the goal is to actively bring back your thoughts to just one thing, say your breathing or a chant of a mantra and fixate on it.  The purpose is to keep trying, even if it means to sit still for that stretch of time.  Over time it doesn’t seem so hard. 

Passing the torch

I asked a few of my closes ones who I thought would be supportive and open minded if they would be interested to take part, not that I was afraid of hearing a no from asking several people (okay, maybe a little, I was), it was more so because: 1) I was new to the whole thing myself, 2) I was not sure I knew enough to be answering to more people than that at once.  I needed people with patience and faith and who would be ready to invest their time to it.  Happily enough four of them agreed to join me in this journey.  I suppose the purpose was to overcome these mental barriers as well. And I did it! The result there too, was unfailingly liberating.  Knowing that people believe in you is comforting and making a difference to even one person is a delight! They passed it further on and I could see there were many who liked it too.

The results are for you to seek and discover.

What did I discover?

The audios were comforting to the mind and kept me going through till the end.  It was just what I needed at the moment.  Ever since I got into the exercise it seems like my life is getting reorganized, things seem to be falling in place.  Even at this time of uncertainty, I am learning to be calm and I have a stronger hope that good things will come my way because I will make them to.  I have that power.  The more you let go of your fears, apprehensions and worries, the more space you make for the things you attract into your life same as you delete unwanted apps in your phone to make space for useful ones. 

The tasks did not seem like a big deal initially, but as the days wore on, I could see what they had been doing to me.  I learnt to discard the superfluous thoughts and gain clarity.  I feel like I am emptying the cluttered debris from my mind into the pages and I feel lighter. 

We question, we doubt, we try to explain things logically which is okay.  But we also need to unlearn some things so that we can learn new things.  We need to learn to let our minds rest. 

I am basking in the glorious shine of abundance I am attracting towards me.

Tested and approved!

-Nivedita

The Quintessential Quote on Quarantine


       The indistinct voices of the young boys playing in the playground are audible.  They start playing early in the morning till the sun rises to the peak, to return after noon when the heat of the sun is more merciful.  The boys who came to play only during weekends come every day now that the schools and colleges are closed down indefinitely.  Sans classes, sans exams, it is an early summer vacation.  Suddenly among the young boyish tones a new and angry voice of a policewoman can now be heard.  She charges at the boys swinging her lathi, a couple of boys get a taste of the lathi on their shins and behinds, and taking cue from this the rest of the boys run helter-skelter scurrying in every direction like mice.

                                                    ***************

“Any plans of marriage?”, a friend pinged followed by tongue out emoji.
To which I replied “I’ll probably plan it if we survive this apocalypse!” *eye roll* and put an end to the undying question that haunts every eligible bachelor/bachelorettes.
**************
So many such instances owing to the raging pandemic – Corona Virus.
The Prime Minister’s address to the citizens on 24th March at 8 PM declaring a nation-wide lock-down for the next 21 days does not come as a surprise.  It was expected any day as the number of infected persons around the country was rising alarmingly and exponentially.  Urgent decisions were to be made.

       The disease which started inadvertently in China has crept out of its borders and spread stealthily world-wide and before people could brace themselves, reality hits hard on the face.  Notification from my news app informs me of the rising numbers of people getting infected, of people dying, of lock-downs and quarantines.  The way the disease spreads is more mortifying than the disease itself.  While people comforted themselves with “It’s in China, it won’t affect us”, “It’s just a flu”, “It only affects the old and the weak”, and also relieving themselves with the fact that it is news of elsewhere, the reports revealed cases approaching nearer to us and before we knew it, the news which we talked of matters in China, South Korea and Italy has reached our own country, our states and towns.  The promising advantages of globalisation proved a major bane in the present situation and the containment of the disease seemed nearly impossible.  As people fly across countries they transmit the virus like pollinating the germs all over.  And sure enough travel had to be shut down across and within the countries. 



       Given that every human is a potential carrier and the spread is through air, the only solution seems to be to get the hell away from one another – social distancing, washing our hands and not touching our faces, besides there is no vaccine or medicine except to treat the symptoms until the patients recover or perish.  But our ways of life have been so accustomed to the necessary hang-outs, the compulsory must-watch movie at the multiplex, the new restaurants to be tried, the can’t-sit-at-home attitude proves difficult to give up.  People simply cannot sit at home, more so when they are forced to it.

        As I watched a news report of a policeman literally begging the general public to stay at home as they thronged the streets was distressing.  The people still do not realise what is coming.  Several messages are circulating in social media, supposedly put across by the people who had seen the worst of the situation, warning the noobs of what lay ahead and  not to repeat the mistake they had committed,  were ignored as rants.  And yet people roam free on roads recklessly compelling the police personnel to resort to violent means making them blow a punch here and swing a lathi there.  Some thoughtful policemen even went as far as making the loafing vagabonds clean the roads.  Purpose served!


      Meanwhile there are some other good fellow beings that are taking social distancing not only seriously but also are taking it to the next level through their tremendous contribution of memes for social welfare.  There was never a happier time for these brainy folks who got food for their creativity and shared hilarious memes day in and day out to our pleasure.  Whether the gravity of the situation was diluted in humour or was it a means of comfort in times of terror and panic, I cannot say for sure.

           On a personal front, I could not be happier with all the reading time I got.  It is an introvert’s dream come true situation.  I believe there could not be a better time than this to lie back and reflect.  Make the best of the time to take a step back from the outside world and take a peak within ourselves, figure out what we can do with our time when we have the luxury of spending it, discover ourselves and find the peace which has been so elusive to us.

            It is like mother nature is teaching her most notorious children a lesson.  In all this we seem to have failed to observe that she is being kind!  What is needed of us but to simply remain at home!  When the doctors, the police personnel, the vendors and workers are striving hard for our sake, is it so hard to stay at home and try not to add to their burden?  Is it not our bounded duty to make their efforts not go in vain and act responsibly? We are blessed with a roof on our heads, plenty of food and resources for our luxuries and entertainment at the tip of our fingers.  We are nowhere near hiding in cellars, fearing terrorists, capture, air raids, with lack of food and means. If people are bored and still complaining about being “stuck” at home then it is time to question ourselves as to what are we without our jobs, malls, multiplexes and restaurants. The lock-down seems to have stripped us of the world we have created around us and brought us down to the bare necessities – roti, kapda aur makaan (Food, clothing and shelter)!


            The earth is breathing easy, now that the teeming crowds are curtailed, the streaming traffic is down, and the concrete forests are hushed to silence while the most dangerous creature on earth is driving to hiding in his lair, chained by his own misdeeds, enclosed within the walls of his bloating ego he has built around himself and humbled by the taste of his own medicine.  There is quiet outside as time stands still, while the hum and roar of vehicles and machines is replaced with chirping of birds all over, horse runs fearless and free on the roads and dolphins returned to the coast of Mumbai!


THE EARTH IS HEALING!
-Nivedita

From the Humble Beginning


I met Humble at the Wedding,
Of our cousins, hers and mine.
With less talk and more smiling,
We got along fine.

Numbers were exchanged,
An FB request sent,
Soon formal chats changed,
To be friends we were meant.

Another wedding, an invite to stay
At my place for the weekend,
And as the time whiled away
Our friendship deepened.

Next I packed my bundle
And set off to IISc.
I stayed on campus with Humble,
There we met, Lotus and me.

Whenever I went to meet her,
I met him there too.
It was nice to see them together,
Made for each other, those two!

With so many hardships,
Each had his and her share.
But the HumbleLotus relationship,
Did they nourish with care!

Now we are all going to see,
The HumbleLotus be united,
So with loads of love and glee
To them this poem is dedicated.

I still cannot believe it,
The time is approaching soon!
So I pray and wish for their credit
May the HumbleLotus forever Bloom!


P.S:  This poem is dedicated to my dear friends Namrata and Aravind.


-Nivedita

Call of the mountains



The mountains were calling,
So I decided I would go.
There was no point in stalling
To see the magnificent montage show!
 
They stood out tall and proud
In spite of the echoing silence.
They made their presence loud,
My soul drifted into a cadence.
 
Green, blue, grey and white
Towering walls in the misty haze.
The ranges extended long and wide
As far as my eyes could gaze.
 
When sun shone slyly parting the clouds,
The peaks loomed in a mystic glow
I shivered from within my shrouds
Was it by the view or the chilled wind blow?
 
The gurgling rivers streamed in valleys
Tripping, falling, staggering over rocks
Meeting up with other aqua allies
Greetings in frothy gushing mocks!
 
I stood in overwhelming awe
Feeling small, tiny, and minuscule
I felt myself quietly thaw
into something insignificant, infinitesimal.
 
The mind freed itself of woes
And the heart did swell and expand
When I soaked in the Eden with my eyes close
Something entirely new happened.
 
When with mountains did I acquaint
This was something I got to know
That if the mountains should call again
I’ll have no choice but to go.
 

-Nivedita

When breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: A review



My first book for the year 2018 was a wonderful opening to my reading account for this year.  I fell in love with the writer and the book as easily as drinking water and so was the impact.  It was like quenching the thirst of my parched mind.  To begin with, what attracted me the most was the author’s love for books, reading and literature, inculcated in him from a tender age.  Literature opens your mind to a gateway to various ideologies and perspectives which you could not learn enough through a lifetime worth of research and study.  It makes you think. It provokes your inquisitiveness and you begin to question everything.  Likewise, young Paul wished to probe into philosophy, meaning, identity, life and death. How does human mind work? What is the role of human brain? Where do biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?  With these questions the young mind of the author studied literature and medicine.

The book was in retrospection and introspection of the author’s life.  Each book one reads is an experience and this book was an overwhelming and intoxicating one.  He writes about growing up, his studies, his profession and his experiences in the field.  He explains the sanctity of a doctor-patient relationship and the role a doctor plays in the lives of his patients and their families.
“The physician’s duty is not just to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”
He played a crucial role in the lives of his patients as a neurosurgeon.  Most of his patients were suffering from ailments that shattered their lives and changed their entire existence.  The decision-making for these lives lay in his hands.  How could one learn to make, and live with, such judgement calls?  Mere knowledge and intelligence do not suffice in making these judgements.  It takes moral clarity and wisdom.  He quotes various instances illustrating the life lessons he learnt.  Situations which made him question himself.  And thus, his quest for meaning continued.

What makes life meaningful enough to go on living? 
You seek what life is in death, Now find it air that once was breath. New names unknown, old names gone: Till time end bodies, but souls none.
Reader! Then make time, while you be, But steps to your eternity.
-Baron Brooke Fulke Greville, “Caeilica 83”

Death is inevitable.  It is a known unknown.  We know every being that is born is to die one day.  We know it can happen at any moment but we know not when.  But how would you live when you know death is round the corner ready to jump at you any moment now. Would you live life the same way?  Would you feel the same about life?  How would you spend the rest of your remaining part of life.

So finally he writes about death and the days he spent looking death in the eye.  Did he fight a battle and win it? No.  He was in denial, he was angry, he strived to find ways to escape, he got depressed and he cried about it and then he accepted.  He welcomed death with open arms and in the meanwhile he lived.  He lived with death.  He was a neurosurgeon and made a difference in several lives using every ounce of his  energy, he was a loving husband and provided security to his wife and assured her needs were fulfilled, he was a father and dreamed about his daughter’s future,  and he was a patient and he accepted wholeheartedly what life handed to him.  Finally he was a writer, and he shared his life with readers like me.  It was great knowing him through this book.

“We shall rise insensibly, and reach the tops of the everlasting hills, where the winds are cool and the sight is glorious.”

-Nivedita 

A letter to the beyond

Dear Ajja,
I could barely see the “PUSH” label on the door knob before me.  My thoughts had raced back to the last time I had been there.  It was with you.  Your new watch strap was loose and it was annoying you. Time was important.  It hardly passed now.  You looked at your watch every now and then to see how much had elapsed.  You were happy with your new watch.  But it did not sit firmly on your wrist and kept slipping.  So we had gone to the showroom to fix it.  You were uncertain it could be fixed.  “Do they do that?  Very good!” We had gone arm in arm.  You didn’t like using the walking stick, a sign of weakness and dependency which you hated. 
We gave your watch at the counter and the shopkeeper checked your wrist and measured the links that need to be cut off from the strap.  And to your surprise your watch was returned in no time fitting you perfectly.  You shook hands with the guy, “It fits perfectly now.  So nice of you to do it!  Thank you very much.  It was very loose.  It is perfect now. Thank you”, you said again as we walked out.  You were so excited.  You were thanking me now.  “If it weren’t for you I had to continue wearing the loose watch.  It is proper now.  I didn’t think they would fix it.  But he did it for us.  God’s grace! Thank you.  You will help me out if there is any more trouble with this? I know you will! Thank you.” You said it repeatedly all along the way back home and again at home that evening every time you beamingly looked at your newly fixed watch.
That was the state of affairs.  You were totally a child.  Everything surprised you like it was the first time you ever saw it.  Small things made you extremely happy.  “What is this? I never saw it before?”, “That was so good, I had it for the first time!”, you had said when you ate ice cream.  You looked at everything with a childish curiosity and small things fascinated you and made you joyful. 
It has been a year since you left us. How time flies! How life goes on in spite of what happens!  But the void remains. Your absence is strongly felt.  It feels so strange that you, who had been such an important part of our lives, are not among us.
My memories go back to when you took me out as a kid.  Your single finger I could grip fully with my small hand as you walked me out.  You picked us up from school every evening by Luna.  How you always wanted everyone to be together.  You would call me to come over as soon as my exams got over until the day the school reopened.  You didn’t want me to waste even a single day of my vacation being away from you.  You made us read the Vishnu sahasranaam and chant Ram naam.  Your habit of chanting ram naam never stopped. Your fingers moved subconsciously over the beads of the rosary as you chanted “Sri Ram jaya Ram jaya jaya Ram” involuntarily till your last breath.  You wanted us to do things on time even if it was the vacation.  “Finish all your work first then you can be as you like freely for the rest of the day”.  You always wanted discipline. 
How it all changed before we knew it.  How you suddenly got old after you had your first attack of stroke.  Going out on your own got dangerous.  You had repeated accidents but you insisted going anyway.  How you very getting hurt repeatedly but you were still positive and optimistic that what has to happen will happen and nothing can stop it.  We were so scared for you.  We forced you to stay home.  How restless you got to be at home, being the active person that you were.  How you were forgetting things. But you never worried.  You never told us about your pains.  You bore it all with a smile.  You tried to find something to do even while at home.  It was so hard to pass the time. 
The day you fell and hurt your back, was the blow.  You couldn’t walk again.  You were forced to bed.  Days got difficult for you and us too.  It was hard to see you suffer, to see you struggle through routine works.  How it embarrassed you to depend and make someone else do your work.  You thanked profusely for every little errand done for you.  You were apologetic that others had to do your work and you explained your situation which we all understood. “I am sorry ma, I don’t mean to trouble you. I am old you see, it is beyond my control”, you explained with that desperate helpless look in your eyes.  You were unhappy, but you always smiled.  You said it is God’s grace.  You greeted every one with folded hands even when you did not recognize any one.  It was heart wrenching to see you small and lean in your bed.  I had never known you to be weak and ill.  You had always seemed this strong head of the family, invincible!  You had a childish endearing smile.  The twinkle in your eyes shined so bright that it warmed many a hearts.  You thanked the nurses and doctors every time they came to check you.  You were grateful that they took such good care of you and were trying to treat you.
We had hoped to bring you home, to pamper you, to love you more.  We knew it was coming.  We knew it was inevitable.  Did you know it too? Did you know the time had come? Nothing could prepare us when you left us.  The person whom I admired, respected and loved the most was suddenly gone.  A strange emptiness and longing tugs at my heart even today every time I think of you.  Yes, we moved on.  But I still hold on to your memories tightly lest I should lose them too.  The way you made me feel.  The happiness you gave me.  How childlike you had become!  Your positive spirit throughout your life, your principles, unwavering disciplined life set an example to live by.  Several people told of your good deeds and praised you.  They told us how you had helped so many people we knew nothing about.  Even in death you were this awe inspiring person.  “I lost my gem”, grandma said when you were gone. 

Even now when I cook I remember how you appreciated and thanked me for every meal, every cup of coffee.  How you cherished and loved food! “It is first class! Very good! Thank you.”, you always said.  You have no idea how much I loved cooking for you and how motivating you have always been.  How I wish I could do it again for you.  I miss how you called me “Gundamma” in a sing-song voice.  I wish I could hear it again.  I want you to tell me “very good”.  If only I could hear it again.  Anything!  You had first taught me the joy of letter writing as a kid.  I am writing to you again now.  Wherever you are, I wish you could see this.  I wish I could see you.  I wish I could tell you how much I miss you.  May be I never told you how much I love you!  If only I could tell you now.
Your only,
Gundamma