Sep 30, 2022

How to be consistent at reading?


One thing that I've been consistent with this year is Reading non-fiction books. Managed to finish 28 books (3 more in progress) in 9 months. Though reading has been one of my core interests, I wasn't so diligent in 2020 and 2021. Glad to have got my reading mojo back in 2022.


What works for me to sustain this habit of reading?

  • I love reading. Consistency of a habit can only be achieved if you approach the process with the attitude of "I want to" (not with "I have to")
  • I also enjoy the outcomes of reading - new insights, different perspectives, improved attention and focus
  • Reading is an immersive experience for me. I jot down phrases that struck a chord in my journal. I highlight favorite passages and aha moments.
  • Sharing reviews and key takeaways on my blog gives me an opportunity to connect with like-minded people on social media
  • I pick books from topics that resonate with me at this point in my life - philosophy, spirituality, and Yoga. Rather, I'd say that the Universe brings to my attention relevant books that would answer questions I'm grappling with.
  • I read every day. Even on days when I'm exhausted or when my schedule is busy, I read for at least 15 minutes. It's all about "making time" for the things that matter, not "finding time".
  • I surround myself with books. There are more unread books in my home library, which I honestly feel more motivating than any pressure to read them all.


In this age of Shorts and Reels grabbing our attention, it is high time that we prioritize activities that increase our attention span. Reading is certainly one of the most effective ways to experience the state of flow and improve our focus.

 

Sep 28, 2022

Book Review: The Universe has your back by Gabrielle Bernstein



 While browsing through my Amazon wishlist before the "Great Indian Festival", this book ("The Universe has your back" by Gabrielle Bernstein) I had added sometime back came to my attention. And seeing its discounted Kindle price (Rs.51), I immediately placed the order.

Some books appeal to your intellect, while others appeal to your intuition. This book belongs to the latter category. While reading, I paused multiple times, closed my eyes, meditated for a few minutes, jotted down phrases in my notebook, and let the impactful lines be absorbed. It certainly felt so magical and serene. The words offered a healing vibe and a gentle reminder to connect with our true nature.

The author has beautifully explained how we can connect with the Universe at any given time. She also explains why our logical, over-planning mind can become a hindrance in receiving gifts from the Universe. There were many perspectives in this book that felt so different from the ones society usually teaches us. But while reading them, it intuitively made a lot of sense. The author's anecdotes lend more authenticity to the topics - how the Universe operates, how it communicates and how we block the miracles it offers. Our logical minds might resist this new way of thinking, but when we are open, this book offers a fresh way to approach life with the help of love, faith, and surrender.

Over the past 2 years, having experienced this first-hand, I now firmly believe in the power of the Universe - every interaction, every book, every person, and every situation you encounter in your life has a reason. The answers you seek or you need to hear come to you magically. Our thoughts radiate certain energy, which in turn brings back something that becomes our reality.

A few captivating lines:

"You see the world that you've made, but you do not see yourself as the image maker."

"We are not responsible for what our eyes are seeing. We are responsible for how we perceive what we are seeing."

"The Universe is always responding to the energy behind your beliefs"

"The world is your classroom and other people are your assignments"

"A simple shift in your perspective is a miracle"

"Our vibes speak louder than our words"

One of my top favorite books in 2022!

Sep 27, 2022

The second between stimulus and response

Today marks an important milestone in my awareness journey - the day when I consciously paused and avoided my habitual reaction! It might sound too silly but believe me, I have been struggling to get rid of this reaction for years.

I get so annoyed whenever something gets spilled at home - either by myself or by D. Though I know it happens by accident, I immediately yell or shout due to habit.

D often tells me, "Mummy, you become a She-Hulk whenever I spill something". I seriously couldn't recollect how I picked up this habitual reaction or understand why I get so triggered - is it the wastage, is it the post-clean-up effort?

This afternoon, my mind was reeling with 100 different thoughts and I was going over a complex spreadsheet related to work, just before I stepped into the kitchen. D wanted me to bake a mug cake for her. It's been so long since I made it and I was looking through the recipe on my phone. As I started adding the ingredients to my favorite coffee mug, I accidentally toppled the mug. Thankfully, it didn't break, but the ingredients had partially spilled out, creating an oily mess on the kitchen counter. My immediate reaction of shouting "yammaaaaa" happened, which, btw got added to D's vocabulary too!๐Ÿ™‚ But after the habitual shouting, the response took a positive detour this time.

I told myself, "it's okay....it's a small cleanup effort. Let it go. Don't get angry with yourself for spilling". I cleaned it up immediately with a few kitchen towels and took a couple of deep breaths. Better sense prevailed :-)

I read this statement in a book - "There is a split second between a stimulus and our reaction/response. That's where our power lies."

I realized how that moment can be so powerful when we are aware of it.

Had I not caught myself in that moment, I would have gotten angry with D for no fault of hers. I would have been angry with myself, spoiling my mood for the rest of the evening.

Baked her mug cake, made myself a cup of chai, prepared green moong sundal for neivedyam and chanted shlokas! All is well! 

Sep 23, 2022

The power of Surrender



 Being a cat parent for the past few years, here's what I have observed on cat behavior.

Cats tend to clean themselves ONLY when they feel they are in a safe and secure place. Our pet cat W loves to lick and clean herself when she sits on my lap. I jokingly scold her, "Do you think I'm your bathroom?"๐Ÿ™‚

Cats show their tummy ONLY in front of people whom they absolutely trust. In fact, their way of showing love and trust is to roll over the floor carefree.

When they feel they are in a safe place, cats sleep in such unique poses that they look so cute and funny! One such pose is the pic you see above๐Ÿ˜‰

With trust and surrender, they feel relaxed, at ease, and without any concerns, whereas, if they sense even a slight threat, they become super alert with their ears turning in all directions.

I've been reading a very interesting and powerful book that talks about the power of trust and surrender to the Universe / supreme power / Divine. As I soak in the words from this book, I couldn't help but wonder how my cats are teaching me the same lesson.

Their complete trust in us makes them feel totally relaxed at home. Not sure if cats have an autonomic nervous system similar to ours. But if they do, I'm sure their parasympathetic nervous system would be activated during such relaxed times.

If we trust the Universe and surrender our fears and worries, our nervous system would respond in a calm and relaxed way. That could be the reason why Bhakti Yoga is supposedly the easier path as compared to other types of Yoga.

This particular line from the book just blew my mind -

"Separating from love means that you deny the presence of a higher power / Universe and learn to rely on your own power to feel safe."

As I observed in the last couple of years, relying solely on our power and abilities just puts too much stress on our shoulders, especially during situations that are beyond our control. For a logical, control-oriented person like me, it took me a while to understand the power of surrender. It sure is powerful and transformational.

Not revealing the title of the book for now, but will share the review in the next few days once I finish reading it๐Ÿ™‚

Sep 22, 2022

Types of Tasks

 Last Sunday, D and I had this conversation while sitting on the terrace after dinner.

She said, "I'm gonna rewrite the song - Velai velai from Avvai Shanmugi. Aambalaikkum velai pombalaikkum velai 10 year old-kum velai"
When probed further, she said, "I have to attend school, go for Hindi tuitions, do my school HW. I have to watch TV, I have to eat my dinner. My evenings are so busy"
She doesn't go for any extra-curricular activities after school. She has Hindi tuition twice a week. Though I heard her concerns, I felt she does get a lot of free, unscheduled time, which she wasn't recognizing ๐Ÿ™‚
"Why do you say, you HAVE to watch TV? No one is forcing you. It is a choice you make, isn't it?", she listened with a lot of interest to the following gyaan from me๐Ÿ˜‰

There are three categories of tasks we do every day.
"NEED TO DO" - bath, eat food, sleep
"HAVE TO DO" - commute, go to school, do HW
"WANT TO DO" - watch TV, dance, sing, play with friends, read books

If HAVE TO DO tasks take up all of our time, then we feel overwhelmed. We need to make time for WANT TO DO tasks every single day.

She then asked me, "Is going for a job a HAVE TO DO or a WANT TO DO task?"
I replied, "When we enjoy our work, it is a WANT TO DO, but sometimes when we don't but we continue due to various reasons, then it becomes a HAVE TO DO. In the second scenario, we can balance our day by allocating time for our WANT TO DO tasks. We can also change our perspective by finding meaning and purpose, so our HAVE TO DO gets converted to a WANT TO DO."
She didn't quite understand what I meant by a change in perspective. I gave her this example.
"In my 20s, cooking felt like a HAVE TO DO, but now it has become a WANT TO DO because I see how home-cooked food helps in keeping our family healthy"

P.S. On WANT TO DO, one of my favorites, as you might have guessed, is soaking in ARR music๐Ÿ™‚ It's just been a downpour of beautiful songs from him in the past few months. I'm hooked to VTK album and love its simplicity and crystal clear melodies. Uyir Urugudhey in repeat mode. And of course, am in the process of getting addicted to PS1 songs!

Sep 19, 2022

Book Review: The five dysfunctions of a team by Patrick Lencioni


 I first read this book sometime in 2010. Though the framework made sense, I couldn't relate to it at a deeper level. As I re-read this book 12 years later, I could appreciate the intentions behind the recommended framework, having gone through multiple work experiences.

The book talks about the five dysfunctions that prevent a team from achieving an organization's goals. The author has used an interesting fable as a backdrop to explain the five dysfunctions. The characters that we come across in the fable are quite relatable that makes you think, "Ah, isn't this character seem like the one I encountered at <company>?"

What I loved about the framework is how each of these five dysfunctions is interlinked and how it feeds onto one another, both in positive and negative ways.

As we grow in our professional work experience, I realized that the two of the most important values are TRUST and RESPECT. The other factors (salary, title, role, etc) cannot compensate in the long term when these values remain unmet.

The author beautifully explains how the Absence of Trust can cascade into a multitude of issues. Being vulnerable and open to sharing your weaknesses with your team are some of the ways by which trust gets built over time. Unfortunately, in today's hustle culture, there is hardly any time left for intentional trust building.

Fear of Conflict and Lack of Commitment are the dysfunctions that follow when there is a lack of trust. Productive ideological conflict without personal attacks can only happen when team members trust each other.

The author has also elaborated the framework in detail, along with understanding and overcoming the five dysfunctions. There are a lot of actionable takeaways in the final chapter.

If you are leading a team, then do check out this interesting book. You might find a few valuable insights to put into practice.

Sep 14, 2022

Motivation


 

While listening to a talk by Amy Bucher, an applied behavioral scientist, I stumbled upon this interesting definition of Motivation. She says, "Motivation => Desire with velocity".

Many times, we have the desire or inspiration to do something, but the interest isn't sustained for long. There might be an initial momentum, due to curiosity or peer pressure. But it isn't self-sustaining. There isn't much velocity to take us forward in the journey.

As I thought about what fuelled velocity in the habits that I have managed to sustain, it became evident that the factors contributing to velocity are hardly external. We might seek inspiration by watching 100s of videos or following 50 different influencers, but when it comes to taking action and sustaining it, the factors are mostly internal.

For eg, Reading books is one habit that I have continued for many years. As I pondered over the factors that sustained my velocity, these are the reasons that came on top of my mind:

=> It helps me increase my focus and attention span (one of my important values).
=> It increases the quality of my life.
=> It opens up my eyes to multiple perspectives.
=> I love to be associated with the identity of a reader.
=> I love to be around books.
=> Reading is a pleasurable activity.

If you don't see yourself as a reader, it is hard to convince your mind that reading is an important activity and that you need to make time for it, amidst your busy schedule.

Our values and our identity play a key role when it comes to adopting AND following through with habits.

Sep 10, 2022

Gratitude Moments



 Gratitude is suggested as one of the powerful techniques for mental well-being. I have tried multiple ways to incorporate this habit into my routine. I started to write down 3-5 things that I'm grateful for at the end of each day, then I shifted this habit to the beginning of the day. I also tried a slight variation to the same practice and called it my happiness journal. But none of these habits were sticking to me and I didn't really "connect" deeper to the purpose behind them.


But in the last week, I started practicing a new technique to incorporate gratitude into my life.

When you sense something is going well in your life, just feel grateful during that very moment. Don't leave it for the end of the day, the beginning of the day, or whenever you open your journal next. There is no need to jot down. Just the feeling is sufficient to realize its tremendous power.

Mindfulness is a prerequisite for this technique. Being aware of the present moment creates that space to feel a sense of gratitude.


As I started to do this, I realized that there were multiple moments during the day when I felt grateful for my family, pets, books, friends, mentors, and the Universe.

  • That evening when I had viral fever, terrible body pain and my hands were shivering. D brought me a tumbler of hot water and asked me to hold it so my hands can stay warm
  • The very next morning, I woke up feeling exhausted and felt relieved to see K having made idlis and coconut chutney for breakfast
  • As I snuggled inside a warm blanket after taking a painkiller tablet, my pet cat W cuddled next to my legs, giving me company the whole afternoon
  • When I woke up in the evening, feeling a little better, the other cutie Octi came running to me and greeted me with so much love
  • My househelp wasn't keeping well either but she somehow arranged an alternate person to help me with washing the dishes
  • As I received the books that my soul friend had sent me as my birthday gift, I felt so happy and blessed to have a thoughtful friend
  • Friends who messaged and enquired when my city was flooded a few days ago


These were just a few such moments but there were a lot more these past few days.


It just feels like I have finally connected myself to the power socket of gratitude and switched it on. Not that I wasn't grateful before, but somehow the habit of complaining/cribbing overpowered gratitude due to various reasons. As I became aware that this habit isn't helping me in any way, I was figuring out a way to get over it. And the events from the past week helped me transition over to moments of gratitude.


Sep 5, 2022

Book Review: My Hanuman Chalisa by Devdutt Pattanaik


 

While dusting and rearranging my bookshelves a few days back, I spotted this book. Sometime in 2014-15, K became an ardent devotee of Hanuman. During that time, he had bought a few books written on the story behind Hanuman. He also used to listen to Hanuman Chalisa regularly while driving and that's how I heard the version sung by Unni Krishnan. To date, his voice and the tune he had followed is what I remember in the background while chanting Hanuman Chalisa.

As I have been practicing Hanuman Chalisa during my evening prayers, this book felt like a perfect read to understand the pronunciation and the deep meaning behind it. For the past 3 days, I was completely engrossed in this insightful book that breaks down each verse (chaupai) in such great detail.

Once I understood the meaning, the chaupai felt more comfortable to chant. The author has also provided a lot of context and linkages to bring out more clarity.

For eg, I loved the explanation given for Chaupai 19 - "Prabhu mudrika meli mukh mahee........". How Hanuman considers the ring as simply a tool to identify himself as a messenger of Ram without associating any special rule of propriety.

Also, Chaupai 7 - "Vidyavaan guni ati chatur....." talks about how the combination of knowledge and cleverness can be dangerous unless one also has virtue.

It also helped me understand why we pray to Hanuman on Tuesdays (Mangal / Mars represents aggression) and Saturdays (Shani / Saturn represents patience), as he is considered to influence the power of the grahas, remove their malevolent influence and enable their benevolent influence.

There were plenty of amazing insights and explanations. It is hard to share them through a short review :)

The book also helped me understand some of the finer nuances of Ramayana. While wrapping up the last few pages today, my eyes started to well up. Such was the impact. So grateful to the author for presenting this book in such an easy-to-understand way. It helps the reader to understand Hanuman so deeply - his nature, characteristics, and his utmost devotion to Lord Ram.

If you read Hanuman Chalisa, you'd love this book that explains each line in such beautiful detail.

Sep 1, 2022

Book Review: Surya Namaskara by Swami Satyananda Saraswati



 I have become a big fan of books published by the Bihar School of Yoga. Backed by science, detailed explanation of the physical body, and the subtle energy body, many of their books are easy to read and provide a good grasp of the Yoga philosophy.

The latest book I read from their collection is this little insightful book on the practice of Surya Namaskar. It is one of the powerful practices, that impacts our physical and mental health in myriad ways.

The book starts with how the Sun worship is part of many cultures. It then elaborates on the 12 steps in detail and guidelines to keep in mind while practicing the flow. The 12 Sun mantras for each pose are also provided, along with their meaning. The author has elaborated on how Suryanamaskar practice benefits our various organ systems, more specifically our endocrine system.

The recommended daily practice is 6 rounds performed slowly and then 6 quickly.

What fascinated me while reading the book is how each posture can vitalize various chakras, when done with awareness. It was also amazing to read about the psychodynamic effects of each asana - how we shift from introversion to extroversion, and how we experience various states of our mind while doing the asanas.

It was also eye-opening to read about how the practice needs to be customized depending on whether you are a Pingala dominant or an Ida dominant individual. A Pingala dominant individual is supposed to slow down their practice and do only a few rounds, whereas an Ida dominant individual is supposed to slowly increase the number of rounds and also speed them up.

A few key takeaways:

"Suryanamaskara teaches us to tune into our own capabilities and limitations."

"A healthy body and an active life are the basis of spiritual development."

"The quality or quantity of food matter little if the body is unable to digest, assimilate and utilize it efficiently"

"In case of slipped disc, sciatica and disc degeneration, the forward bending postures of surya namaskara will aggravate the problem."

The textbook style of writing may not appeal to everyone. It is certainly a valuable book for Yoga practitioners and teachers.

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