May 30, 2023

Book Review: Yoga Chakra by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati


Who is the founder of Yoga? How did Yoga evolve? How did the different forms of Yoga come into existence? How are they interlinked with each other?

The answers to these questions can be found in this book. The author takes us on a journey to help the reader understand how Yoga evolved into what it is today through three important periods.

The key revelation for me is the fact that Sage Patanjali is not the founder or creator of Yoga. References to Yoga date back to Satya Yuga, which predates the times of Lord Rama and Krishna.

The three periods, the key contributors and the role of Yoga in each period are well explained.

The purpose of Yoga in the early period was to help people alleviate suffering.

The middle period is the time of Patanjali, Gheranda and Swatmarama when hatha yoga and raja yoga were codified. The objective of Yoga during this period was to balance the pranic and mental behavior. It was quite insightful to learn the difference in the interpretation of asana in hatha yoga and raja yoga.

The present age of Yoga emergence began in the 19th century. The book conveys so beautifully the role of different people involved and their contributions.

The author gives a brief description of the three progressive stages of Yoga. He also recommends certain practices to follow to adopt a Yogic lifestyle. It was a key takeaway for me to learn that the sequence in which Yamas and Niyamas are to be followed matters.

The final chapter talks about the wheel of Yoga - the 3 types of Yoga that one experiences internally (hatha yoga, raja yoga, kriya yoga) and the 3 types of Yoga that one expresses externally (karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga).

If you are interested in yoga philosophy, you'd love this book - simple, easy to read and a quick understanding of the evolution of Yoga.

May 29, 2023

Indigestion of Life experiences

 This happened a couple of months back. We (K, D and myself) had gone out shopping. D spotted a cafe (not CCD!) and insisted that we go and have some snacks. Though this cafe has multiple branches and  is creating waves in Bengaluru, we hadn't been there before.

It was a super hot afternoon and the place was crowded. D and I picked a table and sat down, while K went to the bill counter and placed the order.

I was in no mood for a hot beverage and decided to have passion fruit iced tea. D and K ordered a mango milkshake and a slice of an apple pie.

When our order arrived, I took a sip of the tea. It tasted neither passion fruit nor tea. D took a sip and said, "Mummy, this tastes like ice water". Yes, exactly!

The milkshakes were made with mango-flavored essence, and loads of sugar and didn't have a taste of any real mango (although mangoes are in season!).

The apple pie tasted okayish.

Overall, we weren't so happy with the quality of the food.

The bill arrived and it was around Rs.1200. I was super shocked!

I didn't see the menu options (and prices) while placing the order.

I couldn't digest the fact that we ended up paying so much for such low-quality food. On the way back, I expressed my disappointment to K. He replied, "Let it go, we didn't know that the quality would be this bad. We will not go to this chain of cafe outlets".

But my mind wasn't willing to let go and it kept ruminating on the experience.

The fact that I couldn't digest this experience ended up creating severe indigestion later in the evening, followed by a severe migraine.

This could have been triggered by the food or by the harsh summer heat.

Nevertheless, the mind and its inability to digest and accept the situation also played a pivotal role in the reaction that manifested in the body.

This quote shared in the pic sums up the experience.

Whenever you feel indigestion, acidity or heartburn, apart from looking into your food choices, it is also worthwhile to check for any experiences/incidents in your life that you find difficult to digest.

May 26, 2023

Are you a curious cat?

 Having been a cat parent for the last 8 years, I have had the chance to observe how cats are curious by nature. A new object, a new sound, or even a new smell is all it takes for them to raise their ears and start to wonder what it is.

Curiosity is what keeps humans alive. 

We may have lost connection to our inherent curiosity due to childhood conditioning, the nature of our education system, or even our environment, but it is within our reach.

Yes, curiosity is a skill that can be developed over time.

Elizabeth Gilbert in her book "Big Magic" states that one needs to invest in curiosity rather than passion.

"Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living......Curiosity is accessible to everyone".

She urges her readers to go on a scavenger hunt of curiosity. I couldn't agree more on this.

A simple question - "Is there anything you're interested in now?" can break the spell of boredom and lack of inspiration.

When I look back on the past 10 years, the areas I have explored are all answers to this question.

Curiosity is a seed inherent in all of us. All we need to do is to nurture it every day by listening to its cues and feeding what it needs.

The manure could be new information, knowledge, experience, conversations, actionable behavior, learning, fine-tuning, following the dots, breaking the familiar patterns, synthesizing, unlearning, and most importantly, constant questioning.

Curiosity may or may not lead to discovering your passion.

It may or may not lead to building a career.

It may or may not lead to a monetizable opportunity.

It may or may not lead to rewards and recognition.

But it can certainly make you feel alive and engaged. 

Our life's journey gets more interesting when we follow where curiosity takes us.

May 25, 2023

Book Review: Raja Yoga Yatra I by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

 I asked myself, "When was the last time you started and finished a book as soon as it arrived? When was the last time you couldn't contain your excitement that you had to read a book cover to cover immediately?".

The answer I got was "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" back in 2007.

After 16 years, I felt a similar excitement when this book "Raja Yoga Yatra I: Understanding Asana and Pratyahara" arrived a couple of days back.

As I wrote in a book review earlier, I'm curious to learn more about Pratyahara, the 5th limb of Raja Yoga. While searching for books that cover this topic, I stumbled upon this title on Amazon, a booklet of 80 pages.

The author starts by explaining the wheel of yoga called the Yoga chakra with the six spokes.

Hatha yoga, raja yoga and kriya yoga represent the experiential aspect of Yoga, whereas karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga represent the expressive aspect of Yoga.

We experience internal change and transformation first and using the awakened faculties, we express ourselves in the outer dimension.

Hatha yoga helps one towards purification and detoxification of the body. The annamaya kosha (physical body) and pranamaya kosha (energy body) are brought to balance through the practices of Hatha yoga. One proceeds to Raja yoga after a certain balance is reached through Hatha yoga.

The purpose of Raja Yoga is conveyed as chitta vritti nirodhah - managing the disturbances of the mind. Raja yoga helps to rule over the mind and it deals with manomaya and vijnanamaya koshas. Yamas and Niyamas are important practices for the mind, without which reaching the states of dharana or dhyana is impossible.

The distinction brought up concerning asana practice in Hatha yoga vs Raja yoga was eye-opening. In Raja yoga, asanas are primarily focused on stability and comfort to deepen one's mental experience.

Our consciousness is built through our cognition and perception of the past, retained in chitta. This storehouse becomes the cause for our present disturbances. These impressions (Pratyayas) are brought out and cleared through pratyahara. The three practices of Yoga Nidra, Antar Mouna and Ajapa Japa are briefly summarized.

So many aha moments in the book that gave new perspectives:

The explanation - Prati+ahara => reverse consumption - where the mind feeds the senses

The interactions of the three gunas on ahamkara, chitta and manas

The four attitudes that help to keep the chitta happy

The active drashta state - active observation as a witness and modifying

Difference between compassion and empathy

Why yoga doesn't recommend being a world reformist

Doership and its connection to freewill and destiny

These booklets are helping me realize that my journey into learning Yoga philosophy has just begun and there is a long way to go. Feeling excited and curious!

May 18, 2023

Book Review: The Courage to be Happy by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

 Last year, I read "The Courage to be Disliked" - a powerful book that left a lasting impact. The same authors have come up with a sequel of sorts with the title "The Courage to be Happy". 

As I read through it, I can't help but wonder how it draws on the conversations that the philosopher and the youth engaged in the first book. Highly recommend that you read both books in the same sequence to gain maximum benefit.

Coming to the sequel, the philosopher and the youth meet after 3 years. The youth seems frustrated with the challenges he faced in applying Adlerian psychology and is looking for answers. The conversation begins with really harsh questions (to the point it gets nasty sometimes) by the youth and patient, assertive answers by the philosopher.

Their ensuing long conversation shares nuggets of wisdom and new perspectives, especially for people who play the role of educators or parents. The book is divided into 5 sections, each having 2-3 key takeaways buried deep inside.

It starts by declaring that the objective of education is self-reliance. To meet this objective, one needs to start with respect - accept the person (student) as is without setting any conditions. Respect is contagious and eventually leads to developing "social feeling" - having concern for other people's concerns.

The triangular representation of our psyche with the two angles "that bad person" and "poor me" is an eye-opener that showcases how we end up in one of the two angles whenever there is a challenge. The author suggests we look at our challenge from a third angle (not revealing it!).

As the conversation progresses, they revisit why reward and punishment are problematic. The 5 stages of problem behavior are quite relatable.

The chapter on moving from competition to cooperation is another gem. I was nodding big time as I had been raised to be a competitive person.

We choose our lifestyle at a very early age based on the objective of "how I can be loved". It is rooted in the survival strategies of our childhood, which continues into adulthood and determines the lifestyle we adopt now. This point was such an eye-opener for me.

I'd rather name this book "The Courage to Believe" as trust/having confidence/believing in yourself and others seem to be the essence of this book.

Lots of valuable takeaways in the sequel too. You'll enjoy this one if you have read and liked "The Courage to be Disliked".

May 17, 2023

Stay cautious of extreme ideologies

 I'm currently reading "The subtle art of not giving a F**k" for the second time and I'm amazed by the sheer volume of takeaways from this book.

I'm struggling to pick and mindmap the key points to discuss for this week's book discussion hour :-) 

The chapter on the tyranny of Exceptionalism hits the nail right on the head.

The author Mark Manson says, "It's a statistical improbability that any single person will be an extraordinary performer in all areas of life, or even in many areas of their life"

His reasoning on why extreme ideologies grab hold of our attention is so true!

Given the enormous amount of information that comes our way every single day AND the fact that our attention span is limited, only the extreme and exceptional catches our eye. It's not surprising that the vlogs with the following headlines get the max views.

"I did 108 Suryanamaskars for 30 days and here's what happened"

"I lost 30 kgs in 8 months following this special diet"

"My morning routine from 3:45 AM"

"I switched to a raw vegan diet and healed all my health issues"

Such information received through social media, workshops and courses (though may sound inspiring and aspirational) makes us loathe our current state and puts us in a state of self-criticism and guilt.

Instead of being in a state of self-acceptance and discovering our true journey, we end up fixating on our lack and emulating someone's journey.

The other issues that Mark  brought out:

"This flood of extreme information has conditioned us to believe that exceptionalism is the new normal".

"This deluge of exceptional information drives us to feel pretty insecure and desperate"

"The inundation of the exceptional makes people feel worse about themselves, makes them feel that they need to be more extreme, more radical, and more self-assured to get noticed or even matter"

You don't need extreme ways of living to lead a healthy and content life. 

Getting information and inspiration from outside sources is akin to eating.

How you process the information and imbibe it for your lifestyle and situation is akin to digestion.

"You are not what you eat; You are what you digest" - is equally applicable to our thoughts.

May 16, 2023

Karma Yoga for Family Health

 "Two topics impact everyone, whether you are interested in them or not: health and money", says Morgan Housel in the Introduction chapter of his book "The Psychology of Money".

It takes conscious, deliberate efforts to invest and grow in both these aspects.

Pursuing one and ignoring the other is no longer an option in today's times.

This applies to individuals as well as families.

Taking charge of the health of the family is a shared responsibility.

It starts with taking responsibility for one's own health first.

Once this gets rolling, other requirements start to fall in place.

  • Being a role model
  • Having a common understanding of health and wellness
  • Participating in activities that help maintain or improve overall family health - cooking, going for a walk together, planning outdoor weekend activities
  • Setting common rules and boundaries that are applicable for all - bedtime, screen time, allowed limit of junk food
  • Maintaining a consensus when it comes to health-related decisions to be taken - steps to take in case of an illness

In most households, the first step is usually taken by the mother/woman of the house. There are certainly exceptions, not denying that.

When we (women) take responsibility for our health, we put in the required efforts toward it.

When we extend the same to our family, sometimes there is resistance and misalignment.

Many times, the requirements listed above start to flounder, leading to frustration and disappointment.

The main cause of conflict is the expectation of a shared mindset and shared effort.

There are times our egos come our way and make us question, "Why should I do everything? Why should I slog in the kitchen?"

A time arrives when we end up resenting the fact that all the effort towards family health falls on our shoulders.

That is precisely the time when we need to be strong and not get tempted to make easy, convenient choices.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, it is worth reminding ourselves about how our efforts are aligned with a larger purpose of investing in our family's good health. Proceed with your convictions, irrespective of whether others in the family pay attention, recognize, and appreciate your efforts. When we think of such efforts as our "karma yoga" towards our family health, they don't seem burdensome.

May 13, 2023

Book Review: Yoga for the digestive system by Swami Shankardevananda


The human digestive system has fascinated me since 12th grade and I constantly explore new avenues to learn more about it.

This book "Yoga for the digestive system" was recommended to me by an Insta follower. An extremely insightful one, filled with multiple revelations.

The author starts by setting context on the digestive system - the various organs, processes involved, the timing of food in each stage and nutrients.

What made this book a page-turner for me was the importance given to mind-gut connection and reiterating how many digestive issues (indigestion, ulcer, constipation, IBS etc) are indeed psychosomatic.

These two statements sum this up so well:

"No other organ system is as susceptible to psychological disturbances as the human gastrointestinal tract"

"Behind poor digestion is an inability of the mind to digest the situations of life and to metabolize the problems correctly"

There is enough coverage about the Ayurvedic interpretation of digestion - three doshas, the role of Samana and Apana Vayu, three gunas, and eating according to season, climate and constitution. Not in depth though, but good enough for someone new to these concepts.

The chapter on digestive Prana talks about how we lose Prana through our eating habits and how to regain it.

The second section has chapters dedicated to various digestive disorders - the cause, symptoms and Yogic way of addressing the same. The author states that the digestive system is a sensitive mirror of the mind. Regarding IBS and its linkage to our thoughts, he says, ".....reflects our conscious or unconscious irritation with life as a whole and ourselves".

This passage summed it up beautifully on the mind-body relationship:

"The mind is like the sea, the body is the land and their sphere of interaction is the seashore. When the mind is peaceful and relaxed, the sea is calm. However, when the mind is troubled, the sea becomes turbulent and waves beat against the shore, tearing away large sections of the land"

The final section has various practical solutions in terms of asanas, pranayama and meditative practices, along with step-by-step instructions.

A must-read book and a must-have one in your home library for continuous reference.

May 11, 2023

30 Most Impactful books under Rs.10000

 In Apr 2019, I made a list of my favorite books. It is time to get this list updated, given that so many fantastic books came to my attention space in the past 4 years. Instead of calling this list - "My Favorite Books", I'm gonna call it - "30 Most impactful books". These books are from multiple genres - habits, health, philosophy, productivity etc.

Along with the titles and authors, I have also given their prices (as of 11th May on Amazon). As you would notice, these 30 books put together would cost around 9000 rupees. With a reading speed of 2-3 books per month, you can plan and finish reading them in a year.

For this investment of 1 year and Rs.9000, you will benefit from a wealth of knowledge and perspectives from multiple authors who are experts in their fields.

I strongly believe that one has to diversify and seek opinions and learnings from multiple people.

No one person in this world can claim themselves as an expert and have answers to all areas of life. We need to take responsibility to figure out answers for ourselves based on our life situation, our environment and our unique personality. These books will help us in this journey of self-awareness and self-discovery.

P.S There are 23 books in the pic above and the remaining 7 are on my Kindle.

A day of multiple emotions

 "How was the day today?", I ask myself this simple question every night before sleep. The realization is that there isn't a simple answer. Each day comes with a mixed bag of emotions and can't be narrowed down to a single word.

It was Election Day yesterday. After my usual morning routine, we stepped out to cast our votes. We took D along with us, so she gets a slice of the experience. Waited for around 45 min before we could finish the process.

Didn't plan anything for breakfast and we were all hungry by then. Decided to go to a nearby South Indian restaurant. The roads were empty. As we went inside and took our seats, we noticed a line-up of Swiggy and Zomato delivery personnel waiting to pick up their orders. We sat for a couple of minutes, noticing how there were very few waiters in the service area.

A gentleman sitting behind our table, along with his wife and his son started to yell so badly at a waiter. They had been waiting for 45 minutes and the service had been ridiculously slow. It was quite scary because of the swearing and explicit words that he used. D looked quite shocked and we decided to leave the place before things turn uglier.

Went to a nearby Darshini and ate our plate of idli/vade. D was still thinking about the whole episode and had many questions.

D : "Why did that uncle use the F word to shout at that waiter? His small son was also sitting there."

Me: "Maybe that uncle was too hangry"

D : "Even still he shouldn't have used bad language"

Me: "These incidents do happen. This is the first time you have seen it. Don't dwell too much over it"

We returned home and I started to prepare lunch.

After lunch, I spoke to a friend after a year. It felt so good to talk to her and share our life updates. Didn't realize the time passing by. I share a comfortable chemistry with a handful of friends, and can just talk for hours with them.

In the afternoon, I started watching the documentary series "MH370". This incident shook me quite a bit when it happened in 2014 and I used to follow the news to understand the investigation and no conclusion was ever reached.

The series talks about multiple possibilities on what could have happened, but there is no concrete closure in the past 9 years. After watching the 3 episodes, it left a deeper impact on me and I felt like wanting to know more.

My thoughts were all about the missing flight and the various theories and conspiracies.

Made a quick dinner and I was trying to divert my mind. I suddenly stumbled upon the news about Masterchef Australia's Judge Jock passing away. He is my favorite among the current three judges. I just couldn't believe that he is no more. It was hard to process this news.

A day filled with such a varied range of emotions - disbelief, shock, comfort, sadness, disgust and more.

May 9, 2023

Is your self-care debt building up?

 Self-care has become a priority in today's times.

Gone are the days when self-care was equated with vacations, massages, spa sessions, afternoons at a beauty salon or expensive makeup products with an aggrandizing claim "You're worth it!".

Self-care isn't something we do once in a while to catch a break from life.

Self-care is intertwined with life - those daily habits that boost our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

Self-care is caring for one's body, mind and soul.

When we start compromising on our self-care, it impacts the quality of our life on multiple levels.

For eg,

Let's say, I jot down the list of my self-care activities and this list comes up to 10 items.

As days and weeks pass by, I'm unable to meet these 10 items every day. Because of conflicting priorities and other reasons, I end up checking off barely 2-3 items per day. The self-care debt starts to build up slowly.

Once it reaches a certain threshold, this debt affects our body, mind and soul. Firstly, it starts with guilt and self-criticism and then slowly resentment and anger join the party. And as a finale, self-pity enters the stage and we end up feeling helpless.

How to avoid getting into this state?

First, list down your absolute, non-negotiables when it comes to self-care. This is something only you can define.

Maintain a habit tracker with this list.

Check off the list at the end of each day.

Review this list along with the checked-off items at the end of each week.

Make sure the self-care debt doesn't build up.

Here's a snippet of my list that you could refer to as a starting point:

  1. 30 min of Yoga practice
  2. Sun exposure - walk on the terrace
  3. 30 min in reading a book
  4. 15 min in writing my thoughts
  5. Evening Pooja and chanting shlokas
  6. Balanced, home-cooked meals
  7. Sipping a cup of tea slowly without any disturbance
  8. Dinner by 7 PM
  9. 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep

P.S. Inspiration for this post came up while conversing with my soul friend Sakthi :-)

May 8, 2023

The demands of a morning routine

 I recently happened to learn about the morning routine of a famous male motivational speaker. It went like this:

"I wake up at 4:30 AM, drink a glass of warm water, meditate for 30 minutes, read for 30 minutes, step out for my tennis practice for the next 1 hour, come home and get ready, have breakfast, read newspapers and hit my home office at 9:30 AM"

It would certainly be a different version of a morning routine if it were told from the voice of a woman, more so by a mother.

The first thing most mothers do as soon as they wake up is to directly step into the kitchen and prepare breakfast and lunch, along with tea/coffee or other morning drinks as needed.

As the family size increases, more work gets added to meet the varied food demands of everyone.

For some (like me), we can't just hit the pedal as soon as we wake up. We prefer to have a few minutes for ourselves and then get started with our daily responsibilities.

If there are young kids who go to school, it is also up to the mothers to wake them up gently by cuddling, having a soft chit-chat and getting them ready before the school bus/van arrives. This routine by itself takes a good amount of time and can't be rushed.

Along with these tasks, there is also laundry work, cleaning after cooking, packing lunch boxes and all those tiny little tasks that can't be ignored.

As part of self-care routines, mothers also try to sneak in their exercise schedule - a quick run / Yoga practice / visit to the nearby gym. Since the exercise schedule is best done on an empty stomach and before other priorities claim our time, most of us see to it that the exercise routine is done and dusted in the morning hours.

Now that Vitamin-D deficiency is rising, we also try to get our daily dose of morning sunlight.

If the mother also works for an employer and had to go to a physical office location, it adds even more complexity to the whole morning routine. To beat the traffic, compromises are made, self-care routines are skipped and tasks get rushed.

These are not exaggerations, but the common reality as seen in most urban Indian households.

Many mothers are doing a brilliant job of managing these challenges through proper planning, waking up early, maintaining a regular schedule and most importantly, having a clear understanding of their priorities. But not every day is the same and not all mothers are robots who can execute at the same efficiency all days of the year.

Unexpected health issues of self or other family members, weather conditions, unpredictable traffic that leads to school bus delays and many other factors can derail a well-planned morning routine.

Morning routines are crucial as it sets the tone of the day. At the same time, let's not get too fixated on sticking to our morning routines. Let's accept that there are days when things don't go as per our plan. Let's be compassionate towards ourselves and not get into self-criticism mode.

P.S. Thoughts and reflections from last Fri when I woke up at 8:30 AM after a migraine attack the previous night.

May 7, 2023

Book Review: Head, Heart & Hands by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

 This book is rather a booklet of 60 pages that consists of discourses given by the author.

He talks about how a Yogic journey focuses on enhancing the abilities of the mind, opening up the heart and bringing creativity to the hands. Not much depth, given the size of the book. But it gives a preview that kindles the interest of the reader to go deeper.

The first chapter focuses mainly on spiritual awareness. In simple terms, it is a personal effort to improve the quality of life. The author emphasizes the importance of observation and modification of normal behavioral patterns of life.

"Spiritual awareness comes not with meditation, but with cultivation of understanding" - I was wowed by this simple and profound thought.

Transformation is possible when we transcend our samsaras - our default patterns. Association with sense objects and the material world makes us feel attached and comes in the way of such transcendence.

In the second chapter, the author focuses on the two opposing concepts of Yoga and Maya. While Yoga unites you with the source, Maya creates more distance between you and the source. He then elaborates on the four faculties of ahamkara (ego), buddhi (intellect), chitta (memories) and manas (rationality), which form the part of the great mind (mahat).

Association with sense objects leads to desire, which then leads to craving and then becomes an attachment, as the intensity of the desire deepens.

After establishing this initial context, the author talks about managing the mind through practices earmarked for each of the four faculties.

He refers to an invisible heart (or the spiritual heart), which beats to the nine major sentiments (Bhava) triggered by the mood of the mind. There is a brief mention of the nine steps of Bhakti Yoga. It made me curious to learn more about these steps as outlined in Ramacharitamanas.

From the context of Hands, he brings out concepts and examples from Karma Yoga, creativity and the principle of focusing on the process and not the outcomes.

At the end of the book, I felt like having watched a teaser and waiting for the full movie🙂 And I love such a feeling when I have more topics to read up or research further.

May 6, 2023

Differentiate between Truths and Facts

 As creators, we share certain bold statements with the outside world (social media, workshops, courses).

For eg, I have been repeating these statements on multiple occasions:

"books are life-changing",

"a book arrives to you at the right time",

"books provide multiple perspectives" etc.

Someone else might say,

"reading books is a productive waste of time",

"reading books boosts one's ego",

"books share a limited perspective" etc.

These statements are our beliefs. These beliefs are formed through repeated, life experiences. As these beliefs get imbibed, they become our Truths.

Please note, Truths are not necessarily Facts.

What is true to me may not be true to you. This is something that each of us needs to discover for ourselves.

In social media, we often hear tall claims that sound like Facts. Be it in nutrition, health, exercise routines, habits, wellness, parenting, spirituality, or life choices, you'll notice these claims, which are nothing but an individual's Truths / Beliefs, formed through their own experiences.

My earnest request to people reading this -

Discover your Truths yourself.

Take the time to distinguish between Truths and Facts.

Don't let others' beliefs dictate your life choices.

Don't blindly accept others' Truths as applicable to your lives.

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