Jun 28, 2023

Information Consumption based on our values

 Will consuming information and knowledge make an impact on our behaviors?

Will the right information motivate us to make changes in our lives?

Will information alone suffice or is something more required to sustain behavior change?

As someone who loves to learn about different aspects of health, I strongly believe in the power of information and knowledge gleaned from multiple sources.

When I started researching about artificial ingredients that are added to packaged foods, the information I came across was convincing enough for me to make changes to my food preferences. Over time, the changes and habits have become ingrained and I'm no longer tempted by a pack of chips or cookies.

When I read about how technology players are exploiting psychological vulnerabilities and our inherent biases to get us hooked on social media and other platforms, it made it easier to consciously reduce my attention and time spent on digital platforms.

I'm currently reading this fantastic book "Why We Sleep" and I'm learning how the different stages of sleep are equally important and how various factors such as blue light, alcohol, caffeine, and alarm clocks/snooze buttons impact our sleep. The knowledge gained through this one single book is sufficient enough for anyone to make sleep an absolute priority. It pushes me to focus on getting a good night's sleep and make changes to my evening routine that hinders sleep. Though I have been prioritizing sleep for the last few years, there were many factors that I didn't know about.

Continuous Learning => Information and knowledge => New ideas and Changes in perspectives => Behavior change

Underlying this chain reaction is the bedrock of our values. In an earlier post, I had written about good health as one of my top values.

If our values are aligned with our learning, then behavior change is imminent with new information.

But if we are learning about a topic that isn't connected to our values, then it is quite likely that we wouldn't be motivated to make any changes.

Get a clear understanding of your values. The rest will fall in place automatically.

Jun 27, 2023

Prioritizing Flexibility


There are different facets of self-care. As we grow older, a certain facet takes precedence over others due to life circumstances, new roles, and responsibilities.

For eg,

When you are dealing with a certain lifestyle disorder, taking care of your nutritional requirements becomes a priority.

When you have transitioned to the role of a new parent, getting a few hours of sleep whenever possible becomes a priority.

When you are going through a difficult situation in life, getting a few minutes to take deep breaths and ground yourself becomes a priority.

As I thought about my current priority when it comes to self-care, the word that struck me is FLEXIBILITY. 

Being in my early 40s, flexibility is what I intend to prioritize from a self-care point of view. To be specific, flexibility across four different aspects of life.

Flexibility of body

Due to poor lifestyle choices in my 20s, my body had become extremely tight and stiff. Thanks to Yoga asana practices, I slowly regained my flexibility in my 30s. It is easy to lose flexibility within a few days of being sedentary. I could feel the tightness in my hamstrings, hip muscles and shoulders if I skip Yoga practice for a week. A rigid body becomes the source of unexplained aches and pains. It affects our mobility and our ability to do physical actions. Tasks as simple as sitting down on the floor and getting up becomes a huge challenge.

Flexibility of mind

The famous quote - "Old habits die hard" is not just applicable to physical habits, but also to our repeated mental patterns, conditioning and beliefs. If we don't become aware of them in our 40s, then the conditioning gets hardwired and becomes even more difficult to change in our later years. Becoming aware, questioning and reframing our patterns and beliefs requires one to adopt a flexible mindset. The more rigid we are, the more challenging it becomes not only for ourselves but also for our family members.

Flexibility of time and schedule

In my 20s, it was easier to leave for the office at 8:30 AM and return by 7-8 PM. This was made possible due to fewer responsibilities, a lack of awareness to prioritize self-care, and being oblivious to the repercussions of poor lifestyle choices. When multiple "care" items get added to your to-do list (childcare, elderly care, self-care, pet care, home care etc), a flexible schedule is a MUST to fulfill all responsibilities in good measure. Life becomes quite imbalanced when there is a long, fixed work schedule. Every little time that gets wasted creates more frustration, as the same time can be put to better use in other aspects of life.

Flexibility of strategies to meet my needs

This is a concept I learned in a course on non-violent communication (NVC). Many times, we get so fixated on specific strategies to meet our needs. For eg, the need for contribution can be met in multiple ways but we end up getting fixated on one. For eg, we expect our jobs to allow us to contribute meaningfully to the world, but due to various reasons, that may or may not happen. If a strategy for a specific need isn't working, we should be flexible enough to find alternate strategies to meet our needs.

Does flexibility resonate with you as a facet of self-care that you'd like to prioritize?

Jun 26, 2023

The "whatever" attitude

 As a mother of a tween girl, I'm being introduced to new-age vocabulary these days. New words, new phrases, new reactions, and whatnot!

Two words that D uses often are "whatever" and "doesn't matter".

Sometimes in the middle of a serious conversation, she would give an "I don't care" reaction with one of these two words. While it is funny mostly, it does get irritating at times. On one such occasion last weekend when she used "whatever", I asked her, "Why do you like this word so much?"

She replied, "Mummy, this word is so powerful. Let's say, a problem comes. If you are not scared and you say "whatever" to it, the problem will feel roasted and run away".

I was taken aback as it was that thathuvam (philosophy) moment that often happens at our home!๐Ÿ™‚

Isn't this "whatever" attitude in a way helping to cultivate a mindset of equanimity - a state where we swing to neither extremes of becoming jubilant when something good happens or depressed when something bad happens?

This attitude is also helpful when we get unexpected reactions from others or unexpected situations to handle, without dwelling too much over it.

Our children can offer unique perspectives that we may not have thought of. As long as we keep the channel of communication open with them without forcing our own beliefs, we might end up getting the insights we most needed to hear.

In another context, I got roasted yesterday while having a cup of coffee in the afternoon, after giving a lecture to K in the morning about how caffeine interrupts sleep๐Ÿ˜‰ Lecture inspired by the current read - "Why We Sleep" by Mathew Walker. K and D are always subjected to little summaries from the books I read - stories, insights, thathuvams, quotes, etc. They would remember them vividly and give it back at the right moment if I deviate from what I say!๐Ÿ™‚

P.S. "Roasted" is yet another tween word, used in the context of the feeling when you intend to make fun of someone but he/she ends up making fun of you.

Jun 22, 2023

Book Review: Mind, mind management and Raja Yoga by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

 This book can be called as a prequel to the book "Raja Yoga Yatra 1" by the same author. Before understanding the purpose of Raja Yoga and its eight limbs, we must understand the nature and workings of the mind. Once we become aware of the stages and functions of the mind, management of this powerful mind becomes more plausible through techniques of Raja Yoga.

The author states that life is an expression of the mind - it guides every action, reaction, idea, thought, desire and expectation. Since it plays such a pivotal role, understanding its nature and behavior is so crucial. The mind is the manifest aspect of consciousness and it comprises of four functions. The correlation of these 4 functions with their respective tattwas (elements) is such an eye-opener:

Ahamkara (Ego) - Earth

Chitta (Memories) - Water

Buddhi (Intelligence) - Fire

Manas (Fickle mind) - Air

The author elaborates on these four functions in detail and how to manage each of them. He then explains the different vrittis (mental modifications) with a particular focus on those five vrittis as mentioned by Sage Patanjali in Yoga Sutras. The explanation of why Patanjali emphasized vritti nirodha (cessation) and not opposition or suppression was so insightful.

Mind is classified based on its quality and nature and how it is experienced. It is considered the sixth sense organ. The mind can also be classified based on its states as understood by modern psychology. The fourth state - Turiya (transcendental or superconscious mind) is where the mind breaks all its barriers, there is no separation between the external world and the internal world and it becomes so powerful that it can influence the outer environment.

Though these chapters might seem theoretical, they help to gain deeper awareness about one's mind and its default workings.

The mind is understood in the form of a portal, a doorway that connects transcendental reality and material reality. The mind can help you go towards either side, depending on what you pursue. The highest sadhana in life, according to the author, is mind management, not meditation. The highest awareness is how the mind responds to different situations.

The eight limbs of Raja Yoga are then explained in detail and their respective role in mind management.

This is a text to be studied and contemplated over, with multiple re-reads. I'd highly recommend this book for Yoga practitioners and for anyone who would like to explore the workings of the mind.

Jun 20, 2023

What gifts do we value?

 I remember this incident from a couple of years back. I had recently joined a startup and we were playing Secret Santa during Christmas time. I was the Santa to a Marketing team member and I had no clue what his interests were. I enquired with a couple of his teammates but didn't get much info that could help me choose the right gift. I went ahead and bought a book related to Marketing. When the gift opening day arrived on Zoom, I realized that this person doesn't read any books. It was a "bulb-u" moment for me!๐Ÿ™‚

I'm terrible at selecting the right material gifts, especially if I don't know the interests of someone.

My criteria for gift selection are oriented toward utility:

A gift has to be useful and not merely sit on a showcase or inside a locker.

A gift shouldn't be given for the sake of formality.

A gift should have a longer lifetime value.

If we know a person's interests, material gifts are easy to select, order, and ship to anywhere in the world in today's digital age.

There are also many valuable and thoughtful gifts that we can consider gifting:

  • Home cooked meal
  • Homemade goodies (Spice mixes, sweet treats, baked goods)
  • Handmade products (bookmarks, painted coasters, embroidered cushion covers)
  • Handwritten letters / inspirational quotes in the form of posters
  • Offer one hour of uninterrupted and undistracted listening
  • Gift an hour to relax and unwind while you take care of the receiver's duties or work (childcare, elderly care, running errands)
  • Discussion, advice, or suggestions on a topic of interest
  • Watch the receiver's favorite movie or a web series together (though it might belong to a different genre than your liking)
  • Sending prayers, positive energies, or healing vibrations to the receiver

It goes without saying that the receiver should value such gifts as well.

We can help our children to appreciate the value of such gifts - both giving and receiving them. It helps them to start appreciating people and the effort and thought they have put in, rather than just focusing on the monetary aspects.

A few observations of concern especially noticed during birthday parties -

Insisting and demanding return gifts

Showing signs of disappointment when return gifts don't meet their expectations

Deciding on the value of a friend based on the gift he/she gives

Deciding on the worth of an event based on the gift he/she receives

It is up to us as parents to help kids rise above the material valuation they start to learn from a young age. The only way to do that is to change our values and be role models to them in what we value and appreciate in relationships.

Jun 13, 2023

Book Review: The Children of Tomorrow by Om Swami

 Staying true to the tagline of this book - "A Monk's Guide to mindful parenting", the author has beautifully brought up various situations in parenting where mindfulness is much needed.

Some of the lessons from this book were eye-opening and I could resonate with my experiences as a mother. For eg, in the very first chapter, the author shares this insight - "When parents are too excited to introduce something to a child, the child almost always rejects it". I was nodding my head, wondering "How true!" :-)

The book is divided into 3 sections - Understand, Build and Nurture.

The "Understand" section focuses on 4 key aspects - dealing with lies and demands (child's issues), how to manage anger and attachment (parent's issues).

Instead of creating fear or shame, parents can use the power of love and acceptance to build trust, which will prevent the child from lying. The author's life example of lying and the response of his father drive home this point so well.

He has also illustrated how deep attachment affects our children in multiple ways, which leads to saddling them with a burden of expectations.

In the section on Build, the concept of Identity Capital was thought-provoking. Once we help our children build their identity capital, it helps them to face challenges related to identity crises in their late teens and twenties.

The author has referenced principles from the Danish way of parenting (the acronym for PARENT is a great reminder!), Meg Jay's book - "The Defining Decade" (added to my To-Read list) and other relevant resources. The process of practicing mindfulness in speech is conveyed brilliantly through an example from Buddha's life.

Favorite quotes:

"If we are to help our children grow, we must not be afraid of letting them face the challenges of life"

"Effortlessness in anything comes from immense effort"

"If you want anything done from anyone without getting into a conflict, make it look like it's their idea"

"Appreciate the action along with an attribute and not the outcome"

"There's nothing called an extraordinary child, only an extraordinary childhood"

Laced with anecdotes, stories and examples, this book is surely a must-read for parents, especially those with young kids.

Jun 12, 2023

Values - hidden influencers of our lives

 I've recently been pondering over how much our values influence our lives.

When you ask yourself, "Why do you do what you do" across all aspects - be it our thoughts, words, actions, behaviors, and all life decisions (major or minor), it all eventually boils down to this answer - VALUES.

Sometimes, we compromise our values for various reasons - societal pressures, temptations, external influences, the need to impress someone or to be part of a group, etc.

But if you notice those CONSISTENT patterns in your thoughts, behaviors, or decisions, VALUES play an influential role.

I have taken up this exercise of jotting down all my values as I unravel them one by one. Here's the list in no particular order:

  • Good Health
  • Time
  • Authenticity
  • Humility
  • Punctuality
  • Simplicity
  • Hard work
  • Spiritual
  • Sharing my gifts
  • Freedom
  • Responsible
  • Frugality
  • Effective use of resources
  • Continuous Learning
  • Seeking knowledge
  • Balance

This list will not remain static and is bound to evolve. Also, the priority we assign to a value keeps changing, when we end up in a situation where we have to pick one value over another.

The reason why I have been able to stay consistent with home cooking, Yoga practice, and regular walking is due to the value I assign to good health.

The reason why I have been able to stay consistent with reading is due to the value I assign to Continuous Learning and Seeking knowledge.

The reason why I get so frustrated with long commute, traffic, and pointless meetings is due to the value I assign to Time.

The reason why I lose my temper with my family members on certain occasions is due to the value I assign to Frugality and the Effective use of resources.

Values are the hidden, but powerful influencers in our lives. Becoming aware of them is by itself a valuable lesson.

Jun 3, 2023

Book Review: Prana and Pranayama by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

 When I first started reading this book in Aug 2022, it opened my eyes to multiple facets of Yoga philosophy - panchakoshas, pancha pranas, Chakras, Nadis, Swara Yoga, the role of Pranayama and the different practices. It is a comprehensive guide that talks about the importance of prana and practices to expand and control it.

This book is divided into three sections - philosophy, physiology and practice. The Philosophy section sets a basic context on different aspects that impact prana or are impacted by prana.

Many of us presume that prana is equivalent to breath. 

Prana is the life force in motion. It is present in every aspect of creation.

Breath is an external manifestation of prana. Breath practices can help prana to flow freely. The blockages in the level of nadis and chakras need to be cleared and purified so that prana can flow and energize different parts of the body and brain.

It was fascinating to read about the benefits of pranayama, especially nadi shodhana and the importance of balancing ida and pingala nadis. Made me curious to dive deeper into swara yoga.

There were multiple learnings and takeaways throughout the book.

A living being is called a prani because existence is not possible without prana.

Worry and stress deplete prana.

Maximum prana is utilized by the brain.

"Everyone is born with a certain quantum of prana, but the quantity and quality change continuously as one goes through life"

"Every movement of energy manifests sound, and every sound carries energy"

Nearly 50% of the book is all about practices - the exact guidelines, benefits, contraindications and variations. This makes it a ready reckoner to guide the reader in adopting the various Pranayamas in their daily practice.

If you are getting started with Pranayama or Yoga philosophy, this is a good book to read and refer to.

Jun 2, 2023

Blogversary - Looking back

 Today is the 19th birthday of my blog๐Ÿ™‚ A heartfelt gratitude to the readers for all the support and love over these years!

What started as a casual exploration of a new tool (Blogger) back in 2004 has turned into one of my passions. In the initial few months, it was all about connecting with a group of friends. We would write something in our respective blogs, comment and make fun of each other. This period was way before FB and other social media platforms came into the picture๐Ÿ™‚

Blogging became a way to chronicle experiences, travel, books, and past moments. There used to be certain blogs that would provide weekly prompts - Sunday scribblings, 3-word Wednesdays, etc. I remember looking forward to such prompts and writing every week in the form of short stories or amateur poetry.

Apart from content, it was also fun playing around with different themes and templates that Blogger(and other 3rd party sites) used to offer. I tried to monetize through Adsense for a few months, but it spoiled the whole layout and experience.

I had two different blogs - a personal one and a work-related/professional one. I later combined them into a single entity, as the demarcation between work and personal life is blurred when you want to write from an authentic space.

After reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic in 2015, I started to enjoy writing as a process. Moved to a cleaner layout with minimal distraction for the reader, bought my domain in 2016, and began to share my thoughts without much hesitation.

I look forward to documenting the annual reviews and it feels so good to go back in time and revisit key moments in life.

Blogging/writing has become an important medium through which I can express myself authentically. That has always been the goal.

To be honest, I don't think about what topics the reader would like to read about.

Over the years, my areas of interest have shifted and my perspectives have changed. The blog provides me with a glimpse of this transition.

For eg, I no longer could connect myself with the anger and sarcasm phase of packaged food reviews in 2017-19.

Once I commit myself to something, I know I can be consistent at it for years. Writing is one such activity that has evolved from being a hobby to becoming a purpose.

In times of reels and short video formats, I'd still prefer to express myself through words. My comfort zone, my happy place!

Jun 1, 2023

My experience - Satvic Yoga programs

 Last year, around the same time, I was mentally quite exhausted. Multiple challenges in 2021 and 2022 contributed to increased stress and worry.

Couldn't keep up with my Yoga practice on a consistent rhythm. Lost my flexibility, strength and stamina.

I used to go for regular Yoga classes during 2015-2020, but the 1.5-year break resulted in my body turning stiff. My hamstrings were super tight and my shoulders felt so heavy.

I remember one morning I tried doing "Anjaneyasana" (low lunge pose) and struggled so much. What used to be a comfortable pose felt so painful. I cried that day, thinking about the loss after years of practice.

In that same week, I stumbled upon Satvic Yoga's 21-day Level 1 program scheduled to begin in June. Decided to adopt a beginner mindset and restart from scratch. The flexibility that I had lost came back in a couple of weeks of practice. I followed it up with Satvic Yoga Intense (Level 2) program in July. Apart from the asana practice sessions that were conducted so diligently by our teacher Ms.Radhika, the knowledge sessions inspired me to learn more about Yoga philosophy.

In March this year, I completed the Satvic Yoga Advanced (Level 3) program. Though certain health issues cropped up around this time, regular Yoga practice helped me recover faster.

All three programs are so beautifully structured, covering multiple aspects - asana, pranayama, chanting, meditation, reflection, lifestyle and more. They helped me become more consistent at my practice and have also given me a sense of direction and purpose.

Asanas are only a fraction of Yoga, it is so much more.

Yoga is a lifestyle, a sadhana, a philosophy for life. The deeper one goes, the more profound the experience is!

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