Friday, April 20, 2007

The Pleasures of Self-Discipline

In Kerala there is a type of ayurvedic medicine called Kashayam. It is very bitter. People used to sweet and dainty dishes will have a hard time stomaching this medicine. It has even become a kind of proverb to say “it is bitter- like kashayam”.
Certain kashayams have the effect of purifying your blood.

Discipline and any action aimed at improving our living conditions seem to be like drinking the bitter kashaya. You would rather relish the sweetness of languor.
Say for instance, you want to build up a muscular body. You have to work out a program of regular exercise and stick to it, every day. Every day at the same hour, you do the set number of pushups, sit-ups, chin-ups, dumbbells, everything in your prescribed routine. And you take the special diet, protein enriched to add muscles to your frame.

In the first few days, your body will scream, “No!”, as you press it into this unfamiliar regimen. You do not give in. You press on.

Then you break though the layer of resistance and actually start to enjoy the work out session. And slowly, the reward starts manifesting …a muscular body.
It repeats at every attempt you take at improving yourself- be it your handwriting, learning to speak in public, overcoming the fear of rejection in socialization, learning to meditate….

After a few months or so, you start to reap in the rewards: a lean, muscular physique, a neat and tidy handwriting that immediately catches attention, a new found confidence to stand up and deliver your message to groups of people, an ability to enjoy the peace and joy of meditation…

The Bhagavad-Gita also says: “Those pleasures which are bitter like poison in the beginning but later are sweet like nectar are the best…” The Gita calls them Sattvic pleasures…the Pleasures of Discipline.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The role of thoughts in shaping our destiny

One cannot over stress the effect of internal dialogue (also called unconscious self talk, thoughts etc) while discussing success, in any field. The age old habit of the mind to hang on to something, the inability to let go and stand by itself, is the root cause of this internal dialogue. (I am talking about unconscious self talk- that which we are not aware that we are thinking)

Right now, take a break and listen to yourself: what is going on inside your mind now? What are the thoughts rushing through your brain? Are there any feelings? Boredom? Become aware. From time to time, take a break and be aware of what is going on inside you, NOW. This can also be the key to overcoming addictions.

If you are like most people, you will find the thoughts rage on within each of us, all the time. Millions of thoughts pass through our minds everyday.Most of the time they are like an undercurrent, like if you are trying to catch a running bus, your mind might say: Will I get it? No, I will not get it. There. It is gone. Damn! Missed again! And we feel bad about it and about ourselves. This is natural, because we will feel good about ourselves only if we tell ourselves good things.

One reason we have been thinking this way is because we have been taught to think like that from childhood. For those who believe in rebirths, it’s been done for ages. Our entertainment media constantly presents us with set routines for reacting to situations. Thus, to resolve a difference of opinion, a fight is the only solution. We are caught in this trap. Wars start because of this set reaction.
To escape the cycle of repeated routine reactions to situations, one has to practice awareness- awareness of everything: thoughts, breathe, sensations, feelings, movements.

Suggested reading: What to say when you talk to yourself
Developing your personal power

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Technique for Relaxation

Relaxation involves letting all the stress and tension in the body and mind drain off us, till we hang like a limp, wet rag of cloth. Or a reclining cat that is the perfect example of relaxation.

Why is Stress caused? Research by authorities such as Dr. Hans Selye has shown that stress is caused when there are uncontrolled thoughts in the mind.
It is also true that it is not possible to control the thoughts as you would turn a radio knob off and on. But it is possible to befriend the mind .And that is the only way of controlling it.

It is similar to dealing with an unruly child. If we tell it not to do something, it will immediately go and do it. But if we give it loving attention and remain calm and watchful the child will eventually come to our side. We should not force it to do anything. Same is the case with the mind.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

True Equality

A husband and wife were walking down the road. He had been a highly successful industrialist, who had tasted extraordinary success in life. He had grown stale with it all-the money, the popularity, the fast cars, mansions, planes, speed yachts, he had them all….His kids were grown up and settled in life. It was at this point that he began thinking: What next?

He could achieve anything he set his eyes on. There was the presidency of the country. Well, he was not interested in dominating a position of power anymore. It would mean more power struggles with lobbies in the administration... He wasn’t that interested in reforming the nation as such. It was a question of survival. Let the fittest survive. As for the homeless on the streets, the prostitutes, the unemployed youth, the drug addicts …well there could be time for that later. Let me first find out the meaning of life. Then if there is time I will try to do something permanently good for this country and the world at large, He thought.

He distributed all his wealth among his children and various charities. With just one set of shirt and pants, he set out on his search for the truth. Oh, we forgot to mention: His wife accompanied him, just as she had through the long 43 years of his eventful marriage. She had been with him through his ups and downs, right when he started as a small time seller. She had been preparing with him for this big day by doing spiritual practices at their home. He had no idea of her spiritual development. He presumed himself to be her guide and mentor in spirituality too, as in everything else. But this day he was going to receive the shock of his life.

They had crossed several towns where they spent time at several temples, meditating and praying for guidance. This day had been particularly hot and they had been walking since morning.

Towards noon they approached a vast paddy field. The green stalks were swaying in the mid day breeze, smiling at the sun. They were walking along the side path when he noticed the shimmering stone that lay ahead of them on the track. He knew it immediately: it was a diamond, rarest of the rare; precious beyond compare. It could be worth several times their entire life earnings. In a moment he regained composure. He discarded it from his mind: nothing could deter him from his set goal. But he was afraid for his wife. She was a woman. Would she be swayed by this jewel and want to possess it? She shouldn’t swerve from the path of renunciation.

An idea dawned in his mind: as they approached the diamond, he scooped a handful of dust and threw it on the diamond, in an attempt to cover it.

What are you doing? Asked the wife.

He had to tell her.

She looked at him for some time. Her eyes seemed to go right through him.

“Do you still make a distinction between a pebble and a diamond?” She asked.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Creating what you want

Which is the most effective solution for creating all the wealth that you need? Saying Affirmations? Writing them down? Giving away money?

Invest in the Share market? Writing books?

Whatever the job/business you take up to increase your wealth, it is essential that you change your mental mind set first. An impoverished mind set can drive away wealth, or for that matter, all good things.

This is funny but true-“To him who has, shall be given (more)”.The thing in question is Faith. The more you search for something, the more it recedes. This holds true in every scenario-wealth, relationships, employment …and finally enlightenment.

That’s right, your own Self experience. Note, it is a capital “S”.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stress Relief Through Yoga

Stress may be defined as the mental and physical discomfort resulting from uncontrolled thoughts in one’s mind. This is the definition given by Dr.Hans Selye, the world famous authority on Stress. He has conducted extensive research on this problem that ails the modern world.

Let us see how stress develops and what its consequences are. The apparent stimuli are the external events that happen around an individual. Examples would be failure in exams, job interviews, failure to meet project deadlines, impending disasters like airplane crashes, being on the battlefront, fear of bomb threats, diseases etc.

We will consider a common instance: A salesman has to complete his minimum quota of sales. As the deadline approaches, he realizes that he has not achieved the required quota. He is assailed by thoughts: whether he will achieve it at all, will he achieve it within the time limit, will he be given a time extension, will he lose his job, will he get another, what will he do for his family’s provision,...As the number and variety of thoughts about potential disasters increases, his anxiety also increases. His heart beat goes up, his B.P. rises. In extreme cases palpitation occurs, speech may become incoherent.

One can well imagine the outcome of such a mental condition on his performance. He will not be effective in achieving his target. He may also end up in the hospital.

Thus stress, if uncontrolled, can result in poor results.

Let us look at how Yoga can remedy this situation. Yoga tackles stress from two areas: those of the body and the mind. Asanas and Pranayama help to tackle stress from the level of the body while at the mental level, meditation is the cure.

Asanas are postures which one assumes and holds for a specific amount of time. For example, Merudandasana is the pose in which one lies on his back, raises his legs up to an angle of 45 degrees, and holds them there for as long as he is comfortable. There are hundreds of asanas available which exercise different parts of the body. But since time is a limited commodity for the modern man, it essential to do only a few select asanas to derive the benefits.

While doing each asana, three points are to be borne in mind: Slowness, Awareness and Relaxation. When one performs asanas while adhering to the principles of Yoga as much as possible, the mind and body become more relaxed and calm. And stress cannot stay in a calm mind. It is akin to the disappearance of darkness, on the arrival of light.

Pranayamas are breathing exercises in which one seeks to develop awareness and control over the process of his own breathing. Inevitably this practice leads to calmness

Meditation: This is the second tool by which Yoga eliminates stress from the mind. This is primarily a mental exercise. In meditation one seeks to directly regulate and reduce the number of thoughts in the mind. We have earlier seen how reduction of thoughts helps to reduce stress. There are many methods of meditation, depending on one’s preferences, beliefs, religion and temperament. One method is to focus one’s attention on one thing. It may be an idea, an image, a smell, a sound, anything. Theists would find it easier to meditate because they can think of their beloved deity’s form. And love helps to focus the mind easier in an easier way. But it is not necessary that one be a believer to be able to meditate. One may meditate on a candle flame, a dot, or even on his own breath.

All said and done, if we agree that Yoga can indeed destress an individual, another question can arise: how is it possible to do yoga and meditation when you are stressed out, right in the middle of your job, say while dealing with tough clients?

The key is to maintain the thread of awareness that you had developed while doing your daily Yoga practice. One has to keep that awareness throughout the day. It seems a daunting task at first, but soon you will realize it is essential and in fact, enjoyable.

We become free to choose our responses to situations, because we become aware of what is going on inside us. A situation which previously had aroused anger in us would provide us a chance to make a new friend. One of my friends used to be frustrated and angry when caught in traffic jams. When he started doing Yoga and meditation, he became aware of how his own thoughts were causing anger in him. Awareness of his thoughts made him realize he should choose a better thought response to a traffic jam. So now he just takes a deep breath, lets the tension go, enjoys the situation and sometimes even jokes with other drivers.

Like all things, skill in Yoga also is just a matter of dedicated practice. It can be effectively used to reduce stress. Reduced stress will result in a better performance. When the individual improves his performance, the organization as a whole will benefit.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The limits of humans-or are there any ?

There does not seem to be any limit to the extraordinary feats achieved by humans in their quest to transcend mortal boundaries.

I once watched was a show on National Geographic,around December 2001 or so.It showed old women demonstrating their martial arts prowess. The camera showed an iron rod being placed (sharp end) against an old lady's temple and being hammered in at full force.Can you guess what happened ?

The end result was that the thick iron rod was bent into a big V. And the woman? Smiling as ever, she didn’t even move a muscle throughout the demo.She was a regular practitioner of Qigong.Does not this lady's story give us inspiration to question our own limits that we have set on ourselves?

Martial arts like Taichi, Qigong and Sindo focus on developing the internal life energy (Called Prana in Sanskrit / Chi in Chinese/ Ki in Japanese). Often the practitioners can achieve astonishing results as described above.

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