do self help books help?

self-help

Those who can, they do; those who cannot, they teach – thus goes an old maxim.

This can be a bit harsh to the teachers and coaches. Of course I include the writers of self help books and motivational speakers in this category. I say this even thought I myself have been and still do, off and on,  teach, give pep talks and write on ‘Art of Living’.

It does not mean that teachers are not successful. Only thing is that their growth, in the field that they are teaching now, has stopped.

Now  consider this. If somebody is passionate about science, he (she included) would go into the depths of science and come up with some invention or land mark scientific theory. He would not plunge into teaching science right after graduation or post graduation.

Players usually become coaches when they are well past the time when they could win at professional sport. In a sense they are teaching because now they can’t.

In fact I would rephrase the saying to say that  those who can should not teach, at least while they are still doing it and in the filed they are doing it. There comes a conflict of interest issue here. When a writer conducts creative writing workshop  I do not think she will honestly pass on all the secrets and tricks that has made her successful. Similarly, a professional payer cannot share all his secrets to others who are either his competitors or his potential competitors.

Today the book market is flooded with self help books. It is another issue that that the majority of the self help books do not help as was found out in a survey done some time back.

Before picking up a self help book one should do this simple probing. Did this author succeed in any thing other than in the field of writing self help literature. Recently, a book titled Success Mantra became a best seller in India. At least it was claimed to be so. The writer of the book is Mr. Subrat Roy and he wrote this book while he was in jail for his fraudulent practices. No doubt he has been successful. But what kind of success are we talking of?

Those who never worked in an office writer books about how to succeed in the workplace. Sometimes, people who failed in every field they tried their hands on, write books about how to achieve success and suddenly the book becomes a best seller.

Similarly,  I come across a number of motivational speakers whose only claim to fame is being a successful motivational speaker. Many of them chose this field because they could not stick to and persevere in their earlier chosen fields. Some of them might have been kicked out of their earlier jobs. Yet, they are hired by companies by paying hefty sums to motivate their employees to work hard and be more productive.

It is not that I have been a strict adherent of the wisdom I am dispensing here. I have also read a number of best seller self help books. One thing I have noticed is that if you pick any book, not only does it say why this book is the best book,  it also tries to convince you that all the other books are totally out of time and useless. Now examine another scenario. Suppose there are 100 self help bestsellers. Every books proclaims that other ninety nine books would not work. So by the authors’ own collective admissions 99% of self help books do not help.

But all self help books are not totally useless. Occasionally, you may comes across a book that dispenses wisdom and insights to uplift you.

I have come across friends and colleagues who are addicted to self help books. They do not read anything else. If you are one of them, remember: there had been successful people since the time of Adam, long before the Americans started flooding the market with self-help books.

Of course, you may take solace in this positive possibility. If you read enough number of books on how to become a motivated productive employee, one day you my end up becoming one of those motivational authors or speakers.

Well, what has been your experience? Please leave your opinions.

five simple principles of holistic health

To be whole is to be healthy. The Sanskrit word Swastha is defined as, ‘to be established in self’. Seen this way, to be healthy is not merely to be physically fit. Nor is it mere absence of physical ailments. The ancient medical practitioners, not only in India but elsewhere, took into account all dimensions of existence while recommending healthy ways of living.

There was also much importance on preventive methods. It is said that in China the family doctor was paid his annual honorarium if nobody in the family fell ill during the year. What an advanced concept!

The ancient health exponents have recommended five basic principles to be inculcated into daily life. These are in terms of food, work, rest, mental purification and direct contact with the five basic elements.

  1. Food: When you go to an Ayurvedic Doctor for any ailment, first the doctor ascertains the composition of your three basic humours known as bata, pitta and kapha. According to Ayurveda the imbalance caused in the three humours is the main reason for all ailments. Hence food can be divided into three categories in terms of their effect on a particular or a combination of humours.  – (1) Foods that suppress, (2) Foods that aggravate and (3) foods that bring in balance. The humours are also related to the mental attitude of a person. Hence food for a particular individual is decided keeping in view the ratio of humours in one’s body, one’s mental state, the type of work one is engaged in and the time of the year. It is good for everyone to know his or her dominant humour so that food can be chosen or avoided accordingly. One should never over eat. To have a balanced diet one should have food consisting  of all the six tastes –

  1. Work: Here work implies physical labour. Most of the lifestyle diseases today are attributed to lack of physical activity. Physical activity is also closely related to hunger and food. These days, there are many who never feel hungry. Hence they try to compensate this by inventing ways to make the food more and more delicious and thus palatable. People, whose nature of work is sedentary, must find time to do some physical exercise. Combined with other forms of physical exercises, yogasanas and pranayama are very good for overall mind body balance.

  1. Rest: Along with food and physical activity, rest is a vital need for life. Rest and activity are complementary. Sound sleep in the night rejuvenates the body. Usually people give rest to the body but not to the mind. Body may lie still but the mind keeps on moving, even in sleep in the form of dreams. Meditation is the best way to give rest to the mind. Likewise, living a pure life keeps the mind away from unnecessary agitations. It is only when both the body and mind rest that one gets rests in the true sense.

  1. Mental purification: there is a close relationship between the body and the mind. Now even modern medical science is slowly waking up to the fact that man is a body-mind complex. When the mind is purified one gets positive thoughts that give rise to beneficial actions for self and the society. When the mind is agitated due to excessive greed, anger or envy, the body’s defence mechanisms get weak and it is an invitation to hosts of diseases. To keep the mind cool and be in a pleasant mood one should engage oneself in doing good deeds, reading good literature and  avoid bad company.

  1. Direct contact with the five basic elements: Our body is made up of the five basic elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Ether. Direct contact with these elements in their purified forms depending upon the seasons is beneficial for health. Modern lifestyle in cities dotted with skyscrapers and filled with smoke emitting vehicles prevents one from being in direct contact with these elements in their purified forms. It is good to go to a remote place once in awhile to be in touch with mother nature. While in college,  I spent most part of my vacation in a remote village, either my own or somewhere else being part of the NSS team. I made sure that for the most part of the stay, I  walked barefoot, swam on the water bodies in the surroundings, sat near the blazing fire in the kitchen or a yagnakund if it was happening,  remained outdoor as much as possible and slept under the open sky on the village cemented chouraha. After a few days it gave me a feeling of ‘returning to source’, even though I did not do any’ formal’ meditation then. Now such an experience would be the ultimate luxury. May be one has to cough up hefty sums to a health resort or nature cure centre and book months in advance to get such an experience.

yoga #2: common yoga myths

yogaThe celebration of international yoga day has brought a lot of limelight to the ancient Indian practice of yoga. However, the myths surrounding yoga still continue.

In fact, as more and more people take to yoga in various capacities as practitioners, teachers, propagators and entrepreneurs new myths are created and propagated to suit vested interests. Here, let us explore a few of such myths.

 

  1. Yoga is all about asanas and body contortions

Now a days many forms or rather distortions of physical postures and activities are practised and are passed for as yoga.

In a wider context yoga is all about bringing integration to one’s various levels of existence. The word yoga which has been derived from the root ‘yuj’  means to join.  The English word ‘yoke’  has originated from the word yoga.

Asanas or the physical postures are part of the branch of yoga known as ‘Hatha’ Yoga. The broader context of yoga can be understood from the fact that various chapters of Bhagavat Gita are named as various types of yoga. Like Arjun Bishad Yoga, Sankhya Yoga, Gnana Yoga etc. Lord Krishna is also known as yogeshwar even though he is not known to have taught any kind of asanas. However, whenever there is talk of yoga, people understand the physical part of it.

  1. Maharshi Patanjali is the harbinger of yoga

Interestingly the word asana occurs in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras only a couple of times. Patanjali’s compilation of Yoga Sutras explores the basic philosophy of yoga. It does not contain any technique or procedure regarding how to do yogasanas or prayanama etc.

Various forms of yoga including Hatha Yoga have been in existence long before Maharshi  Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras  around 200 BC. Proof of yogic postures have been found to be in existence in the lost civilization of Mahenjodaro. Like the Upanishads whose writers preferred to by anonymous, the exact inventors of ancient yogic postures and practices are not known.

  1. With so many fake gurus around, it is better to self learn yoga. 

There are black- sheep in every profession. There are fake or fraud doctors. That does  not prevent us from going to a doctor when a need arises. Nor, do we brand the whole profession as frauds because of the existence of a few fraud doctors. Ravana came to abduct Sita in the garb of a saint.

In the Yogasara Upanishad it is said, “Gururantike yogabhyaset”-  Learn yoga under the guidance of a Guru. Similarly, setting aside their friendship, Arjuna accepts Sri Krishna as a Guru and seeks his advice for his existential dilemma. (Shishyasteham trahi mam prapanna… thus goes a stanza in the Bhagavat Gita)

Authority from the scriptures apart, let it be known that any kind of yoga, even hatha yoga is not just a kind of sundry exercise.  Many subtle energy centres and channels get activated while doing yoga.  So, the presence of a master or an expert is always a safer option.

Self learning of yoga is a kind of self medication where trial and error may sometimes lead to  dangerous consequences. Even if one may not face any kind of danger, one has to do a lot of trial and error and spend a lot of time unnecessarily to find out what form or pattern of yoga would suit one, considering that various combinations of yogic practices may run into thousands. Either way, it makes sense to seek the guidance of a master.

It is better to learn yoga first under the guidance of a master- a genuine master.

what is all that fuss about yoga?

idy.pngWith the International Yoga Day round the corner, posters pop out from every street corners and there is a buzz in the air, even the unlikeliest people suddenly joining the discussion to break a few myths associated with yoga. Of course,  there will be controversies galore as yoga may seem threatening to the perceived identities of certain belief systems. But how much do we really understand the various concepts and ideas associated with yoga?

Contrary to the often propagated concept that yoga is all about creating contorted body postures and holding on to them, it has a broader connotation encompassing all areas of life.

While Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras expounds the basic philosophy of yoga, each chapter name of the Bhagavat Gita ends with yoga, Arjuna Bishada Yoga, Gyana Yoga and so on. Interestingly these two popular scriptures do not give any description about the body postures which are so passionately propagated as yoga. Sri Krishna – the Lord of yoga did not teach even a single asana to his foremost disciple Arjuna during the entire length and breadth of the Bhagavat Gita. Nor did Arjuna had to do a Sirsashana (head stand) on a yoga mat amid the battle cries of Kurukshetra to a get a distorted view of the prevailing state affairs so as to fall into such depression that Sri Krishna took eighteen chapters with 700  verses to bring him to his senses.

By the way, references to various body postures and other physical yogic techniques can be found in Hathayoga Pradipika. However, Many of the asanas have been handed over to us in master-disciple tradition, some of them refined and  some distorted, in their long passage through 5000 years of the yogic history.

The meaning the word yoga is to join, to connect. So purpose of yoga is to connect all the loose ends of life. At a basic level it is to connect with oneself. Surprisingly, the first chapter of the Bhagavat Gita is Arjunabishada yoga – the yoga of Arjuna falling into depression and the last chapter is Mokshasannyas Yoga- the yoga of enlightenment . When one is happy, one spreads out and forgets oneself. But it is during the times of misery and depression that one starts to remember oneself. But that is only the starting point. As it happened in Bhagavat Gita, through the guidance of a master of yoga like Lord Sri Krishna, Arjun was led from the state of depression and dismay to the state of ultimate awareness- from Arjunabishada Yoga to Mokshasannyas Yoga. In the Gita, Lord Sri Krishna is referred as Yogeshwara – the lord of yoga. At one place He says – Samatwam Yoga uchyate – to be in a state of equanimity is yoga. So, the scripture is full of description of the yogic state and how to attain that state.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined as yogaschttabritih nirodhah. Even though different authors translate it in different ways, keeping in view the spirit of the book, I feel the nearest would be – Yoga is all about mastery over the modes of consciousness. Unlike Bhagavat Gita, the Yoga Sutras start with Samadhi pada – the state of ultimate bliss and equanimity. With scientific precision it describes,  explores and categorises the inner world of a human being.

Different religions and scriptures use different symbols and techniques. When one goes beyond those symbols or when one tries to decipher the real indications of those symbols, I feel, one may find those things touching upon some concept of yoga, even though they may  not be using the word.

Anything that you do, whether it is religious activity or secular activity, whether it is dictated by tradition or something new, if it gives you a glimpse into your real nature, if it brings you bliss, peace calmness and contentment, that is your yogic path.

If at the basic level yoga joins you with yourself, in a larger context yoga is being in harmony with your surroundings and the humanity at large. Thus, it starts with the well being of oneself but, ultimately it must spread to the society.

Do not all religions claim it to be their basic purpose in spite of the disagreements as to the methods to be followed to do this?

ageing gracefully

 

Once somebody asked His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar – ‘How can we age gracefully?’  Pujya Gurudev answered,  (with a mischievous smile and a small subtle gesture toward himself) “Like this! See you are really asking how to look attractive. Your desire to look attractive makes you unattractive! If you want to look attractive, have that feverish desire that makes you unattractive. But if you are calm, serene, then that brings beauty….”

Indian BloggersQuite often ageing ‘gracefully’ is equated with sporting a youthful look and many industries now survive selling those dreams. Some people go to great lengths to prove to the world that age has not withered their physical powers in any way even though they might have added a few wrinkles. There was this US millionaire who married an eighteen year old girl when he was eighty six. He spent millions and hired many top scientists to do research on slowing down aging process.

Many wise men have come up with prescriptions and consolations for the problems that come with advancement of age. “Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul”, says Samuel Ullman while Jeck Benny philosophizes, “Growing old is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”. However here is a nice piece of advice from Ogden Nash, “Old age begins and middle age ends the day your descendents outnumber your friends”.

In India, traditionally, a certain amount of grace and respect has been attached to aging and in many families the eldest enjoys the veto. While the problem of aging has been an engaging concern in the west since long, with the disintegration of joint family and deterioration of family values it is becoming an ever increasing matter of concern in the east as well.

Be it on the popular films or the media, the solutions suggested mostly emphasise on being young at heart in line with what John Kenneth Galbraith said “If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon our heart. The spirit should never grow old.”

Some would like to continue to be young in their acts as well.  “I’m not in the least interested in growing old gracefully; I want to grow old disgracefully, with a gleam in my eye. I want to carry my own wood into my cabin on the day that I die,” said Leslie Kenton.

Worse than the obsession of hiding the wrinkles is the self inflicted pain of aging regretfully. Unfortunately, a great many of today’s middle aged and aged subscribe to it. While those concerned with freezing the marks of old age live in an utopian future, those aging regretfully live in a perpetual ‘should have’ past. The latter may agree with Mark Twain’s saying “Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been”, – as if old age is not meant for smiling at all.

A simple antidote to aging regretfully would be to age gratefully.  When one ages usefully, aging gracefully is a natural follow up. May be that is what Pujya Gurudev indicated when  questioned about aging gracefully.

It is not that only when one has some kind of official or formal position, one can age usefully. Just an intention to change the dynamics from trying to be the centre of attraction every situation to giving attention to others will work wonders. One of the common complaints of the aged is- “Now no one cares for me, nor do I command the respect or awe  that I used to have”.

sri sri ravi shankar
Sand art tribute by famous sand artist of Odisha – Sudarshan Patnaik

(When we talk of aging gracefully and usefully, who can be a better example than Sri Sri Ravi Shankar himself. By the way, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar steps onto his sixty first year today. Wishing him all the best. He has been a guiding light to millions in mastering the Art of Living. May his grace continue to flow for ages to come.)

Tabebuias -Living Life in its Totality

tabebuais1.jpg

Tabebuias – Flower full

Come February, and you will find these flowering plants called Tabebuias in the streets and parks  full bloomed in their yellow, pink or violet versions. This one too is in its full flowering glory.

I am awe stuck by these plants. Off season, you will not find even a single flower on them. But when they flower, they flower as if the whole being of the plant has flowered.

It reminds me of children. When they cry, they cry with their whole being; when they laugh, they laugh with their whole being. There is no halfheartedness. That is what you call living life in its totality.

As we grow up we become more and more divided. In order to achieve 101 things, we loose our propensity to live in the present moment undivided in our being. As the society becomes more progressive and more civilized, crocodile tears and plastic smile replace our heart full expressions.

The plant also reminds us of the principle of fullness and emptiness. It is the emptiness that gives birth to fullness. Sun Tzu has enunciated this in context of ‘Art of War’. In fact it is the basic principle of ‘Meditation’, and in general, this could be applied  in our attempt to master the ‘Art of Living’.

Ah the Tabebuias! How they remind us to live life in our totality. Either do something wholeheartedly or do not do it at all.

Indian Bloggers                                   tangy tuesday 21317

The Paradox of Love

In an earlier post Love is in the Air,  I attempted to explore various flavours of love. In any kind of relationship,  one or  more of the flavours would be involved to sustain it.In a broader sense, as prominent spiritual master Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “Love is that glue that holds everything together”. Hence love unites, integrates.

Yet, it should not stifle. Even though some kind of interdependence is inherent in Love, it is not true love if it stifles, if it encroaches upon the freedom of another beyond a healthy limit.

Of course we have to consider what kind of love are we talking about? Freedom is inherent in true love. Once you have faith and confidence why would you impose any condition?

Once there is curtailment of freedom, that is the end of love. If one of the parties feels suffocated, then it is not love, but bondage. Bondage and freedom cannot go together.

So, if ever you feel stifled in love, or feel your freedom curtailed, examine. Was it really love?  Or, was it bondage, manipulation or an attempt to control masquerading as love?

From a different perspective, let us consider the following. Love is the process of uniting, merging. Two become one. It is true in the case of romantic love, divine love or any other kind of love. A feeling of oneness comes with love. Where does it leave space for freedom. One feels surrendered in love. In another sense, sacrifice becomes natural. In the land of love, freedom is an absolute stranger. A true lover does not seek to free itself of the beloved, neither does he/she would like to possess the other one and bring the other into submission.

Or rather, in a state of love, one simply does not bother about freedom. Love takes care of everything.

As Rumi says:

“Ride on love and don’t worry about the road!

Because the steed of love has the smoothest ride.
It will take you home in a single thrust.

Even though the road is rough.”

Still, if the question of freedom pops up, let us remember with Kahllil Gibran:

“Love possesses not, nor will it be possessed”.

That is the paradox of the state of love – one does not have the apparent freedom, yet it is love that brings the ultimate freedom.

 

paradox.jpg
 Indian Bloggers

My Idea of an Evolved Human Being

An evolved human being has the innocence and intelligence of a child, yet is without the accompanying helplessness and childishness.

The evolved human being loves his neighbors, his culture & his nativity. However, he never confines himself to any boundary. He learns to see an individual as an individual and does not draw pre-matured conclusions based on the particular group the individual belongs to, by virtue of his birth. (more of this elaborated in I see you as you are)

He recognizes all the conditioning he is subjected to by the society and the vested interests and rises above them.  However, he does not forget his duties to the society and his fellow living beings.

He may or may not be a follower of rigid religious rituals, but he has a kind of religiosity or spirituality  that is not dependent upon any concept of God or Heaven or Hell.

Indian BloggersTo be an evolved human being is not only about valuing one’s own freedom, but also recognizing and respecting the freedom of others, at the same time realizing that we are all interdependent.

To be an evolved human being is about never going beyond a healthy point to persuade another to our own views and behave to our liking. It is never projecting our own dreams on others, however dependent they may be on us.

The evolved human being has his way, which he may follow very fervently. However, he recognizes and respects other paths.

Everything, anyway, one day returns to the source. The evolved human being, while realising the impermanence of everything, does not neglect to live with passion and commitment. (More of this at One life is not enough yet this moment is enough unto itself)

The evolved human being is truly an individual, yet he is the ultimate universal man. For him all the world is one family – ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’.

evolved man.jpg

 

Of self discovery and spirituality

May be somewhere at the age of twelve I started to have deep feelings of uselessness of life. The feelings continued off and on. Pressing responsibilities and needs, first of a student life, then of a professional and family life drowned out the inner call.

Of course, since childhood I had been interested in yoga and meditation. I used to do certain practices following the instructions in some books that I had come across. However, I was not having any deep  feeling or any significant progress as an amateur self taught pilgrim of the spiritual journey. But my self taught yogic practices continued from high school till the first year of college. Then, sometime in the second year I discontinued the yogic practices and my lifestyle took 180 degree spin off.

Indian BloggersIt is said in esoteric spirituality that every spiritual / non-spiritual  cycle lasts twelve years. It may be a matter of pure coincidence that after my third 12 year cycle,  I started again to search for answers to some of the existential questions that had bothered me every now and then: Who am I? What is the purpose of life? Is there any use in this thing called life? yeh jina bhi koi jeena hai yaro? These feelings of inner emptiness, uselessness, meaninglessness continued for quite some time. I turned my attention to a variety of spiritual literature. But nothing satisfied me.

One day while channel surfing on TV, I got stuck with an interview of Sri Sri Ravishankar taken by Pratibha Advani. I do not remember what exactly was the question or what was the answer, but I had a feeling that I  got a starting point for the answers to some of the disturbing questions in my mind. Then, one day out of curiosity I went to the Art of living center to inquire about their workshops. It was a Tuesday and I was told the next workshop known as the Art of Living Basic Course was to start in two hours.Without thinking much I enrolled my self. Then I was in Hyderabad.

The six day workshop, for me was sheer bliss. By the end of the course my journey of self discovery had begun on a serious note. After that I visited the Art of Living International Centre in Bengaluru and met with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I also did many advanced courses.

Of course till now I have not got the final answers to my ‘existential’ questions. The quest of self discovery is still on. But the difference is, now I have the feeling that  I am on the way. As I continue with the spiritual practices and knowledge, I experience many positive changes in my attitude towards life and society.

Different people may have different experiences and opinions about Art of living and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. But one thing I know is that the word bliss cannot remind me, first of all,  anything other than the Art of Living.

I have realised that one need not be a believer of anything to experience the bliss of meditation, yogic practices and mystic glimpses into the nature of truth.

sri sri quote.jpg

In addition to Sumelika Das, I must thank Cattie’s World  for being the inspiration for this post.