Thursday 28 June 2018

Corporate Wellness: Don't Just Sit There, Exercise!

I have been visiting my physiotherapist Rajiv Mehta for the last three weeks now. He's helping me unfreeze my left shoulder - a seemingly common problem these days. 

Today I saw a lady clicking pictures of the various charts displayed there. One of them spoke about exercising in workplace - which reminded me that I had written about it a while back for 
Apollo Life:

Here are the salient features of that article...

Did you brush your teeth today? Why did you brush them? Well, there are many good reasons, but probably the real reason is that it is a habit. Similarly, getting the exercise that your body needs must also become a daily habit. Exercise is essential for keeping our vital organs in proper working condition.

Without sessions at a gym or a daily dozen every morning, you can still get all the exercise you need to keep yourself fit, by utilizing the brief periods of idleness during the day.
  • While you are sitting in the restaurant waiting for your food, slowly pull in the stomach, sucking the diaphragm up and up until the whole abdomen is flat from the groin to the chest, then release it little by little. Do it gently - it is the simplest way of building a good posture and a flat tummy.
  • If you want to pick up something from the floor, don’t straddle your legs and bend. Put one foot forward and kneel erectly, or, when it is a light object, keep your knee still and reach straight down. For variety, squat and rise like a jack-in-the-box, it tightens flabby legs.
  • Waiting at a counter for attention? Teeter on your toes a few times to uncramp foot and leg muscles. Clench and unclench the fingers to get the blood speeded up. To tone the muscles round your midriff - draw your abdomen up and in, whenever you think of it - whether sitting or standing.
  • At the phone, instead of doodling, use your free hand to knead your belly or give it a gentle pummeling, and you will be surprised to see how this action tightens the torso muscles.
  • Whenever you go to the toilet, before coming out, stand with your back to the door and try to push firmly against it so that you are touching from head to heels, buttocks, shoulder blades, if possible every vertebra. Do this spine-strengthening stand for five seconds and you will feel a strong pull along your backbone and neck. This ‘stretch’ improves the posture and gets rid of the aches and the cramps in the back and neck, which tend to develop, sitting through the day in the office.
  • Want a firm chin? Push your chin out, pull it back, and drop it. Lift it, then give yourself a five-second message under the jaw, and there you are!
  • If you have some place to stretch your legs in, indulge in the ‘heel stretch’. Just lift your feet and push the heels forward as if trying to push a wall away. Bring your toes up, so you feel the muscles behind your knees pulling like a rope. Count till six and slowly relax. This also relieves general tension.
  • During a long day in the office, the body accumulates tension that is felt most in the back of the neck. In order to release that tension, sit or stand with shoulders straight. Turn your head (not the body) to the right as far as you can as if you were trying to bring your chin over your shoulder. Repeat the movement to the left side. This exercise also helps to firm up the chin and throat.
If you contract any one of your muscles to about two-thirds of its maximum power and hold that for five to six seconds once a day, it would be enough for the growth process to start!

Some of my recipes published online...Enjoy!

Sweet Semolina Balls

Warm Chickpea Salad

Lentil Pasta Soup

Vegetable Soup

Oriental Noodles

Homemade Walnut Butter

Tuesday 13 June 2017

YOU are the SONG… Sing on… 

The practice of traveling to far away places in search of hot springs, to effect cures for ailments dates back to pre-historic times. Every country has such ancient healing spots, which serve more or less as tourist destinations now. But the healing waters have remained – in the form of manmade Spas…

Now we have gone a step further, and have spas in the airports, malls, as well as in cruise ships, other than the hotels and resorts! Healthy living and anti-aging products seem to be the top grossers in the market.

Like in any other field, ‘innovation’ is the key to sell in the spa industry as well. The Pavia Day Spa, located in Saratoga, California, recently announced the addition of ‘Harmonic Healing’ to its menu of Spa services.

Harmonic Healing uses specially calibrated tuning forks to clear the body of negative energy blocks and rebalance it, thus restoring health. The treatments are performed on fully clothed clients. Targeting specific problem areas, the calibrated tuning forks are applied to specific acupuncture points on the body, accessing the energy meridians and chakras. The tuning forks represent a natural harmonic series based upon the orbital and vibrational properties of various celestial bodies including the Earth, Moon, Sun and the planets. The forks are activated using the Acutonics Healing System pads, then placed on the body or held near the ears.

Harmonic Healing has an interesting history. Asclepius was the god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek mythology. His healing temples were called Asclepions, and pilgrims flocked to them to be healed. They slept overnight and reported their dreams to a priest the following morning, who prescribed a cure, often a visit to the baths. Reminds one of a spa!

Now, another thing also happened in those ancient Greek temples. When one entered an Asclepion, the first thing that was done was that one’s name and important dates were analyzed. Then the musicians would convert these to Harmonics, and play the music. This would be the trigger that opened the door for healing to occur!

The ancient Greeks believed in a simple truth – the human being is a ‘song’… a Harmonic Being. Every part of our physical, emotional and mental selves is ringing out the effects of our environment and upbringing. Our every action and thought are part of a Harmonic Map. Where we are out of synch with the natural order, therein lies a disease or a sense of imbalance with life. But we can re-create ourselves simply by learning to sing a different tune.

We are our own composer, our own conductor and our own orchestra. What we sing is what we become. It is well known and understood that we become what we express, think and feel, therefore it is reasonable to assume a link between our inner ‘song’ and disease, anger, violent behaviour, or addiction… All of this dis-ease or negative experience is part of a dissonant discordant song within us.

Harmonic Healing therapy changes such dis-eased conditions for the better, by creating a more harmonious state within the person. Change always does indeed come from within!

Life is actually very simple: if we breathe poison with our words, and hold on to depressing and ugly thoughts, 'this' is what we become. As we sow, so shall we reap, and what we reap we tend to re-sow. Think: is it time for us to break the cycle? Is it time for some fresh, new seeds to be planted?

Thursday 30 July 2015

Buddha Parikrama

My first brush with Buddha happened when I was just twelve years old, through a lesson in our Hindi textbook. I was not happy with the way he left his wife and newborn son and went to seek answers to his seemingly inane questions. Thus began my quest about Buddha. It has been more than three decades now and my fascination about this great philosopher has turned into deep respect. Some years ago, I met a few people who were also equally intensely charged about Buddha – one of them was a Korean. We decided to travel the Buddha circuit, see and feel all the places visited by Buddha – from Lumbini, where he was born to Kushinagar, where he passed away – though not in the same order.

The long journey began from Delhi by train to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. After visiting the Kashi Vishwanath temple, we went to the ghats of the river Ganga.   Buddha came crossing the Ganga to the ghats of Kashi, as it was known then, from Bodh Gaya, after attaining enlightenment, looking for his five companions who had abandoned him earlier. Early morning with the rising sun if you cross the river and go to the other side, from where you get a panoramic view of the ghats … it is not difficult to imagine Buddha walking alone on those sands…

From Varanasi we took a jeep to the nearby city of Sarnath. Rishipattana, the Deer Park, in Sarnath, was where Buddha found his ex-companions. Chaukhandi Stupa marks the spot where he first met them. It is a derelict monument, but once you manage to climb up to the top, you are able to see the Dhamekh Stupa at a diatance. A magnificent monument the sheer size of which makes you feel very small literally and figuratively, Dhamekh Stupa was built by Ashoka to mark the spot where Buddha preached Dharmachakraparivartana for the first time to his five followers and started the sangha.
In the came complex, Dharmarajika Stupa, now in ruins, marks the site where Buddha gave his first sermon. Remains of a massive Ashokan pillar mark the exact location. And Mulgandhakuti Vihara is the place where Buddha meditated during the monsoons. It enshrines the relics found in Taxila. Suddenly the realisation hit us that we have entered the world of Buddha. The peace, the monks… there was a certain sanctity in the whole environment.

Our next halt was at Bodh Gaya in Bihar. Known as Uruvela earlier, it is situated on the banks of river Phalgu (ancient Niranjana). On the banks of the river, under the Bodhi tree, for 49 days Buddha sat facing the east, till he attained enlightenment. Bodh Gaya jolted us back to the present, with its beggars accosting the tourists, pavements spilling over with vendors selling rosaries, incense, Buddha images et al. The roadside dhabas selling chai-pakoras were no different from any tourist spot.

A little away from the main city, in the Pragbodhi caves, on the Brahmayoni hill, Buddha practiced severe austerities for 6 years. After which Sujata, the daughter of the village chief of Senani, offered him a bowl of kheer. Sujata’s village, her house, are not a part of the regular tourist circuit, so not very many people get to see them. We were lucky to have a Professor of Buddhist studies as a guide taking us to these beautiful spots where as we listened to him telling us the story of Sujata, we could actually feel the presence of Buddha. After all it was here that he became Buddha!

The famous Mahabodhi temple in the city of Bodh Gaya has seven spots within its precincts, including the Bodhi tree, which are sacred because Buddha spent a week each here, soon after his enlightenment. The Bodhi tree here is said to have been planted from a sapling from the original tree – under which Buddha attained enlightenment. The entire temple complex seems like a small monastery, with monks all over, praying, chanting, meditating… the vibrations make you sit, and if not pray, just watch the others praying – and suddenly you realise that you have begun praying too.

Overcoming the temptation of revisiting the Mahabodhi temple, after having being there twice already in a day, we set out for Rajgir. The roads, or lack of them, reminded us constantly that we were in Bihar. Indiscriminate stopping of vehicles on the roads by lathi-weilding villagers got scary at times. But then we had two hard-core Biharis with us who were adept in handling such unpleasant situations. Known as Rajgriha back then, Rajgir was the capital of Bimbisara. After renouncing his royal heritage, Siddhartha came to this city first seeking salvation. Bimbisara offered half of his kingdom to him if he stayed back. Siddhartha declined promising to return after getting enlightened. He did that.

Rajgir the city was not as commercial as Bodh Gaya and neither as dirty, but again there was a pervading sense of unease in the evening and night. We had a security guard with us throughout our brief stay. In the rock cut caves of the Griddhakuta hill, in Rajgir, Buddha spent many rainy seasons meditating. Here he preached the Lotus Sutra and the Wisdom Sutra. Here Devadutta tried to kill him by hurling a boulder at him; and also by sending a mad elephant to him. Close by is Jivakamravana vihara, a mango grove presented to the Buddha by Jivaka, the royal physician. Only ruins remain indicating the existence of a monastery once. The only pace in Rajgir where one gets transported back to Buddha is Venuvana vihara, a bamboo grove, where Buddha used to bathe in the Karanda tank. After Buddha attained mahaparinirvana, the first Buddhist council was held in Rajgir to codify his teachings.

Our next halt was Nalanda, the most renowned university of ancient India. Buddha came here often and stayed at Setthi Pavarika’s mango grove. Sariputra, one of Buddha’s very close disciples, attained nirvana here. To call the ruins of Nalanda impressive would be grossly understating the fact. They told us that besides what can be seen today, there is a lot more still unexcavated at Nalanda. Standing atop the ruins of one of the hostels in the Nalanda campus, hearing that in its heydays a hundred subjects were taught here to students from all over the world was a proud moment indeed. Our Korean friend was busy clicking photographs. But it was not possible to capture the magnitude of the fact that once hundreds of students were living and studying here, in a well-planned, well-designed university campus. We felt blessed in being a part of such glorious heritage.

Situated on the banks of Ganga, Patna, once known as Pataliputra, was our next destination. Ajatashatru built a fort here, which the Buddha saw in his last days and prophesied that the city would always be threatened by fire, flood and feud. The ruins of the city are seen in Kumrahar. The remains are housed in the Patna museum. Unfortunately nobody seemed to have the time or inclination towards Buddha even in the museum. Politics is all that one gets in the city, again with the warning not to venture out alone in the night.

With much relief, we headed towards Vaishali. The vast stretches of fields overflowing with vegetables all through the drive took away the discomfort of broken roads to a great extent. Because of being a part of the Ganga basin, Bihar happens to be a very fertile state. Buddha taught Ratna Sutra in Vaishali and women were ordained in the sangha for the first time here, starting from Buddha’s foster-mother Gautami. At Kutagarshala vihara, Buddha gave his last discourse, and declared the imminent mahaparinirvana. Ashoka has built a Stupa to mark the spot. Vaishali is also known for Amrapali, the famous courtesan, who invited Buddha to her house. Amvara, the neighbouring village, is the site of her mango grove dwelling. She gifted it to the sangha and joined the order herslf. This was the best part of the trip for me as I felt a strong sense of déjà vu… so much so that I guided the guide through the thicket along a mud track right upto the point where Amrapali lived. A well is there where her house must have been once. Needless to say that the guide was suitably impressed, as this spot is not a part of the regular tourist circuit, so very few people know of it. Buddha’s favourite disciple, Ananda attained nirvana on the outskirts of Vaishali. A hundred years after Buddha’s passing away, the second Buddhist council was also held in Vaishali.

We left Bihar at Vaishali and entered Uttar Pradesh in Kushinagar. Kushinara, as it was known then, was the place selected by Buddha for his mahaparinirvana. After his last sermon at Vaishali, he came here. On the way he stopped at Pava, where Chunda, a metalsmith, gave him his last meal. On a bed, prepared by Ananda, under two Sal trees, Buddha attained mahaparinirvana. The Mahaparinirvana temple enshrines a statue in that posture. On the seventh day after the mahaparinirvana, Mahakashyap lighted the funeral pyre at Mukutabandha vihara. Remains of the stupa can be seen. In fact more than the Mahaparinirvana temple, it is here at this stupa that one gets a sense of peace and a strong desire to meditate.

Kushinagar is close to the Indo-Nepal border and we crossed it to reach Lumbini in Nepal. There is a custom check at the border, so it is advised not to carry much luggage with you. We stepped across the border straight into a sardarji’s dhaba to have a breakfast of choley-bhature! Lumbini is the sacred site of Buddha’s birth. A temple complex houses the tank where Mahamaya had her bath before delivery. The Sal tree and the sacred stone slab are present at the exact location. Ashoka erected a pillar, Rummendei pillar, to mark the place. Hardly any tourists are seen here. The locals come to the tree and seek its blessings and when their wishes are granted they come back to tie a flag on it. None of them seemed Buddhists.

Back to Uttar Pradesh, this time to Kapilavastu. Buddha spent the first three decades of his life here. Ruins of the palace can still be seen. We spent some time roaming about the ruins, imagining the grandeur that young Siddhartha must have left behind… so powerful must have been his urge to find the truth…

Our last stop was at Sravasti, near Kushinagar. It was the annual monsoon retreat of Buddha for 25 years. Jetavana vihara built by Sudatta, contains the ruins of Anandakuti and Gandhakuti, where Buddha stayed and expounded the major part of the Tripitakas. The vast lawns of the vihara and the ruins transpose you yet again to Buddha. A few monks scattered here and there complete the picture. It was in Sravasti that Buddha performed the miracle of levitating on a thousand petalled lotus, causing fire and water to leap out of his body and multiplying in the air, in response to a challenge from six non-believers.

We were back to Kushinagar to catch a train for Delhi; tired physically yet refreshed mentally.

Thursday 9 July 2015

Sweet Smelling Solutions

We were living in England and I was suffering from a chronic backache compounded by chronic fatigue and going through a kind of vicious cycle – one problem leading to the other and vice versa. Being married to an allopath had its advantages of receiving full medical attention, but I guess my problems were very stubborn and would just not get resolved. So I took a break and flew to London for a weekend to visit my aunt. Without wasting any time she pushed me to go in for aromatherapy sessions.

So my first meeting with an aromatherapist took place in a lilac-coloured room in southwest London. Christine Westwood had practised aromatherapy for three years, having trained under Robert Tisserand. She was also on the council of the International Federation of Aromatherapists, the governing body of aromatherapists in UK setting standards for various training schools.

Her treatment began with a questionnaire on my physical condition and diet and then followed a refreshing massage. The sessions began with a thorough back massage using geranium and bergamot oils, an uplifting combination – good for anxiety (and oily skin). Concentrating on my back she pinpointed a very knotty area where stress had apparently been building up for some time – areas where the muscles had absorbed stress turned very tender during the massage. Face down on the massage table; she put me through what can only be described as a physically refreshing and mentally uplifting experience.

Although Marguerite Maury and her husband, a homeopath, developed the modern practice of aromatherapy in Europe, after World War II, its origins lie in the annals of most ancient cultures and traditions. Combinations of resins, oils and fragrant plants were used in various forms for ceremonial, medicinal, or pleasurable reasons in most ancient civilizations. Aromatherapy (as it is today) was actually stumbled upon at the beginning of this century when a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse plunged his scalded hand into some lavender oil that lay nearby and found that the pain of the burn was eased. Because he experienced almost instantaneous pain relief followed by rapid healing of the burn, he carried out research on wounded soldiers during World War I. Gattefosse’s research revealed that essential oils could penetrate the skin and via extracellular fluids reach the blood and lymph, which then transports them to the internal organs. In fact the modern term ‘Aromatherapy’ was coined in 1928 by Rene-Maurice Gattefosse. Decades later, another French medical doctor Jean Valnet, inspired by Gattefosse’s research, published his own work in 1964, The Practice of Aromatherapy. In 1977, Robert Tisserand released his book The Art of Aromatherapy and was successful in capturing American interest in this ancient healing art. Through Valnet’s, Tisserand’s, and other scientists’ work of the current era, the healing science of Aromatherapy began to be more widely known in the West.

However, Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine, has been practiced for more than 3000 years and incorporates aromatic massage as one of its main lifestyle aspects. It is used to strengthen and rejuvenate the body, as well as therapeutically to detoxify it. Aromatic massage helps balance the body and mind, by increasing circulation to bring more nutrition to the cells and helping to remove metabolic wastes and toxins built up in the system. Essential oils used in the ayurvedic massage depend on the person’s type (prakriti) and the ailment s/he is suffering from.

Aromatherapy is more of a complementary than alternative therapy. It detoxifies the body, increases blood circulation, and boosts the immune system and the lymphatic system. The release of stress allows the body’s own healing process to begin. These essential oils can be massaged into the skin, added to bath water or vapourised in an oil burner, to produce a wide range of therapeutic effects in complaints ranging from all kinds of aches and pains and skin disorders (like eczema) to poor circulation, digestive problems, rheumatism, sinusitis, insomnia and depression.

Essential oils are the odoriferous substance in the roots, leaves, flowers, bark and resin of plants. Some plants contain several types of essential oils. The orange tree, for example, has one kind of oil in the flowers, another in the leaves and a different one in the fruits. Some oils are clear, others lightly coloured ranging from pink to brown, green to yellow. The main constituents of oils are alcohol, aldehydes, acids, esters and acetone. Any essential oil that is not pure and has been treated in any way should be avoided, as its action will be different from that of the pure oil. In addition, there would be an increased chance of allergic reactions to such oils. All essential oils are easily damaged by light and should be kept in dark bottles. It takes about one tonne of rose petals to make one kilo of essence, which makes the essential oils used in aromatherapy extremely precious and invariably expensive.

Most oils fall into three categories: Top ones, which are the fastest acting and most stimulating and uplifting to mind and body (basil and eucalyptus), middle ones, which are moderately volatile and affect the functions of the body such as digestion and menstruation (geranium and juniper), and the base ones, which are slower to evaporate and the most sedating and relaxing (myrrh and sandalwood).

When inhaled, essential oils affect our bodies in several ways. The essential oil component molecules enter the nasal passages where they stimulate the olfactory nerve. This sends messages directly into the limbic system. The limbic system, located in the brain, is the seat of memory, learning and emotion. The inhalation of the essential oils triggers changes within the limbic system which in turn can stimulate physiological responses within the body via the nervous, endocrine or immune systems. I remember my grandmother putting muslin pieces dipped in sandalwood oil under my pillow before my exams, to relieve me from nervousness.

Local application of diluted oils on various points is also effective. It provides relaxation (muscular) as well as a physiological action through the nervous system. In addition, when applied topically, essential oils can exhibit anti-microbial, antiseptic, anti-fungal, or anti-inflammatory properties.

In a therapy session, the aromatherapist will first have a chat to find out about your state of mind, current dietary and exercise habits and any physical problems. Treatment may take the form of inhalation, where a few drops of oil are put in a bowl of boiling water and the healing vapours are inhaled. But generally, the treatment is in the form of massage. The oil is diluted and massaged into the problem area. Once having decided on the blend of essential oils the therapist will massage areas of your body, mostly in regions of the head, including the face, back and feet. The massage has to be performed on bare skin. Tiny quantities of the oils are mixed with a pure vegetable oil, which is then massaged into the skin. Due to the highly penetrative nature of the skin, the oils reach the small blood capillaries in the dermis layer of the skin and begin their action. The parts of the body untouched are covered with thick towels. A course of treatment may require between 10 to 50 sessions.

Different oils are used for different physical and emotional problems and the aromatherapist usually employs a blend of two to three oils to suit the individual’s specific problem. A few of the popular aromatherapy oils are: Peppermint for digestive disorders; Rosemary for muscular pains and as a mental stimulant; Sandalwood for depression, anxiety and nervous tension; and Lavender for headaches, insomnia, burns, aches and pains.

Somehow as I am growing older, and studying more and more about the various alternative therapies, I tend to remember my grandmother – she had a therapy for every ailment! It seems I will spend the rest of my life trying to understand the science behind her prescriptions…