Saturday, 27 December 2014

Healthy Practice > Hot Towel Scrub

With the temperature dropping to 6 degrees celsius (and expected to fall further), Delhi is freezing. The sudden onset of cold literally froze my yoga practice. Staying late in bed, eating heavy carbs that the body seemingly demands in the cold weather, and a subsequent feeling of stiffness in the body has kept me from getting onto the yoga mat for a few days now. The one thing that I look forward to, however, is the hot towel scrub.

I was introduced to this wonderful practice during an Ayurveda workshop that I attended a few months ago. The interesting thing about that workshop was that the lady who conducted it, Shonali Sabherwal, is a Macrobiotic Nutritionist and Chef. While giving us helpful tips on healthy eating the Ayurveda way, she drew many similarities between the Ayurvedic and the Macrobiotic approach to food (more on that in a subsequent post). Amongst the other nuggets of information that she shared, up came the hot towel scrub.

How To Do The Hot Towel Scrub
This simple practice is exactly what the name suggests. Dip a hand towel in a tub a of hot water and scrub yourself. Keep dipping the hand towel in the same tub of water. The steam from the hot towel helps to release the toxins trapped just below the skin. The scrubbing action with the towel helps to remove these toxins. Practicing the same repeatedly has a wonderful detoxifying effect and boosts the lymphatic system.

Although the practice is fairly simple, I feel that scrubbing in the direction that the lymph flows is especially beneficial. So start form the limbs inward, towards the heart. Feet upward and raise your arms and scrub downwards, starting from your finger tips. Then neck down to the collar bones, and the down the back of the neck and outward towards the shoulder joint. Scrub your chest area starting from the sternum upwards and then outwards toward your armpits. In the abdomen area it is recommended to move in a clockwise direction.

Since the neck, back of the knees and inside of the elbows have huge clusters of lymph nodes, I spend a little more time in these areas. The other two areas that I enjoy wrapping in the hot towel and scrubbing are the soles of the feet and the palms. The soles and palms have lots of nerve endings as well as acupressure points, hence I find it especially rejuvenating focusing on both.

Dipping the towel in the same water, even as it starts getting dirty, has a unique advantage, according to Shonali. Toxins have an affinity to attract and pull out more toxins! Much like using salted lukewarm water, instead of plain water, for gargling, I think.

Since the practice is slightly dehydrating, much like what you feel after spending 15 minutes in a steam too, do drink some water before and after. Also, slather on some moisturiser since hot water leaves the skin rather dry.

My Experience
I fell in love with this practice the very day I started it. It left me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. One of the biggest benefits for me was that the PMS symptoms started receding naturally, without any medication. The skin was left glowing, shining even. And in this biting cold, a hot towel scrub feels heavenly.

When I googled the hot towel scrub, I learnt that it is an age-old practice followed as part of bathing rituals in Korean and Turkish households. I especially like this practice for its simplicity. The lack of any additional salts or essential oils makes it largely free of any side effects. The fact that you can spend as much or as little time as you like makes it even more easy to follow.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Insight > Why You Should Write Everyday

Writing has a meditative quality. It has the ability of revealing thoughts that are embedded deep inside your mind. It can reach a part of your being where conscious thinking cannot reach. Very often, I find that writing creates the time and space to reason things out with yourself.

For me it's simple: Writing helps me to keep my mind clear. Writing helps me know myself better. Writing helps me set life goals for myself. And, writing has helped me create a life of my dreams.

While I cannot imagine a day without writing, I know there are many people out there who just can't imagine themselves writing. "Writing is not for me!" I have heard many people say. Even so, I cannot imagine why it won't help you.

Many people get stuck even before they start writing, not knowing where and how to start. I'll share some tips that helped to me to not only start writing for myself but even helped me become a professional lifestyle writer.

Write For Yourself: Many people experience a writer's block even before they start writing. I feel that most of us get stuck with writing articulately, as if to impress anyone else who would read what they've written. In order to write with abandon, when you get started keep your writings personal. You don't need to share your thoughts with anybody else if you don't want to. In fact, I would suggest, please don't share your writings with anyone if your purpose is to truly know yourself.

When you start writing, you'll realise that your mind is cluttered with thoughts that you wouldn't want to admit to yourself, let alone share them with anyone else. Let's admit that we're no saints. Even if we assume that we have mostly good thoughts and try to be good people, we all have thoughts that we'd rather keep in our heads than spell them out in front of anyone else. In order to create space in your mind, these are the thoughts that you need to start emptying out on paper. This exercise alone is so liberating!

Write Spontaneously: Once you're past the initial hurdle, you may be wondering where to get started. I would suggest that you start with thoughts that are top most in your mind, Right Now! If you start thinking about what you want to write, you may get stuck mid-way. Just start writing whatever is going on in your head. Before you know it, you'll be expressing your plan for the day or the next few days, you may end up writing a to-do list, you may start expressing something that has been bothering you, and so on. The best part about writing spontaneously is that you'll be surprised with the number of thoughts that clutter up your mind. (And we wonder why concentrating on any one thing is such a difficult task!)

Just as clutter in your environment saps you of energy, a cluttered mind keeps you distracted from the present. There's always so much to do. If we keep it all in our mind, I find it starts going in circles in our head. Just writing out everything creates some empty space in the mind that can then be utilised for creative thinking and constructive planning on how to get things done.

Get To Know Yourself: I have heard from so many friends that they don't really like their current jobs, but for the lack of knowing what they truly want to do, stay stuck in a rut. Most people have a general idea of how they would like to shape their lives, but when it comes down to the details, they have no clue about where to get started.

According to me, the first step of living the lives of your dreams is knowing what you really want.

So what are you waiting for? Get a pen and paper, or open your laptop or the notes in your phone, and start expressing your thoughts. Do drop me a line, if you find the exercise liberating, joyful, healing or you experience some surprising revelations.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Yoga > Steady Hatha or Fluid Vinyasas

For years I oscillated between doing traditional hatha yoga or graceful vinyasas. The former involves holding steady poses to get maximum benefit from them. Vinyasas, on the other hand, involve moving from one asana to another, making it a cardio activity on the physical level, thereby improving stamina as well as balance. 

The grace of getting in and out of a posture comes with fluidity of movement. However, one doesn't have to do vinyasas to experience grace, and even hatha yoga can display beautiful fluidity. Confusing?

In order for a posture to unfold all of its benefits, I need to hold it steadily. For instance, if I am supposed to join my palms in the vrikshasana or keep my knees together in utktasana, I need to keep them together steadily! Being shaky in the knees, or not joining the palms together makes the entire posture a bit shaky. While there is no need to tense the body, scanning the body with awareness often ensures that the posture is steady, and hence, effective.

A yoga session needs to be balanced, whether one is part of a class or practicing on one's own. If, at the end of the session, your entire body is relaxed and refreshed, it shows that the session was balanced.

As exhilarating as I find the surya namaskar, even a seemingly simple yoga sequence can mobilise energy through my body. The deep and beautiful effects of yoga are experienced with this movement of energy (and removal of energy blocks) in my body. This is also why a consistent yoga practice is highly beneficial, because it keeps the energy moving and keeps removing blockages within the energy body.

While I have learnt over time to keep my neck and shoulders relaxed during asana practice, I need to remember subtle things like keeping my tongue, throat and jaw relaxed and soft. Ignoring seemingly unimportant instructions like these can also lead to big physiological problems. And conversely, following these expands and deepens one's awareness, and improves one's asana practice.

Just goes to prove the yoga may look deceptively simple, but with the complex interplay of various muscles, energy movement and mental awareness, yoga really works on body, mind and soul.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Healthy Practice > Adopt Just ONE Daily Practice

If there was one thing that I would urge anyone to do, it would be this - please adopt just ONE healthy practice!

The alarming rate at which lifestyle diseases are increasing is scary. Almost every day one hears of friends, family or acquaintances falling sick, at times very seriously sick. Instead of living in fear of illness let's choose to do something about it, NOW.

Given the hectic lifestyles that modern living demands, combined with the chemical-laden food we eat and the polluted air we breathe, doesn't it make sense to do something to detox our bodies?

Human bodies may be very fragile and vulnerable to diseases, but they are also marvellous and miraculous in so many ways. If helped to function optimally, our bodies have an immense ability to self-heal. One especially witnesses quick healing in children's bodies, be it broken bones or ruptured skin. When my one and a half year old son knocked out two teeth, the dentist asked me to simply put the teeth back in and the gums would have sealed them as if nothing had happened! Unfortunately, but the time I got in touch with a paediatric dentist I was way past the time window (ideally 30 minutes) for the advice to work. Even so, within 12 hours my son's gum, that was agape with the impact, had closed up.

But it's not just children. Even grown ups have remarkable healing experiences. From spontaneous cancer remissions to reversing heart disease, there are plenty of cases that showcase miracles within a human body. I sincerely believe that if one body can experience healing, almost all bodies are capable of it too! We just need to allow our bodies to function optimally.

Even one healthy practice, when done consistently, will help your body to undo at least some of the damage that it is subjected to due to our environment and lifestyle. You can choose any healthy habit that clicks with you. A few of my favourites are:
- Yoga
- Pranayam
- Oil Pulling
- Hot Towel Scrub
- Acupressure
- Kunjal Kriya and Jal Neti

There are of course so many more. Take your pick but stick to it diligently for at least a month to see the difference.

Happy Healthy Living!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Healthy Practice > Single Step Stress Buster

Someone once told me that according to her a sign of success is "being busy professionally as well as personally".  This statement does make sense to me in a way because given that you enjoy your work and the social company that you keep, plenty of involvement in both can be quite fulfilling. But no matter how much you enjoy all that you do, staying very busy comes with a downside.

Even if you perpetually choose activities that you enjoy, you're bound to get stressed if you don't take quiet time out for yourself. Even if you don't feel mentally stressed, over a period of time, the body starts accumulating stress physically. Being by yourself is when you can assimilate all your dissipating energy.

So, a single step stress buster is breathing. You've heard this plenty, I'm sure. Yet, how often do we remember to practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing? Of course, we all breathe, constantly. We wouldn't be alive if we didn't. But this is just a reminder to breathe fully. More often than not we take quick, shallow breaths, and also hold our breath without realising, when we are stressed out. An obvious physiological effect of that shows in the tension that we hold in our muscles. It could be the abdomen, the chest, neck and even our limbs. When you inhale deeply and exhale fully through your nostrils, squeezing your abdomen slightly on a full exhalation, you will feel the tension melting away. On repeated deep breaths you may possibly even realise the amount of tension you were holding on to.

While we can get aware of the tension in our muscles, it's difficult for us to tell on our own what this tension does to our internal organs and the circulatory system. We all know the effects of wearing tight clothes that constrict an easy blood and lymphatic circulation. Can you imagine the effects of holding on to tension internally, where we literally tighten our veins and arteries and the lymphatic and energy channels?

There are many types of pranayam to suit various conditions and body types. But I am talking about simple deep breathing. Deep breathing does not involve much technique or force. Like I mentioned above, just focus on exhaling completely and your inhalation will automatically become fuller. Do this a few times a day to feel rejuvenated, connect with your body, release tension and start realising what holding on to stress feels like. It's important to become aware of stress first before letting go of it.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Yoga > Keep It Simple

For years, I have loved my yoga routine that involved rolling out my yoga mat, switching on music that's soothing yet energising and creating the perfect ambience. It added immensely to my practice, I felt. So much so, that I rarely ever travelled without my yoga mat. How could I do yoga without the slender strip of sanctity that was steeped with the energy of my yoga practice! There were times when I either didn't have my mat, or didn't have the time to enjoy my practice leisurely, and I simply wouldn't do yoga.

While I still enjoy good music during my practice, and treasure my mat, in the last couple of months there's been a shift in my attitude. My mat is there because of my practice and not the other way round! I realised that for many years I was not only highly attached but also dependent on the paraphernalia around my practice.

So for the last couple of months I have been practising on the rug in my room. And it is strangely liberating! I don't NEED the perfect ambience to practice yoga. A clean, comfortable setting where I can practice my asanas is all that's required.

Keeping it simple means that even when I am rushing, I always have time to squeeze in a few asanas. And that's enough to help me with my resolve of practising yoga everyday for the rest of my life.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Yoga > Daily Routine to Cleanse the Panchakoshas

Despite having a good yoga discipline – I have resolved to do yoga every day for the rest of my life – I was feeling discontent because of a lack of growth in my practice. This is when Swami Niranjananada Saraswati, Paramacharya, Bihar School of Yoga came to Delhi, after a long gap of nine years, and presented us with the gift of a lifetime - in keeping with the busy schedules of householders and city dwellers, Swamiji gave us very easy to follow practices to purify all the panchakoshas, or the five sheaths of our being.

As if on a mission to draw people away from the modern, gimmicky ways that yoga is being taught in to the masses, Swami Niranjan very clearly and simply explained the importance of tradition and the effectiveness of seemingly simple practices, once done regularly. Many practitioners of yoga seem to think that the longer and harder they practice, the more evolved they and their practice are. But Swamiji stripped people off various pretensions. He also elucidated that a rigorous physical practice is just that – a physical exercise!

Over the course of four days he guided us very clearly in simple practices to adopt daily. “A practice focused only on asana and pranayama is incomplete,” he said. He thus left us with a dinacharaya (daily routine) starting with mantra sadhana comprising Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra, Gayatri Mantra and 32 names of Goddess Durga first thing in the morning to activate the vijnanamaya kosha; then five asanas (including Tadasana, Triyaktadasana, Katichakrasana, Utthanasana, and any inversion such as Sirshasana or Sarvangasana) and Surya Namaskar to benefit the annamaya kosha; followed by Sheetali, Shitkari, Brahmari and Nadi Shodhana techniques of pranayama to cleanse the pranamaya kosha; yoga nidra to be done in the evening after work to remove tension and reactivate the manomaya kosha; and finally the Omkara or Om chanting before sleeping to reach the anandamaya kosha.

It’s been about two months since I attended the Yogotsav and I feel a world of a difference in my own practice, despite cutting down on the complicated asanas that I was doing earlier. My day starts with Mantra Sadhana, followed with a simple asana sequence. This really sets a very happy and positive note to my day, and I feel a general sense of well-being. And all this despite cutting down on the time I used to spend on asana practice. The holistic routine really permeates the deeper levels of my being and I almost feel my practice touching the different koshas/sheaths.

Hello > The Start of a New Journey

Writing is my life. From writing lists, to writing diaries, writing professionally as well as personally, I cannot imagine a day without writing! And while I have kept all my personal writing to myself till now, I am finally ready to share it!

So while this blog is going to be all about yoga, natural healing processes and healthy eating, it will also be sprinkled with fun, good living and the lessons learnt in the process.