Yoga and beyond – A trip along the spiritual spine!

Doing yoga in the lap of mother nature always had its allure. This, combined with the company of friends and fellow yogis felt like a great birthday gift to myself. Thus, I signed up for my first yoga retreat.

Now I have practiced yoga for flexibility, balance and strength. But mix it up with a little spirituality, dance, comradery, and philosophy… and it turned into a truly “yogasmic” experience.

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The Root Chakra.

This chakra is associated with survival and safety.

 

30652743_10214027473899283_2662558605134922387_nWhen you pack a bus with 28 yogis of different genders, ideologies, and ability to handle 28 of the nastiest hairpin bends of the Shevaroys range in Tamil Nadu, you expect nothing short of chaos! 🙂 But man, was I proven wrong! Thanks to the collective wisdom, yogic patience, and the ability to lighten things up that made us survive everything – from the excruciatingly slow interstate toll-booths, to the scorching heat, to motion sickness, and the 7 hour bus ride to our destination, Yercaud. In fact, the journey felt more like flying with a non-stop entertainment channel barring the occasional bad weather warnings.

 

The third eye chakra. This chakra is associated with our intuitive wisdom and ability to relax and focus at the same time.

Our resort, with scattered lotus ponds and hilly terrain full of wild flowers, and lined with native tall trees, provided a perfect setting for our yoga session.

Yoga is not about touching your toes; it is what you learn on the way down – One of which is the realization that yoga is a practise that cannot be easily perfected (somewhat like life itself.) You have to always be open to receiving and grasping the wisdom around you…whether it is a new asana or an old one with a new style.

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But you have to be kind to yourself too. Go with your own pace and style. Albeit, enjoy your own pace and style.

What I realized was, no one is perfect in all the poses but each one of us is perfect in some (even if it is the savasana :)). If each one of us learns something from the other, as a whole we all seem perfect. The partner stretches we did, stressed this fact ever so convincingly.

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Don’t just accept others as they are; seek out the greatness in each one.

Even though we were like 28 different energy forces, we all felt in sync that evening, not just with one another, with nature, with the melodious voice of our guru, with the chirping of the birds, with the smell of the grass beneath us, with the filtered shade of the tall trees above us, and above all, with ourselves.

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There were lot of such moments where we inhaled in this bliss while exhaling out the toxicity within; relaxing and focusing at the same time…

The Sacral Chakra.

This chakra is associated with pleasure and harmonious exchange.

That evening saw us practicing a different asana. The asana of letting go…While some did it through engaging in some “satvik” drinking, the others let loose with some bollywood dance moves. But the real letting go happened by the camp-fire when we shared personal incidents that we have been embarrassed or guilty about. Well, I’m not sure how many grams of body mass got shed that day, but I’m certain that we shed loads of prejudices and inhibitions that night. Certainly, a tougher load to offload!

The crown chakra.

This chakra is associated with liberation and higher consciousness.

The next morning was all about awakening our spiritual self as we started our practice with pranayama and ended with meditation. The “so hum” meditation and the chanting intertwined our energy forces with the gentle morning breeze in a beautiful harmony, leaving us in a state of higher consciousness and calm. That falling drop of tear was quite reflective to our liberated state…Ah, and the sublime after-glow on our faces…I doubt if the effect of the fanciest of creams and lotions could match up to it!

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The Solar Plexus Chakra.

This chakra is associated with self-discipline and taking responsibility.

Most surprisingly, the effects of our yogic capability seem to have manifested in our time consciousness and self-awareness during the trip. Even with the jam-packed itinerary and just a few hours of sleep, all our major events from leaving in the morning to getting back on time were completely self-monitored and dot on the schedule (barring the unavoidable circumstancial delays). So proud that as a group, we completely busted the Indian Standard Time perception. Much in the same way we follow traffic rules on foreign roads! 🙂

The heart chakra.

This chakra is associated with love and compassion.

When your heart is full of bliss, it will eminate love.

The random acts of kindness and compassion that we witnessed were the most endearing part of the trip. Like one of us bending over backwards (literally) to help her partner regain her confidence in doing the seemingly impossible yoga poses.

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Like all of us cheering for everyone’s shirshasana moments.

Like the surprise birthday cake and the heartfelt personal notes from friends.  

Like one of us convincing the whole group to forgo the sight-seeing to get back in time to attend to a fellow yogi’s sick child.

Like some of us, getting their hands dirty with the bus driver to get us back in time after the bus breakdown.

It is great to live a healthy life..But I realized it is more fulfilling to live a humane life.

The throat chakra.

This chakra is associated with self-expression and communication.

The ride back saw all of us being extra expressive. (something to do with the realization that all good things have to come to an end!) The bus was abuzz with our healthy banter (we could have given tough competition to any punjabi baraat that day. :)) Interestingly though, we were able to squeeze in some insightful discourses on the philosophy of yoga and of life and on all things in-between. This chakra definately got awakened amongst each of us. 🙂

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Needless to say, the yoga retreat offered ample opportunities to awaken all our kundalini chakras, to experience yoga more profoundly and to be a little more wiser in the process.

I’m sure lot of you do yoga as a routine practice…but try changing the context once in a while.

Even if you cannot go to a retreat, you can go to a nearby park or do it with friends or do it with a new guru.

And if you can, make it an annual ritual. Go away on a retreat (yoga or otherwise) that is dedicated to rejuvenating your mind, body and soul.

ps. A special mention to our yoga guru…LD (as we like to call her), the force behind the whole effort. 

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She is an unique combination of an accomplished yogi, a disciplined guru, and a well-rounded human being. She teaches yoga in our community but spreads her knowledge via her Facebook page

A marathoner with a message!

Once in a blue moon, when I land up in the gym at an insanely early hour, I find him running on the treadmill at godly speeds with ungodly grunts…

Well, you may expect that out of a seasoned marathoner.  But what I did not expect was  the news he broke to me: that he had recently finished an international sprint triathlon at 14th place. And he is only 44! But his age was not my only cause for concern! 🙂 Not very long ago, I had seen him starting to learn swimming! From swim lessons to completing an open sea 500 mts stretch at the triathlon on an abnormally windy day… now that got me awestruck!

Amit Gupta, the man in question, is the CEO of Asianet News Network. He is a gifted vocalist, a weekend chef, a mountain-trekker, a self-proclaimed workoholic, besides being a father of two equally talented teenagers. He is also fit as a fiddle.

 

 

 

The great thing about blogging is that I get to uncover stories of real-life heroes like Amit.  More than fitness, his tale is about his personal transformation and personal learnings. I decided to pick out some pearls of wisdom around his passion of racing, marathon running, fitness, and more. 

A boss can make you run…(literally!)

His journey of running started in childhood with him trying to outrun the last couple of runners in his school running competition. 🙂 But took a sharp turn when he entered the workforce.  Well, we all know that a boss can make you or break you. In his case, his boss made him run.  A decade ago, the motivation for running got rekindled when his boss (a marathon runner himself) pushed him to try it. He has never stopped running since. 

As you can expect, there have been lots of ups and downs in his run.

“Darr ke aage jeet hai”…There is victory beyond your fears.

AIRG1032-dl_cert20x30[1].tmplAt the 18th kilometer into his first marathon, his knees started cramping. He somehow managed to finish but if he wanted to run again, he would have to go through an arduous knee surgery. (it was not due to the running per say, but due to a prior untreated injury.) He had almost succumbed to the fact that his running would have to be stopped before it could even start. But thanks to his wife, Shivali, who couldn’t see his dreams go unfulfilled and made sure he went through the surgery.  He went on to run 11 marathons after that. But the incident made him very diligent in listening to his body. 

 

Don’t stop when the pain starts….Stop when the pain gives up.

At another marathon, many moons later, he got severe stomach cramps and threw up at the 16th km. But he pep talked his way into finishing the race, even though he was completely dehydrated and overdosed on salt.  He surely learnt the importance of electrolyte balance that day. 🙂

It’s not about winning; it’s about finishing the race!

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There was also the life-threatening feat at the recently participated triathlon. Having never swam in open sea before, he almost lost his sense of direction during the race. The drift of the wind was not in his favor either. He had gulped too much water and was almost hallucinating directionless. But something in him did not let him give up.  Not only did he manage to complete the swim, he finished the race at 14th place.

 

 

Now, you’d think he’d slow down after the last episode?! But he tells me that he is already training for the Olympic distance triathlon next. Clearly, his passion of running/racing goes beyond fitness and goals.

“My passion for fitness/running has by far been my best personal teacher!”

According to him, It has made him a better person overall…more organized, more time-conscious, empathetic, and much more open to new experiences and learnings. But most importantly, it has taught him a great deal about failure…

“I have realized that failure is just a self derived definition of your outcomes being a tad short of the expectation. So now, I focus on the cause and not the consequence.”

To me, Amit’s account signifies that fitness, above all, is a state of mind.  Your own drive and commitment is the most important gear in your journey towards fitness.  And whatever your marathon…(and no, it doesn’t have to be of the running kind, it can be of a body-building kind, or the yoga kind or any other fitness activity that you entail) shed your inhibitions; drop your fears; run that extra mile and see where it leads you.


If his story has inspired you to try running, here are few tips and advices from him to get you started:

Firstly, can anyone do it?

He quotes from his favorite book,  ‘Every Human is “Born to Run”’ by Christopher McDougall. 

So…absolutely (as long as you don’t get sweaty palms or palpitations while running).

What are the basic requirements to start training for a marathon?

First and foremost, you have to commit to drinking lots of water, maintaining a good enough BMI and taking care of your legs (he is gungho on ghee and oils his knees like a bicycle chain every Sunday :)) .

Before you start training, you need to get to a proper warm up and cool down routine and start sleeping for 7 hours.

He suggests to start running at least 3-5 times a week to test yourself. This is also the time you need to train your brain. Positive affirmations, self-talk, visualization, music,  running buddies….you can try any or all of these to prevent the cliched motivation fades. Once you get comfortable, you should try longer runs (more than 10K)  once every week. If you are consistent in this approach, you should be ready for a half-marathon in about 12-15 weeks.

Any diet restrictions?

Absolutely none.  According to him, dieting is criminal when you are burning up so many calories. Over the recent past though, he follows the V-figure when it come to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And of course, minimal junk and processed foods.

Some of the biggest myths about marathon running?

That running is bad for knees! You need overall fitness, not strong knees to race. You need to focus on your running style, muscle strength, and endurance if you want an injury-free run. The secret to happiness is right at your feet, once the overall body runs in sync.

What kind of shoes would you need to invest in?

The general rule of thumb is that your shoes should match your current fitness level and your future aspirations. You should ideally get a shoe expert to help you with the right fit…basically they should nicely hug the entire feet while leaving some headroom to move your fingers up down and sideways. Nike Vomero,  Adidas Ultra boost and Barefoot Vibram are all good choices. 

How do you weave this into your already busy lifestyle?

You have to act like a petty time thief i.e. steal a few minutes from each of your daily routine: getting up, getting ready, breakfast, etc.  Plan, Plan, Plan! Every aspect needs to be planned in advance, from taking work calls during your commute to planning your workout the nite before. His biggest time-savers come from a very minimalist and disciplined approach to social media usage and devices.  If you let go of your FOMO (fear of missing out), you will be gain back your MOJO 🙂

Any parting advice for non-marathoners and wannabe marathoners?

Before every run, is a race between your mind and an excuse. Your motto should be to make your mind win. Your body will follow. 

And he signs off with one of his personal favorite quotes:

Everything in life is a marathon of different time, distances and tracks; don’t dash it. Run it per your abilities while improvising it in style and form constantly.