June 21, 2018

WAITING TO EXHALE

Words: Anand Mohan

“Things were changing fast in my life and I felt the need for (external) intervention: the need for stress management”

MEDITATION AND YOGA COME WITH BAGGAGE YOU CAN DO WITHOUT

The other day, I was speaking with a rifle shooting coach who is training a friend’s son for a career in, well, rifle shooting, about the struggles to train at the international level in India. The conversation veered towards the appointment of Indian coaches over foreign coaches for various reasons including the ease of communication. Interestingly, what snared my attention was the value Indian coaches bring to the medal aspirants vis-à-vis meditation and yoga. These play a big role with rifle shooting sportsmen since shooting is all about control and concentration. Moreover, these are things Indians understand better than others. It’s an interesting take on the benefits of techniques developed by our ancestors that are somewhat lost in the modern day mind and body fitness regimens. The heart and the mind are constantly duelling for control. Somewhere in the supremacy race, the gut meekly raises its hand to call the shots every once in a while. In the heat of battle for objective control on your actions, steady breathing and clarity of thought can change your life.

As simple as it sounds, it is tough. However, with practice, I should get it. That of course was my basic self-prep before joining a weekend course on meditation and yoga. The challenge here was that I am an atheist and every place I have been to learn the above mentioned art and craft, the preachers take over the practitioners. You have heard about The Art of Living, I suppose. My mother is a staunch follower of the movement and there are millions and millions like her, living the Art of Living way of life. What you will find there is that ‘The Art of Living is an educational and humanitarian movement engaged in stress management and service initiatives.’ It is a way of life once you begin to follow it. The things you eat, the embrace to religion and the zeal to engage people in their way of living, it is the typical clan sort of thing. There are positives of course – a healthy lifestyle that a majority of the members practice and the general attitude to help and improve the people in their surroundings. I think it’s a great initiative by positive leader but unfortunately he hasn’t been able to do this without the concept of God.

Last we checked, the God count in just the Hindu religion was at 330 million, each holier than the other. So it was not for me. For many years, I have stayed away from it all despite the influences at home. However, things were changing fast in my life. In the recent past, on the career front, I felt the need for (external) intervention: the need for stress management. I used to be an automotive journalist until a month ago, and in that line of work, I regularly test-drove fast cars for a living. Only another speedster will truly understand when I say that speed gives an adrenaline rush that reduces stress so while I was moonlighting on an alternate career, the lack of sleep and free time didn’t stress me out because I had a handy stress-buster in guise of my day job. Towards the end of my term, things were going to slow down. I had slammed hard on the brakes and the stress of quitting a job I was already good at, to moving on to a business I will have to get good at, was getting to me. Add to the mix is my parents’ ongoing divorce proceedings along with a huge financial risk that comes with any new start-up, and a calm mind can be hard to find.

But one needs to stay in control. The weekend course started with a speech by the teacher on the desperate need of the world to turn vegetarian. ‘Eating non-veg is like killing a life and eating its dead body’ in those specific words can suck the joy out of the butter chicken I was planning to have for dinner! I had just about started the course and was already hating it. The white dresses, the frames of gods and the air of deity devotion among the other participants weren’t helping either. Then we began our yoga session with a couple of breathing exercises, stretching and a few rounds of Surya Namaskar followed (one of the best, quick exercises you can do) and then we did some heavy breathing exercises. Breathe in, breathe out, and with that, amazingly, the annoying habits of preachers more accepting. How they had a tendency to influence things they believed were right and how the whole atmosphere of ‘holier than thou’ cramped the style of non-believers, with just a couple of breathing exercises, became an acceptable folly. Here’s how it works: Every time you control your breath in clear rhythmic sets, the heart rate steadies and you begin to think clearly. It is essential in decision making situations or while performing actions that require calmness. Just breathe in and breathe out and you will have a better outcome. The yoga bit makes you fitter too while helping you practice breath control.

SpoilerAlert: It won’t teach you clarity of thought. That comes with meditation. When you close your eyes and drown out the chaos, the layers of sound around you begin to separate. I’ll give you a classic example of my neighbour’s birds. Every other morning, I’d wake up to the sound of my neighbour’s birds chirping. Sometimes I’d whistle to a tune and to my surprise, they would respond with the same rhythmic sound. But it was always the same till I began to meditate. Once I closed my eyes to focus on the sounds, I could identify at least half a dozen different birds and the different sounds they make. Just like that, I was dissecting layers, not just in sounds but the parts of my body, becoming more aware of the calf to the thigh, hip to the back, noticing the parts from the whole and focusing on the smaller things until there was emptiness. Once your senses are heightened, you let go and clear out thoughts, which is easier said than done. Meditation is done best when you don’t have to put effort, which is the opposite of exercising. When you close your eyes, drown out the world, things slow down and give you the clarity that our busy lives need. I can concentrate better, transition from one task to another faster and control anger just by learning to meditate.

Since I have just started it, I can’t comment on its benefits in the long run but I can say that my decision making abilities are improving. I still don’t like the preachers but I like the system now. The movement is a package deal and you have to accept the fact that there are more people in the world who believe in God and will only learn beneficial things in the name of God. For an agnostic, it is even better. You can clear off the fluff to reach the core and witness the benefits of yoga and meditation. In the meantime, just keep breathing…

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