Lessons from the yoga mat: Stop dwelling in duality and develop focus

A few days ago as I was checking my Facebook feed, I came across a video interview of BKS Iyengar, in which he talks about how yoga helped him deal with “duality”. The thought struck me. It reminded me of my own tryst to get to my mat every day.

Even though I enjoy my practice, it is not easy to get to the mat. It is not easy to change the habit. Every morning I find myself explaining to my body the benefits of yoga so that I can get to my mat. There are days, I have to literally drag my body on to the mat. At times, I have to tell myself that if I get my practice done, I will have better focus at work. Some days, I am not successful at all and tend to give in to my body.

Although it takes a while, once my body wakes up and starts experiencing the benefits of being on the mat, it thanks my mind. Yet, the debate goes on every morning. This simple exercise of getting to my mat, teaches me a simple lesson that once we stop dwelling on duality and bring our minds to a clear focus, we can enjoy and accomplish many things.

“Duality in our mind” is the root cause of procrastination and unhappiness. Sometimes, we may finish a task but we don’t enjoy it. While we continue to do the work physically, our mind tends to wander elsewhere. This is where yoga helps, when I am on my mat, doing asanas or meditation I learn to focus on my thoughts and body movements. Those brief moments in which my mind becomes focused on the present moment, I experience an inner joy. In those moments, I am just flowing with my true nature.

This is how yoga and meditation change your life. While the physical benefits are tangible and can be easily assessed, it is the mental benefits that bring about change in the long run.

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Books that have inspired my minimalistic journey

In last few years, I have begun to enjoy reading books about personal change and transformation. I pick up these books when I want to do some light reading. I find it very inspiring to read about stories of personal change and transformation. Reading such stories fill me with a certain feeling of hope and positivity.

At another level, reading these books make me feel like I am talking to a friend. Thus, making the act of living by myself in a crowded city less lonely. I do enjoy my solitude but at times I crave for good conversations with strong people who have seen adversity or have gone through a personal setback and dealt with it in a positive manner with strength and commitment.

I started reading memoirs after I read Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed. In my old blog, I had written a post about this book. If I find the original post I will link it here. This is the one of the first books that inspired me to look at life differently.

While I have read many such books, below is the list of books written by women about their journeys of change and personal transformation. These stories have resonated me at some or the other level and have inspired my minimalistic journey.

1. Yoga for Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom by Colleen Saidman Yee – This book describes the personal struggles of Colleen Saidman, who battled drug addiction and became a super model but went through bad relationships and finally found peace in yoga. The honesty with which this book is written touched me and it really inspired me to begin my yoga journey earnestly. Although I read it a couple of years ago, the book still resonates with me about how important it is to take breaks in life and reflect on your life choices.

2. Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris: I picked up this book as I wanted to do some light reading and learn about life in Paris. However, some of the lessons in this book about how Parisian women consume food and clothes hit right at home. For years, I have been trying to overhaul my relationship with food and clothes. In very simple terms, through the life of women in Paris the author Jennifer L. Scott describes how easy it is to streamline your food and clothing habits. This book really helped me change my eating habits. It helped me become more mindful of what I eat.
3.  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: The simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo: Reading this book really helped me understand my relationship to stuff and it motivated me to declutter my wardrobe. Ever since, I have removed a lot of unused stuff from my life and it has been very liberating. This book also put me on the path to minimalism. Decluttering helped me with one obvious problem I have always struggled with. I have always found myself rushing, reaching just on time or sometimes even late. Decluttering helped me keep my mind free, make my routines simpler so much so that I found myself reaching everywhere earlier.
4. You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too by Tammy Strobel: This book really helped me understand that often consumption becomes our main motivation to live, as a result we drown ourselves with stuff becoming overwhelmed. On the other hand, a life lived with simplicity and authenticity helps us retain our inner peace on a daily basis. How having less can add more meaning to life?
5. Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage by Allison Fallon: This book also talks about following our inner quest. However, to do that we need to peel the layers and look within ourselves about what it is that our journey is about. The whole concept of removing the extra stuff so that we can focus really made sense to me.
In the comments below, do let me know what you think of these books, if you have read them and if you have other suggestions!

 

Forming a successful habit is an art

Habits are crucial to our success and happiness. But it’s not just any habit that will help us achieve success. Some habits can be awfully bad for us. Habits that add up to our goal are the only ones that will help us achieve success in our chosen goal.

Many times we talk about achieving weight loss, and we get so focused on the goal that we don’t realize that we first need to develop a habit to achieve that goal.

We keep visualizing the end about how we will feel once we achieve our goal of weight loss. So we look at small size clothing in the shops and begin to buy them too. I am guilty of that too.

We think that rewards will motivate us to achieve our goal. What we don’t realize is that yes, the smaller size clothes can be a good motivation to begin with, but it is only well crafted habits that can ultimately lead to weight loss.

Some of us focus on forming a habit, but we eventually end up trying to follow a habit that overwhelms us and we eventually have a breakdown. We go on a binging trip.

For example, if we take the decision to go for a run every morning at 5 am. How is it possible to be successful at this goal, especially if someone is a late sleeper and has a habit of waking up late in the morning? To change this habit requires forming a habit to wake up in the morning, sleeping early and then going for a run in the morning. That’s a lot to manage. It is possible to achieve this but may require tremendous willpower and focus.

Also it’s wise to say that breakdown is a real possibility with this strategy. Because some days you will want to sleep in or your body will be too tired, you will be too stressed. The truth is even if we succeed, it will not be a happy journey and there are real chances of losing our focus on other things that are important in our lives. So how does one form a habit that sustains and also keeps us in a happy place while we are in the formation stage?

In my many years of trying to build a habit. I have always focused on small goals. So for example, I start with forming a weekly goal and stick with it for at least a month. And initially, I try to make it as easy as possible.

So when I started with my yoga habit. I started with a goal of doing one class a week, in the evenings after work. It was easy, especially on Mondays or Fridays. Mondays because I have a lot of energy after a restful weekend and Fridays because I can push myself as I have a whole weekend to catch up. This way I allow my body to adapt to this change. In fact, the happiness I felt after my weekly yoga class meant that my body began to crave for it. Since I was not rushing, I had the time to feel the energizing and calming effects of a yoga class.

By second month, I started doing two classes a week in the evenings on Mondays and Fridays. By third month, I tried inserting a class on Wednesdays or Thursdays but I didn’t stress about it. With 2 or 3 classes a week, I was in a happy place and I stuck to it until I felt that I needed to change.

After about 3-4 months, when my body was stronger, I switched to a morning routine.

I again used the same strategy and started with 6:30 am class on Tuesdays. Why Tuesday? because it was the only day the class was available. I had a whole week to plan so that I woke up fresh at 5:30 on Tuesday to reach on time. Eventually, I started with one more day and now I can manage three classes a week in the morning without feeling stressed about it. I have been able to go for my scheduled class even on the most stressful and packed days.

Why is this successful?

First, because I have made a very specific goal and I have a whole week to achieve that goal.

Second, my intention is to achieve happiness, weight loss is a side result. If I can focus on this habit, weight loss or fitness will come on its own.

Third, it allows my body to adjust and adapt both in terms of a habit and strength. I took the time to understand the limitations of my body and other commitments and then worked on a habit that was achievable and sustainable.

The reason why I want to lose weight or be fit is because I want my body to be happy even in most stressful situations. This slow and deliberate plan allows me to feel happy and enjoy my happiness on a regular basis.

I did not try to stress myself trying to do a class everyday thinking that once I achieved my goal, then I can be happy. I understand that being fit takes a constant effort. And I need to form habits that I can follow in the long term.

I also understand that this strategy might not work in all situations but as long as we identify the kind of habits we need to achieve a particular goal and make a mindful effort to achieve it, we can succeed in most.

What are your strategies for forming a successful habit to achieve a goal?

This post was inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s post For Habits, Try the Strategy of Scheduling

I also like Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. It has some great stuff about habits

My Morning Routine

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Sunrise at Marine Drive, Mumbai

It’s been a while since I updated on the site. I have been busy with assignments. While I could find time to update, I simply didn’t because I thought I have nothing very important to stay. I have been enjoying the simplicity of my life. However, as I came across this blog on morning routines, I thought of writing one myself.

These days I work from home so I don’t have to stress in the morning about getting ready for office. While I could wake up at a leisurely pace, I try not to. I try to stick to a sort of morning routine so that I remain focused. And for the most part it is helping me to accomplish more every day.

While I have always liked the idea of a morning routine, mine has changed a lot as I have moved across cities and continents and life stages. For past few years, my morning routine has involved going to the gym and getting my morning exercise fix. I always feel more energetic in the morning so I try to pack up a lot. However, as I am progressing in my minimalistic journey, I realized that I need to simplify my routine so that I can do things that I will make me more focused through the day.

These days my morning routine consists of either going for yoga in the mornings (I try to do it 2-3 days a week) and a morning walk, which I am still working towards. It has been raining in Mumbai so haven’t been able to make time for it. On days, I am not able to exercise, I try and write, which I don’t succeed with as I end up reading. So I need to work on that. Some days I just wake up and meditate for 30 min, which is really helpful in focusing my mind.

I also like making my own breakfast. Making breakfast is very special to me. I think an energy rich breakfast really leads to a good start for the day. It’s also a way for us to love our bodies.

I start my day either with a savory or a sweet breakfast. My breakfasts are usually simple to make but I try to make them nutritious. While earlier I used to have lots of options for breakfast, these days I am minimizing them so that I am not spending a lot of time making breakfast. I think I should try and conserve that energy and pour into my writing.

Along with my breakfast I also try to have a raw juice and tea or coffee. I am actually a tea person, but occasionally I like to have coffee in my French press. After a few days of coffee though, I feel that I have had too much caffeine in my system. So I am going to put a stop now to it.

But it’s good to simplify my mornings and move at a slower pace rather than feeling stressed. I definitely tend to spend a lot of time reading news – online and offline and too much time on social media. I recently read Leo Babauta’s book Zen to Done and I quite like his advice about finishing our most important items (tasks) of the day before going on social media or reading. It is good to avoid reading and getting more stimulation in your mind before you have had the time to create yours.

So this is my morning routine a way to nourish my body and mind. So what’s your morning routine?

The “click” culture

With the digital commerce taking over our lives, we have truly entered the “click” culture. Four years ago, when I came back to India, I was positively surprised that I could order everything via phone, even groceries. The local grocery shop, medical shop and laundry guy, almost every kind of service was just a phone call away.

However, in last three years, my shopping habits have transformed with the rise of online retail. Today, there is every kind of imaginable online service available to me. When I moved to a congested part of the town, I found it really difficult to go shopping even for basics. So I started ordering my groceries online. Being a health food junkie, I also order raw juices online. If I am pressed for time and don’t have time to cook, I order ready made food. If I need to travel somewhere, I order an Ola or Uber. If I need books, I order from Amazon’s kindle store and the list can go on.

While there are options to call for an exercise expert home, I think I am going to let this one pass as I need to get out of my home. AlsoI love the breeze and the group ethos of a class.

The fascinating aspect of a digitally connected world is that it has made everything just a “click” away. Even conversations with friends are just a click away.

What is the reason that this “click” culture is taking hold of our lives? Is it our laziness or a realization that we don’t need to spend time on such seemingly meaningless mundane tasks? Or is it the inadequate infrastructure of Mumbai, which makes it difficult to complete any of these tasks in a desirable timeframe? Or is it that we have a new appreciation of time? Or is it that an online transaction is less stressful than dealing with a real human being?

Today, when everything is just a “click” away, how our consumption of these products and services changing? Have we become impulsive in our consumption or more relaxed or both?

I don’t know the answer to many of these questions, but one thing is clear, the more we become attuned to this culture of acquiring products and services, there will be a definite change in our relationships to almost everything.

I would love to know what you think of the “click” culture. How has your life impacted by it?

Minimalism is not giving up, but adding value

Often minimalism is confused with not consuming at all. People think minimalism means living a boring life without enjoyment. It’s viewed as an antithesis of what a consumerist society stands for, that is giving up materialistic pleasures and pursuits. While that may be true for some minimalists, it is not necessarily true for all.

Minimalism to me means giving up possessions that don’t add any value to our lives. Filling our lives and places with mindless consumption attests to a particular habit of acquiring things because we can. It also reflects an emptiness within when we are no longer clear about what we really want to do with our lives so we focus on acquisition of stuff because that is easy. This habit feeds a particular pattern of making money, acquiring stuff and then looking for a place or an occasion to show off our new stuff. Over time, this becomes our life mission.

Minimalism then is a way to become aware of this mindless materialistic pursuit so that we can restructure our life and priorities. If through this process we realize that all we want to do is acquire stuff so be it, but often we discover that there are certain needs and goals in life that are being unmet because of mindless consumption. Clearing out stuff allows us to pause and reflect on what our true desires and callings are. And once we have arrived at a balance between our inner and outer selves, we can reset the button to live a meaningful and mindful life. Except that it is easier said than done.

It is not easy to be a minimalist, to give up your possessions and most importantly, not to acquire new ones to fill the space that has emptied out. Like any new habit that takes time to form, minimalism too takes a while getting used to. It can be a difficult process but it is worth it.

At least that’s what I am discovering. Having too many options in my closet meant it took me an awful lot of time to get ready and I would inevitably end up late everywhere. Second, it meant that I was wearing the same stuff most of the times, as I would get too overwhelmed when going through my closet and often won’t remember the rarely used stuff. It was too much of a load on my memory. Now with fewer options, I find it easier to dress up and am able to actually dress up.

I would love to know, what are your apprehensions about minimalism or struggles with minimalism?

 

My minimalistic journey

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

In the past month, I started on a minimalistic mission. I have always been concerned about owning stuff and holding on to it. Yet, I have been mindlessly accumulating loads of stuff. In my case, it’s mostly clothes, shoes and bags. While I have been wanting to remove stuff from my life, I haven’t been successful at it. At least not until recently. There was always something coming in the way, always something more important. And this is stuff that just lives in my suitcase, I haven’t been able to use it for past four years since I moved back from the US. I wonder now, why did I even brought so much stuff with myself. But that is a story for later.

So last month, when I found time I decided to embark on my project of removing stuff. The question that I was facing was, how should I go about it. What is the best way to decide what to keep and what to throw. Believe me, it’s a real challenge. Having so much stuff was not only embarrassing but also distracting. I was feeling stressed all the time, which meant I was buying more.

My first discovery in this process was Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up“. How ironic it sounds, such a simple act but we are unable to follow through, I thought. While it was interesting to read the book, and it brought alive the madness of buying stuff which we don’t need, I was still finding it difficult to get rid of. I even watched a host of YouTube videos dedicated to the KonMari method, as it is called. It was interesting to watch how people are inspired by the act of removing stuff.

As I started the process, I didn’t entirely use KonMari’s method, but I found it helpful in my quest to remove stuff. But one thing I did follow was to not listen to music while reducing stuff. Not listening to music, made me actually focus on the stuff I had. And it’s a lot. Off course, I can justify that I needed it when I bought it, at the same time, I could actually see the futility of it.

It took me at least 10 days to really get rid of the excess stuff. I have donated most of it. Although I still have a long way to go, I feel relaxed after removing excess stuff. So I am just going to continue with this process as much as I can. At least, now I can find stuff I need rather than buying more.

While this post recounts my experience of removing stuff, it has been inspired by a host of blogs on minimalism, I have come across in my journey. All these blogs helped me in my brief journey so I thought of linking to them here. Perhaps you may find it interesting. Here is the list:

  1. Rowdykittens.com by Tammy Strobel – Her blog recounts her interesting journey of downsizing of living in a Tiny House while pursuing her dream life of a writer
  2. Becomingminimalist.com by Joshua Becker – His blog has interesting tips on how to practice minimalism
  3. theminimalists.com by Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus – Their blog too talks about their journey of becoming minimalists and how it helped them rid of stuff

I also watched the recently released documentary http://minimalismfilm.com/, it really brings to light the madness that is fueling mindless consumption.

I don’t know if I am really going to be a minimalist in the long run, but it does feel good to remove clutter and be organized. So I am going to continue with it as much as I can and continue with my quest of removing clutter especially as it is allowing me to be more focused on what I want to do and what I can achieve if I stop focusing on stuff and instead focus on life itself.