Walking is a soulful adventure outside and within

Last month I made a goal of walking 10,000 steps a day. One of the main reasons for making this goal is that I have been trying to lose some weight. Although I feel that running is better for losing weight, I can’t run as I injured my knee while running. So, had to stop running. My doctor recommended that I start walking. I was quite disappointed that despite taking the medication, I won’t be able to run.

My trainer, who I hired to help me lose weight also recommended that I should walk. His prescription is that I should walk 10,000 steps everyday.  I decided to give it a try. It’s not that I haven’t made a similar goal in the past. I have and have managed to keep it for a while but then lose interest in it and move on to other activities. When an activity becomes mandatory, it is easy to lose the joy in it and slowly interest. Even if one enjoys the activity 80% of the time, at least 20% of the time you feel that you have to do it because you have to do it. Then you start questioning the importance of that activity.

My trainer recommended that I buy one of those fitness bands that track steps everyday. This has greatly helped especially on days that I don’t want to go out and walk. When I look at my tracker I realise that I have taken only 2000 steps or 4000 steps and it seems very less. So I am compelled to go out and walk. Instead of questioning the why of walking, I have begun to find ways to enjoy my walking.

I try to take different routes. Initially, I used to go all the way by the sea. Watching the sunrise or the beautiful sunsets and the myriad moods of the sea always uplift my spirits. These days I go to the nearby parks and gardens. Although Mumbai is a crowded city, there are surprisingly parks and gardens hiding amidst the madness that help the city breathe. Walking in a park with a lawn and dense trees lining the fence reminds me of my childhood. There are always people walking with someone – spouse, children, friends and/ or pets.

When I it gets too hot outside, I go to a mall. Walking in an air-conditioned mall saves me from the scorching heat outside. Plus I also get to check out the latest fashion. On relatively cooler evenings, I walk in the crowded bazaars in the vicinity of my home. The bazaars are a complete riot especially in the evening. The roads dug up displaying the innards of the city, the street food vendors setting up their stalls with fresh snacks and thousands of commuters returning home after a busy day. It’s tough to negotiate to find any walking space. But I enjoy it. It gets me in the moment.

Another way I add variety to my walk is to listen to different kinds of music. Since I am taking music lessons these days, while walking I tend to listen to songs and ghazals that I am practicing to sing. The beautiful melodies add a certain poetry to my walking. In the morning hours, I like to listen to walking meditation music. It is refreshing and makes me focused on the day.

In past one month, I have managed to take over 10,000 steps a day on an average. There are certainly days when I take fewer steps but then there are other days when I go over so overall it balances out.

Walking is certainly beneficial for my physical health and fitness. I have started losing a bit of weight. I don’t have a lot of weight to lose. My main goal is to increase my overall strength while reducing unnecessary fat so that I can do certain yoga poses.

More importantly, allows me to connect with the world around me. As I move I observe the way the world is organised, the way the sun rises or sets, the way the trees become dark at the end of the day. How the rhythm of life changes by day and night?

It also provides me the space to contemplate and reflect. While walking I try and observe the nature of my thoughts. How they rise and fall? How they get stuck and loosen up? How they take me far away and the world beyond? How a sudden pebble brings me to the present moment? How a bird’s chirping fills me with a certain melody? How the sun’s rays add warmth and light to my inner self? With curiosity and compassion I travel within to search for those depths and insights that help me navigate this world in a skilful manner like an artist painting the canvas of my life with beautiful colours and mastery.

In past few months, I have certainly learned to appreciate walking and it is certainly becoming one of my favourite activities. I hope to write more about my walking sojourns in the city of Mumbai.

Do you enjoy walking? What are some of your favourite and not so favourite aspects of walking?

 

 

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Memoir: Lit – A Memoir by Mary Karr

I enjoy reading memoirs because they usually portray a personal tale of finding meaning and purpose in life. They are usually about overcoming life challenges and in doing so, they remind us of the amazing power of human spirit.

While reading memoirs, there are many instances which make me wonder how connected we are as human beings, yet how separated we are in our circumstances. We could be anywhere in the world but at some level we are all trying to achieve peace and harmony in our lives besides other things. Almost all of us at some point in our lives are faced with the task of learning how to channel our inner being to achieve a peaceful and harmonious life in true sense. It may be difficult but unachievable.

Reading Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr brought me to above realisation. Born to alcoholic parents, Karr struggled to emerge out of the shadows of her unhappy childhood and find a place for herself in the world. In Lit, Karr describes her struggles with alcoholism and how she overcame her addiction and become a bestselling memoir writer. While describing her journey, she also talks about a failing marriage which resulted in a divorce. This may sound like a story of many who fight addiction to get sober and take charge of their life, however, what is powerful about Karr’s memoir is the emotional tone with which she writes her life story.

Her life story keeps moving at a steady pace and as a reader you keep experiencing the various emotions. It is easy to empathize with her when she is drawn towards a drink, you can feel her anxiety, her impulses and her inability to control her behaviour. At the same time, you also feel somewhat angry at her preoccupation with herself and her tendency to destroy a near-perfect life. You question – why is she continuing on the path of destruction? And then as things start getting better and she starts taking charge of her life, you suddenly marvel at her inner strength to carve her own path. This empowerment comes about by having faith and trust in her own abilities. This transformation is accompanied by a certain sense of gratitude and acceptance of challenging life situations. Finding a community or a group of people who help and advice her are crucial to her recovery. It is important to rely on loving and caring people.

Her memoir reaffirms to me that when we start connecting with our loving self and expressing that loving self, we feel empowered.

Although I am not a literary critic but I do feel that her memoir is written lucidly. It also gets quite intense at times, I had to take a break even if I didn’t want to. The intimate way in which she describes her life situation makes you wonder how she can so clearly remember what she was feeling when she was so drunk that she almost passes out. I sometimes wonder, if these memories are what one experiences in that instance or later on when reflecting on the situation.

Whatever the truth, it is a memoir worth reading. It is definitely an emotional read.

Lit is Karr’s third memoir, before it she has written The Liar’s Club and Cherry. Perhaps I should have read the earlier two before embarking on this one. Perhaps I will read them now.

If you have read it, let me know what you thought about it.

Book notes: How to Love by Thich Nhat Hahn

These days I am trying to catch up on reading on spirituality. I have always found that reading books on spirituality has a calming effect on me.

As I was browsing through the Amazon bookstore, I came across Thich Nhat Hahn’s book How to Love. I have never read his books but have heard about him. I decided to try reading this one. I have to say that I loved reading the book and I felt a sense of calmness filling my soul.

The book contains lots of insights on managing a loving relationship. Although I don’t really believe in following any “should and musts” when it comes to relationships, I felt that his insights help to view a relationship from a different angle.

While Hahn gives short tasks to overcome the challenges couples feel in a love relationship, he also advocates finding a connection with the loved one. After reading his book this is what I learned from it.

As we go through life, it is easy for us to operate from an action-oriented approach of forming goals and accomplishing them. We see life as a series of tasks to be completed. This leads us to behave in an isolated manner. As if we are on our own little islands.

But when we operate from a feelings-oriented approach and live life with compassion our focus is on our own behaviour. We have more awareness to every being and everything around us. We understand the impact of our own behaviour on the world around us. Hence, we become more connected and attuned to others. With such an approach our behaviour leads to more success in the tasks we set out to accomplish.

Living from only an action-oriented approach makes us close to outside environment and other people. We tend to behave in a mechanical fashion, but living from a feelings-oriented approach makes us open to the world and people around us. While it is important to achieve the goals and enjoy the rewarding moments after accomplishing a task, eventually we learn that such moments are fleeting and transitory. It is only when we live from our hearts, we begin to enjoy life’s smallest moments and the journey of accomplishing those goals as well. In the process, we experience a variety of emotions and we find that our emotional journey has a lasting impact on ourselves and others.

By having more awareness and acceptance of our emotions, we learn how to manage our emotions so that they help us achieve harmony and success in our lives.

What do you think? Have you read any of Hahn’s books? And what did you feel about it?

 

Through a journey of pain and suffering, I meet my compassionate self

For past 4 years, I have been struggling with a debilitating pain in my left shoulder and neck. The pain was so intense that it affected my entire left side right from my head to toe. I could feel the affected nerves in my entire left side of the body. At times, I could see bits of swollen nerves in my left body. The pain would come and go. During periods of stress it would become intense, making it difficult to concentrate or work. This pain was an after effect of a neck injury. While the injury healed after a long period of bed rest and medication somehow the pain in my left shoulder remained.

Initially after the period of medication and rest, as soon as I found time I went for a Vipassana meditation camp. Surprisingly, meditation helped. It greatly reduced the inflammation resulting from the pain. While many meditators find emotional relief after meditation, I actually found physical relief. It was quite astonishing how after meditating for a bit, I would find my pain has subsided. But like all people, I am not very regular with my meditation. Also it didn’t cure the pain completely. The pain continued to affect my ability to work and I remained in constant pain.

Then I started yoga. Yoga brought some relief. I went for long yoga retreats in hope to find a way to deal with this constant pain my nerves. I also completed a 200 hours yoga course and almost completed a 300 hours yoga course so that I can learn more about the anatomy and physiology. The courses helped greatly, in doing yoga with more concentration and awareness of my body.

One of my yoga teachers told me to do regular pranayama. I added 10 min of pranayama after my meditation. Breathing in and out helped greatly, but again I am not regular.

Some people told me you need emotional healing. I tried a few things in an attempt to heal my emotional self. A few months ago, I started learning singing. It was a chance meeting with a music teacher that led to this interest. Singing has helped balance my emotions and has helped me be in touch with a part of myself, which got lost in this hurried pace of life.

All these above activities helped to some extent, yet the pain persisted. For past 2 years, I have been doing yoga and meditation fairly regularly. While it was not recommended, one of my yoga teachers helped me do headstand in her class. With baby steps, I started doing headstands. Initially it was just go and come. Slowly my body became stronger and I started doing for longer. But the pain persisted.

Early this month, I felt that I needed some personal yoga lessons to check upon my progress. I found a yoga teacher online who agreed to come home to give me yoga lessons thrice a week. I told him about my pain. My intention was to only improve upon my yoga postures but he was quite knowledgeable. Like a wise teacher, he said I would prefer that you first strengthen your body and then attempt yoga. And thus began a new journey.

As a single student, my pain was now quite visible during the sessions, limiting my ability to do the exercises he designed for me. So in one of the sessions, he said that we will only focus on your shoulder. He seemed visibly affected by my pain. I could feel his compassion for my pain. He made me do a few exercises with theraband, which I had bought earlier but never really used. And finally after the session, I was free of the pain in my shoulder. Just like that, my shoulder was free. In couple of days, the swelling in my nerves subsided.

I am amazed. They say that the suffering ends, when it has to. You may make efforts but it will persist. I can’t say that my pain has gone because of just this one moment. It has obviously taken me years. In the process, I have learnt many valuable lessons about life and about myself. One of the most lessons I have learned is about being compassionate towards others and most importantly myself. I have also learned that anger whether it is inside or expressed can be the root cause of many problems, even unrelated in our life.

Maybe it is too early for me to feel happy that my shoulder is at last free. But maybe it is. I will be eternally grateful to all the doctors, teachers who have supported and guided me in this painful journey.

Lessons from meditation: An ant’s bite taught me a lot about how to face tough life situations

A few years ago I went for Vipassana meditation. The first course of Vipassana meditation camp involves staying at the centre for 10 days in complete silence. You have to give up your phone and all sorts of expression and communication with the outer world. So you cannot read or write as well. It is also recommended to not engage in any sort of worship for these 10 days. The idea is that through meditation you connect with your inner world. In addition, you get only 2 meals a day – breakfast and lunch along with a snack. This helps slow down your metabolism as well as help you sit for 10 hours a day as you aren’t doing anything else. The whole idea of being cut off with the world for 10 days was a bit daunting but also created a nervous excitement about how will I cope with such strict rules.

Surprisingly, I completed the entire course rather effortlessly. Yes, there were instances when I dozed off during early morning meditation or felt a little disoriented at times with too much meditation. Overall, it went rather smoothly. I did not experience major hunger pangs or cravings for communication.

There is one experience that has stayed with me and has benefitted me immensely.

After 3 days of concentrating on our breath, we were asked to sit for 45 minutes of meditation with a strong determination of not moving at all. I thought that this would be easy so I made the determination and sat down for meditation. We were in a big hall with hundreds of people. As soon as I started my meditation, a big ant crept up on my neck and stung me just below my clavicle. I was immediately distracted from my meditation, my entire attention was on the ant and the burning sensations in my neck and upper chest area. My immediate reaction was to remove the ant, but that would have meant moving. I didn’t want to move so I decided to brace the pain and the sensations while continuing with my meditation.

Surprisingly, after a few minutes of discomfort the sensations died down. I felt a numbness in that area. So while my mind was entangled in that, I had at least managed to not move or distract my body.

Somehow this little incident has stayed with me. Every time, I am faced with a crisis in life I am reminded of the ant and its bite. Until now, I haven’t really made much of this incident. But recently, it just dawned on me that the ant appeared in my meditation to teach me a big lesson about how to practice Vipassana in daily life as we go through events. Just like the ant’s bite, life too can sting but if we choose not to react in an automated fashion but with intelligence we can turn that crisis into an opportunity.

The practice of Vipassana tries to teach that no matter the events of life – good or bad – we must deal with them with equanimity. The situations in life will not always favour us but what matters is how we respond to the situations. It is our own reaction to the situations that shape our experience and feeling of it.

Now whenever I am faced with a crisis situation, I try to pause before reaction. I try to shape my reaction in a manner so that I can get a positive outcome of a situation. I am not always successful but I try. It gives me a sense of peace when I try to respond in a positive manner to a situation, rather than let anger or negativity lead my life. A little bit of kindness and love go a long way in shaping our life.

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.

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!