Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Kirtan music with Wah! – Where you meet God

I was 6 years old when my grandma asked me to accompany her to “kirtan”. It is a practice where a group of people congregate to praise and seek the divine through devotional songs and prayers. “Wahan Bhagwaan milenge,” (You will meet God there) she smiled. I instantly agreed. After all I had never seen God. During the two hours, while everyone sang, my eyes darted frequently to the door. I was waiting for God to appear. I began to lose hope. Perhaps God had not heard us, despite our loud and energetic chants. I then fixed my gaze at the women who were singing. They seemed to be in a beautiful trance, not a care in the world. I wondered if they would metamorphose into God. “Bhagwaan hum sab mein rehte hain” (God resides with us), was another lesson my grandma taught me. On our walk back home, my 6-year-old self felt cheated. God had not appeared. I could have played in those two hours instead. But even at that tender age, I felt a contentment that I could not verbalize then and perhaps can’t even now. Thus began my journey into the world of “Bhakti yoga”.

Growing up in India, I enjoyed kirtan. Whether it was chanting the “Hanuman Chalisa”, or “Gayatri Mantra”, vibrations from kirtan always brought stability and seemed therapeutic. It set my spiritual foundation, which helped me to eventually establish my healing practice, iReikiNowOn moving to the United States, we retained the practice of chanting within the family but I missed the large group setting of kirtan.

Fast forward to July 12, 2018. While staying at The Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, NY, attending a training course on past life regression by Dr. Brian Weiss and Carole Weiss, I saw a brochure about a “Divine Feminine Concert”. It said “bring your joyful self and celebrate with kirtan featuring Wah!, including stories, mantra, meditation, and call and response chanting in Sanskrit.” I smiled! It was about time.

That evening, I entered a packed hall. The crowd was a surrogate of the popularity of Wah! and the acceptance of kirtan by mainstream America. I learned from her website that Wah! was the first female to bring kirtan music to the West in the 1990’s. Wah! stood in front of the microphone with her bass guitar. She was accompanied by musicians/singers playing the sitar, drums, keyboard, flute and other instruments. Wah! started with the track, “Amritamayi, Anandmayi”, in honor of her Guru, Mata Amritanandamayi, or Amma. But to the audience, Wah!'s words were “Amrita” (nectar) and brought unbridled “Anand” (joy). She continued with “Om Jai Ganpataye”, “Lokaha”, and other tracks.
With Wah! after the concert


Wah! mesmerizing the crowd
Wah! effortlessly combined the principles of Indian classical music and Sanskrit shlokas to Western musical instruments and English vocals. Her voice was enchanting. Her pieces started soft, and gradually gained momentum, reaching an electrifying crescendo which seemed like a rallying call to the audience to awaken and embrace their true selves. It did not take long for the multi-racial and multi-cultural audience to start dancing in abandonment, free of judgements, self-limiting beliefs, and barriers. It reminded me of a prayer written by my friend, Wendy Messier“O, Lord, I long for that forever time when my heart and your heart beat as one.” It was as if, in that moment, we did merge with the universal energy. The color of our skin, nationality, or gender was meaningless. Wah!’s music reminded us that this was a time of true acceptance and to radiate love. Paradoxically, the music led me to a path of internal silence, and a mystical connection with the divine. It also reminded me of YoYo Ma and watching his global troupe, Silkroad perform while I attended an executive education program at Harvard Business School. “Music builds a more hopeful world”, YoYo had once said.  Music has no language, or barriers; it is a joyful union with the collective consciousness. Read more about my experience at Harvard here.

As the concert culminated, I stayed back to thank Wah! That was when I met her partner, James. Over the next 2 days, I chatted with them. They were humble and friendly. Wah! was born in Alabama. Even as a child, she seemed to have a heightened spiritual awareness and a love for music. Her mother, a professional violinist, helped cement that love. She often fell asleep under the music stands. She attended the Oberlin College and Conservatory. Wah! studied Indian classical music and “Raaga” on the violin, with Pandit Ravi Shankar’s disciple, Roop Verma. She then went on to learn the tabla, sargam, and mantra. Wah! started a record label in 1999. She traverses the globe performing at concerts. Wah! has published books and CDs on yoga and healing. She has lectured at Princeton University, CU Boulder, Loyola Marymount University, and performed with Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer. Wah! continues her own “sadhana”, as she chants and meditates every morning and follows an Ayurvedic lifestyle.



With James and Wah!


Wah! and James have known each other for 20 years. Dr. James Leary was born in Greece. He is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Medical Qigong, and PhD of Behavioral Psychology.  In his childhood, James was recognized by Chinese masters for having a special healing gift. His spiritual awareness helped him support his brother who suffered with and died of muscular dystrophy. James has developed a healing protocol, Life Qi Renewal, to help others heal and lead a healthy life.

As I left Omega, I looked up to the sky. I pictured my grandma smiling, “Kaha tha na – wahan Bhagwaan milenge” (Didn’t I tell you that you will meet God there?)


Despite my best attempt, I have been unable to articulate the emotions I felt attending Wah!’s concert. Hear her on YouTube. (My favorite is “Jai Ma”... click on the YouTube link below) or look her up on http://www.wahmusic.com/ and attend her concert. It will be a feast to your mind, body and soul. As Hans Christian Andersen said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The power of the spouse


How the progressive Mahindra group celebrates alternative thinking



A few months ago, my husband, Ritesh, surprised me. He was invited to attend The Mahindra Universe Program (an Executive Education Program) at the Harvard Business School with an additional day at MIT. "Wow! That is awesome. You are so lucky!", I exclaimed! "Well, you are invited too," he responded. My jaw dropped. Or was I indulging in wishful thinking! But it was true! I didn't know who to thank…. Ritesh… for being my spouse… or CP Gurnani for nominating Ritesh or Anand Mahindra… for being so generous. I was overjoyed as I hugged my darling husband. (Note: Suddenly he became my "darling".) Ritesh and I have been married for 20 years. Finally, the ROI of putting up with him comes to me in the form of an HBS program :-)

The next few weeks went fast. I had graduated from Business School 21 years ago and was filled with anticipation to relive my life as a student…. With the tiny ;-) difference that this time I would be going to Harvard. I could understand Ritesh getting the invite, but it was a pleasant surprise for me to receive the invitation. I wondered why the group would invest in spouses' educational development. Was it a retention strategy, Anand's benevolence, or does the Mahindra group fall in that rare category of corporates which believes in the coexistence of strong karmic accounts and financial accounts? Regardless of the reasoning, I was thrilled to receive this gift of education. This was unlike any other organization I know. Celebrating the spouse was an unequivocal case of alternative thinking. Clearly, the Mahindra group, embodies the 3 pillars of their core values and is driving positive change in the lives of their employees. The things you say and do are symbols of who you are. It's a proxy of your value system. With the invitation to spouses, the Mahindra group seems to recognize that behind the "role and responsibility" of an employee, is a human being, who has a family. The entrenched message that was being sent was: "I value you. And since your spouse is an equal participant in your life, I value your spouse too. You both are part of the Mahindra family."

(Read more about Mahindra's RISE brand  http://www.mahindra.com/about-us/brand)


We received several emails with meticulous details regarding the course, schedule, case studies, and the logistical details. Meals and activities were planned by the day. A special shout out to Shubha Shetty, who was helping to organize the program. On noting that I was a vegetarian, she sent an email to point out that desserts on the menu were egg based. I was overwhelmed by this level of detail and thoughtfulness. Thank you Shubha!

Finally, the day arrived. The program commenced on Sunday, May 13th with an address by Anand Mahindra. He welcomed us to the 11th annual Mahindra Universe program. Each year, 30+ executives (and their spouses) from across multiple companies/geographies under the Mahindra umbrella are invited for a week long session of learning. Anand termed the program as a "spa for the brain". He welcomed the spouses warmly, and urged them to participate fully. Prof. Forest Reinhardt also welcomed us to Harvard Business School. He is the head of HBS's Business, Government, and the International Economy unit. He is also the chair of the HBS Executive Education in the Asia-Pacific Region. This year 46 executives and spouses attended the program. While the majority of the employees were from India, employees from Finland, France, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, UK, USA, among other countries, were also present. Spouses also came from a diverse background. There was a doctor amongst us, a therapist, entrepreneurs and many from the corporate world. We were respected for what each one of us brought to the table.  For me personally, it was a time to step out of my comfort zone, learn from the best minds in academia, make the acquaintance of and socialize (networking sounds a bit formal to me) with everyone, observe and learn the culture, common language and the parlance of the shared values of this organization.

Thank you for an extraordinary gift of education

The evening receptions were a perfect opportunity to mingle with the participants across different venues, such as Boston Public Library, and the Harvard Art Museum. I met many of my husband's colleagues and their spouses. Putting a face to a name makes the human experience more valuable. We spent time over meals, watched performances (such an honor to watch The Silk Road and The Berklee Music Exchange), exchanged ideas and forged friendships.

The 4 days at Harvard and 1 day at MIT were filled with case studies, role plays, and lectures. We covered topics such as organizational behavior, HR, strategy, operations management, finance, technology advancements, history and political science. It was a treat to be taught by the likes of Professors Nicholas Burns, Amy Edmondson, and David Moss, among others. I was awestruck and soaked in every single word that the professors effortlessly uttered in every session. The classes were intense, the participants eager to contribute and the professors seemed to weave it all together and pack in so much in a single session. It also reaffirmed my belief - that I knew so little :-( and there was so much to learn. It was truly an intellectual immersion…till we attended Prof Tom DeLong's session. What started as a case study about self managed teams, turned into a "spa for the soul". He gave me faith, because if HBS is teaching current and future leaders the power of gratitude and reminding them that each one of us are humans before we are an "employee", our collective future is bright. In fact, I would argue that every case had a "human" angle to it …. Yes, I may be biased as I am seeing it from my lens of a healer (Meditation coach and a Reiki master, iReikiNow). Whether it was the Columbia space mission case study or the Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road case study (This case came with celebrity power. Yo Yo and his entourage sat through the case study! ) where we focussed on the core value proposition and shared values of an organization (much like the shared values of Anand and the GEB team, who made every attendee feel warm and welcome), to me the basic fabric of any organization is the human capital.  Trust emerges when we are surrounded by people who believe what we believe. Trust begets trust. When the employee and his spouse feels valued,  together, they are far more vested in the success and well-being of the organization.

What a privilege to meet with Anand Mahindra

During our informal networking sessions, I was intrigued to find out more about the trust based culture of the Mahindra group, and therefore the loyalty it evokes. I heard several anecdotes. One particular incident warmed my heart and soul. Romila N still chokes at the thought of the earthquake that hit Gujarat in 2000. Clearly, her emotions are still raw. A pregnant Romila was home, but her husband, Sachin N, was traveling. The building which housed their apartment was damaged. There were about 25 more Mahindra group employees in the city. Senior management flew down from Mumbai to reassure and comfort the employees that help was at hand. They advised Romila and Sachin to move into a hotel for as long as it takes for the building to be repaired. All expenses would be borne by the company. She was also given the option to fly down to her parents home, should she prefer that. Romila's gratitude was evident in her facial expressions and in her quivering voice when she recounted this incident. She vouches by the generosity of the executive management. What is to be noted is that Romila was not the employee of The Mahindra Group; she is the spouse …. Yet another example of the Mahindra group's magnanimity, and the value that the group places on the spouse. Needless to say, Sachin has been a long term employee of the group.

As the sessions were wrapping up, and we bid goodbyes, I mused about the turnover rate of those who have attended this event since it started 11 years ago. But the priceless smiles and the contentment on the face of the attendees reminded me that the pursuit of empirical evidence would be futile. What mattered most was the feeling of being valued. That was the absolute truth at the given moment. 
As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said in The Little Prince: "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."


Disclaimer: These views are my own. It was my choice to write this blog post. Nobody from The Mahindra Group asked me to do so. When Romila and Sachin narrated the incident mentioned above, they did not know (in fact, at that time, I did not know either) that I would write about their experience. Subsequently, I took permission from them to share their story.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Abide by these 5 Do's and Don'ts for a happy partnership

Relationships are meant to to be treasured and cultivated. Following some basic rules may help you deepen and strengthen your bond. Abide by these 5 Do's and Don'ts for a happy partnership - this article, by Taylor Bennett, was originally published on Thriveworks

Don't miss the 5 Do's by Nidhi Idnani, iReikiNow :-)




Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Your nose knows! And it is time you know too!

Feeling anxious? Stressed? Are you unable to focus? Do you feel exhausted or overwhelmed? If any of this describes you, do yourself a favor and practice Nadi Shodhana Pranayama. The Sanskrit words Nadi means channel or meridiens and Shodhana means to purify. Thus, nadi shodhana refers to cleansing the pathways or channels of energy so that energy or Pranaa or Qi can flow easily within the body. Also called Alternate nostril breathing (ANB), it is one of the best breathing techniques that helps to purify on all levels - mental, emotional, physical and spiritual.

Read More: Deep breathing - The best and free medicine



Benefits:

A study conducted in 2013 proved that Alternate Nostril Breathing alters brainwaves, positively influences cognitive processes and helps the brain perform better on tasks that require sustained attention. Another study shows that it reduces blood pressure for those suffering with hypertension. Additional benefits of Nadi Shodhana include:

  • Balances the left and right hemisphere of the brain
  • Balances the nadis or the subtle energy channels within the body, allowing energy or Qi to flow smoothly within the body
  • Calms the mind and brings it to the present moment 
  • Helps to let go of negative and toxic thoughts and emotions
  • Improves clarity and focus
  • Improves respiratory function and increases lung capacity
  • Increases the supply of oxygen to the body 
  • Reduces anxiety and stress
  • Relaxes the muscular system
  • Releases toxins 
  • Sets the stage for deep meditation


How to practice:

  • Posture: Sit in Sukhasana or Easy pose. This is one of the best poses for breathing exercises and meditation. It has tremendous health benefits.
  • Alternate: You could also sit on a chair with the feet uncrossed and flat on the floor.
  • Allow your spine to be straight, and make sure that your head and back are aligned.
  • Rest your left hand in your lap with your palm upward and your fingers gently glued together.
  • Gently close the eyes.
  • Begin with a few deep breaths. Take a deep inhale and slow, gentle exhale. Repeat this for a few breaths. Then follow the steps below:

Steps for one round of Nadi shodhana:

  1. Bring your right hand in front of your face, keeping the index finger, middle finger and ring finger gently glued together.
  2. Take a slow and deep inhale with both nostrils.
  3. Close your right nostril with the right thumb. Hold your breath for a moment.
  4. Gently and fully exhale from the left nostril, pausing briefly at the end of the exhale.
  5. Inhale slowly from the left nostril.
  6. Close the left nostril with your little finger. (For a brief moment, both the nostrils are closed, helping you to pause.)
  7. Release the thumb from the right nostril.
  8. Exhale slowly and completely from the right nostril, pausing briefly at the end of the exhale.
  9. Inhale slowly from the right nostril
  10. Close the right nostril with your right thumb. (For a brief moment, both the nostrils are closed, helping you to pause.)
  11. Release your little finger from your left nostril
  12. Gently and fully exhale from the left nostril.
This completes one cycle. Repeat for at least 10 cycles. End the practice with a few deep breaths. Keep your eyes closed for a few moments. Observe your thoughts, emotions and sensations. Then, gently open your eyes, allowing yourself to continue with your daily routine but promising yourself to take the awareness of the breath with you throughout the day.

Tips:

  • Start the practice by exhaling from the left, and end the cycle by exhaling from the left.
  • Place a pillow under your buttocks when sitting in Sukhasana. This will help to strengthen the lower spine and relax the hips downwards.
  • Hold the breath as per your capability. Those suffering from asthma or any other respiratory or cardiac issues need not hold the breath.
  • Keep the breath natural. With practice, the length of the inhales and exhales will increase.
  • Consistency is important. 
  • Ideally, practice this on an empty stomach 


When to practice: 

Practice Nadi shodhana or ANB every morning and evening to experience its many benefits. Use it when you feel that you are hitting a mental fog and need to focus. It is a great alternative to caffeine for that afternoon pick-me-up and does not have any side effects. Any time you face anxiety, or nervousness such as before an interview, a big meeting or a test, or just feeling overwhelmed by the endless daily routine, is a good time to practice this too. Practicing Nadi Shodhana at those times will balance the energy flow within the body and will help restore an inner calmness.

Finally, use it as a coping mechanism and a de-stressing tool, as evidenced by Hillary Clinton's use and endorsement of Nadi Shodhana. In her book, What Happened, and in an interview with Anderson Cooper, while referring to ANB, Hillary said "I would highly recommend it....It is very relaxing".  In fact, she thinks that ANB may be an effective alternative to anti-anxiety medication.



If, after the biggest setback of her professional career, Nadi Shodhana worked for Hillary, imagine how effectively it can ease our daily pressures and bring wellness into our life.

So give it a shot. Your nose knows! Reap the benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing!

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be a guideline. Always practice Yoga Asanas or Pranayama with an expert before attempting on your own.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Deep breathing - The best and free medicine

"Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Breathing is the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing we do before we die. In between birth and death, we barely pay attention to the breath. But breath is not just the exchange of gases - oxygen and carbon dioxide. Breath is a tool to improve the efficiency of the body and the mind. 

Breath - the holistic medicine:


Take charge of your breath to take control of your thoughts, emotions and body.

Take the unconscious process of breathing and make it a conscious process and notice how it benefits your mind, body and spirit. The pattern of the breath is dependent on physical actitivity as well as our thoughts and emotions. When tired, we yawn and inhale extra oxygen. When angry, we tend to have rapid and shallow breaths. As opposed to that, when calm, our breath is slow and stable. Therefore, if our emotions can control the breath, logically, by deliberately working on the breath, we can subtly change our emotions. If A=B, then B=A; if the way we think affects the way we breathe, then the way we breathe, will affect the way we think. Next time you feel anxious or stressed, bring your awareness to the breath. Watch it. Observe it. Gradually increase the length of inhales and exhales. Notice, how magically it brings peace and contentment.

Deep breathing has huge benefits for the body too. It balances the autonomic nervous system, improves the cardiovascular sustem, respiratory system and aids metabolism. Therefore, the breath can be intentionally used as a tool to increase the performance and capability of the body and the mind. Ancient yogis understood this and introduced "Pranayama", the science of consciously breathing in a particular way, which would enhance our health, emotions and spirit. What yogis have practiced and preached over thousands of years has been acknowledged by science too.




Scientific evidence supporting deep breathing:


Studies have shown the significant benefits of slow and deep breathing. "Controlled, slow breathing appears to be an effective means of maximising Heart Rate Variabilty (HRV). " Higher HRV indicates that the body has a strong ability to tolerate stress. As per another study, Pranayama breathing helps to "positively affect immune system, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress related disorders." Additional studies have also shown that it reduces inflammation and stress. 

So, among the many benefits of "Pranayama" below are some of the significant ones: 
  • Increases energy levels
  • Increases the suply of oxygen to the brain
  • Increases mental clarity and focus
  • Improves cardiovasculare health
  • Improves posture
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Reduces anxiety and stress
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Stabilizes blood pressure
  • Stimulates metabolic function


Practice - It's easy:


Deep breathing need not be daunting. Just practice this simple routine - Sit up straight with the spine erect but with the shoulders relaxed. Inhale through your nostrils to a count of 4, hold to a count of 1, and then exhale through your nostrils to a count of 4, hold again to a count of 1. Gradually, increase this pattern to 6-2-6-2 or 8-4-8-4. 
This can be practiced for a few minutes every morning and evening. Or practice this as short one minute sessions when you would like to control the traffic in your mind and take an internal pause. Also read: Think less, think better, feel great 
For an added dose of "Zen", use deep breaths along with this guided meditation.


Take deep breaths -  it is the BEST medicine. It has no side effects and it is FREE!