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


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.


  • 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!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Mindfulness Meditation - discover, experiment and own it

Often people ask me how important is posture or space in meditation? Should we practice in a group setting or practice alone? Is it essential to light a candle while meditating? Should I keep me eyes open or shut? Is there a specific time of day to practice? These questions are relevant not only for mindfulness meditation but other forms of meditation too such as Chakra meditation,or guided visualization.

Here is a primer on mindfulness meditation but before we begin, it is worth reminding ourselves, how mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, "Mindfulness is paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."

Posture: While there is a benefit in sitting upright, perhaps cross legged or on a chair, with your eyes gently closed, a particular posture is not mandatory in many meditation practices. Often people prefer to lie down or some choose to meditate while walking, running or even swimming where they feel they become one with their surroundings.

Space:  Where we chose to practice can seem very important to us. For some people a certain kind of space is critical to meditate, perhaps a room where there is a lot of natural light or a room with no natural lighting. Some may find that meditating in a natural surrounding, be it at a lake front or the mountains, may help them zone in. The rhythmic sound of water can be especially calming to some or the gentle wind ruffling the hair and caressing the skin can be relaxing to others. And yet, there are those who meditate while they ride the bus to work every morning.


Time of the day: Mornings work very well for many people as the mind is usually clear and rested. Indeed, sages, gurus and meditators over thousands of years have preached the importance of starting the day with meditation. However, thousands prefer meditating just before going to bed while others prefer short one minute sessions through the day. Read my article on Traffic control (controlling your mental clutter) for more.

Group setting: Meditating in a group helps many meditators because it instills a sense of routine and discipline. They find a group practice invigorating and the collective energy very beneficial. And yet, few prefer to practice alone stating that their meditation is their own individual journey.

Accessories: Candles, light music, a meditation cushion, flowers or a statue of Buddha or even apps and meditation gadgets are accessories that many feel are essential to the practice of mindfulness meditation. More about commercialization of mindfulness in a later post.

In reality, you do not need any special equipment, commodities or space to meditate. Yes, space, accessories etc may seem important for beginners but with experience and practice, you might find them (or not) to be trappings and you might just find yourself dropping these accoutrements at some point in time. You also do not need to meditate at a particular time of day. Recent studies conducted by Harvard Medical School indicate that meditation is beneficial at any time of the day. Consistency is key. More important than the angle of your spine, or the music (or lack thereof) in the background, is what is happening in your mind, or even what you are doing in your mind? Are you enjoying being in the moment?

Likewise, while formal meditation sits are extremely important and help us to get into the zone, ultimately, the ability of transferring this feeling of calmness, acceptance and stability to our everyday routine and into our personality is what mindfulness meditation is all about. And if you feel anxiety or worry creep in, consciously pausing your thoughts, anchoring yourself into your breath or a visual imagery may transport you back into the zone. It is more important to be mindful where ever you are, and in whatever you are doing. Space, posture, setting, length of practice or the time of the day is not as important as your intention to practice. May your meditation or mindfulness be your own, however you may choose to define it. May you discover it in a mindful way that embodies your truth and your dignity.