Is Yoga a complete Workout?

By Harsh Thakkar

The more I read about it the more evidence I find to support it. Well not sure if I can call it evidence yet, because neither have I seen the “evidence” from my own eyes, nor have I paid any medical labs or scientists to conduct the research on my behalf. Yes, I have spent a few hours googling about it, I will not deny it.

My first few findings were that Yoga has a lot of benefit for toning of your muscles, achieving muscular strength, flexibility, core strength, relaxation, endurance and reduce stress levels. There was also mention of it being good for cardiovascular health and increasing lung capacity. And I did come across a few articles explaining in detail how it really is proven by experiments conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the largest exercise science association in the world, that Yoga can be at par if not better than any other aerobic exercise out there in the world like running, cycling or swimming. Now I still am going to take that with a pinch of salt.

The parameters one can use to define physical fitness is cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, lung capacity(VO2 Max), Flexibility and body composition( percentage of fat, muscles, bones, organs and other non-fat tissues). Yoga has been proven in one way or another to improve all of the above within a span of 8 weeks of practice (2-3 times per week) in all age groups irrespective of previous chronic health ailments, sex, smoking habits etc.

Now I don’t know how true this is and whether ASCM was paid by the Federation of Yoga Loonies to prove that Yoga is awesome. I don’t even think such a federation exists, because I just made that up!

What I can put on the table for you to consider are facts:

  1. I lost about 9 kilos in 4 months, since I started practicing Yoga
  2. I do feel positively less stressed
  3. My chronic Rhino sinusitis has been less active
  4. My stamina of exercising and endurance have both increased many fold. And I have eye witnesses in the form of my yoga batch-mates to vouch for that. Still long way to go though…
  5. Don’t even get me started on my flexibility
  6. I still have not achieved the zen state. I must mention this as I do fight with my wife every now and then and she will read this article at some point in time I would like to believe

So whether it’s a complete workout or not – I don’t know. As a wise man said once upon a time, Yoga is not about fitness but about wellness. I will add a bit of running, swimming and a game of tennis to my exercise regime, just because I love it and I don’t like to put all my eggs in the same basket. But will I continue to do Yoga? Heck yeah!

Yogic diet and mind balance

By Harsh Thakkar

Do you control your mind when it comes to eating what you want to eat or does the mind tell you what to eat? And how does the food one eats contribute to the state of mind?

Ayurveda is described as the traditional Indian system of medicine (incorporated in Atharva Veda, the last of the four Vedas) which is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing. Balance as we know now is also one of strongest pillars of Yoga. Literally translated it would be “Ayur” meaning Life or Age and “Veda” meaning science or knowledge. In most western countries although it is considered as a system of complementary and alternate medicine. Even though I do not have the complete knowledge of Ayurveda and all its practices, whatever I have read so far it tells me that it provides guidelines for diet, seasonal routines and homemade remedies from plants and herbs to remind us that one’s health is a delicate balance between the environment, body, mind and spirit.

According to Ayurveda, food has a prominent role in achieving balanced body-mind-soul consciousness. It is said that the nature of food a person consumes reflects their nature or temperament.

Any food you eat can be categorized as either sattvicrajasic and tamasic according to its character and effect upon the body and the mind.

Sattvic food

Sattva is that which makes us curious, thoughtful, and alert.

Sattvic food is always freshly cooked and simple, juicy, light, unctuous, nourishing, cooling and refreshing to mind and body. It increases the energy of the mind and produces cheerfulness, serenity and mental clarity. Sattvic food is highly conducive to good health.

Foods: Whole grains and legumes like Rice, Whole wheat, Millet, Corn, Lentils, Oats, Beans etc. Freshly picked and organically grown vegetables like Celery, Sweet potatoes, Sprouts, Cauliflower, Zucchini, Lettuce, Green beans, Spinach, Broccoli, Asparagus etc. Fresh fruits such as Apples, Peaches, Oranges, Bananas, Guava, Berries, Papayas, Pomegranate etc.

Rajasic Food

Rajas are invigorating and mentally stimulating and make us active, giving us the desire to work, push, and manifest.

This is food that is fresh but heavy. The rajasic diet is also cooked fresh and is nutritious. It may contain a little more oil and spices compared to sattvic food. Rajasic foods are bitter, sour, salty, pungent, hot and dry. It stimulates aggression, passion, fire, imbalance of the emotion, energy, alters the consciousness, and creates depression.

Foods: Fish and meat such as Salmon, Sole, Trout, Lamb, Chicken, Turkey, Tuna, Eggs etc. Excess of Sharp Spices like Salt, Pepper, Black Pepper, Ginger, Onion, Radish, Garlic etc. Stimulants such as Coffee, Tea, Tobacco, Sugar, Cola Drinks, Chocolates, Alcoholic Drinks etc.

Tamasic Food

Tamas gives us the desire to stop, slow down, and rest.

Tamasic foods cause lethargy, inactivity, mental block, severe anger, darkness, ignorance, and no control of self. These foods are considered to be highly detrimental to the body and mind.

Foods: Fried food, Eggs, White flour, Fast food, excess starch and sugar, chillies, sauce, fermented or stale food, ice creams, chocolates, preserved meats/ fruits and jams, artificially flavoured drinks, alcohol, breads, cakes, Pickles.

We have all the three Gunas / qualities within us in different proportions. All 3 of these qualities (Sattvic, Rajasic, and Tamasic) are necessary for survival and to move in a progressive direction in life. How we respond to the events and circumstances in our life very much depends on the predominant Guna / Quality within us.

Sattva qualities make a person calm and joyful. ‘Small amount’ of Rajas makes the person active and passionate, while Tamas in ‘moderation’ is considered as grounding and promotes stability.

 

 

 

 

Life around Chakras

By Harsh Thakkar

We are living in the age of data. Yet there are so many things around us that we know nothing or very little about. Back in the stone age when the Neanderthal man did not know or understand something, he looked at stars to see signs to guide him in the right direction. Then came the middle ages and the homo sapiens around the world had been taken over by religion. They started going to priests and reading the scriptures be that the Holy bible or the Quran or ancient Hindu Vedic scriptures to enlighten them and tell them what to do when they were lost. Today when we are lost we google. Which is of course the biggest warehouse of – you got that right – Data. Yoga on the other hand tells us to look inside when you feel lost. Understand yourself and your own body so that you can understand your surroundings.

However, we still understand very little of our own body and how that fits in the vast reality we call universe. Yoga Sutras always had an answer to this question for the mind that seeks. Different books and interpretations of how the human body is powered have been written and explained in different cultures across the world. Of course, over time when we underwent the scientific revolution we found logical answers too to pretty much every religious and cultural belief that we had accepted over hundreds of years. The same scientists still send a silent prayer when things go beyond their rational expertise or will shout out to God to be saved if they were thrown in front of a hungry tiger. No I’m not undermining science or its miraculous achievements. I’m just trying to shine some light that there are so many things that still cannot be explained by science.

Different people are governed by different motives or energies at different stages of their lives. One could say that you have been motivated to work towards becoming a millionaire or that promotion in your current job or to write that novel or this blog. In another part of the world; there is a poor farmer who labors day in and day out just to earn enough to survive and feed his family, a young teenager from the same village puts in the hard work in school and college and becomes an engineer. Another from a different village become an entrepreneur and a millionaire. What is powering these different people from similar backgrounds yet able to achieve such diverse goals and destinies? Then there are some who are born with a silver spoon, everything served on a silver platter, yet they’re not motivated enough to leave their own mark on the world. Chakras may have the answer.

So what are chakras?

Ancient texts between various traditions noted 5 to 114 chakras throughout our body some even elaborated as many as 88,000. The most important of them can be shortlisted to only seven. They can be explained as small rotating or vibrating discs of energy centered around the plane of the spine from the base of the spine at the pelvic floor to the crown of the head in a human body. Every chakra since it is a concentrated disc of energy has its own frequency and color associated with it. And if all chakras in a human body are rotating at the ideal frequency then you as human being are balanced spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.

Every chakra is related to a different ailment, or a different strength of your body, even different traits of your personality. At times the focus of your life can be determined by a certain chakra being more powerful than the other. Let us start with describing these Chakras first: 

1. Muladhara (Root) Chakra, Color: Red, Frequency: 396 Hz

Think about your root chakra as the foundation of a house, except for your body—it’s sturdy, stabilizing, and supportive, keeping everything safely connected if it’s functioning properly. It’s associated with the base of the spine, the pelvic floor, and the first three vertebrae, and responsible for an individual’s sense of security and survival. Because of that, it’s also connected to whatever you use to ground yourself, including basic needs such as food, water, shelter and safety, as well as your more emotional needs such as letting go of fear and feeling safe. As you well know, when these needs are met, you tend to worry less.

When it’s unbalanced: A variety of ailments can occur from blockages, including anxiety disorders, fears, or nightmares. Physically, the first chakra is associated with problems in the colon, with the bladder, with elimination, or with lower back, leg, or feet issues.

2. Svadhishthana (Sacral) Chakra, Color: Orange, Frequency: 417 Hz

Located above the pubic bone and below the navel, it’s responsible for our sexual and creative energies. Associated with the element of water, when your sacral chakra is aligned, you will likely feel great: You’re friendly, passionate, and successfully fulfilled while also eliciting feelings of wellness, abundance, pleasure, and joy. By honoring your body and expressing yourself creatively, you’re keeping the energy wheels turning and fluid.

When it’s unbalanced: When you’re feeling uninspired creatively or have some emotional instability, your sacral chakra may be misaligned. Likewise, this can also be associated with physical sexual dysfunction, while also potentially experiencing fear of change, depression, or addiction-like behaviors.

3. Manipura (Solar Plexus) Chakra, Color: Dark purple, Frequency: 528 Hz

With its name meaning “Jewel City” in Sanskrit, the third chakra is said to be your source of individual power, ruling over self-esteem. Located from the navel to about the rib cage, it reportedly governs all things metabolic, digestive, and stomach-related.

When it’s unbalanced: You can suffer from low self-esteem, have difficulty making decisions, and may have anger or control issues. It’s not just feeling badly about yourself, but also may lead you to outwardly express apathy, procrastination, or that you’re able to be taken advantage of easily. Likewise, you’ll also possibly have a tummy ache of some kind such as digestive issues or gas.

4. Anahata (Heart) Chakra, Color: Green, Frequency: 639 Hz

As the central chakra, found at the center of your chest, represents where the physical and the spiritual meet. Physically, it’s said to encapsulate the heart, the thymus gland (which plays a vital role in your endocrine and lymphatic system), the lungs, and the breasts. And as its name implies, is all about the love. “It’s the awakening to spiritual awareness, forgiveness, and service”. Associated with the color green, it’s believed that when your heart chakra is aligned and balanced, love and compassion are flowing freely—both in terms of giving it out and getting it back.

When it’s unbalanced: A closed heart chakra can give way to grief, anger, jealousy, fear of betrayal, and hatred toward yourself and others—especially in the form of holding a grudge against something or someone. Holding onto hurt harbors negative feelings and cuts you off from opportunities to love.

5. Vishuddha (Throat) Chakra, Color: Blue, Frequency: 741 Hz

Have zero problem saying how you feel? Your fifth chakra, which is all about speaking your inner truth—or specifically, ensuring that your opinions are properly communicated—is likely well-balanced. The throat chakra rules all communication and is the first of the three solely spiritual chakras (as opposed to the lower ones, which manifest themselves in a more physical way). Anatomically, the throat chakra is associated with the thyroid, parathyroid, jaw, neck, mouth, tongue, and larynx. When this chakra is in check, you’re able to fully listen as well as speak and express yourself clearly.

When it’s unbalanced: In addition to having trouble speaking your truth, you find it hard to pay attention and stay focused, or fear judgment from others—which can further hinder your ability to keep it real. Physically, this blockage can manifest itself as a sore throat, thyroid issues, neck and shoulder stiffness, or tension headaches.

6. Ajna (Third Eye) Chakra, Color: Indigo, Frequency: 852 Hz 

The third-eye chakra is physically located between your eyebrows. Organs including the pituitary gland, eyes, head, and lower part of the brain are said to be ruled by the third eye. And it reportedly governs your intuition—plus the ability to recognize and tap into it.  What’s more, the third eye is also said to be responsible for all things between you and the outside world, serving as a bridge between the two, allowing you to cut through any illusions and drama to see the clear picture.

When it’s unbalanced: You may have trouble accessing your intuition, trusting your inner voice, recalling important facts, or learning new skills. And if your lower chakras—AKA the root, sacral, solar plexus, and heart chakras—and are unbalanced, your third eye will likely be as well, which may cause you to act more judgmental, dismissive, and introverted. A third-eye blockage is associated with a broad range of issues, including depression, anxiety, and a more judgmental attitude—while physically, it’s said to cause headaches, dizziness, and a slew of other brain-health issues.

7. Sahasrara (Crown) Chakra, Color: Pure White, Frequency: 963 Hz 

Known in Sanskrit as the Sahaswara chakra or the “thousand petal lotus” chakra, it is the center of enlightenment and our spiritual connection to our higher selves, others and ultimately the divine. As the name suggests, the seventh chakra is located at the crown of your head. When aligned, the realizations that occur within you are said to be along the lines of pure awareness, consciousness, undivided and all expansive.

When it’s unbalanced: Unlike the other chakras, the crown chakra is often only opened fully through specific yogic or meditative exercises, or at certain times—which is not a skill set you can call upon at any given moment. You may be able to get a taste of it, though, through daily practices—anything from meditation, prayer, to moments of silence and gratitude—to have those moments of spiritual connection.

Chakras are essentially nerve centers in the human body the presence and the frequencies of which has been proven scientifically. If the Manipura Chakra is powerful in a human being then he/she would go after power, money and recognition making him/her very ambitious during that phase of life. On the other hand if a person is barely just surviving financially and fighting over stability and security in life he/she is ruled by the Muladhara Chakra. A motivational speaker or an influencer on the other hand is being ruled by the Vishuddha Chakra. With the practice of certain asanas, meditation or breathing one can balance and master the different chakras to maintain proper energy flow in the body. I would like to end this rather lengthy article by quoting Dalai Lama :

“In the view of Tantra, the body’s vital energies are the vehicles of the mind. When the vital energies are pure and subtle, one’s state of mind will be accordingly affected. By transforming these bodily energies we transform the state of consciousness.”

~ The 14th Dalai Lama

Yoga for beginners

by Harsh Thakkar

When we grow up, as humans we start taking things for granted. Small miracles which power our everyday life are still happening with the same frequency and un-mindfulness at which they used to happen when one is born. For instance, you still are involuntarily breathing – without really thinking about it or giving it a second thought. You still eat food, and in a few hours, it provides you with ample energy to engage in activities you love and strengthens your overall body, or simply put “it becomes your body”. Yes, there is a scientific explanation to all this, but nobody thinks about it while doing it. Nobody has the time.

Actions and milestones which used to be groundbreaking when you were 1 year old – the first eye contact, the first step, the first solid meal, the first word that comes out of your mouth, all these happen daily now in your adult life, but they have stopped being miraculous. When I convinced myself to sign up for a yoga teaching course, I didn’t know why I did it. The teacher asked everyone in one of the first few classes – do you want to become a teacher? My answer was maybe, at certain point in my life if I get good at it (still far from it).

I am now in that phase of my yoga journey when I’ve become physically capable of doing most asanas (I must add not perfect yet) but still wondering “What is Yoga really? ”

Recently I started teaching basic yoga to some of my friends and family – they were the only ones who were brave enough to take the risk. And during these sessions I found myself explaining to them – “Yoga is not an exercise regime, it’s about wellness. A way of life.” Essentially the word means “Union”, the union of mind, body and soul – some would say. Or the “Union of oneself with the nature”. Easier said than done, one of my friends chimed. I couldn’t find myself to deny that and just smiled in response.

I read somewhere on the Internet of all things that Yoga is “a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.” Well that sounds amazing, apart from the fact that the religion of Hinduism has nothing to do with it! Yes, it was written about and established by saints at the time when Hindu religion was going strong in India. But that would be the equivalent of saying that Pilates is a “Nazi system of exercises using special apparatus, designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture, and enhance mental awareness.” Although Pilates was developed during the first world war, Nazism was not even coined at the time even though Hitler was serving in the German army, he had not yet taken control of Germany. Pilates has nothing to do with Nazism, just like Yoga has no religious link – plain and simple.

Living in the moment has become hip these days, but how many people are doing it? If you actively start doing it, that would mean just enjoying the present and not thinking about the future. You earn 3000$ a month, you spend it all, have a great time and live from month to month. Not sure if that’s a good idea. But does it have to be financial all the time?

Living in the moment could also mean, enjoying small mercies in life, that great cup of coffee; the sweet taste of fresh fruit in your mouth; spending time with your loved ones. And then the more basic stuff – you’re still alive and kicking; still able to breath and enjoy the sunrise and sunset, able to walk and get around.

If I were to quote Sadhguru, founder of Isha foundation his definition of Yoga is “that which brings you to reality. Literally, it means “union.” Union means it brings you to the ultimate reality, where individual manifestations of life are surface bubbles in the process of creation. Right now, a coconut tree and a mango tree have popped up from the same earth. From the same earth, the human body and so many creatures have popped up. It is all the same earth.”

When one is practicing Yoga, your mind is focusing on getting that asana right, getting the breathing right, that pain in your thighs during Utkatasana, the rhythm of movement during Suryanamaskara. You’re at that time living in the moment 🙂 So one could say that Yoga teaches you and trains your mind to live in the moment.