The thing about Gurus

I just spent the past week, like many other disciples, sadhakas, in the lineage, in remembrance of the Master teachers of my tradition. The period between the 8th & 12th of September is celebrated annually with the Sri Lakshmi-Narayana Mahayajna at the Sannyasa Peeth in Munger. This year, due to the pandemic, the sadhana and aradhana were livestreamed and aspirants were able to participate remotely. The celebration itself commences & ends between two significant dates for those in the lineage – the 8th of September being the birthday of Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati and the 12th of September is the sannyasa day (initiation into sannyasa) of Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati.

It was a personal practice – it felt deep, personal, powerful and significant. I am not going to share those emotions here; they’re too personal. However, I will share about one aspect that Swami Niranjanananda presented on the third day’s satsang after the Mahayajna.

He spoke of gurus.

He also didn’t just speak of gurus, he spoke with an intensity that really called out for responsibility and a sense of introspection on who we really were posing to be!

I felt a deep sense of hurt in myself as I listened to the carefully chosen words from Swamiji – words that were meant to be direct, precise and relevant.

If you’re in the Western world, desi or non desi, you would be familiar with a lot of controversy around yoga or spiritual Gurus. India, too, has a abundance of gurus. Let me rephrase that, an abundance of self-proclaimed gurus with a huge following of ‘devotees’ many of them blind devotees too! Yet, in a land of existential esoterism, such unflinching faith often is synonymous with the very essence.

Still, we come back to ‘Guru’ and all the hype and wrath that the word draws – especially in the West. Unfortunately, in the digital age, a lot of that expressed fury is also reabsorbed by the native people – either through capitalism or the sensationalism of media – in both ways, a reconditioning of thought & understanding to align it with a western centric understanding of a principle that in every sense of the word cannot be naturally understood by a western mind.

For one, because it is a not a rational principle. It is not a ‘ touch & feel’ / ‘show & tell’ principle. It is not a, “This is my Guru, who is yours?’ principle.

So who is a Guru, then?

I cringe at my own question…. because I may actually want to ask, “So, what is a Guru, then?” But I’m blogging in English, aren’t I? So the personified Guru should answer to ‘Who?” shouldn’t it?

Actually, to the rational mind, regardless of geographical location, esoteric concepts may sometimes seem like an Orientalised and exotic system. Honestly, these concepts are difficult to understand by many Indians and South Asians too.

It is because the path of discipleship is not undertaken by all. The spiritual path is not lucrative and has no perks (unless the idea is to market & benefit from it, that’s another story). But the spiritual path is a conscious choice to step into a lot of inner mess.

The path of discipleship is not something that every Indian has to take. In some communities, certain rites of passage may form an illusion that a sacrament initiates the child into the path of discipleship. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. This is similar to the sacraments in various religious rituals and sacraments. It is a societal tradition, but not necessarily one where the child is entrusted to a rishi in a gurukul to promote the ancient guru shishya parampara.

Oh and while we cannot deny the social tendency to uphold a patriarchal representation of the guru shishya relationship, it is important to clarify that in the tradition children were sent by their parents to be raised with life and moral values by rishis and rishi patnis (the rishis’ wives) as their parents. To this day, many spiritual teachers in many lineages are women.

The Guru is a different principle altogether.

As I pause in frustration at this blog post, I realise that I am trying too hard. Trying too hard to explain something that cannot be explained in words. It has to be felt. It is like me trying to explain that honey is sweet but not being able to explain to you what sweetness is if you’ve never ever tasted anything sweet before. Sweetness is not honey. Sweetness is the principle and honey (or chocolate or candy or ice-cream is the conduit)

So an individual may be a teacher and for a moment might be the conduit for the wisdom of the principle of the Guru, the Guru tattva, conveyed through the lineage, the tradition, scriptures, (workshops & classes…??). And after their passing from this mortal world, their life and work may be referred to as deeper, powerful, potent works of wisdom. They may be gurus, even…. but that recognition is in their legacy.

However, our penchant for labelling persons, the conduits as the Guru is both misleading and damaging to the whole system – let alone to the ego of the individual. The pressure to conform to the perceived (or marketed) image is immense and the backlash of falling from grace when they err is harsh.

Gurus, today, are centered and platformed as the principle. The tattva is personified to make sense to a population or a group of people who essentially are not able to grasp the concept of the principle. This over simplification leads to all sorts of problems – least of which is connecting the principle to a very mortal, menial, frail human existence of the individual – who for the reasons I just mentioned, has to live up to the ideal of being called a ‘Guru’.

In the process, the gap between the truth of the Guru tattva and the misinformation / mispresentation of what a Guru is (because of how certain people, who either call themselves Gurus or are called a Guru by their followers, behave or behaved) is ever widening.

Here’s the thing, though. Even if we were to posthumously recognise the gift of certain personalities as great teachers, master teachers of the wisdom, in all aspects, while they live they remain human. They goodness is a conscious cultivation, their acts of generosity and a choice they make, their careful compassionate speech and deeds are a means to stay on their path…. And just like that, their flaws are human, the abuse some of them perpetrated is human, any oppression caused is human, all their faults are human. Because they are human.

Call out the abuse, the crimes, the trauma, etc. and call out their actions. If they are alive, they need to be tried in a human court of law for their crimes….

Because they are just human beings – they may have had the opportunity to study and share some wisdom to some people. But that doesn’t stop them from being human and from succumbing to human frailty.

The assumption that any teacher – yoga, spirituality, traditional art & culture, or others from a guru parampara is automatically cleared for ethics is flawed. The assumption that the self proclaimed gurus with mass followings are beyond reproach is blind faith and ignorance.

The patriarchal mess that is left in the wake of a capitalist, reductionist, over simplified, white washed & ignorant approach to an esoteric system of an intangible concept is the root cause of the shame and mistrust of the Guru today.

What do people know of the Guru before they embark oo being wary anyway?

The assumption that teachers are infallible is where the principle of the guru, the guru tattva, is defiled and shamed.

The guru tattva is not a guru – not your guru or mine. The guru tattva is the principle, the essence that is available for all humanity.

The guru is eternal and is an intimate non-personal experience. The teacher is just the channel – maybe momentarily, in many moments, channeling the tattva even, so deserving of gratitude. The wisdom is always through the parampara – from one teacher to the student teacher to the next student teacher….

It is not personified. It cannot be personified.

It cannot always be explained either! To some extent, I feel even this blog post has not completely succeeded in conveying the depth of that feeling because some feelings cannot be expressed in vocabulary (that is limited anyway!)

I close with a lot of gratitude to my teachers who constantly teach and learn themselves staying true to the teachings of the tradition as well as remaining observant to our own shortcomings.

This blog post dedicated to

Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati,
Swami Satyananda Saraswati,
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati,
Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati,
Pradeep Sattwamaya,
Swami Yogaratna Saraswati
and
Swami Dharmakeerti Saraswati
for their teachings, mentoring and grace
for which I am very grateful.

I Evolve. Yoga Evolves.

The past few months have been deeply reflective.

I’ve changed.In more ways that I even imagined.. because I didn’t really expect or plan for those changes.

Yet, I changed.

One thing remained constant, but in it’s constancy, it deepened.

My yoga.

Not asana – no, there have been days (leading to weeks, sometimes) when I couldn’t get moving on the outside, but there was a lot moving on the inside.

Do I make sense? I’m guessing to some of you I do make sense.

Truth is, I changed.

And through me, my yoga, or, my experience of yoga changed.

What is yoga if not to change us?

To break us and to re-create us?

What is yoga if it doesn’t crush us to powder only to lovingly mould us again to a better form that before?

What is my yoga if I were to still hold on to old ideas, thoughts and battles?What is my yoga when I seek liberation but constantly trap myself painful mis-truths?
When we are in the battle of righteousness, we need all our tools – mental, emotional, spiritual to get us through.

But once we are at pause, what good is it to hold on to those tools?

A boat is necessary until one gets to the other side of the river, but when a man once crosses the stream, the boat is no longer necessary for his purpose.

Uttara Gita 1.18

How long will be keep scratching open our wounds?I don’t know… it gets tiring, doesn’t it?

I’m different now.

I’ve evolved, I guess… whichever direction I have stepped up or down or side ways.

It is movement.

It is progress.

I have evolved.

And through me, yoga had evolved.

It is intimate,

it is personal.

Positively Body Positive

My  mom has been sending me pics from my childhood & youth over the past many days. As I looked at myself in picture after picture, I wondered why and how I had such terribly poor body image back then! Not surprisingly though, I was often overcome with fresh waves of discomfort – largely sadness, at how I spent so many years not truly loving the one person I had to love fully & wholly – ME! Instead , I bought into the ideas of perfection from everyone else, what I should like, how I should dress, what to show & what not to & just ended up feeling not good enough – for anyone or for myself!

If I were to go back in time and meet myself in those pictures, I would spend all my time and energy telling myself how beautiful and sexy and gorgeous and intelligent and ENOUGH I was.

Luvena rangel
A few days before I started University. Probably at my worst when it came to body image.
With my siblings when we visited India, a year before I returned home from University.

When I returned home from University, I had lost a lot of weight. A male friend who knew me from pre-Uni days, admiringly & suggestively objectified me by saying, “I wouldn’t mind coming over to the pool to see you swim now! It would be worth a sight!” I brushed off the sexist remark as a joke (Hah! I know! I actually brushed it off!)… but what he didn’t know was that I wore a one piece swimsuit with extended legs to cover the scald scar on my thigh! What he also wouldn’t know was that it would take me forever to get into the pool and I would wait forever more on the sunbeds until the crowd cleared so I could quickly get into the pool before anyone ‘saw’ me. I’m not kidding!

I think of it now & I hurt for that young woman who had such a terrible time growing into herself and was able to dress up & come across as someone who really had it sorted! I am still just so amazed at how that happened! Best part was how absolutely unaware she was at the time of some really hot gym instructors & members chatting her up while she waited to get into the pool because all she could think of was, “When will they leave?” [I speak more about this in another blog coming up next week.]

A year later, my boyfriend at the time suggested that I needed to lose weight before he took me to meet his family. As I look back, that relationship, which lasted for a quite a long while, and was one of my most significant relationships, was toxic af! It had elements of control, of gaslighting & withdrawal… and everything else that would have red flags about what we know today to be balanced & healthy relationships. Yet, to everyone around, we were the ideal couple… who checked all the boxes! I hid my weight from him. He once asked me to stand on the weighing scale and I refused, heart pounding…. guess how that date ended! Another time, I was hungry and he refused to buy me a sandwich.. lol.. It is funny now, to think that I, Luvena, this Luvena, went through that. But I did.. I think I should title this post “FFS”

Anyway, while admiring attention still came easily by, the background chatter always muttered things like, “You’re not good enough!”, “Thunder thighs”, “Does that cute bra come in a larger size, I wonder?”, “Argh! These jeans don’t fit!” And… the admiration just didn’t register! I couldn’t, wouldn’t & didn’t see myself as anything but lacking!

And now, in 2020, I look back and wonder what I was thinking back then? Why?? Why did I ever have to believe in the crap that I was told about my body? To eventually believe it so much that I ended up being all those things AND loving myself.

2017 & counting. This photoshoot from early 2019

Am I done with the work already? Heck no! I still have a few bad days – but mostly, somewhere along the way, over the years, the self loathing had dropped. A few months ago at a YTT graduation ceremony a student told me that I looked beautiful. Since I was wearing a sari, I turned around & raised a surprised & amused eyebrow at Shobhit, my dear friend & fellow yoga teacher and said, “Oh! So this limited effort qualifies for me being beautiful!”

He shrugged & straightfacedly replied, “Of course you’re beautiful!” I was taken aback. He said it less like a compliment more like a fact – our friendship is unique: blunt enough to say it like it is, and compassionate enough to keep it safe, real & caring. Not to mention, we laugh a lot & have great Facebook Lives, but…… he went on to tell me 3 things, according to him, that made a woman beautiful in his eyes:

  1. Resilience (to experience pregnancy and menstruation)
  2. Devotion (motherhood and other roles)
  3. Emotional Intelligence (in all areas of life)

Which is interesting because another male friend & I had a deeply philosophical conversation once – which touched upon our sense of self & confidence – even when we are unaware of it. He said, “A woman who is totally unaware of her attractiveness and yet exudes it with complete confidence alongside holding an intelligent conversation is beautiful and sexy!”

My friend, Jo-Ann, told me this yesterday: “This applies to both sexes and/or all genders. I find women equally sexy when they can converse. I’m not interested in a romantic way but definitely think a sexy woman is one whose mastered the art of good convo. I think it makes any human so attractive.

It gives me pause to think what I feel about how anyone defines beauty. It isn’t about the beauty of anything after all! Resilience, yes, strength perhaps, eventually, the intelligence to have depth of conversation & thought. It is a primal attraction to grounded strength with which we exude every bit of ourselves – all our bodies in unison.

But also makes me doubly certain why we need to be more vocal in our appreciation and acknowledgement of body image issues and the fact that body positivity needs to be reinforced in our children & youth. Fatphobia is real and its talons dig deep and pierce the heart.

The ability to truly own and love and accept ourselves fully, unapologetically and unabashedly is something we don’t need permission for from anyone but ourselves.

May we give ourselves to be whole, loved, loveable, gloriously sexual, generously available to ourselves  in every shape, size and limitation and still be totally true to ourselves – and do so with ease, grace & comfort – because the work isn’t easy.

The unlearning is not easy….but it is wholesome & nurturing & has all the ‘Oh So Good’ feels!!!!

And also because, well, what other way is better?

Why Desis Need To Talk About #BLM

Warning: Angry, frustrated rant from a Desi yogi

Image by Patrick Behn from Pixabay 

Do you want to understand how the #BlackLivesMatter movement affects us in India today? And why it does? And why it is not someone else’s problem?

First, you’ll have to accept to open your mind. If your bigotry is going to argue that your prejudice is well placed and that the movement is blowing things out of proportion, I’m call you a Grade 1 as*hole right now and you need to unfriend me – straight away. And while we remain unfriended, go get an education on history & on compassion… and on social media etiquette.

So..

  1. Just because you have lived in the US or in Europe and haven’t experienced a racial / racist slur DOES NOT mean anything. It means, largely that your blindness to your privilege has made you indifferent to the daily truth of everyone else. The privilege of being of an ‘upper caste’ in the India is what largely carries you to remain in favor of the ‘white man’s goodness’ – a remnant of the supremacy of our colonizers.
  2. For all your NRIs who think that by living in the US/UK for a ‘decade’ of the ‘4-5 decades’ of your life and to never have seen racism there – it sickens me to my guts at your lack of education and your reluctance to learn because, you are THERE because of Black lives lost to give you the opportunity to go there. And, your 4-5 decades is peanuts because the history of black oppression is way before your dada pardada’s time… 400- FOUR HUNDRED EFFING YEARS! Also, after going there, your brown skin AND your ‘Indian black skin is better than African black skin’ hierarchy is again what gives you the privilege to be a MODEL MINORITY there. Make no mistake, you’re not necessarily favored because of you – but because conditioning is such that you are a better minority to befriend that the Black community who do not even get the benefit of decent education. But wait, why would you effing care, right?? You do the same thing with Dalit rights, muslim rights,minority rights, etc right here in India? You are USED to using your privilege because you were RAISED to be blind to others pain.
  3. For our UK desis – your blinkers need a special strengths of cleansing solution altogether! Do you know how many Indian lives were killed during the British Raj & even before? Remember Jallianwala Bagh? How many Indians were starved due to rationing that meant that Indian bellies were not entitled to be fed? It is easier to welcome you with open arms and say, “You are one of us” instead of making reparations or even apologizing.. And for the blinded UK desis, hahah… the jokes on you! When the sahib has hugged & taken you under their wing, of course, racism doesn’t exist, right? RIGHT?? Right!
  4. Let’s talk about privilege again..  because your easy access to potentially everything here in India – education, jobs, cinema tickets, medical facilities, hotels, food, news, etc etc… is all because you are favored because of your caste – you may not carry it as an ID card, but you sure do carry it in your names as identifiers! And if you think your skin is not an indicator, ha-ha-the-effing-HA because you bloody well DO! You know how you look different from someone who is lesser privileged than you. If I know how I look different how come you don’t? No one can say, “We don’t see color! Of course we see color!” We need to see color and check our privilege. Do you? Here’s a quiz question, “Chor kaise dikhta hai?” Do you see a fair, robust, healthy looking chor? Exactly! Check your privilege! And also check your family name and the names of those who agree with you – yes, your family names identify your STATUS and your place in the food chain. If that is not an eye opener, then I don’t know what is!
  5. Now let’s come to ALLYSHIP. Standing up against racism does not mean that all your white friends are racist. If your feed has ALL your white friends making snide remarks against the #BLM movement, then, sorry, but you’re in quite a lot of sick company. Thankfully, my list has almost all my white & white passing friends & acquaintances who are aware of their privilege – have known 100% that their brown & black friends do experience racist slurs, exclusions and passive aggressions on a daily basis. Why them? Everytime I enter the US – having all my papers in place, spending tons of my hard earned money to their economy, etc – I feel a sense of tension until I clear passport control. The bias is obvious – and I am a tall, fair Indian with light eyes… still makes me feel second class. Imagine what third class feels like?
  6. White Supremacy – heard of it? No? Don’t believe in it? This is where your miseducation comes into strong effect. White supremacy is what led us to be colonized and to set the tone for everyone to come under the tone of skin that is superior – a.k.a. White Skin. It is where we have our penchant for all this white and fair and … in a videsi roop, it tells us that the White guys are superior. It is what the Middle East does when they look for US/UK/AUS/NZ Native workers who may be HighSchool grads or even flunked out of school but hey, if they have the right accent, they get the salary – but the brown skinned desi gets the grunge labor and zero promotion. So when our desis of privilege (yes, our fair skinned compatriots) get treated like equals, it is easy to think you are one of the white people and join hands to point fingers at the Black guys who are ‘thugs’, ‘thieves’, ‘looters’, ‘criminals’, ‘uneducated’… what else? Help me out here.. yeah.. you know all the words you use otherwise. Add them in the comments, go ahead!
  7. Some of you haven’t heard of slurs against your desi brown skin? Or your accent? Wait, let me some of my desi bhai behen who have lived there longer than you and born there too – so way before you or your parents were there… let them tell you what they have experienced every day of their lives… and then let me call my black brothers & sisters to share their stories… It didn’t happen to you because you came in with loads of money, have big businesses and perhaps are so blinded by the love of your prejudice that seeing it in your idols makes you both .. EQUALS. Ugh!!!
  8. And finally, because I just cannot find it in me to type through my tears of anger & fury at some of you who I called friends (note CALLED), George Floyd is not ONE death. The deaths and murders happened systemically & systematically for hundreds of years… just as they  happen in India to SO MANY… but for 100s of years, we had no camera, we had no internet and we were just too polite to get you’re a*s dragged for making little of such a humiliating and painful end. Like a friend said, recently, this needs just one word, “ENOUGH” – if you do not understand the pain behind it, you just need to get a real close look a mirror and ask yourself the eternal question that many of us, yogis and non yogis, ask once in a lifetime…. “Who am I?”

Footnotes: not reading back for typos right now… too angry.

Yoga Teachers & Burnout

Present times are quite unnerving. Yoga teachers are not lesser immune to these changes. The stress is real, and the so-called ‘solutions’ can also be quite daunting to many us for whom life and work has taken a turn into this colloquial, ‘new normal’. The truth is that not many yoga teachers are ready for this abrupt change and burnout, in yoga, may sneak up on us just as easily as we go about teaching our students to navigate change and calm through life’s ups & downs.

Burnout is real.

The sudden change in routine has done to us has thrown many yoga teachers is a whirlwind of activity especially around work and the generation of income. While some yoga teachers may be associated with local studios or fitness chains, many (if not most) traditional yoga teachers serve the community through private classes (individual or group).

The employment contract may cover earnings during this period of social distancing for their contracted staff & employees. But for yoga teachers who work for themselves, the pressure of generating income as well as shifting to a new medium of instruction online may prove to be downright stressful.

Even if businesses may be supported, the perception of competition in an online jungle or even the logistics of getting online to create programs or teach can take a toll.

And then, we have the influence of the coronavirus news, extended proximity with familiar faces, the pressure to stay calm, political squabbles and civic disruptions all adding to our woes. I, personally, wasn’t too bothered with the change form offline to online, but the constant drive to create new things, figure out messaging tools, newsletters, classes, what to teach, when to teach, marketing material … and raising kids & dogs, cooking, cleaning, attending zoom calls, etc…

In this whirlwind of activity, a couple of things suffered terrible – my practice, my self study & any semblance of self care.

I was giving too much.

I was doing too much.

I was sitting too much.

I was not listening to my body.

I was unable to make time for my practice or my self-study.

My routine was all over the place.

There was too much screen time.

It felt like I was ON at all times.

I was not slowing down.

I could hear my body tell me to make all these changes, but I didn’t pause to listen and heed the advice. Until the body did the only thing it could to get my attention.

It slowed me down.

Thankfully, it wasn’t a total burnout, but it was close enough. My body couldn’t really take a lot of the pressure, so it showed up in my weakest spot – my back. I had no choice but to listen – and apologize to my back for the lack of attention and promise to do better.

And I did. I’ll write another post later this week with my insights from the recovery process. But I did take it easy. I stayed in bed. It took me a whole week to get back to my feet! A whole week and lots of ice! I also took the time to read, make very late crochet Easter eggs, play Uno with the kids, supervise my 13yo (from my bed) as she explored the kitchen & cooked our meals. I meditated, taught my morning meditation from my bed (I told my students & kept my video switched off). I explored my essentials oils, I reflected, I creatively expressed, I rested… and I healed.

I recognize that I am susceptible to this.

We all are – it is a fault in our human-ness to succumb to a lack of attentiveness to ourselves. Self care is important. How else would we expect ourselves to be of service and fulfill our purpose?

Here are some pointers for yoga teachers:

  • Schedule it.Your practice may falter, so schedule some time in for it – even if it is just 15 minutes.
  • Online calls & meetings get us to sit for longer than we are used to. Incorporate movement & stretching throughout the day. 10-15 minutes mini stretches.
  • Stay hydrated – can’t say this enough. A well hydrated body reduces the accumulation of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body.
  • Eat well. Eat on time & have a balanced diet. Too many dry foods may increase your vata causing more imbalance, especially if you are not moving much.
  • Establish a routine. Creating a sense of predictability allows for a more measured and conscious approach to staying in control.
  • Get your Zzzs. Sleep well, on time.
  • Let go of perfection. You may not have that perfectly edited video for your classes, but rest assured, your students are there because of what you offer.
  • Find your sangha. Social isolation is not emotional isolation. Stay connected with other yoga teachers and business owners. You may have more in common to share – the good times as well as the challenges. This is a time to stay connected.
  • Do non yoga things. This is a too-much-of-a-good-thing point. Take a break – get off your yoga mat and experience the joy of art, craft, color, a movie, a book, journaling, decluttering, anything that takes your mind off things but still remains joyfully creative.
  • Tap into nature’s goodness. Essential oils worked wonders for me in my self care routine! Sandalwood & jasmine are a wonderful oil for all doshas. You may have your favorite blend. Go for it! Herbs & essential oils have deep wisdom!
  • And finally, take frequents moments to just do nothing at all! Doing nothing is an art – one that is deeply healing & immensely nurturing. No rules, no regulations – just.do.nothing.

woman-73403_1920

Aloo Methi – 10/10 for satiety

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Aloo methi served with wholewheat paratha

I bought a beautiful, gorgeous bunch of fresh methi (fenugreek greens) two days ago – a miracle during the coronavirus lockdown. It wilted today despite doing everything everyone suggests to preserve fresh greens. So, yeah, it wilted.

With all the hardy grit I could muster in the spirit of covid19, I diligently set out to pick what I could from the bunch that was quickly turning soggy. I managed a handful that survived the crisis.

Enough to go well with 2 small potatoes (aloo = potato).

That would do – the kids might sleep in, I could have a small, quiet lunch.

Wrong again – they woke up in time to say that whatever I cooked ‘smelled heavenly’ – just aloo methi guys!

But those two aloos and handful of methi leaves left us with a lunch that was supremely delicious. Humble meal to the core, I made just 5 parathas ; the aloo methi carefully divided onto three plates.

Lunch was served!

What followed was a silent meal, the three of us fully focused on our food and quickly declaring that the lunch had left them feeling happily full & satisfied.

Which made me think of a couple of things (in addition to the kids saying that I make awesome food and that we don’t need a cook anymore, post the lockdown because I make so many different things & they’re super delicious, yeah… yeah #ALittleSelfAcknowledgement)… but, it got me thinking…

This very simple, very humble (I run the risk of overusing that word, but it is what it is!) dish had all the elements of Ayurvedic satiety. The recipe was simple, yet nourishing. Easy to make, yet flavorful to the core. It included all the six tastes, which allowed us to eat till we were full & felt satisfied.

Here’s the six tastes breakdown:

Sweet – potato / wheat

Sour – tomato

Salty – salt

Bitter – methi (fenugreek)

Pungent – chilli / garlic

Astringent – garlic / turmeric

All in all – super yum, deliciously simple & ultra healthy.

The Golden Beverage – With a Twist

Golden beverage in a mug

I just threw some ingredients together last morning to prepare my morning beverage. Actually, there was a reason that sparked my creativity. My youngest was feeling a little iffy and seemed to be struggling with a mild congestion & slight cough for two days. He insisted on having his yellow milk before school yesterday. I obliged.

There is something really therapeutic about rubbing fresh turmeric root on a grinding stone. My little grinding stone was in a moving box and I didn’t have the heart to rub turmeric root in my white ceramic mortar & pestle.

I digress.

After my son left, I was left thinking of the bug doing its rounds, other more serious bugs also lurking about. I paid thought to my child’s intuitive reach to the herb that comforted and soothed his boo boo.

But my beverage was not as innocent as his. I threw in some other ingredients – my mind & thoughts working simultaneously with Ayurveda one one side, my needs and wants on the other.

What did I want last morning? What did I need?

I wanted creamy richness. I wanted to soothe myself for self-care. Yet, I wanted the familiarity of coffee or tea. I wanted a mouth full of flavor reminiscent of home. I needed a deeply satisfying sense of tethering & grounding as I was settling down to swadhyaya and then some goal setting. I needed to stay the course. I needed comfort. I also needed to have my immune reserves in top notch condition.

The weather was shifting. The past few days had been unprecedentedly hot for mid February in Bangalore and the viral fevers were testimony to an erratic Vata period.

I put together my Golden Beverage with a twist.

The twist included a small shot of organic filter coffee. A bit of a stimulant, coffee, but my small shot was my teensie sin to the potion. Any aggravated Vata would be taken care of by my next ingredient.

It also involved thick, whisked coconut milk. I whisked it with some virgin cold pressed coconut oil. Now, you can take the girl out of Mangalore, but never the coastal goodness out of her! Everything about coconut screams home, nourishment, nurturing, stability, goodness, mama, and delicious flavor! This is the creamer I wanted. Coconut is a great balancer for Vata & Pitta and I was careful not to overdose on it, so my Kapha was well looked after. To keep the beverage warm, I placed the whisked coconut milk in a bowl of boiling water so it would be warm.

I didn’t have vanilla pods – vanilla brings out the coconut better, I hear, but I’m not a vanilla person… so I sprinkled in a dash of cinnamon & nutmeg both are wonderfully grounding balancers of Vata & Kapha.

To assemble, I put in a few pieces of palm jaggery powder in my mug and a whole tsp of ground turmeric.

Palm jaggery is special because my earliest memories of visits to Mangalore involved ‘godachi kaapi‘ – jaggery coffee. This jaggery is a great mineral resource – rich in Iron, Magnesium and B vitamins.

And, well, the tridoshic turmeric needs absolutely no intro.

Put them all together and sit in the quiet of a house after the morning ‘off to school’ rush – the beverage is a soothing treat to the senses – relief & respite.

 

 

Opening Out Of Silence

There’s a lot going on in India currently. The nation is in a state of uncertainty, fear, confusion, panic and all sorts of things. We cannot deny that there is another view to things that subscribe to the narrative of fear mongering and that this is all unnecessary hype. And yet another view of centrism or fence-sitting.

They all have their reasons. Well, they all are also justified.

Yet, I struggle with this justification. I struggle with the pain I see. I struggle with the cold disregard by some. And I struggle with the indecisiveness of the fence sitters.

In all of this, I struggle with me.

I’m not a spectator and if you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that I’m not really silent about my views.

But this time, I struggle.

I struggle because I feel the fear and sense people’s resistance to fully be cognizant of the extent of what is happening. And it is real.

As I questioned my response to the situation, I could not keep the primal fear, anger and hurt aside – even if I told myself that it was OK to feel all that.

And it was because of yoga.

As a yogi, I was frustrated at the silence of those who could speak. I was also frustrated by the blind eye. At the same time, I was aware of the confusion of those placed far away from the epicenter of it all and them assessing, perhaps, if they were a part of this mayhem at all.

Then I saw this…

Source: Anonymous

I thought back to all the conversations around colonization and how so many from my wider audience and those who read my posts, followed my stories, etc, suggested that they were actively doing their own work. In their own practice, in their own space…

In their yoga.

Well, I went through my social media stories of the day, thinking of all the previous controversies over Desi under representation, ‘Namaslay‘ moments, erasure and cultural insensitivities that we have spoken about and multiple instances of silencing South Asian and shutting them down…. but I saw nothing about what was going on in India currently, except from a few. Nothing! No one was speaking about India.

Everyone was still on about tight hip flexors and pinchamayurasanas.

So I go back to the above forwarded comment as I consider, why the western yoga community was not speaking about India? Why is the political situation not being talked about? Why the silence? Where they that closeted in their own pond that they really do not hear of the country that gives them a reason to teach and make a living from (assuming they’re a yoga teacher)?

If you are following things then who are you listening to? Which voices are helping you understand your practice and the harm within and without it? Who informs your understanding of the culture of the nation whose philosophy or thought you subscribe to, even if only partially.

This is important for me because yoga and India are not one single thought – we are not a singular / set kind of yogis and we are not one set of Indians. We are not monolithic.

We are a complex people.

But we are in pain and the yoga community can & does play a role.

Why?

Because didn’t all the western resistance use the ‘Yoga is Political’ refrain?

Every time we spoke about supremacy,

…every time we spoke about cultural appropriation,

…every time we spoke about racism, fragility, oppression, colonization, decolonization,….

…every time we spoke of any controversy….

we said, ‘Yoga is Political’

Well, today, yoga is just as political for India. It cannot be apolitical.

Yoga is one of India’s tools for soft power. Although power can be used in many ways, I would urge the yoga community to address it responsibly – on either side of the equation.

I have always urged the non Desi community to be cautious in the narrative they chose to follow. While, a few bluntly told me that they cannot be ‘brainwashed’ or ‘played’, it was plain to see from the media they shared and comments they made online that they were putty – already buying in to the echo chamber they were sitting in but not necessarily ‘getting’ it. They’re not the only ones, though. Many of us have been shocked by family and old friends who have been openly displaying their bigotry and blindness towards the chaos – even while facing the loss of young lives.

What I would ask of you is to remember that we have a spectrum of people and thought in India, just like anywhere in the world. I’d like to ask that you check your privilege and your political bias to understand that privilege and political bias exists in India too. And within that spectrum, while all thoughts are welcome, we stand the risk of being subject to extremism and false narratives of unwarranted xenophobia.

I ask you to be cognizant of that.

Within pockets of the discussion you will find the narrative of victimhood and an appeal for consideration to. White people, please be aware that you see a minority of brown people from India in your country. You see us as one lot of brown people – minorities, voices that are often stifled, sometimes oppressed and facing frequent micro aggression. True as that may be, in India the narrative is not quite the same.

We are a brown nation. Here, in our collective brownness, the color of our skin does bring in prejudices (given our penchant for fair skin!), but it does not categorize us into majority / minority.

However, for a country that is a co-existing blend of multiple cultures, faith and religious sentiments, we are always sitting on the threshold of divisive politics. And our majority / minority agenda gets played right there. On the basis of religion – not faith – religion.

I clarify that it is not faith, because as a people we are programmed to lean towards faith – sometimes blind faith too. We are also culturally, an emotional people entrenched in a patriarchal system with casteism spread over our social fabric – left, right & center. Our generational trauma from colonization is just one side of the story. The trauma from the prejudices internally is more pressing.

Yoga is political because yoga is unifying.

Yet, yoga is being used to promote a sense of identity – especially in a way that western and white yogis would feel an emotional charge when their feminism and idealistic wokeness leads to a politically correct sympathy and empathy for the oppressed identity that they see in desis who promote the narrative of oppression and victimhood.

So, here’s the deal – yes, we come with trauma and yes, the trauma of colonization is still with us in every thing we do and experience. It informs the way we behave in India, our education system, our civic establishments, our daily choices. It also is responsible for the diminished sense of identity for some and the subservience, lesser than and erasure that many of us, and even our parents, still experience in western countries – as permanent residents or visitors. It stinks. And I will never deny that.

Does white supremacy exist? Like hell it does! So check your privilege because unconscious bias is real.

Do pass on the mic while we speak, hear us out, don’t erase our presence and do extend to us the basic civility and equitable respect.

BUT, to place us on a pedestal because of ancestral, historical guilt is simply ridiculous. While you check your privilege and engage respectfully and equitably, do not idolize us. A cultish ordering is dangerous and gives away your power to discern.

That is important. It really is.

Because, in giving that importance to one or two Indian / Desi voices is like negating an entire nation of voices and experiences that are a part of that spectrum.

More important is to be wary of subscribing to ONE voice – especially if that voice, despite sounding so logical & factual in its confidence, is also narcissistic & covertly bullies by manipulating you to respond (or react) with instinctive guilt. What you may want to experience is an awareness, and understanding that perhaps you didn’t know as much earlier. An awareness and gradual peeling away of comfort that privilege accords you. An acknowledgement of history and the understanding of how it exhibits in the descendants of the colonized even today. To have difficult conversations and make your way forward. You do not want to act out of guilt while you’re working on dismantling white supremacy and privilege.

But in my part of the world, in India, the supremacist ideology that is making its presence felt is Hindu supremacy. Where patriotism, which we all feel, is being confused with extreme, nationalist thought. Many do not subscribe to extremist thought but are being emotionally led to feel it because of a perpetuated narrative of anger, loss & victimhood. The beauty of Hindu thought & spirituality is being misconstrued as a religious and ritualistic identity. Ritualistic order at best is superficial yet, as mentioned in the Devi Bhagwatam, is still a form of worship. At worst, it can lead to fanatical violence.

This is the divide that supremacy is creating and yoga, in all its political correctness stands to add to it if not applied conscientiously. Hindutva is the essence of being Hindu – not be deification or ritualistic symbolism and norms. Hindutva is the embodying of thought that ought to show in the behaviors of unification. Yet, presently, the effort of many is to use Hindutva to legitimize the spread of malicious narratives that promote the sense that ‘Hinduism is under threat’… and this, through yoga in the west because to the average white western practitioner, the fabric of Indian culture & social order is not really understood.

The ringing refrain of ‘Yoga is Hindu‘ makes people who have been disillusioned by the organized religion / faith they were born into feel that they are now brand ambassadors of Hindu thought and often end up anglicizing the philosophy or watering it down to their taste. When the spiritual truths of yoga and Hinduism appear to fill a void, it makes it easier to absorb these ambassadors into the culture that is so giving without the need for officially ‘converting’ them and create a sense of belonging and liberation.

I do love that about Hinduism – the thought, philosophy & culture that is giving regardless of faith. But, I’m too close to home to know the fine print and the underlying danger of this generosity. Because it makes people add to the perpetuation of the supremacy quotient in India. The number of white people assimilating Indian culture, cultural symbols, even at the expense of appropriating it is ridiculous. And this ends up being a non-proselytizing form of getting more people into the fold… and to have them support a political framework steeped in the misrepresentation of Hindutva.

This is not yoga. Neither is it Hinduism / Hindutva.

It is political.

Yoga is political.

The conversation of colonization and the narrative of Hinduism being under threat includes the historical violence of invaders and colonizers who did not just impose trade and societal restrictions but also applied religious oppression on to the indigenous native communities. So we have this generational pain of invasions and colonization. But one cannot and must not discount the internal prejudice and abject application and exclusion due to the caste system that is often ignored in this conversation because it existed before the colonization, remained all through the colonial times and still exists as brahminical patriarchy, hierarchy and casteist exclusion.

While one may argue that it is an ‘internal issue’, it is particularly important to remember in present times because it is this internal prejudice that is the main cause of the distress that the country is facing today. A distress that is communal and is a distress where the oppressor is repeatedly pulling out singular incidents and citing instances of victimhood and persecution on the basis of imagined narratives and fabrications of poor quality news and media.

The current call for resistance against Hinduphobia never ever addresses the plight of the Dalits, Bahujans and the Adivasis. This refrain of Hinduphobia is always from the upper castes who simply refuse to acknowledge their privilege because they stand the risk of losing their sense of erstwhile security  and power.  In the west, they cry foul over anti-brownness and in India they bring in history to cry anti-Hinduism. Ask a Hindu Brahmin you know what they are doing to check their privilege and if they go and hug or shake hands with or sit and eat with their ‘lower caste’ house help, domestic workers, or others. Just ask…. and see them squirm. Check their friend list for any muslims? Do they ever extend any Eid greetings? Anything? For all the time they spend researching and scraping the wounds of the violent history of Islam and Christianity, perhaps if they spent half as much diligent research into the violence their own ancestors inflicted and still continue to inflict presently, it would be a start.

Yet, they speak about Hinduism and the desecration of Hindu symbols and idols. Do I feel the harm of Hindu symbols and rituals being misused in the west and in yoga? YES! I do! And you’ll see enough & more of my posts, talks and commentaries where I have called out those who have misused and humiliated Hindu symbolism.

But the current shout about being anti-Hindu in the protests and desecration of Om and deities during the civil protests in India and calling it Hinduphobia is not necessarily coming from a place of pain.

It comes from a place of claiming ownership and of manipulation. It is rage – not sacred rage, mind you! It is not spiritual rage. It is a rage of ‘us’ v/s ‘them’. THEY are desecrating OUR idols and OUR DEITIES… but even the Bhagavad Gita and the Devi Bhagwatam speak of the idol being just an external representation of the ONE within. So whatever form is man made, while sacred for those who follow it, is irrelevant to the Divine.

Are these custodians actually saying that the Divine, who is all encompassing and benevolent, unlike the Old Testament God who is angered, is actually hurt by mere mortal stupidity? Where does Hindu philosophy of karuna and nirlipta come in here?

No, this propaganda is merely one of their personal angst and a personification of their own fury and prejudice that is being directed through the lens of religious anger. Extremists exist in every religion – there are Christian extremists, Muslim extremists, Hindu extremists, Sikh extremists, Jewish extremists… Extremists are not the exemplars of the faith within the religion. But every time this us v/s them strain is repeated, it just propagates the misunderstanding that the entire religion is extremist.

And that is just wrong.

I hear some people repeatedly speak about Hinduphobia but never reference their own Islamophobia, even in passing. I was reading through a couple of social media posts today that made  me feel physically sick. The author & commentators openly dissected a protest incident and in minutes created a scenario on what, according to them, the protester in the image thought and how it is ‘definitely‘ a way of ‘Hinduism bowing down to Islam‘. The conversation was insistent on making people on the thread buy that idea of an unknown protester in a newsclip being a Hindu hater. Within minutes, eveyrone on the thread was furious at the audacity and how everything was all about a hatred of Hindus. It was instigation happening right in front of my eyes (who cares about what the protestor really thought?!). Who really cares about what the protest itself was all about?

Another facebook author was angry with a movie that is scheduled to release soon about an acid attack survivor. His anger was based on a story published (on a routinely biased and incendiary pro-right website) that suggested that the movie makers had bowed down to Islam and changed the attacker’s name in the script from a Muslim name to a Hindu one. The already emotionally charged readership swallowed it hook, line and sinker and made a noise about anti-Hindu and derailed the social message completely. Why? Are Hindu men not violent and abusive? Has no Hindu man ever been criminal enough to engage in an acid attack? Funnily enough, after the fact check was publicized,  the rumor was found to be factually incorrect. The pro-right website promptly removed the article and replaced it with a more factual story to cover their tracks.

In the recent horrendous rape story in Hyderabad, it was the one Muslim accused who was highlighted but his three Hindu partners in crime were not showcased. Why? Aren’t all three equally responsible for their horrendous act? This mis-centering is rampant in Indian media where minority accused or criminals are labelled to generate an emotive response as opposed to justice.

Honestly, ordinary Indians live very peacefully and coexist happily until these extremists come in and sow the seeds of doubt, mistrust and anger and instigate feelings of anger against their non-Hindu friends and neighbors. Why? The reason boils down, one way or the other to of the Mughals, British & Portuguese, Muslims invaders and other colonizers who pillaged, plundered and violated our ancestors and executed forced conversions. We are coerced into feeling and holding on to the pain and anger of a historical memory and we are left holding on to that pain and anger.

We are constantly reminded of the painful violence of Muslim and Christian conversions, of how the missionaries came and violently converted our indigenous ancestors. I say OUR ancestors because I am a descendant of one of these converts. I know of the history from what I have read and researched of my community. It is a bloody history. It is terribly painful and I couldn’t sleep for a few days after finding out.

It is my history and yes, it is horrifying.

But, I am born into a Christian family today. My ancestors were Hindu Brahmins, but we are not. We are one of the Christian minority families are survivors of the violence that is being spoken about. We are the descendants of those traumatized Hindus who had  been forcibly converted.

Likewise, the muslim community is being targeted for the Mughal invasions of hundreds of years ago.

But, in today’s narrative, it is none other than us who are being bullied and traumatized as if to be held answerable for the trauma that was caused. We are being held accountable for the crimes that were perpetrated on our own grandfathers and ancestors.

Seriously, how stupid is that?

I speak of this here because the narrative of anti-Hindu is one you will hear often in yoga. We see appropriation by white and western populations of Indian culture, which is often sacred Hindu symbolism. Desi voices speak out about it – the harm felt because of it. It is valid and it hurts Hindu sentiments. It hurts Indian sentiments too.

But to apply the Hindu anger on account of being a minority in the west to Indian non-Hindus is simply absurd.

Hindus are not a minority in India. Hinduphobia is India is practically non existent. But you will find nationalists and fundamentalists shouting it from the rooftops to sway the sympathy meter with one or two choice images and biased and incendiary article links. They provoke, poke and prod their audience to feel the anger and rage and fury and insecurity… and hold on to it. Unlike what yoga and Hindu philosophy speaks about emotions, they encourage people to hold on to their anger and keep stoking this with endless essays of justification.

They feel fear of their privilege being questioned. What you, dear white people, constantly hear of as white fragility, is just the same thing that they feel. The fragility of supremacy and privilege being dismantled right in front of their eyes.

Worse, one may find essays over wordy essays to prove the existence of Hinduphobia. In fact, what is often spoken of as White Christian supremacy in the West is the exactly what is Hindu supremacy in India where Christians are a minuscule minority. Note that the native Christians in India are not white. So, in simple terms, they are just oppressing and pushing on the agenda of anger and hatred against their own people!

Do some Christian missionaries try to convert? They do! It is their job to do it… One may call it their dharma to do so. And they are bloody irritating, but they do not come door to door all over India. But then again, India is a huge country and maybe they do crazy things in other smaller places – especially the non denominational groups. But I see these one off crazy things collected and shared as media that insinuates that ALL Christians and Muslims do that. That is both an unfair and reductionist view.

During Indian festivals, we have various Hindu committees going to every house collecting mandatory donations for Ganesh Chaturthi, Navratri or Dusserah and Diwali funds and all families make an offering. They do this as a community. Because we celebrate each others festivals as a whole community. We eat, drink, celebrate and wish each other for Diwali, Eid and Christmas. And we mourn collectively for victims of horrific crimes and we protest together as a country against that which is divisive.

Yet, our weakness is in our vulnerability to communal threat.

Ask a resident Hindu for a first hand experience of anti-Hindu violence or threat unless it is where they have instigated it (very likely they won’t admit to that). Ask a minority for a first hand experience of aggression & microagression in the face of Hindu supremacy (unless they have also instigated it, which is also rare but very likely they wont admit to that either). Ask people of the DBA community and make up your mind. I am from the minority in India and I have experienced it multiple times over many years! It is damning, shaming and horrendous.

I’m not the only one.

There are countless experiences day in & day out and yet, we are made to feel guilty because of our faith and are made to feel inferior because of historical crimes (that we do not condone or agree with even!). But people today are being held accountable and answerable for crimes of the past… of which they themselves are the survivors, generational trauma nonwithstanding!

It is 100 times worse (or maybe more) for the DBA community. I really cannot claim to know of their experience & trauma because I don’t. In comparison, I still remain a highly privileged Indian.

And just like that the existence of Hindu supremacy is denied and whataboutery ensues.

It is toxic this whole thing and the price of my silence would weigh on me heavily if I didn’t at least appeal to whoever reads this to please think.

Use your discretion.

Use your sensibility.

Yes, if you’re a white or white-passing person, please check your privilege, but use your discernment to consider the privilege within the Indian community too. I’m not asking you to discount Indian voices, not at all, but be prudent with what your hear and see. Is their constantly angry voice that calls out Hinduphobia and anti-Hindu sentiments leaving you with anger or as a yogi / as a Hindu, does it offer you a way to transform this pain using yoga and Hindutva to create peace?

Are these voices just churning your anger and making you spew angry comment and after on social media or is it giving you an avenue to transmute it to something constructive and uniting? Are these desi / South Asian voices just breeding ground for bad-mouthing and name-calling other desi voices that they do not agree with – a mere slander fest that you are happily participating in under the guise of ‘calling out’? Isn’t there are more unifying way of dialogue that seeks to understand the other? Or is slander, finger pointing and name calling the only way out? All in the name of educating the ignorant?

If you are simply adding to 60 or more comments ridiculing alternative thinkers instead of finding it in you or assisting others to find a better way to deal with the pain, then you’re like just playing into the hands of an agenda that is not looking to create peace after all. Question that… what is the propaganda doing after all if not helping other yogis find a better way?

Politics is murky, yet, yoga is political (sigh! this is so painful to keep repeating, but it is what it is!)

Yoga is meant to touch your spirit and help you evolve. Please use your yoga to be mindful of your choices. Just like how human understanding & consciousness is a spectrum, so are our choices. Being pro-right or pro-left is neither a good or bad thing – it reflects how we think and choose. But ridiculing alternative thought is, well, an indication of a closed dialog. Extreme thought however is taking things too far and that comes at the price of eliminating contradictory thought.

Dialogue involves both sides speaking and both sides actively listening. Step back and watch the conversation (as it is usually online). If there is a facade of understanding or a illusion of dialogue which quickly disintegrates into a denigration of any other thought (or religion or belief apart from one’s own), then that is very likely one where communication or dialogue will not be entertained. Those are the spaces where echo chambers are plentiful – the cacophony of similar voices angrily shouting at each other about the other – resulting in stoking the fire of their own anger and discomfort. I’ve seen this in both extreme right and left quarters – both sides only perpetuating a narrative of anger and frustration, neither willing to concede to any effort at peaceful conversation.

The narrative of left or right – is the same everywhere – globally. It is human nature and a bent of mind. Cultural context plays a role but it cannot change an ideology. Harm is harm. When one is so hardened to think a particular way, they will find numerous ways to explain their stand – be it an extremist from the left or the right. It is who they are.

As yogis we aim to see the whole picture – not as a fence sitting centrist – but a balanced, meta view – the bigger picture. It is a blend of the left & right towards the highest good. And that way, we choose our leaders. That way, we choose to lead our families, our communities, our organizations and our nations.

Not by force-feeding – of thought, opinion or law. Not by taking sides. Not by listening to the loudest voice. But perhaps by listening to our quietest one – where we know what we truly stand for regardless of how others would see it. And be kind to yourself in the process.

Political agenda includes your power to support in thought and action as well as with your financial resources. Please be mindful that your financial resources, in all your goodness, are not being manipulated into the wrong hands / the wrong organizations.

Finally, I ask you once again, to please stay tuned. Do your own research – not all Indian media is reliable or unbiased – and the far right / far left media are anyway both biased and unethical in their reporting. And of course, not everything your Desi friends post on social media is unbiased. However, I personally find it interesting to check those very websites that one side strongly castigates as it usually shines light on an aspect that the they seem to be denying. It also gives me insight into the way I think & process information and the kind of information I accept as well as the different ways my friends, acquaintances and those of opposite mindset think.

Politics aside, we still need to live with people and understanding each other will never have a down side.  My faith in people, hard though it is, hopefully will stand the test of time!

I’ve been quietly simmering and sitting with my fears for the past many days. It hasn’t been easy. Some days I’ve wanted to just let go of it all. But yoga is much more than emotional balance for me. It is also much more than its political influence. It makes me who I am. It pushes me to anger and frustration but it also gently coaxes me back into its fold.

I close with some of my notes from my Sankhya lessons that I opened up this morning. These are notes from 2018. The pages spoke of perception (pratyakṣa) and how non-perception occurred when one was either too close or too far from the object perceived. He also spoke about how yogin who have put in the earnest work have no emotion and hence no bias to perception ie they are Yogajapratyakṣa – yogic perception, something I know I am still far away from that – that many of us are still far away from achieving. It remains an aspiration in the face of what we face today.

The Ayurveda of Ash Gourd Stew

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Ash gourd stew served over steaming rice

A few months ago I shared The Carrot Halwa Insight after a random mood to make the dessert to surprise the kids! My penchant for all things Mangalorean is still strong. Our dinner frequently includes coastal recipes and last evening was no different. We had a simple dinner of ash gourd stew with rice.

Firstly, I love ash gourd. I love it as a raw raita, or ash gourd juice, as Agra ka petha or with prawns. I just love the delicate flesh of the gourd that melts in the mouth and leaves you with the gentle and light taste of freshness. But beyond the taste, there are so many more reasons to love it.

Ash gourd also known as ash pumpkin or Winter melon is so called because of the ash-like waxy coating on it’s skin. It is easily digested, has a cooling effect on the body and hence great for acid reflux or other inflammatory GI conditions. It is used extensively in preparing various Ayurvedic remedies.

One of the coolest things (pun intended) is that it is one of the vegetables of highest prana (superfood for yogis!) and is a wonderful addition to those convalescing from illness.

Some folk tales often told of prana being offered to Brahmins in exchange for priestly work. Even today, you’ll see many temple offerings and sacrifices involve ash pumpkins. A side story involved Brahmins actually ensuring that this high prana (and high brain power inducing vegetable) came only to them (controversy alert!) Anyway, today, the ash gourd is available to all, at least in India. It is also a vegetable that can last for a very, very long time.

In winters, it is best consumed as stew as it balances Pitta but more importantly Vata (something we need in winters) and better had for dinner, being Pitta and later Vata times of the day.

Now, for my Mama’s stew recipe – it is super simple!

  • Cook diced ash gourd along with finely sliced onions in 2 cups of thin coconut milk.
  • Add some salt, stew mix (turmeric, Kashmir chili, cumin, coriander, cinnamon stick, cloves, ginger, asafoetida all ground together).
  • When it is almost cooked, add 1 cup of thick coconut milk.
  • Temper with mustard seeds and curry leaves in coconut oil.
  • I sometimes stir in a little bit of kasuri methi.

The reason this stew is such awesome winter dish has got loads to do with the lovely blend of spices – the crown jewels of Ayurvedic cooking! The lightness and simplicity of the gourd along the grounding kapha nourishment of coconut milk and their combined effort to balance vata & pitta… omg! I think I feel some cravings rising already!

And when you use all your senses, a dish of that simple pale red/orange color starkly contrasting against the white steamed rice – the fragrance of the herbs and spices – your digestive agni is definitely stoked & ready to tuck into this wholesome loveliness!

To me, this stew is a reminder of home – of my mother and grandmother and their kitchen of nurturing warmth and nourishment. It makes me feel loved with their tenderness of serving with love and care. I connects me with my culture, the smell of earth and raw goodness. It tastes of love and reminds me of who I am and where I come from and that I belong.

Inclusion Matters – Even in a Yoga Studio!

I had an interesting discussion with some of my mentees yesterday. A question was raised about the religious implications of the “Om” mantra. Some of the teachers had noticed that in select yoga studio locations, their practitioners were not participating in the standard end-of-class chanting. It was unquestioningly assumed that the Om mantra might not be congruent with some of the practitioners’ religious beliefs.

Now, while this article is not to discuss the religiosity of the practice (that conversation demands its own article space), it is however an important one to have when it comes to the inclusiveness of the studio practice itself.

Yoga studios, by themselves, are not places of worship. They are spaces dedicated to a mind-body practice which involves spiritual connection, depth and focus. Today, most studios cater to a posture-heavy ‘asana‘ focus. The teachers leading the studio classes, more often than not, are just getting onto the path of exploring the practice and not necessarily experts of the philosophy or even the pedagogy. Well, how much can a 2 month (or lesser!) yoga teacher training program actually instill in the participants?

Anyway…

Most current yoga teacher training programs, in their bare minimum requirements, have a core element of teaching methodology – teaching teachers how to teach! Many schools are now recognizing the need to include a component on keeping classes inclusive. Well, to be honest, not all schools & studios are inclusive, but the efforts are on to make them so.

So this discussion with my mentees highlighted and observation of full classes of maybe 30-40 students where the majority would refrain from chanting. We weren’t speaking about the usual case where one or two were not included – we were talking majority!

This observation brought out two important points as far as I could tell:

  1. The teacher was at a loss to explain how the nature of the practice was not necessarily religious. And..
  2. The classes were consistently not inclusive.

Many of us tend to sometimes follow ‘rules’ or prescribed ‘formats’ verbatim to ensure compliance and avoid conflict with management – especially where standardized procedures are concerned. Where all outcomes are not carefully considered, this approach usually stands the risk of causing discomfort and harm to a section of the stakeholders. And well, it also creates and perpetuates an impression of the organization not being open to change (although in reality it may very well be open to it!). A learning organization would do well to constantly be on the lookout for ways to improve processes and evolve.

The observation of this chanting incident was not something that couldn’t be fixed. The teachers were proactive in enriching their own understanding of the philosophy and reached out to me to clarify how to answer this question.

So that took care of the first issue. The teachers now know the theory and philosophy (to some extent).

Still, this was just theory and only the beginning.

Addressing the situation at the studio needed a relatively different approach.

If indeed the practitioners were resistant to chanting Om because it clashed with their religious beliefs, then that needed to be addressed – and yes, there was a way to go about it.

Communicate & give options! And keep it inclusive!

A studio session isn’t exactly the place to lecture at length about the secularism of the mantra, but short proactive sentences to assure them with correct information was one way. If people were still uncomfortable, the best way would be to avoid chanting Om altogether! Better still, replace it with humming instead – the sound of bees! Still created a tranquilizing vibration and there was no religious connection with the humble bumble bee either!

Oh, and it still is a yoga practice!

Keeping yoga classes inclusive is an hot topic in the yoga industry recently. But it doesn’t have to be a drag trying to keep things inclusive. Inclusive and accessible don’t only refer to physical inclusion and accessibility towards people with disabilities (that is also very important and we’ll get it that, too, some other day)… In yoga spaces, Diversity, Inclusion Equity and Accessibility also are a huge component of what we say and do and how we say and do it. This also involves making the practice and wellness accessible to people of all body shapes, sizes, physical and cognitive limitations, race, gender, orientation, economic status, etc. Inclusion includes recognition of the trauma experienced by being Othered and not fitting in with the norm.

Inclusion requires empathy. It is not a check in the box. It is when we draw in our audience to be a part of what we offer – through words, deeds and mannerisms.

Inclusion is not just a business requisite.

It is a human requisite.

What do you think of this? Have you experienced something similar in a yoga studio / wellness center / gym or any other space? What other ideas would you offer that I haven’t mentioned here?

Let me know in the comments below! Stay well!

First published on LinkedIn here.