Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Laughter yoga

I’d like to get in at least one blog post a month, writing is as much a habit and it can get cranky too. There are moments when the hands itch to write and there are moments when the mind goes dumb to blankness. Most times I find myself coaxing or compelling the mind to pore sweat over a sentence. Only then you realize: writing is a gift, it does not normally flow like the river but you keep digging the well. This post is hard labour.
            I realized so many things this year. I have skills in a vocation that nobody really wants. But somehow I have been able to earn my keep – the Bangalore assignment gives me almost as much as the day job in India Cements but I need to find people around to liven up a day. But today let me elaborate on “laughter yoga”.
            Eliot’s beach is a favourite walk path; it is close to my house and the beach is always a welcome sight especially on high tide and foamy waves. I used to spot a “laughing group” at 6’0 in the morning about four or five years back. I was too shy and self-conscious, I knew it would do me some good but I felt those devilish laughter shrieks would do my image no good. So I restricted myself to walks on the rose coloured pavements, watch sunrise to a crimson ball as it quickly climbs to the horizon, and gossiped on the day’s news with friends and other co-walkers that one gets to know if regular.
            Last week, a friend said,” Sathya, do me a favour. Can you step into the beach and alert my son?” The drizzle was getting stronger and clouds dark and heavy, it felt a downpour any moment. In a beach there are no shelters to run when caught in rain frenzy. I saw the son enjoying the “laughter yoga” practice with couple of others and it got me interested. I got to speak to them and I said,” I wish to try. Would you accommodate me in the group?”
            Today I joined them at 6:15 near the Kaj Schmidt memorial (you will find this white monolith structure in almost every song sequence of a film in the seventies and eighties before Indians got richer and started going to Switzerland and other places). We were just the four of us – two males and two females and I relished every minute of the 30 minutes regimen.
            We start with the “Om” chants, I found it a good feel to the nippy November misty winds against a full ball of crimson son. Then we start from the heels and toes and work every part of the body. You squat, turn your shoulders clockwise and counter clockwise, eye balls flit to the sides, the face muscles, cheeks, chin, neck, abdomen, ankles - no joint is ignored. After each area is worked, the instructor says “here we go” and we clap hands in front. The lady explained,” These energize the acupuncture points of the palms”. This is a harmless clap and swinging in harmonic motion of a pendulum clock.
            You stretch your knees, your eyes get a lot of exercise and even the facial muscles. For thirty minutes I forgot my miserable existence and copied others in the act. They were considerate to explain when my moments were getting a bit gawky.
            We ended the session with “Asathoma Sadgamaya…” and three rounds of “Shanti”. There is a section where we say,” I forgive anyone who has hurt me.” Then a couple of more exercise before we face the sun and declare,” I am the happiest person in the world” and "I am the healthiest person in the world" break into a large laugh.Before that you gather all the worries in the mind and cast it into the sea symbolically saying," No more worries." While exercising the forehead, we say," No more headaches." There's a lot of positive reinforcement at every stage.
            I am too much of an introvert and laughing got my face a lot of glow. The eyes shone like stars and I found myself light on my feet (with all those walking on the heels or toes on clumpy rain soaked sands of the beach) and my mind felt a smooth stroke of caress. I thanked the group and said,” This is too good to miss out. I will be regular.”
            Notice another thing: the best things in life are always free.  Look at another lesson that flows through almost unobtrusively: forgiveness and peace of mind are related. A daily dose of practicing laughter relaxes the muscles to laugh more spontaneously. Laugh without reason, it gets easier to find anything to cheer the grumpy mind. Better to go with the flow than resist, has been my learning these days. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lessons 2013 brought

2013 has been a mixed year in terms of earnings but I don’t think I have learnt more in the years gone by than this year. I am grateful I had the humility to spot them and make the mental changes. Living is an adventure no set formulae apply; you learn as you go by. From that viewpoint this has been a good year.
            Two things helped – the two Vipassana retreats in April and then in July; quitting India Cements got in a lot of learning. Here’s my self-discovery:
a)      Act happy even if you are not: One can’t afford to wear a long face; it makes life difficult for others and their burden heavier. So a gentle smile to strangers; a beaming one to friends is what the day requires of you. Even if you are depressed and weighed by a flood of negative emotions, just pretend all is well. Soon I found myself getting real better. Discourage negative feelings (denying would be inappropriate) by turning them to a positive feel – not that difficult if you reason it out or look harder for silver linings.
b)      Save your job: I keep cribbing India and Indian employers to a sickening degree. But only this year I learnt the practical side of this insight: This society is overcrowded and it is deeply feudalistic. Three rules: Your job is evaluated by the system and so allow them to set the benchmark; rest easy to play to their rule-book. Two, be friendly with every colleague. You are paid a salary and part of it is to be tolerant to their idiosyncrasies. Third and most important is to humour your boss. 
c)      Keep people around you in good cheer: I am guilty of choosing my friends with so much care that my mind switches off gross ones almost intuitively. But this year I found it imperative to reserve a good cheer to everyone I meet; don’t attach a label and close down any good vibe coming from any quarter. Be agreeable. Test yourself against the most negative characters around; you will end up feeling sorry for them than being rattled. I must learn this from Viji, Dr. Rajaram, and T H Iyer.
d)     Forgive everyday: A mind is sick if it carries a hurt the next day. I consciously try removing any negativity in my daily Vipassana settings. I connected to both sisters in a long time. Now each occasion I receive any good vibe in the present I remind myself not to spoil the moment with past omissions or expectations. My second sister visited me on Diwali and when she left she said,” Vipassana is working in your case.”
e)      Being human is to know it's okay to be vulnerable: Staying alone it is very easy to fall prey to self-pity. With daily Vipassana practice, I realize self-pity is the mind’s worst nemesis. Sorrow is allowed; even a brief spell of depression but no self-pity. Wait for the clouds to pass and they certainly do. It is here I thank my eldest sister and intimate friends who are patient when I assail them with my sob stories. Then I realize: I must also be a willing listener when other’s bemoan their fate. To realize you are vulnerable and trying your best is living; you are not supposed to have all the answers or life cater to all your silly aspirations.
f)       Enjoy the unpredictable: One of the worst mistakes I was prone to was “anticipating future”. That is self-fulfilling prophesy and terribly self-defeating. Do what is required of the present and allow the result to come. Don’t ward them off or tailor it to suit your ego. Acceptance is so vital for my peace I realized. And give yourself this power: you can change any situation at any stage; don't crib on the present. Always act to your best advantage!  You won’t be able to enjoy the present flow of life if you insist it to conform to your self-image. So make yourself flexible, open, receptive.
g)      Develop your hobbies: 2013 has been a good year for my writing; my progress on the guitar is still at snail pace. Vipassana has gotten more in the system; maybe it is one reason why I am learning all these lessons. I consciously try engaging strangers I chance in the day to see if I can get a smile both sides – a new territory for me and work-in-progress. I must include a lot more outdoor pursuits in 2014.
h)     You are never alone: For a bachelor it is important to have friends and relations calling on you. So you try to be at your best behaviour. I took a while to recover the emotional bruises of a failed relation; now each time you feel lonely, cultivate a new hobby. Swimming?? Guitar?? Couple dancing??? and further away from my comfort zone, the better.  

        I have not learnt all these lessons in sufficient measure. But certainly the mind sees their validity. Any effort is worth if it can get the mind even a speck of peace especially in this ruthless world. Be kind to yourself is the crux; patience is next. Acceptance and go with the flow.