On Belonging

I could say many things about the upcoming two person exhibition and my collaboration with Lois Bielefeld. I could load this post with art theory terms, postcolonial phrases, race and political commentary and technical jargon. But it will not explain what this work has meant to me over the last two years. I will simply tell you a story.

Two years ago, I came back from one of my trips to India to experience what felt like a different country. With a new president, each day brought sensationalist headlines, new announcements and events that highlighted an increasingly polarized America. I needed to wrap my head around what was going on, observe, read, speak to mentors and friends before I returned to the studio, questioning whether my work was relevant anymore.

An idea slowly began to emerge that demanded more courage from me than I have ever given before. For the first time, I included my physical self in the production of a body of work. I reached out to Lois Bielefeld, who I did not know at that time, with the idea to explore how race is perceived visually through garment and skin color and how intimately tied the body’s relationship to place is. I donned each of my barely used saris and worked with Lois to produce photographs that show me overtly performing difference while exploring and embedding myself in the landscape of Milwaukee. We titled this work Reaching Across 5 1/2 yards / 8497 miles. It spoke to both the length of the sari fabric and the distance between my place of birth and the place I live in now. Over the next year and half we traversed Milwaukee’s pocketed and  segregated spaces and experienced each other’s personal sanctuaries and the city’s public places of power. The result is a visual quilt of photographs that reflect different facets of Milwaukee.

Nirmal walking in Milwaukee, “overtly performing difference.”

Throughout this journey, Lois and I had many conversations- on her childhood memories of Milwaukee, on religion, identity, politics and art. We were walking by the Milwaukee Riverwalk one day and came across the American history engraved on its boardwalk. This led to discussions on how each of us understood this history, mostly written by white men. The burden of America’s violent and racist history weighed heavy on us as we discussed the Muslim ban, riots in Charlottesville, Standing Rock protests, police brutality against African Americans, border walls, shootings at Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and Olathe Kansas in addition to other racist incidents against people of color. I made a rubbing of the history engraving onto 30 meters of organdy fabric which then became a prop for another body of collaborative work with Lois. We titled this work that included 12 performance based photographs, What is Recorded / What is Remembered.

The rubbing of engraved American history on an organdy fabric sari.



We expanded this work by reaching out to our friends, diverse women of different ages, races and sexual orientations involving them in a performance based three channel video work. It was magical to see how generous and willing they were to perform with us not knowing what the end product may look like.

The circle grew even larger with the production of an audio archive that not only included the women we invited to perform but also community members we admired and respected. This is an ongoing project that explores how each of us contend with history- personal, national and global and includes our hopes and fears for the future in addition to how we have come to understand what being American is.
All this may sound confusing –  with subjects that are vast and complex, but it all comes down to the personal, the self and moves outward to the community like ripples. We hope that our work is the pebble that causes those ripples. What was an impulsive act of reaching out to a stranger in a desperate need to understand and build something together, has led to a special friendship and incredible learning. I have come to understand my community better, to gain comfort through human connection, learn from wise and knowledgeable women, listen to the hope in young people’s voices. These are the intangibles that are behind the work. We hope that you may feel these intangibles, invisible as they are, filtering through the exhibition and for those of you far away, perhaps through the images and links on our websites.

It takes courage to reach out to a stranger who is different from us. To have conversations that are uncomfortable and new, but if we approach it with a spirit of inquiry and learning, we may realize that we all have the same fears and concerns. You never know what might come of that interaction.

No art can be shared without the support of space and visibility. We are incredibly grateful to The Warehouse, John Shannon and Laura Sims Peck at Guardian Fine Arts to generously host this exhibition at their 4000 square foot pristine gallery space. A space large and generous enough  to hold this work and share it with Milwaukee.

On Belonging
opens March 8th and will be up till May 31st,
The Warehouse, 1635 W. Saint Paul Ave., Floor 1, Milwaukee, WI 53233

Opening reception is on March 8th, 5-8 pm
The gallery is open by appointment Monday – Friday. Please call 414-252-0677 or email info@thewarehousemke.org

 Nirmal Raja is an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Milwaukee. She approaches her practice as a process of sifting and communicating sensations and ideas with varied materials and processes. Conceptually driven and thematic, her work straddles the personal and the political and is a response to lived experiences that are distilled and strengthened by research in the studio and through reading. She examines notions of memory, identity, place and belonging. Performative collaborations with other artists and the larger community have recently become part of her practice. Occasionally, she curates exhibitions and organizes and facilitates situations that articulate moments of connection and empathy.

Lois Bielefeld


“Cancer? Yes, obesity causes cancer!”

“Being overweight is not good for you, you can get diabetes or have heart disease”. This is something we all hear frequently and know for a fact. What we don’t hear and many of us don’t know is that being overweight and obese also causes cancer! Yes, that disease that we all fear CANCER. In fact, it can cause up to thirteen different types of cancer. This includes cancers with some of the worst outcomes like oesophageal and pancreatic and those linked to reproductive organs like womb and ovarian.  This is in addition to the risk from diabetes and heart disease that we are all familiar with. With obesity levels rising globally it is currently the second biggest cause of preventable cancers after tobacco use and we must do more to reduce rates. 

The way that obesity and extra weight can cause cancer can be considered complex but as the diagram shows very simply, the extra fat cells are active and lead to an excess production of hormones and growth factors.  These in turn stimulate key cells to divide increasing the risk of mutation and cancer cells being produced.  It is the mutation through cell division that leads to a cancer cell in the body that rapidly divides to form a tumor.

There are many factors that contribute to obesity but we know that the best way to reduce your weight to a healthy body mass index (Height cm/Weight kg; 18.5-24.9) is to eat healthily and reduce the amount of foods that are high in fats sugars and salt (HFSS).

Currently the evidence shows the link between obesity and cancer in adults BUT we do know that if a child is overweight and obese, they are 5 times more than likely to become an overweight adult with an increased cancer risk, in addition to the risk of diabetes and heart disease.  All have high associated health costs. Knowing this it is vital that we do more to support children to eat healthy.

There are many things around us that constantly tempt and encourage us all but especially children, to see, want and buy these HFSS foods – from marketing to price promotions.  Research from Cancer Research UK has shown that for every extra broadcast advert a child watches a week they are likely to consume an extra 350 calories/week!!

Obesity rates are rising globally and if we don’t do anything it will overtake smoking as the leading cause of cancer.  It has a large health risk associated with it financially, physically and mentally and we must do more to prevent it.  Raising our awareness of the health risk posed from obesity is a start and combined with doing more to reduce the increasingly “obesogenic” (obesity friendly) environment we are living in, we can start to hopefully turn this epidemic around.

References:

Brown KF, Rumgay H, Dunlop C, et al. Thefraction of cancer attributable to modifiable risk factors in England, Wales,Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom in 2015. British Journal ofCancer 2018; 118(8): 1130-41.

https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/obesity-weight-and-cancer/does-obesity-cause-cancer#Obesity0

“Under Pressure: New evidence on youngpeople’s broadcast marketing exposure in the UK”. 2018. Christopher Thomas,Lucie Hooper, Gillian Rosenberg, Fiona Thomas, Jyotsna Vohra. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/under_pressure.pdf

Jyotsna Vohra PhD is Head of the Cancer Policy Research Center at Cancer Research UK, where she is responsible for ensuring that there is robust evidence to support policy calls that will improve cancer patients care and outcomes. Jyotsna established this center for the largest independent funder into cancer research, globally, in 2014. 

As part of its remit her team has led the way providing evidence to show how population measures can reduce the number of preventable cancers that are caused by behaviors such as tobacco use, obesity and alcohol consumption.  Her work has been included in key UK government health plans/strategies, consultations and presented at key government select committees not to mention nationally and internationally at key conferences and meetings.

Jyotsna has previously worked for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health as their Research Manager and is passionate about ensuring equitable access to healthcare for all. She believes that if you have the ambition you will reach your goal and is a fan of the phrase “reach for the stars and you may reach the tree tops, but if you only ever reach for tree tops you will most likely hit the ground” and that’s how she like to tackle health disparities.  

Children and Media- Young Children

From interactions with my patients and their families, I am increasingly concerned about the impact of digital media on our children who are growing up in environments saturated with technology. I had the mother of a two-year-old patient insist he was getting his “own” tablet as a present, and she became very upset when I cautioned her about the impact of unsupervised use of media. She insisted that she only used educational programs and that her child would be “left behind” if she did not buy him a device. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Psychological Association, (APA), Common Sense Media and many other experts and organizations have expressed concern about this issue as well. This is true in the United States and also in developing countries, like India. Child psychologist Dr. Malavika Kapur states: “Based on field and clinical experience, psychodynamic and behavioral theories and most of all from a developmental perspective,…indiscriminate viewing of visual media, especially with violent content, interferes with normal development.” The people who sell us this technology are themselves concerned and are limiting or banning their own children from using these devices. Concerned parents in Silicon Valley even have their nannies sign contracts so their children are not exposed to “screens.”

So what do we do? The following is a summary of the expert recommendations with my own comments and opinions as a pediatrician who has worked in general practice and in the academic world and as a parent. I use the word “media” to include all kinds including digital (computers, tablets, smartphones, educational computer toys), as well as TV and videos.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to exposure to media and devices as this is a crucial period of brain development. I had a parent proudly tell me that their child’s first word was “Alexa”, but I’d really prefer Mama or Dada to be that first word. Children two and younger need to explore with their hands and interact with trusted adults (parents, babysitters, daycare providers) to develop language, physical, social, emotional and other skills. Any use of media should be with parents who watch with them, reteach and reinforce its messages with them. They simply do not have the ability to learn from digital media as opposed to human interactions. An exception might be made for using video chat (Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp) to talk to family in other states and countries.  These programs are wonderful for grandparents and so long as parents are there to help interpret what’s going on, this is okay although it’s not a substitute for a real-life grandparent.

For children who are between the ages of 3-5 years, it’s tempting to use media to get a break from all that energy and maybe get some laundry done. When my children were little, they watched Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and Thomas the Tank Engine. They later moved on to dinosaurs and nature-related shows and documentaries. I think it’s important to recognize that while this is “down time” for both the kids and parents, try to be “present” during this time so you can chat about the content. Parents often try to pick educational programs, and some programs like Sesame Street are known to have some beneficial outcomes. I think it’s important to recognize that as parents, we are allowed to take breaks; however, many apps and shows that are supposed to be “educational” are really focused on rote academic skills. At these ages, parent-child interaction and unstructured social play are still critical to developing important thinking and social skills which toddlers lack, including impulse control, emotional regulation, creativity, and task persistence. Excessive TV watching at this age has been associated with cognitive, social, emotional and language delays. Additionally, excessive media use during preschool years is associated with increased risk for obesity possibly related to food-related ads, decreased physical activity and watching TV while eating/ snacking, which, as we all know, makes for “mindless overeating.” Excessive media use has been associated with decreased sleep even in infants, maybe from the screens’ “blue light” and the content watched.

Content is so important. I have had patients who were “expelled” from daycare for hitting and hurting other children. While some children are more “physical” than others, I often find that many of these children have been watching inappropriate or violent content. A patient of mine would sit on her parent’s lap while the parent played “Call of Duty”. She regularly hit children and was asked not to return to daycare. I think it’s preferable to watch media with your child but unquestionably something gentler.

There are times when parents use media to soothe a child, for example, during a plane flight or a doctor’s office visit. That’s not unreasonable and is sometimes necessary, but it is also important for children to learn how to regulate their emotions and soothe themselves. Boredom is not a bad thing and is known to stimulate creativity.

It’s not just the kids. Parent media use also decreases parent-child interactions. And parents who use devices heavily have kids who do.

The AAP recommends “…time limitations on digital media use for children 2 to 5 years to no more than 1 hour per day to allow children ample time to engage in other activities important to their health and development and to establish media viewing habits associated with lower risk of obesity later in life. In addition, encouraging parents to change to educational and prosocial content and engage with their children around technology will allow children to reap the most benefit from what they view.”

In summary (Adapted from AAP)

  • For children younger than 18 months, limit media use other than video-chatting.
  • Do not feel pressured to introduce technology early; children will figure them out quickly once they need to.
  • For parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media- choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together (co-view) with children, because this is how toddlers learn best. Letting children use media by themselves should be avoided. Use only quality products (eg, Common Sense Media, PBS Kids, Sesame Workshop).
  • In children older than 2 years, limit media to 1 hour or less per day of high-quality programming. Co-view to promote enhanced learning, greater interaction, and limit setting. Help children understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.
  • Avoid fast-paced programs (young children do not understand them as well), apps with lots of distracting content, and any violent content.
  • Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use.
  • Monitor children’s media content and what apps are used or downloaded. Test apps before the child uses them, play together and ask the child what he or she thinks about the app.
  • Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent-child playtimes screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their own phones during these times.
  • No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.
  • Try not to use media as a calming device unless absolutely necessary (we have all been there with a screaming child); work on setting limits, finding alternate activities, and other ways to calm children. See references below for ideas on how to implement these.

Resources and References

  1. AAP Statement- Media and Young Minds- Council on Communications and Media: Http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20162591
  2. For parent resources on finding appropriate content, ideas and how parents can limit their own media use: https://tinyurl.com/nrcwvdv
  3. Developing a Family Media Use Plan: https://tinyurl.com/hv3bh48
  4. https://www.commonsensemedia.org
  5. https://www.apa.org/topics/kids-media/
  6. A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley https://tinyurl.com/y49jm6zj
  7. Let Children Get Bored Again by Pamela Paul: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2019/02/02/opinion/sunday/children-bored.amp.html
  8. What’s the Hurry? Let Children be Children by Malavika Kapur: https://tinyurl.com/yy76bovh
  9. Silicon Valley Nannies Are Phone Police for Kids https://tinyurl.com/ybure8an

Svapna Sabnis is a pediatrician, mom and a wife. She is in private practice and is Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics Medical College of Wisconsin and Clinical Adjunct Professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. She is an immunization advocate and Director of Immunize Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Council on Immunization Practices.

She loves to teach medical students and residents, was awarded the Best Doctors in America 2010- 2019. She is coauthor of a textbook –Pediatric Decision Making Strategies. She likes to garden and dabbles in watercolors in her free time. She’s still trying to have it all and achieve balance in her life.

Aircraft or the body?

When you take up a big task or a project which is going to take up your mental and physical time, you should be discreet about how you use your energy. Viveka means to be aware and take steps to wisely use the resources. But what are the resources and where are they located? They are the mind, body, the physical space around you, the breath and sleep. These are all connected. How are these connected?


If you are sleep deprived, how will be the state of the situation?
How is your mind when the food you eat is either less or more?
How is breath connected with energy? One question leads to another and you see there is a pattern to this connection.


Let’s look at each of the resources individually and as we do that let’s use the analogy of an aircraft to represent the physical body. There are all kinds of aircraft and different levels of care that is required for each of them. The level of care and caution that is given to a two seater, a passenger aircraft and a fighter plane is different based of the use they have. Whatever be the type and need of the machine, we give it the fuel that it needs in the right quantity and right quality.

You don’t substitute diesel for petrol or you don’t put extra fuel in a two seater because you fancy it moving faster- you cannot do that. Similarly, we give our body the right quantity and quality of food. Not too much not too less.

Taste has types, tamasic, rajasic or sattvic.

Rajasic taste is when you eat for taste alone and hence don’t know when to stop. Sattvic taste satiates the mind and body. The food nourishes the body and makes it available for optimum use. Sattvic food keeps the body free from disease and dullness, the less the digestive system has to process the better it is for the physical body which will be available for a variety of endeavors. Food then is one of the resource.

Sleeping recharges our cells and calms the nervous system. With too much sleep and with too little sleep we are not giving our best. An over used aircraft and an aircraft rotting in the hanger, both are not of any use.

There is no fixed standard measure of time that one must sleep. Each body is different and has different sleep requirements. We need to strike our own balance.

Breath, is addressed last with a definite purpose. It is the link between the body and mind; memory and intellect. It’s like a kite and a thread, the kite is controlled by the string and we use our breath to navigate our mind. Keeping the connection with the body to the mind, via the breath is what keeps a balance. Moving away from the roots or disconnecting due to the changes in the breath, causes immense pain in body and mind and reduces our capacity to give our best.

The practice of yogasanas and meditation brings in the balance. Using the aircraft well and giving them a rest in the hangar make for a long lasting and productive machine. Living wisely leads to high productivity, you don’t fall ill often. You don’t feel sluggish when you are expected to be giving your best.

With a little effort in maintaining the breath, to bring the mind to the NOW, to come back to the source is meditation

by Meena Waghray is a yoga teacher but she says, it was not easy to adapt it in her lifestyle. She started out being a pessimist about yoga and has gone on to become a teacher and her journey of fitness in body and mind continues. For her, yoga is not just the daily practice on the mat, rather, the losing and finding of the mind and breath to come back to harmony.

Meena is a lawyer by profession and a mediation expert, trained with the ADR Group London. Mediation according to her is the best way to resolve disputes, even before they reach the courts. Meena loves teaching and has been teaching legal studies for classes 11th and 12th at Army Public School, Bangalore.

She says, “I have two similar goals and similar sounding ones too, separated by a “t”, meditation and mediation. One is spiritual and the other is legal. The end result of both is harmony”. Meena is a volunteer/
faculty with the Art of Living Foundation facilitating Art of Living Yoga and Happiness Programs.

From our reading pulpit

Paromita Vohra, whose work we follow, is featured here as a share. She is a filmmaker based in Mumbai.


“Where is the room for secret, dark places in our nature, where strange flora, petalled and bacterial, bloom, alerting us to our own leanings? This fertility, in dark, wet, sometimes lonely places of the self, is an emotionally inefficient but regenerative process. There are no relationship agreements to be made here, no guarantees of love or success, and the permanent risk of being inconvenient to some and irrelevant to others.

The business of being yourself, or becoming yourself, is mostly a helpless act, often bloody and cyclical, born from the risky collisions with other minds, hearts and bodies.”

Children and Media -Screens in Teens

At first, it was insidious. I would be at a restaurant with my family and I would see another family dining nearby. The children were using some kind of device, maybe a GameBoy to occupy them before their meal arrived. I noticed that the adults were able to have a real conversation. It was tempting to consider getting such devices for my kids as well as we dealt with children who interrupted our talk and demanded our attention- like normal children would. Growing up, I was a voracious reader, and I remember my mom making me put my books away and insisting I join the conversation at dinner. So I persisted with the rule for my children- no books or screens at the dining table.

I never had any absolute rules on computers and video games. Things were negotiable if a reasonable argument could be made. My older son made it easier on me by preferring being outdoors to video games. Luckily for me, he set a precedent and my younger son didn’t realize he could have asked us for a game system.

Now it seems like the devices at dinner time are ubiquitous, and it’s not just the children anymore. Everyone is checking their social media, texting their friends, catching up on the news and seemingly going out of their way to avoid human connection and conversation. I’ve seen kids connect by looking at each other’s social media accounts and comments they receive. That’s the entire conversation! They are often sitting in the same room texting each other instead of talking or playing, or maybe texting someone else because they don’t care to spend time with the person they are with. I find that incredibly rude, and yet  I catch myself fishing my phone out to check something non-urgent when I’m with friends. I avoided social media for a long time, but I recently succumbed to Instagram, mostly to keep up with my talented artist friends. I love seeing what they are up to and sharing my own amateur watercolors. I discovered that my niece who lives in another state is an incredible artist. Although I really signed up to see what others were creating, I suddenly find myself checking on whether people are commenting on my posts.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to look things up whenever I need to, read my newspapers, do my crosswords, play words with friends, check my email. I can even put in prescriptions for my patients on my phone.

My 16-year-old uses his phone to keep in contact with his friends, play games, browse some social media but also to do school-related activities. The lines are blurred between work and fun. I bought him a flip phone in sixth grade and a smartphone in eighth grade. With the smartphone came new rules (responsible use, parent access to his phone and any social media). Phones can be used to play games that are fun, entertaining, educational or destructive. I have preteen patients develop sleep problems because they won’t (or cannot) stop using the phone or playing video games. I’ve read that kids have shadow social media accounts that their parents follow, and real accounts that their parents don’t know about.  I’ve read that one can hide porn behind the seemingly innocent Calculator app. Kids have always known how to fool their parents. At some point, you have to throw your hands up and hope that you taught them well. But every child’s maturity level is different. Smartphones can be dangerous in the hands of an immature, impulsive child. It can be used to bully, threaten, intimidate, access porn, post inappropriate selfies or pictures of others, destroy a reputation, or ruin a young life. I had patients (really all girls) who shared nude pictures of themselves with boys which were then forwarded to the boyfriend’s friends. The girls were traumatized, grades plummeted, and they became anxious and depressed.

Smartphones are incredibly convenient and frighteningly addictive. And we put them in the hands of young people who have not yet learned to moderate their impulses. We wouldn’t give them unrestricted access to alcohol, drugs or cigarettes, would we?

Pandora’s box has been opened! We can use our phones for good and for evil. As adults let’s put our own oxygen masks on first, examine our own use of media, and then help our kids have better balance. Let’s get them back in the yard with their friends, balance the screen time with outdoor time. Maybe some star gazing, a hike, have real adventures.

For American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on Children and Media https://tinyurl.com/y95q9w4c

And if you really want to learn about the importance of play in children’s lives I recommend Malavika Kapur’s book “What’s the Hurry? Let Children be Children”. Disclaimer- she is my mom. https://tinyurl.com/ycx97ke3

http://Other interesting articles https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/26/style/phones-children-silicon-valley.html https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/26/style/digital-divide-screens-schools.html https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/20/business/media/google-youtube-children-data.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/11/raised-by-youtube/570838/

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/the-dangers-of-distracted-parenting/561752/

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/zero-to-eight-childrens-media-use-in-america-2013

by Svapna Sabnis

Svapna is a pediatrician, mom and a wife. She is in private practice and is Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics Medical College of Wisconsin and Clinical Adjunct Professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. She is an immunization advocate and Director of Immunize Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Council on Immunization Practices.

She loves to teach medical students and residents, was awarded the Best Doctors in America 2010- 2019. She is coauthor of a textbook –Pediatric Decision Making Strategies. She likes to garden and dabbles in watercolors in her free time. She’s still trying to have it all and achieve balance in her life.

One round of sadhana or practice

You start your day on a beautiful note, you are already happy because this is your time and not anyone else’s. Everyone can wait because it is 4.30 in the morning and the whole world around you is asleep. Nobody is likely to wake up, you know that for sure. For a yogi, it is very important that you are on your own, just for some time, so that you can enjoy the time with everyone around you later. You don’t want to be alone all the time!

So what do we do and how does it start? You take the yoga mat and get ready. You stand on the mat and you are thinking, what do I do? Do I do the Surya Namaskar today or a full stretch or do I do my own personal sequence? That confusion is going on in the mind and you are debating and enjoying the debate and finally you decide. And as you are doing it, you are moving your body, you are doing your warm up. Once the warm up is over, the body is naturally flowing into a comfortable rhythm of stretches. The hands automatically go up, the shoulders go up, the feet are firm on the ground and your attention is on your breath, eyes are closed and you decide- today you decide that the plan is to stay in the asanas- so you start with the Surya Namaskar.

Everyday you can decide to do something. You can do a lot of asanas one day or you decide to focus on the breath or you only move the body slowly. You will decide sometimes that to go deep into the posture or sometimes you may not be well, and have a pain or a catch somewhere and you decide to focus on that for a few minutes, dwell on that and see where it goes. Each day is a new decision on the yoga mat. The unfolding of the mat is a new story and what the body does, the mind helps out- it is far from a rote mechanism.

You start breathing, you start listening to the silent sounds around you. Actually, there are no sounds at this time in the morning, apart from one or two stray vehicles moving on the road. Your practice is going on and it’s almost like 10-15 minutes of asanas, stretches with deepening them and enjoying on the mat.

From far away, you start hearing a familiar sound which says it is that time. It is almost a quarter to five now because the birds wake up at this time. This is your company every morning, these are all familiar people to you, you are aware of these sounds. You are aware of your breath, aware of your body. You take deep breaths and continue into your asanas, continue into the movement. Something makes you continue in the asanas, you recall how you saw this person do this complicated stretch and say let me give it a try. Let me get into this complicated version of the pigeon pose and you try to get into it, you get it right on the right side of the body and not on the left side of the body- it is okay to do that. It probably needs a little more practice- it will happen eventually.

With that in mind, some happiness is swelling over within you already, some peace is turning within you and you are enjoying that. You are enjoying that your breath is becoming easier, body is becoming lighter. Now you want to sit and do the pranayam, the breathing excercises. You sit, absorb the effect of the asanas and allow the body to meditate for a few minutes, maybe 4-5 minutes then start the pranayams. You get into vajrasana, and do the first stage of pranayam with the awareness of the Ujjayi breath, slow and sure. You remind yourself that you will be doing the pranayams like a warrior. The pranayams, one by one, make you more calm and soft in the mind. Now you are done with the pranayam, you do the Sudarshan Kriya. You take a decision that you will do the Kriya like it is the first time you are doing it.

You become aware of the sohums, the in-breaths and the out-breaths. The patterns, the counts and you are lost in them and then you have reached the last round and you close your eyes and just sit. So many thoughts would have been going on all the time, so much planning going on all the time in the mind since the moment you started to climb on the mat. Now it has all vanished, it is just silent. You are aware of the birds chirping but something in the mind is silent. Very silent and calm. You don’t know how much time you spent sitting after the Kriya and meditation, but you know for sure there is no rush, nothing to rush about. There is plenty of time. Everything will be rushed during the day but this cannot be rushed. Slowly you get up, you open your eyes. A chant is forming on the lips- what is that? You say the chants, and again for a minute or two, you absorb the sounds of the chants and feel a burst of energy inside you. As if you can conquer anything, the assurance that nothing is impossible. And that calm is going to see you through the day, is going to see you through many days to come. And that is nothing but the high energy that the pranayam brings, the warm up and yoga brings. You feel the energy- it is a strange feeling but people who do this everyday, feel this. You feel new again. And this is the one round of sadhana or practice.

by Meena Waghray is a yoga teacher but she says, it was not easy to adapt it in her lifestyle. She started out being a pessimist about yoga and has gone on to become a teacher and her journey of fitness in body and mind continues. For her, yoga is not just the daily practice on the mat, rather, the losing and finding of the mind and breath to come back to harmony.

Meena is a lawyer by profession and a mediation expert, trained with the ADR Group London. Mediation according to her is the best way to resolve disputes, even before they reach the courts. Meena loves teaching and has been teaching legal studies for classes 11th and 12th at Army Public School, Bangalore.

She says, “I have two similar goals and similar sounding ones too, separated by a “t”, meditation and mediation. One is spiritual and the other is legal. The end result of both is harmony”. Meena is a volunteer/
faculty with the Art of Living Foundation facilitating Art of Living Yoga and Happiness Programs.


Read

“And no- writers do not have to be visionaries.”

Doris Lessing

“We forget that novels continuously are introducing errors of life we haven’t thought of before; that haven’t really been in the public consciousness.”

When one loves to read, some values get imbibed by default. For example, being true to ones-self and knowing who we are and working hard to be the best one can be. By this analogy, to also know that when we read, we find interesting spaces to explore, to find insightful answers to questions we have struggled with and given up on.

We explore this aspect of reading and to be able to find a flaw or a misconception in our thinking, clarifying it with the world around us, is something that we are enabling on this platform. Share here what you have read and how it has shaped your person.

Literature and Art #LitArt


Now, the use of culture is that it helps us, by means of its spiritual standard of perfection, to regard wealth as but machinery, and not only to say as a matter of words that we regard wealth as but machinery, but really to perceive and feel that it is so. If it were not for this purging effect wrought upon our minds by culture, the whole world, the future, as well as the present, would inevitably belong to the Philistines. The people who believe most that our greatness and welfare are proved by our being very rich, and who most give their lives and thoughts to becoming rich, are just the people whom we call the Philistines. Culture says: “Consider these people, then, their way of life, their habits, their manners, the very tones of their voices; look at them attentively; observe the literature they read, the things which give them pleasure, the words which come forth out of their mouths, the thoughts which make the furniture of their minds; would any amount of wealth be worth having with the condition that one was to become just like these people by having it?”

Matthew Arnold,  Culture and Anarchy (1869)

Food rules

We all love to change the traditional ways of making food but what we don’t expect is that we are introducing new elements in the game of cooking. Food is chemistry and what we do to it has repercussions to the end product and hence to our health. It is however a lot of fun to experiment and to explore creative foods and ideas. The problem is that traditional recipes come to us with rules and restrictions and we need to know when and why to make changes to them. Or not. Like cooking spinach with a fat and an acid to make sure the iron is absorbed in the body- something that I did on a regular basis due to tradition but this changed when I put spinach in a smoothie with a banana and yogurt. There was no fat or acid added. Spinach, a green micro-nutrient was a total loss to my system and to the process of setting up a new routine.

And consider dal or lentils.

A nutritionist I follow on instagram Sangeetha Khanna gave me some details on lentils. She posted about the lentil cheela with lots of vegetables and that got me thinking to a time when my father suffered with kidney and liver problems and the doctor suggested eating less toor dal or any dal (lentil). He was a mid-life teetotaler, so alcohol was not the reason for his liver problems. The nutritionist said this about the dal intake- “…Ayurveda has already prescribed ways to prevent the ill effects of lentils. Think about our dal ka tadka (seasoning) with asfoetida, garlic, cumin and chillies or sambar (lentil soup) that is made with tamarind and a tadka or the various fermented lentil preparations. The oxalates and purines in lentils are associated with oxalate type stones in kidney but if lentils are cooked according to Ayurveda prescribed ways and one consumes enough water, there is no need to worry.”

Thank you Sangeetha Khanna for this, and I would suggest you follow her blog and posts for more interesting information on food and nutrition guidance.

Malini Waghray is the founder, editor, immersive researcher and developer at Choosing Wellness.