The Art of Living: Online Happiness Program

It has been more a couple of months that I enrolled for and completed a four-day online happiness program. Through the program, I got introduced to the Sudarshan Kriya and a host of other Yogasana techniques and postures. In this short review, I share my experience.

The Course and the Contents

Given the COVID-19 situation, and the lockdown, our group was initiated into the Kriya via the Internet. And, while the process was straightforward, there were guidelines that we had to comply with throughout those four days.

We all have heard at least once that we are what we eat. If that is true, we need to be extra careful with what we consider as ‘food.’ Anything that we intake then must be of a value precious enough for our consumption. Whether it is food (for the stomach) or food (for thoughts). The first step, the initiation that is, is a carefully crafted exercise of introducing yourself to a new source of power and learning. And, for the reasons I just enlisted, it is always advisable that you do it over a clean bowel, with a fresh mind, and a clear air passage from your nose through your lungs.

The course began with a customary introduction of the participants and the trainers where the trainers, specifically, ran us briefly through their experience, learning, and benefits of the Kriya. Then, we warmed up to the Kriya by practicing Yoga postures, the Sun salutation (or Surya Namaskar), and other breathing techniques (Bhastrika Pranayama and Naadi-shodhan Pranayama, in particular). That is when we were initiated into the Sudarshan Kriya.

The Experience of Sudarshan Kriya

The Sudarshan Kriya is a set of three powerful rhythm and time-based breathing cycles technique with variable intensities (Slow-Faster-Fastest). It helps push the capacity of our lungs to absorb more oxygen. And because most of us don’t use our lungs to their maximum capacity, we were told to rest ourselves against the support of walls. The technique is so powerful that a few of us even felt dizzying or nauseated toward the end of it. But, that is why it is always advisable to only get initiated formally with the help of a guru.

It helped that I had been regularly practicing Naadi-shodhan for the past ten years. Just that because I had trained my lungs into practicing fuller breathing, my experience was a bit mellowed down than others. I didn’t feel the instant magic. But the overall experience of doing it with a host of others like me, even though it was online, was still encouraging enough. That feeling of becoming a student: I had felt that for a long time.

There are a few dos and don’ts associated with the technique. And because I am writing my review on the online happing program, I feel it a duty more than an option to state them:

  • Do it every day; be consistent with your timing if possible.
  • Do not perform the Kriya more than once (Slow-Faster-Fastest is one cycle; you must perform 3 cycles in one sitting) every 24 hours. If you wish to get initiated, do not search for YouTube videos. Seek a guru and ask to be formally initiated.
  • Once you are initiated, do not try to initiate others into the practice. There are levels of this practice that you must pass before you can become a trainer yourself.
  • Perform the Kriya on an empty stomach.
  • Sukhasana, or the usual posture of folded legs, is more than sufficient for you to experience the technique.

The trainers were well-versed with the course contents, and the format and they constantly helped and guided us with how to accomplish our purpose. The question-answer sessions addressed our questions and cleared our doubts.

The Impact & My Observations

I’ve never missed my practice since the initiation. And over time, even though it is just two months, the improvement is worth noting. I am:

  • Assertive and confident
  • I feel less drained out by the end of the day
  • I feel more sure about what I do; the self-doubt is still there but with an unexplainable sense of assurance
  • More relaxed
  • My course-mates, at least those whom I have spoken to since, have had similar experiences. Some of them told me that they even reported an increase in their productivity. Even I’d agree to it to an extent.

Conclusion

The teachings are restricted to the premise of an online workshop, and so the Kriya length (time and scale) takes about 40 minutes to complete, including the Pranayamas. The timing and scale will vary for those who got initiated in person and are practicing since. My friend who introduced me to the technique, Deepak Patil, has experienced Advanced level breathing techniques. He is a daily-practicing follower of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for the past eight years. His is an elaborate practicing regime that takes about an hour for him every day.

These are testing times for all of us, and if only breathing in a certain way can help us better ourselves, then it definitely the technique is worth a try. For me, it is an experience that has increased the pace of my spiritual growth. I am a better person. And I’ve begun valuing myself even more since the initiation. All that, without losing the degree of compassion I hold for others. That is my biggest takeaway.

If you, too, wish to enroll, I can happily usher you to the right person.

Tourists

It was at the first light of life
That they took the baby step.
And continued to walk along
Even as they slept.

Still bright and breezy
Were they at the wee hours.
Trudged through while
Still learning their powers.

Amidst the blossoming yellow
Bathed, fed the fellows!
Then around the noon
Their lives began to bloom.

Their gaily souls traced the trails.
Still young at hearts, very hale.
The afternoon arrived, though pale,
Blessed with occasional bursts of the gale.

Until evening, their routine was set.
Along with pleasure, closures were met.
Truths were told. Masks had fallen.
Even the hardest had begun to soften.

Wearied souls came upon a bridge.
Living each episode unabridged.
Twilights coated with burnt orange.
Forgiveness tasted sweeter than revenge.

The night, it seemed, soon fell.
Such that no one could foretell.
It was time to pack the bags—
It was time to bid farewell.

The tourists then made the choice
For how long were they to dwell?
Death then enrobed those
Who had managed to quell.

The tourists then sojourned the bright tunnel.
They seemed to cope. And well.
What lay beyond that comfort, now
How were they to tell?

©Suyog Ketkar
June, 2021

The Visualization and the Flow of Thoughts

Challenges are an inseparable part of life; not just with me, but with everybody. And one must commit to those everyday challenges with a dedication that equals their willing commitment toward their dreams. Such is our wish—as strange as it may be—to ward off all worries that we forget that it is their co-existence with, and not the absence of, that makes life what it is!

Last week, when I was, yet again, getting bogged down by the increasingly heavier workload, I thought I was going farther and farther away from where I wished to be. Despite how much commitment I showed, I was walking slower (figuratively, of course) with each step.

My family felt and shared the pressure. And so did my friend and well-wisher, at Samruddhi AstrroVastu, who told me to resort to the relieving therapy of creative visualization.

He told me to visualize that I was sitting by a river-side and observing the flowing stream. Eventually, when my mind was in a calm(er) state, I was supposed to get up and pour down all my assumed impediments, challenges, and worries into that river. I was to be just an observer and not become a participant in the process (and thereby get affected by the feelings). Yet I was to witness the feelings and watch how the cosmos (I think he used that word, but I am confident I can equally make that up on my own, too!) received my negativity and transformed it into positivity. Later, I was required to report the changes to him. But the writer, a poet, in this case, responded with a poem. He liked it and wished me to share it with all of you.

So, here it is.

The Flow of Thoughts

By the quay, within my mind,
In the quietude devoid of time.
Flew along ‘that’ stream
A stream of thoughts.

Impressions of, then,
People surfaced
From within my mind—
From all walks.

Reflections of, then,
Events and conversations
Gleamed that had
Shone from all talks.

Surrendered, then,
I, to the bishops,
Rooks, queens.
And, even, to pawns.

Forgave, then,
All those who had
Once betrayed.
Corrected all the wrongs.

My fluvial thoughts—
Yes, that never-ending stream—
Then gave way to risings.
’Twas to be a new beginning: a new dawn.

©Suyog Ketkar
June 2021

Such visualizations can help us rid the negativity and ride the wave of assertiveness as an observer. We may never know the limits and strengths of our minds. But then if we did, would we remain as humble as we are?

Twenty Words Tuesday: Week 35 Prompt

Thank you, Bulbul’s Bubble, for this week’s writing prompt.

So, here’s my entry for #TwentyWordsTuesday, a 20-words-story-prompt. which for this week is Banner.


Banner

He read every word she skipped—her eyes, as if, held a banner. Respect begot respect. And love poured unconditionally.


If you, too, would like to participate, just:

  • Write a story in exactly 20 words, excluding the title. The story must highlight the prompt of the week.
  • Tag her post
  • Leave a link to your attempt in the Comments section in her post.

I hope that you like my humble attempt.

Inner Voice

I said, “I listen to you every time 
Yet you sound anew on each occasion.”
“Someday, I’d sit back and listen to you,” it said.
Or, perhaps, it was my assumption.

Ever since I’ve yearned for
That participating audience.
With whom I can discuss
All problems and their solutions.

The wait, how I wish, to soon be over.
The wait, which has been rather long and clever.
I can hardly wait. Actually, no longer.
Here I am to you, my muse; in full submission.

Be my thoughts, words, and voice.
Lend me the pleasure.
Here I am to speak and to listen.
Give me thy affirmation.

©Suyog Ketkar
Composed in March, 2021

How to Write

A lot of writing is an outcome of introspection and self-analysis. We look at ourselves, sometimes as an outsider and oftentimes as an insider, with the expectation that we either see what the world sees in us or we see in the world that no one else sees in it. This is a lot of topical overthinking—both unidirectional and multi-directional. Amongst the questions on writing that bombard, clutter, and occupy one’s mind, many involve finding answers that lead to further bewilderments. Let us delve few of such questions.

On what must I write?

As easy as it might sound, selecting a topic is anything but simple: you bang your head against a wall and I guarantee it will bring results. There are days when you can spot yourself staring at the blinking cursor or the blank page with mixed feelings of admiration and frustration. And such days usually occur more frequently for some than others.

Topics lend the capability to set the perimeter for your writing.

A question that nests within this question is how critical is research in writing. Well, the easy answer to it lies in what you wish your readers to do after they go through your work. Do you want them to do something, like a task? Do you want them to read and react? Do you want them to follow the suit and continue their research on your lines of thoughts? Do you want them to feel what you are feeling? Or, do you want to enlighten them with deep insights? Set a perimeter to the range of topics and then let the topic set the perimeter for your writing.

A topic helps put barbed wires, sort of, so that you can fence out the territories where your imagination isn’t supposed to wander. Such self-contradicting is this counter-thought that you must first set a perimeter to the topic before it sets the perimeter for your writing. So, more than the topic, it is the subject of your study that determines what you must write.

In what format must I write?

It reminds me of a masterful chef who curates a platter of intricately cooked, composed, and crafted dishes. Remember, they don’t cook food: they create a course of meal for you. The format of writing is similar.

Masterful writers incrementally build their readers’ experience throughout the passage of their work.

And even if this means some rules govern the structure or format in which to serve the course of the meal, no rules limit your creative license to bring in colorful variations in tastes and textures.

Is there a pattern?

There are time-tested, subjective patterns: in some, you hold onto your readers; in others, the reader holds on to your work.

The pyramid is applicable wherever you build the context before you unveil the core content. All novels and short stories use this approach where they first build the old world before they bring their protagonists on the cliffhanger that changes everything. They introduce the core learning for the protagonist who then must set their world anew.

And then there is the inverse pyramid approach. The print media follows it. We follow a similar approach in technical writing, where we communicate the most important things first and then supplement the details.

The choice of the pyramid for creative and inverse-pyramid for non-creative isn’t always easy, for it depends on a lot of parameters the values for some of which aren’t even known. Take a calculated guess of how your average readers might wish to read your work.

Is there something that’s never discussed enough?

Yes, a couple of things, actually.

Grammar

There isn’t any formula, a strict pattern, process, language, structure, or way of reaching your readers’ hearts and minds. Yet, there is a way you can map your intentions with their emotions and understanding. This is where grammar can help. The sticklers for grammar call it the mortar for the bricks. Words are bricks that build your work. And grammar, as the mortar, holds the bricks together in place so that your work appears and appeals to the readers with the same intensity and purpose.

Rewriting

There must be a few works—often from select authors—that you find are effortless reads. Even when you read their work for the first time, within an instant you connect to their work. And then there are other authors whose work builds itself on you over time. It matures like a wine where the more you age with it the more you appreciate what it brings to you. Each time you open it, you stumble upon a new message wrapped in the same old words.

The act of writing, I reckon, must be the second-last step in the process of writing itself. The last step must be rewriting.

Once you finish creating your first draft, let it sit and age. If over time you think it reads the same, your work will achieve its purpose. But if—and it usually is the case—it doesn’t quite read what it must, then rewrite it.

Continue to chisel out the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs if they don’t serve their purpose.

Conclusion

After we have said (and done) what all we must, there still remains so much more than we can say and do. Writing is such an easy skill that it reminds me of life itself.

Only after you’ve lived your life that you learn how to live it.

Each experience is new in its own way. Every single day brings forth new learning. All experiences, good or bad, make up life what it is. This is why life is sometimes greater than the sum of its parts. And you, as a writer, are responsible for helping people read and, thereby, live through your words. How effectively they do that depends on how efficiently you can map your ability to think like them and the skill to write like your true self.

Writing and Everything Else

The theory that the fictional characters draw parallels with life events is as much true as the thought that the writing impacts and inspires us. And I say this because, on umpteen occasions, I’ve gulped down the bitterness and dryness of words before they began to moisten my mouth and eyes with their truest selves. Yet, in the list of everything that ever has quenched my thirst and kept me alive as I have crawled through my deserted nothingness, writing is at the top. My writing has drawn a lot of inspiration from my life and experiences, and in return has equally blessed me with awe.

Good writing, I have always believed and found to be true, is the next step of despair. And yet, with each passing year, I see more and more aspiring writers stopping at despair. They, somehow, don’t have the energy to follow their dreams, if they have had any. In my case, the only thing that has stood by me ever since my introverted self has begun to surface more often, it is writing. All I do is return its favor. Writing, thus, is both a cause and a consequence for me. People keep asking me random questions. I answer those random questions with nonrandom answers.

Someone asked me the other day, for instance, “what makes you write?” I replied, “the same thing that makes you breathe, go to bed, wake up again the next morning, and go to (or sit down to) work.” I said, “We all are machines running on some fuel. Writing is my fuel. You have your own version of it.”

“But how do you do that,” someone else had asked. I said that writing was akin to sitting by the lake and watching the ripples as you throw stones in the lake. What you get as you unsettle the lake bed and its cozy arrangement of quietude is the ripples that bring up what lays buried underneath. Those are some precious thoughts. I only take a closer look at those, while most fail to acknowledge their presence. This process of acknowledging, churning, observing, and translating those ripples of thoughts into words is both encouraging and enchanting. Writing is quite like learning to live. The most important thing is to take the first step. The second most important is to follow along with your senses, for they are never wrong.

The part of my answer that I skipped deliberately was that they didn’t continue to follow along. A lot of aspiring—and sometimes inspiring—individuals do not remain loyal to writing. I attribute most of my writing to the allegiance I have shown toward this experience. Even before people had begun formally introducing me as a writer, I had taken the pains of going through the labor of birthing ideas. This umbilical connection that I have with some of the posts I wrote more than a decade ago makes me a possessive parent. My sweat-soaked pillows are a testimony of how and when the right ideas were born. I’ve taken the trouble of noting it down, sometimes in my sleep.

“But I don’t have the time and the skills.” Well, I don’t doubt that you have a packed schedule and that writing requires quietude. But when you can’t let your mind astray, is that not the best time for you to focus on moments within the moments of your life? Then how can you deceive your mind to pay attention to only quantifiable, tangible activities, while you must focus on enjoying this transformation? It’s as much a matter of choice: you choose results, I adhere to the process. Yet it comes down to what efforts you put in to make it an effortless read. The beauty, cleverness, logic, or wits are only the devices with which you decorate your writing. The tricks are easy to know about but difficult to put into practice. So, what you as a novice might find hard to install might come to my stolid soul with spontaneity.

It all comes to two things: compassion and emotions. For the human within you to leap over that stile and walk the then lush green lands in soothing gleams of rays, you must have compassion. You have to live life before living it. You have to live life without ever living it. Only then you embark on this journey.

Just the Way of Life

From when the life sprouted
When coziness wrapped its fingers around yours
And opened your vision to its ‘me-ness’,
It is what it is.

From when mistakes could be erased
When errors didn’t scar us for ever
And the time was full,
It is what it is.

From when ignorance was blissful
When choices still weren’t that costly
And confessing to all piffle cames effortlessly,
It is what it is.

Until when thee acknowledges
When the build-up will reach its zenith
And celebrate the short-lived festivities.
It is what it is.

Until when days pass slowly,
When the fall arrives,
And leaves carpet trails of thee,
It will be what it must—the way of life.

©Suyog Ketkar

First Sentence Down

It is time. That time when I must
Either stand tall, perch by,
Or, at the least, crawl toward
What I might call a ‘find.’

The rest then is still there
Lingering somewhere in my mind
Laughing at me from those cozy corners
Where meet my mind’s heart and heart’s mind.

I mustn’t cry out loud,
Shout, complaint, quiver
Abuse, mewl, or be wilted.
I must go through this grind.

Attempts are harder than perfection.
Yet with every attempt
I must work it up better—
Make it more refined.

Weave thoughts. Streamlined.
Stitch together the purpose and prose.
Compose the music that runs
Effortlessly across; Intertwined.

Of all that by then is done
Is that I am the first sentence down.
That’s all it takes for me.
Thereafter, I never look behind.

©Suyog Ketkar

That’s Who I Am

Of all that I did that day,
Were things rather in plenty.
Breaking with the dawn, for once
Had I had this idea, if any…

Where my vigilant brain had caught this
Wonderful signal through my mental antennae,
And, the day had arrived where
I could turn stories into pure honey.

“Do not confine,” I’d told myself,
“If you ever must reach the uncanny.”
“You can visualize anything,” I said
“Without stepping into the mahogany.”

This was some strange business.
Or wasn’t it? For it was quite funny.
Limitless thoughts, I wondered how—
Could fit within those little crannies!

Thoughts led to thoughts,
And words popped too many.
Stories after stories, I played
Characters after characters, aplenty.

In some, I was a teacher,
In the others, I studied botany.
In some, I was a preacher,
I the others, I was involved in a felony.

Just as you have companions, my friend,
I have stories to keep me company.
The cat has only nine lives, remember.
As a writer, I realized, I’ve rather one too many.

©Suyog Ketkar