Monday, November 18, 2013

Health and happiness Retreat & Wellbeing Workshop

 I was doing workshops and retreats separately. This was an attempt to combine Wellbeing workshop (7AM to8AM) for 5 days and try to combine it with Health and Happiness Retreat from 2PM to 6PM on the same 5 days. The participants in Health and Happiness Retreat attend the wellbeing sessions in the morning. The rationale was to spread the retreat over more time while giving space and time for the participants to manage their other commitments. The spread over 5 days (instead of the earlier two and a half days) allows the participants also to assimilate what we do in a better way and especially try some of it in their daily lives. For me this format also works better for scheduling my other activities; if it is so I hope that I can increase the frequency of the Health and Healing retreat in Auroville.
My first impression is that the objectives were achieved and the rationale is valid. The feedback from the participants validated my impression and I would proceed in this direction and refine the retreat.
There were several ‘firsts’ in this experiment, part form the format. I included a conversation on conditioning as an important aspect and this becomes the foundation on which we build the super structures related to freedom from stress, emotional overwhelm, baggage of the past and processes for inner healing.  The foundation also supports the new dimension I added to transmute conditioning and a more detailed session on being happier. I also introduced more video clips and all these innovations make the retreat very integrated. I feel elated about the way it turned out.
An important contributing factor in the success of the experiment is the interested group of participants who were committed to create value for themselves out of the retreat. What was delightful was that the average age of the group would be one of the lowest ever in the retreats I facilitated and I was initially a little concerned whether the serious topics would hold their attention over a period of 5 days. I was pleasantly surprised that they maintained the interest and attention and were there even when a cyclone broke out on the last day. I was fortunate to have such a group which included two young couples; all with extraordinary receptivity to the objectives of the retreat and the wonderful international mix of Auroville events.  It is a wonderful experience for me and I am certain that the shape of ideal retreat that I would like to offer is close to manifestation.
This was the first time that I had participants form Uruguay and it was wonderful to get to know them.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Health and Happiness Retreat at Hyderabad

This is the fourth program I have done for my extended family: friends who studied with me in the same college. The first was initiative by DSR Raju and organized by Veerabhadra Rao at IE building. The second was during the annual get together and was also triggered by DSR.DSR and Meduri Subba Rao organized the retreat at Auroville in Jan 2013.  I felt sad that DSR is not involved in the 4th event. I missed his as friend and missed him as the creator and catalyst of the string of programs with my extended family.
The event itself was, by far the best organized in the series. Meduri Subbarao was the initiator this time and Veerabhadra Rao and Chakram took over the mantle of organizing the event. They did an excellent job. The venue is simply superb- the beautiful resort of Tramati Baradari near Golconda at Hyderbad. The sprawling gardens and the Mogul architecture reminded me of Topkapi Place in Istanbul.  While the gardens are quite well maintained, the upkeep of the inner spaces and service are typical (apathetic) government style and if improved, this would be a much sought after resort.
The start of the event was more like a get together for me. Meeting Meduri Subbrao and Mrs Subbrao, Veerabhadra Rao, Chakram, BR Raju, ESR Prasad, Phani Babu, TIMS, UN Raju, Ramana Reddy, Mrs & Mr. T. Venkateswara Rao and all others was a very happy occasion by itself.

 The retreat itself went very well as the group stayed focused on the theme of Health and Happiness. I am especially grateful for the listening of the group as it is not easy to relate to a fellow student at college as facilitator of retreat. I am lucky to have this and the event happened in the generosity of their listening and kind attention. Given these, I was delighted and did my best to share what all I could in the available time. I am inspired by the thoughts of what is possible in the lives of my friends and their families if they fold the principles and practices into their life-style.
In terms of topics, I could do full justice to Health and Harmony. I wish I had more time to do justice to the topic of happiness. The availability of a projector has helped in using slides and videos to make the retreat more interesting.
I feel blessed to have the opportunity to share the time and space with my extended family. I feel very satisfied and fulfilled when they practice and share the benefits they derived. That day will be the day for true celebration.
I am also delighted that my friends expressed interest in a program at Nainital/Ramgar. This is exciting!
Last but not the least; we were lucky that the political turmoil did not interfere with our retreat.

IDL (Integral Development Lab) for IIMI at Nainital

 This is program that I immensely enjoy each year because of many aspects that I like. The foremost amongst them is the venue of Van Nivas Ashram, set in the sylvan verdure of the foothills of the Himalayas in the beautiful city of Nainital. I love to be with the young group of students and watch them enjoy the program. I cherish the opportunity of working and connecting with a new faculty member who co-conducts the IDL. I also love to reconnect with Shri Nalinji, who is synonymous with the Ashram and also Jayanto and his team who conduct the adventure activities and run the Ashram so well, efficiently and cheerfully. So, all in all, I am happy and grateful to be here for the fourth successive Integral Development Lab for the students of IIM, Indore.
This year, I fine-tuned the program to increase the out-door activities, introduced games as fillers when we wait at the adventure venues, prepared a new talk that links happiness, goals and awareness. The time allocated for the entertainment program from each group is increased to 20 minutes by spreading it over 4 days. It makes the program truly integral with components of Yoga and Pranayaama to kick-start the day, adventure activities like rock climbing, bouldering, scrambling, rappelling, river-crossing, trekking, hill climbing and paragliding, fun activities like sight-seeing and shopping in the beautiful city of Nainital, entertainment like the campfire programs by the students and innovative games, and personal growth sessions. This a 4 credit course and the students form groups of 9-10 and submit a reflection essay and prepare a presentation with pictures and videos. I would like to  keep improving the program to make it more meaningful and enjoyable to the participants and hence more satisfying and fulfilling to me.
Prof. Srinivas Gunta has brought forth a very effective system of planning and this made the program easier to implement – the process of forming groups early, opting for the program group wise, making reservations etc now help in making the program more enjoyable. The students from Mumbai campus also joined the Himalaya program this year. There was one glitch when the Ashram changed the dates without consulting us. This throws the whole program out of gear. Thanks to Tara Didi, this was resolved and the program was brought back on rails.
Bright sun shine greeted us on 20th October. The lush green verdure of Himalayas in golden shine with the bracing mountain air is an experience that uplifts me at all levels of my being. The greenery is even more stunning this year as the rains were abundant. We were very fortunate because the rains abated only on 16th, just in time for our program. Actually, the heart beat in the foothills is determined by the sunshine and we are acutely made aware that we live in the solar system. Sun shine makes life shine in the mountains.
When I arrived at Van Nivas, the scene appeared to be one of utter confusion. About 160 people were having breakfast – a group of 160 teenagers who were all abuzz with excitement as they were leaving within the hour and a study group of about sixty senior citizens who were finding their way amidst the milling mass of the youngsters. And our group of about 110 started arriving. Amidst all this chaotic confusion, Jayanto and his small but extremely efficient team were quietly working – serving breakfast, cleaning the dormitories, arranging the linen and answering questions from everyone. There is a lot to learn from this exemplary team of people and they are one of the main reasons why I love to be here year after year. The scene calmed down once the teenagers left and our batch unpacked and settled down. The faculty member for the Nainital program is Prof. Siddhartha Rastogi. I am very fortunate that I get to work with and make friends with a different faculty member very year. The class representative is one of the most important person as he hold the program together by coordinating amongst the students, faculty and the Ashram team. The class representative plays a key role in organizing the optional programs. Navdeep brought forth excellent organizational capabilities, efficiency and enthusiasm and made this IDL a joyful experience for all. It was a pleasure meeting him and working with him. We discussed the program with Jayanto and made a couple of last minute changes and the introduction session was held promptly as planned , to kick start the program followed by the first IDL session. The group had their first outdoor experience when they trekked to Land’s End in the evening and we were very lucky that the sun peeped out of the clouds for about 10 minutes, filling the green valley with a golden glow. The sky was kaleidoscopic when the sun went behind the clouds. The trek itself was very nice though we had to move slowly due to the slippery nature of the ye-to-dry ground.
 The first of the adventure events was to do with rocks and boulders and caves. For most of the students, it was first-even experience to try out scrambling, bouldering and rock climbing. They were thrilled with the adventure and were exhilarated when they could transcend their imaginary limits and fears. Playing games while waiting for the turn is a good idea and was well received by the students.  I am also very happy and satisfied that the leanings and the takeaways that the students shared. The next set of activities was even more enjoyable to the students. They loved the thrilling experience of paragliding and the exhilarating experience of conquering Naina peak and get a glimpse of the infiniteness of the snow-clad Himalayan mountain range. Those who could not participate in either of the programs went to Mukteshwar and Prof. Rastogi went along with them. I understand that this was not very enjoyable because many suffered from motion sickness and the time they could spend in Mukteshwar was too short. In any case, there is not much to see in Mukteshwar in a one day trip. I need to think of something else for the next year, preferably closer. We had a 12 km trek to Kanchi on the 4th  day and rappelling and river crossing on the last day. Add to this Yoga and Pranayama in the mornings and three class room sessions that touched upon perception, awareness, happiness, choice, attention and intention, the program morphs into “Integral Development Lab”. Next year, I want to introduce integrity and responsibility as topics to be touched upon in IDL.
One of the things that I started in the first IDL is to give prizes (along with the IIM Faculty)  to the best group and the students who volunteer to coordinate the program. It is in that context that I go to Modern Book Shop to buy books and had a very brief but transformational meeting with Mr Vimal in November 2012. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor but as far as I could see, he was not suffering from it. He said that he was enjoying every breath he was taking and he is grateful for every breath. I was hoping to meet him but felt sad to know that he passed away. Abhimanyu, his son is helping his mother to run the family business. He is an engineering graduate in IT and is planning a start-up as well. The brief meeting with Mr. Vimal made a strong connection with this family. I wish them all the very best.
On my walk to the town, I met a young man. He was swishing around a sling used to carry weights in the mountain region. I asked him for directions to the town and he not only pointed the way but said that he would walk with me. His name is Sinha and he came from Nepal with a truck bringing house hold goods. We chatted for about 15-20 minutes. I enjoyed talking to him and walking with him. Even though his Hindi is generously smeared with Nepalese, it was good enough for us to connect with each other and experience that we are all one and we have the same concerns as humans.
For me, Nalinji is synonymous with Van Nivas. He is a scholar of classical music and is a very erudite person. His eyes are always dancing with good humor and he has a smile like the smile I have seen in the pictures of the Mother. It is a pleasure and privilege to talk to him. Unfortunately, the program this year is so packed that I could have only brief meetings with him but even those brief meetings are highly inspiring. He is 76 now and told me that his eye sight is deteriorating. He mentioned that he takes one hour to walk from the city. When I said I took 45 minutes he said that he is more used to the walk. A simple remark behind which is there is so much kindness and goodwill to make me feel good.
Jayanto and his team never cease to maze and inspire me. It is a team of all-rounders. They conduct the adventure sports events like scrambling, rock climbing, rappelling etc and are quite good at instructing the students, motivating them, ensuring safety etc. They also help in cooking the meals, serving the food, cleaning the kitchen and various places, buying the rations, connecting the audio system - you name it and they do it. They do it with so much attention and enthusiasm. Their work culture and work ethic is very akin to the Japanese. Like the Japanese they are very conscious of “total quality”. Jayanto trains them and manages the team and the Ashram so efficiently. There is a lot to learn from this team. What is surprising to me is that there is a significant turnover but the efficiency remains the same. Jayanto also knows first-aid, acupressure and homeopathy and was very effective in dealing with injuries and episodes of breathlessness etc.
I was using corn caps to get rid of a couple of corns. In theory, the corns are supposed to disappear in 6 days, but it actually took 2months! My walking was disrupted and I gained about 4 kg of weight.  I put on shoes for the first time in Nainital after more than two months. The extra weight and being out of walking regimen made me a tortoise in the long trek.
One of the goals of IDL is to challenge the limits. Transcending the limits is very transformational experience that makes one aware of the inner resources and gives a glimpse of who we are. I see this in the eyes of the participants many a time and witnessing those moments is one of the rewards of IDL for me. The most inspirational sources are people (like Paramveer last year) who have known conditions or physically challenged and they consistently transcend their limits. This IDL had its share of people whom I would remember for being sources of inspiration with their extraordinary participation, indomitable spirit and zest for life..  Deepti, who has multiple medical conditions, is always effervescent and participated in every event.   Mrinal is diagnosed with a slipped disc but he was there in every event. Sneha, who has uneven legs, participated in every event except the 12 km trek to Knachi.  I salute them and feel happy and grateful for the inspiration they provided. Witnessing such never-say-die spirit to transcend limitations is a major reward for me.
This year, I had also the pleasure of getting to know Prof. Siddhartha Rastogi. It was easy to work with him and we could spontaneously mesh as a team and I enjoyed working together. He is multi-faceted personality – he is an avid bird watcher, nature lover, music enthusiast and a poet. I am happy and grateful that a warm friendship has sprung up between us and I am sure that it will grow with time.
The joy of working together with Siddhartha was enhanced by the excellence and meticulous coordination brought forth by Navdeep, the student class representative. He is so meticulous and very effective that we did not need even a single meeting with the groups and group leaders. Navdeep was ably assisted by the specific event coordinators, group leaders and the other two coordinators.  Most of the students participated with enthusiasm and maintained a state of high spiritedness with responsibility, manifesting the aims and goals of IDL through their participation.

Personal Growth Lab for IIM, RAK

The IIM campus at Ras-Al-Khima, UAE was opened in 2011 and I was fortunate to conduct the inaugural program.  I missed out to do the course last year due to a clash with my other commitments. It is great that I could do the Personal Growth Lab (PGL) this year and once again this was the first course the new batch started with. It is always a pleasure to work with the students of a new batch – they appear to me as pristine flowers of consciousness; eager, very willing open and enthusiastic. They are more coach-able compared to the students in the last term. I don’t know whether it is true, but I have the notion that PGL is more valuable at the beginning of the course as they can fold what they learn in PGL into their life style, whilst doing coping with the rigors and demands of the academic program.

In the PGL I did in 2011, I had about 15 sessions to work with the students. This time, it was made into a two credit course of 10 sessions. With new found emphasis on health and happiness, I revamped the program considerably. I enjoyed the process of revamping and conducting the revised program. The batch was small but the participation was great; making the whole experience very satisfying and fulfilling for me. I would love to fine-tune the program and make it optimal for 10 sessions. I look forward to more opportunities to accomplish this.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Health and Happiness Retreat

 I have been doing workshops and retreats with various permutations and combinations of Pranayama, Wellbeing, Inner Healing, Stress Management, Emotional Freedom, Happiness etc in a quest to find an integral approach to wellness. I think that this retreat finally blended the various elements of Integral Wellness into a three day retreat.
The major shift with respect to the earlier retreats is to pull in happiness; inspired by the saying of the Mother “As yet, happiness and good health are not normal conditions in this world. We must protect them very carefully against the intrusion of their opposites.” The results of modern research substantiate what the Mother said a long time ago - happier people are healthier, more successful and more empathic. Seen from the perspective of health and happiness, stress of all forms occludes our natural state of wellbeing. Modern research also shows that all forms of dis-ease is the result of stress. Thus, health and happiness give rise to a unifying, integral framework for wellbeing.
 For a first retreat with this new perspective, I am quite pleased with the results. I liked the participating group immensely. Like all groups in Auroville, the group was heterogeneous in composition with respect to cultures and age. I am also happy and grateful for the probing questions, very interesting discussions and sharing form which I learned a lot and gained many insights. It is a pleasure and privilege to have facilitated this retreat.
It appears to me that my search for the ideal proportions is over and I found it – finally. No doubt, I have a lot of fine-tuning to do but I am certain that this is what I will offer form now onwards. I am considering various ways offering this retreat and how some parts can be offered as stand-alone workshops.
I feel very happy and grateful for the opportunity of exploring and finding the integral framework in “Health and Happiness”. I am sure that fine-tuning this retreat and offering it in various forms  is a very meaningful and pleasurable pathway for my own personal growth.
Syamala was once again an enthusiastic participant in this retreat and I derived a lot of encouragement from her presence. I am fortunate to have her feedback and reassuring and encouraging presence in so many events.

Wellbeing (Pranayama) workshops at Savitri Bhavan

I have heard the old adage “Practice makes a man perfect” and have a sense of the truth in this when we look for a doctor with experience. When my sister had to undergo a total knee replacement surgery, we were looking at the number of operations the doctor performed as an important criterion in our choice. But, when it comes to our own daily lives, we tend to look for novelty rather than enjoy the opportunity of walking the path of perfection when we do the same thing again and again.  The Pranayama workshop is one of those opportunities for me to actually connect with the opportunity of walking the path to perfection. These are the 57th and 58th Pranayama workshops in Auroville and I must have done something like 500 sessions of Pranayama. Now I have an experiential sense of the old adage and am able to see how there is an incremental improvement every time I do the workshop. There is a joy in this journey that is difficult to express in words but very exhilarating to me. I also am aware that this walk is a work in progress. It helps me to enjoy the journey.
In the background of this awareness, the two workshops were steps in the journey to perfection. I am so happy and grateful for the opportunity of taking these steps and the generosity of the participants and the Savitri Bhavan team in making these steps. One of the workshops was exclusively for the Savitri Study group form Gujarat. This was a ‘first’ because I did not do the well being workshop for a study group earlier. I am grateful to Shraddhavan for giving me this opportunity.
I am also grateful to Varadarajan and Syamala for their continuous encouragement and participation.