Sunday, March 18, 2007

An article about ‘Yoga and Meditation’

Very recently Mr. Bhattathiri left his article as a comment to one of my blogs. The article titled ‘American justice department upheld Indian yoga and meditation’ briefly talks about the background and scientific aspects of Yoga. As per his request I am publishing the article below. I am planning to write a separate article on yoga with more in-depth details. Stay tuned!

Let me bow to Indian Maharishi Patanjali with folded hands, who helped in removing the impurities of the mind through his writings on Yoga, impurities of speech through his writings on grammar, and impurities of body through his writings on Ayurveda.

The American justice dept have recently approved the power of yoga and meditation via a recent judgment in the American court. "Man Who Slapped Wife Sentenced to Yoga, its Anger Management, Says Judge." First there was house arrest. Now there's yoga. A judge ordered a man convicted of slapping his wife to take a yoga class as part of his one-year probation. "It's part of anger management," County Criminal Court at Law Judge Larry Standley said of the ancient Hindu philosophy of exercise and well-being. "For people who are into it, it really calms them down.” Standley, a former prosecutor, said the case of James Lee Cross was unique. Cross, a 53-year-old car salesman from Tomball, explained that his wife was struggling with a substance abuse problem and that he struck her on New Year's Eve during an argument about her drinking. "He was trying to get a hold of her because she has a problem," Standley said after the court hearing. "I thought this would help him realize that he only has control over himself." The sentence came as a surprise to Cross, which was told to enroll in a class and report back to Standley on his progress. "I'm not very familiar with it," Cross said of yoga. "From what I understand, it may help in a couple ways, not only as far as mentally settling, but maybe a little weight loss." Darla Magee, an instructor at Yoga Body Houston in River Oaks, said she would recommend that Cross take a basic yoga class emphasizing breathing and including a variety of postures -- forward bends, back bends and twists. "Yoga can help us to get rid of many emotional issues we might have," she said. "It's a spiritual cleanse." Prosecutor Lincoln Goodwin agreed to a sentence of probation without jail time because Cross had no significant criminal history.

Yoga which is one of the greatest Indian contributions to the world has got vast potential in all fields. In Tihar jail India Yoga is experimented among the inmates and found successful. Their criminal mentality is changed. This study aimed at investigating the effect of Vipassana Meditation (VM) on Quality of Life (QOL), Subjective Well-Being (SWB), and Criminal Propensity (CP) among inmates of Tihar Jail, Delhi. To this effect the following hypotheses were formulated:
  1. There will be a significant positive effect of VM on the QOL of inmates of Tihar jail.
  2. VM will have a positive and significant effect on SWB of inmates.
  3. Criminal propensity (CP) of inmates will decrease significantly after attending the VM course.
  4. There will be significant difference in SWB and CP of experimental (Vipassana) group and control (non-Vipassana) group.
  5. Male and female inmates will differ significantly in SWB and CP, as a result of VM.
In the famous "Time" magazine the importance meditation and yoga, an ancient Indian system, is high-lighted that the ancient mind- and spirit-enhancing art is becoming increasingly popular and gaining medical legitimacy. It is a multi billion dollar business in US. In many Universities it is accepted as subject and included in the Syllabus. In the latest famous book "Inspire! What Great Leaders Do" written by Mr. Lance Secretan recently published by John Wiley and sons, the benefit of meditation is elaborately described for good corporate governance. By practicing transcendental meditation, or TM, many people have got relief from back pain, neck pain, and depression. The mind calms and quiets. What thoughts you have during meditation become clearer, more focused. Anger, anxiety and worries give way to a peace. In the world exorbitant medical expenses one can definitely make use of meditation. Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and Sri Ravi Shankar are popularizing this. The Iyengar Yoga institute in US is famous. In Bhagavad-Gita Lord Krishna has inspired Arjuna to rise from his depression by preaching Gita in the battlefield and to rise from the depression to do his duties. In Holy Gita we can see, being hidden by the cosmic overview of any institution beset with myriad problems, not the least of which is its lack of moral probity, there is a groundswell of educated people seeking answers to deeply personal but universally asked questions. Chie Executives taking lessons from yoga, meditation and learning how to deal with human resources equations in an enlightened manner. Individuals from every walk of life can get ideas of how to be better human beings, more balanced and less stressed out.

Medical studies continue to show regular meditation working magic in reducing blood pressure and stress-related illnesses, including heart disease. Brain images show that regular meditation helps calm the most active sensory-assaulted parts of the brain. The ancient Hindu sage Patanjali who had mastered the secrets of the human mind has written a book "Yoga sutra". In this book we can see how super powers can be achieved by meditation. It has both cosmic relevance and cosmic resonance. In spite of its universal appeal, for most people total control of mind remains an elusive goal and daunting task. From time immemorial, there have been many attempts throughout the world to unlock the mysteries of the mind and to achieve total control over it through a variety of techniques. One of the most powerful of these techniques is meditation. Many spiritual leaders, sages, saints, and holy people such as Buddha, Sri Ramakrishna, Madam Sarada Devi, and Swami Vivekananda have practiced this. One of the ways to control physiological reactions to psychological stimuli is meditation, Yoga, Zen Buddhism etc. The scientists take Transcendental Meditation (TM) as the uniform technique, and base their observations on the study of the subjects engaged in this form of meditation. In summing up the results the scientists have come to conclusion that the effect of meditation is a "wakeful, hypo-metabolic state".

They have found that:
  1. Yogis could slow both heart rate and rate of respiration.
  2. Yogis could slow the rate of metabolism as confirmed by decreased oxygen consumption and carbon-di-oxide output.
  3. Electro-Encephalon-Gram (EEG - recording of brain activity) in Yogis showed changes of calmness in the form of "alpha rhythm" during both eyes closed and eyes open recordings.
  4. Their skin resistance to electric stimulation was increased (indicating increased tolerance to external stimuli). Our usual 'defense-alarm' reaction to emotional and physical stress is in the form of "fright, flight, and fight" mediated through over-secretion of certain neuro-transmitters and neuro-modulators, namely adrenaline and dopamine by way of stimulation of sympathetic nervous system.

Under the influence of these chemicals and hormones, we reflexively become panicky or aggressive, our blood pressure rises. Thus stress and anxiety is the end result if we allow our natural age-old sympathetic reactions to act and to come to surface. We try to run away, become fearful, or fight the situation. But today these 'defense-alarm' reactions have no place in our lives. Rather, they should be replaced by more calm and serene reactions of equanimity and fearlessness. The need is to just 'face the brute, and it will go away'. Such desirable reactions of non-aggression and peaceful attitude are generated by Yoga and meditation. EEG Studies on Yogis and The Zen Meditations: Yogis practicing Raja-Yoga claim that during the state of Samadhi they are oblivious to the internal and external stimuli, and they enjoy a calm ecstasy during that state. A study was undertaken to record the electrical activity of their brain during this state by means of a regular and useful test known as electroencephalography EEG. Physiological and experimental studies have demonstrated that the basis of conscious state of brain, among other things, is due to activation of "reticular system" in the brain-stem in response to internal and external stimuli.

These stimuli bring about various changes during sleeping and wakeful states of the organism and these can be studied by EEG. The study was carried out on four subjects during the state of concentration and meditation. Effects of external stimuli, like a loud gong, strong light, thermal simulation, and vibrations were studied. The results were compiled and analyzed. It was observed that two Yogis could keep their hands immersed in extremely cold water for about 50 minutes (raised pain threshold). During state of meditation, all of them showed persistent "alpha activity" in their EEG with increased amplitude wave pattern, both during 'eyes closed' and 'eyes open' recording. It was observed that these alpha activities could not be blocked by various sensory stimuli during meditation. It was also observed that those, who had well-marked "alpha activity" in their resting EEG showed greater aptitude and zeal for maintaining the practice of Yoga. Similar observations and results were obtained when EEGs were recorded in persons adept in Zen Meditative technique.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

India and the flat world

In his bestselling book ‘The world is flat’, author Tom Friedman illustrates his ‘flat world’ concept. For people who have not read the book, let me give a quick background. The three billion people from India and China are much more empowered and connected today. It started when India opened up the economy and China signed the WTO agreement for open trade. Fuelled by these open trade policies, the ‘Outsourcing’ and ‘Off-shoring’ are the latest buzzwords for western world organizations for leveraging the eastern world. According to Friedman, this new worldwide phenomenon has leveled the competing field and the whole world has become flat. I really enjoyed reading the book mainly because the author extensively traveled to various geographical regions, met people, experienced the changes personally and came up with his conclusions.

Now, let me look from the reverse angle and ask some questions to myself:

Is the world really flat from India’s perspective?
Can I do the same things from Bangalore, what I would be doing from Santa Clara?
Does the word ‘Bangalored’ really threatening westerners?
Can India sustain this boom?
Are we prepared for the social consequences of capitalism?

As a technology professional, let me take example of Indian software industry and try to get answers. Before getting into answers, let us see the definition for Outsourcing from wikipedia. Please give more emphasis to the words underlined:

Outsourcing entered the business lexicon in the 1980s and often refers to the delegation of non-core operations from internal production to an external entity specializing in the management of that operation. The decision to outsource is often made in the interest of lowering firm costs, redirecting or conserving energy directed at the competencies of a particular business, or to make more efficient use of worldwide labor, capital, technology and resources.

From the above definition it’s very clear that Indian companies will get to do only non-core activity. For software companies, most of the work will be in the areas of defect fixing, production support, software maintenance, software patches and working as an extended team. This is a great achievement in our history and loads of jobs got created because of outsourcing. The new ‘generation-Y’ Indians have more disposable income and purchasing power which leads to more business creation and wealth creation. The educated middle class is rising like big time and a new, vibrant, energetic and confident India is emerging. This ‘emergence’ is happening after eight hundred years of Indian history. The western companies are able to reduce the cost by handing over the work, thanks to India’s strong telecom backbone and English speaking population. It’s all a ‘Win-Win’ game. With this can I say the world has become flat from India’s perspective? Definitely NOT!

Even though the above mentioned advantages are very true, terms like product definition, understanding customer needs, customer interfacing, product marketing, technology evaluation and product ownership are still ‘unheard’ words in Indian software industry today. All we are good at is to hire bunch of fresh engineers from the college, train them, bill them, build process framework, commoditize engineers and manage attrition. What is the real ‘value addition’ happening here? According to me it is very minimal. We are currently enjoying the benefits of outsourcing mainly because of the lower wages in India which is catching up very fast. For example, today there is not much salary difference (based on my personal experience) between an engineer in Bangalore and Singapore. Then why should any firm outsource to India?

The Internet has played a significant part in making the world look ‘flat’ but lot of work needs to be done from India’s point of view. Following are three important points to consider:

  • The first need is to develop a domestic market for technology products and services, which demands ‘bottom of the pyramid’ innovations. The economic engine should fuel the domestic market creation and ultimately create an array of product making organizations from India. This is what the Asian tigers (Countries like Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong-Kong) have successfully demonstrated in the past forty years.
  • India should become a manufacturing hub, mainly in semiconductors and automobile areas. This not only creates product building capability, also generates need for more software products. Of course, infrastructure is a major challenge in this case.
  • Industries should play significant role in forming relationship with academic institutions and do long-term strategic investments. This would create a competitive, industry ready workforce who can be deployed without much training. Missing on this would prove very costly in India, as it will create demand-supply problem.

I can keep adding to the list mentioned above, but they are major points to consider. As of today comparing Bangalore with Silicon Valley is nothing but a joke, where nobody in India talks about value creation. The world might look ‘flat’ from the westerner’s point of view, but India has to go a long way to really to make it a reality.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Multi-lingual education in Singapore

I am currently in Singapore on an official visit and explored this country to certain extent. Even though English is spoken everywhere, they have given the much needed importance to three major local languages: Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. They have kept these official languages in best interest of all major sectors of the population. This is very well reflected in their education system. In their Primary School Leaving Examination (PLSS) they must choose their mother tongue along with English. Following is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

In order to test the students' grasp of the language subjects, such as the English or mother tongue languages at the end of primary school, there are several separate examinations. As the student is usually required to take mother tongue and the English language, (with exceptions of exemption or additional languages), the average student repeats the following procedures twice. With each mother tongue subject there are two levels of examination, the standard and the higher mother tongue subject, which often depends on what age the language, was first introduced to the pupil. Whether a higher mother tongue subject is taken determines whether a student is in the EM1 (higher) stream or the EM2 stream (standard).

The format tends to vary by language, but each language examination usually has an oral examination, testing the students' proficiency to
speak the language, a listening comprehension examination, testing the students' ability to comprehend spoken messages in daily situations, an examination to test composition and the student's proficiency in writing in various scenarios, and finally an examination testing written use of the language.

This is a classic example for giving importance to vernacular language along with English. Also this is in shark contrast with India, where any student can get away by not knowing to read or write their mother tongue. In my blog titled ‘education in local languages’, I stressed upon this point and Singapore is a standing example where the diversity is taken as an advantage. Apart from learning the language in schools, it is also widely used and practiced. In all public places and notice boards all four languages are used. I had been to an Indian restaurant, primarily run by Tamilians and I was so surprised to see Tamil in the bills.

Why am I stressing on this point? Why should we learn any of the ancient Indian language? What is the importance of that in today’s globalized world? The answer is very simple: identity and belongingness. Learning local language creates an identity for a person and makes them understand our ancient past. When it is not there, people tend to ape the other cultures without even making an attempt to learn what India is all about. This creates a basic disconnect with the roots of the system and finally makes them not to understand the fundamental problems like poverty, caste system and illiteracy.

We should learn from countries like Singapore and accept the fact that Indians should learn their mother tongue. This might seem very simple but it goes long way in empathetically creating a diversified society, where India’s core strength lies.

BOOK REVIEW: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Author: Richard Bach
ISBN: 0380012863

This is one of the ‘thin’ books I have read and the message conveyed is like a ‘capsule’. So just swallow it blindly! It is written in with simple but powerful words, which coveys a strong message: Don’t keep doing mundane things and get frustrated with life! Passionately explore and learn to the fullest extent’. The author Richard Bach conveys this message thro’ a fictional story of a seagull named Jonathan. Looking more deeply, this book touches the basic philosophy of life. In a way this book is similar to another book ‘The Alchemist’ which I have read couple of years back.

Coming to the story, Jonathan belongs to a seagull family whose main activity is to scout for food and survive. He belongs to a flock of seagulls, which keep doing the same task and never thought about anything beyond that. They don’t understand the purpose of their life and the reason for their existence. Frustrated by this, Jonathan wants to explore his passion for flying at very high altitude in high speed. He keeps practicing this alone and the fellow gulls including his parents feel it is not worth doing it. ‘I don’t mind being bone and feathers, Mum. I just want to know what I can do in the air and what I can’t, that’s all. I just want to know’. With this curiosity and the great joy of flying high, Jonathan keeps flying alone. Ultimately finds two other gulls like him in heaven.

These new gulls take him to a ‘higher plane of existence’, where he meets other gulls who love to fly. He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn make him ‘a gull in a million’. Jonathan befriends the wisest gull in this new place, named Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the universe. The secret, Chiang says, is to ‘begin by knowing that you have already arrived’. After learning these new flying techniques, Jonathan feels the need for teaching it to other seagulls in the earth and comes back to earth.

Here is where the story makes a transition from inspiration to leadership. Jonathan selects a group of gulls, who are interested in flying and teaches them his techniques. Here the author indirectly conveys the essence of inspirational leadership. The simplest form of leadership is very simple and very hard to demonstrate: ‘leading by example’. Jonathan teaches the joy and excitement of high flying to some of his fellow gulls from the flock and helps them to realize the purpose of their life as well. He teaches them ‘The only true law is that which leads to freedom’. This is in consistent with Stephen Covey’s 8th habit: ‘Find your Voice & Inspire others to find Theirs’.

Overall it’s a very small and nicely written book. Truly inspirational!

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Friday, March 02, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: No fullstops in India

Author: Mark Tully

Price: 300 INR

When couple of my friends presented me this book as my birthday gift, I was not sure whether I will like such 'story telling' type of book. After reading pretty good number of non-fictional books, I opened this book with lot of suspicions, but it turned out to be one totally different. The author Mark Tully, conveyed his idea of India by writing ten simple, real but thought provoking stories who is the chief of the BBC bureau, New Delhi. He is an India born British, educated in England and currently living in India.

What is the topic 'No full stops in India' is all about? How do I interpret it? What is the meaning I get out of it? The answer is pretty complex and requires deep understanding about mother India. Compared to other countries, India has a long history behind and it is much more diversified than any other country in the planet. I keep telling my friends the following statement: 'If you travel for more than 100 kms in India you will see difference in terms of food, road signs, religious practices, customs, language and dialects. On contrary in the western world everything looks uniform and unified. The McDonald's fries in the NY city will taste the same in San Francisco'. This diversity is very unique to India and it has got its own advantages and disadvantages. Even though we are moving ahead as a country, there are still deep rooted issues like poverty, caste based discrimination, illiteracy, religious fundamentalism and cheap politics.

On the other side the educated, elite and urban living people of India behave as if these things do not exist and try to ignore them. For example, when Muslims in India refused to sing ‘vande matharam’, CNN-IBN was asking opinions from some of the college students from Bangalore. One of them was telling ‘Government should be working towards infrastructure development instead of debating about vande matharam’. I felt pity about that student about his ignorance. Without solving a fundamental problem like vande matharam, how can we expect to develop infrastructure? How can the society can march forward when the growth is not inclusive? This is exactly what Mark Tully is trying to convey through this book. In his own words he says ‘India's westernized,elite cut off from local traditions want to write a full stop in a land are there is no full stops’.

To support his point, the author has shared ten real time stories. These stories cover areas like child labour, dalits and their societal problems, Hindu-Muslim religious issues, communalism’s positive impacts in West Bengal, religious beliefs of Indians like sati, rural Indians and their habits, kumbh mela and naga sadhus, religion based politics, excellent work done by some of the NGOs at the grass root levels and the list goes on and on. In each story the author has presented both positive and negative points of certain habits, rituals, practices existing in India over thousands of years.

At times some of these stories get a little dull and boring when the author tries to explain every simple thing again and again. May be for a western reader this might look interesting but being an Indian I felt author elongated certain points repeatedly. Overall I would recommend this book for people who want to understand more about India and looking for 'story telling' type of book.

Following are some of the excerpts from the book, which I liked:

The impact of British and aping the west:

"To many Indians, the turn that the country (India) has taken after the fifties has been of great concern. This era is described as the era of the second colonization. A colonialism that colonizes the mind in addition to bodies. The West is now everywhere outside in structures, and in minds. The colonized Indian mind believes that all answers are from the West and acts accordingly. The priorities of the Indian society have been altered beyond recognition"

On Indianness:

"What is Indianness today? The basic thing in India today is mediocrity. It has never been so mediocre as it is today. I feel it is stifled by the mediocrity. All our genuine intellectuals live in the West. We need another infusion of the West here. The freshness has gone out of this country, because people stopped reading and thinking thirty years ago"

On closed economy:

"It saddens me to think of the progress made by Hong-Kong and Singapore and to compare them with Clive street (in Calcutta). But then India faced very different problems – particularly the problem of large scale poverty, and Nehru chose socialism and a protected economy to deal with that – so Calcutta's trading activities were inevitably curtailed"

Religious fundamentalism:

"The politicians and the press continue to blame the riots on religious fundamentalism. This may be convenient for the politicians and fashionable for the press, but according to the victims – who ought to know the best – its just not true. The victims of the riots doesn't even know that it is not the religion that divides them"

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