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Yoga: The beacon of my life!
During my early education in an elite British school, we were conditioned to feel proud of being British subjects. Anything native was to be scoffed at. Under a huge portrait of King George VI, our day started with singing the British anthem, 'God Save the King'. We suffered punishment for speaking Hindi within the campus, even while playing cricket! Due to such indignities, my elders pulled me out and put me in a Hindi medium school.

Baba Ramdev and Narendra Modi burst on the scene much later. Already in 1945, as students of 7th class, after morning prayers my new school made us adept at Suryanamaskar and other yoga asanas. We could even perform the difficult balancing of our horizontal bodies on our elbows (mayurasana, the peacock pose). To this was added a reasonable dose of pranayama, particularly breathing alternately through each nostril (anulom vilom).

I went along with these practises, but kept on wondering as to what was the use of contorting our bodies and breathing in crazy ways. As an obedient student, I acquired sufficiently the elements of Yoga, but still regarded the regime as futile. After Independence, an adulatory Film Division documentary showed our first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru, standing on his head (shirshasana). I was aghast. I had doted on him as my Chacha Nehru, a man who was blessed with a scientific temper. How come, such a man who wanted to pull India out of the bullock cart age, did such mystifying headstands more suitable for a circus acrobat, I used to wonder!
Various happenings in life made me understand the scientific basis of each asana, mudra and each type of pranayama.

Yoga was then known and practised by isolated westerners. However, it fell to     BKS Iyengar to arouse widespread interest and practice in the West, thanks to the legendary violin maestro, Yehudi Menuhin. At the height of his musical success, Menuhin collapsed into depression and was literally high strung! He was fully revived to his musical glory again by BKS Iyengar. Since then Menuhin helped Iyengar's teachings to reach the entire West. Out of this emerged a book, 'Light on Yoga' by BKS, which became my guide and Bible!

Further In 1971, a neighbour in Hyderabad suggested that I pursue my interests by learning from Mr. George Silver, an Indian Christian who had studied for years at Kaivalyadham, Lonavala. He had also done medical research on yoga at the centre.

Basically, the first thing I learnt was that Yoga was not just a system of physical exercises, but part of a whole philosophy of life. The word Yoga, with its Sanskrit root 'yuj' finds its equivalent in the English word 'yoke'. Yoga helps to harness our bodies, mind and spirit together in a harmonious way. I extend the spirit of Yoga, to also mean not only harmonising ourselves, but also harmonising with our fellow human beings, and with Mother Earth, as reflected by the expression 'Vasudeva Kutumbakam'.

I also came across a book, 'Yoga of Islam'. The author shows very convincingly, that the ritual of Namaz along with its postures, harmonises the body, mind and soul of the practitioner.

Thanks to an invitation to work in a brain wave laboratory in Switzerland, I saw how meditational techniques help improve the quality of our brain waves. It helps us to un-stress, at the same time keeping us very aware! This co-existence of a relaxed mind with heightened alertness was something unknown to Western Science.   Thus, I experimented and added meditation also to my daily dose of yoga asanas and pranayama. This took about an hour each day in the morning.

Often, people who have learnt yoga complain that due to their hectic work schedule and travelling ,they do not get time for looking after their own physical and mental health. Living out of suitcases, this was true of me, too. But having understood the principle behind each asana, mudra, pranayama and meditation technique – I evolved my own recipe as follows:

Ideally I spent an hour, when in town. But that was rare! In hotels I used to try to do my morning routine. If time was short, I did only those asanas which I thought should be most appropriate for the moment. Otherwise, waiting out at airports or in the aircraft I did stretches which approximated the asana. I would then try to do this as innocuously as possible.

If exigencies of business or personal matters found me stressed, I would close my eyes, do some pranayama and meditate. To this many remark, 'How can one meditate, with all that hubbub around you'? I think, it was Mahatma Gandhi who said, 'It is easy to withdraw to a forest and follow yogic practices. But it is difficult to be a householder and practice detachment while performing your duties. in the beginning it is difficult to meditate, but over a period of time, the mind learns to filter out the din and noise around us.

Another frequent query is: How can I sit and meditate, as I cannot sit in padmasana? No doubt, sitting cross legged with our feet locked is ideal. But, my teacher told me, that the best position for anyone, in a given place is encapsulated in 3 Sanskrit words: sukham (comfortable), sthiram (stable), and chiryam (for long duration). That posture is best, in which we can sit comfortably and remain steady for a long time!

How have I actualised in my daily life the elements of all the disciplines mentioned above? A few examples: Whenever there was serious unrest in our office and the agitated union members came to meet me, I would tell my secretary to not disturb me for 20 minutes. I would close my eyes and do deep breath-in and breath-out for a while. That done, I would meditate to compose myself and bring down my blood pressure. Then I would myself get up and open the door exuding goodwill towards them.

Over time, the union members got to know my trick! Next time, when the union members came calling, their complaint was that I had arranged for all the engineers to learn meditation, but I had not done so for the general staff! I gladly pleaded guilty and arranged training for them, too!

Most nervous moments in my career were when I was invited to join the Board of Directors of my company. The Board consisted of eminent leaders of business, like the well known economist Dr. Freddie Mehta (economic advisor to Tatas) and Mr. Deepak Parekh (Mr. HDFC himself!). I was an unknown entity in that august group. Nevertheless, I had to contribute in discussions not only concerning my areas of responsibility, but also matters of companywide, national and international business and economic situations, to boot! I was plainly nevous!

In my initial Board meetings, I tackled my nervousness by innocuously gripping my thumbs with my hands, placed on my thighs. And breathing slowly in and out! Breathing in this mudra calms the agitated nerves.

I was exposed to Yoga in 1945, when it was followed by hundreds of commoners like me, without any fanfare. For our British rulers, natives indulging in these contorting postures were a matter of scorn and curiosity. No longer!!!!

Post Script: The inset is a scan of the first page of my 3-page article on Yoga, in our corporate magazine, 'Siemens Sansar' issue of May 1973. The photos depict me performing the asanas.

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