Monday, May 5, 2008

'Muscle tone'

"The Pythagoreans regarded the body as a musical instrument whose soul-strings must have the right tension and we still unwittingly refer to our mortal frame as a kind of stringed guitar when we speak of 'muscle tone' or describe John as 'good tempered'. :

- from 'The Act of Creation' by Arthur Koestler

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Giving up coffee - Attempt #2

If you know me well, you also know that I'm a huge coffee addict. Well, I used to be. Till 3 weeks back. I signed up for this Sri Sri Yoga course conducted by the Art of Living Foundation a few months back.

In early March, I was suffering some severe back and shoulder pain and even took some expensive massages to temporarily alleviate the pain. My co-worker, Pavel Dmitriev, to whom I was complaining about my ailment, encouraged me to sign up for that course. The fact that he was one of the teachers for the course encouraged me.

The course did wonders for my body and my back pain is forgotten but that's not what I'm going to write about today. When I signed up, I assumed that only asanas or postures would be taught and that would help strengthen my core. But during the course, we were also taught breathing and meditation techniques. We were forbidden from consuming any caffeine during the 6 days of the course. I found it difficult to be without caffeine for the first two days and had a nagging headache. I managed to grit my teeth and bear the caffeine prohibition. When the course finished, I was determined to see how long I could go without coffee. The breathing execises I had learnt seemed to make me fresh and I replaced coffee with half an hour of breathing exercises every day. The feeling was absolutely fantastic. I didn't feel the need for coffee at all and not only that I was feeling super fresh everyday. To top that, I was only sleeping 4 or 5 hours a day. I'm not sure if the breathing exercises were a placebo but even if they were, it was a pretty good one at that. To be fair, I was consuming one or two cups of tea a day but that seemed miniscule compared to the 4 or 5 cups of coffee that I was drinking each day. It's a great sense of relief that I was able to quit it cold turkey. I want to keep this up for as long as I can. I think I will as long as I keep doing the breathing exercises.

I'd definitely recommend the course for anyone looking for stress relief, mental/physical conditioning or just to learn yoga in general. It was taught by two able teachers, Pavel and Raushni. You can find more information about the course here. To me, it was the best $150 that I had spent.

Meanwhile, I have an almost new coffeemaker with timer for sale. Let me know if you are interested. ;-)

Different forms of appreciation

When I started listening to Carnatic Music, the aspects I could appreciate fell into a very narrow realm. At that time, it was full of patterns and rhythm. Madurai Mani Iyer was the only artist I listened to initially and subsequently, I started listening to T.V.Sankaranarayanan. Since MMI bani consisted of producing interesting swara patterns in a sarvalaghu rhythm, my mind automatically stayed captive when I listened to these artists. Because of lack of domain knowledge at that time, it stayed that way for a few years until I got exposed to MDR.

As my theoretical knowledge increased, I started trying out different ragas or different krithis but only by the same set of artists that my mind accepted. After a while, my horizons started broadening and I became more receptive to other artists. I was eager to listen to different artists. I liked some and disliked some. I could not understand why. With the opening up of my mind to other artists, my listening became more krithi-based. I loved certain krithis and was curious to hear how different artists had approached a certain krithi or trying to understand their patantharam.

Krithis led way to ragas. I became exposed to more and more ragas as I read about others' enjoyment of certain ragas. I started shedding my prejudices more readily and become open to new ragas. Ragas like Chakravaham or Dharmavati, which I had previously dismissed as uninteresting, now become objects of curiosity. Krithis or certain renditions in these ragas obviously played a part. For example, the krithi Ranganai thudhiporku in Chakravaham was fundamental in me listening to the raga more.

The intellectual and emotional satisfaction I derived from exploring different ragas was not enough for me. I started exploring ragas deeply. I observed the different phrases comprising of the ragas, the structure of different krithis in that raga, individual notes that bring the raga to life, speed or rhythm which suit the raga best etc. I find myself subconsciously applauding a phrase that could be viewed as just another phrase for that raga. Sometimes I'm not applauding the singer but just the phrase for being there in the raga or the raga for having that phrase. My 'obsession with raga X' posts are a by-product of this deep delving into that raga.

At the risk of sounding elitist, I'll declare that Carnatic Music is the most complete form of music providing emotional, intellectual, devotional and spiritual satisfaction.