My Ayurvedic adventure

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 30, 2014 – 12:00am

Balanced humours, digestive fire, tissues of body and excretory functions and the clear consciousness, sense organs and mind indicates a healthy person.’ — Susrutha Samhitha, 400 BC

Last Monday, Mae Dolonius, a good friend, invited me to the opening of the Shanti Ayurveda Center in BF Homes, Paranaque. It was the second clinic they were inaugurating. The first one is on Xavierville Road in QC.

Ayurveda is the oldest system of health and medical treatment known to man. It has survived for more than 3,000 years and is widely practiced in India. In Europe, the US and other countries, there are schools and wellness centers that teach Ayurveda even if it is not as widespread and popular as Western medicine.

I had heard about Ayurveda but have not had any real experience with it. One time, I had what was advertised as an Ayurvedic massage in a hotel in India. It was okay, nothing great, and I did not feel any real benefits. I learned later on that it was more of a spa treatment being passed as the real thing.

When I got to the opening, Mae noticed I had a cold and cough and referred me to an Indian doctor who works in the facility. The Ayurvedic doctor asked me a few questions and then gave me a powdered concoction inside a Ziploc bag. It was made of ground ginger, pepper, sugar cane and some herbs. He told me to take less than half a teaspoon every two hours.

I took one dose and almost immediately, I felt my throat itchiness go away and my nasal passages open. It was the best, fastest-acting medicine against cough I have ever experienced. I continued taking it for the next two days and my cough was practically gone.

Ayurveda has a holistic approach to healing. Its aim is to balance the body, mind and spirit to achieve well-being. As far as I gathered and understood from the talk I had with the doctor and the mini lecture that followed later, its approach to healing is all-natural — all its medicines are derived from nature and its processes.

“Ayur” in Sanskrit means life, and “veda” means science and knowledge.

There are three body types called doshas. There are the Vata, the Pita and the Kapha. It is believed that each person has a dominant dosha that defines his body type. After I answered a questionnaire, Dr. Ciga told me that I was primarily a Pita (active, energetic, creative, restless) with a sprinkling of Vata.

After your body type is determined, they can proceed with what treatment you should get and choose what medicines, spices and herbs you should use.

Last Tuesday, I started the three-day treatment. Dr. Ciga, the resident Ayurvedic doctor from India, recommended Abhiyangha, which is known to be Ayurveda’s main healing tool. It is also called the “Mother of all Massages.” It is a massage customized to your body type complete with herbal oils to “detoxify, nourish and revitalize” the body tissues.

They made me lie down on a special wooden table. It had no mats. Where parts of your body need a cushion for comfort, they put a folded towel. I was worked on by two very coordinated masseuses. Unlike spa treatments and regular massages, there was no pressing, no kneading, or pounding on my body with clasped hands. There was only the pleasure of rubbing and scrubbing motions on my richly oiled body for 40 minutes. They claimed that this type of massage has far-reaching effects on the body, mind and spirit. More on this later.

After the massage, I spent the next 20 to 30 minutes having the Shirodhara. They covered my eyes and continuously poured a stream of warm oil on the middle of my forehead going about two inches in left and right directions. It was a strange sensation at first but ultimately its magic worked on me making me feel very relaxed. I fell asleep and woke up very refreshed.

I had the same two treatments for the next two days. On the second day, I felt my body and spirit lighten up considerably. I felt more calm, concentrated and positively focused. It was a wonderful feeling. The other benefits I felt were better blood circulation, smoother skin, more vitality and better sleep. On the first night, I had a very good sleep, and also on the succeeding nights.

When I finished the three-day treatment at the Shanti Ayurveda Center on Xavierville Avenue, I noticed that I felt stronger, healthier, calmer and more centered. They also offer three-, seven-, 14-, and 21-day programs to help you detoxify your body and achieve the mind and spirit balance you need. I can only imagine what that feels like.

The Shanti Ayurvedic center is not a spa, but more of a healing place. No sweet music plays in the background when you get the massage. All you hear is the gentle sound of water flowing in a fountain in the garden. The room does not have air conditioning but it is pleasant. The oil they use for the Shirodhora treatment is saved and used only by you in your succeeding treatments.

I am glad I did not research much about Ayuverdic treatments and decided to experience it without any prior knowledge or bias. I simply said yes to the invitation and I am writing direct from my own experience.

As I said earlier, Ayurveda’s approach is holistic. Their aim is to cleanse and balance all the forces within us with the Universe. It is both a practical and spiritual approach to healing.

An Ayurvedic proverb goes, “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use.? When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”

In the same breath, Ayurveda believes that:

“As in the cosmic body, so is the human body.

As in the cosmic mind, so is the human mind.

As in the macrocosm, so is the microcosm.”

You probably will not hear a Western-trained doctor say such things. But in Ayurveda, they like to cover everything.

* * *

Shanti Ayurveda is at 56 Xavierville Ave., Loyola Heights, QC, (02)952-1845, and Block1, Lot 81, Lourdes St, Teoville Subdivision BF homes Paranaque City. Call (02) 621-5073.


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Christmas season do’s and don’ts

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 23, 2014 – 12:00am

It’s the season of all seasons again. We go through this every year. We love it but complain a lot about traffic, expenses, schedules, parties we must attend. But every time we go through it, there are things we discover, and learn. There are also things we keep doing even if we know we must avoid them.

Today, I thought I would share with you my survivor’s guide to the Christmas season in terms of practical do’s and don’ts.

A. Why you should not play with firecrackers.

1) You could lose fingers, hands and limbs.

2) Without fingers or hands, you can’t get an NBI clearance. It is also difficult getting other documents that need fingerprints such as passports, voter’s ID, driver’s license, etc.

3) You can’t use chopsticks.

4) When you play “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” you can only do “rock.”

5) It’s hard to pee if you are a guy.

6) You can’t use a cell phone.

7) You can’t pick your nose.

8) You can’t snap your fingers to music.

9) You can’t give anyone the finger.

10) You will always be a suspected member of the Yakuza.

11) You can’t play guitar, piano or most musical instruments.

12) You will look awkward putting your hand on your face or mouth and saying, “OMG!”

13) You can’t sing Stop (In the Name of Love) with proper choreography.

14) You can’t imitate any of the three famous monkeys.

B. On giving Christmas gifts.

1) Try to avoid giving away fruitcakes that you received last Christmas, even as an “emergency gift.” We all get them as presents and often, they remain in the freezer, perhaps because we received too many. But if you must give away last year’s fruitcake, avoid the mistake and absolute embarrassment of giving it back to the same person who gave it to you.

2) Remove the price tags on the gifts you give. Leaving it there to show how expensive the gift is is not cool!

3) When you can’t give an expensive gift, give a useful one that people can use. Better yet, if you are on a really tight budget, get cheap but funny gifts, but make sure that the recipients are the type who will appreciate them. My brother Raffy cracks up the entire family every time with novelty gifts that are cheap but spot-on. Some Christmases back, he gave me campaign paraphernalia for a candidate I hated and whose candidacy was a big joke to me.

4) Food items and fruit baskets are always appropriate because they have to be opened and consumed within a certain time frame and you can be sure it will be appreciated. For canned goods, check expiration dates. You don’t want anyone getting sick because of the food basket you sent. Wines and spirits are great gifts also.

5) Give appropriate gifts. For example, do not give lighters or cigarettes to people who have quit or are trying to quit smoking. Don’t give rich calorie gifts like chocolates and pastries to people who are trying to lose weight. Do not give people with no balls a pair of loose pants that give them too much ball room.

6) Do give to charity. Such gifts reflect the true spirit of the season and are always well appreciated. It will take out the stress that goes with the season. It will make you feel good that somehow you are helping other people have a great Christmas.

C. Caroling tips.

There are street carolers who knock on your gate five times a night under different guises, and there are choirs that actually make appointments with people they wish to sing for. The first type earns peanuts while the second gets much better pay for their efforts. Here are a few rules of etiquette for both carolers and carolees:

1) Sing in tune and know the lyrics.

2) For street carolers, do not scream and shout when you sing, and at least practice your songs before you go from house to house. People pay you to sing, not just to shut you up.

3) Sing like you mean to wish the carolee a blessed Christmas. Try to sound sincere and competent.

4) Do not suddenly stop singing when the owner of the house reaches for his wallet and pays you. Have the grace to at least finish your song. Do not show any reaction except smiles and gratitude for what is given to you.

5) If you are in a choir, prepare at least four songs.

6) Avoid singing Christmas songs the same way everyone does. Rearrange the songs with creativity, and perform them well.

7) Inform the carolees if your choir is running late. There was one Christmas when a choir who was supposed to visit our house did not call to say they would be late. I had assumed they had canceled because it was already past 12 midnight and I had not gotten any call. They showed up at 4:30 a.m. with a megaphone on their jeep; they called out my name to let them in. I totally ignored them until they left.

7) Above all, do not sing the “Tenk You” song as you leave.

8) For carolees, please do not leave the room for any reason when the choir is singing. They are there to entertain you so sit quietly and listen with appreciation. Also, prepare only a light snack for them because they will probably be eating at every house they carol in.

9) It is in poor taste to request non-Christmas songs like Wrecking Ball.

D. Staying sane during the holidays.

1) Accept that traffic is a way of life in our country and is here to stay. Plan your trips as best as you can. It can be a great way to catch up on your sleep, or play audio or video games right in your car.

2) Do not be sucked in by convention. You are not expected to give gifts to everyone.

3) Show up for Simbang Gabi if you can, even if you can’t complete it. It can be a calming experience.

4) Set up a belen at home. You can’t have only Santas and snowmen as your Yuletide décor.

5) Be aware that credit card companies generally do not bill you for expenses in the months of November and December so you don’t feel the pinch but they will slap you with your bill in January. In short, they want you to feel great ending 2014, and never mind if you get a heart attack at the start of 2015.

Things I miss

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 16, 2014 – 12:00am
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Things are moving too fast. The pace of change in many areas in our lives is happening too quickly. What took a few centuries to change can happen now in one lifetime or even less. A definition of a generation used to mean the general lifespan of the people who lived in a specific time before they had children. That was the only way they measured it because psychologically, socially and culturally speaking, things hardly changed from one generation to the next.

Now, a new generation is supposedly born every five to 10 years based on how fast a new set of knowledge and shifting trends in culture and society occur. I look at my children as an entirely different generation from mine. Even my daughters Erica and Ala seem like a generation away already from my youngest son, Mio.

Though I look at myself as a modern person who easily adapts to change, I often have a longing for how things used to be from my time. It is not just nostalgia for the past. We had a lot of good things going then. I wish I could go back and enjoy them again.

1) I loved vinyl records. I used to save my baon and spend my savings buying them. They were cool things.

They came in three sizes. There were the 78 RPM ones which ruled the 1950s. In the ‘60s, there were the 45 RPM records which were called “singles” since they carried one song per side, and the 33 1/3 RPM ones which used to be called long-playing records. RPM stood for “revolutions per minute” because that’s how many times the records turned around when played. One had to have a record player, which people saved up to buy. You could get the cheap variety or the expensive, sophisticated ones with great big speakers depending on your budget.

The records had cool album covers, too, with photos or art designed by famous visual artists. I bought records of my favorite artists and considered my collection of them as some of my few treasured memorabilia from my youth.

In the past 25 years, we saw records metamorphose into cassettes, 8-track players, CDs. And now music is mostly packaged in a digital file format called MP3, accessible through gadgets like laptops, phones and other players. No more big speakers needed to listen to music. All you need are headphones. And gone too are the nice artful album covers.

I had a motley collection of about 400-plus vinyl records I had bought over the years, which perished during Typhoon Ondoy. It broke my heart to see their covers destroyed and the discs filled with mud.

I had to throw them all away. It’s a loss I still feel even today.

2) We used to record music in an analogue way. That basically meant that musicians really played the songs during recordings, and singers had to sing the songs completely. One had to know his chops in the studio. Mostly, musicians played one instrument that they were good at.

These days, anyone with just a little knowledge of music can “play” any instrument via digital keyboards allowing him to trigger “samplings” of sounds on a keyboard and record them. They can now play almost any instrument — drums, percussion, guitar, piano, violins, strings, sitars, harps, all kinds of bass instruments through a keyboard. They can record it slow and play it back in any tempo they wish. They can also quantize the notes for them to sound “perfect.”

Singers can use a digital device called “Autotune” to stay within the melody. What it does is automatically corrects any off notes you may have sung. They can also “cut and paste” parts of the song to put anywhere. All one has to do is, say, sing the chorus once and then copy and paste it to the next chorus to avoid the work of recording that bit all over again.

It is not surprising and actually lamentable that a lot of music today sounds programmed and lacks the touch of real musicians playing it live. Singers can also sound too “perfect” but lacking in warmth.

I miss the “honesty” in the process of making and recording music.

3) I miss the days when all one had was a phone that you could use to call and be called. Life was so simple. If you needed to talk to someone who was not within your physical proximity, all you needed to do was dial his phone number. The interaction was simple. You called, and you were called. If you did not want to be contacted, you simply turned off your phone.

Now you can’t escape from people you know, and even those you don’t really know. Everyone is reachable via phone and social media. People know where you are, and what you are doing. People are involuntarily (perhaps unconsciously) sharing more than they actually need and perhaps even really want to.

One can argue that like the old days, you can actually opt to not be a part of social media. You can shun email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and just disappear from the online scene. True. But with the way people live their lives now, where there is little time to actually physically meet due to traffic, work and a host of other reasons, you can lose touch with everyone just as easily too.

It’s a case of being out of sight and out of mind.

4) Lastly, I miss the slower pace of how people used to lose their innocence. Because of too much information and the pervading presence of porn, sexual stimulation online, drugs, violence and many other things, young kids are getting too “old” and feeling “adult” too quickly. They grow up too soon, many times skipping the simple joys of physical childhood play, like running, playing hide and seek, sitting on a swing and doing outdoor stuff and other things kids of my generation and the previous ones liked to do. In place of it, they are slouched in some corner absorbed with video games and the internet. As a result, they seem to lose their sense of wonder too quickly.

Someone once said that you could lose your virginity in a library. These days, you could very well lose your innocence through a laptop or a cellphone.

There is something sad there. It is uncannily tragic how modernity and progress can inadvertently make life more complicated instead of easier for many people.

You, the laptop

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (Pilipino Star Ngayon) | Updated November 9, 2014 – 12:00am

Life can be hard to understand. There are times when it is easy to make sense of everything, when life is relaxed, peaceful, orderly and predictable. But I have also lived through times when nothing made sense and I could not get a grasp on things. Everything seemed stuck or about to fall apart.

Sometimes, it helps me make sense of things when I see myself as a gadget — a laptop, for example, with an operating system, a ROM, RAM, memory, speed, a CPU, apps, keyboards and everything else that makes a computer run.

If I were a techie life adviser describing life lessons in computerese, here is what they would be.

1) Each person has an operating system that he needs in order to navigate through life. Consider it as one’s capacity to process and understand the world. It is like one’s philosophy or set of beliefs or morals that helps him make judgments between right and wrong, good and bad, and helps him find solutions to problems. It presents him a menu of ways to deal and cope with different situations.

It is important that one’s OS is updated regularly in order to operate in the real world as best as one can, and run apps with the latest upgrade.

Very often, we do not know what our OS is about, or what it is capable of doing. We have not fully explored it and so we feel limited and powerless in dealing with life’s problems.

2) When you want to be more, download useful apps that will make you feel more powerful and capable. In real life, downloading apps would be similar to learning new skills, or enrolling in new courses, going back to school, getting trained in something new. It helps to continue learning and expanding one’s menu of skills.

While every new laptop comes with built-in apps, there will come a time when you will want or need more as your situation changes. It’s the same in your life.

You must also make sure that aside from utility or office apps that can make you functional in the world, you also download some games and fun stuff. You need them in both the virtual and the real world.

3) Get a virus checker and a disc cleaner. You can’t help it. When interacting with people in the real world, negativity, toxicity, and bad advice and attitudes are passed around like malware. And yes, they sometimes find some resonance with us. We must regularly get cleaned up so as not to endanger our operating system and crash it. Look at it as spiritual practice. Make it your spiritual practice to run this “cleaning” software as often and as regularly as you can. And make sure you constantly upgrade the anti-virus software to detect new strains of malware previously unknown to early versions.

4) Do not keep your laptop perennially plugged into a power source and left on as this will wear down your batteries. In real life, you can’t always be “on.” There are times when you need to de-stress and not be connected, online and ready. Like your laptop, it helps that you are unplugged and turned off once in a while and just left to chill. Once in a while, it is good to be doing nothing at all.

5) Get a protective cover, and a good case. In real life, it helps to look good, feel unique and get some protection from the elements and life’s wear and tear.

6) Clear your memory cache regularly, and throw away files, photos and apps that you have not used or even seen in a while. You do not need them anymore. They only eat up memory space. As in life, learn what to keep and what to throw away. Do not be a hoarder. Know when it is time to let things go and live with less clutter. Just like inzen practice, “abide by emptiness.” It is similar to dropping opinions, beliefs, attitudes and hurts that do not serve you anymore. Throw the hurts in the bin, erase them and do not look back.

7) Here is very important advice. Do not get addicted to games. And avoid spending too much time on social media. While they may be fun, they can distract you from living a real life. This is the bane of our time. Many of us spend so many hours on social media that we have practically replaced the real experience of talking and being with people in the flesh with virtual conversations and interactions. We can poke, friend, unfriend, block, repost, share stuff without ever having to stand up to meet and deal with people within our proximity. That’s not real living.

8) Lastly, when your laptop has become obsolete and ceases to function properly and can’t be fixed, be ruthless about putting it out to pasture. Buy a new one.

So it is with life. A fixed mindset will only take you so far. As you grow and live your life, you get bigger and wiser and will handle more complexity.

Software upgrades, like personal growth, never ends. Keep yourself updated.

Going out of my head

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 2, 2014 – 12:00am

I know people who think a lot. They approach everything from a cerebral point of view. They are constantly mulling over something in their heads. I guess in many situations, having a cerebral approach may be good. You become more analytical. Logic rules your mind, not idiocy or irrationality or superstition.

People can depend on you to think things through and sort out all kinds of problems and to give clear advice.

That is generally good but I feel sometimes that some people can think too much so that their heads are in some sort of cloud. They seem clueless about what’s going on around them while they are deeply engrossed sorting things in their minds.

Then there are those who take pride in being ruthlessly sharp, logical thinkers. They can become cold, even calculating and are often alienated from their own feelings and intuition, and those of others.

Their response may be too rational and measured, and they seem uncomfortable in the world of emotions and do not generally trust the “logic” of intuition and gut-feel unless there is some sort of validation that is physically present.

I remember some math and physics teachers who seemed to never catch on with what is going on within the class outside of the lessons he/she taught us. That seems common in many schools and these may be considered as benign examples.

I have also met big company executives and politicians who look at people as mere commodities to serve their ends. They are quite egocentric, and every concern is looked through the prism of naked self-interest. They often leave me wondering if they ever grapple inside their consciences about the large problems and questions that plague their constituents, community, much less even think of finding real solutions that can lead to humanity’s overall well-being.

I am largely unimpressed with intellectual brilliance alone if I can’t find an equally present emotional intelligence attached to it.

In times of need, they may not be the people to approach readily. Sometimes, what a person in a bind needs initially is simply a sympathetic ear who offers more compassion than solutions, or someone who can simply listen and withhold judgment. The last person they want is someone who wishes to “straighten them out” with arguments, pontifications and scolding.

While such people do exist, I know that I have misread people many times. Looks can be deceiving. I also am aware that my own projections have put people in boxes. And so many times where I expected indifference or even a condemnation because I showed weakness, I experienced otherwise.

I remember a scientist I met in an artists’ workshop in California some 30 years ago who seemed to exude an intellectual superiority and an aloof demeanor. Or at least that’s what it seemed like to many of us participants. He gave a talk about the environment that was absolutely brilliant. But he hardly socialized with anyone. He took his meals alone.

In that workshop, artists who came from all over the world would perform every night as part of the evening activities. There was singing, laughing and a lot of camaraderie. The performances helped break the ice.

One night after a few singers had sung, we witnessed a very emotional performance by an Indonesian dancer and an avant garde Japanese koto player that had me crying as I watched. The performance must have hit me in the most primal way and it triggered a strong emotional reaction from me. For some reason it moved me to tears and I could feel my shoulders shaking uncontrollably. From behind me, I suddenly felt a warm comforting hug that was full of compassion and reassurance. To my surprise, it was the scientist. He asked me if I was alright. I was rather embarrassed as I replied that I was okay. Shyly, I thanked him.

To a young person with so much teen angst, it is so easy to be extra sensitive and yet secretive about one’s feelings. There was a time in my teen years when I felt my mom was too strict. She gave the impression that if her children behaved below her expectations, hell would break loose. I was afraid to express my feelings and show weakness to her in any way.

But the times that I did, I was so amazed and relieved that her reactions were not as I expected. Instead of hell breaking loose, I saw a great listener who showed a motherly love that made me less uptight about revealing my emotions. She would hug me and make me feel like her special son even as I cried embarrassingly.

This brings me to the point I am making. A person can be very developed in one way but undeveloped in other ways. He may be an intellectual giant and at the same time be a dwarf emotionally, or even morally. Some may be very spiritually developed but may be lacking in social skills.

Philosopher Ken Wilber likes to talk about integral development where all aspects of a person grows and develops fully. These include intellectual, spiritual, moral, physical, aesthetic growth among others. At least that is the aim.

What good is it to be cerebrally superior when you are incapable of emotionally connecting with others? There is so much evil done in the world when, say, CEOs build financial, business empires but ignore environmental or social issues. Think of the Exxon Valdes as an example.

Or talk about charismatic politicians or religious leaders who use their great gift to steal, plunder or sexually exploit the weak and the innocent. I can think of Pol Pot, Hitler and Auschwitz. And there also some holy men who abuse children. There is clearly a great imbalance here.

We must consciously aim to grow and develop the many aspects and facets of ourselves as best we can. Ken Wilber points out that, “Each succeeding stage involves an increase in perspectivism and thus an increase in the capacity for mutual care and compassion.”

Maybe we need less material progress and more growth in consciousness and spirituality. We definitely need more compassion than “smarts.”

In a world where many are confused and depressed, cleverness will not solve their problems. “You don’t think your way back to joy; you open to it,” says zen practitioner Donna Quesada. Consciousness is the opening.

If we aimed for more balance, the world may end up being a better place.