Teen Attempts California Triple Crown of Marathon Swimming

A tour of the Alcatraz island is found on every “things to do” list for the San Francisco Bay Area. When one visits this famed island, the tour guide mentions the story of the prisoners who tried to escape the island by attempting to swim to shore. This gave rise to a now world renowned event where swimmers gather in hundreds to swim the 1.5-mile distance from Alcatraz back to shore. It’s almost a bucket list item on every open water swim list. Meet Angel More, the 15-year old open water swimmer, who has completed this route more than 50 times!

Angel’s latest accomplishment is a recently concluded 22-mile swim across the Catalina channel. She is attempting the California Triple Crown of Marathon Swimming which includes 12-mile in the Santa Barbara channel, 22-mile across the Catalina channel, and 22-mile trans Lake Tahoe.

We met this young lady to learn about her pursuits, accomplishments, and plans for the future.

What was your experience at Catalina and what training goes into a marathon swim?

The swim at Catalina started at 10:36pm and I swam more than 14 hours to shore. When I jumped into the water around 10:30 pm, I was very nervous as there was darkness all around, and I had never experienced this level of darkness before. I knew I had to swim 22 miles, but I don’t think I had internalized this very well. It was pitch dark with only moonlight shining on the water surface, and the sound of the kayak beside me. It was surreal and pretty at the same time, and felt like I was swimming in a marble!

In such marathon events, wetsuits are not permitted and participants wear a regular swimsuit, a silicone cap, and a pair of goggles. The water temperature in Catalina was 66-68F. My training for the event included swimming 5 km in the pool everyday. On Thursdays before school, I would swim in the San Francisco Bay for 3 hours from 4:30-7:30 am. The longest I’d swum before the Catalina swim (22 miles) attempt was a swim in the Santa Barbara channel (12 miles). Although I was nervous at the start of Catalina, I felt prepared.

During the Catalina event, what was most challenging and what was the highlight?

Along the way I had dolphins swim alongside me, and it was one of my favorite parts. The hardest part was when I got stuck in a current for a very long time. I could see the land, but wasn’t moving forward. This was mentally challenging as I had to keep going despite knowing that I would not be making any progress in distance. Even though I was swimming continuously, I was stationary for almost 2 hours. I had to keep swimming just to counter the current, which would have otherwise pushed me towards San Diego.

What was your reaction when you finally reached the shore?

While I was swimming I wasn’t tired, but when I reached the shore, that’s when I realized how exhausted I was. The exit from the water onto shore was rocky and my guide swimmer couldn’t help me through that for two reasons; one it’s against the rules and also nobody can touch me for a while after I finish. Even my parents cannot hug me at the finish line because my body temperature is low and the instant heat transfer can send my body into shock.

How do you feel about your next challenge, the Trans Tahoe swim in August?

The Trans Tahoe swim is a 22-mile swim across Lake Tahoe. It’s the third and final swim of the California Triple Crown of Marathon Swimming series. It will be more challenging as it will be at an elevation. It is a freshwater swim and I won’t have the buoyancy of saltwater to my advantage. I’ll also have to ensure that I swim in a straight line to avoid any extra mileage. To acclimatize, I’ll to go a week before my event to get my body adjusted to the water. Thus far, I’m the youngest swimmer to complete the Santa Barbara channel swim and the Catalina Island swim. I’m excited about Tahoe!

You’re also organizing a fundraising swim for Children International. Tell us about that.

In the past I’ve raised $40,000 for Children International, which is a non-profit organization that helps children around the world escape poverty. I’m organizing a swim from Alcatraz to the SF shore which is open to high school students in the Bay Area.** All proceeds from this will go to Children International. I’m drawn to this organization because I want to help other kids who don’t have access to the same resources that I do.

** To join or donate towards Angel’s fundraiser swim from Alcatraz, visit her page at:


Force Facebook to Shut Down WhatsApp

Defects in the design of Facebook’s WhatsApp platform may have led to as many as two dozen people losing their lives in India. With its communications encrypted end-to-end, there is no way for anyone to moderate posts; so WhatsApp has become “an unfiltered platform for fake news and religious hatred,” according to a Washington Post report.

WhatsApp is not used as broadly in the U.S. as in countries such as India, where it has become the dominant mode of mobile communication. But imagine Facebook or Twitter without any filters or moderation — the Wild Wild West they were becoming during the heyday of Cambridge Analytica. Now imagine millions of people who have never been online before becoming dependent on and trusting everything they read there. That gives you a sense of what kind of damage the messaging platform can do in India and other countries.

Earlier this month, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology sent out a stern warning to WhatsApp, asking it to immediately stop the spread of “irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumours and provocation.” The Ministry said the platform “cannot evade accountability and responsibility specially when good technological inventions are abused by some miscreants who resort to provocative messages which lead to spread of violence.”

WhatsApp’s response, according to The Wire, was to offer minor enhancements, public education campaigns, and “a new project to work with leading academic experts in India to learn more about the spread of misinformation, which will help inform additional product improvements going forward.” The platform defended its need to encrypt messages and argued that “many people (nearly 25 percent in India) are not in a group” — in other words, only 75 percent of the population is affected!

One of the minor enhancements WhatsApp offered was to put the word “Forwarded” at the top of such messages. But this gives no information about the source of the original message, and even highly educated users could be misled into thinking a source is credible when it isn’t.

WhatsApp owner Facebook is using the same tactics it used when the United Nations found it had played “a determining role” in the genocide against Rohingya refugees in Myanmar: pleading ignorance, offering sympathy and small concessions, and claiming it was unable to do anything about it.

Here is the real issue: Facebook’s business model relies on people’s dependence on its platforms for practically all of their communications and news consumption, setting itself up as their most important provider of factual information — yet it takes no responsibility for the accuracy of that information.

Facebook’s marketing strategy begins with creating an addiction to its platform using a technique that former Google ethicist Tristan Harris has been highlighting: intermittent variable rewards. Casinos use this technique to keep us pouring money into slot machines; Facebook and WhatsApp use it to keep us checking news feeds and messages.

When Facebook added news feeds to its social-media platform, its intentions were to become a primary source of information. It began by curating news stories to suit our interests and presenting them in a feed that we would see on occasion. Then it required us to go through this newsfeed in order to get to anything else. Once it had us trained to accept this, Facebook started monetizing the newsfeed by selling targeted ads to anyone who would buy them.

It was bad enough that, after its acquisition by Facebook, WhatsApp began providing the parent company with all kinds of information about its users so that Facebook could track and target them. But in order to make WhatsApp as addictive as Facebook’s social-media platform, Facebook added chat and news features to it — something it was not designed to accommodate. WhatsApp started off as a private, secure messaging platform; it wasn’t designed to be a news source or a public forum.

WhatsApp’s group-messaging feature is particularly problematic because users can remain anonymous, identified only by a mobile number. A motivated user can create or join unlimited numbers of groups and share hate-filled messages and fake news. What’s worse is that message encryption prevents law-enforcement officials and even WhatsApp itself from viewing what is being said. No consideration was given in the design of the product to the supervision and moderation necessary in public forums.

Facebook needs to be held liable for the deaths that WhatsApp has already caused and be required to take its product off the market until its design flaws are fixed. It isn’t making its defective products available only to sophisticated users who know what they have signed up for; it is targeting people who are first-time technology users, ignorant about the ways of the tech world.

Only by facing penalties and being forced to do a product recall will Facebook be motivated to correct WhatsApp’s defects. The technology industry always finds a way of solving problems when profits are at stake.

Vivek Wadhwa is a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School and Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering at Silicon Valley. This piece is partly derived from his new book, “Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain — and How to Fight Back”. This has been reprinted with his permission.


Date/Time Event
Jul 1, 2018 - Aug 19, 2018
11:00 am - 5:00 pm
The House Imaginary
The House Imaginary
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose CA
Jul 14, 2018 - Jul 22, 2018
All Day
Northern California Events
SF Ethnic Dance Festival
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco CA
Jul 26, 2018
12:00 pm
Shalom Bollywood
Shalom Bollywood
CineArts, Palo Alto CA
Jul 27, 2018
5:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Northern California Events
Guru Purnima with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
San Mateo Event Center, San Mateo CA
Jul 27, 2018
6:30 pm - 9:00 pm
Guru Purnima
Guru Purnima
Badarikashrama 15602 Maubert Avenue, San Leandro, CA, United States, San Leandro CA

Our Broken Legal Immigration System

My name is Sri Ponnada – and I’m a software engineer at Microsoft. At Microsoft I work on products that empower people around the world to maximize how they use technology and to accomplish more each day.

Today I am going to tell you a story about how someone with proper documentation has to leave the country they were brought to as a child – the country where they grew up, where they went to public schools, where they graduated from a public state university, and where they led multiple volunteer projects to promote STEM education and projects to help their communities and cities – because of the green card backlog.

I am that someone, and in 6 months, I am going to be forced out of my home – the United States – because I aged out of a broken immigration while my mom has been waiting almost a decade in the employment based green card system to actually receive the green card she was promised for her service as a physician in an underserved area in Iowa.

I want to tell you a little bit about my journey in the United States.

I moved to USA from Jamaica when I was 14, with my brother Sam, who was 10 at the time, because my mom started her Internal Medicine residency in New York. She was doing Cardiology research at Mayo Clinic in 2008, and fell in love with the Midwest. She told us that when she finished her residency, we will absolutely be moving to the Midwest!

So, after I finished high school, my mom got a job as a physician in a small town in Iowa that desperately needed doctors. My family realized how important that was and believe everyone – no matter where they lived should have easy access to health care – so we moved to Iowa together and I enrolled at the University of Iowa, despite being accepted into other universities.

I was super excited and immediately got involved with my new community. I was writing articles for my college paper – the Daily Iowan, and I’d spend my weekends tutoring students in Computer Science and volunteering at the public library to teach kids how to code for free. I was also a volunteer at the Women’s Resource and Action Center; I helped revamp and served as President of our Women in Informatics and Computer Science club and advocated with many companies that previously didn’t recruit in Iowa to start considering Iowa students for jobs in the tech industry; I also served as News Director at University of Iowa’s campus radio station KRUI 89.7 FM, where I created tons of programming to bring art, culture, and awareness to our community. And given all my involvements, I was even elected by my student body to represent them in our student government as a student Senator.

But while I was doing all this stuff, I was still struggling with major anxiety and depression because I was scared about whether or not me and my family would get our green cards.
My mom’s work as a doctor in an underserved community in Iowa guaranteed her a National Interest Waiver in the green card process, but the fact that she was born in India meant she still had to wait in the backlog for decades. Normally USCIS sees National Interest Waiver cases like hers in 6 months to a year, so we thought we’d be okay but because of the decades long wait times, we found out that once I turned 21, I could no longer stay here as her dependent.

My mom is still waiting for her green card today, and since I’m now an adult, I won’t be able to get my green card when the rest of my family does. Sam, my brother, is a junior at University of Iowa right now doing Math and Physics, but he’s going to lose his status in a couple of years, unless Congress does something.

This backlog has affected me since high school. If my mother had been able to get her green card, I could’ve been paid for the work I did as a Teaching Assistant at University of Iowa (which I had to battle my university to let me do it for free). I could’ve joined the Army and had the honor of serving my country, but instead, I was turned away when I tried to enlist just because I didn’t have a green card.

So, when I was 20 years old, I graduated early with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Computer Science (with numerous awards for my academic excellence and community service) and landed my job as a Software Engineer at Microsoft. Even though my day job is “software engineer” I am extremely involved in the community with various nonprofits that promote STEM education for kids – specifically for young girls. I am working on open source projects that I’m trying to partner with City of Seattle on and have been trying to get on a project with Accelerator YMCA to revamp their social services site to make it easier for people to access information about things like veteran services, programs for kids at risk of going to juvenile detention. I have also helped to start a local chapter of the global non-profit Technovation Challenge in Washington which is all about getting girls into STEM fields and I work with senior leadership at Microsoft to improve our recruiting practices and to be more inclusive.

Everything I’ve learned, I learned in America. My family is here, my friends are here, my life is here. I think of myself as an American and contribute not only to my communities but also to the greater American economy, and I hope you see me as an American, too.

I have had great opportunities in this country so far, but I still face the same anxiety I’ve had since childhood about my visa status. Even though I have lived here practically my whole life and work at Microsoft, I had to apply for a H1B visa – which is a LOTTERY – just to be able to stay in the country because there is no way for kids like me to stay here with our parents who become lawful permanent residents through the green card process. I haven’t been selected for a H1B in the lottery – so when my STEM OPT expires next February, I’ll have to leave my family, my friends, and my home in the United States – the only country I’ve known since I became a teenager. Where should I go? Jamaica – where I came from? Or to India where I was born but haven’t lived in since I was 3 years old?

Just imagine the situation I’m in. I came here with proper documentation on a dependent children’s visa. Due to the huge green card backlog for individuals from India, I lost my dependent visa status at the age of 21 as I was no longer a minor. I converted to a F-1 visa just so I could finish my college education and graduate, and got a job at one of the world’s best companies – Microsoft. Yet, I still have to self-deport when my student visa expires because I wasn’t lucky enough to get a visa to stay in the country even though Microsoft hired me for a permanent job, not a temporary contract.

Congress needs to pass legislation fast. Nothing exists to protect the status of kids like me and my brother, who were legally brought here by our parents.

That makes no sense to me. And I hope it doesn’t make sense to you either.

Please reform the employment based green card category. And more importantly, please think about kids of high skilled immigrants who are aging out due to a decades-old law which never predicted this critical scenario of kids aging out of the system. Please help us. We need your support.

This article was first published on Facebook.

Documentary About Spelling Bee Champs Creates Buzz

A dynasty unnoticed yet really intriguing and amazing! It’s been 19 years in a row that Indian American kids have been emerging as winners at the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition. 19 out of the last 23 winners of the spelling bee competition have been Indian Americans, creating an incredible trend since 1999. Capturing this astounding trend, well known director Sam Rega in his award-winning documentary ‘Breaking the Bee’ brings out the essence of the competition and reveals interesting facts about this amazing tradition of the Indian Americans succeeding at the contests.

“I was really amazed by the statistics on the spelling bee competitions. It was all happening right in front of us, aired on ESPN but hardly anyone reported or noticed such an intriguing trend. The idea was brought to me by Chris Weller, who did research and detailed analysis on this trend for several years and is also the producer of the movie,” said Sam Rega, Director, Editor and Co-Producer of the documentary.

“Sports has always fascinated me. I love competitions and people pushing themselves to their limits. It can be either physical or mental limits, or even both. This was the perfect film that had everything in it, right from sports, family, team efforts to meticulous planning,” added Rega.

The feature-length documentary has already gained international acclaim since its world premiere at the 2018 Cleveland International Film Festival and also got premiered at New York Indian Film Festival. Speaking about the tremendous response received so far, the director stated that people were incredibly engaged throughout, with tickets sold out in both film festivals. The gasps, groans and cheering during the entire screening of the movie was the best ever feedback received. 

Held at the US national level, the Scripps National spelling bee competition has a golden history of 90 years, helping students improve their spelling, vocabulary and correct English usage. This documentary explores and celebrates this new dynasty of Indian American winners by taking the audience through the journeys of four students: Akash, Ashrita, Shourav, and Tejas, aged between 7-14, as they vie for the title of spelling bee champion.

More than just a competition, it is the love for the language that has been depicted as the key point in the documentary. The film portrays a complete picture of the competition and the entire process behind it. We get a behind-the scenes look at family discussions on word formations and patterns, personal database of words, learning phases and even lucky charms. The film includes informative interviews with current competing spellers, their parents, former spelling bee champions and experts, drawing you into this world, even if you have never watched a single episode of spelling bee competition

Brushing aside the perception of Indian parents as tiger parents, Sam Rega stated, “For Indian American parents, the competition is more like a family sport. Parents are seen getting really involved in each step of the preparation and enjoy playing spelling bee with the kids. This is the reason why the competition sees more siblings joining as they see their brother or sister enjoy the process. Most of the Indian American parents are multilingual themselves and hence they train their kids also to learn different languages and understand the nuances of it. There was a universal support from the families when they heard about the making of this film. It was like everyone was living the trend but even they didn’t know why it was happening.”

Rega added: “I think it was the perfect storm of events that came together to build the trend. The 1965 Immigration Act laid the foundation for the wave of influx of highly educated immigrants from South Asia, especially India. These families have a strong focus on education and raised their kids to value education. In 1985, when they first saw a South Asian kid emerge as winner on screen, it was: ‘If he can do it, then we can do it too.’” It was a key moment, with front page newspaper headlines, and every kid wanted to participate and showcase their talent on a larger platform.”

On the dark side of fame, the director opined, “It’s unfortunate that a few of the winners had to face racist comments. They earned the prize with their hard work and you cannot bash the kids with nasty comments. It’s terrible as they are just kids and hence we have included those elements as well in the film to show on how it was a rollercoaster ride for these families. People should consider that even they are Americans and part of the same community. I hope the movie as a whole can change the perceptions of many and people would open their arms for a global community.”

With future plans to screen the movie at various other film festivals, the makers are also seeking options to distribute the movie to a wider audience by streaming on TV to reach a global audience..

Breaking the Bee (2018). Director and Editor: Sam Rega. Writers and Producers: Sam Rega and Chris Weller.

Suchithra Pillai comes with nearly a decade’s experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading publications in India and United States. In her spare time, you can find her scribbling down some thoughts on paper, trying to find a rhyme or story out of small things, or expressing her love for dance on stage.

This article was written by Suchithra Pillai and edited by Geetika Pathania Jain, Culture and Media Editor.

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From the Land of the Mindful

How The Yoga-Ayurveda Combine Helped Me

My Early Brush With Yoga

My mother was a Yoga teacher, an alumnus of a Yoga school where yoga was taught in a comprehensive manner: breathing, diet, attitudinal training, etc, accompanied the asanas, and when done sincerely, and over a period of time, yielded results of better living and good health. So, as a family we did practise Yoga, and my sibling and I even became demonstrators for my mother’s classes at Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan and other places. But needless to say, very reluctantly.

Though we knew the benefits, as we saw her students get relief in countless cases of illness – asthma, back pains, high blood pressure, upper respiratory disorders, obesity – and also stress. In fact, there was actually a case of a young schoolboy, who had lost his voice owing to what my mother figured could be excessive body-building efforts; within few months of her yogic care, he actually got back his voice.

Despite all this exposure, we children dreaded Yoga-time in the evening, and as soon as we got a chance, we dropped it out of our routine.

Couple Of Decades Later…

On Diwali day of 2005, I found myself checking the word `leukaemia’ in an online dictionary: the dreaded word had made its way into my blood report, and I was sure it couldn’t be what I thought it was.

But it was. My boys were then five years and six months old, respectively. Bone marrow transplant, the known permanent cure was not an option for various reasons. Thankfully, there was a breakthrough chemotherapy drug – though how long it could prolong life was not known. However, one had to take it daily, life-long, and endure all its attendant side effects – also daily.

Thus began my debilitating journey with cancer and the promise of life sustained by chemotherapy – at the age of 33, and with one little boy and a toddler in tow.

My Real Tryst With Yoga

Chemotherapy was prolonging my life, but it came with very heavy quality-of-life costs. Plus, the drug was new and no one knew how long it would offer remission. There were also instances of people turning resistant to it. I desperately searched and tried all kinds of alternative therapies for support. One by one, I read about and tried them all out – You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay; past-life regression; affirmations, healing stones, nutrition therapy. Though begun with gusto, none of them really seemed to be helping really.

My mother was gone by then, so that refuge was not available to me. But my father knew an elderly gentleman, Dr Sivananda Murty – an embodiment of compassion and wisdom. It started with taking homeopathic medicines from him for symptomatic relief; his concern and his soothing words inspired confidence and trust – and the fact that he had a radiant face, was extremely energetic, as also aware, sharp, knowledgeable and a terrific sense of humour. Later, I got to know he was a practising yogi, of quite some stature.

Yogic-Ayurvedic Lifestyle

Though there was no imposing schedule I had to follow, I knew a few changes would need to be made.

Diet, of course, was to be nutritious, though light and I cut out the heavy and toxic. Here, I cannot stress enough the importance of a wholesome diet, and according to ayurvedic principles of eating according to season and time of the day. I would go so far as to say that the current trend of veganism could lead to serious imbalances later in life, both in body and mind. Food cannot be broken down into nutrients alone; it is the totality of the food that contributes to our being.

Asanas, again, according to body type, morning and evening walks, to soak in sunlight and the early morning oxygen. I was taught pranayama or breathing exercises, not too vigorous.

Gradually, I was able to accommodate meditation – different kinds of meditation, for different purposes, and at different times of the day. Mantras helped me to invoke the Sun’s healing energy, some general chants to keep calm and feel connected with the higher power. I realised the power of herbs – in providing stamina, in helping digestion and elimination of toxins.

What I realised is that many of these things were Ayurveda in practice, which is nothing but a sister science of Yoga. Or perhaps, Ayurveda forms the base for Yoga; either way, they work hand in hand and reinforce each other. Herbs, mantra, foods, colours, stones and many more things are all part of Ayurveda. Later, I found good resources in the works of Vedacharya David Frawley, Dr Robert Svoboda and Vasant Lad.

The biggest revelation was music. I had always been passionate about music and thought I knew about its “healing effects”. But here was a different suggestion: I was told to listen to classical ragas of Hindustani music at the appropriate time (each raga has a time that it has to be sung in). And though initially it was pleasing only to my ears, I realised that it was impacting me at a deep level: there were episodes of relief in severe neurological issues caused by the chemo drug, which the doctors had neither been able to identify nor cure. As I discovered later, classical music and its time-theory is part of Ayurveda, and that the ragas’ notes penetrate deep into the spinal cord, creating healing effects.

The best part about the entire experience was that I did not have to give up anything or change anything in my life – my likes, my preferences in food, people, dressing, recreation, entertainment, sense of humour. Some changes occurred on their own: for instance, I realised that honey taken three times a day had tremendously aided my digestion by helping eliminate toxins, and given me strength. In their turn, the toxins that left also left me bereft of the craving for such foods that would harm me.

I suspect the other positive impressions I was taking in had a role to play too – music, the right food in the right order, eaten at the right time – they had effected subtle changes in my psyche, and that had also a role to play in my unhealthy cravings disappearing. Perhaps, the connection back with nature and its cycles was helping.

The explanation for all this, I found recently in David Frawley’s book Ayurveda and the Mind. I understood that we have three vital essences that are responsible for our vitality, clarity and endurance – they are called prana (life force), tejas (inner radiance) and ojas (primal vigour).

All these three have psychological and emotional functions to perform: prana helps the mind respond to the challenges of life; tejas enables the mind to judge correctly; ojas gives patience and endurance that gives psychological stability.

Again, on an emotional level, prana maintains emotional harmony and creativity; tejas gives courage and vigour to help accomplish extraordinary actions, and ojas provides peace, calm and contentment.

It is obvious that all these three are desirable for a peaceful, meaningful existence. And how are they built up? These are built up in two ways: a) from the essence of nutrients we take in from food, heat and air, and b) by the impressions we take in through the senses.

Thus, the right food and impressions ingested – in accordance with ayurvedic principles, would help impact the psyche and mind and, bolstered by the effects of Yoga, would create and restore health. Viola!

My own experience was that, over time, and I don’t know how and when it happened, I had adopted things that I had no idea existed, and often didn’t even believe in. Just incremental changes – so gradual that they went unnoticed – that worked on each other and added up. As toxins left, strength at both the physical and subtle levels was built, and that further gave me strength to let go of other toxins. Some of my worst phobias went too – as did my acid reflux, and my hypothyroidism, my eczema.

Cutting a long story short, it’s now 13 years since I began considering alternative ways of living. The chemo continues, but it is a small fraction of the original prescription. I have gone back to working, and pursuing other interests. There’s no denying that I am a work in progress – we all are – but if it is nothing short of a miracle that I am where I stand today.

Just a small clarification is in order here. We hear about different forms of Yoga today – power Yoga, hot Yoga, Kundalini Yoga and others. While these surely have their purpose, it needs to be clarified that while dealing with serious life issues, what comes handy is the comprehensive Yoga, which deals with all aspects of existence – body, life breath, psyche, the consciousness.

Bhakti Yoga

What I now realise is, that without really thinking about it, a good number of steps of the eight-fold path of Yoga laid out by Patanjali were scaled. At one time, they had seemed so daunting and non-negotiable!

I didn’t have to change anything, or exclude any materialistic activity or eschew its fruits. All that was needed was to mentally dedicate everything to the higher truth. The rest was left to the higher power.

There is a verse in the Bhagawad Gita which translates to:

Whatever you do, whatever you eat, what you sacrifice, what you give, whatever austerity you engage yourself in, offer it to me.

(Yatkaroshi vadasnasi vajjuhoshi dadaasiyat, Yattapasyasi kaunteya tatkurushva madarpanam)

For a near-atheist, it was an unimaginable thing to do, but I had no choice, and so I did. Krishna was my chosen one – the powerful but fun, multifaceted, enigmatic god. It’s not a coincidence that he is, as I realised later – Yogeshwara.

Over the years, I also realised that our Indian deities and idols were only a means to an end. Just as an example: Mahalakshmi, the supreme mother is the Aadishakti, the original energy. What is the harm in connecting with that energy, with tools like mantras, meditation and appropriate worship? Many such benefits are available to all, at specific energised places all over India.

The Last Word

Religions, with their prescriptions of activity, are a way of life with each section of humanity. However, they widely differ in content from each other, and to the extent that they are based on the assertions of a few and vertically divide society irreconcilably, they become selfish, and a kind of materialism.

The Gita seeks to make every man a Yogi. Ultimately, the state of being unaffected by the results of action, and therefore, the ability to sail smoothly on the waves of the vicissitudes of life – is Yoga. It first benefits the individual and then permeates his surroundings.


An Empathic Hero’s Journey


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