I significantly remember the question ‘How are you?’ after moving to the Bay Area in early 2000. The question seems to have been on a journey and evolution of its own. Its relevance, in what it means to me, has changed tremendously over the years.

One of the stark experiences of coming to the US from India, was the contrast in the experience of going for a walk in the neighborhood. While a path had to be carved amongst hurried humans on the streets of Mumbai, here the path was all to myself. The sight of a fellow human being on foot felt most thrilling.

‘Not Too Bad’

Soon I realized that eye contact elicited the question ‘How are you?’ After first few times of an awkward nod-&-smile, I learned that ‘good’ is the preferred answer unlike ‘fine’ in India. Also, a following ‘thank you’ made a complete answer. I quickly learned to ask that question to whomever crossed my path. I was very amused at the first ‘Not too bad’ reply. Now there was an element of truth to it – I liked that!

Truth be told, the question didn’t mean anything to me. It confused me about how can it be a form of greeting to anyone, and also felt superficial to me. A question for which an answer was already decided. Being in a new country and being impacted by everything in a brand-new way, I had blocked off all feelings except for a sense of wonder for how things operated here. I had no clue how I felt for a ‘How are you?’

Health Crisis

Fast forward to a phase of life when I dealt with a health crisis. I truly discovered the value of the question ‘How are you?’ Especially in social circles and acquaintances the question came only from those who really wanted to know. It made a huge difference in my day and life when someone asked me ‘How are you?’ and actually listened. They indulged with me in my lighthearted attempts at humor and reveled in my positive perspectives. Sometimes they let me unload when I was feeling down, lending me their perspectives of how all of it is going to be all right. I think I would remember a few ‘How are you?’ encounters during that phase for the rest of my life.

(Photo by Pragalbha Doshi)

In a ‘regular’ life and world, I once again became uncomfortable with that question. Because now I care too much about the question and the answer. Its relevance does keep changing depending on who is asking and when. But there is only certain number of times that I have the ‘patience’ to answer that question in a word or two, outside of any professional setting.

How Is Your Heart?

One of my yoga teachers introduced this concept of asking ‘How is your heart?’ that truly speaks to me. We often carry within us a feeling in our heart, we feel it tangibly: a heaviness, a block of iron, a hole, an emptiness . It is directly connected to the way we are feeling and being in our being.

To answer ‘good’ while carrying all that within, repeatedly, brings a lot of tediousness, fakeness and more of whatever we are lugging within us. Of course, it gets easier when what we are carrying is more of a joy, spaciousness, and lightness. In that case it is best shared more, and amplified.

Richness Of Human Connection

We are social animals for the significant reason that we are together in this. So, we connect, we share, laugh and lighten up together. If we are using all our interactions only to deny how we are truly feeling within, we are denying ourselves the richness of human connection. With all kinds of busy routines that we have committed ourselves to, it has become very important to me that I truly get to answer a ‘How are you?’ to a friend.

Also, if I am taking the time to ask ‘How are you?’ I really mean to know about you. Anything that is relevant to you at that time: whether you are excited about your new project, slightly or more worried or stressed at work, busy sorting some family stuff. I sincerely care to know. If you ask me ‘How are you?’ it is my heart that wants to speak to you more than the mannerly conditioned human in society.

Pretense Of Positivity

Our world can be a web of heart-to-heart connections that we can dangle and tangle in, where we feel safe to untangle the knots in our belly and lighten the iron blocks in our heart. Where we are unafraid to be our vulnerable, authentic selves, and our woes are cared for, hearts are nurtured. There need not be any pretense of positivity. We feel what we feel, and live together in wonderment of life itself. It would be normal to laugh or cry or speak our heart as a response to a thoughtful ‘How are you?’ I wonder if it would positively impact our heart health.

It is very funny how now I feel so lost at a ‘How are you?’ casually coming at me. I almost want to say ‘I have no idea in the moment’ or ‘There’s a lot in my heart!’  

Medical disclaimer: This article is provided for educational and informational purposes only and the information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. Please consult with your doctor, licensed physician or other qualified health provider for personal medical advice and medical conditions.

Pragalbha Doshi, E-RYT500 - lives with her family in San Jose, CA. As a therapeutic yoga teacher, she facilitates therapy, healing & change for people who struggle with chronic symptoms of stress,...