Please tell us about your journey to Yoga.
I feel blessed to be born into two streams of Yoga.
The first stream is Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, an all-encompassing system of Yoga, where every aspect of Life is perceived as Yoga, an opportunity to grow ourselves towards self-perfection and offering ourselves and our work to the Divine. I grew up at Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, south, a spiritual community, founded by Sri Aurobindo and spiritual collaborator Mirra Alfassa better known as The Mother. From the age of five until twenty-one, I studied at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, a unique institution that encourages and teaches self-culture to build Integral personality spanning physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual being. Hatha Yoga is an important component within Integral Yoga.
The second stream is Yoga of Music. I am a third generation musician from a family of Indian Classical musicians who trace our musical lineage to Baba Allaudin Khan, the master-teacher of Pandit Ravi Shankar (sitar maestro), Pandit Rabin Ghosh (violin maestro and my grand uncle) among other disciples. Indian Classical music in essence is Yoga of Music & Sound and the knowledge and practice is passed on from one generation to the next. I owe my training to my father Arun, a vocalist and teacher. The Yoga of Music & Sound, with its practices of Mantra, Raga, Tala opened me up to our sonic dimension, within and without. Ragas are melodic modes with healing properties while Talas are rhythmic patterns and metaphors of movements found in Mother Nature. Mantra essentially are sonic vibrations at bringing focus to our mind. The practice also includes the rich heritage of Bhajans and Kirtans expressing Bhakti Yoga.
What led you to create ‘Know Your Rhythm’? What is its vision and practice?
Our bodies are polyrhythmic; we have heart rhythms, brainwaves, breathing rhythms, hormonal and circadian rhythms. We walk, talk and function in rhythm. Our bodies and minds respond to rhythm and music.
Can illness be considered as a disequilibrium of rhythms, so can we proactively find, know, and re-establish our rhythm, so that equilibrium re-emerges and we enable optimal health in ourselves? This is the vision of Know Your Rhythm.
‘Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life,’ says BKS Iyengar.
The vision emerged out of a personal experience while observing how the mainstream healthcare system perceives illness from an ‘outside-in’ perspective, looking at primarily physical symptoms with evidence. For millennia, we have used Yogic practices which view things from a more ‘inside-out’ perspective.
However, the two systems often don’t communicate in the healthcare spaces. Why is it so? Why is it that the caregiver (medical professional, psychiatrist or surgeon) in the mainstream healthcare system does not consider creating optimum resilience and health in herself to improve her caregiving capacity? How can we make these Yogic practices more accessible to the common people so that they can optimize their own health and well-being, and raise the quality of their lives and to better serve their patients?
Know Your Rhythm aims to nurture this multi-level dialogue and bridge this gulf. It is a training program and methodology blending Music Therapy and Yoga Therapy. Know Your Rhythm involves the practice of immersive exercises in Yoga of music and sound (Ragas, Talas, Mantras), body (Asanas), breath (Pranayama) and awakened sleep (Yoga Nidra). In the past decade, we have focused on training about 20,000 caregivers including therapists from various disciplines, medical and paramedical professionals, managers, special educators and seekers within wellness and well-being sectors but also students of all ages, teachers, community leaders, government officers in the education and sustainability sectors. Our objective is to help the seekers discover their own sense of Rhythm in life and work, creating conditions to experience ‘Aha! Moments’, raising well-being, wellness, empathy, teamwork, and leadership, in an atmosphere of joy!
Our therapeutic music is being applied at Yoga studios and clinics in US, France and India. Some of our music has been utilized in studies in healthcare settings especially in the area of gynaecology and obstetrics leading to published papers.
Perhaps a couple of videos might help to illustrate?
‘Nirman’ (‘construction’ in Sanskrit) expresses Empathy via Raga Bhairavi to raise the quality of our Hatha Yoga practice during early morning hours.
‘Bhagavad Gita’, excerpt of our Mantra Yoga chanting practice with Shlokas (verses) from Bhagavad Gita with Dakshina chanting group, Auroville.
‘Ta Na Na’ song gives a glimpse of our program in special education with children with special needs which includes Mudras, Asanas, vocalisation with musical instruments with Sanskrit phonemes, presented at 4th International Association for Music & Medicine (IAMM) conference, Beijing, 2016.
‘Spandan’ (‘cosmic pulsation’, ‘heartbeat’ in Sanskrit), live composition as active Music Therapy as final artist of the opening ceremony evoking Empathy via a recurring theme based on Raga Kafi (piano, tabla, orchestral) for a live 1,500 member audience from 40 countries, 14th World Congress for Music Therapy, Vienna; organised by World Federation for Music Therapy, 2014
Project Susthiti is an ongoing healing project for Covid healthcare workers in hospitals in India. Tell us what inspired you, and what is the nature of this service offering?
In late May 2020, a resident doctor from a known public hospital called and informed me that a couple of young doctors serving the Covid ward had attempted to commit suicide and were luckily saved. This served as an alarm bell for action. I initiated Project Susthiti, a healing initiative to help Covid healthcare workers serving in Covid wards with Yoga Therapy & Music Therapy. In India, we officially call them Covid warriors. Susthiti denotes stable position and well-being in Sanskrit and its meaning provided us an anchor.
We gathered our resources, both human and financial, dipped into our experience of Know Your Rhythm’s network of therapists to create and offer a three-hour online program to help our Covid warriors battle stress, anxiety, burnout and depression. After doing a needs-assessment, I composed original Raga-based therapeutic music for our restorative Yoga offering consisting of Asanas, Mantra, Mudra leading to Yoga Nidra to induce deep relaxation, rest, sleep. Caregivers need practices to raise their well-being and health, so that they can raise their caregiving capacity. The theme of this three-hour program is built sequentially on empathy, equanimity, and bravery.
Listen and download an excerpt of our original therapeutic music expressing bravery with Raga Maru Bihag, a Raga which has maximum potential to heal at night between 9PM and midnight.
In parallel, we conducted our first pilot study at Sri Pramukshwami Medical College, Sardar Patel University, Anand, Gujarat which was presented as an oral paper at the 5th Medicine Annual Conference Virtual 2020, Department of Medicine, Christian Medical College, Vellore, India in November 2020. Emotional well-being of participants was recorded in an investigator-designed questionnaire wherein subjective experiences of seven parameters viz., happiness, calmness, alertness, stability, clarity of thoughts, control over anger and self-observation were recorded on a Likert scale. On the third consecutive day of Know Your Rhythm session, 68% participants recorded significant change in alertness followed by calmness and control over anger. All participants registered improvement in one or more parameters of emotional well-being on several days of the week. These results have given us quiet confidence to consider conducting a 2nd study with a larger population of Covid warriors across four Covid hospitals in south India.
As teachers with Project Susthiti, our humble reward from our brave Covid warriors comes after they recharge their energies towards the end of their Know Your Rhythm sessions.
So far, Our Project Susthiti has impacted 300 Covid warriors. So much more work can be done. The more we serve, the more we grow as human beings.
Where do you see Yoga Therapy going in the future?
The challenge of Covid-19 has provided us an opportunity to re-evaluate our lives as individuals, members of the community, and our relationship to Mother Earth. This crisis has challenged the present healthcare system and has given us an opportunity to dialog and put in place more space for Yoga Therapy to become an area for evidence-based research and practice.
In today’s world, we often equate Yoga Therapy to prescribed Asanas based on physical symptoms. As therapists, we need to open our eyes wider and realize Asanas are the tip of the iceberg called Yoga. There are other streams of Yoga which when blended constructively can turn Yoga Therapy into a transformative practice and healing modality. Some of these streams were described above.
Above all, let us not forget that Yoga signifies ‘union’ with the Divine in us.
A prayer for the well-being of all with the Mantra, AUM Namah Shivaya, celebrating the 6th International Yoga Day, 2020.