Yoga For Health – A Way of Life

At a time when life has become a never ending rush, with stress waiting at every step, the human mind searches for solutions to bring in peace, calm and relaxation that permeates to the deepest core of our being. Stressful lives are the outcome of increased competition and the race to the top, materially, socially and professionally. Aspirations spiral upwards and the end result is the surfacing of baser instincts like anger, frustration, pain and lifestyle diseases. This explains the growing popularity of certain cults, the recourse to meditation, and other ways of resolving physical and mental problems. Many of these have become fads, here today, forgotten tomorrow.

In search of holistic solutions while continuing to live and work in the same troublesome world, Yoga emerges as a viable solution that can ensure physical, mental and spiritual well being. It does not require seclusion or isolation, giving up of domestic duties or professional responsibilities, but just a bit of time and sincere effort. Its appeal has stayed and its followers are only increasing by thousands.

The origin of Yoga can be traced to the 5th-6th century B.C. in India. As a 5000-year old science, it has penetrated every part of Indian society, forgot temporarily by a section, but it has always resurfaced due to the holistic improvement it provides to the quality of life of the people in the form of better health, lower stress levels and improved mental faculties. It is now being practiced in most countries in the world.

Yoga has become many things to many people, but a vast majority of the millions of yoga practitioners practice yoga as a wellness routine, more for physical fitness, a trend that started in the 1980s in the western world. But a deeper understanding of Yoga, reveals that it is far more intense and profound than merely a set of fitness exercises which involve twisting and turning the body, breathing regimens, postures and poses that ensure flexibility. It must not be perceived as a shortcut to better health, since its goal is all round fitness that envelopes mental and spiritual wellness as well.

What Yoga stands for…beyond physical fitness

The term Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’, which means the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. At the micro or individual level, it harmonizes thought, action and speech. Its principles include proper diet, exercise, breathing, thinking and meditation.

Yoga is a way of life that harmonizes body, mind and spirit and promotes peace at the individual level which leads to a peaceful society at large. It is a science that emerged as a part of ancient Indian spiritual culture and was integrated into every aspect of day to day life to facilitate enlightenment.

Yoga is believed to be a science that calms the mind and offers spiritual cleansing, by restraining the continuous turbulence of thoughts in the human mind. It aids dexterity in action, become mindful of the present, and helps the mind achieve a state of equanimity or balance in all kinds of circumstances.

A scientific step by step process helps individuals withdraw their mind and senses from worldly distractions, improving thoughts and deeds, living in the present moment, and being mindful, without reacting strongly to happiness or suffering. This involves physical exercises called ‘asanas’, breathing exercises, concentration and meditation. Yoga is not a religion, but can merge into any religion.

Thus Yoga opens a path of self improvement for individuals, starting with physical improvement and fitness, and progressing to mental and spiritual elevation through self analysis and introspection. Raising the level of consciousness helps to change the meaning and purpose of existence and improve its quality in all respects. Thus it helps to fight weaker emotions like stress and anger, making the individual strong enough and approach any situation with peace and calm.

Types of Yoga

There are various kinds of Yoga, each requiring specific techniques, but the end result is the mind-aspiration of merging the individual consciousness with universal consciousness. Thus efficient actions form the basis of karma yoga, devotion and prayer of bhakti yoga, knowledge and insight forming the basis of gyan yoga  and so on. Ashtanga Yoga is a modern form of yoga that has become popular in the western world. The name ashtanga means eight branches or limbs, and physical poses or asanas, are only one of these eight. The others include moral code, self-purification, breath control, sense control, meditations, concentration, and finally, absorption into the universe. The synchronization of breath with a series of postures, helps to detoxify the system and leaves a feeling of general well being, physically, mentally and spiritually. Hatha Yoga is popular in the west and refers to the practice of specific yogic postures that aid in the alignment of skin, muscles and bones in the human body.

The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is being touted as the solution and treatment for all ailments and maladies from headaches and backaches, to obesity, heart disease and cancer.  A tremendous amount of research is being conducted to verify claims that yoga helps to control physiological parameters like blood pressure, heart and pulse rates. A study conducted in 1998 by Dr Dean Ornish showed that yoga and lifestyle changes combine to effectively reverse heart disease, unclogging blocked arteries and doing away with the need for intrusive procedures and surgeries like angioplasty and bypass surgery. His findings were published in the American Journal of Cardiology, based on his research on an experimental group of 194 patients, 80% of which had seen reversal of heart disease with yoga and dietary changes. This was his second study, the first being conducted on 1990 on 94 patients with similar results.

Yoga helps every part of the body with the various postures and breathing techniques. The body becomes stronger, improves balance, coordination, flexibility and endurance, improves lung capacity and general well being.

Some of the many benefits of practicing yoga include:

  • Yoga makes the body flexible – yogic postures help to loosen the limbs and make them supple, which facilitate bending and turning. This helps to reduce body aches and joint pains while strengthening the muscles and reduce fatigue due to physical exertion and exercise. The spine straightens and this improves our posture, and the various joints are moved to their full range. Every inch of the body moves and this makes muscles, ligaments and joints stronger, while otherwise, stiffness sets in as we grow older.
  • Reduces blood pressure – Studies show that yoga help to reduce blood pressure. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania concluded that patients who did yoga twice or thrice a week along with dietary restrictions experienced a significant drop in their blood pressure levels. The ability to relax, exercise and being mindful, all combine to reduce the readings.
  • Lowers blood sugar levels – yoga helps to reduce blood sugar levels and hence reduces the need for medication for diabetes. Stress hormones are known to increase blood glucose levels and yoga helps to reduce stress. Yogic postures stimulate internal organs including the pancreas, which produce insulin need to break down sugar.
  • Improves digestion – Yoga helps to improve digestion since body movements and exercise facilitate the movement of food and waste inside the body. This reduces constipation and digestive disorders become less frequent.
  • Prevents heart disease and reverse arterial blockage- As mentioned above, a study conducted by Dr Ornish shows how yoga when combined with a regulated diet, works to prevent the onset of heart disease in the first place, and in patients with arterial blockage, helps to reverse the process by unclogging the arteries of the plaque deposited.
  • Mental and emotional benefits– Yoga helps to focus on breathing and the concentration on breath and the body help to calm and soothe the mind and thus relieve worries. As tensions and stress gets discharged, the mind gets cleared of negativism, and better control of emotions becomes possible. The mind learns to relax and this facilitates better sleep, necessary for recharging the body cells.

The list of benefits is endless and most of them seem intangible, but the end result is improved quality of a longer life.

International Yoga Day

The 21st of June has been declared as the International Yoga Day as per a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly. It was celebrated for the first time in 2015 when millions of people got together to participate in Yogic exercises in most countries across the globe. In Myanmar also, Yangon saw thousands of people from all over the country come to participate in yogic exercises at the city’s Thuwana Stadium last year.


Yoga, though Indian in origin, can be practiced universally for physical well being, mental calm and spiritual elevation, within the realm of any religion
Yoga includes ASANAS or postures, ‘pranayama’ or breath control, concentration and meditation.
Yoga’s10 positive and negative moralities

·       Avoid injuring others

·       Avoid dishonesty

·       Abstain from stealing

·       Practice self discipline

·       Maintain purity of mind and body

·       Show devotion to God

·       Find a balance in beliefs and actions

·       Practice Non-attachment to people and possessions

·       Contentment

·       Self study and introspection-looking inwards and becoming aware









Is Vegetarianism Healthy?

Vegetarianism is Healthy – Fact, Fad or Fallacy

Our bodies are only as good as the food we eat – a cliché that rings true in an age and time when life threatening diseases strike seemingly healthy people, partly because, they have not been eating healthy. Food that tingles the taste buds, with its taste and flavor is one of the pleasures of life that the best of us succumb to – for only what is pleasantly palatable, will be gladly taken in.
Research costing millions of dollars has created a strong awareness about what foods are healthy, and all the processed foods we savor, are not good at all for our health. Little wonder then, that the list of foods being termed ‘junk foods’ is growing longer, and the ranks of people avoiding all kinds of meat is growing globally. A significant part of this list includes non-vegetarian foods, which are delectable, addictive and damaging.
Non- vegetarian food includes all eating red meat, fish, poultry, and other products derived from animals. This division is a bit hazy, since milk, derived from animals, is considered vegetarian, and forms a significant part of all hard core vegetarian diets.
Over the last two decades, vegetarianism has caught on, and is widely perceived as ‘healthy’, which actually means that it is healthier than a non-vegetarian diet. Vegetarianism refers to a lifestyle, the most significant part of which is following a vegetarian diet that includes plant produce and abstinence of flesh and foods that have an animal source.
Types of vegetarian diets
A diet that includes all plant produce, milk and soy products is loosely classified as a vegetarian diet. Personal preferences, religious beliefs, aversions and convictions have led to the emergence of specific vegetarian diets which include:
• The vegan diet – The most restrictive form of a vegetarian diet includes avoiding all meats and animal products including milk in all forms and eggs. Many vegans do not have honey also. Their diet includes only fruits and vegetables and soy products.
• Lacto-vegetarians – A large section of vegetarians fall in this category, whose diet includes vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts as well as dairy products. They abstain from having meat, poultry, fish and eggs.
• Lacto-ovo-vegetarians – This category of vegetarians excludes meat, poultry, fish but have eggs and dairy products besides vegetarian foods.
• Pesco-vegetarians – these people avoid meats and poultry, but eat fish, eggs, dairy products and vegetables etc.
• Semi-vegetarian/flexitarian diet – this is the most flexible diet since it permits certain types of meats, once or twice a week, supplemented by all vegetarian foods. This makes the diet less limiting and healthier since it provides the benefits of both.
People following each of the above mentioned diets strongly believe in the benefits of the diet they follow. For them it is a lifestyle reinforced by strong beliefs in avoiding cruelty to other living beings who have as much a right to live as human beings-the motto being, live, and let live. Most vegetarians in the US and Canada have been motivated by a desire for self improvement, to lead a longer, healthier life.
Vegetarian food facts
Vegetarianism is viewed mainly in a positive light around the world, and in many countries gets legal and cultural support due to its link to religious beliefs and practices, in countries like India and the UK. The dictates of religion in India, had kept a larger proportion of the country’s population, vegetarian, for centuries. In such countries, being vegetarian is not limiting in any way since ample non meat food options are available due to greater demand for the same.
Most non-vegetarians wrinkle their nose at the prospect of having a vegetarian meal. Beans and leaves are the least appetizing for them and equivalent to not eating at all. Perhaps they do not realize the health and overall benefits of a plant rich diet, and the ill effects of consuming high-fat animal protein and meats.
Some vital facts about vegetarian diets:
• According to the American Heart Association, vegetarians have a lower risk of obesity, hypertension and coronary heart disease. This is because their diet is low in saturated fat, high in fiber and easier to digest. Food of plant origin is generally devoid of the ‘bad’ cholesterol.
• They are also at a lower risk of certain types of cancer especially those linked to the digestive system, colo-rectal cancer in particular. This can be attributed to the high level of cancer-protecting phyto-chemicals in vegetarian food.
• Vegetarian diets are a rich source of iron and B-vitamins essential for the body, besides phyto-chemical nutrients that facilitate the functioning of every organ of the body and prevent degenerative diseases.
• Fruits and vegetables contain Vitamins C and E, and cartenoids. All these act as anti-oxidants that protect the body cells from free radicals capable of destroying them.
• The fiber content of whole grains, legumes, beans and fruits improves digestion and prevents diseases like diabetes and other illnesses.
• Vegetarians tend to consume fewer calories since the volume of fruit, vegetables, beans and nuts compared to their equivalent of meat, has a lower calorie count.
• Bacteria and harmful chemicals like pesticides are easier to remove from plant produce than meats.
• Plant based diets are better for the planet as well, according to environmentalists.
• Vegetarians have better overall health and quality of life than non vegetarians.
• According to one of the latest research reports, vegetarians are 12% less likely to die of any cause than non vegetarians.
• Vegetarian meals cause less eating disorders than meat based meals.
Is vegetarianism just a fad?
Vegetarianism has been practiced for far too long to be just a fad, though it cannot be denied that it is becoming increasingly fashionable to be a vegetarian. From the earliest time in history, there have been advocates of vegetarianism who used religious, moral and spiritual arguments to woo the meat eating crowd in an attempt to convert them to a diet including the produce of the earth than live beings walking, swimming or flying. The 19th century, and scientific research started popularizing vegetarian diet as being more healthy but till late in the 20th century, vegetarians were a small sect, surviving on the fringe of society and not part of the main stream, except in countries like India, where religion dictated lifestyles and eating habits.
Like so many new ‘diets’ being touted as the best for weight loss, heart health, fitness etc, vegetarianism has also been tried initially as perhaps a fad, but the feeling of well being it brings, has converted non vegetarians into vegetarians.
It is in keeping with ‘being cool’ and ‘going green’, but with no harm done, it may be the best route to good health. It may be a fad, but will last out longer than any other, and one that is going to spread across borders, even in places where vegetarian options are limited.
The vegetarianism fallacy
Meat lovers and hard core non-vegetarians have long criticized vegetarianism on various counts. And this is not entirely without reason. Since any food devoid of meat qualifies as vegetarian, a section of people feel eating a bowl of French fries, onion rings, fried dumplings, fritters and other oil-rich foods are healthy too. Just keeping meat out a nutrient-empty diet does not make it healthy. It has to have the requisite nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals to qualify as healthy.
It is not entirely true that all vegetarians have lower cholesterol. Vegetarians thriving on heavy fried foods, potatoes and fat rich sweets and savories, are bound to have obesity problems along with cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and coronary heart disease. India, with a vast vegetarian population, is a typical example.
Vegetarianism has been defined as lifestyle that involves balance, moderation and a conscious effort to balance daily nutrition with the produce of the earth.
Where vegetarianism falls short
There have been concerns about vegetarian diets providing the entire basket of nutrients needed by the human body. The question is about optimal calcium levels which come from milk, and therefore vegans would lose out unless they take calcium supplements.
Meats are a rich source of protein which vegetarians can get from beans, lentils and nuts. Minerals like iron are found in green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli, prunes and nuts. The deficiency of Vitamin B-12 needs to be addressed with supplements by vegans though other vegetarians get this vitamin from milk and eggs.
A good vegetarian diet
A balanced nutritive vegetarian diet should include, whole grains and cereal, beans and lentils, fruits and nuts, rice, wheat and vegetables. Ovo-vegetarians would have the nutritional benefits of eggs, and lacto-ovo-vegetarians gain from the wholesome goodness of milk and milk products like yoghurt, cheese etc. Vegans can substitute milk with soy milk and other soy products and get wholesome, balanced nutrition.
Vegetarianism in Myanmar
It is not difficult being a vegetarian in Myanmar with its rich variety of agricultural produce, including fresh fruits and vegetables, numerous varieties of beans and pulses, soy and dairy products. In fact, most salads and soups in Myanmar cuisine can be adapted to a vegetarian palette and supplemented with stir fries that are completely vegetarian if fish sauce and shrimp paste are avoided. The distinct Indian influence in the country ensures plenty of potato based snacks and curries. Every restaurant has vegetarian options, called “the-taa-lo”. Shaan noodles, tofu curry, vegetable fried rice, dosa, vegetable biryani and vegetable hotpot are some of the safe meal options that are easy to find.

The case for vegetarianism grows stronger with every passing day. Science and the environment all favor this diet path. For those looking for role models find philosophers like Plato and Nietzche, political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Benjamin Franklin, and pop icons like Paul McCartney and Bob Marley, propagating the diets they followed throughout their lives. Turning vegetarian may become a turning point in your lives too.

The Diary of a Vegetarian in Yangon

There was a time when vegetarians had to literally hunt for safe places to get a palatable meat-free meal once they stepped out of their homes. Thankfully now, vegetarian options are available in varying proportions across the globe. Vegetarianism is becomingly increasingly popular for numerous reasons, at least one of which is health. Living in Yangon as a vegetarian, is not really a challenge, but interesting culinary experiences give us reasons to smile, even here.

Myanmar with its wide variety of earthy produce, a phenomenal variety of greens, tofu and lentils, has endless non-meat options. In fact, it is easier to survive in Myanmar with such preferences than other tourist friendly Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia. Myanmar cuisine has numerous vegetable-rich salads, soups that can easily be kept vegetarian as well as rice and curries that are delicious even without the addition of meats.  Yet vegetarianism is not very common among the locals, since dried fish, meats and seafood are added to nearly every preparation to make them tastier, nutritious, and more of a complete one-dish meal. The word to know is “thut-thut-lau” pronounced as “tatalou”, which actually means ‘lifeless’ but implies vegetarian. Interestingly, eggs are not considered to be non-vegetarian.

The ever increasing class of vegetarians can be attributed to the greater awareness about cruelty meted to animals, and also those who avoid meats for religious beliefs. Buddhism does not impose food restrictions but Hinduism does. Many Hindus are pure vegetarians and many are selectively vegetarian on specific days of the week and at certain times in the year. Myanmar has thousands of Indians residing for generations and though many have adapted to local tastes, an equal number have opted to stick to their vegetarian food habits.

Still, as vegetarians, we end up with interesting experiences that become amusing narratives later, the dismay and anger long forgotten. These are almost universal, and anyone with specific food preferences would have been through similar experiences in any country, be it Canada, Philippines, Argentina or any other.

A few years ago, I would have been appalled at the prospect of finding a dubious chunk of something chewy, halfway through my soup. Today, I just put away my plate, take a deep breath, and not think of what has already gone in. It is no longer shocking to ask for fried rice ‘thut-thut-lau’ and find pink, curled pieces of shrimp stirred in.  For many, being vegetarian simply means not eating pieces of meat, so soup, made of meat stock is fine as long as no pieces are visible. Adding fish sauce and shrimp paste to add flavor are also considered acceptable, much to the horror of those who would rather starve.  Some people are highly sensitive to odors and smells and can make out if a ladle of a meaty preparation has touched their food. I am grateful that I am not one of them, or else eating out would have been impossible. Yet I find it difficult to share a table where steamed whole fish is ordered, since I am convinced the fish is looking imploringly at me, to save it…now I try to switch seats so that I face the tail and not the eyes!

The variety on offer in Yangon is much more than other places in Myanmar, which have lesser number of tourists. This helps since it no longer necessitates eating rice with chili paste as I would have done a decade ago. The abundance of fresh fruit is a boon since these can be picked up and eaten on the go. New eateries from noodle shops to international chains like The Pizza Company are transforming the food scene in Yangon and vegetarian options are offered as well. Fine dining restaurants, street stalls and tea shops all have something for the vegetarian. The list of options is endless, whether you walk down Anawratha Road in Downtown Yangon, or along the upscale Dhammazedi. Myanmar cuisine is vast, and delectably so. Its repertoire of salads includes the exotic tea leaf salad made out of fermented tea leaves, rich in caffeine, and mixed with sesame seeds, crushed nuts, cabbage, onions, lime and garlic. Lemon salad is a tangy mix of cabbage, red onions, chili, and sesame seeds. Tomato salad goes beyond traditional tomato slices, to include peanuts, sesame, onions and garlic. Even more sumptuous is the eggplant salad made out of the smoked vegetable that gives it a unique taste. Soups are often thickened with cooked chickpeas, and common ingredients include, tofu, vegetables and noodles. Steamed rice is served with curries that are rich and thick, and can be made with vegetables instead of chicken, fish or red meats. Easily available cauliflower, cabbage, bamboo shoots, beans, potatoes and pumpkins, provide numerous curry options. Noodles are prepared with sauces and vegetables, to be eaten as snack or at mealtimes. Fresh juices, jaggery and coconut sweets serve as perfect accompaniments to a vegetarian meal.

Myanmar cuisine has a strong influence of Indian cooking styles and many common ingredients like beans and pulses, curries and similar style of preparing vegetables. Walking down the streets in the Downtown area, reveals endless stalls selling the ubiquitous Indian ‘samosa’, the deep fried, potato-stuffed wanton. A large flat pancake called ‘dosa’ is served with chutneys, potatoes and a lentil curry called ‘sambhar’, and makes for a delicious meal at all times of the day. The number of Indian eateries is also expanding. All star-rated hotels in Yangon have Indian meal options, and standalone restaurants are opening up. It is easy to find places offering a reasonable vegetarian “thali”, which is a plate of rice with a lentil curry, vegetables and a pickle, or even chapatti and lentil curry called ‘daal’, which is a rich source of protein. Myanmar is a leading exporter of beans and pulses, so the quality couldn’t be better!

Today I am happy with a tea leaf salad or even the Myanmar tomato salad, followed by barbecued or fried vegetables, a tofu noodle soup, some stir fried greens and fried rice. Who can ask for more?