Motivation
Comments 35

One of the many ways

 

 

A few mornings ago, at the end of holding a particularly strenuous Yoga pose, my brother let out a gasp and his back slumped back on to the mat, but for me it was one of those days when my mind was as sharp and still as the tip of an archer’s arrow, and I went back to ground with an even breath and a straight spine, it was the first time it happened in a long time. Straight away in my ears, I heard the voice of Shaji, shouting at me from one end of a really large room – I only said relax, back straight!

The yelling was from a warm morning in the year 2013. I had just moved to Chennai after taking up the IMS franchise for the city. I had taken a place very close to the miniature beach in Besant Nagar (or Bessie as the locals call it). On one of the very first evenings there I took a stroll around the beach and came upon this structure or building or rather what I think is the best word for it – space.

As soon as I saw it and took in it for a few seconds, I thought this has to be it — a year before, while in Mumbai, I had read a few articles about the groundbreaking classical dancer Chandralekha and had also seen video of a piece choreographed by her and that had made a strong impression on me, on reading more about her I had discovered that her studio is in Chennai and when I saw this space I was certain that this was it.

Chandralekha is considered groundbreaking because she re-invented or reinterpreted what Bharatanatyam can mean through the lens of an even older art form — one that is considered a precursor to all the South East Asian martial arts — kalarippayattu. Shaji, a young practitioner and teacher of kalarippayattu, was one of the two people in the piece choreographed by Chandralekha that I had watched, the other was the writer Tishani Doshi.

So when I saw the place, I made up my mind to go in and find out if they teach the laity, it turned out that they did and before long I was inside.

Spaces 1

Shaji was as old-school a perfectionist as one could get for a teacher. He would spend a long time arranging students in particular asymmetrical order, I am guessing it was to ensure that he could sight each one of the 30-odd students who turned up at 6 A.M. from places that were as far as two hours away. He rarely uttered a word apart from the instructions for the movement in Malayalam (in the Japanese way you just watch, follow, and execute, till you get a hang)

The session opened with a 30 minute non-stop movement and kicks-based warm up by the end of which my lungs were ready to explode, and it was on one of those initial days when he had said relax at the end of warm-up, that I slumped against the wall, breathing audibly (to myself), that was when he shouted at me.

After a few more sessions I gave up because I realised that very few of the students who came there were amateurs like me, many of the students were dancers who did this for strength and flexibility, while others were full-time students of Kalari who stayed there for a better part of the day. I felt that unless I was serious about pursuing it as an art form, which would take more than the 90 minutes of every class, I would be disrespecting it, and it was obvious that they were not teaching the classes for the money (else they wouldn’t have been charging a meagre 500 per month). And given that I had just invested money to get into a business, there was no way I could give any more than 90 minutes a day, which in itself seemed difficult on some days.

But what I learnt from those few sessions was immense. Firstly, commitment to something is not limited to being strong-willed enough to turn up for the mandated session. True commitment means managing one’s energies during the rest of the time in such a way that you are fully switched on during the time you invested (people rarely understand this, we think as long as we are turning up for something regularly despite our super busy schedules, we are committed).

The second learning is completely related to making the commitment happen. I first started reading about, becoming more aware of my breath and practising pranayama, in the year 2007. I had read a few really good books and practised intensely for close to three years. But I never really made it a part of the rest of my workout routines be it gym or yoga.

Over the years, I have realised that as far as managing our mental and physical energies is concerned, breath is everything. When I was getting into a series of strenuous poses today, I was constantly aware of my breath, or rather my focus was both on the pose and on my breath, the focus was to ensure that I did not take shallow breaths, which for me personally, during a pose, has always meant exhaling fully rather than inhaling very deeply (unless the pose itself demands otherwise). This ensures that when I have to respond to the instructor’s call to hold a pose for 30 seconds I measure it in breaths — I know that 10 seconds more is just two breaths more and my focus goes back to my breathing. It also ensures that the core is tight since you are emptying your abdomen out fully, this results in the spine being straight and this results in the most important thing — you do not slump and hit the floor at the end.

Each time you slump with a gasp you expend more energy and more importantly you release your focus. Each time you go down with an even breath and straight spine, you are ready for the next pose without releasing your focus, you do not give up before the end of the count.


Do you slump at the end of a section or a DI-LR set?

Is your focus sharp and as still as the tip of Karna’s arrow, Achilles’ spear, for the entire 180 minutes of the CAT?

If you have seen the eyes of sportsmen, especially swimmers when they step out, during the period before they bend down to get on to their marks, you will know that their gaze is always elsewhere, they are not looking at anyone or anything, as if their body and mind are fused into one. This has to be the case with all sports that require sustained unbroken energy and concentration from start to end, say sprinting, swimming or archery, unlike longer-format sports like say cricket or football where you can afford to take breathers and recoup but even in those sports, teams and players, are most likely to falter after a scoring a century or a goal, a tennis player is most susceptible in the game after he or she breaks, because they let the focus drop, the breath go, the spine slacken.

Have you seen the video of Maradona’s gaze before the start of the 86 Final (or SF or QF) as he makes the sign of the cross? Did you see how Stokes went about his innings, how he cut everything out and did not celebrate after the century? Have you seen Djokovic go into monk-mode? All of these point to the same thing – focus – even breath, tight core, and straight spine, and that is why in all martial arts, they tie a cloth around the waist.

I typed the majority of this post the same morning, on a flight to Benares to conduct The Last Mike To CAT workshop, over the coming weekends I’ll be going to Delhi, Bangalore, Lucknow, Kochi, and maybe Patna, as well to conduct the same. And everywhere my colleagues have the same issue — will students sit for 6 to 8 hours? And I think to myself — if they cannot sit, listen, and process for 6 hours, how will they perform with sustained energy for 3 hours? Some of you might have trouble concentrating for three hours. Some of you might be able to easily concentrate for 3 hours but are leaking energy during the process. Some of you might be hitting your desired scores. I feel that no matter where you are, developing an awareness of your breath through breathing exercises (which will mean that your spine will have to be straight), learning to manage your mental and physical energies through that awareness, will always give you a jump in scores, if the paper gets tough, you will have enough fuel left in the tank and a few more gears.

I found that while I learnt this years ago, I have not always applied this diligently, I did it for some years at a stretch and for some, I let go, and unfortunately, I let go when my schedule was the most hectic, which was when I needed it most. All of us can work out, do yoga, and eat right when our schedules are light, it is when we manage to do the right things in the middle of a storm that the storm itself becomes manageable.

So my advice going into the last few months of the CAT Prep is that you need to focus on making your energies one-pointed; you need to add breathing exercises to the beginning and the end of your day; you need to get some form of physical exercise to get your lungs pumping a bit more than their normal rate, even if it is a long brisk walk, at least a couple of times a week; you need to learn to relax by taking in the right things, say reading Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse; you need to remove a few things as well such as social media apps (including the YouTUBE App), there is nothing happening on them that is more important to your life than getting into an IIM (essentially you need to get rid of all forms of sugary and fried food that you are feeding to your brain); if you do all of these things and are conscious of the way you expend your breath and your time over the next three months, you will not slump with a gasp, the spine will be straight, the breath will be even regardless of the depth, you always be ready for the next ball, and like Arjuna you will not see the sky, or the trees, or the bird, but see only blackness,

the blackness

in the centre

of the eye of the bird.

35 Comments

  1. Mayank Anand says

    Such a fantastic article sir, i remember after reading your article on how to get energized throughout the day, i gave a serious thought on yoga and in following month i joined a yoga class and still practising 1 hr every morning. Result i experienced, can’t explain in few lines here. One more thing you mentioned in that article is about Brahmi tablets. I took a tablet of Himalaya Brahmi few days when after an intense power yoga session instead of getting to mock analysis i feel like to sleep but Brahmi helped. I was thinking to take one tablet everyday atleast till CAT. Is it good or will it have any side effects of taking 80 days in stretch?
    One more thing please conduct last mile session in Hyderabad ASAP.
    Thank you

    Like

    • Hi Mayank,

      Really glad to know that you took up Yoga, since reading posts and feeling inspired is one thing and acting on it is a separate thing altogether.

      As far as I know Brahmi tablets have no side-effects, so you can take it up.

      LMTC will happen in Hyderabad as well but someone else will be taking it.

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a lot, Manoj. Glad you really find the blog useful. The idea was to genuinely pass on a few of the things I know. See you in Delhi at the LMTC session if you are coming down, we can have a chat at the end or during lunch.

      Like

  2. Rohit says

    Good Evening Sir,

    I have to ask this since this eloquent post truly addresses the issue with me. Lately, I’m on verge of too many concentration lapses during a single 3hr sitting. I won’t lie, it scares me that it has come to the point where even sitting for 3hr seems impossible for me now, while earlier I happily used to do it. Please help me out with what should be the efficient way to improve focus and concentration for long hours. I have put phone aside, reduced sugar and sodium intake but still mind wanders like heck while solving and then those silly mistakes, bag full of them, each sum each RC and section. Please, I’d request you to save me. I just don’t want to ruin my CAT since I’ve prepared for it so badly 😥

    Like

    • Hi Rohit,
      You sound terrible and that is understandable. Before, I try to suggest a way out, I’d like to know a few more things.

      How long have you been preparing for? Is this your first attempt? Are you taking any classroom coaching or preparing by yourself? How many SimCATs have you taken? How many hours a day are you preparing for?

      Write to me at tony@imsindia.com

      Like

  3. Anmol says

    Attended the LMTC Delhi yesterday sir, the way you held it together from beginning till the end without showing signs of fatigue was great. Respect !!

    Like

    • When I talk about sport and sportsmen in my posts, I don’t just use them in a superficial sense, I like to walk the talk in tiniest way I can. 🙂

      Like

  4. Akshay Khurana says

    Attended your session day before yesterday, it really was a reality check for all of us! Thanks a lot for coming down to Delhi.

    Earlier, I was thinking to target CAT 2020, as my preparation is not up to the mark as of today. But. now I feel, maybe I can clear CAT this time only.

    I just want to ask, how well should I manage my different sections?

    Let’s say 20% of my time to VA-RC, 30% of my time to DI/LR, and rest 50% to QA? Is that Ok?

    And one more thing, if let’s say, I’ll not get calls from older IIMs this time, then should I go for next year for CAT, or take the best college then available?

    Currently, I am having 21 Months of Experience as of 31st July.

    Thanks in advance!

    Like

    • Hi Akshay,

      Glad you found the session useful.

      I am not sure if you came down and had a chat with me 🙂

      I would say, spend your time in phases. First, finish off all the concepts in Math that you know you haven’t covered, you can do the chapters from the BRM (only theory and exercise 1).

      Once you are done with it, divide time between the three in the ratio you have suggested, keep tweaking it based on the requirements.

      I would say go all out this year in terms of prep, apply not just to the old IIMs but to the good private schools such as MDI and SPJIMR, as well as XLRI and IIFT.

      Clear the tests, get calls from as many as you can and then we can reject if necessary when we reach that bridge.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Kartik Thakur says

    Dear Sir,

    Appretiate such a post by you on this platform. I was recently diagnosed with Asthama & my dad taught me yoga and meditation. Though the ailment is a physical deterrent, the yoga exercises, meditation and breathing exercises have helped me leaps & bounds in getting my focus laser sharp and energy channelised during my preparation. Couldn’t agree more with you !

    Like

    • Hi Kartik,

      Glad the post resonated with your personal experience. I had introduced my mother to it and she has since become a huge fan of the same and won’t miss her Yoga class even if I am visiting her!

      I can only imagine how useful it must be for you given that you have to deal with asthma.

      The title one of the many ways refers to the Japanese adage that anything can be a way to self-realisation — archery, carpentry, martial arts, and even test-prep — as long as one is doing it with the underpinning of yoga and meditation (what they call zazen).

      Keep practising and prepping,

      All the best!

      Like

  6. Shikhar says

    I have to say this, but Sir why isn’t North Region up there on your list 😦 Head towards Punjab anytime sooner please, precisely to Amritsar or Chandigarh which ever would be less strenuous to travel, Sir. I heard IMS has center in Ludhiana as well, please arrange a LMTC in Punjab region as well, I’d travel miles for you.

    Like

    • Hi Shikhar,
      North is very much on my list 🙂 I travelled to Delhi, Lucknow and Varanasi this time :-). Ludhiana or Chandigarh, next year. In the meantime view the next Masterclass on 18-Sep and a SimCAT feedback as well.

      All the best!

      Like

  7. Sir, after reading ” One of the many ways” it has changed my thinking perspective in many ways. Really I have to say this, you are such a superlative writer and your blogs give me the freedom to try out all the different ways of approaching the question and tackilng them effectively.
    You relate all your CAT prep blogs with sports which I feel you do justice to help us understand every minute thing required to bell the CAT.
    You add a new dimension to my prep plan.

    Thanks again sir!!

    Like

    • Hi Nivedita,

      Thanks a lot for the generous and fulsome praise!

      I have always felt that competitive exams are no different from sport. No matter how much one practices and whatever the coach teaches, the test-taker has to perform out in the middle.

      To do this I feel the right perspective is most important. In fact not just this but in all aspects of life, aspects where I have personally succeeded and failed, it is our perspective about the whole thing that determines how we approach it and hence our success or failure.

      Am glad that there are readers such as you who understand and appreciate the effort.

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. sir your delhi last mile session was very informational and motivating
    in that session you told about some videos that you will be uploading of the concepts
    will it be available to the people who are not in the class room prog
    but have taken online e -series plus

    Like

    • Hi Sahil,

      Glad you found the session useful.

      Unfortunately, the new portal with all the learning videos that we launching in beta will be only for our classroom students.

      All the best!

      Like

  9. pranshu says

    Sir, I was following your blog for a long time but not regularly. After LMTC lucknow, i found this blog and yes getting to learn from you at LMTC was a great opportunity for me. And in that workshop i really wanted to ask you the question about concentration and here it is. This blog is more of getting to know you more and sir you just made a new FAN of yours..hahaha

    Like

  10. Tausif Tufail says

    Sir, I heard about you from Manish Barriar Sir and since then I visit your blog regularly and its very informative and motivating.
    I was really hoping to see you in LMTC Patna but we were later informed that you may not be coming. And now the LMTC is itself delayed due to heavy rains in the city. Hope to see you there.

    This article was very interesting and helpful as I also face the difficulty to maintain my focus for those 3 hours of the tests. I intend to follow the tips.

    Thank you Sir.

    Like

    • Hi Tausif,

      Glad you found the post useful. I had a very hectic schedule travelling to six cities across four weekends, so I had to let someone else take the session at Patna, which unfortunately is now troubled by the rains.

      We will be conducting webinars of the three core sessions — QA, VA and DI-LR — we took at the workshop.

      Tomorrow evening we will do VA and DI-LR from 6 to 8:30, I’ll be doing DI-LR, you can register for the same and view.

      All the best!

      Like

  11. Pingback: CAT 2019: A plan for the last leg | The CAT Writer

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