Motivation
Comments 82

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 it was one of those days when my mind was sharp and still like 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, and 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 and re-arranging students in what seemed to be a random asymmetrical order. Looking back 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 (like it is in the Japanese way there is very little active teaching, you are expected to 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 about 15-odd 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 at 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 everyday class that I was putting in, 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 are present (people rarely understand this, we think as long as we are turning up for something regularly despite our super busy schedules, we are committed). So whenever you are late for something, somehow managed to reach in time, it is very clear that your commitment to the same is only that much, 18-carat not 24-carat. If you are fully committed you will always be slightly early, you would have collected your thoughts and absolutely ready to dive in.

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 weight-training 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 duration 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.

Some of you might have trouble concentrating for the entire duration of the test. Some of you might be able to easily concentrate for 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 at a rate higher than normal, even if it is a 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.

82 Comments

  1. Sir, this is a refreshing piece of an article during a time that is full of uncertainties. Thank you for writing this. It is an absolute delight to read about your learnings from life and the way you present them makes a connection with the reader.

    Like

    • Hi Annie,

      Glad to hear that the post struck a chord. It is the only post that is not directly related to CAT Prep, so I was a bit wary about how it will be received 🙂

      All the best!

      Like

  2. Ananya says

    A post like this at such a time in the journey of CAT Prep is so refreshing. Focussing on my breath has helped me a lot to concentrate on my passages and do mental calculations instead of writing everything out. A truly inspiring post. Thank you so much, Sir. It’s wonderful to read about your learnings, especially the way you connect it with CAT, which makes us feel like CAT is a life exam, not just a mere entrance test.

    Like

  3. OMG! It’s so true and well written. Especially the references taken from real life experiences and correlating to CAT prep is simply fabulous. Thanks for such motivating blog Tony Sir! Appreciated.

    Like

    • Glad you liked it, Susant.

      Involuntarily I find myself linking my experiences with training — be it yoga or weight training — with CAT Prep since when I am training I am exactly in your shoes, trying to learn and get better at something, and given my love for sports, the mind usually makes connections there as well.

      Like

  4. alankritalakshmi4 says

    Sir this is simply phenomenal! I’m at a loss of words. What an amazing piece of writing. Thank you for putting this out for us to read.

    Like

    • Good to see that it is resonating with so many people. Sometimes while writing you get a very potent feeling, you are not searching for words, you cannot stop till you finish and it is usually done from start to end, this was one such piece.

      Like

  5. Who Am I says

    Keeping number of mocks or sectionals taken , number of questions practiced or numbers of hours spent on preparation these are the things which will make a difference. Sir can’t thank you enough for such articles.

    Like

      • Hi sir , in the video about rating passage by reading the first paragraph you said choosing the correct option out of the available ones is the most difficult thing in reading comprehension. can you please make a short video on how to be be prudent about choosing options.

        Like

      • Hi,

        I have covered RC in detail in the two Masterclasses I took and in the SimCAT 6 video feedback.

        All the best!

        Like

  6. Pranav says

    WOW… it is said that story-telling is a very underrated skill … and it is after reading such a beautifully written article which weaves together personal experiences with reader’s thoughts that you appreciate the art of it.

    Like

    • Glad you liked it, Pranav. One should always tell a story as if the listener is sitting right to us, that is how I write all the posts on these blogs as if all of you are sitting close to me and listening to what I have to say.

      Like

  7. Shakshi Hariyani says

    Genuinely speaking, I was getting on my nerves after the change in the pattern of the exam and I didn’t knew how to manage this anxiety, excitement and fear of exam as we are so close to it. I even was worried that how should I gear up the preparation towards exam, but thank you so much for the article as it calmed me down and has given me a different perspective towards the approach which one can adopt.

    Like

  8. Khagendra Deore says

    I was glued to this article till the end, just like the blackness in the centre of the eye of the bird. Very well articulated and a must-read piece of ‘gyaan’ in the current situation.

    Like

  9. Shubham says

    Your presentation skills make your text so impressive! You express very simple ideas brilliantly! I always wait for your next article as well as your video solutions of Simcats 🙂

    Like

  10. Amazing! I had been loosening up a bit. Letting go of the reigns, especially since the change in the pattern. This has literally opened my eyes and I am ready to dive in again. Also, thank you for reminding me of something that I really believe in, small things do matter. Cannot thank you enough. This made a big difference.

    Like

  11. Rashmi Singh says

    And you taught us the much needed lesson wrapped around your sweet little story. It was amazing!! And since I have been following these rituals for quite some time, it really brings a lot of difference. Thank you for this wonderful piece of art.

    Like

  12. Swapnel says

    Beautifully written, sir! Loved the way it ended, ended with a deeper message. Call it a “Nolan” blog

    Like

  13. Herat Shukla says

    What an energetic article!! A true teacher knows when & where to hit on.
    This article reminds me of your session on ” How to manage your energy.” It was my 1st webinar of IMS(Since I am from crack baches). It was full of sheer energy & life lessons & not just about exam or preparation. I would like to share something, Since then I have started 30 minutes of yoga & Exercises(Surya namaskar), Today after almost 2 months I can feel a bit change that my mind remains calm & not get panic(Slight improvement). Also started taken Aswagandha & Brahmi in hot milk every night. That Yogi/Saint examples were inspiring enough to work hard. From that day I never miss your article & never fail to learn at least one thing & implement it.
    Lastly, I would like to suggest a book of Sadguru’s Inner engineering. This article is much related to that book!!
    Can’t thank you enough!
    Regards!

    Like

    • It makes me very happy Herat even when one student follows up on the things I discuss and also sees results. The results like in everything else will take time and over the course of a longer-time period, the effects of the breathing and meditation exercises, in particular, will be felt throughout the day.

      The suggestions themselves are not something very unique since they have been discussed for centuries. All the gurus do is make is them relevant again and bring them to the notice of a different generation by using contemporary vocabulary.

      All the best!

      Like

  14. prerna says

    Your article are always a joy to read. Sir please come up with more such motivational content as it is really needed during the last few months.

    Like

    • Hi Prerna,

      Glad you liked the post!

      I do not think if myself as a motivational writer, I just try to discuss all the things that I think are relevant to manage your prep and succeed on the test. Eventually, all of us need to become self-motivated, else every article or video will end up being a drug that wears off!

      All the best!

      Like

  15. Sarvesh Patki says

    Amazing Sir. Very well-written. Will definitely try to follow this. This was also kind of like a reading practice for RC :p.

    Like

    • Thanks, Sarvesh. That is exactly the reason why I do not do short videos despite being asked repeatedly — the exam needs you to do tons of reading including RC!

      Like

  16. ksaketsingh says

    sir ur articles are always inspiring, and its rare for me to find someone whose instruction I aspire to follow word by word…. thnxs a ton

    Like

  17. Muskan Shrivastava says

    Sir, this is indeed a very refreshing piece and is one of those things that not many talk about or even consider while preparing for CAT or any competitive exam for that matter.
    Thank you for this, will surely follow!

    Like

    • Glad you appreciate the larger perspective. The title is a reference to that — there are many paths or ways one can choose on the path towards enlightenment, according to Zen, everything can be way even gardening towards, so even CAT Prep, if done in the right spirit, can be a way 🙂

      Like

  18. Ajay Menon says

    Very insightful article which is so much relatable to our own life sir…നന്ദി

    Like

    • Hi Ajay,

      Glad you liked the article.

      Good to see the Malayalam script. I read and write Malayalam at a snail’s pace but I love the script.

      All the letters in the Malayalam alphabet in their various forms of roundedness remind me of elephants, elephants sitting down, standing up, their trunks moving up and down and behind their backs!

      All the best!

      Like

  19. YASHOVARDHAN RAJKUMAR AGARWAL says

    This was great! It’s always a pleasure listening to you during the Seminars, and your articles are equally fabulous. Thank you Sir.
    Would also request you, if you could write some more articles on how we can manage our time especially for those who are not working and just studying for the CAT. While this may sound ironic, but I’ve noticed that as I am only studying there’s a lot of monotony in my schedule and thus the productivity goes down. Some tips from you would surely help!

    Like

    • Hi Yash,

      Good to hear from a student who has been a part of the webinars 🙂

      All CAT-Prep, with no work and play, can be a bit counter-productive. After a point, there is a case of diminishing marginal returns.

      I have a few ideas, I’ll come up with a post soon.

      All the best!

      Like

  20. Sir, as always a beautiful article. In this era of jargon junk food, your analogy khichdi is easily digestible. As a yoga teacher (and a CAT aspirant), I agree completely with you on the importance of breath. The regular practice of Pranayam can benefit immensely in life but even in a short term, breathing techniques can be used to calm nerves in those critical moments. Many stage performers have a breathing routine before walking onto the stage. I am a huge fan of your analogies.

    Like

    • Hi Kandar,

      Good to hear from a yoga-teacher and CAT-student in that sense you are my exact opposite CAT-teacher and Yoga-student.

      I am sure you will know the importance of breath control since you are a teacher and practitioner. I myself do breathing exercises regularly and especially so on days when I have to go on stage to take sessions such as the LMTC.

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  21. I have been struggling with concentration myself, some song or a movie is always playing in my head all the time. My marks are genrally a function of my concentration. Thanks for this one Sir, I will start practising breath training.

    Like

  22. dhairya kansagra says

    Its just amazing sir thank you for giving so valuable guideline and i will be surely start doing breathing exercise …..

    Like

  23. Aishwarya says

    Thank you, sir !! last year I read this article and from that day my perception towards my preparation changed a lot. I included yoga and pranayama in my daily routine. And it really helped me to manage my work and study.

    Like

    • Really glad to hear that you incorporated them into your routine, nothing better one can invest one’s time in over the longer period.

      All the best!

      Like

  24. Semper Fi says

    Hey Tony! Hope this finds you well.

    A regular reader here, was one during the gdpi season
    that happened this year. Back again!

    In a top 30 B-school now, laptop MBA going on.

    The summer placements season is up next soon.

    I’ve got no ECAs and POSs. Got Work-ex, a product based software multinational, a year. Got 8 certificates of these tools like Excel, HubSpot, AdWords, other MOOCs out there.

    I’ve got a GRE 314/340, AWA 4/6 and a TOEFL 113/120, both 2018. Is it alright if I put these in the CV in this summer placements season? It’s looking a bit blank without these. Gave these in 2018, was looking at an MS, dropped the plan then and went for job.

    Sorry for the DCP, lol. A bit irrelevant to the article but had to get your take on this, man! Hope it’s alright.

    Thanks

    Like

    • Hi,

      Well, I am used to old students turning up one fine day!

      You can put in your GRE score but leave out the AWA and TOEFL (they do not carry much weight).

      All the best with the placements!

      Like

  25. YASHOVARDHAN RAJKUMAR AGARWAL says

    Hi Sir, while this is not related to the current blog, its a concern i have and just want to share it with you.
    So, i have solved all the RC practice material from IMS along with the RC 100 book, while i have
    been applying various techniques suggested by you like the 5 pauses, there’s one thing i am struggling with. I have come to believe that RCs are about skill, and have tried to up-skill myself in that regard, and i am getting a 75% accuracy in most cases.
    However i am simply not able to cross that mark consistently over a few sets. I see that i am struggling to SKIP questions which i am unsure of and i end up attempting them in most cases, which i think affects my accuracy.
    So, just wanted to ask if you can guide us with some ways to be able to skip questions better and increase our accuracy.

    Like

    • Hi Yash,

      The forced attempts are nothing but a case of throwing good money after bad money — you have already invested two minutes so you might as well answer, you will not and cannot do the same in QA or DI-LR.

      The only suggestion I can give — unless you are left with only one option, in the end, do not mark.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

  26. Adjay says

    Hi Tony Sir,

    Adjay this side! Although I quite agree with Scrabbler Sir’s (:P) idea of not calling anyone Sir, but I will still go ahead with using the word. I have thanked him enough already and just wanted to tell you how much indebted I feel for the amount of hard work you have been putting in,

    Thank you very much for all the amazing articles, I cannot begin to thank you for your strategies and also the cat100percentile blog, Though I haven’t met you personally. Each article just feels like Yoda teaching a naive Padawan. I really cannot fathom how much thought and efforts have went into writing them.

    I just want to say, I’m indebted to you for the DILR writeups and the VARC masterclass, I’m dreading the DILR section less comparatively and have started to enjoy the process of preparation. Thanks a lot and lots of gratitude for the amount of hardwork you and Scrabbler sir put in. I just wish to say that even tough this is a competitive exam and is just one another exam in the big picture of life, The insight both of you bring in is just amazing. I just keep going back to your SimCAT 6 analysis time and again. Just a kind request, it would be really great if you could do another one though. Just wished to thank you for all of your hard work, I did a VARC passage just a while ago, and would like to say that if I ever do well – I will be standing on the shoulder of many great people. Hope you have a great year and are able to impart this knowledge to many more aspirants in the many more amazing years to come!

    Best regards,
    Adjay

    Like

    • Hi Adjay,

      Always feels good to read such comments. Thanks a lot for the heartfelt and effusive praise.

      A lot of effort goes into the Masterclass and LMTC sessions, much more than what meets the eye.

      I had planned to take the VA-RC feedback of SimCATs 9 and 12 but given the two RC Masterclasses, the LMTC sessions, and upcoming VA Masterclass, all of which were conducted twice, it became impossible to record the feedback videos.

      I will be doing two or more Sims after SimCAT 12, mostly 13 and 15.

      All the best!

      Like

  27. Rohit Magdum says

    Loved it sir. Also loved the LMTC and Masterclass sessions.
    Thanks a lot..

    Like

  28. Hey sir, Not relating to the post at all!
    I am scoring well in QA and LRDI but I’m unable to score at all in VARC.
    I have a consistent accuracy of 45-60% irrespective of the amount of questions i solve( i tried lowering the attempts to increase accuracy, the score went down proportionally)
    I am very comfortable with english as a language and have practiced a lot of VARC but my scores are not improving.
    I’m afraid i might not be able to clear the sectional cutoff in VARC.
    I have solved all the RCs from module 2 and did the GMAT OG RCs and CR questions.
    I have tried paragraph to questions approach too.
    So, I am considering spending most of October for VARC (20 days).
    Any tips on how should i spend my time, what material should i practice on?

    Like

    • Hi,

      The only thing you can do is to check how good your technique is.

      Do you solve VA every single time questions using the techniques I outlined in the Masterclass (or any other technique) or do you just solve them?

      Do you execute the third pause to frame a shadow answer every single time?

      My hunch is that since you do not have too many problems understanding the language you ate practising but not practising to correctly execute the technique every single time.

      Do this examination and you will figure out the flaws in technique.

      All the best!

      Like

      • Thank you sir! I have attended all your masterclasses, but i thought that the five pauses technique was a lil’ bit time consuming to execute. I did have a shadow answer and summary in mind, not on paper though. I do try to frame a shadow answer but most of the times when the options are close, it doesn’t work out well! I scored my worst in VA in the last simcat and now that i have nothing to loose, I’m gonna practice thoroughly the 5 pause technique.
        I’ll get back to you after 2 weeks! 🙂

        Like

  29. Hi Sir,
    Thank you for all your guidance, after scoring an inconsistent 20 percentile in VA RC, I followed what you said and just got a 90 percentile in my last mock. I am very grateful to you. 🙂
    Also, I just wanted to ask about the target-setting now. When the questions were fixed, one was able to set the target easily for the next mock. However now since we are unaware of the number of questions, how should we set our targets for the next mock?

    Like

    • Hi Tanya,

      Glad to hear your scores picked up.

      The number of questions will be at least 20 and at max 25.

      The average time you take per question will not change, so you anyway have an idea how many you can solve in 40 minutes.

      All the best!

      Like

  30. Sangeeth says

    I learned a new word today – Raconteurs (are gifted storytellers, able to spin amusing tales from everyday life) and I just read one such brilliant man’s article.

    Really, these kind of articles will have a significant, positive impact on people, especially, people who are in a pursuit to achieve something.

    Here are my wishes for your good health and happiness.

    Like

  31. Prajwal says

    I read this articles for improving my RC skills but it happens rarely that i get so much engrossed in reading articles , that i apply what is written.
    And surprisingly it is the first time i read article and am able to comprehend in first go.
    very thank you sir.

    Like

    • Sorry Anushka, I do not interact with students 1-1 since that would mean I will be answering queries from students all-day. You can post your query here.

      Like

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