On Monday our afternoon lecture was on Vedic Math. An expert in this field of ancient science came to the ashram to give us a talk on how this Indian mathematics worked and illustrated for us the elegance and efficiency of the system. As I noted in the previous post, the past week has been filled with so many interesting cultural lessons and entertainment that everyday I was learning something new. This afternoon was no exception.
Our lecturer explained that this ancient system dates back some 5,000 years but had been largely forgotten until 30 or 40 years ago when it was re-discovered and studied. He then set off straight away with some examples. He had us multiply 35×35. In a traditional western way, it would go something like-
With Vedic math, you do the following:
1) Take the last digits and calculate, 5 X 5 = 25
2) Add 1 to the previous number, so that’s 3+1 = 4
3) Multiply result from step 2 and the original number, 4 X 3 = 12
4) Write out results of step 3 and step 1 = 1225 is the answer
For 125 X 125, you’d do
1) 5 X 5 = 25
2) 12 + 1 = 13
3) 13 X 12 = 156
4) 15625 is the answer
He went on to describe for us the Vedic way of squaring two, three, four digit figures as well. It was fascinating and my inner nerd that loves this stuff was completely satisfied.
In the evening we took a very long and treacherous climb over to the black hill about an hour away from the ashram. A few years ago the local residents built two temples on this hilltop (I would actually call it a mountain) and there was a Devi puja that night. Relying only on our flashlights we climbed one boulder after another to reach two very small temples atop a huge granite boulder mountaintop. I kept thinking of the sheer willpower and devotion it must have taken for these people to build the temples in such a difficult place. The incline was so severe that on certain places you couldn’t climb without having to literally crawl on all fours or balance on your toes. When we arrived at the base of the temple, we had to take our shoes off and climb the rest of the granite boulders barefoot out of respect for the sacred grounds above (some of our trusty ashram volunteers kept all of our shoes in sacks for us until we returned). Of course all the locals had no trouble gliding up and down the rocks. I’m talking mothers with babies tucked under their arms, old men who looked fragile like bamboo sticks, young boys, I mean everyone but us walked up and down the boulders as if floating on flat surfaces. The ceremony itself was relatively short, lasting about an hour. There were a few men playing drums and a few others tended to a tower of lights while a group of men and young boys chanted.
We were amazed and grateful to everyone who didn’t seem to mind at all that a bunch of foreigners came to crash their ritual and even take photos (no photos of the temple inside). After the ceremony, they gave all of us generous portions of their prasad, which was sweet rice, dry rice and wheat cereal, and rice pudding, along with small bananas. We passed by some of their houses on the way and we knew that none of them had a lot of money, but they fed all of us anyway. I was exhausted and completely spent after making this trip but it was well worth the effort. I can see the small temples on top of the mountain from where we practice yoga in the afternoons and everyday I remember the kind faces of all those who came to worship and shared the special ritual with us.
This week we also learned a bit about ayurvedic medicine as well as something called marma therapy from Tamul Nadu. The ashram has a resident ayurvedic doctor who provides free consultations and you can also get ayurvedic massages here as well. But for our lecture, an ayurvedic doctor came from Trivandrum to explain the basics. Ayurveda means knowledge of life and it aims to balance the 5 elements of nature. He said that everyone falls into a combination or one of three types in ayurveda. Vatha is air/space. Pitta is fire. Kapha is water/earth. Vatha people are always moving around, don’t sleep well, etc (I thought that sounded like me). Pitta people can’t tolerate heat, motivated, and can have a temper. Kapha people are calm, slow, and sleep a lot. I learned a bit about ayurveda during my yoga teacher training so none of this was new to me but being here gave me the chance to go for a consultation, so after the lecture I made my way over to the Sivananda Health Center. The doctor took my left wrist to take my pulse and told me that I was Vatha/Pitta. He said that I probably have lower back pains and I don’t like the cold weather. When I told him that I don’t sleep well, he said as a Vatha, that’s expected, and recommended the traditional ayurvedic oil massage, where a stream of oil is dripped onto your third eye/ between your eyebrows to balance your body and mind. Since the treatment is to be done daily for a week or so, I decided to wait until I get to the ayurvedic resort in a few weeks. The afternoon lecturer recommended that in general, we should drink water like it’s air, chew 32 times before swallowing your food, and to cleanse/detox at the change of each season. All sound advice. There is a group of people at the ashram who have been fasting under the supervision of the ayurvedic doctor. I thought for a second that I could try it myself next year but they all look so miserable that I moved on from that thought immediately. I would be so mean and cranky without food!