The best of both worlds
Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of BW Businessworld and exchange4media, Kavi Bhandari and Resham Suhail in conversation with Poonacha Machaiah, business leader, co-founder of ‘Jiyo’ and ‘Deepak Chopra Innerspace’ apps along with the ‘Warrior Monk’ organization and app.
Q. Please tell us about your fascinating journey.
A. I left India for the United States in 1991 at the age of 21 and I turned 50 this year, and it has been quite a journey so far. My career started in artificial intelligence for large corporations including Sprint, Nortel and Motorola. Then in 2007 I decided to move back to India. I am originally from Coorg/Kodagu, India known as the land of the Warriors and I have always kept our community’s moto, chivalry and courage, close to my heart. After realizing I wanted to contribute more to intimately to society I began my journey as a social entrepreneur where the goal is to use technology to democratize knowledge, democratize well-being, and democratize health. Today with the pandemic I feel there will be two industries that will become successful, one is healthcare and the other is education. My goal is to use my skills as a social entrepreneur to create innovations around the technology and well-being industry, to help those industries grow in this new age. In 2007-2008 I started a technology company, Above Solutions, in the city Bangalore. India was going through a recession and a lot of young people were committing suicide and struggling with mental health. I felt through technology and the collaboration with new young hires we could together build technologies to support mental health and well-being. I believe when we look at more than just the world’s economy, when we look at people and focus on well-being as a key component of business we will create a large positive societal transformation. Then a series of synchronistic events brought me into my collaboration with Dr. Deepak Chopra. We started looking at well-being within six pillars 1. Nourish 2. Move 3. Healthy Emotions 4. Meditation 5. Sleep 6. Connect with Nature. Through those pillars we based the foundations of the companies we have built together, JIYO and Deepak Chopra InnerSpace. It is very important to me to build businesses that give people inspiration and tools for positive transformation, ways to help people in any way I can, as this world has been very kind to me. As Gandhi said, “the world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed.” I believe we can always give back, whether through a smile, a business, money, when you give your energy shifts and brings positive emotions. On a practical level you have to pay your bills but our main purpose, my main purpose in this world is to do all the good I can, in all the ways I can, for as long as I ever can. Coming from Coorg I have the spirit of a warrior, but through life I have learned lessons and studied from monks all over the world and one key lesson they have all taught me is to always have hope. With Warrior Monk it is my goal to create a world where no one feels helpless or hopeless by instilling resilience in ourselves and in our communities.
Q. How is the warrior monk retreat doing?
A. Given the state of the world we have postponed the Warrior Monk Retreat, but will still be having the online World Resilience Summit in August. With this lockdown I continue to ask myself the existential questions: who am I?, what is my purpose? and find peace in always asking the question what am I grateful for? My passion has always been mental health and resilience and the intrinsic connection between the two. When I formed Warrior Monk about 2 years ago we built the foundation on those 2 pillars, mental health and resilience. My work as a technologist early on, as I mentioned before brought me unexpectedly into mental health and something I do is study statistics which continues to fuel my passion. Every 40 seconds someone commits suicide in the world and in the United States it is every 12 minutes, through those statistics I felt I was on the right track in beginning this company. With the tools I have to offer and the learnings of resilience through my studies and life experiences I feel I can help bring change and play a role in positively transforming humankind. I feel when life punches you in the gut you start looking for answers, for help, and I feel I can offer some impactful tools from my journey. No one has talked much about resilience before and that is who I am, my way of inspiring and I feel that it is time to talk about it and teach tools to become it, now more than ever. Ironically since we have launched the company the word, resilience, has been coming more into the collective consciousness due to this pandemic. A basic resilience lesson to begin with is the ABC approach, A - Attitude, B - Belief and C – Choice and I go much more into that in our classes.
Q. How can we transform ourselves, how can we create hope for others?
A. Let me first say how I define hope. Hope in today’s world is giving yourself power, believing that the future is going to be better than the present. The theme of resilience continues through the lesson of hope. There are ten lessons I believe to be in the power of resilience - 1. To be positive, don’t panic, see the glass half full 2. Nuture your relationships 3. Recalibrate – meaning and purpose 4. Engage – activity and skill development, engage in something that will put you in a flow, what brings you joy 5. Maintain a healthy body 6. Meditation – cognitive function exercises, a mind body practice 7. Nourishment – whole foods plant based 8. Sleep and Recovery 9. Nature Therapy – grounding, spending time and connecting in nature 10. Higher Purpose -service to humanity and to your community.
Q. You work with Deepak Chopra, and other masters of their craft. What did you learn from each of them.
A. I have been very blessed with learning from some amazing people. A.R. Rahman has taught me a to have a deep connection with spirituality in connection with music. Shekhar Kapur is an out of the box thinker, amazing guy and always challenges me to see things from a different perspective. Dr. Deepak Chopra is one of my best friends and we have had many insightful conversations, it is very hard for me to define my relationship with him. He is a living legend. When you can bring the Eastern wisdom tradition with modern day science, that is truly great. That is magical. I have been blessed with collaborating with him.
Q. Could you tell us about ‘Deepak Chopra Inner Space’ which is what you founded as well?
A. I was looking at why people are getting sick, what is the root cause. Through Dr. Deepak Chopra’s teaching and the research done by the Chopra Foundation and University of California, San Diego their study scientifically proved that grounding (connecting directly with Earth’s energy) significantly reduces inflammation as well as leading to a better overall feeling of well-being. When you walk bare feet on the ground, grass, sand, you are connecting with the Earth’s energy which has a negative charge, so when we connect directly with Mother Earth, that charge neutralizes the positive charge (inflammation) in our bodies. It is a natural healer. Chronic inflammation is the root of disease. Please check out the research on our website deepakchoprainnerspace.com. We have been launching new grounded meditation products when you are unable to go outdoors and hoping to bring awareness to this revolutionary, non-invasive healing modality.
Q. Everything is under massive transformation with stress, fear and tense so how can a person ensure the transformation in positive ways and not negative?
A. Without darkness you cannot have light, positive and negative emotions are human stories. However, every human story can be reframed. That is what I strive to teach through Warrior Monk, reframing through the mind and teaching resilience. Reframing is being aware of your situation, but then transforming it into a positive story. Suppose I don’t have shoes and I am aching as I walk, but then I see a man who has no feet, which stops me in my tracks and thoughts and makes me see the bigger picture, a different story. As Krishnamurti says, “comparison and conformity lead to conflict and it is only a mind without conflict that is a spiritual mind.” If you start comparing yourself to everyone around you, you have stress. Children don’t have chronic stress because they don’t care what clothes they are wearing, the bank balance, they are truly living in present moment awareness – that is one of the lessons Warrior Monk dives into in regards to mental health and resilience. We can ground ourselves by saying it is okay to not have complete control, that is not something that has been traditionally taught as we get older. We now have an entire young generation that is living in fear. It is time to help society transform by giving positive tools, tools that will empower through compassion and love, that is the Warrior Monk way.
Q. How to make sure there is no fear?
A. Fear as I say is “False Evidence Appearing Real.” By spreading this awareness, what I believe as truth, and spending time with our children and each other, listening, is the key during this lockdown to bring hope as people struggle with the fear of this uncertainty.
Q. How to keep ego away?
Ego is the death of the soul. One way to keep it at bay is to stop and observe who is having these thoughts and feelings. It is when you pause and think why did I say this or why did I do this, when you watch yourself as if you are watching a movie then that observation can be a great teacher. We build stories around our identity, it can be what we believe in most, but that is false identity, we are beyond any conditioned, labeled identity.
Q. In these times I have realized I been underestimating my values, and now I have learnt that I can empathize with people. What is the one thing you have developed in this period?
A. The value of true communication. Connection with family and friends is what I have found to be most important to develop more regularly.
Q. What is the university of future? How important are grades in today’s world? Do we need campuses?
A. What are the future of jobs and work? These are existential fundamental questions to ask as education changes as it adapts to our current situation. Some say they feel they will only get hired if they have a PhD. My PhD is different. I believe it is Passion, Hunger and Drive. How passionate are you, how hungry are you to go after that passion and lastly what is your drive? When I started a company with 200 engineers in India, I hired some people who had failed in engineering school, but through their interviews I recognized they would be amazing team members and contributors because of their PhD. They were seen an un-hirable because of their educational pedigree, but you have to look beyond that. Grades are not always a good marker of who someone can be, who they are and what they are capable of with the right guidance and environment. I feel the education system needs to be reformed and it should happen now.
Q. How do you feel comfortable with failure?
A. Failure has been my greatest teacher. One day you fail, but the next day is a new, this is where resilience is key. Time is not linear. Failure should only be felt at that moment and the learning should be taken from it. The next day you have the option, the choice to see it from a different perspective, to reframe. In the exam of life failure is normal. I have known of students who graduate with a 98% or above grade average, then jump off buildings. We need to redefine potential, life is infinite possibilities. Infinite flexibility is the key.
Q. How do I figure out if I am on the right path?
A. You cannot transform the world if you can’t transform yourself. That is your compass. Don’t worry about where you will reach. Your intention is going to manifest in the transformation. As long as your intention is right and pure everything falls into place. I tell everyone that there are three things in life that will bring you success - a life of authenticity, living it with integrity and having a higher purpose.
Q. What are your hobbies?
A. I grew up riding motorcycles, have loved motorcycles all my life as they connect me with people. I rode from Chandigarh to Leh and Ladakah on my bike with friends, through the Himalayas it deepened our friendship. Riding connects me with nature. The wind blowing past me makes me very happy. I also love martial arts, Bruce Lee is one my heroes.
Q. What is your regret in life?
A. I wish I had spent more time with my grandfather.
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