Starting August through to Diwali, most Indian homes (or maybe Hindu homes might be more accurate?) are on a holiday calendar rigmarole. Don’t get me wrong; I love festivals, the food, and keeping my mom alive through my 2.0 version of traditions. But I’d be lying if I said that before catching a flight to our vacation destination, cooking a Rakhi brunch while fasting and juggling work meetings and wrapping up the house was a piece of cake. But I did it, despite my brother not being in NYC, because these traditions matter to me. They keep me connected to my roots. They help me keep childhood memories fresh in my mind. With yoga and Ayurveda as my guiding principles, I navigate the holidays and festivals with roots in ancient wisdom and mindfulness.
Last week was Teej. It’s a holiday where many North Indian women fast for the long lives of their husbands. I know several readers will probably roll their eyes on reading this bit: women fasting for their husband. How old-fashioned. In our home, both my husband and I fast on Teej and Karva Chauth. I don’t believe I have the power to influence anyone’s lifeline. But as an Ayurveda health counselor, I do understand the benefits of fasting in general and giving our digestive system a break. Fasting lowers inflammation, promotes blood sugar control, may enhance heart health, boost brain function, aid in weight loss, and much more. We both fast because it’s good for our own health. Your wellness is your responsibility.
We live in an over-stimulated world where there are a million distractions. The nervous system is overworked. How often do you get an upset stomach before traveling? Have you felt nauseous or constipated before a big talk? Fasting helps you turn inward and creates a bubble of peace. As a yoga and Ayurveda practitioner, I look at fasting as the fastest route to pratyahara, which is withdrawal of senses. This keeps the mind calm, the nervous system relaxed, and also reduces distractions during the workday.
If I follow a tradition, I can promise you it has its roots in wellness. I believe we are nothing without our health. But it’s interesting how a large majority thinks of traditions as only social issues or a conversation about women’s rights. There have been so many assumptions about what women want and what motivates their actions, yet we do the same. On one hand, I have people telling me these are archaic traditions, and I should dump them; on the other hand, there is the sexist category that’s stunned that my husband chooses to fast with me. Not one person (Not an Indian woman for sure) has ever asked why I fast.
Even during Rakshabandhan, I had women ask what was the point of tying rakhis in modern times? Once again, I don’t celebrate Rakhi, so my brother or cousin brothers can protect me. I got my stuff. I don’t buy the sacred thread and tie it in anticipation of a gift. I love the simplicity of this holiday and what it means to me: siblings take a short pause in their busy lives and acknowledge what they mean to each other. Intentional life and pausing with gratitude are good for our mental and emotional well-being.
I have friends and family who don’t celebrate many festivals. That doesn’t make them bad human beings. Most of us have evolved over the years. I have friends who did Ganpati Puja and Shivaratri with flair at one time, but life experiences turned them into atheists over the years. I know folks who lost loved ones and stopped believing in God. I have friends who started visiting their place of worship every week after losing a best friend. Loss and grief shapes us in ways we didn’t think were possible. I never thought I’d chant the Gayatri mantra every day or any day. But after mom passed away, it’s something I naturally started to include in my morning prayers.
Staying authentic to who you are and not hurting others is the important thing. We are all trying our best to survive and thrive. We all have different belief systems. I imagine we are all entitled to our opinions on how we navigate the holidays. What is not OK, is for people to tell others how they should celebrate. You might not like what I write next, but it is the truth. Oftentimes, it’s women who judge other women. They make comments like, “How lucky! Your husband fasts with you.” Or, “Why does he fast? Women should be fasting.” Or “You still believe in all this Karva Chauth BS? C’mon the world has progressed and so should you.” I have an Arab American friend who once told me, “It’s always the women who want to save me from my hijab. I don’t need to be saved. I love wearing my hijab; it makes me feel empowered. But they can’t handle my definition of what a strong woman looks like.”
This holiday season, pause before you judge others. Think before you speak. It’s perfectly fine to be curious. How you express your inquisitiveness is key. What’s not okay is to believe your way is the only way to think or live. You can’t label women progressive or regressive based on your limited understanding of traditions. Don’t evaluate people based on their faith and your biases. Atheist isn’t a synonym for modern. Believer doesn’t mean old-fashioned. Human beings are way more nuanced, so stop pigeonholing them. I have come to realize that the higher your self-esteem, the kinder and more respectful you are with others. The next time you are about to say or even think something untoward, ask yourself: What do I need to heal within myself?
“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” ~ Henry James