Watching Yoga Work

I met Mun Ching in a yoga center last year during a spiritual sojourn to India. The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram in Neyyar Dam, Kerala attracts both the yoga-curious and advanced practitioners from all around the world. They teach a beautiful combination of Jnana, Karma, Bhakti and Raja yogas, all to the backdrop of a lush tropical paradise.

We happened to decide to travel to Mysore at nearly the same moment, and made arrangements to make the journey together. Her quirky charm, understated wisdom and cheeky smile made for a most excellent adventure together.

Mun Ching, Me & a fellow yogini.

As we bus-ed through the jungles of the south, rocking and rollin’ at a rather slow pace, we got to know each other more deeply. The connections kept popping up, the love of yoga, the Yoga Institute (where I’d just done some continuing eduction as a teacher), Surinder Singh, travel, interest in indigenous peoples, Asian family stuff, the black sheep syndrome, and, as a cherry on top, a great love for tasty edibles!

Munchy at the Mysore Palace

Mun Ching introduced me to Dr. Sudah Yehuda Kovesh Shaheb who wrote the blog about Mun Ching and her transformational experience with yoga below. (I’ll also be visiting with Sudah this summer to experience a pow wow and collaborate on a yoga-diabetes program for his patients. I hope to bring the program back to Hawaii one day!)

This blog is so special to me, not only because it’s a first hand personal account of how brilliant a yogic lifestyle is for one’s health, but it’s also a beautiful reminder of how, if you’re open to it, the Universe can provide you with such enriching relationships, at times when you’d least expect it!

From Dr. Sudah


I am here in KL, visiting my best friend who is also introducing me to the Philosophy and Techniques of Classical (“Raja”) Yoga and guiding me through a 7 day course of Yogic Lifestyle. She is a recent Graduate of Yoga Institute of Santa Cruz, Mumbai; the oldest organized Yoga Institution in the world (since 1918).

We met on a flight to Siem Reap in January 2008 and at that time you could say that she was quite representative of her people from Malaysia: Ambitious, hard working, a CPA and a traveller. As a Doctor and an Anthropologist, I also noticed that she was under considerable stress, was overweight, had an unhealthy lifestyle.

She was gently introduced to Classical Yoga by Vandana Yadav, a teacher from Bombay in February of 2010. Since then there has been a true revolution in her lifestyle and the worldview of hers; and incredible improvements in her mental, emotional and physical health.

I decided to discuss this matter with her, so that many hard working, stressed individuals in this world could gain some sort of guidance from her own victorious journey from Ill Health to Wellness, in a short period of time.

She has changed the way she eats, her activity patterns, incorporating Yoga techniques and uses Yoga philosophy in her every day life.

I have her medical records from 2009 and 2011, so I am able to offer you a medical perspective. In less than two years, she has lost 30 pounds or about 13 kg.

Her Total Cholesterol has come down 14 per cent, her bad cholesterol, LDL, has decreased by 25 per cent, her good cholesterol has improved by 11 per cent. Her Fasting blood sugar was bordering on Pre Diabetes stage and in June 2011, her fasting blood sugar was 77 mg/dl.

Her Family Physician had wanted to start her on Anti-Cholesterol medication, Statins, but she had declined that. Most doctors are not going to believe that patients are capable of reducing their cholesterol on their own, even if the patients know that high LDL cholesterol, the bad one is associated with a higher risk of Heart Attack and Heart Failure.

I asked her to tell me the changes she has made in her life in the last few months.

The earliest change was to consciously drink water. Starting with 1 liter of water in the morning, and another 2 liters of water during the course of the day. She has noticed that the bowel problems she suffered for most of her life disappeared.

In October 2010, she went to India and did 2 days of Yoga camp for Sinus Inflictions at the Yoga Institute and then returned to India in January 2011 to do a 3 months of intensive teacher training course. Since her return to Malaysia in May 2011, she has faithfully done Yoga. Before she went to India, she had gone to Yoga studios in Kuala Lumpur two to three times a week but her weight was fluctuating. She was not able to practice yoga on her own until she attended the Yoga Institute. This may have to do with the type of Yoga, Raja Yoga at the Institute versus Hatha, Power, Ivengar and Ashtanga Yoga at other places.

Malaysia is a paradise for food lovers and it is easy to obtain tasty food. Many people eat at least one meal a day outside the house and many more eat two meals outside the house.

She had reduced this habit of eating out twice a day to once a day, since she became aware of the ingredients used in cooking. Palm oil is used a fair bit and some of the dishes are fried and refried in the same oil. In Malaysia one can eat healthily but one has to be careful since the advent of an array of fast food restaurants, from overseas and locally conjured.

This morning we went to a neighbourhood Café the kind that dots the landscape of Kuala Lumpur. Both of us had Noodle soup, with fish and egg and local vegetables. The cost for two bowls of noodle soup amounted to slightly above 1 Euro! If we had ordered Char Kuoy Tiew, a very popular Malaysian dish, we would have gotten fried noodles, fried in used palm oil, and the Chinese cook may add the fat of the pork (high cholesterol) to give it an enhanced taste. So choosing the right dish, at slow or fast food places is important even in this
Food Paradise.

Mun Ching the Nutritionist:

She has reduced eating Bread, from two slices per day to around two slices of white bread per week (Note: the quality of the bread from bakery is not that good in KL). She also eats less Rice (from one bowl at a meal to half a bowl. In the morning, the breakfast usually is Yoghurt, banana, Raisins, Walnuts, Cereals and Ground Nuts. A cup of Tea made Indian style with milk and two teaspoons of brown sugar.

At Lunch, half a bowl of rice, fish or chicken. Twice a week she may eat Pork. Various vegetables available locally are consumed.

Snacks are mainly Fresh Fruits, available according to the season here in Malaysia. At around 4 pm, a cup of Tea as described above.

One dramatic change has been the elimination of Processed and Stale Food. Of course, drinking fizzy sugar loaded drinks had not been her forte.

During the three-month education course in Bombay, she ate predominantly vegetarian food.

Mun Ching, the yoga practitioner:

The practice of Asanas (postures) are simplified for householders (as compared to challenging yoga she had done before ) that she was initially dubious about the effects of Yoga on her body and mind. This is a common misconception both in the East and the West, that Yoga consists of difficult and sometimes painful postures only few people can attain. Power, achievement and competitiveness are all built into the mass Yoga classes, which are attended by many students at any one time. The Raja Yoga advises to do Yoga at home, and preferably alone.

Currently Mun Ching’s Asana and breathing practice consists of
Breathing (Pranayama) 15 minutes
Asanas (postures) 45 minutes
Relaxation Therapy consisting of Shavasana (Corpse Pose), done twice a day whereby she consciously relax the mind and rejecting any thoughts from entering her mind.

Job: She left the corporate world in May 2010 and went on a spiritual tour of India to discover her next calling in life. She discovered Yoga in October 2010 and in May 2011, she started her social venture called “Meher Yoga Lifestyle Coaching”.

July 2009. Here she is seen at the annual Pow wow of the Hocank Indians of Nebraska, USA
Here is the same lady, in January 2011 at the beginning of her course at the Yoga Institute.

photo taken at an exhibition of Cuban painters in Malaysia.

Parameter 5/2009 10/10 6/2011 %change
Total Chol. 216 172 148 20 14
LDL 143 114 87 20 24
HDL 54 46 51 -15 +11
TG 105 58 52 45 10
Non HDL C 162 126 97 22 30

Total Chol means Total cholesterol
LDL Low Density Cholesterol is considered the Bad one
HDL High Density Cholesterol is considered the Good one
TG Triglycerides, a fat, reflects also the Insulin Resistance in the body
Non HDL cholesterol a predictor of risk for heart disease
Lipid and lipoprotein levels: optimal levels and lifestyle Recommendations of American Heart Association 2011

The following levels of lipids and lipoproteins in women should be encouraged through lifestyle approaches:

LDL- C 100 mg/dL,
HDL – C 50 mg/dL,
Triglycerides 150 mg/dL,
Non–HDL-C (total cholesterol minus HDL) 130 mg/dL

No wonder the local FP/GP wanted to put her on Statin medications for high cholesterol. Look at her reading, when she was pre diabetic with a weight of 69 kg (BMI 27kg/m2, 28 is defined as Obesity in Asians) and a high normal Fasting blood sugar.

Now thanks to her lifestyle changes aided by Classical Yoga practices, her risk for Diabetes and Cardiovascular disease has vanished completely.

Her Blood Pressure is usually around 95/65 mmHg.

Currently she is truly a picture of Health and I am glad to be learning Raja Yoga Philosophy and practices of Asanas and Breathing/Pranayama from her.

I plan to take what I have learned from Mun Ching to the groups of American Indians that I work with, so that those oppressed people can get non drug relief from the diseases of “western civilization”.

Mun Ching in KL June 2011
Doctor and The Yoga Teacher. KL June 2011

The world looks with some awe upon a man who appears unconcernedly indifferent to home, money, comfort, rank, or even power and fame. The world feels not without a certain apprehension, that here is someone outside its jurisdiction; someone before whom its allurements may be spread in vain; someone strangely enfranchised, untamed, untrammelled by convention, moving independent of the ordinary currents of human action. -Winston Churchill, politician and statesman (1874-1965)


3 thoughts on “Watching Yoga Work”

  1. Interesting article. A few comments….
    1. Trans oils/fats – The oils are hydrogenated to increase the shelf life and are cheap. These trans fats and oils cause serious health problems including diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. These are being used in the world for last 30-40 years. Foods made in normal un-hydrogenated fats tend to shorter shelf life compared to one made in trans fats. So the breads/buscuits/cookies and virtually all the processed food that one buys from supermarkets/shops is mostly made using transfats so that it doesn’t go off too quickly. Different countries and actually even states within a country have different laws as to if trans fat can be used or if yes to what amounts. eg Calfornia banned it while some other states in US permit it to some degree. Australia where I live is dilly dallying about it and most of the shelves in supermarket in Australia have this little poison. Also a lot of restaurants use transfats as those are cheaper ( particularly true in Australia).

    So not eating processed foods and not eating out is something to be considered if one is interested. A few of my friends won’t eat anything that is not cooked at home. They just won’t eat out. Another rule of thumb is that if something is cooked or made more than 48 hours back – don’t eat it. So that will rule all these bread/cookies/chips and a whole lot. If something is from a bottle/can – eg juice, fizzy drinks whatever – don’t drink it. Drink water, fresh fruit and vegetable juices, milk. Unless I am traveling I would not eat anything other than the home cooked food and won’t eat any of the breads/biscuits or drink from a bottle/can or whatever.

    2. The article mentions reduced rice and bread. Not sure why is that necessary. Organic brown rice cooked at home or fresh chapati made of whole wheat floor should be eaten according to the appetite. The ancestral knowledge passed to me is eat moderate protein and moderate fat and a lot of veges and if your body needs a lot of energy to be active, it is better to get it from wheat/rice – because your body has to work the least to break them down. Comments?

    3. Turning vegetarian is a healthier option if one is knows how to be a healthy vegetarian.

    4. Also I will like to know how she is doing in 2-3-5 years time. Right now the change is very new and her body would have store of minerals from eating ‘quite a bit of meat’ days. I have known a lot of people here who make the change and first 1-2 years they are very happy. Beyond that period they complain of lack of energy. Not sure but my guess is that their store of minerals/vitamins got depleted. So from long term point of view – emphasis has to be on getting all the nutrients from this diet – otherwise it is not sustainable.

    Thanks for reading.

    1. Interesting ideas, Sanjay, thanks so much for opening up the discussion!

      Personally, processed foods are a no-no, though I have to admit the occasional indulgence, especially in foods that have a psychological benefit to me – foods I ate as a child, or associate with positive memories. In terms of yoga, we’re encouraged to eat sattvic foods (agreeable and fresh, nurturing clarity and balance of body and mind), with only the mindful dip in the rajasic (spicey, rich, etc.) pool, if one has a more active lifestyle. And of course, cow products, grains, breads, etc are thoroughly encouraged, according to this dietary approach. This is just one of many perspectives on nutrition, however.

      I think perhaps Sudah was referring to the more common white breads that contain empty calories and very few nutrients, though I couldn’t speak on his behalf :o)

      The health, economic, and ecological benefits of vegetarianism have been well-documented. That being said, proponents of Traditional Chinese Medicine would disagree 110%! I am much more of a “middle path” explorer than a subscriber to any particular dogma. Every body is different, henceforth, everyone’s ideal diet would probably be unique as well.

      Sanjay, have you grown up with this approach to food, or was there a transitional period from one menu-type to the one you adhere to now?

      Dr. Sudah, I would love to hear your perspective!

  2. Both my parents being vegetarian, I grew up on vegetarian food. As a little kid, when I was 3-5 years old, my mum would teach me “Not to hurt or kill any living being because they all feel pain like we do. They love their life as much as we do. It is wrong to deprive anyone of their life or kill anyone or cause any living being to be killed.” I was taught not to kill or hurt, an ant or a cockroach or any living being. That is one of the main components of Ahimsa and being vegetarian is small and natural corollary of it.

    I totally agree with what I was told and for me being vegetarian is not a negotiable or something that I discuss or question. I have always been vegetarian and will always be.

    Vegetarian in India is based on non killing. So milk and milk products is part of vegetarian diet as it doesn’t cause any living being to lose their life. But killing and eating cows, pigs, chicken, goats, sheep and other living beings – no – they love their life as much as we do. Fish, seafood etc falls in the same category. Eggs are debatable but I don’t eat them.

    Regarding health side of vegetarian diet – on my mother’s side of family they have been vegetarian for generations. My maternal grandmother lived to 94. To her last day, mentally she was sharp and scheming and gossipy and cunning as she ever was. Had no diseases, no neurological degeneration and didn’t spend a day in hospital.


    I grew up in lower middle class family in India. My food consisted of vegetables, legumes, grains, fruit, nuts and milk. We couldn’t afford a refrigerator. So that defined how we ate. Food was cooked fresh and eaten. In Indian summer heat you couldn’t not cook at lunch time and eat at dinner as food would go off by then. Milk was very important part of diet. There was this dairy with buffaloes 5 minutes walk from our house and we used to go see the buffalo getting milked both morning and evening and boil and drink the milk. Milk from buffalo milked in the morning doesn’t last till the evening so milk had to be fresh. It was important to get the buffaloes milked in front of your eyes so that the milkman could get a chance to mix water to milk to increase the volume!

    We used to buy wheat, wash it thoroughly at home, dry it and then get it grinded at the flour mill. So chapatti was made from it and eaten while still hot.

    Farmers being poor there was not much chemical fertilizers and pesticides was used. Fruit and vegetables looked and tasted like what organic food looks and taste like in the west. Actually it had more flavor. Farmer were poor and used cow dung as manure.

    Fizzy drinks – I loved and craved them but those were expensive and not affordable. We drank them at wedding or birthdays or special occasions.

    Processed foods – we never ate any of them. Processed food industry in India was pretty much non existent at the time. In my early twenties just a few months before coming to Australia, I was aghast when I saw a friend buy a packet of photo chips/crisps. I remember thinking potato was cut days and weeks back and the oil in it would have got rancid/rotten by now and she is paying good money to buy it!!!! She offered me some and I couldn’t come to eat them.

    When I went to Australia a few habits changed. I saw people. With every meal they would drink coca cola. I liked coca cola so I started as well. There was plenty of processed food available, in my friends houses, at the train stations, everywhere. I didn’t want to eat but slowly got used to the taste. And it is available everywhere. So I started eating processed foods. Ice cream was so cheap. Go to pizza hut and all you can eat for $4. So where I was working there was one pizza hut nearby. So every lunch I used to eat a lot of pizza and of course ice cream was the dessert.

    One thing I was very impressed with how fresh and nice looking the fruits and vegetables were. Those didn’t have any worm or insect bits. You could buy fruit juices in bottle everywhere. So I drank a lot of them.

    In India I ate chapatti made at home. Here it was replaced by wholemeal and multigrain breads. Chapatti made at home had whole wheat flour and water only. The bread here had oils, salt, preservatives, emulsifiers etc and I didn’t like it but there was no choice.

    When I was in India, I could eat at much as I want but my weight never went up beyond 67 Kg (bmi 22.3). Till then I thought I could eat any amount but I will never go beyond 67 Kg. Everyone in my family was thin. One year in Australia and I remember scales showing me 78 Kg (bmi 26). I couldn’t believe it and didn’t know what to make of it. During a visit to India, friends and family they told me I looked much better early when I was 67 Kg. So next 3-4 years I tried everything in Australia to go back to 70 Kg. I tried fasting, different diets and whatever – I didn’t lose any weight.

    I was not sure how to lose weight but fortunately life took me for 6 months holiday to India where I ate like I used to eat in India before I went to Australia. I didn’t fast, I didn’t try any fad or diet or any such rubbish. Those 6 months my weight went down to 70 Kg just eating normal Indian vegetarian food.

    So last 10 years or so in Australia I have kept my weight at around 70 Kg.


    Last 10 years I have eaten sensible – a bit of everything – not too fussy but last 2-3 year I have lost respect for food in Australia or the west. Two things influenced me.

    1. My dad has 11 brothers and sisters and my mum has 6. So total 17. So I have a lot of cousins and so on. Now out of all of these uncles, aunts, cousins and their families – only two people have had complicated diseases. One had cancer and other a neurological degeneration. And both these people have migrated to US/Western countries. People who have stayed in India have diseases but those are of simple kind like knee pain, arthritis, kidney stone, low iron count etc. Made me question as what are we eating in the west? I am not sure but I would think pesticides are responsible for them.

    2. One of my friend in Australia – he is gymnast 42 year old, of Scottish origins, has got a six pack and is very fit. He needed quadruple bypass. His arteries were all clogged. He used to eat out a lot. And he made me aware of trans fats. Till he told me about them I didn’t anything about them. He showed me how all these supermarket aisle are full of foods to which this small poison has been added. He liked eating out in Sydney and he got food from a lot of those shops and got it analyzed – virturaly all of them used transfats. He had some genetic tendency to accumulate plague in arteries. And eating all these transfats screwed him big time.

    When I first came to Australia I admired the fresh and nice looking food but now I have virtually no respect left for food in the west. Any fruit or vegetable they grow – they will spray the food with huge amount of pesticides. If you go to a farm and see them spray food with pesticides – you just can’t come to eat that food. Apples which looked no nice when I first came to Australia and I relished – now I know they look so nice and yummy only because they have been sprayed with pesticides. The apples in India had rougher skins, worm bites etc. Organic apples in Sydney look exactly like the apples used to look in India when I was growing up. Same things for most other fruits and veges. Another example – carrots – you buy in supermarket for a $1 a kilo – they are no nice looking, straight, juice. Go and buy organic – they are rarely straight, broken here and there and nothing so juice but those cost $5 a kilo. Those haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and artificial chemicals and those look exactly like how the carrots used to look like in India when I was growning up.

    And they will argue this pesticide is safe as it decomposes by the time food reaches the markets and there is so much quality control. I have seen them use that pesticide for 10-20 years and then say – this pesticide causes this problem and now we got a new one and that is safe!! They keep coming up with new and “safe” pesticides every 10-15 years.

    Then their processed food – they will add preservatives and chemicals to it. Then they will use some oil that doesn’t go off too quickly (read transfat). Cows they will get them hormonal injection. Some of them chemical obviously goes into milk.

    They have to mess around with anything we eat and drink!!

    Another things is a lot of fruits and vegetables are available throughout the year. In some cases like apples they just store apples in cold storages for through the year supply. So the fruit/vege you buy could 7 months old.


    As a result of all this last 2-3 years I have made changes to eating patterns.

    With grains I would eat organic brown rice and organic quinoa. I would like to eat some wheat in some form (preferably organic) but I am not sure how. I am not going to eat their breads even the wholemeal ones (transfat + cooked 3 days back + preservatives+ salt – that is enough reasons).

    I grow my own organic veges in my backyard. Though those supply around 20% of my veges needs. Rest I have to buy from market full of pesticides but organic ones are very expensive and don’t know the alternative.

    Fruits – Organic ones are just too expensive. I cannot grow in my back yard either so I have to eat the junk fruits.

    Legumes – I try to but the one which are product of India in the hope that probably the farmer didn’t use to much pesticides.

    Milk – I buy organic milk. I feel a huge guilt drinking because the cows are treated so cruelly here.

    Nuts and seeds – again organics are almost double the price to I try to eat some organic and some normal.

    I don’t eat out other than at the temple once a week or so. When one eats out – the shopkeeper has only profit motive. He wants to buy the cheapest vegetable, use the cheapest oil, use the cheapest ingredient and tries to make it tastiest by adding spices.

    Yoga has also influenced my eating patterns.

    Most of my friends in India, they won’t eat out and only eat food cooked at home. When I came to Australia I was told things are different here and there is so much quality control and what not. I don’t buy any of that anymore. Things I didn’t do in India – eating out, drinking fizzy drink, eating processed food – I am not doing those in Australia. That is how it should have been.


    Last 2-3 years ever since getting serious about yoga, I have to monitor and keep my weight at 70 Kg (bmi 23.3). Every one or two months scales show me 67-68 Kg and I eat a lot of nuts as I don’t like it going below 70 kg.

    Regarding Cholesterol, vegetarian people who don’t eat oily and sugary foods don’t have a problem with cholesterol. People in my family in their 80s don’t have this cholesterol or heart problems – and I am young anyway. Had got mine checked 4-5 years back. Bad cholesterol was below the lower end of the normal range. Good cholesterol was in the half way between the upper and lower end of the normal range. Anyway for cholesterol one doesn’t need yoga or exercises if one are vegetarian and not given to oily or sugary food and eats decently.


    I will like to add that in the last 10-15 years food in India is also changing. Prior to that probably farmers didn’t have enough money to buy pesticides and chemicals and used cow dung as a fertilizer. With economy growing at 8-9% a year, farmers are increasingly using pesticides and chemicals. With a lot of food items, one can look and tell. Also a lot of foods and vegetables which were available in season only are now available throughout the years. Processed foods sealed in bags which were practically non-existent are available everywhere. Fizzy drinks are cheap and affordable and available. India is following the western world.

    None of my school time friends in India are or were overweight ever. But some have got kids who are obese.

    When I was in India in May 2011 there was this fruit seller selling apples. The nice, beautiful, round and nice looking were Rs 150 a kg. Not so nice looking with marks were half the price. Since I got down from the car he expected me to buy the more expensive one but I chose the other one. He gave this look saying ‘you are cheapo.’ And I was thinking “I am not going eat all those pesticides and chemical they put on expensive ones and pay you double the money at the money. The cheaper ones look more like what organic apples look like in Australia.” Earlier, in Delhi you could buy banana only 4-5 months a year and those never looked very nice. Now one can buy beautiful looking bananas throughout the year. My friends in Delhi don’t eat them!!


    I wanted to write 10-12 lines but I have written a long one. Well vegetarianism is a cause very close to my heart so I have rambled one. How do I finish this comment/article? I will finish with a quote from Buddha.

    “Do not deceive each other, do not despise anybody anywhere, never in anger wish anyone to suffer through your body, words or thoughts. Like a mother guarding her only son with her own life, keep thy immeasurable loving thought for all creatures. Above thee, below thee, on all sides of thee, keep on all the world thy sympathy and immeasurable loving thought, without any wish to injure, without enmity.” From Sutta Nipata

    Cherish all life. Every living being loves his/her life like we love ours. Have kindness towards all live beings. Be vegetarian!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s