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How to Find Yourself After Getting Lost in the Himalayas

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Posted: Saturday, December 28, 2019 9:00 am | Updated: 3:46 pm, Tue Dec 31, 2019.

Not everyone goes on a journey to find themselves. Vish Chatterji, who had just graduated from engineering school in Canada, decided that, not only would he got on such a journey, but he would do so by going on a four-day solo trek through the Himalayas.

“I don’t know if I was inspired by ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ or what, but I was like ‘I’m going to go into the mountains and face them myself and find myself,’” Vish said.

As part of a three-month backpacking trip across India, he said he trekked through part of the Himalayas.

“I left for a trek at around 18,000 feet,” Vish said. “On the third day, I got in some really deep snow, it got rough and I trekked back. I hadn’t seen a human being in three days, just some mountain animals here and there and I got really lonely. I was like, ‘I feel lost. Emotionally, I feel lost.’ I had this desperation and urge to return home, so I started trekking down a bit too fast and I ended up getting lost on the way down. I got below the treeline, I lost my bearings, I got completely lost in the mountains. I ended up in survival mode, trying to find how the hell to get out of there. I found water and stayed by it. As I went by this stream, trying to get down to the river, I fell, I got hurt and I had this harrowing day of crawling on my hands and knees to get to a village that eventually took me in. Going to the Himalayas to find myself and I end up getting completely lost.”

Four days is a short part of most people’s lives, but these four days, in a way, cascaded into a life of business and yoga that may not have happened otherwise. The culmination of these experiences is a book titled “The Business Casual Yogi: Take Charge of Your Body, Mind, and Career” by Vish Chatterji and Yogrishi Vishvketu.

“From where I was, it was a day’s journey to the nearest village. From the village, it was a day, by foot, to the nearest Jeep trail. Of course, I couldn’t walk, so they took me out on a donkey. The nearest Jeep trail is then a day’s off-road journey to the nearest paved road, then it would have been a two-day bus journey to Deli. Instead, I went to Rishikesh, which is kind of the center of yoga learning and meditation,” Vish said.

Yoga was part of Vish’s life from a young age since he grew up in Hong Kong with an Indian family, so he said recuperating in a major yoga center made sense to him..

“My dad did yoga every morning without fail. I never saw a morning where he didn’t get up and do his yoga practice. He’d even go out partying the night before, go to the bar – it didn’t matter – when he came back, he got up to do his yoga practice,” Vish said. “When I was older, I wanted to do yoga too. I had seen the books he had on his bookshelf and I said, ‘Dad, can you teach me yoga?’ and he said, ‘Look, this is not something you want to learn haphazardly. This is not something you just learn here and there. You need to find the right teacher because it is a very specific science and, if you do it the wrong way, you can hurt yourself. You have to learn it from the right teacher. I’m not that right teacher.’ During my entire childhood, he was sharing philosophy with me, so I heard a lot of these stories of philosophy and the philosophical side of it.”

Back in the Himalayas, Vish said he showed up to his first-morning yoga class where he met another Indian man by the name of Vish.

“His full name is Vishvketu and I’m Vishva-ji, so we literally have the same root name. I felt like I found a long-lost brother,” Vish said.

During that first-morning yoga class, Vish said that Vishvketu told the class to bend down into something similar to a standing hamstring stretch. Vish did as instructed, but Vishvketu repeated to him “go down.” However, he couldn’t stretch his hands past his knees. Vish said he still can’t go much past his knees now, but Vishvketu teaches a lesson from that instance.

“That’s the story where [Vishvketu] illustrates that yoga’s not about flexibility, it’s about your mind at the end of the day,” Vish said. “It’s not about how far can you go or how perfect a pose can you do.”

Vish said he and Vishvketu became good friends during his time there and  remain good friends to this day. They even collaborated to create “The Business Casual Yogi.”

“It was really in those Himalayan mountains where I found myself. Especially Rishikesh,” Vish said. “Since then, I’ve traveled quite a lot back to Rishikesh. I visit the Himalayas at least once or twice a year because it’s a very special place for me.

Later, Vish said he would go into automotive engineering, at a company called Roush, which he said had one of the biggest NASCAR teams.

“I worked specifically for the Ford Special Vehicle Team, so we did everything to design the engine.... It was a dream job for a car guy. I had this amazing engineering job,” Vish said.

However, Vish said he noticed that the marketers told them what to build, despite not understanding the mechanic’s side of it. They got paid better too.

“That prompted me to try and become one of them. To do that, I decided to go to business school.... Out of MBA school, I got that kind of a job, it was called ‘product planning,’ where you have one foot in marketing and one foot in engineering. It’s a very business-minded role,” Vish said. “My role was to study people, so they would send me all over the world studying people and figuring out what kind of car to build for them, then driving the engineering aspect of what future cars would be. I did that at Mercedes and Chrysler when [they] split. That was my first role in learning to be a business leader.”

As part of that job, Vish said he took part in a “very elite training program” while working with Mercedes Benz.

“The idea was that they were grooming these people to be their senior-most management. They would take us on these very exclusive trainings,” Vish said. “I remember flying to Germany every two months for these intensive, week-long leadership trainings about ‘how to communicate,’ ‘how to interact,’ ‘how to deal with negotiations,’ ‘how to be healthy,’ ‘how to deal with stress,’ ‘teamwork,’ ‘camaraderie,’ all of these things that, to me, felt a bit yogic in nature because I’d studied them in my yoga studies.”

The auto industry went through its “own crazy thing” in 2008, Vish said, so he went over to Belken, who was recruiting for "entrepreneur residence" and loved his experience studying people to create the next cars and wanted him to do the same thing with electronics. He created a home automation and Bluetooth accessories division at Belken that became a $200 million per year division.

“That’s when I suddenly got recognized for my business chops,” Vish said. “I can study the market, study the need, corral a team of cross-functional people, deliver a product in a fast time, get it launched in the market and generate a very profitable business. That catapulted me into another job where I was put in charge of product innovation for a company in Orange County that did artificial intelligence, but for... TV and entertainment systems.”

He said that technology was sold to “Microsoft, Panasonic, Sony...you name it” and, within two years, the stock price had quintupled.

After that, Vish said he felt like he had more to offer that couldn’t be realized while trapped in another company, so he began his own startup which “got some good legs” and needed some fundraising.

“My partner and I were trying to raise capital, but the investors did not like my co-founder. He was the brains behind the technology, but he didn’t have all the Mercedes training I had. He didn’t have that interaction skill. [The investors] wanted him out of the company. They didn’t think he was approachable,” Vish said. “I went through this whole, terrible process of divorcing my good friend. After all that, things were falling apart."

Vish said he met up with Vishvketu to discuss everything and how his dreams were falling apart. He said Vishvketu told him that if he did more “yoga business,” his business would be OK.

Up to that point, Vish said yoga was something he did in the morning to get rid of stress and he had progressively been cutting down the time he did that more and more. His morning practice had gone from being an hour or more each morning, to being an “optimum, 18-minute program.”

Then, Vish said he started helping Vishvketu with his website and online platform and the founding of his own Ashram in Rishikesh.

“He’s a world-famous yoga teacher now,” Vish said.

Every year, Vish said Vishvketu would teach in California during a big yoga festival called Bhakti Fest and he would stay with Vish in Arrowbear.

At the festival one year, Vish met Gurmukh Khalsa, who he said was the yoga teacher to Madonna and Michael Jackson, opened one of the first yoga studios in LA and was “the mother of Kundalini yoga.” She asked Vish where he taught, but he told her he is not a teacher, he’s a “business guy.”

“She looks at me like I was a kid in first grade giving a wrong answer. She said ‘How can you not teach? You have so much to offer this world, you must teach. You must not die this lifetime just being a student.’ She goes on to get more food and find the next person... just like that,” Vish said.

“Vishvketu, of course, without skipping a beat, said ‘So, you teach my next yoga retreat, OK?’ And when I taught at his retreat, it was very apparent that I had a teaching strength,” Vish continued.

Then, he said, someone approached him asking him to be their coach. He accepted and referrals began stacking up.

“Suddenly, I had a decent-sized coaching business as my startup was falling apart. I exited the startup and went full-time into coaching,” Vish said.

Months later, he said he went through the executive coaching program at the University of California, Berkley and then he went on to formally study how to teach Ayurveda and meditation before returning to India to do yoga teacher training under Vishvketu. He said Gurmukh happened to be in town before his graduation, attended his graduation ceremony and gave him her blessing. 

Vish said he then started his current practice of coaching with an “east meets west approach.” He helps business owners with the “western, MBA thinking” of running a business, including things like leadership and team dynamics.

“When they’re ready, I start bringing in the meditation as a tool and the philosophy side of yoga, which is really transformational for some people,” Vish said.

At this point, Vish said he decided to write a book about everything he’s doing and that he needed to partner with Vishvketu for it “because he’s the source of knowledge.” Vish would double check a lot of what he wanted in the book with Vishvketu, who has a Ph.D on the subject and grew up with the traditional training.

However, Vish ran into some issues while working on the book.

“When I was writing the book in Los Angeles, for whatever reason, I would sit down to write in my office and things just didn’t flow. I felt like I was getting interrupted. I almost felt like the energy around me was distracting me too much,” Vish said.

At this point, Vish already owned a cabin in Arrowbear.

“When I first came up to [the mountain] area, I was like ‘Wow, I have my own little access to the mountain spirit, and I found it specifically in the Arrowbear area,” Vish said. “This area is very, very special. It reminds me of the Himalayas. I feel like, when I hike in the forest here, I have the same energy and feeling when I hike in Himalayan forests.”

It was early on when Vish said he decided to write at his cabin in Arrowbear.

“The beautiful thing is, I brought Vishvketu here while we were writing the book, so he spent a week here, wandering around the forest, meeting all the locals, and he says, ‘You live in a place full of yogis,’ because the people that live in the mountains here are very connected to the nature around them. It’s part of them. That’s the connection between how I discovered yoga in the mountains and where I decided to write about yoga in the mountains, here.”

Vish said, over the course of eight months, he wrote the entire manuscript of the book at his cabin.

“When I’d come up to the cabin, there’s just no disturbance,” Vish said. “I was just able to get deep into the flow of writing. It sounds weird, but I feel like I was able to absorb the mountain energy and it helped me along the arduous process of writing. I would get stuck on something, I’d go for a walk around the area. I’d run into a neighbor – everyone’s really chatty – and, either that conversation would clear my block, or there’d be something from that conversation where I’d go, ‘Oh my god, that’s the story I was looking for.”

Vish said the book is intended to be for anyone. Even though it covers a lot of complex material, the goal from the beginning was to make it accessible to the everyday, normal person.

“What we’ve done is take a massive, complicated system, combining yoga, Ayurveda and the whole Vedic philosophy and combine it all in one book,” Vish said.

For those who are concerned it may conflict with their religion, Vish said it generally won’t, and neither will yoga as a whole.

“One of the things I talked about very early in the book, is religion versus yoga,” Vish said. “What a lot of people are going to say is ‘Yoga? What is this thing? Is it some Hindu thing? Does it subvert my religion?’ I think there’s been controversy around that.... I’ve always wondered about that question myself. When I was doing research for the book, I started to find out that [yoga] was developed under the umbrella of a broader system that we are calling the Vedic Knowledge System.”

Vish said the system comes from an ancient civilization that was ahead of their time.

“They had right angle road systems, wide streets very much like an American city, with a sewage system and they oriented their houses so the breeze would blow through the whole houses, like a natural aid conditioning. There’s a lot of evidence of sanitary systems, plumbing systems, monetary systems, trade and commerce. They were just really far ahead of their time,” Vish said.”

Vish added that the philosophical and physical exercise portions of yoga, all intended to improve oneself, is part of the Vedic Knowledge System.

He added that Hinduism would eventually develop and borrow from this system, which originally had no inherent religious base. He said the primary part of yoga that may cause some tension with religion, is that yoga has you question everything and determine what is right for you individually, rather than doing something because other people tell you to.

“If you decide Christianity is your path, or Islam is your path, or Judaism is your path, all of this stuff is only going to help you be better at that,” Vish said. “It helps you be a better Christian at the end of the day. It supports that practice, it’s not in conflict of that practice. I think it’s very important, when you have an audience that’s obviously more religious, to understand how this fits in. It’s not subverting or subjugating, it’s enhancing and helping. Though it may ask you to question 'Why?' and you may have to come up with an answer. That’s the big thing…. Yoga is all about balance.”

Going forward, Vish said this book is opening a lot of opportunities to teach others and he is thinking about what he will do for his next book. For more information, or to purchase the book, visit the website at www.businesscasualyogi.com. The book can also be found on Amazon.

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