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Gita Jayanti-Vaikuntha Ekadasi Dec 16th

12/14/2010

Margashira Shukla Ekadasi in the year 2010 falls on Dec 16th. This auspicious day is also known as Vaikuntha Ekadasi and Gita Jayanti. The reason this day is also called as the Gita Jayanti is because it is widely beleived that this was the day Sanjaya started narrating the wonderful happenings on the battlefield of Kurkshetra to the blind king Dhritarasthra .  Swami Sivananda summed this up beautifully in his words

“The Gita Jayanti marks one of the greatest days in the history of mankind. Nearly six thousand years ago on that day a dazzling flash of brilliant light lit up the firmament of human civilization. That flash, that marvellous spiritual effulgence, was the message of the Bhagavad Gita, given by the Lord Himself on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Unlike ordinary flashes of light which die away after a split-second, this brilliant flash of that memorable day has continued to shine through the centuries, and even now illumines the path of humanity on its onward march to perfection.”

I cannot overemphasize the auspiciousness of this day and the other reasons for calling this Vaikuntha Ekadasi

1.The Sagara Mathana ( churning of the primordial ocean ) between the forces of good and evil ( devatas and Rakshasas) happenned on this day .

2.This Ekadasi occurs at the twilight of the movement of the sun into Uttarayana ( more on Uttarayana search the blog for the entry ) .It is beleived it is right about the time the devatas wake up from the deep slumber of Dakshinayana and twilight muhurtas are always powerful both in meditation and ritual practise.

3.Also in the Padma Purana we have the story of the rakshasa Muran who was troubling the entire cosmos. The gods sought refugee in Lord Vishnu who assumed the form of Goddess Ekadasi to kill the particular demon and free the worlds. The story here has the same hidden message of  Winter giving way to Spring and life beginning afresh . Also in the story it is mentioned Lord Vishnu takes rest in Badrikesh for a while before re emerging to kill the demon.

4. Devotees of Lord Shiva also take this to be the day the Lord drank the Halahala poison that emanated from the divine ocean churning to save the world.

5.Almost all the temples keep the main doors open on this day to symbolize the greatness of this ekadashi .Even if one has missed  fasting on rest of the Ekadasis ,fasting on this one single day grants one sufficient merit .

Ekaadasi Vrata mainly consists of observing “Upavaasa” (Upa means near and vaasa means live) literally means “living in the company or proximity” (of the Lord) and also observing a vrata or vow in the form of self discipline. One of the prerequisites for living in the company of the Lord is that one’s mind must be pure and be able to dwell on divine thoughts only. This is not possible when one allows ones mind to pursue sensual pleasures such as satisfying hunger and bodily needs. Human beings spend much time in procuring food, cooking, eating and
digesting. Some food types make the mind dull and agitated. Hence on days of this nature some Hindus decide to save time and conserve energy by either eating simple foods or totally abstaining from food to keep the mind alert and pure. Therefore, on Ekaadasi thithis (days) the practice of fasting, chanting prayers, singing spiritual kirtanaas (songs), listening to upanyaasaas (discourses) came into practice. Adi Shankara interprets fasting or voluntary denial of food to the body as not only abstaining from food that we eat but also refraining from worldly enjoyments that our senses crave for.  Fasting has been highly praised and glorified in the puraanic literature. The following verse from Dharma Shastra tells what one needs to do on this day

“Ekaadasyaam tu Kartavyam Sarveshaam Bhojanam dwayam
Suddhopavaasaha pratamaha satkathaa sravanaam thathha”
“Oh people these two things that should be done on Ekaadasi day by all. Firstcomplete fasting and thereafter listening to the glories of the Lord”

Lord Krishna giving the divine gift of the gita to Arjuna

Vishwa Rupa Darshana of the Lord

You can find additional posts on the efficacy of fasting for good health in the site.

May Lord Sriman Narayana’s grace shower on all of us.

 

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Wandering mind -Not the path to hapiness

11/18/2010

Eastern philosophies had preached this a long time ago and new scientific proof is emerging about this fact . In this day and age where multi tasking is seen as a virtue ,this study should serve as an wake up call. It does not matter which job you do or which philosophy you follow , all that matters is this , things done with focus and intensity will always leave you more calm and relaxed.You can clearly see this in the case of sports .When you are on the field you pretty much do not think about anything else and one feels pretty relaxed after any game even though physically tired.This is how meditation can help in reducing your stress and lack of happiness.

Anywaz cutting to the chase.

New study from Harvard

Source Link : http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/science/16tier.html?src=me&ref=general

I’m not sure I believe this prediction, but I can assure you it is based on an enormous amount of daydreaming cataloged in the current issue of Science. Using an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness, psychologists at Harvard contacted people around the world at random intervals to ask how they were feeling, what they were doing and what they were thinking.

The least surprising finding, based on a quarter-million responses from more than 2,200 people, was that the happiest people in the world were the ones in the midst of enjoying sex. Or at least they were enjoying it until the iPhone interrupted.

The researchers are not sure how many of them stopped to pick up the phone and how many waited until afterward to respond. Nor, unfortunately, is there any way to gauge what thoughts — happy, unhappy, murderous — went through their partners’ minds when they tried to resume.

When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being “very good,” the people having sex gave an average rating of 90. That was a good 15 points higher than the next-best activity, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting and working.

When asked their thoughts, the people in flagrante were models of concentration: only 10 percent of the time did their thoughts stray from their endeavors. But when people were doing anything else, their minds wandered at least 30 percent of the time, and as much as 65 percent of the time (recorded during moments of personal grooming, clearly a less than scintillating enterprise).

On average throughout all the quarter-million responses, minds were wandering 47 percent of the time. That figure surprised the researchers, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert.

“I find it kind of weird now to look down a crowded street and realize that half the people aren’t really there,” Dr. Gilbert says.

You might suppose that if people’s minds wander while they’re having fun, then those stray thoughts are liable to be about something pleasant — and that was indeed the case with those happy campers having sex. But for the other 99.5 percent of the people, there was no correlation between the joy of the activity and the pleasantness of their thoughts.

“Even if you’re doing something that’s really enjoyable,” Mr. Killingsworth says, “that doesn’t seem to protect against negative thoughts. The rate of mind-wandering is lower for more enjoyable activities, but when people wander they are just as likely to wander toward negative thoughts.”

Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.

“If you ask people to imagine winning the lottery,” Dr. Gilbert says, “they typically talk about the things they would do — ‘I’d go to Italy, I’d buy a boat, I’d lay on the beach’ — and they rarely mention the things they would think. But our data suggest that the location of the body is much less important than the location of the mind, and that the former has surprisingly little influence on the latter. The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet.”

Still, even if people are less happy when their minds wander, which causes which? Could the mind-wandering be a consequence rather than a cause of unhappiness?

To investigate cause and effect, the Harvard psychologists compared each person’s moods and thoughts as the day went on. They found that if someone’s mind wandered at, say, 10 in the morning, then at 10:15 that person was likely to be less happy than at 10 , perhaps because of those stray thoughts. But if people were in a bad mood at 10, they weren’t more likely to be worrying or daydreaming at 10:15.

“We see evidence for mind-wandering causing unhappiness, but no evidence for unhappiness causing mind-wandering,” Mr. Killingsworth says.

This result may disappoint daydreamers, but it’s in keeping with the religious and philosophical admonitions to “Be Here Now,” as the yogi Ram Dass titled his 1971 book. The phrase later became the title of a George Harrison song warning that “a mind that likes to wander ’round the corner is an unwise mind.”

What psychologists call “flow” — immersing your mind fully in activity — has long been advocated by nonpsychologists. “Life is not long,” Samuel Johnson said, “and too much of it must not pass in idle deliberation how it shall be spent.” Henry Ford was more blunt: “Idleness warps the mind.” The iPhone results jibe nicely with one of the favorite sayings of William F. Buckley Jr.: “Industry is the enemy of melancholy.”

Alternatively, you could interpret the iPhone data as support for the philosophical dictum of Bobby McFerrin: “Don’t worry, be happy.” The unhappiness produced by mind-wandering was largely a result of the episodes involving “unpleasant” topics. Such stray thoughts made people more miserable than commuting or working or any other activity.

But the people having stray thoughts on “neutral” topics ranked only a little below the overall average in happiness. And the ones daydreaming about “pleasant” topics were actually a bit above the average, although not quite as happy as the people whose minds were not wandering.

There are times, of course, when unpleasant thoughts are the most useful thoughts. “Happiness in the moment is not the only reason to do something,” says Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research has shown that mind-wandering can lead people to creative solutions of problems, which could make them happier in the long term.

Over the several months of the iPhone study, though, the more frequent mind-wanderers remained less happy than the rest, and the moral — at least for the short-term — seems to be: you stray, you pay. So if you’ve been able to stay focused to the end of this column, perhaps you’re happier than when you daydreamed at the beginning. If not, you can go back to daydreaming starting…now.

Or you could try focusing on something else that is now, at long last, scientifically guaranteed to improve your mood. Just make sure you turn the phone off.”

Also do read Multitasking is bad for you .

Source : http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1174696,00.html

Cover page of Time magazine's famous issue on Meditation

How does the World Change in a minute

10/26/2010

There is an intimate relation between time ,death and birth in the world . Often it is a quite humbling experience to look at the statistics of birth and death per minute in the world. It reminds one that there is a higher power at work here behind the birth and death of human beings.

Official Source : US Govt Census Statistics 2010 World Mortality and Birth Rates

http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/ipc/pcwe

252 babies are born every minute in the world and 107 adults die every minute in the world.

Also look at this interesting graphic which portrays similar information in a easy format.

Things that happen in a minute in the world

I will come back to make two separate posts on the food wastage problem depicted in the above graphic and pollution problem. Statistics reveal there is sufficient food for everybody in the world except most of it gets trashed by civilized society .The next time you feel you are the emperor/queen of the universe or you feel completely down witnessing the injustice, war and violence in the world …gently remind yourself  you do not control neither the birth and death in the world. I am not trying to advocate inaction , my purpose is to point out the presence of something bigger than mere human ego .

Maha Navami Oct 15th-Ayudha Puja

10/15/2010

Ashwini Shukla Paksha Navami or Maha Navami marks the ninth day of the Devi Navaratris . Goddess Durga devi is worshipped both as Aparajita and Siddhidhatri on this blessed day. Both Aparajita and Siddhidhatri are incarnations of the divine mother that can be found in the Devi Saptashati . The mother goddess takes these forms to deal with specific negative forces. Maha Navami is also celebrated as the day of the Ayudha puja . In most parts of America Saturday will be competely Dasami or the festival of Dusshera.

There are two stories behind Navami being the Ayudha puja day. The mother goddess had finished the destruction of the negative forces on this day and she no longer had any need for the various weapons she had manifested during the nine day battle. The second story is of the Pandava prince Arjuna who had hid his weapons during his stay at the court of Virata to stay incognito and had reclaimed his weapons on this particular day to protect the same kingdom from the onslaught of the Kaurava armies. Either way the deep metaphyiscal meaning behind the ritual is actually this. Ayudha puja means worship of the tools that one uses in daily life , it is not limited to the vehicle alone . The ritual is a way of gently reminding us that the tools we daily use are a form of the divine and any work that we do in this world should be viewed the same way as an offering to the divine. If the same attitude can be maintained year long it would result in everybody working much more peacefully.

Lord Vishnu’s devotee’s also worship Hayagriva the horse faced incarnation of the lord who rescued the vedas on this particular day. The rituals vary from place to place . In Kerala today Goddess Saraswati is worshipped and it is beleived any activity started on Mahanavami will definetly lead to being fulfilled. In other parts of the country Kumari worship is undertaken as a part of which young girls are worshipped as the form of the mother goddess . It is interesting to notice the parallels. Lord Hayagriva represents knowledge just as Goddess Saraswathi represents knowledge as well.

Goddess Siddhidhatri

Siddhi Dhatri literally means granter of all the powers in the cosmos. Markandeya Purana and Brahmavaivarta Purana significantly mention this form of the mother goddess. The Eight siddhis traditionally described in yogic lore are Anima, Mahima, Garima, Laghima, Prapti, Prakaamya, Ishitva and Vashitva.Goddess Siddhidatri has four arms. She holds a Chakra in her right lower hand and a mace in the upper. In the left lower hand there is a conch and in her upper left hand a lotus flower. She is seated on a lotus flower with the lion as her mount.The deep inner meaning of this description of the goddess is basically the realization that everything in this cosmos is a form of the divine mother and this is the greatest siddhi one can possess instead of hankering about for material occult powers.

Goddess Siddhidhatri -Granter of all boons

NavaDurga -Nine forms of the divine mother

Hail thee magnificient mother of the cosmos

Ashwayuja Masa-First day of Navaratri Oct 8th-Kalasha Sthapana

10/08/2010

Today is the start of  Navaratri in the holy month of Ashwayuja and is the day for Ghata Sthapana or Kalasha Sthapana.Many may wonder regarding the symbolism behind the Kalasha/Ghata/Kumba . The Kalasha also takes a prominent place in other ceremonies such as marriages, pujas,rites pertaining to education and new houses.

First let us look at the components of the Kalasha. The pot used as Kalasha is primarily made out of copper or brass.Earthern pots are also used as Kalasha.Tender mango leaves are arranged on the mouth of the pot and a fresh coconut is placed on top of the leaves .The pot is decorated with various sacred yantras and patterns .Waters from the holy rivers are placed in the pot along with moist soil .Nine different kind of grains are also placed in the pot so that they sprout over the period of nine days. The Nine grains offered are the famous Navadhanya mentioned at various places in the scriptures.

The Navadhanya are basically

Bengal Gram- Brihaspati

Wheat – Surya

Horse gram-Ketu

Green Gram- Mercury

Rice- Soma/Moon

White beans- Shukra/Venus

Black Sesame – Shani

Chickpeas- Mangal/Mars

Black gram – Rahu

Also the same grains represent one aspect of the Devi from her nine divine forms. The planets are also an representation of different energies emanating from the mother goddess and they serve a certain purpose in maintaining the natural equilibrium of the world. Devi as Adi Para Shakti is the mother goddess animating the entire cosmos and she is the form of creation itself. Creation of this planet occurred in the primordial waters of life and the kalasha containing water and the seeds represents the Devi herself with the nine forms contained within her . Even if you look at the other symbols in Hinduism , you will find similar images. Lord Vishnu the creator also reclines on Adi sesha on the waters of life . Tender mango leaves always represent the life principle or prana shakti animating the various creatures on planet earth. The water filled coconut is a representative of the human body and ego . Hence the ritual of breaking the coconut at the end of the puja symbolizes the process of transmuting one’s ego into something divine.

Kalasha Sthapana is done on the first day of Navaratri .It involves setting up the sacred pot and invoking the presence of the mother goddess into the pot .There is a particular auspicious time for setting up the pot and sowing the seeds. The pot is not to be disturbed untill the end of Navaratri at which point the sprouts are distributed as prasad among the devotees. The muhurta for today was from 06:00-09:00 AM.

The goddess is worshipped as Shailaputri on the first day of Navaratri. Shailaputri is none other than ( Shaila -Mountain Putri-Daughter ) goddess sati who was reborn as Parvati the daughter of Himavanta .Please refer to the previous stories on the blog to learn of the beautiful story of the wedding of Lord Shiva and Parvati.

https://manasasancharare.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/pancharama-kshetra-parvati-turns-into-aparna/

 

Kalasha containing the divine essence

 

 

Ghata Sthapana-Earthern pots

 

 

Ghata Sthapana

 

 

Sahasra Kalasha Aradhana- Omkarananda Ashram Haridwar

 

 

Goddess Parvati as Shailaputri observing penance for Shiva

 

 

May my head be always bowed at your lotus feet O Mother

 

Mahalaya Pitru Paksha-Freedom for one’s Ancestors

09/28/2010

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 8 Verse 25

dhūmo rātris tathā kṛṣṇaḥ

ṣaṇ-māsā dakṣiṇāyanam

tatra cāndramasaḿ jyotir

yogī prāpya nivartate

SYNONYMS

dhūmaḥ — smoke; rātriḥ — night; tathā — also; kṛṣṇaḥ — the fortnight of the dark moon; ṣaṭ-māsāḥ — the six months; dakṣiṇa-ayanam — when the sun passes on the southern side; tatra — there; cāndra-masam — the moon planet; jyotiḥ — the light; yogī — the mystic; prāpya — achieving; nivartate — comes back.

TRANSLATION

The mystic who passes away from this world during the smoke, the night, the fortnight of the waning moon, or the six months when the sun passes to the south reaches the moon planet but again comes back.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 8 Verse 26


śukla-kṛṣṇe gatī hy ete

jagataḥ śāśvate mate

ekayā yāty anāvṛttim

anyayāvartate punaḥ

SYNONYMS

śukla — light; kṛṣṇe — and darkness; gatī — ways of passing; hi — certainly; ete — these two; jagataḥ — of the material world; śāśvate — of the Vedas; mate — in the opinion; ekayā — by one; yāti — goes; anāvṛttim — to no return; anyayā — by the other; āvartate — comes back; punaḥ — again.

TRANSLATION

According to Vedic opinion, there are two ways of passing from this world — one in light and one in darkness. When one passes in light, he does not come back; but when one passes in darkness, he returns.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 9 Verse 16


ahaḿ kratur ahaḿ yajñaḥ

svadhāham aham auṣadham

mantro ‘ham aham evājyam

aham agnir ahaḿ hutam

SYNONYMS

aham — I; kratuḥ — Vedic ritual; aham — I; yajñaḥ — smṛti sacrifice; svadhā — oblation; aham — I; aham — I; auṣadham — healing herb; mantraḥ — transcendental chant; aham — I; aham — I; eva — certainly; ājyam — melted butter; aham — I; agniḥ — fire; aham — I; hutam — offering.

TRANSLATION

But it is I who am the ritual, I the sacrifice, the offering to the ancestors, the healing herb, the transcendental chant. I am the butter and the fire and the offering.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 10 Verse 29

anantaś cāsmi nāgānāḿ

varuṇo yādasām aham

pitṝṇām aryamā cāsmi

yamaḥ saḿyamatām aham

SYNONYMS

anantaḥ — Ananta; ca — also; asmi — I am; nāgānām — of the many-hooded serpents; varuṇaḥ — the demigod controlling the water; yādasām — of all aquatics; aham — I am; pitṝṇām — of the ancestors; aryamā — Aryamā; ca — also; asmi — I am; yamaḥ — the controller of death; saḿyamatām — of all regulators; aham — I am.

TRANSLATION

Of the many-hooded Nāgas I am Ananta, and among the aquatics I am the demigod Varuṇa. Of departed ancestors I am Aryamā, and among the dispensers of law I am Yama, the lord of death.

Lord Krishna in each of the verses above is throwing light on the basis of birth and death of a human being. Each one of us is born with certain debts accumulated from the planet. The body you enjoy is a gift from mother earth , your parents and their ancestors. If they did not exist , so would you not exist. They invested a lot of energy into granting you a human life .Also various plants and animals provide the food for this human body and we definetly owe a energy debt to them as well. These four debts are called  Pitru Runa, Deva Runa, Rishi Runa and Manushya Runa. Pitru Runa is the debt owed to the Ancestors and metaphysically speaking many of the karmic traits that you currently have are inherited from your ancestors.

Mahalaya Paksha in 2010 is from Sep 23rd to Oct 7th .This is a very spiritually potent time to seek release for the ancestors who might be stuck in various planes and in turn seek freedom for oneself from the repeated karmic patterns one is subjected to unconsciously.

Also one needs to acknowledge the debt of the Rishis and Devas during this period . The Devas are personifications of various life sustaining energies present in nature and Deva runa is paid back by puja and homa. Rishi Runa is paid back by keeping the knowledge traditions alive and sharing the knowledge with all without restriction. Manushya runa is paid back by treating fellow human beings with compassion and love.

The best remedy one can do for oneself is performing Pitri Tarpana for one’s own ancestors during this time. Please do not be afraid that you will incurr some sort of bad karma by doing it on your own.In fact you will help your own spiritual progress by doing it on your own.

Resources:

http://www.agasthiar.org/a/tharpanam.htm ( Use this link for visuals of the materials )

http://www.vedicastrologer.org/tarpana/tarpana_s.pdf

In the words of Narasimha rao garu

External rituals are meant to create the internal visualization needed to affect desirable internal changes in the long run. For example, one offers a full coconut into fire as poornaahuti (complete offering) at the end of a homam (fire ritual). This is symbolic of surrendering one’s head or ego (sense of I-ness) to god and burning it in the fire of wisdom and becoming free from ego. As one keeps engaging in this act again and again, the visualization becomes stronger and stronger and ego is slowly reduced.

One important ritual of Hinduism is tarpana. Tarpana means “satisfying” or “satiating”. One acknowledges the debt one has to devas (gods), rishis (sages) and pitris (ancestral manes) and tries to satisfy them using this ritual. Just as gods are invoked in fire in a homam,

pitris are invoked in water in this ritual, then held in the palm and released in a specific way conducive to freeing them.

One owes a lot to one’s parents and ancestors. In modern scientific terms, one owes all of one’s genetic characteristics to one’s parents and ancestors. Each ancestor is actually present in the person as a genetic characteristic. In karmik terms, one inherits some karmas of one’s parents and ancestors and each ancestor is actually present in the person as a kaarmik predisposition. The latter approach obviously extends to multiple lives and some karmik predisposition is inherited from the ancestors from a past life too, though they may not be related to one in this life.

By thinking of the deceased ancestors with gratitude and trying to give them an emancipation, one is actually trying to free oneself from various kaarmic predispositions that one has as a result of the rina (karmik debt) with several people. One can view this as an external event of satisfying and emancipating an external entity (a pitri). Alternately, one can view this as an internal event of satisfying and releasing an internal kaarmik predisposition. Ultimately, it is the latter.

However, one needs to externalize first and perform external rituals, while thinking of what it means internally. This builds up one’s visualization and slowly brings about internal changes and eventually the desired internal change itself. One with living parents also can perform pitri tarpanas for departed ancestors of this life and previous lives”

Brahma Sarovar-Kurukshetra

Thousands gather at Brahma sarovar to give Tarpana to ancestors every year

Origins -How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives

09/24/2010

Its been sometime that I have posted on any exciting new books. Origins by Annie Murphy Paul is a new book throwing light on the science of fetal origins. Most of us must have heard the story of Abhimanyu listening to his father Arjuna and gaining vital knowledge on the science of warfare when he was in his mother’s womb. The less spiritually inclined among us must have scoffed at the idea of the foetus gaining knowledge during the course of pregnancy. New research is exceedingly proving that to be absolutely true. The foundations of your lifelong health are laid in those nine months .Also laid are the foundations for your mental traits and intelligence.

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2020815,00.html

Time magazine has a great new article on the same topic by Annie . Article follows

What makes us the way we are? Why are some people predisposed to be anxious, overweight or asthmatic? How is it that some of us are prone to heart attacks, diabetes or high blood pressure?

There’s a list of conventional answers to these questions. We are the way we are because it’s in our genes. We turn out the way we do because of our childhood experiences. Or our health and well-being stem from the lifestyle choices we make as adults.

But there’s another powerful source of influence you may not have considered: your life as a fetus. The nutrition you received in the womb; the pollutants, drugs and infections you were exposed to during gestation; your mother’s health and state of mind while she was pregnant with you — all these factors shaped you as a baby and continue to affect you to this day.

This is the provocative contention of a field known as fetal origins, whose pioneers assert that the nine months of gestation constitute the most consequential period of our lives, permanently influencing the wiring of the brain and the functioning of organs such as the heart, liver and pancreas. In the literature on the subject, which has exploded over the past 10 years, you can find references to the fetal origins of cancer, cardiovascular disease, allergies, asthma, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, mental illness. At the farthest edge of fetal-origins research, scientists are exploring the possibility that intrauterine conditions influence not only our physical health but also our intelligence, temperament, even our sanity.

As a journalist who covers science, I was intrigued when I first heard about fetal origins. But two years ago, when I began to delve more deeply into the field, I had a more personal motivation: I was newly pregnant. If it was true that my actions over the next nine months would affect my offspring for the rest of his life, I needed to know more.

Of course, no woman who is pregnant today can escape hearing the message that what she does affects her fetus. She hears it at doctor’s appointments, sees it in the pregnancy guidebooks: Do eat this, don’t drink that, be vigilant but never stressed. Expectant mothers could be forgiven for feeling that pregnancy is just a nine-month slog, full of guilt and devoid of pleasure, and this research threatened to add to the burden.

But the scientists I met weren’t full of dire warnings but of the excitement of discovery — and the hope that their discoveries would make a positive difference. Research on fetal origins is prompting a revolutionary shift in thinking about where human qualities come from and when they begin to develop. It’s turning pregnancy into a scientific frontier: the National Institutes of Health embarked last year on a multidecade study that will examine its subjects before they’re born. And it makes the womb a promising target for prevention, raising hopes of conquering public-health scourges like obesity and heart disease through interventions before birth.

Also Annie’s book is available on Amazon

Science writer Paul (The Cult of Personality) segues between pondering her own second pregnancy and the developing literature on fetal origins in this fascinating study of the prenatal period, what one scientist calls the staging ground for well-being and disease in later life. Drawing upon current research and interviews with experts in this burgeoning field, Paul explores such varied topics as diet and nutrition, stress, environmental toxins, exercise, and alcohol use. She cites some frightening if by now familiar discoveries, such as the existence of 200 industrial chemicals that can be found in babies’ umbilical cords, as well as some unusual findings, such as the discovery that women who consumed a daily dose of chocolate during their pregnancies gave birth to babies who smiled more at six months. She also exposes links between low birth weight and later cardiovascular disease, and muses upon the possibility that a dietary supplement might one day protect future children from cancer. As the author delves deeply into the vulnerabilities of the prenatal environment, she comes away with a compelling sense of the importance of how society cares for and supports pregnant women. Focusing on how to minimize harm and maximize benefit during the nine months before birth, Paul’s thought-provoking text reveals that this pivotal period may be even more significant and far-reaching than ever imagined.

Origins-Science of Fetal Origins