Monthly Archives

November 2015

Travel Yoga

Mysore Diaries – Day 1

November 30, 2015

I have to admit I was sort of nervous about driving all the to Mysore alone.  All kinds of doomsday scenarios kept on playing through my mind (from a flat tyre to horrible accidents).  I’m glad that I pushed the negative thoughts aside and drove down.  It was fun to listen to music and just think and get excited about POMELO_20151130105401_save[1]what lay ahead.  I made it to Mysore on time and managed to find KPJAYI easily.  Basically everyone seemed to know where it was.  There were throngs of people who were already there before me to register.  Registrations for the advanced class had started, and I had to POMELO_20151130201506_save[1]wait a while before I could register for Saraswati’s beginners’ class.  I joined a queue of people who had never practiced Ashtanga before.  We sat on the cool marble floor of the office and shared our pens to fill out our registration forms.  People have come here from far and wide.  Some have even brought children along!

Once I turned in my form I was given a class pass.  You must keep this pass with you at all times.  I have to report for the 5 am class tomorrow.

Once my registration was done I found my hotel and relaxed for some POMELO_20151130201250_save[1]time before heading out again for an early dinner.  I managed to find a place.  Wasn’t too happy with the coffee nor the organic ‘sprouded’ moong dal dosa.  I want masala dosas!!!  Hopefully I’ll be able to find a place which serves strong filter coffee and masala dosas a la Adigas.POMELO_20151130184201_save[1]

 

Healthy Living Travel Yoga

The Bags Are Packed

November 29, 2015

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Dinner with my favorite people before I head to Mysore.

I’m pretty much done with packing for my 15 days of yoga, reading, writing, thinking and resting.  For those of you who don’t know, I’m headed to KPJAYI (Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute).  I’ll be there for 15 days, longer than I’ve ever been on any retreat.  Vipassana is only 10 days.

I’ve read up everything I can about what to expect there, but most blogs are quite vague.  The only thing everyone seems to agree upon is that

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A separate bag for these.

everyone’s experience is different.  However, I reason that the Ashtanga yoga practice is quite intense and since I’m a complete beginner, the sessions may be very challenging for me.  So I’m taking a suitcase full of workout clothes and towels.  And books.  Because the TBR list has a mind of its own.

Another thing I’m looking forward to is driving all the way to Mysore in my humble Alto.  I’ve never done something like this before.  A road trip by myself sounds like a good way to unwind and spend some time reflecting about 2015.  And this weather helps!

 

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Fuel for Mysore.  Fresh, healthy and homemade by my friend’s kind mom.

All I need now is a good night’s rest.  Tomorrow I’ll throw my toothbrush into my bag and head out to what promise to be a phenomenal two weeks in Mysore.  Stay tuned for the Mysore Diaries!

Healthy Living Yoga

The Teacher Today

November 25, 2015

The relationship between a teacher and student in yoga has changed over time.  Centuries ago students were expected to devote their entire lives in the service of their teacher.  The teacher’s word was law and blind, unquestioning faith was expected of the student.

The relationship has evolved over the years.  In the plethora of yoga teachers and classes available in the market, students sometimes get confused about what they are searching for. After all, a certain amount of discernment is only fair. A yoga class can change your life, or leave you feeling flustered. A yoga teacher can point you in the right direction, or get on your nerves. You could end up learning something about yourself, or end up looking for reasons to avoid class for the rest of your life.

Where once a teacher held absolute authority over a student and her practice, nowadays the relationship has become a bit tricky. Teachers are younger, and prone to all the foibles that come with youth (relationship troubles, anxiety about getting a ‘real’ job, peer pressure etc.). And frequently they have another job on the side to pay the bills. This is in sharp contrast to traditional yoga teachers who lived to practice and to teach. Needless to say, all these aspects effect the vibe of a class.

I have mulled over the question for a while now. What is the role of a modern day teacher? After all, it’s the age of consumerism and yoga teachers and classes are being consumed with a vengeance. What then is a yoga teacher’s role? When a student walks in, you know they may walk out the next day. Or next year. How can you make a meaningful contribution to a student’s life with this uncertainty?

As it frequently happens, my teacher unwittingly gave me the answer. The other day in class, he demonstrated the Viparita Dandasana and asked us to correct his posture. He modified his pose according to our inputs. By the time we were done with our cues he looked extremely uncomfortable in the posture. He came out of the pose and told us that as a student we must learn not to depend on the teacher too much. He told us that tomorrow he may not be around and we would then be lost in our practice. He said we must observe our own bodies in all asanas, independent of the cues given by the teacher. We must focus on how the ‘right’ asana feels and use that feeling to get into the pose next time.

What this means is that a student needs to cultivate a practice which fits them. We are bombarded by information about yoga all the time, and sometimes this information is just opinion disguised as fact. The real life asana is in being able to distinguish what works for you from what doesn’t. It lies in being truthful to yourself about whether you are blindly following a teacher or school and losing yourself. Or are you learning and being guided by all this information and eventually finding yourself?

In the modern day scenario, the role of a yoga teacher is to empower a student. Encourage your students to explore. Encourage them to try out other classes and teachers and encourage them to think about how they feel. Encourage self reflection (pratyahara). It is rewarding to see a student find wings under your tutelage. If you teach a student how to be self reliant, the decisions they make on and off the mat will come from a place of confidence and trust, rather than insecurity. You will foster a culture of exploration and abundance. A culture of respect and tolerance. A culture of healthy minds and healthy bodies.

“Illuminated emancipation, freedom, unalloyed and untainted bliss await you, but you have to choose to embark on the Inward Journey to discover it.” – BKS Iyengar

Travel

Beyond the Qutub

November 16, 2015

 

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Jamali Kamali

Delhi happens to be the city of my birth, a city that fascinates me, and a city that I just can’t seem to get enough of.  Since I haven’t grown up in Delhi, I’ve never actually felt a sense of belonging to the city (although I think it’s quite common for people who move frequently to feel this way).  However, I always connect Delhi with history and art and culture (fueled by vacations spent chasing the tritest of tourist trails Qutub Minar, India Gate etc).  Lately I’ve started to explore the city a bit more.  Every time I visit here, I try and slip out for a day or two to just explore.  Explore the bylanes of the old city, walk through the Meena Bazaar, listen to the Qawwals at Nizamuddin….shop for books in Khan Market, hang out at Delhi Haat and fancy myself very ‘cultured’.  And to my delight, right before I came to Delhi on this trip, one of my students told me about one Mr. Sohail Hashmi, who is also on a quest.  On a quest to share his knowledge of his city with those of us willing to wake up early on a holiday to participate in one of his numerous walks around the city.

20151113_071206When it comes to Delhi, I’m never ambitious.  I feel I have an eternity with this city.  To read what others have said about it, to sift through their words in my mind, to walk through the ancient tombs and see if I can actually feel the movement of centuries.  So I’m slow to imbibe.  I listen, I try to correlate tales of old with contemporary times, I try and understand.  Most of all I try to feel.  A city which has been ravaged time and time again only to be re-built time and time again.  Surely something of old still endures under the rubble of the neglected tombs, and an even more neglected ethos.  A certain je ne sais quoi, instinctively felt.  Just beyond your fingertips, even if you stretch your arm out until you can’t stretch any more.

So it was a couple of days after reaching that I called Sohail.  It was short notice, and his walks are usually on Sundays.  Work has me travelling on Sundays.  Unable to get a group together (my perpetual complaint, ‘Where are all those people who also want to get to20151113_071231 the bottom of this city’s very essence.’), I thought for a while that I would have to trudge back to Bangalore this time without unraveling even a bit of the city’s history.  However, Delhi doesn’t disappoint (or at least Sohail doesn’t) and I was invited to join a group of JNU students on a walk near the Qutub Minar.  Specifically, amongst the ruins behind the Qutub Minar.  Qutub Minar  I knew, but the ruins behind the Qutub Minar were new and unexplored.  So off I went, dragging my little sister with me.  There was a slight nip in the air as the morning dawned on the post Diwali smog.  “I come here for work!” exclaimed my sister as we crossed beautiful buildings labelled ‘Sabyasachi’ and ‘Manish Malhotra’ and ‘Evoluzione’ on our way our destination.  And once again I was struck by how easily the old blended with the new, if we only let it.

We arrived…about 45 minutes before our guide and his eager students did.  So we did what anyone else would
do – had some juice at the stalls across from the monument, walked around the monument a couple of times, people watched and then took a lot of pictures (because smartphones, vanity and ancient monuments.)
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Adam Ka Maqbara

Adham ka Maqbara, where we started our walk.

20151113_071527And finally our guide and his entourage arrived and it was time to start our walk.  To begin with we discovered that the building we were to start with was called the ‘Adham Khan ka Maqbara’.  Adham’s mother was Akbar’s wet nurse, and when Adham displeased Akbar in open court, Akbar had him killed.  Adham’s mother then asked Akbar for retribution (she having been his wet nurse and all), and Akbar granted her a mausoleum in the memory of her beloved son. And thus sprung forth the Adham’s Tomb.  To try and list everything would be very difficult.  This morning we were told about the passages running through the walls of the mausoleum, walls and passages which were open when Sohail was a child and used to visit with his family.  Sohail pointed out the leaves motif decorating the pillars of the structure, a motif prevalent today in our culture.  He showed us the lotus motif and told us how it represented goodness and beauty in muck and perhaps not a particular religion.  He showed us the auspicious ‘kalash’ in the pillars at the entrance of the maqbara and related it to the traditional practices of other cultures far away.  And finally he showed us the motif of a 6 sided star.  Perhaps it was the star of David.  Perhaps it is the perfect geometrical figure and so the karighars decided to put it on the monument to increase the aesthetic valu

We took a break here to have samosas and kachoris at a shop nearby.  Here too there was a history lesson.  We were told that the pla20151113_111356ce we were standing in (Mehrauli) was the first urban area of Delhi.  This was the first place where they recorded the first organized market place.  And the samosa wallah has his original shop inside the village nearby, and he is rumored to have lines spanning a few kilometres during Diwali.  We were only privy to an offshoot of the original shop run by one of his nephews or sons.

Once we were done with our little snack we headed down the circuitous roads of the hill to the Gandhak ki Baoli.  This was a 5 storied structure used by people to bathe and to wash their clothes.  100 steps would lead you to the base of this structure.  It was designed with a lot of forethought to ensure that it was useful for one and all.  Incidentally the water contained sulphur, which is great for skin. Maybe that’s why there were shrines all around it and we were even asked to take our shoes off if we wanted to get a closer look.  What my sister and I noticed was that joints were being openly rolled inside these shrines, and people were sitting meditatively and calmly, busy in their own pursuits.

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Mosque at Jamali Kamali

Next we walked to a mausoleum built for an unknown noble.  When Sohail was a young boy (and I guess that was a long long time ago) there used to be a couplet by Saadi inscribed on the inside of the structure, which was subsequently erased with some restoration work.  Here’s the translation:

“I stood up to pray;

I remembered the curve of your brow;

I was lost in the memory of your brow;

That the arch finally reminded me of what I was doing here.”

It’s this couplet which leads us to believe that perhaps this structure was a place of worship.

From here we went to the Rajon Ki Baoli.  We sat on the steps while Sohail explained the architecture to us.  He explained the 20151113_095212drainage system, and why one side of the baoli had no carvings while the other did.  He explained the arches and the intricate carvings on the arches.  He explained how the ASI has only 5 crores every year to 20151113_095345spend on restoration work and that was simply not enough for these magnificent monuments.   Along with this he explained to us that human beings created religion and not the other way around.  The men who built these large places of worship, of living, of poetry readings and of art were paying tribute to love, to beauty to bravery and to valor.  Not to division, to castes to boundaries to oppression to differences.

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Sohail Hashmi regaling us with stories of eras gone by from his comfortable perch.

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Doing what I hope I do best.


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Next we went to the mausoleum of Daulat Khan, with its beautiful inlay work and carvings.   Where Veer Zaara was shot (Dr SRK connections abound).  Sohail told us about how the artisans and the construction workers of the time used to get the ‘marble 20151113_101045finish’ that we saw on the inside of Daulat Khan’s tomb.  He explained about the different architectural influences that we saw inside the tomb.  And we followed him up a narrow staircase where the shiny ‘marble finish’ was still in tact because it was protected by the elements and up on to a terrace where we could see the entire hillside.  I closed by eyes and imagined the Qutub Minar without the teeming villages which had sprung up all around it.  I imagined the Adham ka Maqbara in all it’s glory.  I imagined people so artistically evolved that they had to have beauty above all.  A naked beauty, a beauty which dictated that if the lotus would be aesthetically pleasing in a the tomb of a Muslim ruler, than the lotus motif it must be that would decorate his tomb.  I imagined a time when to take a walk was to lose yourself amidst beauty and nature and art.  I imagined a time where men held high moral values and wanted to glorify beauty and 20151113_102242not possess or ravage it.  I imagined a time of understanding and harmony.  Of warrior kings and queens and nightly poetry readings.  I looked around and hoped that the state of affairs will improve.  Where we will once again glorify talent and art and respect writers and artists.  Where debates will not end with gunshots.  Where people will communicate more than scare.  I left hoping that others would go on this walk and know that people of high moral fibre have trod before us here.  And that it may just be our cultural responsibility to carry on their superior ideals in our own ways.

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Looking at the beer bottles, chips packets and plastic bags that litter the floor of the well of the Rajon ki Baoli.

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The tomb of Jamali-Kamali. Brothers? Lovers?

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Veer Zaara 🙂

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With Sohail Hashmi.

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Healthy Living Yoga

Have a Healthy Diwali.

November 11, 2015

Finally Diwali is upon us and all of us are being inundated by calorie laden sweets, fried snacks and namkeens, tea/coffee and coke (shudder) multiple times a day.  And the season has begun.  From now until the end of the year you will be invited to numerous parties and get togethers and the main theme of these (specially in North India) is food.  I don’t believe in deprivation.  That’s does more harm than good.  Here are a few tips that are tried and tested (and don’t include deprivation).

  1.  Don’t have sugar in tea/coffee.  Not even a little bit.  Since you’ll be gorging on mithai and chocolate, try and cut out the added sugar in any way that you can.  Switch to herbal teas.  Not only are these lower in calories, but they also prevent the onset of colds and allergies, an important thing to consider during the onset of the winter.
  2. Increase your water intake.  So every time you help yourself to a piece of mithai, grab a tall glass of water as well.  Increased water intake will also help keep your hunger pangs an check.
  3. EXERCISE.  This is non-negotiable.  The first thing you must do before the day gets in the way is 20 Surya Namaskars.
  4. Share your treats.  Yes, even the most delectable, custom made, piece-of-heaven delights.  Share them.  Lower your calorie intake and earn goodwill from those around you.
  5. Lastly, I just want to reiterate something that I’ve already spoken about:  Choose your indulgences wisely.  I’ll have chocolate (preferably dark), but I won’t touch laddoos.

Also, spare a thought for the environment.  Burn calories, not crackers!