Monthly Archives

September 2016

Travel Yoga

A Chat with Mr. Pandurang

September 27, 2016

 

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A few Iyengar Yoga publications

 

The other day I walked into the practice hall and saw Mr. Pandurang sitting on the stage and the Chinese students gathered around as the audience.  I found out that the Chinese students had requested him to give them a talk about his experience with yoga and the institute over the years.  Pandu’s talk was informative and interesting.  Here’s what I remember from it.

Pandu came with BKS Iyengar to look at the site for the institute in the early 70s.  By this time there were many Iyengar schools around the world and none in Pune.  Guruji used to travel all around the world conducting workshops, but there was no institute in India where he could teach.  The earliest students used to convene in Guruji’s house and practice in whatever space was available.

The decision to build the institute was also fraught with uncertainty.    The fear that no one would come to practice at the institute was in everyone’s mind throughout the construction process.  At one point Guruji told Pandu that if they were unable to use the building for yoga classes, then they could always rent it out as a wedding hall!

The weekend that the finishing touches were being made to the building, Guruji was in Bombay.  His wife had been ill for a long time and she got worse during that weekend.  She eventually ended up passing away and Pandu and everyone else at the institute weren’t sure of how to tell Guruji.  Finally Pandu called Guruji and told him to head back to Pune as his wife was very ill.  Guruji would later talk about how he had in inkling that there was something seriously wrong.  By the time BKS Iyengar came back to Pune, his wife had already expired.  They decided that they would name the institute after her.

The first students to come to the institute were from England.  Some of the 70 odd pomelo_20160924112514_save.jpgstudents brought along thick mats with them.  Those thick mats (sort of like workout/gym mats) were a novelty here in India and localites were very curious about the mats.  BKS Iyengar, being the innovative man he was, thought of different ways to use the mats.  His creativity and love for his subject was such that he was constantly thinking of how to make the poses better and more accessible.  That is how he came up with different ways to use ordinary objects such as chairs, blankets and blocks.  According to Pandu there are 250 ways to use the Setubandhasana box.  He also added that if he were conducting the teachers’ exam he would fail everyone because nowadays teachers aren’t as innovative as they used to once upon a time (referring to the fact that we don’t know the 250 different ways of using a prop).

The story of the sticky mats is pretty much the same.  This time it was a German student who brought  the mat.  In Europe they were using such mats under their carpets so that the carpets wouldn’t slip.  The student thought out of the box and brought it back to India.  Mr. Iyengar looked at the sticky mat and his little grey cells started working.

 

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Mr. Iyengar’s many watches.  Useful when you need to do 20 minute Sirsasanas. 

On the subject of modern teachers he said Guruji always said that you should only follow one teacher.  When he came across students who followed multiple teachers and schools he would say that you are not a lover, but a gatherer.  You are just going around gathering the knowledge of yoga.  There are many instances where people want to become yoga teachers without having practiced for any significant amount of time.  Pandu emphasized the importance of a teacher being fundamentally sound.  .Teachers with no personal practice and little experience may end up hurting students.  This would give a bad name to a discipline which was already infamous.  At the time Mr. Iyengar was teaching, yoga was looked upon with a bit of trepidation.  The vast majority of people thought that it was circus tricks at best or black magic at worse.  Changing people’s perceptions was an uphill task.  And teachers at the time had to ensure that yoga as a practice shouldn’t be vilified.

 

On the nature of Guruji’s practice and teaching Pandu said Guruji was a hard task master.  Students attending his class would be sore for a week afterwards.  And as for his own practice, though he had a large family; he would never make any excuses.  He practiced daily.  Early morning he did pranayama.  In the evening he would practice inversions.  Pandu emphasized the importance of a daily practice.  He said that those who don’t practice daily shouldn’t teach.  He also mentioned that he’s noticed that when teachers start to gain popularity, the first thing out the window is their personal practice.  All RIMYI teachers are regular with their own practice.  Remember that once you lose a pose, it’s a struggle to get back to it.  A Chinese girl in the audience asked how to balance teaching and learning if your livelihood depends on teaching yoga.  Pandu thought for a moment and said that he would always recommend teach less and practice more.  Give preference to your own practice.  That’s what Guruji did.

 

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The secret behind the ubiquitous tilak.

 

In the early 50s (between 1953-1954) Guruji was asked to teach at NDA (National Defence Academy).  BKS Iyengar had to cycle for about 20 kms daily in order to get to class.  Because of that he developed hernia.  He treated hernia as his guru and allowed the condition to guide his practice in order to get rid of the condition.  I was interested in knowing a bit more about the NDA days and found out that classes are going on their even now.  When Guruji was no longer able to go he sent Pandu.  Eventually Pandu also passed on the responsibility.  Pandu remembers that the classes were for one and all, from the cadets to the officers.  I do wonder if anyone posted in NDA during those days would have any pictures from that time.

 

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Playing catch is exhausting.

The oldest running class at the institute is the women’s class (these days conducted by Gulnaz Dashti).  Pandu was asked why was there a separate class for the women.  In those days, was it to separate the sexes?  Pandu replied that in Pune during those days women would be free only once the husband and the children had been packed off for the day and the housework was finished.  This was typically between 9 am – 12 noon.  So it was actually the women of Pune who requested that a special class be conducted for them, and that class continues to this day.

 

Your body is your guru.  However, don’t do asanas when you ‘feel like it’.  Sequencing is very important, else you will definitely experience problems.  When Pandu and Prashant were practicing under Guruji, the practice was different every day.  Tuesdays they would practice only forward bends.  They would practice the Janu Sirsasana for 40-50 minutes at a time.  Prashant and Pandu used to do all the forward bends in the sequence.  Pandu also advised us not to do only the sirsasana and end the class.  He said it’s important to do the Sarvangasana and Halasana.  Also practice the Setubandha Sarvangasana.  As far as be the body is concerned, there is a lot of bending in the circus.  Ballet also has a lot of flexible bodies.  But what happens in these disciplines is that the spine suffers.

Someone in the audience asked Pandu about the asana sequence that is described at the end of the books.  Pandu said that the books were written many years ago and that many things have changed since then.  Props have also changed.  The ideas expressed in the books are a product of those times, and as time passed, the practice, ideas and philosophies evolved.

Pandu then told us a story about yoga.  He said a long time ago when someone would fall sick they were told to take sanjeevani (a medicine).  Then one day all the sanjeevani in the world finished and people went to God to ask for more.  God told people that He couldn’t give them sanjeevani but he can give them yoga vidya. God told people that with yoga they will be able to maintain their health.  However, the yoga vidya went to the rishi munis.  And unfortunately, the rishi munis weren’t easily accessible to the common people.  That’s when yoga teachers came into existence.  They bridged the gap and brought the knowledge of yoga from the rishi munis to the common people.  This is the tradition that Krishnamacharya and his disciples are a part of.  For centuries they have de mystified an esoteric practice.  They have brought it to the masses, but; emphasises Pandu; they have done it properly.

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Lifestyle Travel Yoga

When the going gets tough…

September 22, 2016

I watched ‘Eat Pray Love’ and later devoured the book.  I loved the book and the movie.  I remember googling to find out what ashram Elizabeth Gilbert had checked into.  My friends and  discussed the book and its ideas to death.  We planned similar journeys.  And finally, all of us hoped that should we ever experience a life altering event, we would have the courage and strength to overcome it just like Elizabeth Gilbert.
Elizabeth Gilbert went on to write another book about her life post marriage with the love of her life (whom she met in at the end of ‘Eat Pray Love’).  I haven’t had a chance to read that book yet, but I do hope to pick it up soon.  Over the past few weeks the internet exploded with news that Elizabeth Gilbert has divorced her husband of 12 years – for the woman she’s in love with.  The thing is, this news wasn’t brought to the world through newspapers and magazine stories; Gilbert put it up on her Facebook page herself.  She included a picture of herself with the woman she loves.

Today while in the Sirsasana, with rivulets of sweat running down(up?) my torso and onto the mat, I think I gained a new perspective.  This morning we were taught how to balance our shoulders and torso in the headstand.  The teacher took us through various moves that helped us understand the positioning and behaviour of our shoulder blades and other parts of the torso.  This was to give us insight into how we can improve our headstand.  I was experimenting with my headstand and the experiments had me almost toppling and definitely very very unstable.

I’m sure falling in love while married, deciding to commit to the woman you love (despite knowing she has terminal cancer) and finally calling it quits on a relationship of 12 years with the love of your life (and which has been immortalized in a couple of best selling books) wasn’t easy.  And it didn’t happen overnight.  There must’ve been moments of uncertainty, of fear, of helplessness, anxiety, doubt, anger…and an overwhelming sense of insecurity.  Deciding to go public with an intensely private matter of this kind also couldn’t have been easy for  a woman known the world over for her soul searching trip to India and Bali.  No one in the public domain is impervious to criticism.  With social media being so pervasive, every detail of your life can be analysed.  You can be publicly berated for your actions, opinions and personal choices.  Therefore I think it was very very brave of her to be open about the choice that she made, and to risk a lot of bad publicity, ‘unfriends’, ‘unfollows’ and ‘unlikes’.  In an age where lifestyle choices are beamed out to the world the second they are made, we are constantly under the scanner.

For health and fitness professionals, it is imperative to look their best in every post.  Even pictures of them looking less than their best are always pictures of them looking fabulously less than their best.  The constant scrutiny from fans and followers creates intense pressure to look a particular way or make certain choices.  For fitness professionals choices such as drinking, smoking and indulging the sweet tooth present a challenge – to broadcast or not to broadcast?  I wonder, for instance, as a yoga expert what if I were to one day get a condition that yoga is meant to prevent – how would I go public with it?  Would I, like Gilbert, have the courage to talk about my experience?  Or what if I were to gain all the weight back (a fear that I constantly live with)?  How would I even begin to talk about it?  Which is why I feel like the protagonist on ‘Eat Pray Love’ is more courageous than what was portrayed in the book.  Her courage is uncommon and her quest for herself is very honest.

This is something we can all learn from.  What if an event in your life forced you to re-evaluate everything you’ve stood for so far?  Most of us are so fixated in our opinions and lives that we can almost never admit that we are wrong.  And what if we had to do so publicly?  I can’t imagine what Elizabeth Gilbert went through, but I think it would have been a process of immense growth and fulfilment.

When was the last time you were faced with a situation that challenged your basics and how did you deal with it?  Was it a process of growth and learning?  If yes, what did you learn?

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Sunday the 18th – Koregaon Park

September 20, 2016

 

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Early morning walk around Koregaon Park.

 

Half the month is over, and, as Anuja pointed out in the car earlier today, half the year is almost over.  I bet a lot of people already made their New Year’s Eve plans. I’ve only been able to plan for the first week of December when I may be off for a new adventure.

 

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This should be better by December.

 

However, while I’m here I would like to experience a bit more of Pune.  So this past Saturday I decided to meet up with a friend of mine from my Infy days.  While in the UK, Bhavani and I were out frequently clubbing, pubbing, eating or just watching movies.  The last time I met up with her we went to Mallaka Spice (Bhavani & Me @Mallaka).  Last Saturday we went to a popular hangout here called The Bar Stock Exchange.  Nice place.  Good music, good crowd and nice drinks :).  We headed back to Bhavani’s house with plans of watching ‘Sinister’.  Once I realized I’d already seen the film, I promptly fell asleep.

The next morning was Sunday and I’m not one to miss out on a delicious breakfast.  Because of the early classes here, I’ve become very frugal with my breakfasts.  But I think I’m essentially a breakfast girl.  The other day (at Funky Kona in Baner) Anuja and I were discussing how much more fun and romantic breakfasts are over dinners.  Show me a breakfast and I’ll show you  girl who isn’t afraid to stuff her face.  So we drove around a bit to get to our breakfast place.  The Yogi Tree is right next to the Osho Ashram.  Bhavani had her usual parantha while I had a sandwich.  I have to confess, I don’t miss south Indian breakfast, but I do miss the coffee.  I’ve started to hallucinate the smell of fresh filter coffee!!!  I guess I know the first thing I’ll have in namma Bengaluru.

I pomelo_20160911194640_save.jpgwanted to indulge in a little bit of street shopping also while here.  I did go to Lakshmi road a day before the Ganapati festival.  It was crowded and I don’t think I’ll ever willingly go there again.  But I managed to pick up two pairs of beautiful Kolapuri chappals, which; for the record; happen to be my favorite kind of footwear.

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Many people told me that Koregaon park is known for its small quirky boutiques.  Bhavani and I decided to walk around.  I was looking for nice spots to take yoga photos.  Sadly, couldn’t find a single pretty background.  However, we did go to a few of the small boutiques and indulged in some retail therapy.  I got a sense of the vibe of the place which is youthful and vibrant.  There were interesting little food joints interspersed with the clothing and accessories boutiques.  Lots of places for dessert, but I’m keeping my chocolate addiction under control these days.

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Once I got home I said hi to Aston.  Aston makes a dog’s life look very chic.  He moves only if he has to.  He sprawls under the TV and sort of rolls around there every once in a while.  And he spontaneously has barking fits.  Playing fetch is his only form of exercise, but we know he’s in love with the tennis ball.  Anuja claims that he sleeps on his back and sometimes dreams about running after the ball.  So she says Aston’s legs move, as though he’s running after the ball.  Except he’s asleep.

I decided to strike a few poses while Aston was catching his breath.

Sunday evening Anuja and I decided to go back to Koregaon park to Dario’s.  I’d heard so much about the place and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed.  They have delicious food.  We decided to taste the vegan cheesecake and had some bruschetta and coffee.  We thought we’d go for a round of shopping before we sat down for dinner.

When we emerged from Dario’s it was raining, but the weather wasn’t going to keep a couple of girls away from clothes.  We browsed through a few boutiques in Koregaon park.  I was looking for interesting quirky stuff while Anuja was checking out the merchandise.  We headed home early so that I could be up bright and early for my 7 am.

 

 

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

The Standing Asanas – Day 17

September 17, 2016

It’s been raining non stop in Pune for the last 3 days.  The last time I experienced rain like this was in Wellington.  There the rain was accompanied by mist and the smell of Eucalyptus and Citronella.  Here I’m hurrying to RIMYI as quickly but as carefully as I can so as to make it to class on time while avoiding getting muck on my shoes and clothes.

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The 7 am class this morning was taken by Abhijata.  We started with the Uttanasana and the Adhomukha Svanasana.  We frequently start classes with these poses.   Then we were asked to get bricks and then started the series of standing poses.  We did all the standing poses without a break.  We did the entire sequence on both sides taking a break in between.  It took us only about 10 minutes.  Abhijata then told us that we can do the entire sequence of standing poses every day and in only 20 minutes.  In Iyengar yoga we start with the standing poses.  These poses are sort of like the entry point to other poses and also the entry point to start correcting alignment issues.  Structural and postural defects can be corrected only once the corrections from basic standing asanas are experienced by the body.

Another reason we begin with standing asanas is because while doing the asanas you focus on nothing but the asana.  It’s difficult to think about how much you hate your boss when your thighs are screaming in Virbhadrasana 1.  So for 20 minutes (while you are performing the sequence of standing poses), you get a mental break from whatever thoughts disturb you for the rest of the day.  This state of focus and concentration is what meditation tries to get you to.  In Iyengar yoga we use the asanas as a means to attain the meditative state.

When you try to sit and actively concentrate on emptying your mind or focusing on an object/word/thought, it’s difficult.  It could lead to frustration as well (the opposite of what we hope to achieve through meditation).  However, practicing asanas with consciousness and with an attention to detail ensures that for the time you are practicing you are also in a meditative state.

Perhaps this explains why I feel a sense of lightness here.  (Starting to wonder if I want to make it back to Bangalore….)

 

Lifestyle Yoga

A Yogi in Pune – Day 16

September 16, 2016

I’ve practiced more in these 16 days than I ever have in my life.  In Mysore practice used to be for an hour and a half.  That was for 15 days.  During my teachers’ training at SVYASA we used to have practice for up to 2 – 3 hours a day.  Here we practice for up to 5 hours a day.  Some students even opt to observe classes, so that’s more yoga during the day.  It is intense, it is powerful, detailed, thorough and it’s amazing (I may already have mentioned that before.)    In the past 2 weeks I’ve had time to really work on my asanas.  I’ve also had a chance to see the practice in a different way.  To kind of lift the asana lid and peer into the pot to find the importance and relevance of yoga in our lives.  My own steadily improving practice and watching all kinds of people practice day in and day out.  Doing the Trikonasana (and other asanas) over and over again drives home a few important lessons.

  1.  Practice makes perfect.  But nobody’s perfect.  So perfection is a process and practice is the means to it.  In the age of beautiful Instagram filters, it is difficult to believe that even the jaw dropping and awe inspiring pose has scope for improvement.  There is scope of improvement in everything.  Your projects are a work in progress.  Your relationships are a work in progress….your life is a work in progress.  You are a work in progress!  So accept your mistakes.  Internalize the lessons they teach you and don’t make them again.  Remember, a mistake made over and over again is a habit.
  2. Spend a lot of time on your fundamentals.  Here we have practitioners of all levels.  However, what we practice day in and day out (yes for 5 hours daily) are the fundamentals.  Trikonasana, Uttanasana, Downward dog etc.  The other day the entire 2 hour class was about Uttanasana.  That is all we did during the entire class.  In fact, I’ve heard Abhijata say that your inversions will never be stable unless your standing poses are stable.  Next time you find yourself fumbling in a pose, try and analyse why and what you can do to make the pose better.  And next time you find yourself getting impatient or bored of the fundamentals, remember there’s always scope for improvement.
  3. Cultivate discipline.Be strict with yourself because when it comes to your body no one else will be.  Make the time to move your body, however inconvenient it may be.  Make the time to cultivate a hobby which requires you to move.  Enjoy the process of movement and getting in touch with yourself.  The tragedy of our times is that people will set reminders on their phones to take the medicines they have now become dependent on, but they won’t throw back the covers and go for a quick jog.  Every little bit matters, but you need discipline.  To start and to stay on track.

[Above: Healthy food choices always.  Remember my 80/20 rule.]

Lifestyle Travel Uncategorized

Stop Drawing in the Clouds

September 15, 2016

When I was living in Sanaa, Yemen my parents decided that we should go to school during the summer holidays as well.  Both my parents were working and three kids can be quite a handful.  So they spoke to the principal of the school run by the Indian Embassy there, and we were packed off to what would become summer school for us.

There was a boy in my class during the time, who was from Russia.  He didn’t speak English very well and couldn’t read or write it very well either.  The English teacher was supportive but it is difficult to teach someone a language when you have no common language to communicate in.  The thing that I remember about this boy is that he was a talented artist.  Perhaps he’s a cartoonist or an illustrator or a graphic designer now.  Back then he was amazing at art.  Unfortunately, we grew up at a time when if you were good at Math and Science, you were smart…and nothing else really drew much appreciation.

One day we were given an assignment during English class and we were all furiously working on the assignment.  All of us.  At the end of the class the teacher was curious to know how the Russian student had done.  He handed her his notebook and we all registered her stunned expression.  She looked up and showed us his notebook.  While the rest of us were working on our assignment, he was busy copying the cover page of the book.  I forget what was on the cover, but I remember there were clouds and the name of the book was written over the clouds.

“See he’s drawn the English, he doesn’t even realize it,” said the teacher.  “He thinks it’s a part of the picture.  He doesn’t know what he’s drawn.”

I find a lot of that happening in yoga class.  After 15 days here, at ‘the source’, I’ve started to feel like 95% of yoga studios/teachers/students in Bangalore have skewed focus.  I see it in classes too.  Students are in awe of other students and teachers who can go upside down or do other fancy things….and somewhere the focus shifts.  The acrobats develop a comfort zone in which they preen and prance while the rest of us aspire to gain entry into that comfort zone.  In any yoga class, you will see all the students practicing the basic asanas with concentration and focus.  As the asanas get more challenging the students grumble and groan but still focus on the posture and working with their bodies.  And finally, for the ‘advanced’ poses you will see most students gazing admiringly and enviously at the few who are able to do the poses.

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At any point in time, when your attention is no longer on what is going on within you, then the practice ceases to be yoga.  I keep on saying that yoga is not about the postures, yoga is about life.  All of us have different lives, and so our relationship with yoga will also be unique and personal.  What is going on in your body when you do the Uttanasana will be based upon your lifestyle, life choices, mental and emotional states.  These factors will be different for your classmates and so their Uttanasana will be different.  What I see in students is the desire to do the Uttanasana that their neighbor is doing.  And those who are able to execute what they think is the ‘perfect’ Uttanasana stop working in the asana.  Teachers too, focus more on how far down you can go rather than on how you can work your body optimally to execute the best Uttanasana you can given your mental and physical state at that given point in time.

The result of this style of teaching and learning is that we are missing the point.  Movement in yoga classes is becoming mechanical and mindless.  We’re missing the bullseye….in fact we’re not even aiming for bullseye.  We are confusing asanas for acrobatics and vice versa.  Every time someone else does kapotasana and we can’t, we’re lose a bit of ourselves.  And going farther away from ourselves, which is opposite to what yoga aims to do.  Remember, yoga means to join or to yoke together, and if you are focusing on the getting your leg behind your head, you’re not appreciating the feeling of expansion in your hips.

Stop drawing alphabets in the clouds, learn to read the words.

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Lifestyle Uncategorized Yoga

Nightlife of a Different Sort

September 13, 2016

Lord Ganesh would probably be the poster boy for Hindu mythology.  I’ve rarely met a foreign yogi who hasn’t heard at least one legend about how he got the head of an elephant.  I’ve rarely been to an Indian or an Indophile’s house which doesn’t have a picture or a statue of Ganesh-ji.  I don’t profess to have more than a rudimentary knowledge of Hinduism and am not in the least iconoclastic.  But I also have a beautiful statue of Ganesh in my house.  One of my favorite pieces of jewellery is a gold Ganesh pendant that a friend of mine gave me when I was about to embark on an import journey in life (thanks Lakshmi).

I guess it was destiny for me to come to Maharashtra when the most special festival is going on.  Ganesh Chaturti here is celebrated like Dusshera in Mysore.  The festival has been immortalized in numerous Bollywood songs and last night I had the pleasure of visiting the 5 famous Ganesh mandals here in Pune.  These are so famous in fact, that it is rumoured that Bollywood celebrities come all the way here to offer their prayers.  Going to the old city and walking through the crowds to make your way to the Ganpatis is no easy feat, and I guess it was destiny once again that I had a group who was kind enough to think of me when they made their plan.  Had it not been for Hariharan, Shivangi and Subbu I don’t think I would ever have had the chance to participate in the festivities.

 

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The route.

We had a very capable and organized navigator.  Hariharan did the groundwork.  We had the names of the famous Ganapatis and the walking route printed out.  We knew that it was going to be crowded, so we left our bags behind in the car and ventured out on foot.  Don’t get too close to the venue to look for parking because you won’t find any.  We parked on the other side of the  Mula Mutha river and crossed the bridge.  The area is cordoned off for vehicles.

 

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Have to go back to this.  I’ve heard there is a sound and light show here.  Also, it looks very different from how it does in Bajirao Mastani.  I will have to go back for a closer look.

The Ganapatis we wanted to visit were:

  1. Kasba
  2. Tambdi
  3. Guruji Talim
  4. Tulsibaugh (we missed this one)
  5. Kesriwada

So the Ganapatis, in no particular order are:

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The oldest Ganapati.

While here I want to make sure that I have as much vada pav and pav bhaji and other local fare, and in keeping with that we stopped at JumboKing for their famous Wada Pav Burger.pomelo_20160913161647_save.jpg

 

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Mario Miranda on the wall.

 

Fortune tellers, old and new friends, phenomenal yoga teachers and amazing practice sessions…what else will Ganesh-ji bring my way during the rest of my Pune travels and in my life?

 

 

 

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

The Yoga Mat

September 12, 2016

 

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A photograph at the institute.

 

A tip for all of you travelling to Pune to study at RIMYI:  Don’t take your yoga mat.  I know many people are attached to their mats, and they can’t imagine practicing on any other mat.  (Letting your yoga mat go would be a good lesson in Vairagya or non-attachment.)  Anyways, I was unaware that mats are available in the institute, so I brought along my own.  But I find I’m too lazy to lug it to the institute daily, so now I just use the mats there.

The institute has a wide collection of mats.  So depending on what you want to practice,

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Electric salad and Top Hats @Malaka

you can choose the thickness and stickiness of the mat.  The thing is, my mat gets very dirty (maybe because of my park classes), and I simply can’t get over how clean these mats are.  Even though hundreds of people use the mats daily, the mats are clean and tidy, so you don’t feel all icky about using them.

 

You probably use your mat daily.  Probably sweat on it a lot.  Probably walk across it with dirty feet, or others will walk across it with dirty feet.  No wonder people find their hands and feet slipping in Adhomukha Svanasana.  But a little care for your mat can ensure that it lasts for a while.

If you use your mat in the park (like a lot of my students do), then try to wash your mat weekly.  The best practice to wash your mat is to lay it down on the floor and wipe it down with a sponge and soapy water.  And then rinse the soap away using the same sponge.  Be gentle, because you don’t want to loosen and weaken the fibres of the mat.  I suggest you be eco-friendly and use water and vinegar mixed together.  In Wellington I used to spray Eucalyptus oil on my mat which would keep it smelling fresh and energizing.  You could also spray some essential oil on your mat.  Leave it out to dry.  Also, try not to use too much soap as you don’t want any residue on your mat.

Don’t wring the mat.  Again, it may loosen the fibres and you may end up wringing the mat out of shape.

I know there are special yoga mat wipes which you could use to clean your mat.  I know of one case where someone used baby wipes, which was a bad idea because it moisturized the mat.  Which is not ideal if you want to practice Adhomukha perfectly.  Some people use witch-hazel as well.  I’ve never done this.

What I usually do is put my mat in the washing machine and leave it out to dry in the balcony.  Simple and time effective.  However, I learned the hard way that you shouldn’t put in anything else with your mat.  One of my mats came out torn on one end.  Learn from my mistakes.

 

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Sunday agenda: Catching up on rest with Aston and scary movies on Netflix.

 

 

 

 

 

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Stretching – Then and Now

September 11, 2016

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@Malaka Spice

 

It’s been close to 10 days here and my routine here is as challenging as ever.  I realize that if it’s your first time here, then it does take a while to adjust and adapt.  The first time I had a 4 hour practice I was incredulous … and didn’t know how to deal with it.  Rather, I didn’t know how to make the most of it.  When I practice at home it’s only for an hour and a half, and by the end of it I’m drained out.  So the first few days here, I was always exhausted.  So much so that I felt I couldn’t give the best in the asanas and always felt sloppy and ungainly throughout the practice.  Mondays and Tuesdays specially, since practice on those days is almost 4 hours long, and by the time I’m done with practice its an ordeal just to walk home.  My fantasies these days centre around buying an apartment next to the institute so that I can crawl home in no time and surface again only for the next class.

However, now I’ve started to get used to the routine.  I’m actually able to make the most of the extended practice sessions.  In fact, 2 hours is just about enough time for a satisfying practice…how I’m going to sustain this when I’m back in Bangalore is the stuff other blog posts are made of.

Yesterday I had my class in the evening (where I’m referred to as ‘Bangalore’, and another

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Milk tea just this once?

girl is called ‘USA’, oh and then there’s ‘Madam China’ in the 6 am session).  It was an amazingly intense session.  The class was fast paced with a focus on stretching the lower body (Janu Sirsasana, Paschimottansana, Baddhakonasana etc).  Finally we did the Upavista Konasana, which is a challenging pose for me.  I slowly made my way down and eased my torso onto the floor.  I remember the days when I started practicing yoga and this pose was a big challenge.  I wouldn’t be able to extend my back and my hip joint was stiff.  As the years went by, I was still pretty reluctant to practice this pose because it didn’t come naturally at all and it was frustrating.  Even now, sometimes I’m able to execute this pose well, and sometimes I feel like lead.

Yesterday I was able to ease myself down and placed my forehead on the floor.  I stayed there kind of happy and satisfied with myself.  There’s always an element of pleasant surprise also, because some days your body can extend and some days it just doesn’t.  This reverie lasted until I heard, “BANGALORE!  You’re sleeping!  Extend more!  Walk forward with your hands!!!  That’s it, that’s good.  Trance mein chali gayi thi phir se.”

And I realized that for the most part, this is how I practice.  I arrange myself into a pose and then my mind says, “This is it, you’ve done well.  You’re done.”  And then my pose goes dead, and progress stops.  Or, as the teacher said, I fall asleep.  So when I was told to extend more, I had to push through the limitations of my mind (kind of still the internal dialogue) and discover if I could, in fact, go further.  I realized that I could, and for that little bit of time I experienced new life.  And received a bit of enlightenment.

The Halasana is a pose that we do daily in class.  We use props to ensure that the spine and neck are straight.  The picture is of me doing the Halasana many years ago.  When my internal dialogue was loud and overpowering.  I’m sure it’s improved over the years.  And after this class, I know how to work in this (and in all other asanas).

Halasana (Plough Pose)

How To

  1. Lie down straight on your back making sure your head lies on the floor.
  2. Exhale, bend your legs at the knees and bring your knees close to your chest.
  3. Lift your buttocks off of the floor supporting your back with your hands.
  4. Make sure to plant your elbows firmly on the floor.halasana
  5. Bring your body perpendicular to the floor, until your sternum touches your chin.
  6. Gently extend your legs out behind your head.
  7. Keep your face and neck relaxed.
  8. Practice with your arms stretched out behind and fingers interlocked to relive pain and cramps in fingers, hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders.

Benefits

  • Relieves fatigue.
  • Helps to calm down the mind.
  • Relaxes your eyes and brain.
  • Controls hyper tension.
  • Improves digestion.
  • Lengthens the spine and improves alignment.
  • Reduces insomnia and anxiety.
  • Relieves stress-related headaches and migraines.

Contraindications

  • Don’t practice during menstruation and if you have cervical spondylosis.
Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Yoga and the Menstrual Cycle – Pune Day 8

September 8, 2016

To practice or not to practice – even the most devoted yogini asks herself this once a month.

Here in Pune, women on their period are given a different, more restful sequence to follow.  So they will do all the standing and seated asanas and the twists with the rest of the class.  When the class goes into inversions (which is what we practice towards the end of the session), the menstruating ladies go into either forward bends or restful supine positions.

When I was in Mysore last year I found out that in the Ashtanga tradition, women are allowed 3 rest days while on their period and these days are called the ‘Ladies’ Holiday’.

Now that we know that two very old traditions of yoga recommend rest during this time, it’s worth dwelling on why.  I’m sure I’ve talked about it in a previous blog, but the most obvious reason is that inversions force the flow of blood to go against the natural course, which may lead to unhealthy periods.  Also, when you start to integrate bandhas with your asanas, the mula bandha opposes the flow of blood again.

Mensturation is also the time when a woman’s body regenerates and gets ready to procreate again.  This ability to procreate is held holy and revered in many cultures.  This is a time for a woman to slow down and give time and space to her body, spiritually and physically.

When I first started practicing yoga, I admit I thought not practicing when you’re menstruating was just a myth.  And so I practiced all the time.  A lot of us can get away with intense challenging practice sessions even while we’re on our period.  However, your body will change and it’s important to be attuned to these changes.  Your flexibility levels vary day to day, as does your stamina and state of mind.  As your body and your practice change you can expect that one day you may just want to relax during your period.  Listen to your body, don’t just obey your mind.

How did I make peace with easing up on my practice?  I decided to take it the Iyengar way.  During my self practice I spent a lot of time in Supta Baddhakonasana and in various forward bends.  I did a lot of hip openers because I find that feels good.  I worked on my Hanumanasana as well.  My back feels relaxed and flexible and I still feel like I did a good practice.

On to other related topics.  Lately I’ve started looking into having a zero-waste period.  As many readers may know, sanitary napkins and tampons are non biodegradable or recyclable and end up in landfills.  There are reams online about TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) but my primary interest in a zero-waste period is the environment.  Pads and tampons started to feel like the deep-fried, coated in refined sugar, unhygienic sweet that I didn’t even want to look at.  I discovered alternatives.  Here’s a video that will shed more light on this:

 

And if you’re interested in getting your own set of re-usable pads, you can get them at the link below.  The reason I like this organisation is because they are involved with lots of rural initiatives.

https://ecofemme.org/domestic/