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Pragya Bhatt

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Of Old Friends and Pleasant Surprises

October 21, 2019

My line of work brings many pleasant surprises.  I’ll often meet people who follow me on social media, or who have heard about me, or have read my blog.  Now I meet people who read my book, and they send me photos with the book to prove it!  Just this morning I met someone who looked at me for a tad bit longer than is considered polite and then told me he’s following ‘yogawithpragya’ on Twitter.

A month ago I received a mail from a friend I used to work with in Infosys.  Ayumi and I were both recruited to the July 25th, 2005 batch of Infocions.  We got to know each other pretty well during our month long training in Mysore.  Eventually she moved back to Japan and Orkut shut down.  With that went all her connections.

Teaching colleagues makes me feel that life has come a full circle. In today’s class we learned the nuances of the tree pose, something I’ve written about in this blog.

Fifteen years later Ayumi had switched jobs and was living and working in Japan.  She had attended a few yoga classes and wanted to attend more.   A month ago she ran a search on google and came across ‘Pragya Bhatt – yoga teacher’.  Could it be the same Pragya, she wondered, and lo and behold! it was.  She promptly shot a mail to the email ID listed.  Fifteen years!!! I thought as I responded to her email.

A week ago she email me again to say she was coming to India and could we catch up?  I said of course!  As I hugged her I thought she looked just the same.  She asked me if yoga made my hair grow so long.  I told her about how MG Road no longer had the walkway, but the Metro.  We spoke of how the Forum is no longer the only mall in Bangalore.  We took her out to Arbor Brewing Company and she had locally brewed beer.  We’ve been pigging out on idlis and filter coffee daily.  She reminded me of the time we went to Ooty for New Year’s.  How we rented an auto for two days and went sight seeing around Mangalore.  How we escaped a bomb blast during Diwali season in Sarojini Nagar Market in Delhi.  How we booked a one day tour to visit Agra and Mathura in a rickety old bus.

We did a private yoga session together and she came to my group class.  It was surreal.  From the swanky, state of the art Infosys Mysore campus we were meeting 15 years later, so much changed in mind and body.  Thanks to the beauty of technology.

 

Fresh-faced, optimistic and ready to take on the world. Ayumi is in the front row, second from the right. Can you spot me?

Beyond Asanas: The Asanas

Vrkshasana: The Tree Pose

October 16, 2019

Nature is about balance.  When things go off-balance problems arise.  A yoga practice is not complete without an element of balance in it.

In ‘Beyond Asanas‘ I talk about the significance of trees and why a pose is dedicated to trees.  Trees have played an important role in the dissemination of knowledge from guru to shishya.  I talk about the beginning of this parampara in Chapter 30 of Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures.

When you first start to practice the Vrikshasana focusing on balance is inevitable.  However, I’ve seen students practicing it as though balance is all there is to it.  Many teachers also encourage this notion.  To aide the balance students are allowed to place the foot of their bent leg on the shin or next to the knee of the other leg.  In one case I’ve seen a student rest the foot on top of the knee of the straight leg.

Balancing is only one aspect of this asana.  The Vrkshasana, when practiced correctly requires you to engage the groin.  The ability to do so has an impact on how well you can execute this posture.  Try it yourself.  The spine, the groin, the hips, the abdomen…all behave very differently depending on the placement of the foot of the bent leg.  There is a unique ‘hold’ that occurs, the nature of which varies with the positioning of the bent leg.

Once you overcome the challenge of balance, you must start doing the internal work of the posture.  What you must work on now is the mula bandha, which will bring more stability to the posture.  The stronger the bandha, the taller and steadier you will be in the tree pose.

 

How To:

  1. Stand in Tadasana
  2. Shift your weight to your left leg.
  3. Place your right foot close to the groin, with your toes pointing down.  Make sure the knee points outwards, to give your hips a wide opening.
  4. Keep your gaze focused and form a namaskar with your hands above your head.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Start in the Tadasana. Keep the thighs engaged and rolled in. The body weight should be distributed evenly on both feet.

The position of the heel makes a difference to the practice of the asana. Don’t be content with resting the foot just anywhere on the leg. Work on getting it closer to the groin.

Read more about the benefits and contraindications of the vrikshasana in ‘Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures‘.  The book was published this year by Penguin Random House.  The book contains beautiful images of the asanas taken by Joel Koechlin, along with a foreword by Kalki Koechlin.  Available on Amazon and Flipkart and at your nearest bookstore.

 

 

 

 

Travel

What We Don’t Think About When We Think About Responsible Tourism

October 14, 2019

The summit covered by clouds at the beginning of the trek.

Last Sunday a bunch of us decided to trek up the Savandurga hill.  My friends reached my house at 4 am.  We were to reach the base camp by 6 am and start climbing.  Later than this and it would get too hot.  We had registered for the trek on https://myecotrip.com/.  This is an initiative to encourage eco-sensitive tourism by the government of Karnataka.  They offer eco-friendly tour packages that showcase the natural beauty of Karnataka.  These include day-long treks, visits to bird sanctuaries and wildlife safaris.  Navigating through their website is easy and they are quick to respond to queries on telephone.

Savandurga is a hill 60 km from Bangalore, and is considered to be one of the largest monoliths in Asia.  There are two famous temples at the foothills which many pilgrims revere and visit year round, the Savandi Veerabhadreshwara Swamy and Narasimha Swamy temple.  The hills are centuries old.  It is believed that these hills served as the capital for Magadi rulers such as Kempegowda.  It was later taken over by those in power in Mysore.  In 1791, during the Third Anglo-Mysore War, Lord Corwallis captured it from Tipu Sultan.  At one point in time it was also known as Savinadurga or the fort of death!

It is a difficult trek – mostly uphill and on rocks.  When the rocks are wet they are super-slippery.

Our guide showed us an ancient Hanuman temple a little away from the trail. Hanuman faces left, which is unusual.

The ancient Nandi at the summit.

For the most part the trek was great.  I would wish that there was less litter and plastic strewn around, but I think the monkeys may be responsible for that.  On the whole I saw that the trekkers were responsible, helpful and considerate towards others on the trail.   But I must mention the exception.

A couple planted themselves right in front of the bull, with no regard for the multitudes of others who had huffed and puffed their way up to the top to get a glimpse of the ancient Nandi.  This is disrespectful on so many levels.  Not only is this a place of tourist interest, but also a place of worship.  All the visitors waited patiently for their turn to whisper their wishes in Nandi’s ear (a custom) while this particular couple refused to move an inch.  Finally my friend went up to them and pointedly asked them to move, which they did…for 10 minutes.

When we think about responsible tourism, perhaps we need to think of this aspect as well.  Just because this temple/place of interest isn’t manned by temple/government officials doesn’t give you permission to be rude, insensitive and inconsiderate.  Some of us trekked up for a darshan of the Nandi, some of us to look at an ancient historical monument, either way we deserve to look at it without two inconsiderate lovebirds crowding our frame.

When we talk about responsible tourism we need to factor in responsible tourist behavior too.  Lest civic sense become as uncommon as common sense.

 

 

 

Books Poetry

It’s Not That Time of the Year Without…

October 6, 2019

A surprised glance at the months gone by,

for just like last year

this year has also passed softly, lightly.

The perfect accompaniment for these deliciously nippy evenings.

Books left untouched on shelves

which, not too long ago, I swore ardently ‘to read’

A year older, a year wiser?

Change has crept up on me

Calmly

For I may yet live

more expansively

in the days to come

I will not let these months pass

Without ridding

myself of heavy clutter

Without bonding

over cards

in houses twinkling with laughter and goodwill

Without looking

at an old space

and breathing new life.

Without affirming that

though I may seem the same,

my life the same,

my spaces the same

I have ridden the waves of Time

for even as I write this

I am not the same

my life is not the same

my spaces are not the same.

[WORDS DO MATTER! This post is written for the 3rd edition of #WordsMatter linkup hosted by Corinne, Parul and Shalini. The prompt for this edition of #WordsMatter linkup is ‘It’s not that time of the year without…’]

I received this tag from Anamika at https://thebespectacledmother.com/. It’s my pleasure to pass on this tag to Shinjini at https://moderngypsy.in/. There were 38 of us on this Blog Hop and it was spread over 3 days – 4, 5, 6 October 2019. Do follow the #WordsMatter Blog Hop, you’ll love our musings!

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

The 2019 Pune Visit

October 2, 2019
Taking stock.

Taken on the way to Panchgani. Nature has a way of giving you perspective.

It’s my first ‘day at work’ after my annual Pune visit.  A student asked me this morning about whether I gained new insights.  During my first few years of yoga teaching and practice, I could easily quantify what I had learned.  Stuff like “headstand”, “an arm balance” and “did some intense core work”.  Now it’s more difficult to describe.  Maybe because now my focus is not so much on the number of asanas in my kitty.   Now I like to work with what I have and refine it further.  I like to simmer in known asanas so that I can teach them better – or rather, learn more from the asana.

So if I had to recap my month in Pune I like to think about sum total of all the experiences I had.  I remember the rush to finish last minute assignments before leaving.  I tried (unsuccessfully) to look for a substitute.  My students had to contend with no teacher for a month.  But it was an auspicious start.

I arrived in the days leading up to Ganesh Chaturthi, things were as bright and festive as always.  Once I registered for my month I created a list of things to remember for all prospective students of RIMYI.

The teachers who have had the most impact on me are those who have encouraged me to trust my thought process.  My Yoga Therapy professor did just that.  I also wrote about how my practice changed during my Pune visit when a teacher told us to ignore the stretch.

In September I discovered an app called YourQuote and started dabbling in writing again.  I also attended the Pune International Literature Festival as a writer for the first time.  I checked for my book in the bookstalls, I signed books for many readers.  Meet other writers was a dream.  My friends came out to watch my session.

In September I hit an all-time high in my blog views.  Titled “Why Am I Not Losing Weight?”, this blog resonated with many readers.

We’re getting ready for the festive season here as well.  Diwali cleaning, de-cluttering, decorating…all this and much more in October.

 

A Pune visit is never complete without an Irani chai and wada pav. Go to FC Road for the best.

Uncategorized

Why Am I Not Losing Weight?

September 25, 2019

After we were done with our session at the Pune international Literature Festival, Joel and I were inundated with questions. I wish we’d had enough time to answer everyone’s questions, but we had time for only a few. During our chat I mentioned that while I was a desk-bound software engineer I had steadily put on weight. I recounted the singularly frustrating experience of trying ‘pretty much everything’ and still not being able to lose weight. Until yoga happened, and the rest of my journey is pretty well documented.

This story strikes a chord with many people, as it did that day. A lady in the audience had spotted our book in the bookstalls, bought it, noted that our session was on and made a point to attend. She told us that she’s had a problem losing weight with yoga. Whenever she watches what she eats, she finds the weight coming off. But when she loses track of her diet, the weight comes back.

I’ve heard this many times over the years. It stems from the idea that you can push garbage into your body and ‘work it out’. This idea is superficial at best and downright dangerous at worse. It presupposes the idea that the only reason to practice yoga or any other form of movement is to get to a particular number on the scale. However, we don’t move to sweat. We move to touch our toes, to slam dunk, to sprint up mountains, to swim in the ocean.

If your sweat sessions are fueled by bags of potato chips and zero-calorie colas, then you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of weak and brittle bones, thinning hair, dimming eye sight, abysmally low levels of energy, foul temper, anemia, thyroid issues…..

In retrospect, it was only when I started a serious yoga practice that I started to eat better. Poha for breakfast, dal-chawal for lunch, roti sabji for dinner. I shared a flat with four other girls and our cook made simple food. I didn’t snack, drank no dairy, and never stuffed myself with food.

Whether or not you’re a yoga practitioner you should remember this adage (which comes to us from yoga/ayurveda texts): “Yukta aahaar, vihaar, nidra.” Balanced nutrition, adequate exercise and restful sleep are imperative for good health.

Health and fitness are about balance than anything else. It’s an irony that I’m in a balancing asana on the far right. The more balanced you are, the fitter you get.

Books Lifestyle Travel Uncategorized Yoga

The Pune International Lit Fest

September 23, 2019

A free flowing conversation about the process and experience of putting the book together.

I’ve been attending literature and art festivals forever. The Jaipur Lit Fest many years ago, the Kochi Muziris Biennale, the Bangalore Lit Fest, the Venice Biennale and finally the Pune International Lit Fest. For years I’ve always been an attendee, always wondering if I would ever be on the other side. The writer’s side.

And this weekend, at the Pune International Lit Fest, it happened.  I was officially on the writer’s side.

Always good to see your work next to those you admire.

 

It was amazing.  I registered as a speaker and was shown into the author’s lounge where I met other speakers and writers. I checked for my book at the bookstalls, signed books, took photos, hobnobbed with other writers.

 

 

 

Our session was scheduled for the last day, to ensure that my RIMYI schedule didn’t clash.  Joel Koechlin (the man behind the beautiful photos in the book) and I were speaking about Beyond Asanas with our editor Gurveen Chadha of Penguin Random House.  The three of us had interacted with each other extensively during the making of this book, and the comfort level was evident on stage. We had a free wheeling chat about the process of creating the book, the challenges we faced, the importance of yoga, why it is worthwhile to read the history and mythology of asanas, inspiration….the hour went by pretty quickly. We fielded as many questions from the audience as time would allow.

 

 

 

The fest was well-organized, the sessions were varied and interesting, the goodie bag was great and the bookstalls were well stocked.  A heartfelt thank you to the organizers for this amazing event.

 

With poetess and friend, Tanushi Singh. Check out her latest collection of poetry called, In Pursuit of Sunshine in Rain.

Always thankful for those who can share my little joys with me.

 

Came with a great goodie bag too!

Yoga

Prop or Crutch?

September 19, 2019
See the Sirsasana

This beautiful shot is part of the photos we took for ‘Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures”. Get your copy of the book on Amazon and Flipkart.

I had a 7 am class with Gulnaz Dashti today, my second with her this month.  I’ve recounted my hilarious class in 2016 with her here.  And last year here.  As evident in these blogs, she’s energetic, lively and funny.

Lately I’ve been having problems with the sirsasana.  It’s confounding.  I’ve been practicing sirsasana for years, even doing variations.  Here’s a video of me doing advanced variations too.  But suddenly one day I felt my neck starting to cramp up.  I hadn’t changed anything and I got a bit worried.

I decided that maybe I should change the way I use the blanket under my head.  Until now I was using a folded blanket between a folded mat.  I started to fold the blanket in the Iyengar “three fold long” style.  I felt it would give me height .  But that also didn’t feel right.  I spoke to Gulnaz about it last week.  “Is it possible for someone to do a pose for many years and all of a sudden to lose it one day?”

She said in her quick rapid style, “Until now you’ve learned how to do the sirsasana.  Now you’ll  understand the posture.  Go, I’ll see next week!”

So today before I went up I asked her for help.

“Why are you using a blanket?!” she screeched.  “You people become so used to the props!  Keep the blanket aside and go  close to the wall, I’ll adjust.”  She reached down and lifted my shoulders away from my ears.  I felt the weight shifting forward to my elbows.  My wrists and elbows woke up, and I pushed them firmly into the mat.    I teetered for a bit as I got familiar with the new center of gravity.

“Props were invented to teach you how to do a posture, not to become a crutch for you.  You people don’t even question the necessity of a prop!  You become so dependent on the prop that that’s all you see!  You don’t see the pose, you stop learning the pose!!!”

“Don’t be in a hurry to get away from the wall,” she cautioned me.  “Stay there and understand the pose.”

Got it Gulnaz – learn the pose with the props, and understand them without the crutches.

Poetry

Dissolution

September 17, 2019

 

 

The above is my entry for the #SashaktWordsmithContest.  It’s being organised by Sashakt – The Ovarian Cancer Foundation in collaboration with my literary agency called The Book Bakers.  The theme is “Ovarian Cancer”.

Lifestyle Yoga

Happiness Is Not in the Gulab Jamun

September 15, 2019

Missing my Sunday runs around the Ulsoor Lake.

I’ve been working on completing assignments for my MSc. The one I’m working on now is about happiness and man’s quest for it.

Lately more and more people reach out to me to discuss how to feel better rather than look better. They are interested in the mental and emotional benefits, rather than the physical benefits of yoga.

According to the Upanishads all beings (humans and animals) are instinctively attuned to sukha prapti (to gain happiness) and dukha niviritti (to overcome the misery). It’s this instinct that drives us. A penthouse, a limited edition car and an exclusive gym membership are the stuff dreams are made of, yet happiness still eludes us. Retail therapy isn’t getting us any closer to sukha prapti.

Psychosomatic conditions are rising at an alarming rate. We’re buying more than ever before but we’re also more sad. If only it was possible to buy away depression. We pin our hopes for happiness on objects of enjoyment and come away disheartened.

The Upanishads dealt with this question centuries ago. They state that man is in search of Reality and Happiness. This search yields answers to question such as the meaning of life, the goal of life and truth. It can drive away existential angst.

So whether it is eating gulab jamuns, getting the latest mobile phone or going on an expensive vacation, we want these because we feel these fulfill a deep seated need within us.

As my Vedas professor lectured: Whether it is eating gulab jamuns, getting the latest mobile phone or going on an expensive vacation, we want these because we feel these fulfill a deep seated need within us. We also want promotions, awards and praise. But the 50th gulab jamun doesn’t taste as good as the first one. The mobile phone loses it’s charm when the next version comes out. A vacation ends. And the desire for awards and promotions is never ending. Happiness is not in the gulab jamun or the mobile phone. Happiness shouldn’t be ephemeral like a vacation.

If only we could prolong the feeling of gastronomic delight of that first gulab jamun, of the excitement of the penthouse and car. Meditation is nothing but the prolonging of that state of bliss. Our happiness is always in response to an external event or object, and so it disappears in the absence of that stimulant. The Upanishads liken bliss to the musk of the musk deer. The deer searches the entire forest for the source of the glorious scent, and ultimately finds that he is the origin. Similarly, our happiness may be stimulated by something external, but the origin of the bliss is within us and therefore always accessible. To connect with this bliss you need to silence the citta vritti (the fluctuations of the thoughts in the mind).

The Upanishads have stated that yoga (beyond just the asanas) is the solution. The Gita states: yoga citta vritti nirodah. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the thoughts in the mind. When the fluctuations cease, silence pervades. And through this silence you can discover your bliss.

Happiness according to Vedic texts

Taittiriya Upanishad: When speech recedes and the mind reaches not there, one realizes Ananda, the Brahman; there he fears not.

Bhagvad Gita: Mind calmed down, sinless, all passions subdued, the Yogi establishes himself in the state of Brahman, the Supreme happiness.

Brahma Sutra: Brahman is Ananda, as repeatedly emphasized in the Upanishad.