Food Travel Wellness

Pietrantica – A Treasure Trove of Goodies

July 18, 2019

It doesn’t take much to make travel ‘special’. It is special in its very essence. As the world gets smaller and human beings explore the world only to come home to themselves, it is perhaps a personal touch we crave.  After all, we’ve seen the entire world several times over on social media.

When Susanne told me about Pietrantica, a boutique store for typical Ligurian goods, I was sure all my souvenir shopping was going to be from there.  It had all the essential elements – niche, local and truly Italian.

With Vittorino, the gregarious owner of Pietrantica.

With Vittorino, the gregarious owner of Pietrantica.

I immediately warmed to the store when Vittorino, the owner, greeted me in typical Italian fashion.  A hug and a kiss on both cheeks.  Sussane introduced me and told him I was there to teach at the retreat along with her.  Vittorino was warm and friendly and invited me to look around his interesting store with an expansive sweep of his arm.  I looked at the shelves.  There was wine, liqueurs, olive oil, pesto, soaps and other skin care items.  There were entire racks of cooking tools made of olive wood.  Also sweets, coffee and even mushrooms!

The story goes that Vittorino lived and worked in an oil mill in Imperia, a small coastal town on the Italian Riviera.  When the owner of the mill wanted to shut it down he decided to buy it and run it on his own.  Eventually he decided to shut shop and sell olive oil instead.  Customers started trickling in and as the trickle slowly increased, so did the requests for more products.  Soon they were stocking all manners of products ranging from skincare to amaretto.

“Our pestos are quite famous,” says Kiara, Vittorino’s daughter.  “We have unique flavors.   Also, we are the second largest wine sellers here.”  I eyed the shelves upon shelves of vintage.  “We have wine from Italy (specially Ligurian wine) and champagne from France.  We stock everything from the most expensive to the cheapest wine.”

Tell me a little more about the varieties of liquor you stock, I prodded.  “Well we actually started with selling oil and skin care products.  Then came the wine (upon customer requests) and finally the Grappa.”  I decided to sample some of their famous grappa and I could feel the 44% alcohol content.  But, I have to add, it was delicious.  “We’re the most famous retailers for grappa,” Kiara added.

The store stocks a range of liqueurs.  Originally lemoncello is from Capri, but it was first produced in Naples.  Orancelle is made of oranges.

Kiara pointed out the handmade soaps.  Some made locally and some coming in from France.  “Piermont is where most of our soaps are made,” she says.

“What about all these chopping boards and ladles,” I asked running my hands over the smooth wood.

“All these are made of olive wood.  The olives in this region are called tajasca olives and are endemic to Imperia.  Stuff made out of this wood is really strong and lasts for years.”

A little tip from Kiara: rub a little olive oil on your wooden implements and watch the shine come back.  In fact, any marks and ridges will also fade.

Over the years Pietrantica’s fame has spread far and wide.  What started out as a store catering to the small town of Docedo and the larger province of Imperia now takes part in international food fairs.  Their products have gone to the US, Dubai, France and Germany.

“You can’t imagine starting a store like this now,” Kiara tells me.  “There are so many rules and regulations now.”  However, the family of four works together to provide the best they possibly can.  Every single item is tasted before being sold, and must conform to the family’s strict standards.  When it comes to the cosmetic products, the first rule they follow is to keep the number of ingredients as low as possible.

Although Kiara started veterinarian studies, she decided not to finish.  The call of the family business was too attractive.  Much like her father, she is happy to work at Pietrantica.  “I love it when people come into the store.  I get to talk to so many different people,” says Kiara.  “Sometimes you end up building long lasting relationships.  Dolcedo has people from different parts of the world.”  The store follows periods of manic production and periods of lull.  “When you need to fulfill massive customer orders you end up working a lot and that is the most stressful part of our job here.”

Inspired by the fact that the best grappa is sold at Pietrantica, I decided to pick up a bottle of blueberry flavored grappa.  Along with that some lavender shower gel and a few soaps to remind me of beautiful Liguria with every fragrant whiff.  A weakness for wooden kitchen tools saw me picking up a few olive holders as well.

Always a sucker for interesting kitchen implements – I picked up a few olive holders.

If you are lucky enough to take a little jaunt to this beautiful small town remember that during the winters they are open only for 3-4 hours.  Summers they open at sharp 9 am and go all the way up to 8 pm, with no lunch break.

I for my part, look forward to going back as my shower gel is almost over and I find a need for a new chopping board….

Kiara doing what she does best - interacting with customers at the beautiful store.

Kiara doing what she does best – interacting with customers at the beautiful store.

Travel Wellness Yoga

Dolcedo – How Did I End Up Here?

June 27, 2019

You can see the ancient clock tower of the old church in Liguria behind me. It would chime every half an hour. This is the road connecting Molino Pincion to the rest of the town. Down on my right is a stream which you can hear clearly every time you walk on this path.

Where

A yoga retreat in Liguria.  To be honest, I’d never heard of Liguria.  Genoa is close by, and I’d read references to it in a Shakespeare play, but never thought about visiting.  Little did I know that one day Liguria would hold a special place in my heart.  The location of my first full-fledged international yoga retreat.

We chose a small little getaway called Molino Pincion in the town of Dolcedo to conduct our retreat.  The town is tiny, only 7.6 sq mi!!!  The air is fresh, the streams are clear, the place lovely.  The Pincion is a short walk across the town, through cobble stoned streets, across the church and up a small hill.  The gurgling of the water in the streams is a constant as you walk around the town.

Although I’ve conducted numerous yoga retreats in the past, this one still got me out of my comfort zone.

Many of us experienced breakthroughs during this retreat. The headstand using chairs was something that no one had tried before, but as you can see, everyone gave it a go.

Susanne, a certified Iyengar yoga teacher, showed us many easy techniques to practice pranayama, including the usage of the bandage.

Who

It all started with an idea (as it usually does).  The idea possibly germinated in Susanne mind when we went for an outing while at RIMYI in 2017.  When she shared her idea with me. A year later she pinged me again and mentioned the retreat.  Believing in our ability to plan a great retreat, I always responded in the affirmative.  Finally 2 years later we had more detailed Skype discussions.  The idea was evolving and gradually becoming a plan.

On the far right- my cousin Ishani on holiday from college. Center: my sister Ana on her birthday trip.  Pictured here on the flight to Nice.

How

We were lucky to have a great mix of people.  One of my sisters and a cousin even agreed to come with me!!!  We had Lily dropping in from Berlin for the last four days and Paola coming in for a day from Genoa.

Susanne and I planned each day meticulously.  I took the morning sessions, where we worked on building up to an advanced asana.  Susanne took the evening and the pranayama sessions.  It was the ideal mix.  Morning were for a high-energy asana-intensive practice, while the evenings were to wind down and relax.  Many participants also got pointers on how to use props to tackle personal challenges.

Personal

To be honest, I was super nervous as we touched down to Nice.  My attempts to calm myself by writing down sequences also didn’t help.

Yoga teacher tip: writing down sequences can actually help you visualize them and deliver a better class.

It was only after the first two days of class that I felt I found my bearings.  Susanne, on the other hand, was simply amazing.  Clear instructions, confident and sure, firm adjustments.  I knew I would learn a lot from teaching alongside an experienced and certified Iyengar yoga teacher, but I couldn’t have gauged just how deep my learning would be.

I don’t think I was ever relaxed during our seven days in Dolcedo.  I went to sleep thinking about the sequence for the next day, I woke up before everyone else to flesh the sequence out.  Once the class was over my mind automatically veered towards the class plan for the next day.  However, I think that is part of the experience and possibly something that we have to come to terms with as teachers who conduct long retreats.

At the end of the retreat, many participants expressed a desire to come back next year…and Susanne and I will certainly be back next year to give you a bigger and better retreat.  Stay tuned.

To read more about our retreat click here.

I love working with other teachers. There’s so much learning and growth that comes with it. Honored to have done this retreat with Susanne Meyer.

Food Healthy Living Travel Wellness Yoga

Intermittent Fasting Made Me a Better Yogi

April 25, 2019

…and 4 Other Unexpected Results of the Latest Fitness Fad

I.F. (Intermittent Fasting) seems to be all the rage right now.  Fitness experts are expounding it and every one (and their moms) are trying it. At the risk of sounding trite, I’d say I.F. has changed people’s lives.  It’s helped people shed oodles of weight. It’s reduced the oft present stress around ‘clean eating’, ‘balanced eating’, ‘right eating’ by eliminating eating all together! And in my experience, it’s done a lot that we’re not even talking about.

I’m not one for fitness fads, but I’m also experimental.  I’ll always try something, unless it’s too ‘out there’ for me.  (And, to be honest, few things really are.)

WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?

Intermittent fasting is a system of eating where there is a specified ‘ eating window’, and ‘fasting window’.  There are many different styles of Intermittent Fasting depending on these windows. The most common is the 16/8 fast, where you fast for sixteen hours and eat for eight.  You can also do a 12/12 fast, where you fast for twelve hours and then have an eating window of 12 hours. You can fast on alternate days, or once in two days…

And to my surprise I found that this system of eating ‘worked’ for me.  Below are 5 things it did for me, and which have me now.

I.F. MADE ME A BETTER YOGI

I kid you not.  I’ve practiced yoga almost daily for the past decade.  In a world where distractions are many and time a rare commodity, the only way I can do this is by waking up at an ungodly hour to get some uninterrupted practice time before the rest of the world awakes.  More often than not, I’m sluggish and slow in the morning, sore from the previous day.

Enter I.F. and my body feels clearer. I am experiencing a kind of energy I’ve never experienced before. The kind where your brain might say ‘no’ but your body will move into the first sun salutation with no complaints.  By reducing the quantity of food I consume, energy that would otherwise be spent on metabolizing and digesting food is available for morning yoga practice. My asanas are sharper, my body seems to move with no resistance and I am fully present for my practice.

I.F. GOT RID OF MY BRAIN FOG

Yoga is not only a physical practice.  However, even the physical practice of yoga (asana practice) is linked to your mind.  If your mind isn’t awake, your body is unlikely to act. After practicing I.F. for almost a month now I’ve noticed that my brain doesn’t take too long to wake up.  Prior to this I would dilly-dally and procrastinate before finally stepping on my mat. Now I’m on my mat faster, more inspired, energetic and creatively abundant.

I.F. MADE ME APPRECIATE COFFEE MORE

But not because I’m guzzling down any more of it than I was before.  In fact, I’m drinking less of it! Part of my dilly-dallying used to include making a cup of strong coffee.  The aroma used to wake up my senses and the caffeine used to wake up my groggy cells. Now I don’t need the coffee.  An era of coffee enjoyment has started in my Life. I have coffee when I want to and not because I need to. I enjoy a single shot of espresso more than I’ve ever enjoyed it before.

I.F. CONTROLLED MY FOOD CRAVINGS

Along with a decrease in my coffee cravings, my snacking has also reduced.  I don’t find the need to constantly munch something. So I’m not putting junk into my system…and that may be contributing to my high energy levels.

I.F. CLEANED ME UP!

I see my waistline more often than not now.  I.F. proponents scream weight loss more than anything else.  In fact, many say that they have lost weight in spite of eating all the junk in the world! Just to be clear, I haven’t lost any weight, but I still see my waistline because of a reduction in inflammation in the gut.  Because I no longer ingest easy snacks, I’ve cut back on bloat-causing preservatives that I was invariably consuming.

HOW I FASTED

Before I end I’d also like to point out that there are numerous different versions of intermittent fasting.  

  • There are dietitians who say it’s OK to have coffee, tea, lemon water etc while you’re fasting.  I have absolutely nothing except water during my fasting window.
  • I stick to the 16/8 style of fasting.  Basically this means having my last meal by 4 and eating again at 8 in the morning.  
  • I break my fast with nuts or a banana.

I’ve jumped on to the I.F. bandwagon, and I think everyone should give it a go. Would you try intermittent fasting? Have you tried it already? Share your thoughts!

On one of the several Root Bridges during our hike in Cherapunjee last month.
Healthy Living Yoga

The Unwitting Yogi

April 7, 2019

I was a little late jumping on to the ‘Bohemain Rhapsody’ bandwagon, but when I did I was spellbound. The movie was well done, and the portrayal of the characters was spell binding.

Freddie Mercury was perhaps the greatest rockstar of all time, but he was also an unwitting yogi.  While going through a bunch of his pictures on Pinterest I started to notice that a lot of his moves on stage looked like yogic postures.  The more pictures I saw, the more yogasanas I recognized.  So I put together a bunch of Freddie Mercury’s pictures and the corresponding asana.

Trikonasana/Triangle Pose

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The Trikonasanas – I have a love-hate relationship with this asana, but you’ve got to admit it looks like Freddie is performing it in this iconic pose.

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When you practice an asana your mind, body and spirit are supposed to come together – and in this image it looks like they are.

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Vrkshasana/Tree Pose

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That costume & balancing on the toes!!!

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Always try to push the inner edge of the foot into the ground for better alignment. 

And variations of the Tree pose…

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Chaturanga/Plank Pose

Every yogi knows the agony of getting this one right.

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Those biceps though.

 

Virbhardasana/Warrior Pose

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Marichyasana/Sage Marichi’s Pose

This is a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but you have to admit there’s a twist there.  Also, Freddie’s flat abs, his chiselled body, the energy – is this the real life?

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Backbends

My biggest challenge…but look at him.

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Can I just point out the clean lines and the lifted sternum?

Hope you enjoyed this blog.  Leave me a comment and share if you did!

poetry Uncategorized

Nature Needs No Filters

March 23, 2019

Every once in a while
wipe the makeup off
slough off the dead skin of
past experiences.
Exhale.
Climb out from 
under the weight of
the shoulds and should-nots
Let the wind
unfurl your hair
a flag wild and free.
Let your skin
flower in the soft sunlight.
The lines around
your mouth
your eyes
Glorious.

Nature needs no filter.

At Rainbow Falls, 2.2 kms from the Double Root Bridge in Cherapunjee

Healthy Living Travel Wellness Yoga

The Perahera That Wasn’t

March 15, 2019

The last day in Sri Lanka we thought we would check out city life. It was Poya day and we stumbled upon the preparations for the Perahera. Poya days are the full moon days every month and are holidays. This particular Poya day was also the Navam Perahera Festival. Preparations were underway for a massive parade that would include elephants, dancers, acrobats and the like. We were excited to see the crowds and the buzz. We had planned to see some of the famous Buddhist temples in Colombo, but they were all closed. Although we noticed that many foreigners with ‘special passes’ were being allowed in. Shady business.

We didn’t have the patience to wait for the procession to start, nor the energy to brave the crowds. So we decided to head to Keels, a local supermarket to see if we could do some last minute shopping. All of us picked up some tea, Sri Lankan pickles and some spices.

Finally we took an Uber back to our hotel to sit on the terrace for dinner, as the moonlit waves crashed against the shore.

View from our rooftop restaurant.
View from our rooftop restaurant.

The next day we took an Uber to the airport. As we were driving through Colombo, I was reminded of the city I call home. I penned my thoughts down and you can read them here.

Below are a few more scenes from the vacation. If this is the first blog of the Sri Lanka series that you’ve landed on then click here , here and here for the other two blogs.

In Mirissa we climbed up many many steps to a famous Buddhist temple.
Cover your shoulders and knees when visiting the temples.
Cover your shoulders and knees when visiting the temples.
Couldn't get enough of the sun, sea and sand.
Couldn’t get enough of the sun, sea and sand.
Sri Lankan food is very similar to South Indian food.  We had it as often as possible.
Sri Lankan food is very similar to South Indian food. We had it as often as possible.
Travel Wellness Yoga

Surfing, Elephants & the Blue Whale

March 14, 2019

Teaching in Tangalle was great. We stayed in a small beach hotel called Coppenrath House and I taught class as the sun came up.

Second Time Surfing.

Famished after spending time in the choppy waves at Herikiteya.

From Tangalle the closest surfing beach was Hiriketiya beach. I’ve been surfing in Auroville so this would be my second time. We decided to do a class and have the instructor coach us. The waves here were larger and a bit more wilder than in Auroville. But it was fun. My surfboard was heavy, I had salt in my nose, but by the end of the lesson I had balanced a couple of time. I did fall hard on my butt once, and had a bruise for a couple of days, but it was great to hear the instructor nod and say approvingly – “You! Where you from? First time surfing? You’re better, you’re better.”

Udawalawe National Park

This was a last minute addition to the itinerary. My sister was interested in seeing the elephants but traveling all the way to Yala wasn’t something we wanted to do. Luckily I found Udawalawe. We hired a driver to take us to Udawalawe. He was quite resourceful. On the way he pointed out a tree full of bats, a snake slithering across the road and a monitor lizard. And when we finally reached the sanctuary, he even knew the jeep we could hire for the safari.

A monitor lizard that crossed our path on our way to Udawalawa.
You can observe the elephants at very close quarters and in their natural habitat.

The closest I’ve come to elephants in their natural habitat.

Whale Watching

From Udawalawe we headed to Mirissa. Mirissa is slightly more commercialized as compared to Tangalle. So there are a lot more souvenir shops and vegan options on many menus. My sister and I actually bought matching elephant pendants from one of the jewellery stores in the road near our hotel.

Most people don’t know that the largest blue whale in the world is found off the coast of Sri Lanka. The Lankan government conducts standardized tours. These start out early morning. At the recommendation of one of our drivers we chose Eagle Eye Tours for our whale watching experience. They provide you with tea/coffee, breakfast and an anti-seasickness pill for the journey. It takes an hour or two to get deep into the ocean, after which the whale sightings start. We saw blue whale, fin whales and so many dolphins. It was amazing.

It was a pure delight to see these whales.
Travel Yoga

Sri Lanka – Galle & Tangalle

March 13, 2019

The next day we hired a taxi to take us along the coast down to Tangalle. On the way we had planned to stop at Galle.

Our driver, Mical, sauntered in 45 minutes late. Soon after we started, he asked, “Sir! Ravana – what do you think? Good man or bad?”

Unsure of the most politically correct answer, I decided to take the middle ground, “He’s a complex character, with good and bad shades so it’s difficult to say. And what do you think?” I asked him.

“Ma’am sir! We think he is very good, but only one problem. He abducted Sita Amman. Otherwise everything else very good.”


“Ma’am sir! We think he is very good, but only one problem. He abducted Sita Amman. Otherwise everything else very good.”

The Moonstone Mines

Sri Lanka is known for its gemstone mining. Mical, stopped a little short of Galle at a gem factory where we got to see the process of mining moonstones, the process of refining them and finally creating jewels out of them. Ana and I both got a matching moonstone pendant as a souvenir from the mines.

Marine Turtles Protecting Centre

This was an unplanned stop for us. None of us had any idea about the amazing work that this centre is doing in terms of rescuing and rehabilitating turtles. The tsunami of 2004 affected the marine life, displacing, maiming and killing much of it. The Marine Turtles
Protecting Centre works with turtles to enable them to one day return to their natural habitat.

Tropical fruit on the way to Galle.

Galle

Galle is one of the major cities of Sri Lanka. The Portuguese built it as a major port city and the Dutch later went on to use it as one of the major ports of the country. We spent a long time walking along the cobblestone streets, ducking into souvenir shops, taking photos and sampling the local food. The National Maritime History Museum is in Galle, but we only had a couple of hours and wanted to spend it walking around the city. I’d read about Galle Things Roti, a restaurant specializing in rotis and curry and we had some great lunch there. I was also keen on having tea at the Amangalla hotel, a historic heritage hotel. While their tea isn’t special, the hotel has a lot of antique furniture which makes the ambience and the experience unique.

The Fort.

Tangalle

We reached our destination a little late. Tangalle is a quaint beach town. I was to teach yoga classes here for the next two days.

Healthy Living Wellness Yoga

Why Retreat.

March 12, 2019

The key to excellence is repetitive practice. In the ideal world we would all have an hour and a half every morning to devote to our asana practice. We would have eaten light dinners the night before, gotten the necessary hours of sleep, have the energy and the inspiration to practice the same asanas for the millionth time. But every single yoga practitioner knows that there are more bad than good asana practice days. And that’s the method of any spiritual practice. Will you commit with no hopes of a return on commitment?

Every year Iyengar practitioners from around the world make their way to Pune, India to immerse themselves in the practice. Every year I await eagerly for the 4 weeks where I will be able to ‘retreat’ from the rigors of my regular life and give undivided attention to my practice. I usually have a reading list, I introspect through journaling and blogging, and I learn from the experiences of other students.


Retreating is an important part of a spiritual practice. It is to introspect as much as it is to delve deeper into the practice of your choice.

Retreating is an important part of a spiritual practice. It is to introspect as much as it is to delve deeper into the practice of your choice. A learning curve happens after every retreat. I have experienced the greatest growth after every retreat and workshop I’ve attended.

Teaching a retreat is as exciting for the teachers as it is for the students. When the idea of this retreat was a mere spark of an idea, we wondered what we could do to make this retreat unique, fun and helpful for those giving us the privilege of teaching them. We came up with a rough outline of a schedule. We started to think of how we could bring life and relevance to the teachings and the days slowly took shape. Involved as we are in our own practices, the results of a collaboration between Suzanne and I will distinctive.

Our mornings will be spent studying the asanas, in which we will also discuss the Indian/Hindu mythology pertaining to yoga. Our evening sessions will be about winding down the mind and body. There will be walks through the town, swims in the creeks. Conversations over shared dinners and the occasional glass of wine!

It will be a special time for all of us, made more special by those who give us the opportunity to guide them. We hope you can make yourselves available from the 1st-8th of June to join us in Liguria, Italy for a retreat to remember.

Write in to susanne.mayer@yogawest.de or pragya.bhatt@gmail.com for more details.


[This are article has also been published at https://yogaliguria2019.blogspot.com/2019/02/why-retreat.html. You can find more information about the upcoming retreat in this link.]