Yoga

Some Unsolicited Business Advice – Dharamshala Day 3

October 21, 2021

“Chai lenge aap?” Govind asked me as I browsed through the clothing racks.
“No,” I politely declined.
“Matlab aap jaisi chai bhi mil jayegi,” he said. When I looked askance, he quickly went on. “Mera matlab vegan walli chai bhi mil jayegi.”
“Ok,” I agreed. “Par bina cheeni ke.”

I was on the lookout for some gifts and someone had recommended this wonderful shop in Dharamkot. I proceeded to pick out a few shawls, pyjamas, a bag and even a pair of shorts for yoga practice!

Selection done, Govind put out a small stool for me inside the shop. I surveyed his shop through the steam of my soy milk chai. His shop doubled as his workshop, with two industrial sized sewing machines. “I’m working on money belts these days,” he told me, indicating to the belt bags hanging outside the shop. “There’s been a demand for these.”

I looked appreciatively from the sports bras, to the wrap around skirts to the coats in his shop and asked him if he made all these things. He nodded.

He told me how he was originally from Pushkar and had led a nomadic existence for the last several years. “I was also in Hampi,” he said. “Then one day they decided to break down everything, from the stores to the houses and we had to leave. But otherwise the market there was good, and the winters even better.” During the course of our conversation I found out he had set up shop in Manali and Goa as well. The scorching summers in Goa had driven him up the hill to Dharamkot. Surprisingly, most people I’ve met in this small hamlet of Dharamkot are outsiders, making this a potpourri of interesting individuals, and adding to its quaintness.

“What business do you do?” he asked me.

“I teach yoga.” I told him.

“You should move here. You’ll make a lot of money,” he said, echoing the business advice most yoga teachers are privy to.

“Hmmm,” I said as I walked away with large-ish shopping bag. Non-committal in the face of unsolicited advice about my “business”.

The beautiful Norbulinka monastery against the Dhauladhar range.
Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Norbulingka – Preserving Culture

October 20, 2021

Some Excitement in the Hills

The hills were abuzz today with excitement for the Hunter Moon. When planning a vacation we spend time and energy on where to stay and what to do. But the ingredient that truly makes or breaks a vacation is not really in your control – and that is the people you will interact with. The people you meet will tell you about the best masala chai in town, or where to go for the best pottery class, or like in our case tonight, tell you about why tonight’s full moon is so special. Tonight Medha and I found ourselves back in Morgan’s Cafe waiting for the moon to rise again. Our new friend, Mr Pankaj (he of the adventurous car rallies and interesting travel anecdotes) told us about the significance of the Hunter Moon. It is named after the time of year when animals fatten up in preparation for the colder months ahead.  This is when hunting season is underway for hunters to stock up on meat for the winter. As we listened to Lucky Ali wafting through the chilly night air, I made a time lapse video of the beautiful moon rise. It’s so beautiful that we might return night after night to witness it.

Norbulingka – How to Preserve a Culture

Can a culture exist out of its homeland?  How and for how long?  The Norbulingka monastery is an answer to these questions.

I first read about the crisis in Tibet while in school in Bangladesh.  One of my friends had just finished reading ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ and recommended the book to me.  I went on to watch the movie, and loved it too.  I then went on to read ‘My Land and My People‘ by HH the Dalai Lama.  Since then I’ve looked forward to visiting the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile, which is in Dharamshala.

A Historical Detour

Prior to 1951 Tibet was an independent and autonomous country.  This changed in 1949 when Mao Zedong, the Chinese president decided it assert that China had authority over Tibet.  In 1950 Zedong decided he wanted to ‘liberate’ Tibet and integrate it into China.  This was done by ‘encouraging’ the Tibetans to adopt the Chinese language and customs.  After much conflict a ‘Seventeen Point Agreement’ was signed which did guarantee Tibet a measure of autonomy and respect for the Buddhist religion, but also allowed China to establish a civil base in Lhasa.  Clearly this agreement wasn’t very agreeable because in 1959 the Dalai Lama, fearing for his life, fled to India.  India provided him and other Tibetan refugees a safe place in which to practice their culture and religion in peace.

The Norbulingka Insitute is the heart of Tibetan culture here in India.  It endeavours to keep alive the centuries old Tibetan culture by running classes and apprenticeships in traditional Tibetan art forms.  Visitors are allowed to walk around Norbulingka watching artists and craftsmen at work. 

Our day at the Norbulinka monastery and it is incredible. It’s not only a monastery, but a shrine to Tibetan culture. As we walked around the place and observed the Thangka painting and wood carving classes, I felt an overpowering sense of gratitude for goodness and compassion of human beings. Governments in exile are undoubtedly about politics, but they are also about culture and heritage. To provide a safe and welcoming space for another culture and to support the preservation of that culture is humanity at it’s finest.  We take back recipes for authentic Thupkas and rose quartz crystals for our wrists, but the biggest souvenir is the connection with our fellow men.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga

Dharamkot Diaries – Day 1

October 19, 2021

Getting to Dharamkot is a bit of a journey. There are no direct flights so Medha and I took a late night flight from Bangalore with a long layover in Delhi T3. Thankfully we found a place serving AirrToast and then promptly fell asleep at 2 am. We woke up 4 hours later and boarded the flight to Gaggal Airport, Kangra. It was my first time on a propeller plane and both of us got amazing window seats. Dharamkot is about an hour from Gaggal and we had arranged for a taxi to pick us up.

Today was about walking around looking for a big breakfast and piping hot coffee at the Alt Life Cafe. Then gazing out at the wonderful Himalayas from our room, and catching up on life, outside the mundanity of our actual everyday lives.

Many years ago, on a workation here, Animesh had spent a wonderful evening at the Morgan’s Cafe. In the evening today, we sat there watching the clouds descend to kiss the verdant hills. As the soft rock wafted from the ancient radio into the nippy night air, we discussed journeys and paths, and the confluence of the two.

As I write this, Medha is on a call with her folks back in Bangalore and I’m gazing up at the lone star in the clear skies of Dharamkot. Thinking of the necessity to escape, even if only for a few days…

Clouds descend to kiss the hills.

 

 

View from our guest house.

 

 

Breakfast with a view.

 

Lifestyle

The Nature of Inspiration

October 11, 2021

In Colombo, Sri Lanka, eons ago, experimenting with new photography techniques.

I spent all day yesterday reading ‘The Exorcist’, and looking ruefully at what I intend to be the first draft my next book.  This book has a silent, sullen, intractable quality, the kind only books-that-are-yet-to-be-written and mouth ulcers have. Try as I might, I couldn’t will myself to continue my research or even just refine the chapter outline.

What is the nature of inspiration?  How are some of us inspired to bound out of bed and write blogs and books, start new business ventures, work out and even plan events?

I realise now that inspiration doesn’t choose to randomly inhabit the persons of the chosen few whilst denying itself to others.  Inspiration, instead, comes to those who are willing to create an atmosphere for it to thrive.  Much like providing a safe and healthy environment for children, pets or plants to grow in, inspiration also needs a certain fecundity of environment.  Innocuous social media trends, consumerist mouse clicks, ‘news’ in 280 characters or less….all these are inspiration vampires.  Reading a real newspaper, or even an entire book (whole and unabridged!), a Bharatnatyam or pottery class or even going on a trip with your friends can kneed the cool balm of inspiration on our frazzled minds and insipid lives.

In speaking to many people my age, I realise that the biggest inspiration sponge is a strange, inexplicable fixation on who we think we are and what we think we like.  A definition of us, if you will, and one that is cast in stone.  So whether its refusal to simply experiment with a new fashion trend, a new genre or even just a different color, the quickest way to kill creativity (excuse the alliteration) is to sigh with pleasure in our comfort zones.  The sigh that stifled a million brea(d)ths of experience.

So I wonder then, perhaps spending all day reading wasn’t really a waste of time?  It might have instead refuelled my inspiration reserves so that I can now look at my research from a different angle, get rid of the blinkers that build up even as we’re looking at the same word, closet, living room and city for the umpteenth time.

 

 

Yoga

Assembling a Chair – A Yoga Blog

June 15, 2021

A Gift is Always Welcome

It’s always great to receive presents. My husband gave me a desk a couple of months ago to put at this beautiful window we have in our bedroom. As I type this out I can hear the birds chirping. At least one of the birds is a nightingale! Outside the window are trees of various kinds.

What I was missing though was a comfortable chair to go along with the desk. For months I’ve been using an Iyengar Chair, so when my friend Medha said she wanted to give me a chair I gladly accepted.

Yoga & Chair Assembly

The chair is an Astrix gaming chair and super comfortable. While my husband assembled the chair I couldn’t help but notice that humans have an unconscious tendency to sit in postures resembling yogasasanas. I was inspired now just like I was with my Freddy Mercury blog and promptly started taking photos.

This is how the chair came to us. We took an inventory of the screws and other bits that

He started with assembling the wheels:

Reminds me a bit of Baddhakonasana.

Carefully reading the manual to make sure we don’t make any mistakes:

Sort of like Janu Sirsasana.

The backrest is comfortable and sturdy.

Marichyasana.

Making sure we don’t miss a screw.

Bhardwajasana.

Putting the armrests together.

Ardhauttanasana.

Ensuring the wheels fit.

Malasana.

Always happy about building things. 🙂

Sukhasana.

What do you think? Do you also find yourself seeing what you love everywhere?

Lifestyle

What About the Healing?

May 20, 2021

I took a class the other day for a student who zooms in from Singapore. Just as we were about to start class she got a WhatsApp message. She (uncharacteristically) excused herself and checked it. Looking up she said, “My mom’s brother just passed away.”

I’m not sure what the ‘right’ reaction to this news is given the circumstances. The night before I heard that two of my husband’s friends have lost their mothers. During dinner my in-laws told us of a family friend, a doctor, who also succumbed. The week before that I got news that a family friend whom we’ve known since our days in Bangladesh, passed away in the hospital. Friends and well-wishers tried to frantically get in touch with her son. But in these times, the tone and timbre of our grieving has also changed. We are all going through collective trauma, ironically in isolation.

So I asked her if she wanted to take some time, call someone, perhaps even postpone the class. We ended up continuing with the class.

I woke up this morning feeling like I need a week off to clear my head. It’s perhaps a symptom of being under long term stress. We managed the first lock down by going online, catching up with friends over wine on zoom, baking banana bread and having it with dalgona coffee. This second wave has brought with it tragic news on a daily basis. So tragic in fact that we no longer check the news for numbers. So tragic that most of us have actively started to do whatever we can to help – donating, amplifying voices on social media, and even just staying in and balancing our chores with work.

Stress over a sustained period of time starts to change people. What we are living through is not only stress, but also trauma. No wonder many of us have started complaining about fatigue and a sense of disconnect from our surroundings. We feel like we’re on auto-mode, robotically marking the beginning and end of days; the beginning and end of weeks. Half of 2021 will be over next month, and many of us can’t tell the difference between this year and the last.

I’ve bought bed-sheets, new flip flops, changed the arrangement of my yoga room, joined a yoga sutras chanting class, even set up WhatsApp for Business and included that on my Facebook page. Only to realize that these aren’t the changes I need.

Resilience is a way of coping with trauma, and many of us continue to be brave. What about the healing from this trauma? Psychotherapist and counselor Simi Mathew says sometimes just hanging in there and going through the trauma is also a healing process. “But the actual healing,” she says, “which is about letting go and healing the actual scar, that happens when we are aware of it and we actively seek help for it.”

Perhaps even as we trudge through another meeting; as we look wistfully at the beautiful weather in Bangalore these days; as we stay up late doom-scrolling and wake up groggy; even then our healing is happening.

Scenes from our Liguria Yoga Retreat two years ago. Soon we shall all emerge from this time, ready to move, dine and practice together again.

Blog Lifestyle Yoga

A Note of Thanks

April 29, 2021

We’re living in unprecedented times right now.  None of us actually thought we would end up in a situation where the roads in our overcrowded cities would be painfully empty again.  In March 2020 I looked out at the busy junction outside my apartment and tried to digest the surrealness of it all.  A year later I live in an apartment that doesn’t face a loud busy road but wonderful neem and bougainvillea trees.  If I crane my neck just so I get a peek at Ulsoor Road.  These days I find myself craning my neck a bit too often, incredulous that today things are so much worse than a year ago.

At this moment my work gives me lots of solace, and I am grateful for that.  I realize few people can claim that, and that makes me more grateful for the choices and decisions I’ve made.

My first online class during the pandemic was in March last year.  It was a forty minute call because Zoom only allows forty minutes for free users.  It was a mix of my private and group students.  I am grateful I had an old MacBook that I could use because my Lenovo has a malfunctioning camera (I am looking to replace said Lenovo).  I am grateful that my living room at the time was rectangular and clean, which made it easy to position the laptop at an optimum angle for teaching.  I am grateful to those students who gave it a go.  That support has kept me going financially, emotionally, intellectually and also spiritually.  At a time when many yoga teachers were turning up their noses at teaching online, I was able to jump on the bandwagon fairly quickly because of the acceptance and encouragement I received.  None of us knew this would become a way of life, and in retrospect most of us are thankful that we went online sooner than later.

I’m thankful also to all those teachers who collaborated with me, bridged boundaries to connect, learn and grow virtually.  Our sangha or community has grown in ways we never thought possible.

We are in the middle of one of the greatest challenges we have faced as a country, and I can only hope that things get back to normal soon.  But until then, we must keep doing what we can, with the song of gratitude in our hearts.

From two years ago at Rainbow falls in Nagaland. Happy, carefree and amidst nature.