Travel

Sri Lanka Diaries – Colombo

February 28, 2019

If you’ve read my previous post, or been following my Instagram and Facebook stories, you would know I’ve just returned from Sri Lanka. I’ve wanted to visit the island for a while. It’s a quick getaway from India and that makes it quite accessible.

Chennai Airport. Who’s the guy under Natraj’s foot? Wait to read about it in my book!

Sri Lanka is a tear dropped shaped island-country in the Indian Ocean, surrounded by the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. It was formerly a British colony and was called Ceylon. In 1948, it gained independence and in 1972 officially changed its name to Sri Lanka. Since then there have been many governments, much unrest and a Tusnami in 2004 that have challenged the nation. But the nation has slowly and steadily built itself up.

We landed at the Bandaranaike International Airport after a short flight. The airport is named after S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the fourth prime minister of Sri Lanka. We had arranged to be picked up at the airport and the same driver would be with us the next day. We had half a day in Colombo and we wanted to make the most of it.

Welcome drink at the hotel.

1. The Dutch Hospital Precincts

This area is one of the oldest in Colombo. It contained the Dutch Hospital, which served the troops sailing in to the harbour. The Dutch Hospital building is the oldest building in Colombo. Now it houses some of the most famous restaurants and shops such as the Ministry of Crab and the Barefoot Café. You need reservations at the Ministry of Crab, so we decided to eat at the neighbouring The Dutch Pub. We tried Lion beer, which is Sri Lanka’s local brew. When in Sri Lanka, don’t miss the beer!

It’s hot in Sri Lanka – and a cold beer is always welcome.

Padangushtasana in the Dutch Hospital Precincts.

2. House of Fashion

The House of Fashion is a large multi-storied department store that has everything under one roof. So you have gift packs of tea, sarongs, books, incense, spices and even clothes, all displayed beautifully for the tourist in you. Someone had recommended picking up souvenirs from here. In addition to everything else, they also have clothes at great prices, and sure enough, I bought a bunch of tees for myself. Go if you have the time, you may end up finding a good deal.

Still trying to capture a good pose.
Right outside the House of Fashion.

3. Upali’s

Since our lunch consisted of pub grub, we decided that dinner should be Sri Lankan. We googled and found Upali’s. My first experience with Sri Lankan food was super spicy. The Delhi Belly I’ve never experienced in Delhi gave me much grief here.

While on the trip we tried to have Sri Lankan food whenever and wherever we could. There are many commonalities between South Indian and Sri Lankan food. So while dal, steamed rice, kottu roti, and hoppers were all familiar, there was a distinct flavour which was foreign to our tongues.

Our first day ended with us crawling into bed tired but feeling eager to head south along the coast to see the rest more of the country.

Some tips for travellers:

  1. You are charged a fee every time you use your card to draw money or to pay a bill. So plan accordingly.
  2. Ubers are more convenient than negotiating and potentially getting ripped off by tuk-tuks.
Shorts, huge sunglasses and flip flops – essentials of the Sri Lanka wardrobe.
Travel

Lanka

February 19, 2019

This country
which reminds me
So much
of my own.
Where a monkey-God centuries ago
Leapt the distance I have flown.
Where I see
The crests and troughs
of my own face
In the lines and crevices
of the locals.
Where there exists
A mythical
Resilience
That does not break
Through the ravages of tsunamis
And the heartbreak of Insurgence.
For where I come from too
I see
Cloudbursts and earthquakes
And tragedies that only humans can cause
And yet we rise
For in my country too
History is not forgotten
Like the smell of cinnamon.
It spices our food
And scents our skin.

This country
which reminds me
So much
of my own
Because maybe
It is my own.

Wellness Yoga

Theme for the Year

January 2, 2019

As soon as December starts we start to think of resolutions and goals for the next year.  I myself have gone through many a list of affirmations and goals.  When you’re working for yourself the lists go through several iterations as the months go by.

So for this year I decided to focus on a theme for the year instead.  How do I want to approach my days this year?  Or rather, how do I wish I would approach my days?  Do I want to look at life more compassionately?  More honestly? More realistically?

As yoga practitioners we practice karuna (compassion) before even asanas.  As a freelance yoga teacher I have to constantly assess my work honestly.  And as someone who is in the pursuit of her passion, I have to give myself reality checks and not get carried away.

After some thought (a lot of which was done while writing this blog) I decided that I want perseverance to define my year.  I frequently use #practiceandalliscoming in my social media updates.  This is reminder that we need to put in the work and have faith in the fruits of our labours.  Over the 7 odd years I’ve been trying to make a mark as a yoga instructor I’ve realised that everything eventually works out.  There have been many cancelled retreats/workshops due to lack of participants, but this year I have a retreat in Italy coming up.  There have been many publications which have rejected my work, but I have a book coming out with Penguin later this year.  And so many students have left my classes for other instructors.  But I now have students from all over the world registered on my online module.  This year I hope to look at every single challenge, missed opportunity and failed experiment with perseverance. 

If you had to pick a theme for this year, what would it be?

 

 

Food health Wellness Yoga

Easy Ways I Cut Sugar out of My Diet and You Can Too

December 7, 2018

I am not, in any way, the perfect eater.  I was PMS-ing the other day and ordered a chocolate mousse with hot chocolate sauce from Cornerhouse.  The sugar-rush was so acute that I forgot to taste the chocolate.

Fitness is an ongoing journey.  I jumped on the fitness bandwagon because I was tired of feeling crappy.  What I’ve learned is that no one has all the answers.  There are people who maybe be specialists of a particular form of movement or a specific diet, but that doesn’t mean you should rely on them for your fitness queries.  Their expertise might not work for you because that system of movement or eating might not work for you.

I’ve been on various diets over the years (and still experiment with different modalities of eating), and I’ve realized diets don’t work.  Guidelines do.  Minimizing my sugar consumption is at the top of my list of dietary guidelines.  As I said in this Instagram post, there are many reasons for why I did this.  We all agree that sugar is bad for you.  But most of us don’t realize just how much sugar we consume. 

That 1 tsp of sugar you allow yourself in your coffee/tea is not the only sugar in your diet.  If you eat any kind of packaged foods, ketchup or pickles etc, you’re having sugar.

I follow the 80-20 rule when it comes to my diet, so I sometimes manage to literally have my mousse and eat it too.  

What I usually eat.

I love the fact that now everyone is into millets. This is my staple.

I switched over to black teas and coffees when I quit dairy and sugar. It’s made a world of a difference.

 

Below are easy ways I eliminated sugar from my diet.

  1. I stopped ordering in.  Food that you order in is never fresh.  It has excess preservatives, sodium, food colors, sugars etc., that negate all the good work you do in the fitness class.  I found easy recipes for days when I come home dog tired.  Stuff like poha, or pulao or even scrambled eggs.  I order in like once a year, and that mousse it.
  2. I stopped eating ketchup and other sauces.
  3. I don’t eat potato chips or any variations of them.
  4. I don’t drink colas and even packaged fruit juices.  Yes, even your fruit juices have additional sugar and preservatives.
  5. I don’t eat cakes and biscuits that come out of packages.  If I want them I will bake them.

 

These changes didn’t happen over night.  I incorporated them slowly.  There was a time I thought packaged juices are better than colas.  Now I know they are the same.  There was a time I would drench my burgers in ketchup.  Now no more burgers and no more ketchup.  All of us have been through the Marie or digestive biscuits with tea phase.  Mine ended a long time ago.  I used to be someone who actually went out for dessert.  Now it seems like another life.

Sometimes I feel like I didn’t just clean up my diet, I actually deep cleaned it.  And after all this, I have experienced increased energy levels, better stamina and clearer skin.  Enough reasons for you to ditch the sugar!

What I sometimes get away with eating. Maggi and chai on the way to Musoorie last month.

Every once in a while I’ll indulge in a latte at Starbucks.

Travel Wellness Yoga

My Overnight Yoga Retreat

November 19, 2018

When I plan a yoga retreat location is the first thing I home in on.  To find a place that resonates with you and the experience you want to create is challenging. So I’m always on the lookout for interesting places to conduct retreats.

A few weeks ago I drove a little out of Bangalore to a farm called Hollas Halla.  You can check out their Instagram profile here.  I’d already spoken to Manali Holla and we had decided to meet to see the property and see what kind of experience we could create there.

10 years ago Suresh Holla, chanced upon some acreage of absolutely barren land and a lake.  An MTech from IISc, no one really expected him to buy 5 acres with the dream of bringing this land to life.  Everyone dismissed it as madness.  There were no proper roads, no electricity, nothing.

 

 

When I went there a couple of weeks ago I saw the fruits of Suresh Holla’s labor.  The lake is still there, but now there is a lush jungle around it.  The Holla family conducts camps, retreats and treks at Holla’s Halla.

Initially I planned the usual yoga retreat with a morning yoga session followed by lunch etc.  But as we looked at the lake I thought it would be a dream to practice yoga next to it.  I spoke to Swetha, my co-teacher, and we decided to modify the plan so that we can practice yoga as the sun sets and rises.  An experience that few yoga retreats can offer.

The itinerary for this exciting is below:

Day 1 (Sat 8th Dec):

3-4 pm: Arrive at the farm.  Receive the grand tour.  Check-in to your tents.

4-6 pm: Tea/Coffee/Relax

6-7 pm: Sunset yoga session.

7-8.30 pm: Dinner

9 pm onwards: Bonfire

Day 2 (Sun 9th Dec):

5 am: Wake up

6-7 am: Sunrise yoga session.

7.30-8.30 am: breakfast

9 am: Trek to the nearby hills/enjoy the lake/get a water massage!

12 noon: Lunch

 

This retreat is priced at Rs. 5000/- all inclusive.

Call 9686233003 or 9886062268 to register.

You can check out Hollas Halla’s facebook page here.

 

Wellness Yoga

How to Remain Healthy During the Holidays: Top 5 Tips

November 4, 2018

DSCF5741_Dx-W-1

The key to vibrant health is consistency.  The more you practice making healthy choices, the easier it becomes to make them and the easier it becomes to stay healthy.

The holidays, though, are a challenge for everyone.  The holidays shouldn’t be about deprivation, however, they shouldn’t be about treating yourself like a dustbin either.

I’ve been gluten and dairy free for a month, and I’ve really started to see the difference.  I’m going to continue to avoid gluten through the holidays and there are a few other tips that I follow to stay on track with my fitness during Diwali/end of year festivities.  I did an Instagram and Facebook live session on these yesterday, and you can watch it on my YouTube channel.

To begin with it’s important to understand that you must start eating healthy and being regular with your workouts a few weeks before the holiday season hits.  That way, even if you end up missing a workout or two, and having one too many drinks – you’re still in the safe zone.  I’m usually consistent with my workouts, but eliminating gluten and portion control really worked for me before the holidays.

Without further ado, the top 5 health tips that work for me during the holidays are:

  1. Choose your indulgence wisely.  I love chocolate so I stay away from the jalebis.
  2. Portion control!  Face it, besides your usual meals, you’re going to be snacking quite a bit.  Endless cups of coffee/tea with neighbors and relatives and all the bits and bites that go along with them.  So eat whatever you want, but cut back on the portions for every single thing that goes into your mouth.
  3. Do a little workout daily.  I’ve told my students to do a combination of Suryanamaskars, squats and push-ups daily. And nothing like a little bit of breathing to feel calm and centred during the holiday frenzy.
  4. Up your water intake.  I’m going to be eating a little more chocolate than usual, and expect that you will also have more than your usual sweets.  Water helps to reduce food cravings (particularly of the sweet variety) and also ensures that you don’t overeat.  Also, it’s easy to overlook drinking water when you’re busy all day.  So make it a point of carrying water with you so that you remember to tank up.
  5. Don’t cause pollution.  So I’m not going to burn crackers.  I’m not going to use plastic bags.  I admit we can’t do anything about the plastic that the mithai boxes are wrapped in, but why not avoid using them whenever you can?  The pollution in Delhi isn’t a myth, and pretty soon that’s how it’s going to be all over the country unless we do something about it.

These are tips that actually work for me.  They are simple and easy and maybe that’s why they are the most effective.  Try and let me know if they work for you.

Wellness Yoga

Crack Open to Heal – Day 9

August 9, 2018

Yoga helps.  It heals.  It gets rid of emotional blockages and psychological pain.  It brings peace.  It brings clarity.  We’ve all heard this at one point or another.  And I’m sure we all wonder – how?

Yoga helps by teaching us how to create space.  Our demons reside in our joints.  Achy, stiff joints are permanent residences for the demons of our past.  To get rid of these demons we must lengthen our joints.  Create space so that the joints can breathe and release the demons holding them tightly together.  Once these demons are gone your joints will be free to move easily and pain free.

The same applies to backbends.  Bending backward is so difficult for many of us because it requires (amongst other things) flexible back and shoulder muscles as well as a flexible hip joint.  For a long time I wrestled with a stiff upper back.  After years of practice I’ve managed to overcome this challenge….only to realize that I’m unable to access and push the hip joint up.  And this will take a few more years to overcome.  The point is that the only way to let go of years of deep rooted fears and blockages is to spend years creating space between the bones and muscles so that the tightly held demons are let go.

To overcome past samskaras it is important to crack yourself in two.  For instance, when doing the Urdhvadhanurasana I’m almost trying to split myself into two, body below the sternum and above the sternum.  For the next couple of years it will be focusing on body below the hip joint and above the hip joint.  The practice of reaching within yourself to access an area which has been ‘sleeping’ automatically infuses this place with new life…and also enables you to release the ghosts of lives past.

 

Yoga

The First Sunday – Day 5

August 5, 2018

A good teacher teaches the technicalities of the asanas really well. They will make you repeat an asana, they will demonstrate the asana repeatedly. They will adjust, they will give examples.

A great yoga teacher teaches yoga.

This morning, after the childrens’ yoga class, I got a chance to observe Raya in action. He was taking a special yoga class for a large group of students who have just arrived.  Raya’s classes are always peppered with a bit of humor, lots of insight and incredible yoga.  When a student asked him to speak louder because she couldn’t hear over the noise of the traffic coming from outside, he said, “Welcome to India.  We have to cultivate different faculties to learn yoga here.”  A profound answer to a common query.

At the beginning of the class Raya asked everyone for ailments/conditions/aches and pains.  And finally he said that a body will have problems.  If there is a body, there will be problems.  The idea or the goal of this practice is not about fixing everything.  BKS Iyengar has said that we can cure what can be cured, but we must also learn to endure what can’t be cured.  So another aspect of this practice is to understand the limitations and work with them.

When you practice asanas, you have to be very alert to your feelings.  It isn’t enough just to stand up straight in Tadasana.  You must be cognizant of the feelings that exist in your soles to know if you are standing properly or not.  Feelings are like eyes.  When you feel something you are actually about to directly perceive it.  So be as aware of your feelings as you are about the positioning of your limbs.

In standing poses we have the tendency to inhale and harden the chest.  The chest becomes a metal box.  A metal box can’t spread and expand.  A balloon can expand because it’s soft.  Your chest should be like a balloon.  In all asanas you need to expand and spread instead of become small and closed.

Like I said, a great yoga teacher teaches you yoga, not just asanas.

 

Wellness Yoga

The Monkey Mind and Other Thoughts – Day 3

August 3, 2018

The great thing about being a returning student at the Mecca of Iyengar yoga is that you end up making friends who you end up meeting almost every time you come here.  I caught up with a friend today and it was great to discuss how far our yoga practice and teaching have come in the last one year.

Chai in Pune is always accompanied by conversation.  Long, drawn out, interesting conversation if you have the time.

I’m always interested in talking about self practice with other practitioners.  It helps me answer questions about my own practice, and sometimes it helps me ‘figure it out’.  When you’re practicing on your own day in and day out, it’s easy to get distracted.  Being distracted to the point of not practicing or being uninspired to practice doesn’t really apply to seasoned practitioners.  A seasoned practitioner would be someone who has had a self practice for about 3-5 years.  That’s when you know that you practice daily because of habit or discipline, and not because it ‘feels good’.  Because, to be honest, it’s not always going to ‘feel good’.  In fact, it only ‘feels good’ in retrospect.  While you’re practicing in the wee hours of the morning, trying to wake up a creaky body, assailed by self doubt and dealing with an overly active monkey mind, you’re not really enjoying anything.

And sometimes, as teachers, you end up with a bad case of the imposter syndrome.  While most teachers talk about the absolute joy of teaching and enjoying the energy and interaction with students, a lot of us constantly wonder if we know what we’re doing.  There’s always someone who executes the pincha better.  Someone who has a larger fan following, better retreats or maybe just published a book.  But perhaps the imposter syndrome is more about ego.  Comparisons with others.  Judging others.  Judging yourself.

A month in Pune can be hard.  The asanas are the easy part.  Most practitioners committed to dropping everything and coming here know what they are doing.  But sometimes as you go and grab a bolster you catch a glimpse of someone effortlessly holding an asana that has you break into a cold sweat (yes this happens).  Or someone else doing an asana that you don’t dream of (yet) and believe you never will.  This is the real test.  Do you allow yourself to get distracted and demotivated?  Or do you go back to your practice with unbroken focus?  I usually get distracted, and then my discipline kicks in and I continue.

And what about biting off more than you can chew.  Sometimes as practitioners we demand asanas from ourselves.  We contort and stretch and moan our way to what we think is the asana but might just end up in an injury.  Frequently we see students who are in a hurry to reach what they consider the pinnacle of practice.  They practice 2-3 times a day, drastically change their diets, start to devour books by advanced teachers and learn asanas by these teachers on YouTube.  I always tell my students that if you don’t have your addition down pat, calculus is just going to confuse you.  So if you haven’t given enough years to the basic asanas, advanced poses and teachers will be detrimental to your practice.  Pace means a lot.

These ideas are going to run around in my mind during the rest of my stay here.  But it will be interesting to see how they shape my yoga.

And meanwhile in Bangalore….

Yoga

The Pune Diaries – Day 2

August 2, 2018

While registering for classes yesterday I had specially asked to be in one of Gulnaz’s classes.  I was unable to attend class with her last year.  But during my first year here, her classes were the highlight of my schedule.  She’s energetic, spry, proficient, kind, shrill, entertaining and an overall awesome person.  And I’m glad that I started my month at RIMYI with one of her classes.

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We finally rolled out of the Halasana and lay there for some time, recuperating.

It had been a pretty challenging class.  We worked on shoulder opening and rotation.  We went through Trikonasana, Virbhadrasana, Parsvakonasana, Ardhachandrasana.

And finally the Sirsasana, Sarvangasana and Halasana cycle (where I got screamed at for using a blanket where none was required).

So when we were asked to roll our mats out again, all of us breathed a sigh of relief and sat down.

‘Urdhvahastasana!’  We lifted our arms up.

Gulnaz looked at us with a slight smile playing on her lips and told us to stand up and do the Urdhvahastasana.  A couple of us groaned as we stood up.

‘From here go into the Sarvangasana.’

She was expecting my puzzled look and with a twinkle in her eye said, ‘Yes!  From here go into Sarvangasana.’  And went on to show us. From a standing position she rolled back into the Sarvangasana and then rolled forward into standing Urdhvahastasana.  Watching a teacher demonstrate some things makes them easier, but 10 reps of this move had most of us breathless.  I was glad to sit down and let other people have a go at it.

Until Gulnaz walked by again and said, “Chal chal, aise kya baithi hai?!  Phir se kar.  Do another 10!”

I love it when a teacher gets so involved in a class that their energy seems to touch every single student in the class.  A student ceases to be just another body to be taught to move.  Instead, the student becomes another soul to guide and mold.  That’s when a class actually has an impact on you.  Beyond being able to transition from Urdhvahastasana to Sarvangasana and back again.

I have great memories of Gulnaz from the first time I took a class with her.  I recounted it here: https://yogawithpragya.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/a-yogi-in-pune-day-2/