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Travels & Other Escapades

Travels & Other Escapades

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travels & Other Escapades

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.

 

Travels & Other Escapades

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?

Travels & Other Escapades

39th Birthday Musings

March 1, 2021

Happy girls are the prettiest.

Bangalore has certainly been unusually cold these days and my days have been super hectic.  So hectic in fact, that I didn’t even consider taking a day off for my birthday.  But egged on by Medha and enticed by vegan pizza, I made my way to a cute bistro in Indiranagar for a huge meal and hearty laughter.

As we tucked into some fresh, delicious pizza we discussed my upcoming nuptials.  I thought with a certain irony about how last year this time I was thinking about a retreat in Rishikesh and this year I’m headed to the same region but for a different kind of life altering  experience.

Last year was a test.  It tested the range of our creativity, resilience, compassion, strength, our reason, commitment, persistence, our unity, cooperation, our fears and also our ability to wait and watch.  For me it was a time to let my practice guide me.  How could I make teaching fun for me and for my students?  How was it possible to stay dedicated and fresh to the practice day in and day out without burning out.  Housekeeping chores are my least favorite and I started to look at cooking as a pause in the day and it helped break the overwhelm that infused those days.

Mask it up!

This year is off to an auspicious start.  New ideas and a new house to work on them.  New spouse and new adventures to go on.  A new outlook and loads of optimism to go along with it.

Below is a video I made to commemorate my 39th birthday.  It’s a demo of the first 39 asanas from Light on Yoga.

 

Travels & Other Escapades

Teacher in Focus: Medha Bhaskar

April 9, 2020

Back bending goals.

I started my Master’s in Yoga Therapy last year.  I didn’t know anyone else in the program and found the whole thing quite overwhelming.  There were huge crowds in the admissions office, we waited for an incredibly long time for hostel rooms to be allotted.  Our days were long and full of numerous classes and the resulting information overload.  Certain subjects had me needing a dose of strong coffee, and I soon found a friend for that in Medha.  Her knowledge of the subject, curiosity about it and her frank and open nature drew me in.  Later we were even selected and inducted into the same Vedanta class and I started to feel that maybe, just maybe, this Master’s program wouldn’t be too difficult.  Since then Medha and I have talked, collaborated, practiced and philosophized at length.

Our latest collaboration was a beautiful video to explain the yoga for immunity series designed by RIMYI.  Here’s the video:

 

Medha is one of the founder teacher at Amrutha Bindu Yoga, one of the most popular yoga studios here in Bangalore. Fascinated by the mind-body connection in traditional movement arts, Medha bring compassion and warmth to every class.  Check out her online training schedule and join a class!

Need to try this sometime!

 

 

 

 

Travels & Other Escapades

2019 : The End of a Decade

December 28, 2019

The last blog for the decade can’t be anything but a collection of highlights of the year gone by…

January 2019 started with me defining my theme for the year.  Month after month I strove to stick to it.  I reminded myself of it in gratitude journals and monthly reviews.  When asked about my word for the year in a bloggers’ group I’m a member of, I realized that mine would have to be perseverance.

February saw me travelling for the first time to Sri Lanka, to teach internationally.  I was excited to be teaching in Tangalle, a beautiful and calm little beach town.  We had a blast and on the way back I wrote a poem through which I tried to capture my thoughts and feelings.

March was a month of planning and preparing for a possible retreat in Italy.  TBH, I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull it off, but I told myself that I’d already taught in Sri Lanka to positive reviews and with the right attitude, this would also materialize.  It was a charmed time, teaching alongside Suzanne, sharing food and stories, long walks through olive gardens and along the Mediterranean.  I can’t believe it’s happening again in 2020, and this time we promise it’s going to bigger and better.

In April I watched ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and wrote possibly the most fun blog ever (going by the views and comments).  What else do you expect from a yogini?  Read the blog now, I promise you’ll love it.

In May I did a little bit of humorous soul searching, trying to gain clarity on who I am and what I want.  It will resonate with all those of us who have ever used #myfitnessjourney.

June was D-month.  The month of the long-awaited yoga retreat in Liguria.  We had advertised and planned.  Discussed and thought.  It comprised getting documentation work ready for my sister, my cousin, my boyfriend and myself to head to Italy on a 15 DAY sojourn.  None of us had done anything this exciting ever in our lives and we were stoked to say the least.  We booked tickets and accommodation.  I planned my classes.  And we were finally on our way.  Read more of our adventures here.

By July I was a published author.  My book, Beyond Asanas, was in bookstores and I did my share of promotional activities for it.  My friends, family and students clicked pictures of my book wherever they saw it.  Being a published author which was a life-long dream and in August I was forced to think about reading and writing.

In September I was in Pune for my month at RIMYI (which is fast becoming an annual tradition).  I also attended my first Lit Fest as a writer and that memory will always be special.  A chance question at my session became one of the most viewed blogs of the year.  It’s called “Why Am I Not Losing Weight?” and you can read it here.

October saw me back in Bangalore to resume classes.  And a pleasant surprise came to me as if by Providence herself!   An old friend living in Tokyo, googles for yoga teachers and comes upon me.  And just a few weeks later we have a reunion after 10 whole years.  A decade changes us in more ways than we can define.  And good friendships – they remind you of why you were friends in the first place..

In November I was compelled to take a walk down memory lane and into my closet!  It was also the month where I received a sweet note from the PMO.

December was a month of national turbulence.  My mind was also restless which is why my Christmas post wasn’t all eggnog and reindeers like I had hoped it would be.  I wrote a hard-hitting poem about another event that shook the country, and for the first time performed it on stage too!

It’s almost the end of December, and with it the end of the decade.  I’ve been thinking of my word/theme for 2020.  I’ve been extremely fidgety in the last few months.  The main question plaguing my waking moments is ‘What next?’  I realize I want to move on to doing projects that have a greater impact.  I want to use everything I’ve learned and experienced this far to do something more meaningful in the coming months.  I want to do better projects, push the envelope in terms of what I have to offer.  Therefore my theme/word for 2020 came to be quite organically.  And my word is : fruition.

I wish you all dear readers a very happy new year and promise that in 2020 this blog will be have you more engaged, informed and inspired.  So stay with me and stay safe!

 

In March I was extremely honored to receive the ‘Woman Achiever Award’ in the field of yoga by the prestigious Karnataka Association for Small Scale Industries (KASSIA). The night was magical and truly special.

 

‘Beyond Asanas’ was adjudged best book under the ‘Health and Fitness’ Category at the Gurgaon Lit Festival in November. This was my first award as a writer and I was thrilled to bits.

 

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Start Running Regularly in 2020: 5 Easy Tips

December 20, 2019

My tryst with running started a decade ago in the Infosys gym.  It was called Chisel and they played peppy music.  We were only allowed 15 minutes on the treadmill at a time.

At the end of 2006 I was onsite for 6 months.  Days in Ipswich were dark and cold. I walked into the office in the dark and by the time I left it was dark again. I would arrive early – workout at the gym and then head to my desk.  Over the weekends I would brave the biting cold and go running before my roommates were up.  I used to joke that I was the only brown person running on the streets of Ipswich.

Now it’s been more than a decade of running.  While not a member of any running club, I have participated in quite a few runs, even making it to the Hall of Fame of the Go Heritage Runs!  I enjoy running now, but it wasn’t always so.   When I think over all these years I realize that there are a few things that helped me in inculcating the habit of running into my lifestyle.  Hopefully some of these will help you too.

After completing the Ooty edition of the Go Heritage Run.  June 2017.

 

With my running buddies. Better than alarm clocks to get you up and out of of the house for a run. Both Aruna and Ashima have moved to other cities – and are sorely missed.

 

After a GHR run in Srirangapatnam. At this point I’d say this is my running uniform.  November 2017.

1. Designate a day.

For me it’s usually Sunday.  Having a specific day ensures that you get to it.  If I want to go out with friends I’ll do it on Friday night.  Even if I go out on Saturday, I’ll come home early and make sure I’m up for my weekly run.  If you don’t designate a day, you’ll end up postponing your runs indefinitely.

2. Pick a uniform.

Over the years I’ve realized that I tend to gravitate towards the same purple ASICS tights and pink Nike running top.  They fit well, keep me warm and I love the way they feel!  It can get embarrassing also, like when I wore the same thing to the Go Heritage Run in Srirangapatna and Ooty, which were a few months apart.

3. Don’t compete.

I’ve seen a lot of new runners trying to compete with the seasoned ones in terms of timing and distance.  They’re just setting themselves up for failure.  Running requires dedication, devotion and consistency.  And rhythm.  Focus on cultivating your own unique, sweet rhythm.  Once you discover this rhythm, you’ll be doing long distances easily and blissfully.

4. Choose a good playlist.

For me this is essential.  The wrong music slows me down and bores me.  Something bright and peppy keeps me going.  I also love a touch of seasonal favorites.  These days a few Christmas-y songs, in two months a few love songs.  I generally use Gaana or Wynk.

5. Use Runkeeper.

It’s nice to be able to track how much you’ve run.  You can pace yourself, see your route, and even compare your runs with previous ones.  It gives me a sense of accomplishment and also encourages me to run more.

Admittedly, the first few Sundays will be hard, but once you get into the swing of things it will become a habit.  You will relish calm Sunday mornings when everyone is asleep and you get to watch the city waking up, enjoy the sunrise.  You haven’t enjoyed breakfast unless you’ve had it after a solid 5 km run.  Do yourself a favor and in 2020 spend one morning a week running and see how just one day can transform the rest of your day.

Last year I wrote this blog after my first 10 km run.  I talk about how I manifested a life full of vibrant good health and a focus on fitness.  Looking at the photos fills me with all the nostalgia in the world!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go for an evening run!

I wish!

 

 

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The Place Free of Disease – Day 1

November 29, 2019

As part of my Master’s program in Yoga Therapy, I’m required to intern for a total of 16 days at Arogyadhma – the hospital at SVYASA (Swamy Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana). I decided when I registered for the course that I would try to complete at least 8 days of the internship in 2019, to ensure that work doesn’t pile up.

In 2011, when I was a student of the YIC (Yoga Instructor Course) I once got a bad attack of allergies. I started sneezing uncontrollably, my eyes were watering and I could barely open my eyes. It was similar to my mother’s plight during Cherry Blossom season when we lived in the US. Although I was fine in the US, I had suffered from terrible allergies from the time I’d moved to Bangalore – the reason for that could be an entire medical case study. Anyways, the allergies became an yearly affair, and I’d somehow managed to live through the season. But this time the attack was the worst ever. I was (and still am) the kind that never takes medicine – unless my life depends on it. And that day it did.

I walked into the resident doctor’s office. ‘Help me,’ I squeaked, unable to even get a good look at who I was speaking to. The doctor made a sympathetic sound and said, ‘Take a Crocin!’

‘But I don’t take medicine,” I protested feebly. “I’m looking for a cure!”

‘OK then take a quarter of that Crocin to suppress the symptoms for now, and then do Jal Neti.’

It worked. Since then I’ve kept my allergies at bay just with the practice of Jal Neti. Theoretically, Jal Neti (nasal irrigation) should never be practiced during a bout of cold/allergies. However, in my experience Jal Neti can be used to prevent symptoms from getting worse. The first time I used Jal Neti (back in 2011), it was while I had a full blown allergy attack and I practiced it three times a day, and it helped more than anything else ever had.

Having experienced the efficacy of an alternative healing technique myself, I have a keen interest in alternative healing. Which is why I’m happy that a 16 day hospital internship is part of my Master’s program. The hospital here at SVYASA is called ‘Arogyadhama’ which is Sanskrit for ‘The Place Free of Disease.’ A combination of yoga, Ayurveda and allopathy techniques are used to treat various ailments here.

I’ve been allotted a hostel room – on the fourth floor, replete with an errant gecko in the bathroom, a swarm of ants, a few cobwebs, a grasshopper in the toilet which refuses to be flushed out and a family of monkeys. And I told them I wanted a room all to myself!

It will take a few days to settle in, and I look forward to a fruitful 8 days. I will be blogging daily from here – to give you insight into the kind of work I’m doing, the life of a yoga student, and general bits I learn about life here. Do check back in tomorrow evening for an account of my first day as an intern at a hospital for alternative therapy.

 

Just a purple Shiva meditating in the forest – a regular sight here at SVYASA.

The Bibliophile in Me... Travels & Other Escapades

Shakespeare’s Secret Sauce

November 12, 2019

I love Shakespeare in all his unabridged glory.  I’ve never touched Cliffs’ Notes and won’t deign to read the summaries.  I like his uncut sentences reverberating in my head in all their iambic pentameter glory.

So at literature festivals I try to catch all the Shakespeare-related talks I can.  At the Bangalore Literature Festival this weekend, I did the same.  A session called ‘Masala Shakespeare’  was on the roster. The presenter, Jonathan Gil Harris is the author of 6 books and his latest project is called ‘Masala Shakespeare’.  I’d never heard of Jonathan Gil Harris, but the name of the session piqued my interest.  And boy was I in for a treat.

Over the years I’ve seen Shakespeare adapted beautifully for Bollywood blockbusters and even stage.  The ability to understand the nuances of a Shakespearean play and transplant it to an Indian setting, without losing the essence of the play and keeping it incredibly relevant to India today requires a unique talent.  So whether it’s Roysten Abel’s ‘Othello: A Play in Black and White’ or Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Ram-Leela’, I have appreciated every scene and lapped up every line.

So it was nothing but pure delight when Jonathan started waxing eloquent about how Indian movies have always been doing Shakespeare.  As an example:

I’ve watched and appreciated most of these…and would even go so far as to day these are some of the best of Bollywood.

 

But what I liked most was Jonathan’s main point.  His assertion was that Shakespeare wrote his plays for the masses to enjoy.  His characters make puns and inside jokes, people from all walks of life populate and interact with each other in his plays and there are the ubiquitous star-crossed lovers.  Jonathan asserted that in England, Shakespeare has evolved to be more for the elite than for the masses, that to go watch a Shakespeare play was akin to going to the dentist.  However, in India everyone goes to the theater to watch essentially Shakespearean movies made by Rajnikant or Salman Khan’s Eid releases.  We understand the puns, we understand the drama, we hope for the best for the star-crossed lovers – and we do it en masse in the movie theatre.  Just as Shakespeare wanted his audience to do.  Watching Jonathan’s presentation was like watching a Bollywood movie – there was pathos, there was passion, there was a social message.

The only thing missing was the obligatory Bollywood song and dance sequence, and we got that too when Jonathan broke into a jig to ‘Jhalla Wallah’ from ‘Ishaqzaade’.  I wish I had a recording of that, but I was too busy enjoying myself to whip out my phone.  Perhaps the lit fest organizers will put it up on YouTube.

Meanwhile, if you get a chance to catch Jonathan live anywhere, I would highly recommend it.

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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?