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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?

Travels & Other Escapades

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

October 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

The ancient Nandi at the summit.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Travels & Other Escapades

The 2019 Pune Visit

October 2, 2019
Taking stock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Enquiries Into Yogic Philosophy Travels & Other Escapades

Practicing Together

September 12, 2019

I don’t remember when I came across the word ‘jugalbandi’ for the first time.  Until now I thought the word meant a collaboration.  Before writing this blog I thought I should  probably check the meaning and found that it literally means ‘entwined twins’.  The word is used to refer to a collaboration between two artists, usually a duet between two solo artists.

I’ve attended a few jugalbandis in the past and enjoyed them immensely.  There is magic when great artists come together.  They bring their art and ‘entwine’ it with the art of another artist.  And it creates magic.  It’s not only a mingling of art, craft, technical excellence but also a mingling of hearts, souls and great minds.

If you go to yoga class and take a look around you will see many things.  Lithe bendy bodies and also not so lithe bendy bodies.  People straining to touch their toes, and people balancing on their fingertips.  But there is a common purpose that brings us together: to keep our bodies and minds healthy.

Which is why every once in a while I love to train and practice with different people.  I came across Dayananthan on Instagram one day and was blown away by his asana practice.  So I ‘followed’ him.  And to my surprise he followed me back and said he finds my practice inspiring.  I was thrilled.  More thrilled when he invited me over to his studio Nrityog to practice together.

Teaching yoga (or maybe teaching anything) can get lonely.  You’re either attending class, teaching class or practicing.  You have few ‘work friends’, don’t go out for drinks after work and have no team-building retreats.  So it’s always refreshing to find teachers who reach out.

I arrived at Nrityog early on a Saturday.  Dayananthan was finishing a class.  He is really as awesome as his Instagram profile makes it out to be.  We chatted a bit during which I showed him the postures that were my ‘goal asanas’ such as this one and this one.  We started stretching and decided to work towards the ek pada sirsasana.  I’ve been working on the pose for years and was hoping he could give me new insight into it.

As we stretched I got to know him a bit better.  He started Nrityog with his wife who is also a dancer. The studio is open, airy, full of plants.  The vibe is calm, much like Dayananthan himself.  He freelances at other studios too, which he loves because he gets to meet more people that way.  So you can catch him around in different part of Bangalore.

In about 35-45 minutes he was ready to tackle the leg behind head category of asanas.  My muscles were screaming, but I was game.

 

I look forward to practicing more with him once I’m back in Bangalore.  The Yoga Jugalbandi.

Meanwhile, if you’re in Bangalore do attend class at Nrityog!!!

 

Enquiries Into Yogic Philosophy Travels & Other Escapades

Faith, Questionable

September 6, 2019

Faith is abstract.  Its manifestation is concrete.  Ganesh Chaturthi is a good time to witness faith.

 

In my friend’s house the festive season has already started.  It starts with Ganesh Chaturthi.  For the entire 5 days that the Ganesh idol sits in their house, they celebrate.  People visit, good food is cooked, everyone laughs.

 

The house gets a face lift

enthusiastic dusting for every surface

the twinkle of the silver pooja-thali

bright new cushion-covers,

fresh flowers every day

the smell of incense wafting through the rooms.

aarti together in the evenings

 

From L-R : Parvati & Gauri. These statues have been in the family for generations. These statues along with their saris and jewels are carefully taken out of storage every year. They are dressed in all their finery in an elaborate ceremony. The oil lamps are lit. For the next three days the lamps are kept lit and morning & evening aartis are done without fail.

Ganesh departs to go back to Mount Kailash after 5 days (or 3 or 7).  His mother and sister stay on as guests in your house.  For three days.  They are the harbingers of health, wealth and good luck.  People believe it to be a great privilege to host Gauri and Parvati in their house for they bring with them the power to fulfill your innermost desires.

 

Can we soften and allow powers beyond us to manifest our innermost desires?

 

Here’s a blog from 2016 when I visited all the famous Ganesh pandals in Pune.

Enquiries Into Yogic Philosophy Travels & Other Escapades

Who’s the Teacher?

September 5, 2019

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I’ve heard this phrase countless times, and even uttered this platitude a few times myself.  But a conversation with a friend of mine (another yoga teacher and owner of a yoga studio) made me take a fresh look at the teacher-student relationship.

When we say this phrase our emphasis is always on the teacher appearing.  That the teacher should know when the student is ready and then magically appear.  But what a student does/is doing while they are waiting for the teacher to be conjured is also important.

I’ve noticed two kinds of students-in-waiting:

  1. Those who have searched for a yoga class or a teacher and haven’t found one.  This is usually because there are no classes in the neighborhood or because they didn’t like any of the teachers available to them.  These students usually throw up their hands and deem that ‘it’s not time yet’.  In such scenarios your teacher may never appear, because a student who sees distance as an impediment isn’t really a student.  Also a student who looks at a teacher as mere commodities are searching for a bar of soap and not a human being who will guide them on possibly the most difficult journey in life.
  2. Then there are students who demand the teaching from the teacher.  They may ask to work on advanced asanas or work towards a specific asana.  These students demonstrate little regard and zero respect for the teachings being imparted.  The desire to learn advanced postures is only justified if it is accompanied by hours and hours of relentless self-practice.

The most important aspect of any practice is the practice itself.  Your yoga practice is your teacher.  If you aren’t visiting your teacher daily then you’re not a student nor a seeker.  Your desire to practice advanced asanas isn’t an indicator of your interest or your passion – it’s actually a measure of how tamasic you are.  You are looking at an external force to help you achieve your goal, instead of putting in your own sweat, blood and tears.

Finally, the teacher-student (guru-shishya) relationship is very much driven by the student.  The student must offer himself up first.  The surrender happens, and then the learning commences.  Until the student is able to turn off his ‘I-ness’, he will forever flail, grasping blindly for knowledge and wisdom which will always elude him.

Pictured below is my 11-12th grade English teacher.  Those of you who know me know that I went to different schools around the world until I landed in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  At the American International School/Dhaka I had the double privilege of not only studying literature but also writing innumerable essays under the guidance of Ms. Spisso.  Here she is with books written by her alumni.  I like to think this is my guru dakshina to her.

 

Enquiries Into Yogic Philosophy The Bibliophile in Me... Travels & Other Escapades

Rubbing (Book) Shoulders With My Favs

August 22, 2019

My sister spotted my book at the Delhi International Airport.

Over breakfast with my boyfriend today I mentioned I have my book club meeting tomorrow evening. It got me thinking about reading and those who read. I said to him, “Reading is a bit strange. We all know how to read, but very few actually read.” Those who aren’t bitten by the reading bug as soon as they learn how to read, can never catch the reading disease. For them reading a book will depend on literary awards and bestseller lists. They will never know the pure joy of a juicy historical Walflowers romance followed by the heartbreak of a volume on partition and its consequences. They will never relate to, and therefore never benefit from the existential crisis of a desperate vampire. They won’t know the thrill of hours spent digging through piles of dust motes to unearth treasure in a second-hand bookstore. Their shelves will forever be prey to awards, notable mentions, even popular opinion.

I read ‘God of Small Things’ in high school. The book was one long beautiful breath-taking poem. Last year the magic reappeared in ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’. To have my book next to hers is a little like being close to her energy.

I read a little known book called ‘The Gin Drinkers’ around the time I started college. I was smarting from culture shock, felt like a fish out of water on most days, wondered if things would ever get better and like most young people looked for familiarity that I never really found. (Have I found it now?). As clichèd as it sounds, I recognized a bit of myself in the characters of this book. When Sagarika Ghose spotted her book at the airport, I wonder if she registered the book next to her.

If you spot ‘Beyond Asanas‘ anywhere, do send me a picture!

Travels & Other Escapades

July 22nd – 28th

July 29, 2019

This week started out with me being all writerly.  Many of you don’t know that I have a humongous  collection of saris.  Yet the only thing I wear most frequently are my yoga pants.  So it was refreshing to attend the Guru Purnima celebrations swathed in six yards of elegance.  And since I was presenting my teacher with my book on the same day I thought let me make it a Kodak moment and the result was the first Instagram update for the week.

Give me a beautiful south cotton sari any day. #noyogapants #sarinotsorry.

 

I’m still pinching myself about what a wonderful year this is turning out to be.  Last year if you’d told me that next year by this time I would have conducted a yoga retreat in Italy, I’d dismiss you as senile.  My book was in the pipeline, but I was immersed so deeply in editing that it ever seeing the light of day was almost mythical.  The second update for the week saw me thinking about my unconventional journey and the twists and turns that it’s led me on.  With no roadmap the only thing I’ve relied on to get to this point is my gut instinct and also blind trust on whoever wants to massage my ego!  This picture was taken when my sister Ana, cousin Ishani and I were roaming the streets of Imperia trying to find Susanne and Stephanie (with whom we were going to head to Liguria).

Dancing all over Imperia.

 

The 25th of July is Abhijata’s birthday.  In 2016 I went to Belur to attend an Iyengar yoga workshop for the first time.  Abhijata was there along with Birjoo and Rajvi Mehta.  I was nervous about speaking to Abhijata, but my classmates egged me on.  And I finally did, thinking I’d like to remember myself as courageous enough for a ‘no’ rather than the coward who didn’t even dare.  It was now or never.  Abhijata not only told me to write to the institute keeping her in the loop but also answered a few of my questions.  I did a blog on it and later put together a YouTube video.

 

And I ended the week with updates about my first book event for ‘Beyond Asanas’.  The event is called ‘Feeding Body and Soul – A Book Talk.  It is being hosted by Carrots Restaurant and they even curated a special menu for it!!! The menu included: Melon Mint Gazpacho, Raw Beetroot Ravioli with Herbed Cheese and Cilantro Hummus with Baked Lavash Chips.  Exciting stuff!!!  The first event was on Sunday evening and I spoke about my personal journey, why yoga, how I went about writing the book etc.  It was an open, free-wheeling discussion and I look forward to doing the event again on Wednesday the 31st of July.  Fingers crossed that this is the first of many book events. 🙂

Simply yummers….

Travels & Other Escapades

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 Chiara, 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,” Chiara 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.

Chiara 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 Chiara: 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,” Chiara 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 Chiara 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 Chiara. “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.

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

Travels & Other Escapades

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.