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The Pune International Lit Fest

September 23, 2019

A free flowing conversation about the process and experience of putting the book together.

I’ve been attending literature and art festivals forever. The Jaipur Lit Fest many years ago, the Kochi Muziris Biennale, the Bangalore Lit Fest, the Venice Biennale and finally the Pune International Lit Fest. For years I’ve always been an attendee, always wondering if I would ever be on the other side. The writer’s side.

And this weekend, at the Pune International Lit Fest, it happened.  I was officially on the writer’s side.

Always good to see your work next to those you admire.

 

It was amazing.  I registered as a speaker and was shown into the author’s lounge where I met other speakers and writers. I checked for my book at the bookstalls, signed books, took photos, hobnobbed with other writers.

 

 

 

Our session was scheduled for the last day, to ensure that my RIMYI schedule didn’t clash.  Joel Koechlin (the man behind the beautiful photos in the book) and I were speaking about Beyond Asanas with our editor Gurveen Chadha of Penguin Random House.  The three of us had interacted with each other extensively during the making of this book, and the comfort level was evident on stage. We had a free wheeling chat about the process of creating the book, the challenges we faced, the importance of yoga, why it is worthwhile to read the history and mythology of asanas, inspiration….the hour went by pretty quickly. We fielded as many questions from the audience as time would allow.

 

 

 

The fest was well-organized, the sessions were varied and interesting, the goodie bag was great and the bookstalls were well stocked.  A heartfelt thank you to the organizers for this amazing event.

 

With poetess and friend, Tanushi Singh. Check out her latest collection of poetry called, In Pursuit of Sunshine in Rain.

Always thankful for those who can share my little joys with me.

 

Came with a great goodie bag too!

Poetry Uncategorized

Nature Needs No Filters

March 23, 2019

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

Nature needs no filter.

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

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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?

 

 

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How to Remain Healthy During the Holidays: Top 5 Tips

November 4, 2018

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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….

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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/

 

 

 

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The Pune Diaries – Day 1

August 1, 2018


I got in really late to Pune last night and after some dinner could hardly keep my eyes open.  I drifted into a deep long sleep….

…and woke up this morning to head to the institute for registration.  This year I have a mixed bag of teachers and most of my classes are in the morning.  Practice times remain the same, as always.

As I was telling some other students who registered along with me, the month in Pune always has a lot to teach you.  The learning curve is steep and you learn more than you can sometimes process.

I’m still not done with the registration formalities.  I have to submit a letter from my landlord, some kind of identity proof and the duly filled out registration form.  However, in the true RIMYI spirit of ‘practice first and everything else will follow’, I’ll go for the evening self-practice.  As Pandu told me this morning, ‘Aap shuru to karo.  You’re a known face here.’

“Ok sir, theek hai.”

 

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How Your Practice Grows

June 25, 2018

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Yoga philosophy.  The stories of the asanas.  The significance.

During practice I find myself going inwards to observe myself more closely.  My practice these days is focused on the basics.  So even if I practice Adhomukha Vrikshasana (handstand), I’ll start from Uttanasana.

Last weekend I attended a workshop at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.  It was a two day workshop where we learned about Krishnamacharya, and his contribution to modern yoga and the style of yoga taught at KYM.

On the first day of the workshop the teacher spoke about the 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga.  In his lecture he asserted that the 8 limbs grow like a baby.  Equally and in all directions.  So as you work on Yama and Niyama, you also work on Dhyana, Dharana etc.  This is a new idea for me, but the more I think about it, the more I see the similarity between this statement and asana practice.

A good friend of mine (also a yogi) told me once that when you’re struggling with a particular asana, it sometimes helps to go beyond that asana to one which is a little more advanced, and then come back to the asana that isn’t working for you.  Just because you aren’t consciously working on a particular asana doesn’t mean that it’s lying dormant.  Every time you practice, there are imperceptible changes in your body.  Whether the practice is good or bad, a change occurs.  Over time these changes accumulate and previously inaccessible asanas start to emerge, with relative ease.  In this way, your practice grows equally in all directions.

If you practice with focus and devotion, you are working on all aspects of the practice and not merely the physical one.  As your asana practice improves, your ability to speak the truth increases, you feel more compassionate towards Life and everyone in your life, you become more content and you stop vacillating between extremes.  The practice grows almost on its own accord, pulling the practitioner along with it.