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Practice Yoga Like You Practice Life

May 21, 2018

A few weekends ago I attended a friend’s house warming party.  In India there is always an element of ritual.  So while a housewarming can be a little party for a bunch of close friends, here it becomes an event of larger significance.  So a purohit is called.  You get the stuff for the puja together, you plan for caterers, you send out invites….

When we celebrate a house warming or a ‘griha pravesh‘ we celebrate new beginnings.  We hope that the new abode brings the owners good luck and prosperity.  Some incense, a few mantras, a coconut and some ‘lucky’ plants and we actually start to feel better about the house.  These are all the accoutrements of the ritual of cleansing a space of any negative vibes so that the new owners can live peacefully.

Big celebrations so dressed to the nines.

A yogi’s abode is the body and mind.  Since we get only one body and mind per lifetime, we need to exist within them peacefully and authentically.  A yogi is constantly torn between one more drink or slice of pizza and an early morning twists or backbend practice.  You control yourself from snapping at a pesky sibling and try to stop fuming at the guy who just cut you off in traffic.  But the disturbances in the mind have already been created, and they now impact your being.

How can we maintain equanimity while living in a world designed to trouble us?

The answer lies, as usual, in the practice.  Every morning when you step on your mat and start at the beginning, you create a new story.  Each day gives you a chance to start at the beginning and go somewhere different.  Yesterday’s limitations don’t exist today and today’s won’t exist tomorrow.  This impermanence can be a deterrent for many, but for the yogi it means hope.  You return to your practice throughout a constantly changing life.  You practice life like you practice yoga, with a spirit of exploration and the core belief that this too shall pass.

Practice and detachment are the means to still the movements of consciousness. (PYS 1.12) Picture taken at the Bhoga Nandishwara temple at the foot of Nandi Hills.

 

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Repetition of vs Repeating (an Asana)

April 29, 2018

Your body exists in the past and your mind exists in the future. In yoga, they come together in the present. – BKS Iyengar

The other day one of my students mentioned (rightly so) that in my class he spends a lot of time in Adhomukha Svanasana. Other classes he’s attended didn’t repeat asanas as much our class.

Why the repetition?

The thing is, we might be doing the same asana over and over again, but we’re not actually repeating it. Emotionally, physically and mentally, the asana is different every single time we redo it. Each time we execute it, we go deeper. We look at nuances, uncover hidden depths. It’s a new asana every time. In Trikonasana, for instance, I can focus on the alignment of my ankles, or on my shoulder blades, or the rotation of my spine, my drishti, or the alignment of the femur and shin, or even the extension of the metatarsals and soles. To maintain awareness simultaneously on all the factors that build the Trikonasana is hard, and we practice to achieve that. And, if for a moment we attain that state, we meditate upon what it taught us, what we learned.

I frequently come across posts on social media about ‘flipping your perspective’ or ‘get a new perspective’ and usually such posts are usually accompanied by pictures of Sirsasana (headstand) or Adhomukha Vrikshasana (handstand). In an Iyengar yoga class, you will gain new perspective and flip existing ones while doing basic asanas repetitively, constantly, consistently and persistently. To gain new perspective, we don’t really need to look beyond what we already have. Perhaps all we need is to be more attentive.

Take the Trikonasana above for instance. We can always focus on bending to the side and making contact with the toes/foot/ankle/ground. Or we can focus on bringing out the various triangles in the posture more distinctly and intensely.

Your focus will determine the quality and maturity of your practice and your life.

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Becoming the Asana

March 15, 2018

I think of myself as a yoga student first, and then a teacher. When I don’t practice, I feel like I’ve missed something. If, on a rare day, I have no classes, I feel like I’m on vacation.

I make it a point to go to my teacher twice a week. It’s a big class, with at least thirty of us at various levels of practice. The average age of students must be between 45-50. So I find arranging my limbs into an asana a little easier than the rest of the students.

However, yoga goes beyond your expertise at making shapes with your body. And every once in a while, specially when I’ve drifted away from the here and now, I’m pulled back and propelled towards new insight. Doesn’t happen very much, but frequently enough.

Forward Bends denote our ability to surrender to situations that Life brings forth. The Kurmasana has been on my ambitious pose list for years. As a teacher I believe that with consistent practice, any pose can be conquered. As a student there are poses that I judge. I will never ‘own’ this pose. Will I ever own this pose? It’s too difficult for me. This pose is easy! And so on and so forth.

Yesterday towards the end of the class, the teacher asked us to stretch our legs out in the Paschimottanasana and widen them. Then reach forward and grab the sides of the feet. Bend the elbows to the side and stretch the torso forward. I did. And continued working, thinking ‘Kurmasana’. Finally, my teacher started gently coaxing my torso forward. Deeper. Further. More. Eventually there was no sense of the practitioner as being separate from the practice. My forehead touched the floor. I exhaled. Surrendered. I became the asana.

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Always on the Lookout…

February 17, 2018

for a yoga bag…

Whether you are a yoga teacher or a yoga student, chances are you are lugging more than just your mat to class.  The basics in a yogi’s bag are: phone, water bottle, towel, car keys, house keys, money.  As a teacher I carry a little notebook with my class plan, belts and sometimes even blocks.

Most of us have a yoga bag and also lug around our mats.  That might be fine for you, but I’ve been doing it forever and it’s getting a tad bit tedious.  Just as I was browsing online for a bag which could work for me, Meraki Decors contacted me!  Megha, the woman behind this quirky venture spoke to me at length about her journey and passion, and the connection was instant.

And, Meraki Decors decided to customize a yoga mat for me and send it for review!

When I looked up the term Meraki, I found out that it’s one of those words in a language that can’t be literally translated.  They describe a mood or a behavior.

You can bring Meraki into pretty much whatever you’re doing, be it cooking, decorating your home or your table, and (in my case) creating a life based on holistic health and conscious movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I was excited to receive this mat and below it is for your viewing.  Needless to say, it serves me perfectly.  It’s roomy enough for even really thick and big mats.  I use a thin mat, and that leaves enough room to put my jacket into the bag too.  And even my water bottle!

There’s a really convenient pocket in the front where I usually keep my phone, car keys, notebook, spare change etc.  And the best part is that Meraki Decors put my name with an inspirational quote on the mat.  Because #postiiveaffirmations.

I’ve been using this bag for a while now and I like the way it looks and the convenience.  Meraki_Decors has so much other stuff that you’re going to love (I certainly do!)

 

And I got lucky on Valentine’s Day because Megha gave me a beautiful handmade candle stand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out their Facebook and Instagram pages for other offerings.  Some of the stuff I really like:

Megha at an exhibition with all her artwork.

 

 

 

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It Starts With You

January 22, 2018

A few days ago a friend of mine showed me a video clip that she found inspiring.  It was about being interested in your goals vs. being committed to your goals.  The video was a montage of footage of a man talking about the pursuit of his goals and a people busy in physical pursuits.  As this man speaks about commitment we see a boxer practicing.  As he speaks of doing whatever it takes to achieve your goals, we see someone surveying the terrain, presumably to run through it.  As he talks about upgrading your knowledge, we see a someone running through the snow.

When the video finished I said that it’s quite interesting that they’ve used fitness to illustrate the main idea of the video.  There are many ways to depict smashing and achieving goals.  We can show people in a boardroom bagging a successful deal.  We can show an actor executing a scene perfectly.  We can also show a student getting an acceptance to a prestigious university.  So why is fitness the preferred approach to depict motivation and dedication?

Associating fitness with achievements in other aspects of life is not a coincidence.  Think about it, when you think of that friend of yours who works out regularly, is on track with the diet and exudes a sense of wellness, don’t you get a sense of awe?  If you’re not on the path yourself don’t you feel a tinge of jealousy or pride (depending on your relationship with said friend and the kind of person you are)?

A healthier lifestyle, a fitter body, a cleaner diet, more strength, more stamina, more flexibility, glowing skin, luscious hair, clear eyes – all these are more than skin deep.  These don’t translate only to a physically well-proportioned human being.  These translate to a human with a confident gait and an easy smile.  A person who wears their clothes and skin well.  A person who is involved daily in self improvement more than in passing judgment on others.

A person who works out daily depicts the wholesome personality that we all aspire to.  A person who is dedicated to making things happen.  A person who creates life, rather than one who responds to it.  A person who doesn’t sit in a corner crying about a missed opportunity, but someone who moves confidently towards the next challenge.  After all, you win some and you lose some.  Someone who lives rather than exists.

And taking care of your physical and mental health is the first step to demonstrating that you care.  That you can commit to changing yourself before you change an empire.  That you can first bring a revolution within yourself, before you revolutionize the world.  If you can commit to yourself, then you can commit to anything.  If you can change yourself, then you can change anything.

It starts with you.

And below is the video that got me thinking.

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Think Women Think Sheroes

January 15, 2018

It’s the middle of January and by now it would be pretty clear to you whether you are on track with your fitness goals or not.  Face it, if you haven’t started working out already, then you aren’t on track.  Staying on track, smashing your fitness goals, sticking to your New Year’s resolutions is easier said than done, and I do understand that.  But I’m also a huge fan of staying on your game with some help.  I find that what helps me is my own personal fitness group.  A group of like-minded people with whom I can discuss fitness related news and ideas and who can answer my queries and give me new insight into my interest.  I feel it’s a great idea to cultivate a group of like-minded individuals because it helps you stay motivated.

I recently came across sheroes.com, a platform specifically for women.  I browsed through the site and through its various communities and realized that it’s a great platform for women from all walks of life.  There are communities dedicated to writing, for career advice and even for relationship advice!  It’s definitely a useful platform where women will feel supported and empowered.  The community that I promptly clicked in to was the ‘Health Tips’ community and below is what it looks like.

What I really appreciated was the fact that the community was dealing with real questions from real people.  Just like you and me.  You can get advice from your peers about any health problems you are facing, and even tips of what other women have tried and tested.

In addition to this, sheroes.com also has qualified doctors who are on call to respond to medical queries.  This ensures that you’re not getting inaccurate or half-baked information.  You have access to expert advice from doctors for a wide range of medical issues.

A more valuable use for this platform is to address personal issues that we sometimes don’t have anyone to speak to about.  This is a platform through which you can get answers for intimate queries private and anonymously.  For instance:

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Intrigued?  Check out their health community here.

You can also download the SHEROES App here.

SHEROES has really done a good job of coming up with a portal valuable for all women.  It’s a one stop destination for any query or advice a woman might need.  They’ve really proven their words “THINK WOMEN THINK SHEROES” true!

Do check it out and let me know what you think.

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5 Random Facts About Me

January 9, 2018
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Enjoying the cold weather at @ Hauz Khas Village.

Happy New Year!!!!

I hope 2018 is amazing for all of us and brings us only the best in health, wealth and happiness.  Actually, since wealth and happiness come from good health, I should ideally only wish that for you.  In any case, this blog will help you with all aspects of your health.

I thought the first blog of the year should be one through which you can get to know me a bit better. A lot of new people subscribed in the last couple of months, and they might not know me too well.  So below are a some random facts about me that will help you get to know me better.

1. I’ve lived in 6 different countries and visited three times that number so far in my life.

2. I’m actually a software engineer and even worked as one for 8 years.

3. As a kid I wanted to be Nancy Drew when I grew up.

4. I’ve been journaling extensively since second grade.

5. I never thought of myself as a cook.  But as and when I started looking for healthy recipes I realized that my friends actually like the taste of my experiments and that I’m actually a very good cook.

And now for a bonus random fact about me:

6. Kolhapuri chappals and Birkenstocks are my favorite shoes. This completely irrelevant fact is probably very typical of a yogi.

 

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A collage of pictures that hangs in my house in Delhi.  Can you spot me?

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Year End Musings

December 28, 2017

 

Hello Friends/Subscribers/Yoga Enthusiasts/Family (virtual & otherwise)/Students!!!!

The year started with my hair dark, long and straight.  As the months went on I got bored and decided I wanted to add depth to otherwise staid hair.  I got some streaks put in.  After a couple of weeks I decided the streaks needed something more and I added fuschia (Manic Panic Hot Pink).  This is the perfect analogy for the year.  What started as another year of classes turned into much much more.

This year has been about immense growth both on and off the mat.  Two months in Pune were challenging and difficult.  The teachers remembered me from last year but that didn’t stop them from literally swatting me into correct alignment.  It’s true, there’s no success without a bit of hardship.

The Dengue fever which followed soon after was my first experience with illness.  The weeks after that recovering was a time full of experimentation, a bit of fear and slowly getting back on track.

My website went live and brought all my interests under one roof.  So if you want to read what I have to say you’ve only got to click on a link.  If you want information about classes, you can just scroll to that page and if you want to drop me a line, you can do that very conveniently too.  From blogging/vlogging with no clear plan, I started to look for a clear structure.  The task became easier with a friend of mine coming on board and encouraging me to use my grey cells to focus on growth.  All the new content on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube (which I hope you’re enjoying) is a result of that.

As students we’ve seen excess weight shed, clocking more running miles, making long term diet changes, instinctively making better food choices, taking ownership of your fitness, introspection, more meditation minutes.  Together we’ve done runs, 108 Suryanamaskars on chilly mornings, post class breakfasts.  We’ve done an amazing and one of a kind retreat away from the rigmarole of life deep in the heart of nature. We have inspired each other and been inspired by each other.  We have watched each other collapse on our mats and then also watched as we pushed ourselves up to move ahead.

This is my last blog for the year and I’m so grateful that we’ve made a connection/continued being in touch this year.  This past week has been about reviewing the year and making plans for the next year.  I hope 2018 brings lots of good health, positivity and abundance into your life.

See you next year!

 

 

 

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Spine Is a Metaphor for Life

December 6, 2017

In the Ashtanga system of yoga as propounded by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, you practice backbending daily. In the closing series, you practice the Urdhva Dhanurasana followed by the Sarvangasana and Halasana.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram and Facebook, you know that I’m focusing on my backbends a lot these days. Backbends have always been challenging for me, and for this reason I favor forward bends in my practice. It’s easier to do the stuff that comes naturally to you.  But doing that which you know you’re not good at, now that requires real discipline.

I have forever intended to work on my backbends in my personal practice, but I never got around to it. But in Pune we devote an entire week of the month to backbends. So you see advanced practitioners doing the Urdhva Dhanurasana 108 times etc. There was one particular class that I feel changed my practice forever. My spine became accessible and I became open to the idea that I CAN do backbends in this lifetime. I resolved to continue the practice and I practice a back bending routine on most days. You can see a snapshot of a typical backbending practice in this video.

I often see students lamenting their inability to bend backwards (I’ve been there myself).  Over the years I’ve learned that when it comes to bending back, more doesn’t always mean better.

The flexibility of your spine can give you a clue about how you approach life.  Do you have a tendency to bend over backwards to accommodate people and situations ? Bending like you don’t have a spine can also be described as being ‘spineless’.  Conversely, are you unable to bend back at all?  Not able to be open to an uncomfortable situation or a different point of view?

In terms of yogasanas, a certain amount of resistance is necessary to execute the full expression of the asana.  A body which can fold easily at every single joint has to work hard to provide the counterforce to hold an asana steady.  So we see the inability to gauge the centre in Sirsasana and Natrajasana.  We see an inability to hold Parsvakonasana.

Being too flexible is not always a good thing.  Too flexible with your time, with your emotions, with your boundaries, with yourself…

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Healthy Body, but Healthy Mind?

November 30, 2017

With the ongoing focus on mental health have you gauged the state of your mental health?

The only way yoga works for you on a physical level is by changing you at a mental level.  Daily practice actually changes neural pathways in your brain which rewires you to think differently.  Not only are you making a conscious connection between your body and mind, but you are also ensuring that vital hormones (which are responsible for your moods and feelings) are also secreted to your system in optimum amounts.  Too little or too much leads to conditions such as Thyroidism, PCOS/D, PMS, anxiety, depression etc.

Exercising and eating a wholesome diet are key to overall good health.  But there are a few easy guidelines you can follow to ensure your thoughts aren’t sabotaging your health.

  1. Audit your quality time.  Who are the 5 people you spend most of your time with?  Do they make you feel good about yourself?  Do they lift you up or ensure you’re always down?  When those around us respect and love us, we feel stronger and more confident.  This is because when you hang out with good friends chemicals called serotonin and oxytocin which cause feelings of well being, are released in your body.  So think about the 5 people you’re spending most of your time with and consider making some changes for the better, if required
  2. Journaling.  I’ve been a compulsive journal writer since I was in second grade.  You’ll still find stacks of my journals in my parents’ home.  I was journaling all the way to the time I started working for Infosys.  But as time went on and work got hectic, it took a back seat.  Until my birthday earlier this year when one of my students gave me The Five Minute Journal.  Sitting down to do this every day has actually had a positive impact on me.  Use journaling as a means to think through things, vent, gain clarity.  Write about whatever comes to your mind, even if its just a re-cap of your day.  It feels great to be able to express yourself in a forum where you won’t be judged, where there is no right or wrong.  Sometimes seeing your thoughts and feelings physically in front of you is just what you need to feel better.
  3. Affirmations.  I would actually club this under the umbrella of meditative practices.  Write a few statements (on your phone works just fine) and go back to them often throughout the day.  Statements should be positive such as ‘Everything happens for the best.’  Reading such statements often to yourself can change destructive deep seated thought patterns that you may be unconsciously holding on to.  Repeating positive affirmations to yourself is a simple way to re-boot your mind set.

These are a few of my go-to tools to stay centred when everything around me is off balance.  Like yoga, these tools will take some time and effort to work their magic.  But once they do, you’ll have a healthy mind in a healthy body.