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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?

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

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.

Lifestyle Yoga

Why Am I Not Losing Weight?

September 25, 2019

After we were done with our session at the Pune international Literature Festival, Joel and I were inundated with questions. I wish we’d had enough time to answer everyone’s questions, but we had time for only a few. During our chat I mentioned that while I was a desk-bound software engineer I had steadily put on weight. I recounted the singularly frustrating experience of trying ‘pretty much everything’ and still not being able to lose weight. Until yoga happened, and the rest of my journey is pretty well documented.

This story strikes a chord with many people, as it did that day. A lady in the audience had spotted our book in the bookstalls, bought it, noted that our session was on and made a point to attend. She told us that she’s had a problem losing weight with yoga. Whenever she watches what she eats, she finds the weight coming off. But when she loses track of her diet, the weight comes back.

I’ve heard this many times over the years. It stems from the idea that you can push garbage into your body and ‘work it out’. This idea is superficial at best and downright dangerous at worse. It presupposes the idea that the only reason to practice yoga or any other form of movement is to get to a particular number on the scale. However, we don’t move to sweat. We move to touch our toes, to slam dunk, to sprint up mountains, to swim in the ocean.

If your sweat sessions are fueled by bags of potato chips and zero-calorie colas, then you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of weak and brittle bones, thinning hair, dimming eye sight, abysmally low levels of energy, foul temper, anemia, thyroid issues…..

In retrospect, it was only when I started a serious yoga practice that I started to eat better. Poha for breakfast, dal-chawal for lunch, roti sabji for dinner. I shared a flat with four other girls and our cook made simple food. I didn’t snack, drank no dairy, and never stuffed myself with food.

Whether or not you’re a yoga practitioner you should remember this adage (which comes to us from yoga/ayurveda texts): “Yukta aahaar, vihaar, nidra.” Balanced nutrition, adequate exercise and restful sleep are imperative for good health.

Health and fitness are about balance than anything else. It’s an irony that I’m in a balancing asana on the far right. The more balanced you are, the fitter you get.

Books Lifestyle Travel Uncategorized Yoga

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!

Yoga

Prop or Crutch?

September 19, 2019
See the Sirsasana

This beautiful shot is part of the photos we took for ‘Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures”. Get your copy of the book on Amazon and Flipkart.

I had a 7 am class with Gulnaz Dashti today, my second with her this month.  I’ve recounted my hilarious class in 2016 with her here.  And last year here.  As evident in these blogs, she’s energetic, lively and funny.

Lately I’ve been having problems with the sirsasana.  It’s confounding.  I’ve been practicing sirsasana for years, even doing variations.  Here’s a video of me doing advanced variations too.  But suddenly one day I felt my neck starting to cramp up.  I hadn’t changed anything and I got a bit worried.

I decided that maybe I should change the way I use the blanket under my head.  Until now I was using a folded blanket between a folded mat.  I started to fold the blanket in the Iyengar “three fold long” style.  I felt it would give me height .  But that also didn’t feel right.  I spoke to Gulnaz about it last week.  “Is it possible for someone to do a pose for many years and all of a sudden to lose it one day?”

She said in her quick rapid style, “Until now you’ve learned how to do the sirsasana.  Now you’ll  understand the posture.  Go, I’ll see next week!”

So today before I went up I asked her for help.

“Why are you using a blanket?!” she screeched.  “You people become so used to the props!  Keep the blanket aside and go  close to the wall, I’ll adjust.”  She reached down and lifted my shoulders away from my ears.  I felt the weight shifting forward to my elbows.  My wrists and elbows woke up, and I pushed them firmly into the mat.    I teetered for a bit as I got familiar with the new center of gravity.

“Props were invented to teach you how to do a posture, not to become a crutch for you.  You people don’t even question the necessity of a prop!  You become so dependent on the prop that that’s all you see!  You don’t see the pose, you stop learning the pose!!!”

“Don’t be in a hurry to get away from the wall,” she cautioned me.  “Stay there and understand the pose.”

Got it Gulnaz – learn the pose with the props, and understand them without the crutches.

Lifestyle Yoga

Happiness Is Not in the Gulab Jamun

September 15, 2019

Missing my Sunday runs around the Ulsoor Lake.

I’ve been working on completing assignments for my MSc. The one I’m working on now is about happiness and man’s quest for it.

Lately more and more people reach out to me to discuss how to feel better rather than look better. They are interested in the mental and emotional benefits, rather than the physical benefits of yoga.

According to the Upanishads all beings (humans and animals) are instinctively attuned to sukha prapti (to gain happiness) and dukha niviritti (to overcome the misery). It’s this instinct that drives us. A penthouse, a limited edition car and an exclusive gym membership are the stuff dreams are made of, yet happiness still eludes us. Retail therapy isn’t getting us any closer to sukha prapti.

Psychosomatic conditions are rising at an alarming rate. We’re buying more than ever before but we’re also more sad. If only it was possible to buy away depression. We pin our hopes for happiness on objects of enjoyment and come away disheartened.

The Upanishads dealt with this question centuries ago. They state that man is in search of Reality and Happiness. This search yields answers to question such as the meaning of life, the goal of life and truth. It can drive away existential angst.

So whether it is eating gulab jamuns, getting the latest mobile phone or going on an expensive vacation, we want these because we feel these fulfill a deep seated need within us.

As my Vedas professor lectured: Whether it is eating gulab jamuns, getting the latest mobile phone or going on an expensive vacation, we want these because we feel these fulfill a deep seated need within us. We also want promotions, awards and praise. But the 50th gulab jamun doesn’t taste as good as the first one. The mobile phone loses it’s charm when the next version comes out. A vacation ends. And the desire for awards and promotions is never ending. Happiness is not in the gulab jamun or the mobile phone. Happiness shouldn’t be ephemeral like a vacation.

If only we could prolong the feeling of gastronomic delight of that first gulab jamun, of the excitement of the penthouse and car. Meditation is nothing but the prolonging of that state of bliss. Our happiness is always in response to an external event or object, and so it disappears in the absence of that stimulant. The Upanishads liken bliss to the musk of the musk deer. The deer searches the entire forest for the source of the glorious scent, and ultimately finds that he is the origin. Similarly, our happiness may be stimulated by something external, but the origin of the bliss is within us and therefore always accessible. To connect with this bliss you need to silence the citta vritti (the fluctuations of the thoughts in the mind).

The Upanishads have stated that yoga (beyond just the asanas) is the solution. The Gita states: yoga citta vritti nirodah. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the thoughts in the mind. When the fluctuations cease, silence pervades. And through this silence you can discover your bliss.

Happiness according to Vedic texts

Taittiriya Upanishad: When speech recedes and the mind reaches not there, one realizes Ananda, the Brahman; there he fears not.

Bhagvad Gita: Mind calmed down, sinless, all passions subdued, the Yogi establishes himself in the state of Brahman, the Supreme happiness.

Brahma Sutra: Brahman is Ananda, as repeatedly emphasized in the Upanishad.

Yoga

Cut Through the Noise and Find Your Centre

September 14, 2019

Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom and learning.

I recently enrolled for a Master’s program in yoga studies.  I went back to SVYASA (Swamy Vivekananda Yoga Anusudhana Samsthana).  It is a university dedicated exclusively to yoga and holistic health.  In 2012 I registered for their YIC (Yoga Instructor’s Course) never dreaming that in 2019 I would be back for a masters.

Two months ago I went to the university to attend a few lectures.  My days there were reminiscent of my Infosys Mysore training.  Until now yoga has largely meant asana practice for me.  Philosophy is intimidating.

I think this master’s program may just bridge the gap for me.  The faculty at SVYASA comes with a long list of achievements and experience.  All the members are well-known experts in their chosen area of study.

Our Yoga Therapy professor, Dr. Uma gave us some enthralling lectures.  She lectured on the importance of an integrated approach to health care.  One day the discussion turned to vegetarianism, veganism and other lifestyle related food choices.  She told us about her personal conflict with milk.  For years she had adamantly supported the consumption of milk.  She holds an MBBS, MD as well as a BHMS.  Milk is a panchamrit (five elixirs). However, latest research shows that milk is not good for you.

“Then I realized that milk as we know it now is not the milk Ayurvedic texts are talking about.  The cows, the environment, the people were different, and so the milk was also different.  Now I don’t have milk.”

“Nowadays disseminating information is easy.  You will find 100 opinions on everything under the sun.  What to eat, when to eat.  What to drink, when to drink.  Why to eat, why not to eat.  Why to drink and why not,” she said.  “You must not listen to everything.  Find what resonates with you.  What do you believe in-spite of all the information that you are being bombarded with?  You must cut through the noise and find your center.”

 

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

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!!!

 

Beyond Asanas: The Asanas Books Lifestyle Yoga

Ardha Chadrasana: The Half Moon Pose

September 11, 2019

When I started writing Beyond Asanas, it was going to contain about 100 asanas.  After all, I was writing my magnum opus.  As the book took shape this number dwindled down to 30.

I chose asanas that I had been practicing for a few years.  Ones which I knew and understood.  There were, of course, the mundanities to consider.  Visual appeal, my ability to execute the posture well, would my research yield interesting information about it?

The Ardha Chandrasana made the cut.  I found a connection between this asana and the story of the near-destruction of the universe.  When Shiva swallowed the halahala to save the Universe, the poison turned his body blue.  Chandra stepped in to help.

Then there’s the story of why the moon waxes and wanes.  Lord Ganesha and his temper are responsible for the moon manifesting in its ‘ardha‘ or half stage.

The Ardha Chandrasana is Chapter 5 of my book.  To read the stories and the significance in more detail get your copy of the book.

Below are the step-by-step instructions, with images.

1. Start on the right with Trikonasana.

For more on Trikonasana see Chapter 4 in Beyond Asanas.

2.  Bend your right knee and reach forward with your right hand.  Place it on the floor diagonally opposite the right foot.

 

Note the extension on the right side of the torso as the outer edge of the left foot stays firmly on the ground.

 

The right arm and right foot must be diagonal to each other, else balancing is hard.

 

3.  Engage your right arm and leg, so that you can balance and support yourself on them.  Slowly lift the leg up until it is parallel to the floor or slightly above hip level.

 

The key to balance is your gaze. The steadier and more focused your gaze, the better your balance.

 

Behold! The final posture. The gaze swivels up to the left thumb.

4.  To come down, bring your left leg back to the floor in the same way you took it up.  You should end in the Trikonasana again.

5.  Repeat on the left side.

 

These beautiful images are done by Farhan Khan of @khan.clicks and David of @deavalin_david_dsouza.  The makeup is by Henna of @makeupbyhennaanbaree.

If you have any questions or queries, do leave a comment.

Get your own copy of ‘Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures’ here.

Travel Yoga

Don’t Go After the Stretch

September 10, 2019

pc: @khan.clicks @deavalin_david_dsouza makeup: makeupbyhennaanbaree location: Cubbon Park

I had a late class yesterday.  It started at 7.10 pm and went up to 8.40 pm.  The teacher was new to me.  After the usual queries (“Where are you from?  Who’s your teacher?”) I spread my mat and got ready for a class.

All the teachers at RIMYI have a distinct style of teaching.  The strong teacher-student tradition of yoga ensures that your attitude, approach and philosophy towards the practice reflects that of your teacher.  Your students will be able to see the ‘Iyengar’ or ‘Ashtanga’ shades in your classes.  If you go to multiple teachers/don’t go to any teacher – that is pretty evident too.

There isn’t much of a crowd at RIMYI this year.  Last night’s class had about 15 students.  We had enough space to spread out.  The class was quiet.  It wasn’t action-packed or fast paced.  We did very few asanas.  We held each asana for a very very long time.

As you continue to hold, you’re able to go deeper into the pose.  You can intensify the stretch.  You can observe which limbs are working, which are sleeping.  I worked on lengthening and opening my torso in Trikonasana – I noticed that I could actually activate the hamstrings more.  Similarly in Parsvakonasana.

“You may be feeling a stretch in your hamstrings and on your groin,” said the teacher.  “But feel the quietness in your abdomen.”

I blinked a couple of times. It’s a mannerism Ive noticed recently.  It’s an automatic response if I’m surprised or intrigued.

“Most of us go after the stretch.  We think asana works only if we feel the stretch.  But all asanas bring quietness in the abdomen too.  Find this quiet.”

And with these few sentences, he changed my asana practice forever.