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Some Unsolicited Business Advice – Dharamshala Day 3

October 21, 2021

“Chai lenge aap?” Govind asked me as I browsed through the clothing racks.
“No,” I politely declined.
“Matlab aap jaisi chai bhi mil jayegi,” he said. When I looked askance, he quickly went on. “Mera matlab vegan walli chai bhi mil jayegi.”
“Ok,” I agreed. “Par bina cheeni ke.”

I was on the lookout for some gifts and someone had recommended this wonderful shop in Dharamkot. I proceeded to pick out a few shawls, pyjamas, a bag and even a pair of shorts for yoga practice!

Selection done, Govind put out a small stool for me inside the shop. I surveyed his shop through the steam of my soy milk chai. His shop doubled as his workshop, with two industrial sized sewing machines. “I’m working on money belts these days,” he told me, indicating to the belt bags hanging outside the shop. “There’s been a demand for these.”

I looked appreciatively from the sports bras, to the wrap around skirts to the coats in his shop and asked him if he made all these things. He nodded.

He told me how he was originally from Pushkar and had led a nomadic existence for the last several years. “I was also in Hampi,” he said. “Then one day they decided to break down everything, from the stores to the houses and we had to leave. But otherwise the market there was good, and the winters even better.” During the course of our conversation I found out he had set up shop in Manali and Goa as well. The scorching summers in Goa had driven him up the hill to Dharamkot. Surprisingly, most people I’ve met in this small hamlet of Dharamkot are outsiders, making this a potpourri of interesting individuals, and adding to its quaintness.

“What business do you do?” he asked me.

“I teach yoga.” I told him.

“You should move here. You’ll make a lot of money,” he said, echoing the business advice most yoga teachers are privy to.

“Hmmm,” I said as I walked away with large-ish shopping bag. Non-committal in the face of unsolicited advice about my “business”.

The beautiful Norbulinka monastery against the Dhauladhar range.
Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Norbulingka – Preserving Culture

October 20, 2021

Some Excitement in the Hills

The hills were abuzz today with excitement for the Hunter Moon. When planning a vacation we spend time and energy on where to stay and what to do. But the ingredient that truly makes or breaks a vacation is not really in your control – and that is the people you will interact with. The people you meet will tell you about the best masala chai in town, or where to go for the best pottery class, or like in our case tonight, tell you about why tonight’s full moon is so special. Tonight Medha and I found ourselves back in Morgan’s Cafe waiting for the moon to rise again. Our new friend, Mr Pankaj (he of the adventurous car rallies and interesting travel anecdotes) told us about the significance of the Hunter Moon. It is named after the time of year when animals fatten up in preparation for the colder months ahead.  This is when hunting season is underway for hunters to stock up on meat for the winter. As we listened to Lucky Ali wafting through the chilly night air, I made a time lapse video of the beautiful moon rise. It’s so beautiful that we might return night after night to witness it.

Norbulingka – How to Preserve a Culture

Can a culture exist out of its homeland?  How and for how long?  The Norbulingka monastery is an answer to these questions.

I first read about the crisis in Tibet while in school in Bangladesh.  One of my friends had just finished reading ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ and recommended the book to me.  I went on to watch the movie, and loved it too.  I then went on to read ‘My Land and My People‘ by HH the Dalai Lama.  Since then I’ve looked forward to visiting the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile, which is in Dharamshala.

A Historical Detour

Prior to 1951 Tibet was an independent and autonomous country.  This changed in 1949 when Mao Zedong, the Chinese president decided it assert that China had authority over Tibet.  In 1950 Zedong decided he wanted to ‘liberate’ Tibet and integrate it into China.  This was done by ‘encouraging’ the Tibetans to adopt the Chinese language and customs.  After much conflict a ‘Seventeen Point Agreement’ was signed which did guarantee Tibet a measure of autonomy and respect for the Buddhist religion, but also allowed China to establish a civil base in Lhasa.  Clearly this agreement wasn’t very agreeable because in 1959 the Dalai Lama, fearing for his life, fled to India.  India provided him and other Tibetan refugees a safe place in which to practice their culture and religion in peace.

The Norbulingka Insitute is the heart of Tibetan culture here in India.  It endeavours to keep alive the centuries old Tibetan culture by running classes and apprenticeships in traditional Tibetan art forms.  Visitors are allowed to walk around Norbulingka watching artists and craftsmen at work. 

Our day at the Norbulinka monastery and it is incredible. It’s not only a monastery, but a shrine to Tibetan culture. As we walked around the place and observed the Thangka painting and wood carving classes, I felt an overpowering sense of gratitude for goodness and compassion of human beings. Governments in exile are undoubtedly about politics, but they are also about culture and heritage. To provide a safe and welcoming space for another culture and to support the preservation of that culture is humanity at it’s finest.  We take back recipes for authentic Thupkas and rose quartz crystals for our wrists, but the biggest souvenir is the connection with our fellow men.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga

Dharamkot Diaries – Day 1

October 19, 2021

Getting to Dharamkot is a bit of a journey. There are no direct flights so Medha and I took a late night flight from Bangalore with a long layover in Delhi T3. Thankfully we found a place serving AirrToast and then promptly fell asleep at 2 am. We woke up 4 hours later and boarded the flight to Gaggal Airport, Kangra. It was my first time on a propeller plane and both of us got amazing window seats. Dharamkot is about an hour from Gaggal and we had arranged for a taxi to pick us up.

Today was about walking around looking for a big breakfast and piping hot coffee at the Alt Life Cafe. Then gazing out at the wonderful Himalayas from our room, and catching up on life, outside the mundanity of our actual everyday lives.

Many years ago, on a workation here, Animesh had spent a wonderful evening at the Morgan’s Cafe. In the evening today, we sat there watching the clouds descend to kiss the verdant hills. As the soft rock wafted from the ancient radio into the nippy night air, we discussed journeys and paths, and the confluence of the two.

As I write this, Medha is on a call with her folks back in Bangalore and I’m gazing up at the lone star in the clear skies of Dharamkot. Thinking of the necessity to escape, even if only for a few days…

Clouds descend to kiss the hills.

 

 

View from our guest house.

 

 

Breakfast with a view.

 

Yoga

Assembling a Chair – A Yoga Blog

June 15, 2021

A Gift is Always Welcome

It’s always great to receive presents. My husband gave me a desk a couple of months ago to put at this beautiful window we have in our bedroom. As I type this out I can hear the birds chirping. At least one of the birds is a nightingale! Outside the window are trees of various kinds.

What I was missing though was a comfortable chair to go along with the desk. For months I’ve been using an Iyengar Chair, so when my friend Medha said she wanted to give me a chair I gladly accepted.

Yoga & Chair Assembly

The chair is an Astrix gaming chair and super comfortable. While my husband assembled the chair I couldn’t help but notice that humans have an unconscious tendency to sit in postures resembling yogasasanas. I was inspired now just like I was with my Freddy Mercury blog and promptly started taking photos.

This is how the chair came to us. We took an inventory of the screws and other bits that

He started with assembling the wheels:

Reminds me a bit of Baddhakonasana.

Carefully reading the manual to make sure we don’t make any mistakes:

Sort of like Janu Sirsasana.

The backrest is comfortable and sturdy.

Marichyasana.

Making sure we don’t miss a screw.

Bhardwajasana.

Putting the armrests together.

Ardhauttanasana.

Ensuring the wheels fit.

Malasana.

Always happy about building things. 🙂

Sukhasana.

What do you think? Do you also find yourself seeing what you love everywhere?

Blog Lifestyle Yoga

A Note of Thanks

April 29, 2021

We’re living in unprecedented times right now.  None of us actually thought we would end up in a situation where the roads in our overcrowded cities would be painfully empty again.  In March 2020 I looked out at the busy junction outside my apartment and tried to digest the surrealness of it all.  A year later I live in an apartment that doesn’t face a loud busy road but wonderful neem and bougainvillea trees.  If I crane my neck just so I get a peek at Ulsoor Road.  These days I find myself craning my neck a bit too often, incredulous that today things are so much worse than a year ago.

At this moment my work gives me lots of solace, and I am grateful for that.  I realize few people can claim that, and that makes me more grateful for the choices and decisions I’ve made.

My first online class during the pandemic was in March last year.  It was a forty minute call because Zoom only allows forty minutes for free users.  It was a mix of my private and group students.  I am grateful I had an old MacBook that I could use because my Lenovo has a malfunctioning camera (I am looking to replace said Lenovo).  I am grateful that my living room at the time was rectangular and clean, which made it easy to position the laptop at an optimum angle for teaching.  I am grateful to those students who gave it a go.  That support has kept me going financially, emotionally, intellectually and also spiritually.  At a time when many yoga teachers were turning up their noses at teaching online, I was able to jump on the bandwagon fairly quickly because of the acceptance and encouragement I received.  None of us knew this would become a way of life, and in retrospect most of us are thankful that we went online sooner than later.

I’m thankful also to all those teachers who collaborated with me, bridged boundaries to connect, learn and grow virtually.  Our sangha or community has grown in ways we never thought possible.

We are in the middle of one of the greatest challenges we have faced as a country, and I can only hope that things get back to normal soon.  But until then, we must keep doing what we can, with the song of gratitude in our hearts.

From two years ago at Rainbow falls in Nagaland. Happy, carefree and amidst nature.

 

Lifestyle Yoga

Word of the Year (2021)

December 22, 2020

BLAZE

Social media is constantly trying to tell us that this year has been a terrible one.  This message has gotten louder specially now that the year is ending and we’re all making resolutions for the next year.  However, if you listen to the softer voices, you’ll realize that there is a parallel dialogue going on; one where this year hasn’t been the worst, but actually one of the best.

I remember last year vivdly for all the travel and good work it brought me.  Last year was defined by movement – to travel, to work, for leisure and for the soul.  This year was a stark contrast to last year.  The world was indoors, the skies cleared up, Netflix reduced it’s video resolution (for a while at least).

It was seemingly the perfect time to take up a new hobby, to read the TBR books, to clean the house and your friends’ list.  It’s no surprise most of us got none of this done, this year was unforgiving with its strangeness.  I thought I’d go through the pile of books accumulating on my bookshelf (and on most other surfaces in my apartment.  I also thought I’d write my magnum opus.  The piles continue to grow and the magnum opus is a dream.

But I’m also well rested, bubbling with ideas, still in love with yoga.  I have the energy to teach 7 consecultive classes and the enthusiasm to draw rough outlines for my magnum opus.  I write 3 journal pages a day and read a chapter every night before I sleep.  This year has given me an important pause.  Next year I’m ready to blaze on…

[You may also want to check out a similar reflections exercise I did last year.]

With gratitude…always.

Lifestyle Yoga

Staying With Your True North

December 19, 2020

I don’t remember exactly who sent me the Yearly Compass, but sometime around this time last year I got the free downloadable document on WhatsApp and promptly printed it out.  On a Saturday morning I sat with a friend in Cubbon Park and we spent a few hours filling the document, coming closer to my true north.  I did the same this year, in my living room with a friend.  As I started my yearly roundup and reflection, I started wondering what draws me to this activity year after year…

My Experience

There are many advantages of doing a yearly review, or reflections for the year.  Below are some of the benefits I have personally experienced.

  • Helps you be more mindful.  Regardless of how hard we try to be mindful daily, a year is a long time and we often lose track of the bigger picture.  When I look at my year in retrospect I can see where I went off track, and what caused me to alter my course.  These then become lessons for next year.
  • Helps you appreciate your achievements.  While doing the yearly review I was bummed that I didn’t have anything I could count as an achievement this year.  No second book, no endorsements, no big money making projects.  Then I started to look at the year a bit more closely and realized that I had also won a National Yoga Competition, scored really well on my exams and started a yoga calendar that everyone is loving.  Sometimes we get so lost in doing things that we forget to celebrate getting things done.  Journaling helps us to take a pause and a breath.
  • Self assessment/introspection.  There was a project I undertook at the beginning of the lockdown which I realize I should have never agreed to.  The vision wasn’t aligned to mine and had I said a firm no I would’ve saved a lot more time.  I learned that I have to trust in my true north and say no to whatever doesn’t make my heart sing.
  • Keeps you focused on the goals for next year.  I love this aspect of yearly reflection.  When I see my goals listed clearly before me I feel like I’m aligned to my true north.   On the other hand, it’s also good to assess your goals every once in a while and make sure these are actually the goals you want to work towards.
  • Gratitude.  If you have the attitude of gratitude, you can always see the silver linings.  The ability to see the stuff that you have going for you even in the darkest time is truly a gift.

Journaling is not fancy and doens’t require too much time.  Use this prompt to start your journaling practice:

You can download this prompt here.

There’s so much more I could say about how much journaling has helped me and how I consider it to be a mainstay of my spiritual practice.  Medha and I have created a yoga calendar for 2021 where journaling is an integral component.  Today we’re going live on Instagram to talk about how the Yearly Compass has helped us and how our spiritual practice has been impacted by our journaling.  Please join us.

I speak more about my journaling practice in this YouTube video.

Books Yoga

Book Review: Practice and All Is Coming

November 25, 2020

I read the book over my Diwali break.

I recently finished reading ‘Practice and All is Coming’ by Matthew Remski and was reeling for hours after reading it.  I first came across Matthew Remski a couple of years ago when I read this article about the sexual abuse that was going on in the Ashtanga yoga world.  Matthew is a yoga and ayurveda teacher living in Toronto.  This book was part of the the reading list recommended in an online yoga course I recently attended about the history of women in yoga.

When the #metoo movement gained momentum, stories from the yoga world also started coming out and the biggest shocker for everyone was the abuse in the Ashtanga lineage.  It had been going on for years, and though there were whispers about it in yoga circles, there was never an all out, open discussion about it.  We would hear things like, ‘Yeah I heard he did that, but—‘.  ‘Yes, she felt like that, but you know —‘.  ‘But there are so many people who have benefited from his teaching.’  We were willing to believe that transgressions were happening in the world, just not in the yoga world.

This book explores the what and the why.  What were the transgressions that were committed?  Why did we behave the way we did?  It likens yoga to a cult and attempts to explain yogis’ behavior through that lens.  While the idea that yoga is a cult is not a new one for me, I found the analysis quite compelling.  There are interviews with experts on cults.  He has extensive interviews with students who have faced abuse directly, and those who have witnessed it.  Those who are avid practitioners will recognize interviews with all the ‘famous’ yoga teachers.  I recognized names such as David Garrigues, Gregor Maehle, Ty Landrum, David Swenson and countless others.  The research for the book has spanned years and Remski has looked at resources exhaustively.  It even contains self reflection questions in the appendix which might help you understand if you’ve ever been part of the problem or have the potential to be part of the problem.

Over the years I’ve heard many stories, read blogs and followed posts on Facebook about the sexual abuse and assault in the world of yoga.  And if you, like me, watched the Bikram documentary on Netflix and asked yourself, ‘Why would anyone listen to this man?’, then you need to read this book.  While it may not make things ‘ok’, it will give you more insight into a dangerous problem.

 

Yoga

Why I May Never Teach In Person Again

November 14, 2020

Practicing new stuff I’ve learned during the pandemic.

As I write this I’m in Delhi for Diwali celebrations.  I’ve taken a week off from teaching.  Markets are a buzz, there are Diwali parties happening, many aren’t wearing any masks.  Europe is getting ready for the second lockdown.  We read about promises of vaccines, but nothing concrete.  Before travelling to Delhi I decided to get the Covid Antibody test done, and found that I’m positive for the antibodies.  I’ve been exposed to this virus, but thankfully, never noticed.  What’s more, I’m immune to it for some time.

This raises a larger, more ethical question for yoga teachers.  When is  it a good idea to go back to in-person teaching again?  One healthy asymptomatic teacher can pass on the virus to a multitude of vulnerable students.

 

I’ve been teaching students online for many years now, but this pandemic made that the norm.  For those of us who’ve been able to adopt this ‘new normal’, it’s been gratifying in so many ways.

  1. No travel time means more time to plan the class.  I was planning my classes before, but now I have more time to look at new routines and get creative in my teaching too.
  2.  Now I have more energy – not only for my own practice, but also for my students.  Classes have become more fun, more energetic.
  3. Being indoors has given me time to get to my TBR pile.  I’ve finally managed to get to books that I’ve been meaning to read for years, but never found the time to.

 

Thanks to the pandemic, I’ve been able to focus more on the art and craft of yoga and that’s why classes have become more engaging and fun.  This may just be how I teach going forward.

A few weeks ago I wrote about what I love about online yoga in this blog.

Recordings of my online classes are now up on my YouTube channel.  To get a glimpse of these classes click here.

 

 

Yoga

The Yoga Props – Enhance Your Practice

September 2, 2020

Props galore at an informal practice session at Amrutha Bindu Yoga.

After watching my yoga class recordings on YouTube, many have reached out to me about yoga props.  Whether they are required, what kind, which ones should one get?  Most of my students did not have props before they joined my classes, in fact, most of them bought props once our classes went online.  I guess most of them saw the usefulness of buying props and have seen a noticeable improvement in their practice.  I’ve built my collection of props over the years and sourced them from many different places.  My students and I have also been trying different props and brands for years and now know what works and what is likely not to work.

 

Yoga Mat

This is the prop we use the most, no wonder so many people ask me about it.  I use several mats.  The oldest and dearest one is by Reebok and I’ve had it forever, so I think it’s out of production.  In addition to this I use a cloth mats.  I have one from my teacher training days at SVYASA, and another beautiful mat from Deivee.  The yoga mat I would personally recommend is this one from Decathlon.  It sells out fast and I personally know many people who use and love it.  Plus Decathlon always seems to have them in stock.

Blocks/Bricks

Blocks/bricks are very versatile, and come in many varieties.  I started out with foam blocks from Decathlon, and then eventually expanded my collection to include wooden blocks.  I recommend getting blocks in different sizes because there are so many creative ways you can use them.  I know many people who use these cork blocks and are very happy with them.  You can also check out SVECH for some more cork blocks.

Belt/Strap

Use a belt to improve Gomukhasana.

Many years ago I told a student that the one prop I would recommend always keeping with you (including when you travel), is the yoga belt.  It can help you lengthen, twist, bind, bend forward, bend back…and much more.  To ensure your skin doesn’t chaff, your yoga belt should be made of cotton.  Another thing to ensure is that the buckles are strong to hold the belt securely in place.

I recommend the yoga belt from MeFree.

Chair

Everyone wants the chair and it’s the most difficult prop to come find!  The chair can be used in almost every yoga pose.  When students first start practice with me, I tell them to use any chair which is stable, has a straight back and no armrests.  But eventually you should get the metal chairs.  There are certain characteristics of the chair that make them apt for yogasanas – they have legs that you can hold for pinchamayurasanas, you can invert yourself safely in halasana and sarvangasana, you can even use two chairs and do a safe headstand!

Amazon doesn’t have enough variety when it comes to yoga chairs, and it’s always tricky to find a good yoga chair.  I found this one by the Friends of Meditation, and one of my students actually uses it.  I would suggest this yoga chair by MeFree too, since some of my students have bought their products and are very happy with them.

You can explore more yoga props at SVECH and MeFree

 

When the lock down started many of my students wanted to buy props.  But they were either sold out or companies weren’t delivering.  I contacted Mr. Raju here in Bangalore and he was kind enough to supply the props to us.  You can contact him on +91 9242286651.  I believe he ships to different parts of India too.

 

If you have any more questions about props, do reach out to me.