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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.

Food Healthy Living Travel Wellness Yoga

Intermittent Fasting Made Me a Better Yogi

April 25, 2019

…and 4 Other Unexpected Results of the Latest Fitness Fad

I.F. (Intermittent Fasting) seems to be all the rage right now.  Fitness experts are expounding it and every one (and their moms) are trying it. At the risk of sounding trite, I’d say I.F. has changed people’s lives.  It’s helped people shed oodles of weight. It’s reduced the oft present stress around ‘clean eating’, ‘balanced eating’, ‘right eating’ by eliminating eating all together! And in my experience, it’s done a lot that we’re not even talking about.

I’m not one for fitness fads, but I’m also experimental.  I’ll always try something, unless it’s too ‘out there’ for me.  (And, to be honest, few things really are.)

WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?

Intermittent fasting is a system of eating where there is a specified ‘ eating window’, and ‘fasting window’.  There are many different styles of Intermittent Fasting depending on these windows. The most common is the 16/8 fast, where you fast for sixteen hours and eat for eight.  You can also do a 12/12 fast, where you fast for twelve hours and then have an eating window of 12 hours. You can fast on alternate days, or once in two days…

And to my surprise I found that this system of eating ‘worked’ for me.  Below are 5 things it did for me, and which have me now.

I.F. MADE ME A BETTER YOGI

I kid you not.  I’ve practiced yoga almost daily for the past decade.  In a world where distractions are many and time a rare commodity, the only way I can do this is by waking up at an ungodly hour to get some uninterrupted practice time before the rest of the world awakes.  More often than not, I’m sluggish and slow in the morning, sore from the previous day.

Enter I.F. and my body feels clearer. I am experiencing a kind of energy I’ve never experienced before. The kind where your brain might say ‘no’ but your body will move into the first sun salutation with no complaints.  By reducing the quantity of food I consume, energy that would otherwise be spent on metabolizing and digesting food is available for morning yoga practice. My asanas are sharper, my body seems to move with no resistance and I am fully present for my practice.

I.F. GOT RID OF MY BRAIN FOG

Yoga is not only a physical practice.  However, even the physical practice of yoga (asana practice) is linked to your mind.  If your mind isn’t awake, your body is unlikely to act. After practicing I.F. for almost a month now I’ve noticed that my brain doesn’t take too long to wake up.  Prior to this I would dilly-dally and procrastinate before finally stepping on my mat. Now I’m on my mat faster, more inspired, energetic and creatively abundant.

I.F. MADE ME APPRECIATE COFFEE MORE

But not because I’m guzzling down any more of it than I was before.  In fact, I’m drinking less of it! Part of my dilly-dallying used to include making a cup of strong coffee.  The aroma used to wake up my senses and the caffeine used to wake up my groggy cells. Now I don’t need the coffee.  An era of coffee enjoyment has started in my Life. I have coffee when I want to and not because I need to. I enjoy a single shot of espresso more than I’ve ever enjoyed it before.

I.F. CONTROLLED MY FOOD CRAVINGS

Along with a decrease in my coffee cravings, my snacking has also reduced.  I don’t find the need to constantly munch something. So I’m not putting junk into my system…and that may be contributing to my high energy levels.

I.F. CLEANED ME UP!

I see my waistline more often than not now.  I.F. proponents scream weight loss more than anything else.  In fact, many say that they have lost weight in spite of eating all the junk in the world! Just to be clear, I haven’t lost any weight, but I still see my waistline because of a reduction in inflammation in the gut.  Because I no longer ingest easy snacks, I’ve cut back on bloat-causing preservatives that I was invariably consuming.

HOW I FASTED

Before I end I’d also like to point out that there are numerous different versions of intermittent fasting.  

  • There are dietitians who say it’s OK to have coffee, tea, lemon water etc while you’re fasting.  I have absolutely nothing except water during my fasting window.
  • I stick to the 16/8 style of fasting.  Basically this means having my last meal by 4 and eating again at 8 in the morning.  
  • I break my fast with nuts or a banana.

I’ve jumped on to the I.F. bandwagon, and I think everyone should give it a go. Would you try intermittent fasting? Have you tried it already? Share your thoughts!

On one of the several Root Bridges during our hike in Cherapunjee last month.
Healthy Living Yoga

The Unwitting Yogi

April 7, 2019

I was a little late jumping on to the ‘Bohemain Rhapsody’ bandwagon, but when I did I was spellbound. The movie was well done, and the portrayal of the characters was spell binding.

Freddie Mercury was perhaps the greatest rockstar of all time, but he was also an unwitting yogi.  While going through a bunch of his pictures on Pinterest I started to notice that a lot of his moves on stage looked like yogic postures.  The more pictures I saw, the more yogasanas I recognized.  So I put together a bunch of Freddie Mercury’s pictures and the corresponding asana.

Trikonasana/Triangle Pose

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The Trikonasanas – I have a love-hate relationship with this asana, but you’ve got to admit it looks like Freddie is performing it in this iconic pose.

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When you practice an asana your mind, body and spirit are supposed to come together – and in this image it looks like they are.

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Vrkshasana/Tree Pose

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That costume & balancing on the toes!!!

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Always try to push the inner edge of the foot into the ground for better alignment. 

And variations of the Tree pose…

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Chaturanga/Plank Pose

Every yogi knows the agony of getting this one right.

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Those biceps though.

 

Virbhardasana/Warrior Pose

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Marichyasana/Sage Marichi’s Pose

This is a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but you have to admit there’s a twist there.  Also, Freddie’s flat abs, his chiselled body, the energy – is this the real life?

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Backbends

My biggest challenge…but look at him.

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Can I just point out the clean lines and the lifted sternum?

Hope you enjoyed this blog.  Leave me a comment and share if you did!

Healthy Living Travel Wellness Yoga

The Perahera That Wasn’t

March 15, 2019

The last day in Sri Lanka we thought we would check out city life. It was Poya day and we stumbled upon the preparations for the Perahera. Poya days are the full moon days every month and are holidays. This particular Poya day was also the Navam Perahera Festival. Preparations were underway for a massive parade that would include elephants, dancers, acrobats and the like. We were excited to see the crowds and the buzz. We had planned to see some of the famous Buddhist temples in Colombo, but they were all closed. Although we noticed that many foreigners with ‘special passes’ were being allowed in. Shady business.

We didn’t have the patience to wait for the procession to start, nor the energy to brave the crowds. So we decided to head to Keels, a local supermarket to see if we could do some last minute shopping. All of us picked up some tea, Sri Lankan pickles and some spices.

Finally we took an Uber back to our hotel to sit on the terrace for dinner, as the moonlit waves crashed against the shore.

View from our rooftop restaurant.
View from our rooftop restaurant.

The next day we took an Uber to the airport. As we were driving through Colombo, I was reminded of the city I call home. I penned my thoughts down and you can read them here.

Below are a few more scenes from the vacation. If this is the first blog of the Sri Lanka series that you’ve landed on then click here , here and here for the other two blogs.

In Mirissa we climbed up many many steps to a famous Buddhist temple.
Cover your shoulders and knees when visiting the temples.
Cover your shoulders and knees when visiting the temples.
Couldn't get enough of the sun, sea and sand.
Couldn’t get enough of the sun, sea and sand.
Sri Lankan food is very similar to South Indian food.  We had it as often as possible.
Sri Lankan food is very similar to South Indian food. We had it as often as possible.
Travel Wellness Yoga

Surfing, Elephants & the Blue Whale

March 14, 2019

Teaching in Tangalle was great. We stayed in a small beach hotel called Coppenrath House and I taught class as the sun came up.

Second Time Surfing.

Famished after spending time in the choppy waves at Herikiteya.

From Tangalle the closest surfing beach was Hiriketiya beach. I’ve been surfing in Auroville so this would be my second time. We decided to do a class and have the instructor coach us. The waves here were larger and a bit more wilder than in Auroville. But it was fun. My surfboard was heavy, I had salt in my nose, but by the end of the lesson I had balanced a couple of time. I did fall hard on my butt once, and had a bruise for a couple of days, but it was great to hear the instructor nod and say approvingly – “You! Where you from? First time surfing? You’re better, you’re better.”

Udawalawe National Park

This was a last minute addition to the itinerary. My sister was interested in seeing the elephants but traveling all the way to Yala wasn’t something we wanted to do. Luckily I found Udawalawe. We hired a driver to take us to Udawalawe. He was quite resourceful. On the way he pointed out a tree full of bats, a snake slithering across the road and a monitor lizard. And when we finally reached the sanctuary, he even knew the jeep we could hire for the safari.

A monitor lizard that crossed our path on our way to Udawalawa.
You can observe the elephants at very close quarters and in their natural habitat.

The closest I’ve come to elephants in their natural habitat.

Whale Watching

From Udawalawe we headed to Mirissa. Mirissa is slightly more commercialized as compared to Tangalle. So there are a lot more souvenir shops and vegan options on many menus. My sister and I actually bought matching elephant pendants from one of the jewellery stores in the road near our hotel.

Most people don’t know that the largest blue whale in the world is found off the coast of Sri Lanka. The Lankan government conducts standardized tours. These start out early morning. At the recommendation of one of our drivers we chose Eagle Eye Tours for our whale watching experience. They provide you with tea/coffee, breakfast and an anti-seasickness pill for the journey. It takes an hour or two to get deep into the ocean, after which the whale sightings start. We saw blue whale, fin whales and so many dolphins. It was amazing.

It was a pure delight to see these whales.
Healthy Living Wellness Yoga

Why Retreat.

March 12, 2019

The key to excellence is repetitive practice. In the ideal world we would all have an hour and a half every morning to devote to our asana practice. We would have eaten light dinners the night before, gotten the necessary hours of sleep, have the energy and the inspiration to practice the same asanas for the millionth time. But every single yoga practitioner knows that there are more bad than good asana practice days. And that’s the method of any spiritual practice. Will you commit with no hopes of a return on commitment?

Every year Iyengar practitioners from around the world make their way to Pune, India to immerse themselves in the practice. Every year I await eagerly for the 4 weeks where I will be able to ‘retreat’ from the rigors of my regular life and give undivided attention to my practice. I usually have a reading list, I introspect through journaling and blogging, and I learn from the experiences of other students.


Retreating is an important part of a spiritual practice. It is to introspect as much as it is to delve deeper into the practice of your choice.

Retreating is an important part of a spiritual practice. It is to introspect as much as it is to delve deeper into the practice of your choice. A learning curve happens after every retreat. I have experienced the greatest growth after every retreat and workshop I’ve attended.

Teaching a retreat is as exciting for the teachers as it is for the students. When the idea of this retreat was a mere spark of an idea, we wondered what we could do to make this retreat unique, fun and helpful for those giving us the privilege of teaching them. We came up with a rough outline of a schedule. We started to think of how we could bring life and relevance to the teachings and the days slowly took shape. Involved as we are in our own practices, the results of a collaboration between Suzanne and I will distinctive.

Our mornings will be spent studying the asanas, in which we will also discuss the Indian/Hindu mythology pertaining to yoga. Our evening sessions will be about winding down the mind and body. There will be walks through the town, swims in the creeks. Conversations over shared dinners and the occasional glass of wine!

It will be a special time for all of us, made more special by those who give us the opportunity to guide them. We hope you can make yourselves available from the 1st-8th of June to join us in Liguria, Italy for a retreat to remember.

Write in to susanne.mayer@yogawest.de or pragya.bhatt@gmail.com for more details.


[This are article has also been published at https://yogaliguria2019.blogspot.com/2019/02/why-retreat.html. You can find more information about the upcoming retreat in this link.]

Wellness Yoga

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?

 

 

Food health Wellness Yoga

Easy Ways I Cut Sugar out of My Diet and You Can Too

December 7, 2018

I am not, in any way, the perfect eater.  I was PMS-ing the other day and ordered a chocolate mousse with hot chocolate sauce from Cornerhouse.  The sugar-rush was so acute that I forgot to taste the chocolate.

Fitness is an ongoing journey.  I jumped on the fitness bandwagon because I was tired of feeling crappy.  What I’ve learned is that no one has all the answers.  There are people who maybe be specialists of a particular form of movement or a specific diet, but that doesn’t mean you should rely on them for your fitness queries.  Their expertise might not work for you because that system of movement or eating might not work for you.

I’ve been on various diets over the years (and still experiment with different modalities of eating), and I’ve realized diets don’t work.  Guidelines do.  Minimizing my sugar consumption is at the top of my list of dietary guidelines.  As I said in this Instagram post, there are many reasons for why I did this.  We all agree that sugar is bad for you.  But most of us don’t realize just how much sugar we consume. 

That 1 tsp of sugar you allow yourself in your coffee/tea is not the only sugar in your diet.  If you eat any kind of packaged foods, ketchup or pickles etc, you’re having sugar.

I follow the 80-20 rule when it comes to my diet, so I sometimes manage to literally have my mousse and eat it too.  

What I usually eat.

I love the fact that now everyone is into millets. This is my staple.

I switched over to black teas and coffees when I quit dairy and sugar. It’s made a world of a difference.

 

Below are easy ways I eliminated sugar from my diet.

  1. I stopped ordering in.  Food that you order in is never fresh.  It has excess preservatives, sodium, food colors, sugars etc., that negate all the good work you do in the fitness class.  I found easy recipes for days when I come home dog tired.  Stuff like poha, or pulao or even scrambled eggs.  I order in like once a year, and that mousse it.
  2. I stopped eating ketchup and other sauces.
  3. I don’t eat potato chips or any variations of them.
  4. I don’t drink colas and even packaged fruit juices.  Yes, even your fruit juices have additional sugar and preservatives.
  5. I don’t eat cakes and biscuits that come out of packages.  If I want them I will bake them.

 

These changes didn’t happen over night.  I incorporated them slowly.  There was a time I thought packaged juices are better than colas.  Now I know they are the same.  There was a time I would drench my burgers in ketchup.  Now no more burgers and no more ketchup.  All of us have been through the Marie or digestive biscuits with tea phase.  Mine ended a long time ago.  I used to be someone who actually went out for dessert.  Now it seems like another life.

Sometimes I feel like I didn’t just clean up my diet, I actually deep cleaned it.  And after all this, I have experienced increased energy levels, better stamina and clearer skin.  Enough reasons for you to ditch the sugar!

What I sometimes get away with eating. Maggi and chai on the way to Musoorie last month.

Every once in a while I’ll indulge in a latte at Starbucks.

Travel Wellness Yoga

My Overnight Yoga Retreat

November 19, 2018

When I plan a yoga retreat location is the first thing I home in on.  To find a place that resonates with you and the experience you want to create is challenging. So I’m always on the lookout for interesting places to conduct retreats.

A few weeks ago I drove a little out of Bangalore to a farm called Hollas Halla.  You can check out their Instagram profile here.  I’d already spoken to Manali Holla and we had decided to meet to see the property and see what kind of experience we could create there.

10 years ago Suresh Holla, chanced upon some acreage of absolutely barren land and a lake.  An MTech from IISc, no one really expected him to buy 5 acres with the dream of bringing this land to life.  Everyone dismissed it as madness.  There were no proper roads, no electricity, nothing.

 

 

When I went there a couple of weeks ago I saw the fruits of Suresh Holla’s labor.  The lake is still there, but now there is a lush jungle around it.  The Holla family conducts camps, retreats and treks at Holla’s Halla.

Initially I planned the usual yoga retreat with a morning yoga session followed by lunch etc.  But as we looked at the lake I thought it would be a dream to practice yoga next to it.  I spoke to Swetha, my co-teacher, and we decided to modify the plan so that we can practice yoga as the sun sets and rises.  An experience that few yoga retreats can offer.

The itinerary for this exciting is below:

Day 1 (Sat 8th Dec):

3-4 pm: Arrive at the farm.  Receive the grand tour.  Check-in to your tents.

4-6 pm: Tea/Coffee/Relax

6-7 pm: Sunset yoga session.

7-8.30 pm: Dinner

9 pm onwards: Bonfire

Day 2 (Sun 9th Dec):

5 am: Wake up

6-7 am: Sunrise yoga session.

7.30-8.30 am: breakfast

9 am: Trek to the nearby hills/enjoy the lake/get a water massage!

12 noon: Lunch

 

This retreat is priced at Rs. 5000/- all inclusive.

Call 9686233003 or 9886062268 to register.

You can check out Hollas Halla’s facebook page here.

 

Wellness Yoga

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.