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beyond asanas

Lifestyle

20 years ago….

November 1, 2019

Over the Diwali break my little sister sorted out her clothes. She made piles of clothes to discard and those to give away. I chose a few things I thought I could use. Afterwards we went to the Ambience mall and she donated the clothes to the H&M recycling drive.

I’m in the midst of sorting out my clothes too. Memories arise unbidden into my mind, as I sift through them. The skirt my sister said was perfect for a yoga instructor, that unbelievable bargain at a sale. The cozy sweat pants I reach for when Bangalore is cold and rainy, the sequined rose-gold skirt I look forward to wearing during the festive season.

Our evolution as individuals can be marked by changes in our sartorial choices.

Twenty years ago, in 1999, I was a senior at the American International School Dhaka. We had moved to Dhaka from the US and my clothes comprised of the usual teenager fare of jeans and tees bought at Nordstrom, Contempo Casuals, even Sears and Macys. In Bangladesh my mother bought yards and yards of handwoven jamdani saris. As my friends got ballgowns stitched for the senior prom, my mother and I scoured the markets looking for that perfect off-white chikankari fabric which the darzi transformed into a beautiful shalwar. Years later and many kgs lesser, that shalwar started to look like a bag on me, and I reluctantly decided to gave it away to a maid. But as I wistfully fingered the border of the dupatta – I had the tailor line the edges with the same chikankari fabric – I resolutely tucked it back into the depths of my trunk, where it remains to this day.

At an Infosys event in one of the first saris I bought for myself. I got it at Deepams on MG Road, and loved the colors and the golden apostrophes peppering the entire sari.

The years 2000-2004 were spent in a tiny hamlet in northern India. My college years were defined predominantly with a sense of displacement and a visceral rejection of surroundings I couldn’t/wouldn’t adapt to. I would not obey, I didn’t care about assimilation. I admired only the art. And so I drank in the colors of patiala salwars and got many stitched for myself. For graduation and other formal events, I, like the other girls, dived into my mother’s collection of beautiful saris. If there was a gene for being a clotheshorse, my mother would be its original carrier. She has trunks full of the most exquisite silks, the purest french chiffons, diaphanous cottons. I was allowed to borrow only certain saris – but to me those were the most beautiful threads to ever adorn my body.

Once I finished college and entered the corporate world, Company Policy started influencing my wardrobe. Highly forgetful formal shirts and pants. Unimaginative cuts, fits to shroud you in conformity. I felt trapped, and creatively stunted and my wardrobe was a reflection of that. When I decided that this life was no longer for me, I remember letting my younger sister have her pick of the clothes, while the remaining went to charity. It was as though by banishing those clothes from my armoire, I was emphasizing my decision to never return to the world of countless excel sheets.

The gap left by my work wear soon started filling with workout wear. I wore a lot of track pants before I realized that I like black tights the most. Not the moisture wicking, dri-fit variety, but of the more unpretentious cotton kind. During my daily practice/teaching, I don’t want to be distracted by flashes of colors or eye catching designs.

Wearing a sari from my mother’s collection. A yellow and green jamdani, handwoven in Bangladesh.

As I continue to go through my cupboards, I realize my wardrobe is now an amalgamation of all the influences in my life. Long basic dresses that my sister no longer feels she identifies with, a beautiful hand-stitched tie-dyed skirt picked up at a garage sale, a salwar-kameez stitched by the tailor my friend discovered when she was 17. Bargains found in the racks of Forever21 sales. Fabrics sourced from artisans at craft fairs, material from Pune’s vibrant Lakshmi Road, whatever catches my fancy at Malkha. My kurtas are long, flowing and light. My collection of 100-odd saris, enviable.

Clothes are perhaps our first form of expression. Even those of us who aren’t interested in what we wear make a decision about what to wear – and that decision is an expression in and of itself. Our cultures define the tone of festive clothing, clothes for mourning, clothes for the bourgeoisie and those of modest means, those in a penitentiary and for heads of state. Clothes you’d wear to a wedding and those you would wear to the Seychelles. Clothes to wear to the cinema, to the opera and for the weekly Netflix and chill.

Perhaps the only statement more powerful than choosing what to wear is choosing not to wear anything at all.

Happy girls are the prettiest.

A handkerchief dress I wore on a birthday. My sister was visiting and we spent the day at Nrityagram.

Not a very good rider, but my riding gear is on point. I picked up the boots at a thrift store in the Netherlands, the helmet and breeches in Coonoor.

[WORDS DO MATTER! This post is written for the 3rd edition of #WordsMatter linkup hosted by Corinne, Parul and Shalini. The prompt for this edition of #WordsMatter linkup is ‘20 years ago’]

I received this tag from Reema from The Write World (https://reemadsouza.com/). It’s my pleasure to pass on this tag to Anamika Agnihotri at https://thebespectacledmother.com/. There are 29 of us on this Blog Hop and it is spread over 3 days – 1, 2, 3 November 2019. Do follow the #WordsMatter Blog Hop, you’ll love our musings!

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

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?

Beyond Asanas: The Asanas

Vrkshasana: The Tree Pose

October 16, 2019

Nature is about balance.  When things go off-balance problems arise.  A yoga practice is not complete without an element of balance in it.

In ‘Beyond Asanas‘ I talk about the significance of trees and why a pose is dedicated to trees.  Trees have played an important role in the dissemination of knowledge from guru to shishya.  I talk about the beginning of this parampara in Chapter 30 of Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures.

When you first start to practice the Vrikshasana focusing on balance is inevitable.  However, I’ve seen students practicing it as though balance is all there is to it.  Many teachers also encourage this notion.  To aide the balance students are allowed to place the foot of their bent leg on the shin or next to the knee of the other leg.  In one case I’ve seen a student rest the foot on top of the knee of the straight leg.

Balancing is only one aspect of this asana.  The Vrkshasana, when practiced correctly requires you to engage the groin.  The ability to do so has an impact on how well you can execute this posture.  Try it yourself.  The spine, the groin, the hips, the abdomen…all behave very differently depending on the placement of the foot of the bent leg.  There is a unique ‘hold’ that occurs, the nature of which varies with the positioning of the bent leg.

Once you overcome the challenge of balance, you must start doing the internal work of the posture.  What you must work on now is the mula bandha, which will bring more stability to the posture.  The stronger the bandha, the taller and steadier you will be in the tree pose.

 

How To:

  1. Stand in Tadasana
  2. Shift your weight to your left leg.
  3. Place your right foot close to the groin, with your toes pointing down.  Make sure the knee points outwards, to give your hips a wide opening.
  4. Keep your gaze focused and form a namaskar with your hands above your head.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Start in the Tadasana. Keep the thighs engaged and rolled in. The body weight should be distributed evenly on both feet.

The position of the heel makes a difference to the practice of the asana. Don’t be content with resting the foot just anywhere on the leg. Work on getting it closer to the groin.

Read more about the benefits and contraindications of the vrikshasana in ‘Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures‘.  The book was published this year by Penguin Random House.  The book contains beautiful images of the asanas taken by Joel Koechlin, along with a foreword by Kalki Koechlin.  Available on Amazon and Flipkart and at your nearest bookstore.

 

 

 

 

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.

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!

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.

Yoga

Cut Through the Noise and Find Your Centre

September 9, 2019

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

The First Class

September 4, 2019

How many times have you quickly gone up into sarvangasana? Do you remember to pull the shoulders back, open the chest, activate the thighs and lift the tailbone up? Seemingly small modifications can change the entire posture.

Perhaps it was nervous excitement or maybe anticipation, but my first class was amazing.  By the end of the class my blood was singing and my body felt like it was thrumming (to the beat of my blood?).

I am a sucker for simple classes.  I believe if you focus on the simple stuff everything else falls into place.  This class focused on the tailbone and sacrum region.  We started the class with adhomukha virasana.  Rajalakshmi asked us to continue to extend the arms.  “This extension isn’t because you are lengthening your bones!!!” she boomed into the mike.

“The bones never extend!!!  It’s impossible for you to extend any of your bones!!!” she continued.  “Pay close attention to the parts of your body that make the extension possible!” she said.

She encouraged us to pay close attention to the tailbone-sacrum region and observe how it participates in forward bends and twists.

The most interesting part of the class was dissecting the parivritta trikonasana or the revolved triangle posture.  There are three movements that make this asana possible: the extension of the side, the bending forward keeping that extension intact and finally, the opening of the chest.  And once we were in the final posture we were asked to pull the tailbone and sacrum in to the body.

At one point Rajalakshmi caught me looking at my hip.  I realize I do this unconsciously every time I practice this asana.  I use my eyes to ensure that my hip is pushed back, which detracts from the overall experience of the asana.  “Your side is compressing and you’re becoming a ball,” Rajalakshmi explained patiently.  “Extend your chin forward and away from the sacrum.  Open the sacrum and lengthen the side!” she boomed again.

This is the magic of the annual pilgrimage to RIMYI.

Travel Yoga

An Auspicious Start – Pune Day 0

September 2, 2019

This is my fourth consecutive year coming to study at RIMYI.  In previous years I’ve had the luxury to make lists and plan.  This time I was caught in a whirlwind.  I had to wrap up projects, attend a last minute Vedanta class, plan the quantum of assignments to work on this month, and so on and so forth.  I was, of course, also trying to stuff myself with as many idlis and masala dosas as I could.  Have to survive for a month after all.

I think all the frenzied activity of the last few days caught up with me last night.  While I was finishing my packing I suddenly felt sick and threw up my lunch.  My stomach settled down after that but I was in no position to eat and went to bed.

After a quick and simple breakfast of fresh steaming idlis (surprise!) this morning we drove to the airport.  A short flight later I alighted in Pune.

Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra is special and I’ve been lucky to witness it for the last 3 years.  As I got into the taxi I could hear the processions and feel the excitement in the air.  The festivities will continue for the next few days and it’s great to be here this time of year.  I couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious start to my month.  Here’s to a wonderful month of growth, re-connection, beautiful discoveries and new friendships.

Fourth year in Pune for my trusted pink suitcase too.

Poetry Yoga

The Rigors

August 25, 2019

The rigors of a home yoga practice. ⠀
Messy hair, ⠀
sweat stained clothes. ⠀
A little music, ⠀
an old mat.⠀
Props strewn around. ⠀
A useless mirror.⠀