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iyengar yoga

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?

 

 

Yoga

The First Sunday – Day 5

August 5, 2018

A good teacher teaches the technicalities of the asanas really well. They will make you repeat an asana, they will demonstrate the asana repeatedly. They will adjust, they will give examples.

A great yoga teacher teaches yoga.

This morning, after the childrens’ yoga class, I got a chance to observe Raya in action. He was taking a special yoga class for a large group of students who have just arrived.  Raya’s classes are always peppered with a bit of humor, lots of insight and incredible yoga.  When a student asked him to speak louder because she couldn’t hear over the noise of the traffic coming from outside, he said, “Welcome to India.  We have to cultivate different faculties to learn yoga here.”  A profound answer to a common query.

At the beginning of the class Raya asked everyone for ailments/conditions/aches and pains.  And finally he said that a body will have problems.  If there is a body, there will be problems.  The idea or the goal of this practice is not about fixing everything.  BKS Iyengar has said that we can cure what can be cured, but we must also learn to endure what can’t be cured.  So another aspect of this practice is to understand the limitations and work with them.

When you practice asanas, you have to be very alert to your feelings.  It isn’t enough just to stand up straight in Tadasana.  You must be cognizant of the feelings that exist in your soles to know if you are standing properly or not.  Feelings are like eyes.  When you feel something you are actually about to directly perceive it.  So be as aware of your feelings as you are about the positioning of your limbs.

In standing poses we have the tendency to inhale and harden the chest.  The chest becomes a metal box.  A metal box can’t spread and expand.  A balloon can expand because it’s soft.  Your chest should be like a balloon.  In all asanas you need to expand and spread instead of become small and closed.

Like I said, a great yoga teacher teaches you yoga, not just asanas.

 

Wellness Yoga

The Monkey Mind and Other Thoughts – Day 3

August 3, 2018

The great thing about being a returning student at the Mecca of Iyengar yoga is that you end up making friends who you end up meeting almost every time you come here.  I caught up with a friend today and it was great to discuss how far our yoga practice and teaching have come in the last one year.

Chai in Pune is always accompanied by conversation.  Long, drawn out, interesting conversation if you have the time.

I’m always interested in talking about self practice with other practitioners.  It helps me answer questions about my own practice, and sometimes it helps me ‘figure it out’.  When you’re practicing on your own day in and day out, it’s easy to get distracted.  Being distracted to the point of not practicing or being uninspired to practice doesn’t really apply to seasoned practitioners.  A seasoned practitioner would be someone who has had a self practice for about 3-5 years.  That’s when you know that you practice daily because of habit or discipline, and not because it ‘feels good’.  Because, to be honest, it’s not always going to ‘feel good’.  In fact, it only ‘feels good’ in retrospect.  While you’re practicing in the wee hours of the morning, trying to wake up a creaky body, assailed by self doubt and dealing with an overly active monkey mind, you’re not really enjoying anything.

And sometimes, as teachers, you end up with a bad case of the imposter syndrome.  While most teachers talk about the absolute joy of teaching and enjoying the energy and interaction with students, a lot of us constantly wonder if we know what we’re doing.  There’s always someone who executes the pincha better.  Someone who has a larger fan following, better retreats or maybe just published a book.  But perhaps the imposter syndrome is more about ego.  Comparisons with others.  Judging others.  Judging yourself.

A month in Pune can be hard.  The asanas are the easy part.  Most practitioners committed to dropping everything and coming here know what they are doing.  But sometimes as you go and grab a bolster you catch a glimpse of someone effortlessly holding an asana that has you break into a cold sweat (yes this happens).  Or someone else doing an asana that you don’t dream of (yet) and believe you never will.  This is the real test.  Do you allow yourself to get distracted and demotivated?  Or do you go back to your practice with unbroken focus?  I usually get distracted, and then my discipline kicks in and I continue.

And what about biting off more than you can chew.  Sometimes as practitioners we demand asanas from ourselves.  We contort and stretch and moan our way to what we think is the asana but might just end up in an injury.  Frequently we see students who are in a hurry to reach what they consider the pinnacle of practice.  They practice 2-3 times a day, drastically change their diets, start to devour books by advanced teachers and learn asanas by these teachers on YouTube.  I always tell my students that if you don’t have your addition down pat, calculus is just going to confuse you.  So if you haven’t given enough years to the basic asanas, advanced poses and teachers will be detrimental to your practice.  Pace means a lot.

These ideas are going to run around in my mind during the rest of my stay here.  But it will be interesting to see how they shape my yoga.

And meanwhile in Bangalore….

Yoga

The Pune Diaries – Day 2

August 2, 2018

While registering for classes yesterday I had specially asked to be in one of Gulnaz’s classes.  I was unable to attend class with her last year.  But during my first year here, her classes were the highlight of my schedule.  She’s energetic, spry, proficient, kind, shrill, entertaining and an overall awesome person.  And I’m glad that I started my month at RIMYI with one of her classes.

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We finally rolled out of the Halasana and lay there for some time, recuperating.

It had been a pretty challenging class.  We worked on shoulder opening and rotation.  We went through Trikonasana, Virbhadrasana, Parsvakonasana, Ardhachandrasana.

And finally the Sirsasana, Sarvangasana and Halasana cycle (where I got screamed at for using a blanket where none was required).

So when we were asked to roll our mats out again, all of us breathed a sigh of relief and sat down.

‘Urdhvahastasana!’  We lifted our arms up.

Gulnaz looked at us with a slight smile playing on her lips and told us to stand up and do the Urdhvahastasana.  A couple of us groaned as we stood up.

‘From here go into the Sarvangasana.’

She was expecting my puzzled look and with a twinkle in her eye said, ‘Yes!  From here go into Sarvangasana.’  And went on to show us. From a standing position she rolled back into the Sarvangasana and then rolled forward into standing Urdhvahastasana.  Watching a teacher demonstrate some things makes them easier, but 10 reps of this move had most of us breathless.  I was glad to sit down and let other people have a go at it.

Until Gulnaz walked by again and said, “Chal chal, aise kya baithi hai?!  Phir se kar.  Do another 10!”

I love it when a teacher gets so involved in a class that their energy seems to touch every single student in the class.  A student ceases to be just another body to be taught to move.  Instead, the student becomes another soul to guide and mold.  That’s when a class actually has an impact on you.  Beyond being able to transition from Urdhvahastasana to Sarvangasana and back again.

I have great memories of Gulnaz from the first time I took a class with her.  I recounted it here: https://yogawithpragya.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/a-yogi-in-pune-day-2/

 

 

 

Yoga

The Pune Diaries – Day 1

August 1, 2018


I got in really late to Pune last night and after some dinner could hardly keep my eyes open.  I drifted into a deep long sleep….

…and woke up this morning to head to the institute for registration.  This year I have a mixed bag of teachers and most of my classes are in the morning.  Practice times remain the same, as always.

As I was telling some other students who registered along with me, the month in Pune always has a lot to teach you.  The learning curve is steep and you learn more than you can sometimes process.

I’m still not done with the registration formalities.  I have to submit a letter from my landlord, some kind of identity proof and the duly filled out registration form.  However, in the true RIMYI spirit of ‘practice first and everything else will follow’, I’ll go for the evening self-practice.  As Pandu told me this morning, ‘Aap shuru to karo.  You’re a known face here.’

“Ok sir, theek hai.”

 

health Wellness Yoga

Practice Yoga Like You Practice Life

May 21, 2018

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

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

Big celebrations so dressed to the nines.

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

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

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

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

 

Yoga

Repetition of vs Repeating (an Asana)

April 29, 2018

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

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

Why the repetition?

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

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

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

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

Wellness Yoga

Becoming the Asana

March 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga

How to Manage Your Fears and Face Them Head On

November 2, 2017

When I needed a wall behind me for the Sirsasana.

Halloween got me thinking about fear.  As a society we value fearlessness.  As people we take pride in saying, “I’m fearless.”

But I’ve never met anyone who is fearless.  Some fear pain, some fear solitude, some fear poverty, some fear for the safety of their near and dear ones, aging.  Over the years I’ve heard of the fear of pigeons, fear of sprouts, fear of going bald.

A strategy that used to work for me was to avoid the cause of my fear.  But, it turns out, there are some fears you can’t avoid.

When I was ill I wasn’t able to practice for what felt like a very long time.  My teacher once told us that if you don’t practice for a day, it’s equivalent to putting your practice back by seven whole days.  As each day passed, I thought of all I learned in Pune.  With so much time on my hands I became increasingly anxious, nervous and fearful.

In the path of Yoga there are inevitable roadblocks and problems.  But Yoga is a holistic practice so the solution also lies in the practice.  The first limb of the Ashtanga (8 Limb) yoga practice is Yama.  The Yamas are  set of 5 ethical principles that practitioners must adhere to.  One of the Yamas is aparigraha or ‘non-attachment’.  As yogis we become too attached to the practice.  Some of us feel guilty if we are unable to practice.  Others push themselves too hard.  Some pride themselves on the asanas that they can do.  We stop enjoying the journey, we focus only on the destination.  And in the process become attached to the destination.

I am very attached to my asana practice. I spend a lot of time trying variations, reading, watching and experimenting.  When I can finally do an asana I feel a sense of accomplishment.  There is nothing wrong with feeling good about finally attaining something that you’ve worked hard for.  But if you beat yourself for not attaining the final asana despite a rigorous practice; or start to lose faith in the path because your goal seems far, far away; then you need to take a fresh look at your attitude and approach.

I was fearful of discovering the state of my yoga practice post illness. If you’ve read this blog, then you know that I was significantly weakened by the illness.  Waking up every day to practice felt like an exercise in futility.  It was scary to try asanas and not know if I would be able to do them.  Asanas which I ‘owned’ before.  But I guess by force of habit I kept on returning every morning…to fail.  Until one day I started improving.

And that’s when I realized that fear can’t be ignored.  You can’t not think about the object of your fears.  It doesn’t help to face fear head on.  Fear can only be managed, one day at a time.  You don’t have to look at the entire marathon, you need to look at the Majaa run first.  You don’t have to dwell on whether you’re going to get the job, you only need to work on giving the best interview ever.  You don’t have to worry about the Sirsasana (Headstand), you just have to work on doing a very good Adhomukha Svanasana (Downward Dog).

BKS Iyengar once told Patricia Walden (who was struggling with a heavy case of depression) to ‘Take one step no matter how small.’  I realize this is what I have been doing ever since I’ve gotten back on the mat.

Do you have a strategy to deal with fear?

 

 

 

Travel Yoga

Dengue Fever – My Story

October 15, 2017

Baddhakonasana.

I was supposed to come to Delhi on the 18th of this month and leave on the 21st. Since I took two months off from teaching to study in Pune, I felt I should get back as soon as possible.  With this in mind I messaged my students  that classes would start on the 2nd of Oct.


 

 

 

 

 

But on the 28th of September I started feeling a bit tired and my appetite disappeared.  I found out from some other students that it was a 24 hour virus that was going around.  I managed to drag myself to class on Friday and Saturday, but collapsed in bed post class on both days. My sister was slated to visit me for a day on Saturday and I willed myself to get better. I popped a few Crocins on Thursday and Friday and hoped the fever would sweat out of my body. On Saturday the sis arrived and I was still a little shaky.  But I was tired of laying in bed all day, infirm.   We set out for the Osho park and I hoped that being out and about would make me feel better. I returned that night as tired as ever.

Kakuli & I in the Osho Gardens.

With Sneha in the Osho Gardens.

The next day was the 1st of Oct. I got to Bangalore and once again collapsed in bed.  The virus was supposed to be only a 24 hour virus and I was sure that I would be better in the next couple of hours.

I took classes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It was great to see my students again, but I still didn’t feel 100% myself. I didn’t have the energy to do my own practice and I couldn’t figure out why. I felt that if I was able to drive myself to classes then I should be able to practice too. At the same time I started to question the meaning of life and dwell on its futility.

I pinged my sisters that someone had given me the evil eye because what else could be wrong? I had no appetite and I was listless. I asked a friend of mine how to get rid of the evil eye and went out and even went out to buy a packet of red chillies.

Upon my mom’s insistence I went to the doc.  I’d never had to go to the doctor and so actually had to ask some people in my building for the closest reliable and trusted doctor. The doc asked me to get a platelet count done and also to check for Typhoid and Dengue.  The results showed my platelet count was 80000 (below normal range but not life threatening) and I tested positive for Dengue. The doc and my mom gave me an ultimatum. The doctor hooked me up to an IV and pumped glucose and Paracetamol into my system. My friend booked a ticket for me to Delhi. I went home and threw some stuff into a suitcase. Then I collapsed until another friend arrived to drop me to the airport.

No one in my family has ever had Dengue fever, but because this disease reaches epidemic like proportions every year in Delhi, everyone knew what to do. Since I fell sick I’ve heard of so many other people who’ve fallen sick during or after their time at RIMYI. Usually Dengue fever lasts anywhere between 5-7 days and it takes a person almost 2 weeks to completely recover. Because of my regular yoga practice I feel I was able to fight the infection relatively quickly. I had fever for about 2 days and was able to attend and conduct classes soon after.

This was the first time I fell sick (thanks to the yogi lifestyle) and my recovery was remarkably quick too.

Here are a few things I learned from getting this disease. Hopefully this will help you in combating the disease.

  1. Use your mosquito repellent.   I’ve heard Citronella oil,  Eucalyptus oil and Neem oil also keep the mosquitos away.
  2. Don’t fight the idea that you might be infected despite taking all sorts precautions.  I was almost in denial as I told the doc that I was going about my normal active life and didn’t understand how I could be infected.
  3. Take care of yourself – as yogis we sometimes put self-care on the backburner.  Cancel your classes and try and sleep.  Allow the fever to do what it will and focus on resting.
  4. Allow someone else to take care of you. You’ll have someone to tell you that life isn’t over.  I can’t remember the last time I spent so much time at home, but it made my recovery that much faster and more pleasant.
  5. When I had a fever all I felt like eating was apples and drinking cold water.  Looking at even a slice of toast made me want to throw up.  Before I found out it was Dengue I felt I should force myself to eat a little bit or I would fall sick.  Now I know that loss of appetite is a symptom of Dengue and my body craved hydration.
  6. Monitor your platelets count daily!
  7. Papaya leaf juice works like a charm.  Take some papaya leaf juice and water and grind them in your mixer.  Strain and drink.
  8. Sleep!
  9. Catch up on your reading.  I renewed my Kindle Unlimited subscription and my Goodreads saw a lot of activity too.
  10. Don’t worry about your practice/classes/work.  Once your mind and body are well rested, you’ll be back with a bang.

 

I hope to never ever be sick again.  This illness has reinforced my belief in making healthy choices every day without fail or excuses.  Sometimes getting an infection can’t be prevented but being in good health ensures you fight the infection like a boss.  This illness has also made me grateful for all the wonderful people in my life.  People who wake up early to drop you to the airport, people who check up on you in the middle of the night, those who ping you from around the world to make sure you’re OK.  I was lucky to be able to fly home at a moment’s notice and my mom was ready.  I’m grateful to my mother’s maids who knew where to get papaya and giloy leaves and promptly brought them home.  Even my tattoo artist reached out to me!

Any disease takes a toll on you physically, but if you have people around you who love you and care about you, you win the battle sooner.  I had loads of people who were there for me, and for that I can never be thankful enough.