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pragya bhatt yoga

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Registrations at RIMYI

September 3, 2019

Finally getting the hang of this.

I headed to the institute at around 9 am this morning.  In previous years I’ve always registered in the evenings so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I decided to wear my practice shorts just in case.

The person at the front desk smiled and nodded his head in recognition. He suggested I go practice first and come back later to get the registration forms.

Self-practice sessions at RIMYI can be intimidating. Alhtough you have people of all levels you tend to look only at those who are busy defying gravity. Today there were students going from adhomukha svanasana to urdhva dhanurasana and back again.

Watching students who have a better asana practice than you can be intimidating…or extremely inspiring. As a yoga student the one quality that has been of immense help to me has been that the only ‘I’ I take with me to a class is ‘I am a yoga student.’ Besides this I don’t think, ‘I can’t do back bends’ or ‘I have a mean urdhva kukkutasana’. I’m willing to explore what I already know. And willing to wrestle with prejudice, fear and doubt to discover new movements.

Besides the above two things, the other things I should mention for a month in Pune are:

  1. Don’t bring your yoga mat. You have every prop ever created available for use.
  2. Do bring comfortable walking shoes, preferrably ones that can withstand the rains. Pune is known for its sudden showers (it’s pouring as I write this).  Don’t forget a trusted umbrella.
  3. Students generally bring skirts or loose pants to wear over their practice shorts rather than changing at the institute.
  4. Don’t forget your passport photos (along with the other documentation such as visa copies, passport copies etc). It had completely slipped my mind that I needed passport photos, but luckily had some extras in my wallet.
  5. You can pay your fees through cash or card.
  6. A lot of students like to have a coconut post class. I would recommend bringing your own re-usable straws rather than using the disposable plastic ones.

These are the few things that come to mind right now. In case you have specific queries, drop a comment.

Post practice I got my schedule. I have evening classes three times a week, and today happens to be an evening class. Fingers crossed for a good class and an awesome month.

Food Travel

Pietrantica – A Treasure Trove of Goodies

July 18, 2019

It doesn’t take much to make travel ‘special’. It is special in its very essence. As the world gets smaller and human beings explore the world only to come home to themselves, it is perhaps a personal touch we crave. After all, we’ve seen the entire world several times over on social media.

When Susanne told me about Pietrantica, a boutique store for typical Ligurian goods, I was sure all my souvenir shopping was going to be from there. It had all the essential elements – niche, local and truly Italian.

With Vittorino, the gregarious owner of Pietrantica.

With Vittorino, the gregarious owner of Pietrantica.

I immediately warmed to the store when Vittorino, the owner, greeted me in typical Italian fashion. A hug and a kiss on both cheeks. Sussane introduced me and told him I was there to teach at the retreat along with her. Vittorino was warm and friendly and invited me to look around his interesting store with an expansive sweep of his arm. I looked at the shelves. There was wine, liqueurs, olive oil, pesto, soaps and other skin care items. There were entire racks of cooking tools made of olive wood. Also sweets, coffee and even mushrooms!

The story goes that Vittorino lived and worked in an oil mill in Imperia, a small coastal town on the Italian Riviera. When the owner of the mill wanted to shut it down he decided to buy it and run it on his own. Eventually he decided to shut shop and sell olive oil instead. Customers started trickling in and as the trickle slowly increased, so did the requests for more products. Soon they were stocking all manners of products ranging from skincare to amaretto.

“Our pestos are quite famous,” says Chiara, Vittorino’s daughter. “We have unique flavors. Also, we are the second largest wine sellers here.” I eyed the shelves upon shelves of vintage. “We have wine from Italy (specially Ligurian wine) and champagne from France. We stock everything from the most expensive to the cheapest wine.”

Tell me a little more about the varieties of liquor you stock, I prodded. “Well we actually started with selling oil and skin care products. Then came the wine (upon customer requests) and finally the Grappa.” I decided to sample some of their famous grappa and I could feel the 44% alcohol content. But, I have to add, it was delicious. “We’re the most famous retailers for grappa,” Chiara added.

The store stocks a range of liqueurs. Originally lemoncello is from Capri, but it was first produced in Naples. Orancelle is made of oranges.

Chiara pointed out the handmade soaps. Some made locally and some coming in from France. “Piermont is where most of our soaps are made,” she says.

“What about all these chopping boards and ladles,” I asked running my hands over the smooth wood.

“All these are made of olive wood. The olives in this region are called tajasca olives and are endemic to Imperia. Stuff made out of this wood is really strong and lasts for years.”

A little tip from Chiara: rub a little olive oil on your wooden implements and watch the shine come back. In fact, any marks and ridges will also fade.

Over the years Pietrantica’s fame has spread far and wide. What started out as a store catering to the small town of Docedo and the larger province of Imperia now takes part in international food fairs. Their products have gone to the US, Dubai, France and Germany.

“You can’t imagine starting a store like this now,” Chiara tells me. “There are so many rules and regulations now.” However, the family of four works together to provide the best they possibly can. Every single item is tasted before being sold, and must conform to the family’s strict standards. When it comes to the cosmetic products, the first rule they follow is to keep the number of ingredients as low as possible.

Although Chiara started veterinarian studies, she decided not to finish. The call of the family business was too attractive. Much like her father, she is happy to work at Pietrantica. “I love it when people come into the store. I get to talk to so many different people,” says Chiara. “Sometimes you end up building long lasting relationships. Dolcedo has people from different parts of the world.” The store follows periods of manic production and periods of lull. “When you need to fulfill massive customer orders you end up working a lot and that is the most stressful part of our job here.”

Inspired by the fact that the best grappa is sold at Pietrantica, I decided to pick up a bottle of blueberry flavored grappa. Along with that some lavender shower gel and a few soaps to remind me of beautiful Liguria with every fragrant whiff. A weakness for wooden kitchen tools saw me picking up a few olive holders as well.

Always a sucker for interesting kitchen implements – I picked up a few olive holders.

If you are lucky enough to take a little jaunt to this beautiful small town remember that during the winters they are open only for 3-4 hours. Summers they open at sharp 9 am and go all the way up to 8 pm, with no lunch break.

I for my part, look forward to going back as my shower gel is almost over and I find a need for a new chopping board….

Kiara doing what she does best - interacting with customers at the beautiful store.

Chiara doing what she does best – interacting with customers at the beautiful store.

Travel

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 Lifestyle Travel

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.
Lifestyle

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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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.

Vrkshasana/Tree Pose

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That costume and balancing on the toes!!!

And variations of the Tree pose…

Chaturanga/Plank Pose

Every yogi knows the agony of getting this one right.

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Those biceps though.

 

Virbhardasana/Warrior Pose

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?

 

 

 

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!

Uncategorized

Crack Open to Heal – Day 9

August 9, 2018

Yoga helps.  It heals.  It gets rid of emotional blockages and psychological pain.  It brings peace.  It brings clarity.  We’ve all heard this at one point or another.  And I’m sure we all wonder – how?

Yoga helps by teaching us how to create space.  Our demons reside in our joints.  Achy, stiff joints are permanent residences for the demons of our past.  To get rid of these demons we must lengthen our joints.  Create space so that the joints can breathe and release the demons holding them tightly together.  Once these demons are gone your joints will be free to move easily and pain free.

The same applies to backbends.  Bending backward is so difficult for many of us because it requires (amongst other things) flexible back and shoulder muscles as well as a flexible hip joint.  For a long time I wrestled with a stiff upper back.  After years of practice I’ve managed to overcome this challenge….only to realize that I’m unable to access and push the hip joint up.  And this will take a few more years to overcome.  The point is that the only way to let go of years of deep rooted fears and blockages is to spend years creating space between the bones and muscles so that the tightly held demons are let go.

To overcome past samskaras it is important to crack yourself in two.  For instance, when doing the Urdhvadhanurasana I’m almost trying to split myself into two, body below the sternum and above the sternum.  For the next couple of years it will be focusing on body below the hip joint and above the hip joint.  The practice of reaching within yourself to access an area which has been ‘sleeping’ automatically infuses this place with new life…and also enables you to release the ghosts of lives past.

 

Uncategorized

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.

 

Uncategorized

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.

Travel

Of Manifestations and Fitness Resolutions

February 8, 2018

Happy with the tees we earned.

Many years ago, before I started running, I would dream about going on vacation and having fitness as an integral part of the plan.  I moved to a new house and dreamt that I would start a weekend running group that would meet to run around the lake.

I’m one of those who believes that if you really want something, it manifests.

Both these fitness desires have manifested for me right at the beginning of this year!  Last year around this time an old acquaintance of mine moved back to Bangalore and started coming to class.  Somehow the bond grew deep and when I tentatively suggested we go to Lovedale for a run, to my utter surprise I said yes.  We got two more friends together, another student offered us his cottage, I tanked up my car and off we drove into the hills.  We spent three days re-visiting the hills and exploring new joints.  We bought comfortable pajamas at the factory surplus shops.  I bought some Eucalyptus oil.  The night before what would become our first 10km, we affirmed to ourselves that we would complete the run successfully.  We would give it our 100%.  In the morning as soon as we woke up, I said, ‘We shall do it.’  And we did!

From the 4 of us who went to Ooty, to the 12 who went to Hampi last weekend, we have grown consistently.  Hampi was our fifth run together and we got special bibs and tees with our names on it.  It may seem like a small achievement, but to those of us who get together every weekend to pound the pavement, it was a moment to be proud of how far we’ve come.  To change old habits and adopt a new lifestyle is no mean feat.  And what they say is true – nothing tastes as good as fitness feels.

 

 

 

 

Food

Carrots – Eat Clean and Green

January 31, 2018

Most days between classes you’ll find me writing.  Always on the lookout for calm, quiet and interesting places, nothing works better for me than a cafe where I can have some delicious tea, and some lunch.  Last week a friend of mine and I decided to go to Carrots in Koramangala to get ahead on a bit of work.  Note to writers: Change your location.  I find it kills writer’s block instantly.

Eating at a vegan restaurant ensures that most of the stuff available is also ‘clean’.  We ordered a Greek salad and a pizza, and as I write this I’m hungry again!  The salad and pizza are to die for.  The vegetables are fresh and smell of healthy goodness.  Those who know a bit about veganism will know that vegans don’t eat cheese.  I’ve met many a pizza lover who won’t believe that it’s possible to have extremely yummy pizza sans the cheese.  Go to Carrots and taste just how delicious a vegan pizza can be.

Luckily Susmitha, one of the owners and a vegan for the last 15 years, dropped by our table for an informal (and informative!) chat.

We spoke about how Operation Flood (White Revolution) completely changed the way we consume dairy.  We concurred that cases of childhood obesity, various gut diseases, skin problems etc can be directly linked to the consumption of milk and other dairy products.  As an aside I have to mention that I love the fact that I can eat/drink anything at Carrots and not worry that it contains dairy.

Interestingly, there are several products manufactured by Amul which are vegan by accident.  Such as their dark chocolate.  Amul, the biggest participant in Operation Flood, ‘accidentally’ manufactures several vegan chocolates too!  This called out another assumption I had – vegan and healthy aren’t necessarily the same thing.  As a vegan I might eat the Amul Dark Chocolate, but as me (yogini trying to eat clean), I wont touch that stuff. (#nosugar)

Honey is also not vegan nor whole.  Susmitha had the explanation.  From a technical standpoint honey is basically bee vomit.  Bees collect pollen and then regurgitate what we know as honey.  She also told us that it takes forty thousand bee flying miles to make 1 tsp of honey!  Which is why commercially available honey is so suspect (for those of you who use honey as replacement for sugar).  Also, many farms clip the wings of the Queen Bee so that she doesn’t fly away.  That way, the worker bees are tricked into staying (and therefore making honey) in the same place.  The natural behavior of bees is to fly from place to place building their hives and doing their work.  By clipping the Queen Bee’s wings you ensure that the worker bees stay in the farm and work only for you.

As it often happens, those of us who are seriously into wellness have compelling personal narratives.  Susmitha and I share the same reason – both had gained unhealthy weight!  I asked Susmitha if she had experienced any internal changes; such as on the emotional and mental front; after she started living the vegan life.  And she said yes!  Her fear of stray dogs has evaporated and her Reiki and meditation practices have improved.  And all of us who practice wellness will agree that your physical and your mental health are connected.  If compassion drives your actions, it’s not long before compassion infuses your entire being.

Carrots has actually become a hub for holistic health.  All kinds of events related to health, lifestyle and wellness happen here and its actually become a meeting place for like minded individuals.  We can certainly vouch for that.  We met like minded individuals and had the most delicious and healthy food.  Looking forward to returning for some more healthy food and nourishing conversation.

Do check them out on their Facebook page and drop in for some vegan latte :).

 

P.S. I’m honored to say that I will be holding a talk on Valentine’s Day at Carrots.  On the day when we celebrate relationships I thought it would be great to talk about the relationship we have with ourselves.  Promises to be an awesome session and it is absolutely free, so do drop in!  You can book your spot here: http://bit.ly/2Fb5dy8