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pragya bhatt

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.

 

 

 

 

Travel

What We Don’t Think About When We Think About Responsible Tourism

October 14, 2019

The summit covered by clouds at the beginning of the trek.

Last Sunday a bunch of us decided to trek up the Savandurga hill.  My friends reached my house at 4 am.  We were to reach the base camp by 6 am and start climbing.  Later than this and it would get too hot.  We had registered for the trek on https://myecotrip.com/.  This is an initiative to encourage eco-sensitive tourism by the government of Karnataka.  They offer eco-friendly tour packages that showcase the natural beauty of Karnataka.  These include day-long treks, visits to bird sanctuaries and wildlife safaris.  Navigating through their website is easy and they are quick to respond to queries on telephone.

Savandurga is a hill 60 km from Bangalore, and is considered to be one of the largest monoliths in Asia.  There are two famous temples at the foothills which many pilgrims revere and visit year round, the Savandi Veerabhadreshwara Swamy and Narasimha Swamy temple.  The hills are centuries old.  It is believed that these hills served as the capital for Magadi rulers such as Kempegowda.  It was later taken over by those in power in Mysore.  In 1791, during the Third Anglo-Mysore War, Lord Corwallis captured it from Tipu Sultan.  At one point in time it was also known as Savinadurga or the fort of death!

It is a difficult trek – mostly uphill and on rocks.  When the rocks are wet they are super-slippery.

Our guide showed us an ancient Hanuman temple a little away from the trail. Hanuman faces left, which is unusual.

The ancient Nandi at the summit.

For the most part the trek was great.  I would wish that there was less litter and plastic strewn around, but I think the monkeys may be responsible for that.  On the whole I saw that the trekkers were responsible, helpful and considerate towards others on the trail.   But I must mention the exception.

A couple planted themselves right in front of the bull, with no regard for the multitudes of others who had huffed and puffed their way up to the top to get a glimpse of the ancient Nandi.  This is disrespectful on so many levels.  Not only is this a place of tourist interest, but also a place of worship.  All the visitors waited patiently for their turn to whisper their wishes in Nandi’s ear (a custom) while this particular couple refused to move an inch.  Finally my friend went up to them and pointedly asked them to move, which they did…for 10 minutes.

When we think about responsible tourism, perhaps we need to think of this aspect as well.  Just because this temple/place of interest isn’t manned by temple/government officials doesn’t give you permission to be rude, insensitive and inconsiderate.  Some of us trekked up for a darshan of the Nandi, some of us to look at an ancient historical monument, either way we deserve to look at it without two inconsiderate lovebirds crowding our frame.

When we talk about responsible tourism we need to factor in responsible tourist behavior too.  Lest civic sense become as uncommon as common sense.

 

 

 

Books Poetry

It’s Not That Time of the Year Without…

October 6, 2019

A surprised glance at the months gone by,

for just like last year

this year has also passed softly, lightly.

The perfect accompaniment for these deliciously nippy evenings.

Books left untouched on shelves

which, not too long ago, I swore ardently ‘to read’

A year older, a year wiser?

Change has crept up on me

Calmly

For I may yet live

more expansively

in the days to come

I will not let these months pass

Without ridding

myself of heavy clutter

Without bonding

over cards

in houses twinkling with laughter and goodwill

Without looking

at an old space

and breathing new life.

Without affirming that

though I may seem the same,

my life the same,

my spaces the same

I have ridden the waves of Time

for even as I write this

I am not the same

my life is not the same

my spaces are not the same.

[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 ‘It’s not that time of the year without…’]

I received this tag from Anamika at https://thebespectacledmother.com/. It’s my pleasure to pass on this tag to Shinjini at https://moderngypsy.in/. There were 38 of us on this Blog Hop and it was spread over 3 days – 4, 5, 6 October 2019. Do follow the #WordsMatter Blog Hop, you’ll love our musings!

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!

Yoga

Prop or Crutch?

September 19, 2019
See the Sirsasana

This beautiful shot is part of the photos we took for ‘Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures”. Get your copy of the book on Amazon and Flipkart.

I had a 7 am class with Gulnaz Dashti today, my second with her this month.  I’ve recounted my hilarious class in 2016 with her here.  And last year here.  As evident in these blogs, she’s energetic, lively and funny.

Lately I’ve been having problems with the sirsasana.  It’s confounding.  I’ve been practicing sirsasana for years, even doing variations.  Here’s a video of me doing advanced variations too.  But suddenly one day I felt my neck starting to cramp up.  I hadn’t changed anything and I got a bit worried.

I decided that maybe I should change the way I use the blanket under my head.  Until now I was using a folded blanket between a folded mat.  I started to fold the blanket in the Iyengar “three fold long” style.  I felt it would give me height .  But that also didn’t feel right.  I spoke to Gulnaz about it last week.  “Is it possible for someone to do a pose for many years and all of a sudden to lose it one day?”

She said in her quick rapid style, “Until now you’ve learned how to do the sirsasana.  Now you’ll  understand the posture.  Go, I’ll see next week!”

So today before I went up I asked her for help.

“Why are you using a blanket?!” she screeched.  “You people become so used to the props!  Keep the blanket aside and go  close to the wall, I’ll adjust.”  She reached down and lifted my shoulders away from my ears.  I felt the weight shifting forward to my elbows.  My wrists and elbows woke up, and I pushed them firmly into the mat.    I teetered for a bit as I got familiar with the new center of gravity.

“Props were invented to teach you how to do a posture, not to become a crutch for you.  You people don’t even question the necessity of a prop!  You become so dependent on the prop that that’s all you see!  You don’t see the pose, you stop learning the pose!!!”

“Don’t be in a hurry to get away from the wall,” she cautioned me.  “Stay there and understand the pose.”

Got it Gulnaz – learn the pose with the props, and understand them without the crutches.

Poetry

Dissolution

September 17, 2019

 

 

The above is my entry for the #SashaktWordsmithContest.  It’s being organised by Sashakt – The Ovarian Cancer Foundation in collaboration with my literary agency called The Book Bakers.  The theme is “Ovarian Cancer”.

Lifestyle Yoga

Happiness Is Not in the Gulab Jamun

September 15, 2019

Missing my Sunday runs around the Ulsoor Lake.

I’ve been working on completing assignments for my MSc. The one I’m working on now is about happiness and man’s quest for it.

Lately more and more people reach out to me to discuss how to feel better rather than look better. They are interested in the mental and emotional benefits, rather than the physical benefits of yoga.

According to the Upanishads all beings (humans and animals) are instinctively attuned to sukha prapti (to gain happiness) and dukha niviritti (to overcome the misery). It’s this instinct that drives us. A penthouse, a limited edition car and an exclusive gym membership are the stuff dreams are made of, yet happiness still eludes us. Retail therapy isn’t getting us any closer to sukha prapti.

Psychosomatic conditions are rising at an alarming rate. We’re buying more than ever before but we’re also more sad. If only it was possible to buy away depression. We pin our hopes for happiness on objects of enjoyment and come away disheartened.

The Upanishads dealt with this question centuries ago. They state that man is in search of Reality and Happiness. This search yields answers to question such as the meaning of life, the goal of life and truth. It can drive away existential angst.

So whether it is eating gulab jamuns, getting the latest mobile phone or going on an expensive vacation, we want these because we feel these fulfill a deep seated need within us.

As my Vedas professor lectured: Whether it is eating gulab jamuns, getting the latest mobile phone or going on an expensive vacation, we want these because we feel these fulfill a deep seated need within us. We also want promotions, awards and praise. But the 50th gulab jamun doesn’t taste as good as the first one. The mobile phone loses it’s charm when the next version comes out. A vacation ends. And the desire for awards and promotions is never ending. Happiness is not in the gulab jamun or the mobile phone. Happiness shouldn’t be ephemeral like a vacation.

If only we could prolong the feeling of gastronomic delight of that first gulab jamun, of the excitement of the penthouse and car. Meditation is nothing but the prolonging of that state of bliss. Our happiness is always in response to an external event or object, and so it disappears in the absence of that stimulant. The Upanishads liken bliss to the musk of the musk deer. The deer searches the entire forest for the source of the glorious scent, and ultimately finds that he is the origin. Similarly, our happiness may be stimulated by something external, but the origin of the bliss is within us and therefore always accessible. To connect with this bliss you need to silence the citta vritti (the fluctuations of the thoughts in the mind).

The Upanishads have stated that yoga (beyond just the asanas) is the solution. The Gita states: yoga citta vritti nirodah. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the thoughts in the mind. When the fluctuations cease, silence pervades. And through this silence you can discover your bliss.

Happiness according to Vedic texts

Taittiriya Upanishad: When speech recedes and the mind reaches not there, one realizes Ananda, the Brahman; there he fears not.

Bhagvad Gita: Mind calmed down, sinless, all passions subdued, the Yogi establishes himself in the state of Brahman, the Supreme happiness.

Brahma Sutra: Brahman is Ananda, as repeatedly emphasized in the Upanishad.

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Practicing Together

September 12, 2019

I don’t remember when I came across the word ‘jugalbandi’ for the first time.  Until now I thought the word meant a collaboration.  Before writing this blog I thought I should  probably check the meaning and found that it literally means ‘entwined twins’.  The word is used to refer to a collaboration between two artists, usually a duet between two solo artists.

I’ve attended a few jugalbandis in the past and enjoyed them immensely.  There is magic when great artists come together.  They bring their art and ‘entwine’ it with the art of another artist.  And it creates magic.  It’s not only a mingling of art, craft, technical excellence but also a mingling of hearts, souls and great minds.

If you go to yoga class and take a look around you will see many things.  Lithe bendy bodies and also not so lithe bendy bodies.  People straining to touch their toes, and people balancing on their fingertips.  But there is a common purpose that brings us together: to keep our bodies and minds healthy.

Which is why every once in a while I love to train and practice with different people.  I came across Dayananthan on Instagram one day and was blown away by his asana practice.  So I ‘followed’ him.  And to my surprise he followed me back and said he finds my practice inspiring.  I was thrilled.  More thrilled when he invited me over to his studio Nrityog to practice together.

Teaching yoga (or maybe teaching anything) can get lonely.  You’re either attending class, teaching class or practicing.  You have few ‘work friends’, don’t go out for drinks after work and have no team-building retreats.  So it’s always refreshing to find teachers who reach out.

I arrived at Nrityog early on a Saturday.  Dayananthan was finishing a class.  He is really as awesome as his Instagram profile makes it out to be.  We chatted a bit during which I showed him the postures that were my ‘goal asanas’ such as this one and this one.  We started stretching and decided to work towards the ek pada sirsasana.  I’ve been working on the pose for years and was hoping he could give me new insight into it.

As we stretched I got to know him a bit better.  He started Nrityog with his wife who is also a dancer. The studio is open, airy, full of plants.  The vibe is calm, much like Dayananthan himself.  He freelances at other studios too, which he loves because he gets to meet more people that way.  So you can catch him around in different part of Bangalore.

In about 35-45 minutes he was ready to tackle the leg behind head category of asanas.  My muscles were screaming, but I was game.

 

I look forward to practicing more with him once I’m back in Bangalore.  The Yoga Jugalbandi.

Meanwhile, if you’re in Bangalore do attend class at Nrityog!!!

 

Travel Yoga

Don’t Go After the Stretch

September 10, 2019

pc: @khan.clicks @deavalin_david_dsouza makeup: makeupbyhennaanbaree location: Cubbon Park

I had a late class yesterday.  It started at 7.10 pm and went up to 8.40 pm.  The teacher was new to me.  After the usual queries (“Where are you from?  Who’s your teacher?”) I spread my mat and got ready for a class.

All the teachers at RIMYI have a distinct style of teaching.  The strong teacher-student tradition of yoga ensures that your attitude, approach and philosophy towards the practice reflects that of your teacher.  Your students will be able to see the ‘Iyengar’ or ‘Ashtanga’ shades in your classes.  If you go to multiple teachers/don’t go to any teacher – that is pretty evident too.

There isn’t much of a crowd at RIMYI this year.  Last night’s class had about 15 students.  We had enough space to spread out.  The class was quiet.  It wasn’t action-packed or fast paced.  We did very few asanas.  We held each asana for a very very long time.

As you continue to hold, you’re able to go deeper into the pose.  You can intensify the stretch.  You can observe which limbs are working, which are sleeping.  I worked on lengthening and opening my torso in Trikonasana – I noticed that I could actually activate the hamstrings more.  Similarly in Parsvakonasana.

“You may be feeling a stretch in your hamstrings and on your groin,” said the teacher.  “But feel the quietness in your abdomen.”

I blinked a couple of times. It’s a mannerism Ive noticed recently.  It’s an automatic response if I’m surprised or intrigued.

“Most of us go after the stretch.  We think asana works only if we feel the stretch.  But all asanas bring quietness in the abdomen too.  Find this quiet.”

And with these few sentences, he changed my asana practice forever.

 

Travel Yoga

Who’s the Teacher?

September 5, 2019

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I’ve heard this phrase countless times, and even uttered this platitude a few times myself.  But a conversation with a friend of mine (another yoga teacher and owner of a yoga studio) made me take a fresh look at the teacher-student relationship.

When we say this phrase our emphasis is always on the teacher appearing.  That the teacher should know when the student is ready and then magically appear.  But what a student does/is doing while they are waiting for the teacher to be conjured is also important.

I’ve noticed two kinds of students-in-waiting:

  1. Those who have searched for a yoga class or a teacher and haven’t found one.  This is usually because there are no classes in the neighborhood or because they didn’t like any of the teachers available to them.  These students usually throw up their hands and deem that ‘it’s not time yet’.  In such scenarios your teacher may never appear, because a student who sees distance as an impediment isn’t really a student.  Also a student who looks at a teacher as mere commodities are searching for a bar of soap and not a human being who will guide them on possibly the most difficult journey in life.
  2. Then there are students who demand the teaching from the teacher.  They may ask to work on advanced asanas or work towards a specific asana.  These students demonstrate little regard and zero respect for the teachings being imparted.  The desire to learn advanced postures is only justified if it is accompanied by hours and hours of relentless self-practice.

The most important aspect of any practice is the practice itself.  Your yoga practice is your teacher.  If you aren’t visiting your teacher daily then you’re not a student nor a seeker.  Your desire to practice advanced asanas isn’t an indicator of your interest or your passion – it’s actually a measure of how tamasic you are.  You are looking at an external force to help you achieve your goal, instead of putting in your own sweat, blood and tears.

Finally, the teacher-student (guru-shishya) relationship is very much driven by the student.  The student must offer himself up first.  The surrender happens, and then the learning commences.  Until the student is able to turn off his ‘I-ness’, he will forever flail, grasping blindly for knowledge and wisdom which will always elude him.

Pictured below is my 11-12th grade English teacher.  Those of you who know me know that I went to different schools around the world until I landed in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  At the American International School/Dhaka I had the double privilege of not only studying literature but also writing innumerable essays under the guidance of Ms. Spisso.  Here she is with books written by her alumni.  I like to think this is my guru dakshina to her.