Every once in a while
wipe the makeup off
slough off the dead skin of
Climb out from
under the weight of
the shoulds and should-nots
Let the wind
unfurl your hair
a flag wild and free.
Let your skin
flower in the soft sunlight.
The lines around
The last day in Sri Lanka we thought we would check out city life. It was Poya day and we stumbled upon the preparations for the Perahera. Poya days are the full moon days every month and are holidays. This particular Poya day was also the Navam Perahera Festival. Preparations were underway for a massive parade that would include elephants, dancers, acrobats and the like. We were excited to see the crowds and the buzz. We had planned to see some of the famous Buddhist temples in Colombo, but they were all closed. Although we noticed that many foreigners with ‘special passes’ were being allowed in. Shady business.
We didn’t have the patience to wait for the procession to start, nor the energy to brave the crowds. So we decided to head to Keels, a local supermarket to see if we could do some last minute shopping. All of us picked up some tea, Sri Lankan pickles and some spices.
Finally we took an Uber back to our hotel to sit on the terrace for dinner, as the moonlit waves crashed against the shore.
The next day we took an Uber to the airport. As we were driving through Colombo, I was reminded of the city I call home. I penned my thoughts down and you can read them here.
The key to excellence is repetitive practice. In the ideal world we would all have an hour and a half every morning to devote to our asana practice. We would have eaten light dinners the night before, gotten the necessary hours of sleep, have the energy and the inspiration to practice the same asanas for the millionth time. But every single yoga practitioner knows that there are more bad than good asana practice days. And that’s the method of any spiritual practice. Will you commit with no hopes of a return on commitment?
Every year Iyengar practitioners from around the world make their way to Pune, India to immerse themselves in the practice. Every year I await eagerly for the 4 weeks where I will be able to ‘retreat’ from the rigors of my regular life and give undivided attention to my practice. I usually have a reading list, I introspect through journaling and blogging, and I learn from the experiences of other students.
Retreating is an important part of a spiritual practice. It is to introspect as much as it is to delve deeper into the practice of your choice.
Retreating is an important part of a spiritual practice. It is to introspect as much as it is to delve deeper into the practice of your choice. A learning curve happens after every retreat. I have experienced the greatest growth after every retreat and workshop I’ve attended.
Teaching a retreat is as exciting for the teachers as it is for the students. When the idea of this retreat was a mere spark of an idea, we wondered what we could do to make this retreat unique, fun and helpful for those giving us the privilege of teaching them. We came up with a rough outline of a schedule. We started to think of how we could bring life and relevance to the teachings and the days slowly took shape. Involved as we are in our own practices, the results of a collaboration between Suzanne and I will distinctive.
Our mornings will be spent studying the asanas, in which we will also discuss the Indian/Hindu mythology pertaining to yoga. Our evening sessions will be about winding down the mind and body. There will be walks through the town, swims in the creeks. Conversations over shared dinners and the occasional glass of wine!
It will be a special time for all of us, made more special by those who give us the opportunity to guide them. We hope you can make yourselves available from the 1st-8th of June to join us in Liguria, Italy for a retreat to remember.
Write in to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
[This are article has also been published at https://yogaliguria2019.blogspot.com/2019/02/why-retreat.html. You can find more information about the upcoming retreat in this link.]
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?
When I plan a yoga retreat location is the first thing I home in on. To find a place that resonates with you and the experience you want to create is challenging. So I’m always on the lookout for interesting places to conduct retreats.
A few weeks ago I drove a little out of Bangalore to a farm called Hollas Halla. You can check out their Instagram profile here. I’d already spoken to Manali Holla and we had decided to meet to see the property and see what kind of experience we could create there.
10 years ago Suresh Holla, chanced upon some acreage of absolutely barren land and a lake. An MTech from IISc, no one really expected him to buy 5 acres with the dream of bringing this land to life. Everyone dismissed it as madness. There were no proper roads, no electricity, nothing.
When I went there a couple of weeks ago I saw the fruits of Suresh Holla’s labor. The lake is still there, but now there is a lush jungle around it. The Holla family conducts camps, retreats and treks at Holla’s Halla.
Initially I planned the usual yoga retreat with a morning yoga session followed by lunch etc. But as we looked at the lake I thought it would be a dream to practice yoga next to it. I spoke to Swetha, my co-teacher, and we decided to modify the plan so that we can practice yoga as the sun sets and rises. An experience that few yoga retreats can offer.
The itinerary for this exciting is below:
Day 1 (Sat 8th Dec):
3-4 pm: Arrive at the farm. Receive the grand tour. Check-in to your tents.
4-6 pm: Tea/Coffee/Relax
6-7 pm: Sunset yoga session.
7-8.30 pm: Dinner
9 pm onwards: Bonfire
Day 2 (Sun 9th Dec):
5 am: Wake up
6-7 am: Sunrise yoga session.
7.30-8.30 am: breakfast
9 am: Trek to the nearby hills/enjoy the lake/get a water massage!
12 noon: Lunch
This retreat is priced at Rs. 5000/- all inclusive.
Call 9686233003 or 9886062268 to register.
You can check out Hollas Halla’s facebook page here.
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.
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.
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.
Our goals form the blue print for our lives. As kids we think of growing up and becoming so and so. Once we become so and so our goals change to the kind of cars or houses we want. The kind of person we want to be with. More common goals are to lose 10 kgs before year end, learn how to swim, run a marathon, travel the world, complete a reading challenge.
My first ever goal in life was to be Nancy Drew when I grew up. As I grew up I became more laid back and wanted to spend all my time reading and writing. My only goal in life was to spend as much time as possible reading as many books as possible. I also wanted to write books for a living. I finally ended up writing code for a living and that period of my life is conspicuous by a total lack of goals to aspire to. Everyone else wanted promotions, raises, onsite trips. People were flaunting cars, homes and eligible marital prospects. One day I realized that if I didn’t start working out I would have nothing to wear since I had steadily outgrown many things in my closet. That led me to the gym and then to yoga class.
As with most yoga students my first goal was to touch my toes. I remember that I was elated when I first did that. Even more when I touched my forehead to my knee. Today I cringe at how bad my form was then. Lots of people want to do the headstand and handstand. Studying at RIMYI has made a lot of my goals accessible to me (Kurmasana for one).
As an Intermediate 2 practitioner you are expected to be comfortable in many variations of sirsasana. You’re upside down in all classes (unless you’re menstruating), so headbalancing is crucial for an Iyengar practitioner. There are bound to be many who topple over or come down for a little break. When this happens you hear everything from ‘Shouldn’t have had so many modaks’ to ‘You call yourself teachers!!!’ to ‘In Intermediate 2 for so long and still not able to sustain?!’ Usually accompanied by a barrage of Marathi.
When I was here last year I used to fantasize about holding the headstand for 10 minutes. I knew that was a prerequisite for the next level. I’d heard of classes where students have been upside down for 20 minutes at a stretch. All of last month I’ve worked on steadily increasing the amount of time I stay up. I started with 5 minutes and then held it for 8 minutes for a while. Then this morning I decided to be a little more adventurous and see if I could hold on for 10 minutes. And I did!!!
Needless to say, it felt amazing!!! Achieving these goals only prove that with only a little bit of discipline and smart work you are closer to your goals than you think. Even goals that are mere fantasies for you right now.
Blocks and ropes have become a permanent fixture in most yoga classes. If you are into this practice for the long term it might be helpful to invest in a few props right now. For me props are indispensable and I use them daily. Some I use more than others.
Mat – There are many different kinds of mats I use depending on what I’m practicing. I have a thick mat for when I need to practice the Halasana or any other pose where I feel I need some cushioning.
Most Iyengar teachers call your regular yoga mat the ‘sticky mat’. I own two sticky mats and I’ve had them forever. One stays in my car and the other one I use for my personal practice. And I’ve had these mats for over 5 years now. I think the best thing to do for your yoga mat is to wash it regularly and hang it out to dry. The stickiness somehow gets replenished and they are as good as new. Someone gave me this tip during my teacher’s training and I’ve recommended this to others. I haven’t heard any complaints from anyone (yet).
Floor – I think it was in a Manouso Manos workshop that I heard that the floor is your first prop. It gives you a solid foundation. It stays strong during your standing, seated, prone or inverted asanas. A clean, uncluttered surface looks inviting. In my teacher’s class it’s a clay floor. When it’s really hot I sometimes practice on the cool bare floor. In my house I get the floor cleaned every day so that I have a fresh palette to play on daily.
Wall – I started practicing the Adhomukha Vrikshasana in Pune last year. I continued to practice it at home and have steadily moved away from the wall. When it comes to some asanas – like handstand or the headstand – you need to determine when you are ready to move away from the wall. In this way, the wall helps you in exploring yourself and taking risks, but at the same time staying available for you always, should you need it.
Blocks – My first blocks were foam ones that I got as part of a ‘yoga set’. Foam blocks work well when you’re just using them for minimal support. However, when I’m working on chest opening or the Setubandhasana, I prefer the sturdier wooden variety.
Chair – during my last retreat I shared a personal story about the Viprita Dandasana. Basically, I would have a horrible reaction to this pose. I would feel queasy, my heart would start racing and I would start sweating profusely in only 20 seconds. When I went to RIMYI last year the dreaded asanas was part of a the women’s only class. I resigned myself to 2 minutes of queasiness. But I was pleasantly surprised. The way Gulnaz explained the asana was so clear and concise and it opened up the asana for me. It was one of my biggest takeaways from my time there last year. An asana (or a problem) can seem unsurmountable until someone guides you correctly.
Blanket – When I think of blankets I think of softness. I use my blanket under me when I do forward folds.
Ropes – I use these daily. Because I do traction for my back daily. Because you should do traction for your back daily. Because everyone should do traction for their back daily.
Belt – I use belts mainly when I need to work on shoulder opening in various asanas. In fact, watch this video illustrating an easy shoulder opening trick using the belt. Also, as most of my students know, I almost always use belts in the final relaxation.
Props ALWAYS enhance your practice. I know a lot of people think that they don’t ‘need’ props. I used to think so too, but I now feel that if you utilize your props well then you uncover nuances of the asanas that you wouldn’t otherwise.
Leave me a question if you have one!