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pune diaries

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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.

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.

 

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Faith, Questionable

September 6, 2019

Faith is abstract.  Its manifestation is concrete.  Ganesh Chaturthi is a good time to witness faith.

 

In my friend’s house the festive season has already started.  It starts with Ganesh Chaturthi.  For the entire 5 days that the Ganesh idol sits in their house, they celebrate.  People visit, good food is cooked, everyone laughs.

 

The house gets a face lift

enthusiastic dusting for every surface

the twinkle of the silver pooja-thali

bright new cushion-covers,

fresh flowers every day

the smell of incense wafting through the rooms.

aarti together in the evenings

 

From L-R : Parvati & Gauri. These statues have been in the family for generations. These statues along with their saris and jewels are carefully taken out of storage every year. They are dressed in all their finery in an elaborate ceremony. The oil lamps are lit. For the next three days the lamps are kept lit and morning & evening aartis are done without fail.

Ganesh departs to go back to Mount Kailash after 5 days (or 3 or 7).  His mother and sister stay on as guests in your house.  For three days.  They are the harbingers of health, wealth and good luck.  People believe it to be a great privilege to host Gauri and Parvati in their house for they bring with them the power to fulfill your innermost desires.

 

Can we soften and allow powers beyond us to manifest our innermost desires?

 

Here’s a blog from 2016 when I visited all the famous Ganesh pandals in Pune.

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

The First Class

September 4, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the magic of the annual pilgrimage to RIMYI.

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

What Pune’s Weather Taught Me

September 15, 2017

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pc: Joel Koechlin

 

Until today I had been lucky to avoid getting drenched in Pune’s sudden downpours.  Today I went out for lunch with another and on our walk home the pleasant drizzle steadily and surely grew into a monstrous torrent.  Too much for my little umbrella to handle.  My capris were all wet as I pulled the umbrella low over my head and waded through the veritable rivers that the streets had become.  As I walked I noticed the cobbler who was calmly trying to prevent his entire business being washed away in the rain.  I noticed the fruit and vegetable wallahs covering their carts with waterproof sheets.  I noticed the coconut bhaiyya had shut shop.  I crossed the road and got on the sidewalk of the Agriculture college.

When I have the 7 am class I walk across someone sleeping on this sidewalk.  This person is always wrapped head to toe in a blanket.  I’ve never seen him stirring in his sleep.  The early morning traffic doesn’t seem to bother him.  When it rains he props an umbrella up and hopefully it keeps (at least) his torso dry.  Once when I was walking to class (in the middle of the day) a yellow snake slithered out from the bushes and, perhaps realizing that it had lost it’s way, slithered back into the bushes.  Slimy serpents don’t seem to bother this person.  I’ve seen him there after a night of nonstop torrential rain, after a hot and humid night, after the Ganpati celebrations, on a Monday morning, on a Saturday morning…

To renounce everything and find peace in a remote cave in the Himalayas is easy.  To stay ethical and honourable in the absence of temptation is no big deal.  If we want to quieten the chitta, we must accept the noise that is creating the vrittis.  If we want some rest, we must get it despite the traffic, fear of snakes, the rain or the heat.  If we need to find peace, we must do so in the midst of chaos.  Wrapped in a threadbare blanket under a tattered umbrella.  Because that’s where we need it the most.

Uncategorized

Finally some progress…

September 11, 2017

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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.

 

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Aga Khan Palace

 

Travel

A Day Trip to Kaivalyadham

September 2, 2017
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Swamy Kuvalyananda and his disciples.

A couple of days ago I decided to visit Kaivalyadham.  I first heard about the institute when I started to explore yoga courses.  This was many years ago and at the time Kaivalyadham seemed inaccessible.  I read that it was one of the oldest yoga schools in the world.  They’ve done a lot of research on Yoga, Ayurveda, Naturopathy etc. and have helped people world wide manage and treat ailments and illnesses.  I read up on Swamy Kuvalyananda.  References to him came up in ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ and a few commentaries in the first volume of the Yogamala Ashtadala.  It was fitting then that I got in touch with an old friend of mine from Bangalore who happened to be in her last week of internship there and invited me over to see her campus.  Things fell in place – I had a day off, was only about 60 km away from Lonavala and the weather was beautiful.

The last 34 aphorisms of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are grouped under a chapter called the Kaivalya Pada (pada = chapter/part).  Here Patanjali describes the many ways in which the practitioner can attain the state of Kaivalya.  Kaivalya is the state wherein the practitioner is emancipated from the cycles of birth and rebirth.  It is an indivisible absolute state of aloneness.  ‘Kaivalyadham’ then means the place of Kaivalya.

The drive from Pune to Kaivalyadham is amazing.  Mist covered the hills and trees and I couldn’t take my eyes off the scenery.  Sadly I forgot to take pictures.  By the time we reached Kaivalyadham it was pouring cats and dogs and we had to wade through deep puddles to reach the main building.

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It’s always great to meet old friends.  We strolled around the campus as we talked.  Mamata took us to the gowshala where she spends a lot of time.  Kaivalyadham has a large Ayurvedic hospital and I even managed to get a quick consultation!  Like most residential yoga institutes, Kaivalyadham serves only sattvic food and we loved the lunch there.

They also teach cleansing kriyas as a part of their courses.  I was delighted to finally find clay neti pots in their gift shop and picked up a few for my friends as well.  Bangalore friends – now you know what I’m bringing back for you.

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Uncategorized

Paying Homage

August 24, 2017

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Last Sunday was BKS Iyengar’s punyatithi (death anniversary).  There was a function organised by the institute in which Abhijata spoke.

When I got to the institute (half an hour early), it was buzzing with activity.  Students were helping to arrange mats on the floor for all of us to sit on and technicians were taking care of the audio/video system.  The program started with the invocation to Patanjali and then Abhijata took the stage.

Her speech was a combination of personal memories of her grandfather, his approach to yoga, his method of teaching, his commitment to the subject and his belief system.  A nice little addition was the re-enactment of scenes from BKS Iyegnar’s classes, where the rest of the teachers went up on stage and pretended to be students as Guruji taught.  Abhijata did her best impersonation of the disciplinarian Guru while we tried to imagine our teachers in the plight that we so often find ourselves in.

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What I really liked about Abhijata’s speech was how she wove the lessons learned with personal anecdotes.  When talking about how Iyengar yoga helps us in cultivating a sense of peace or understanding who we really are, she said the Guruji had once said ‘My sole and soul is the same.’  Meaning that it is through the understanding and awareness of the gross body that he was able to cultivate insight.  You need to work so hard, make your body so potent that you can escape gravity.  Although anatomy is a rigid structure, you can’t pinpoint where the body ends and mind begins.  Your inner working has to be revealed through your outer self.

She also said that yoga is a living art.  Asana is a metaphor for life.  Yoga teaches you how to navigate through problems in life.    Chitta vritti has to come so that you can learn how to deal with it.  Action can’t guide, reflection does.  The prakriti has infinite potential, so it is possible to change our lives.  As an analogy think of a farmer laying the groundwork for his crops.  He does his best without thinking of the mechanics of how the seeds will sprout.  He lays the groundwork and the seeds sprout on their own.  Similarly, we must put in the practice, and everything else will also fall in place.

Life is to live.  Your sensitivity to yourself and the world around you increases through the practice of yoga, and this heightened sensitivity helps you to solve your problems.  For this your tapas has to have fire.  Your practice should have drive, passion and zeal.

It was fitting then that Abhijata ended her speech a little teary eyed and saying ‘He taught me how to live.’

 

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Recounting experiences with BKS Iyengar