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Lifestyle Travel Yoga

The 2019 Pune Visit

October 2, 2019
Taking stock.

Taken on the way to Panchgani. Nature has a way of giving you perspective.

It’s my first ‘day at work’ after my annual Pune visit.  A student asked me this morning about whether I gained new insights.  During my first few years of yoga teaching and practice, I could easily quantify what I had learned.  Stuff like “headstand”, “an arm balance” and “did some intense core work”.  Now it’s more difficult to describe.  Maybe because now my focus is not so much on the number of asanas in my kitty.   Now I like to work with what I have and refine it further.  I like to simmer in known asanas so that I can teach them better – or rather, learn more from the asana.

So if I had to recap my month in Pune I like to think about sum total of all the experiences I had.  I remember the rush to finish last minute assignments before leaving.  I tried (unsuccessfully) to look for a substitute.  My students had to contend with no teacher for a month.  But it was an auspicious start.

I arrived in the days leading up to Ganesh Chaturthi, things were as bright and festive as always.  Once I registered for my month I created a list of things to remember for all prospective students of RIMYI.

The teachers who have had the most impact on me are those who have encouraged me to trust my thought process.  My Yoga Therapy professor did just that.  I also wrote about how my practice changed during my Pune visit when a teacher told us to ignore the stretch.

In September I discovered an app called YourQuote and started dabbling in writing again.  I also attended the Pune International Literature Festival as a writer for the first time.  I checked for my book in the bookstalls, I signed books for many readers.  Meet other writers was a dream.  My friends came out to watch my session.

In September I hit an all-time high in my blog views.  Titled “Why Am I Not Losing Weight?”, this blog resonated with many readers.

We’re getting ready for the festive season here as well.  Diwali cleaning, de-cluttering, decorating…all this and much more in October.

 

A Pune visit is never complete without an Irani chai and wada pav. Go to FC Road for the best.

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.

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.

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.

Travel Yoga

An Auspicious Start – Pune Day 0

September 2, 2019

This is my fourth consecutive year coming to study at RIMYI.  In previous years I’ve had the luxury to make lists and plan.  This time I was caught in a whirlwind.  I had to wrap up projects, attend a last minute Vedanta class, plan the quantum of assignments to work on this month, and so on and so forth.  I was, of course, also trying to stuff myself with as many idlis and masala dosas as I could.  Have to survive for a month after all.

I think all the frenzied activity of the last few days caught up with me last night.  While I was finishing my packing I suddenly felt sick and threw up my lunch.  My stomach settled down after that but I was in no position to eat and went to bed.

After a quick and simple breakfast of fresh steaming idlis (surprise!) this morning we drove to the airport.  A short flight later I alighted in Pune.

Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra is special and I’ve been lucky to witness it for the last 3 years.  As I got into the taxi I could hear the processions and feel the excitement in the air.  The festivities will continue for the next few days and it’s great to be here this time of year.  I couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious start to my month.  Here’s to a wonderful month of growth, re-connection, beautiful discoveries and new friendships.

Fourth year in Pune for my trusted pink suitcase too.

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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.

 

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The First Sunday – Day 5

August 5, 2018

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

A great yoga teacher teaches yoga.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Pune Diaries – Day 2

August 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

‘Urdhvahastasana!’  We lifted our arms up.

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

‘From here go into the Sarvangasana.’

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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The Pune Diaries – Day 1

August 1, 2018


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

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

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

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

“Ok sir, theek hai.”

 

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Three Surprising Facts About Pune

November 17, 2017

At the Aga Khan palace, on a day we were free.

By Pune I mean the Ramamani Memorial Iyengar Yoga Institute (RIMYI).  For Iyengar practitioners ‘Pune’ is synonymous with ‘RIMYI’.  After studying for five years under my primary teacher here in Bangalore, I started going to Pune last year.  I’ve written about my time in Pune in previous blogs.  This blog is about the little known and surprising aspects of the RIMYI experience.

  1. RIMYI is the most famous institute for Iyengar yoga on the planet.  It is the epicentre of all Iyengar yoga related activities in the world.  There is a wait list to attend classes at the institute, and you may have to wait for up to a year or more to get a spot.  To even apply for a spot you need to be studying Iyengar yoga for at least 5 years under a certified teacher.  We reserve our seats and accommodation many months in advance.  Sometimes years in advance.
  2. Everyone cries.  Yes, RIMYI has a lot of grownups in tears.  Teachers at the institute aren’t known to mince their words or to bother about the political correctness of their words.  The experience can be intense and nerve wracking.  What’s interesting is that despite quaking with fear, dread and nervousness on our mats, we still return year after year!  I’ve broken down countless times.  The experience can be very cathartic and just goes to show that the path of yoga takes your blood, sweat and tears.
  3. Teachers hit you.  While we’re not being shoved into doors and walls, a sharp slap on the quads or the back of the knees to take our awareness to our ‘sleeping’ body parts is routine.  I’ve had teachers slap my quads, the back of my knees, the sides of my thighs…even had my toes flicked painfully because, ironically, they weren’t relaxed enough.  We joke that ‘BKS’ Iyengar stands for ‘Beat Kick Slap’ Iyengar!

So you see, studying at the best yoga school in the world is not a blissful-gentle-stretching-meditating-all-day experience.  It’s actually a tremendous achievement to make it through and back again the next year!

At the Osho Gardens. I had Dengue during this time!

Sundays looked like this. A joke we will never forget!

Weekends at a farm, amidst nature, never get old.