Ever since the publication of my second book, I’ve been compulsively taking photos of both books. This picture was taken during a particularly leisurely breakfast during Diwali week.
Those who’ve ever been to Varanasi know that any amount of blogs/books/videos fall short in describing its unique vibe. There’s so much the city has to offer that one trip isn’t enough. Whether it’s food, textiles, history, yoga, architecture, culture or spirituality – there is something for everyone. In writing about my time in Varanasi I wasn’t sure how to encapsulate my experience in a single blog. So this time I’m going to try something different. Instead of encapsulating, I’m going to see if I can recreate a special day for you.
During her first visit to Varanasi, my friend Sowmya discovered the Chousathi Yogini temple there. Her account intrigued me. The temple she described was architecturally different form the ones we had seen in Ranipur Jhariyal. What’s more, there was only one yogini idol in the temple. Yet, the priest insisted this was the temple.
This city is fabled to be as old as time, an ancient city whose narrow winding web of lanes are fragrant with the smell of devotion, where faith is palpable even in seemingly forgotten crevices. A city whose power can be felt in the crowds that still throng there in search of salvation. A city where you can casually enjoy a glass of lassi at the Blue Lassi Shop and hear people chant ‘Ram naam satya hai‘ as they carry their dead to the Manikarnika Ghat…
I’d recommend reading ‘Banaras City of Light’ before you visit Varanasi. But I’m having a good time reading it even after my trip. ‘Benaras’ was recommended to me by the guy manning Pilgrim’s bookstore the day I visited. I’d recommend a visit – they have interesting books, postcards and bookmarks.
I love researching a place before I visit, and there is so much on Varanasi. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to read up, so I decided to listen to a few podcasts. I came across a reference to the 64 yoginis in one of them. Sitting in my comfortable seat in the Vande Bharat Express train, I had an uncanny feeling that the Yoginis had called me. And I must track them down.
The question is, in a city teeming with temples, how do you find information on an elusive (and perhaps even forgotten) cult? Turns out, I didn’t have to look too far. Stay tuned for the day that unfolded….
When I saw this sight in the crowded railway station, I couldn’t really connect to it. Not sure if I love Varanasi now, but I certainly long to return.
Social media is constantly trying to tell us that this year has been a terrible one. This message has gotten louder specially now that the year is ending and we’re all making resolutions for the next year. However, if you listen to the softer voices, you’ll realize that there is a parallel dialogue going on; one where this year hasn’t been the worst, but actually one of the best.
I remember last year vivdly for all the travel and good work it brought me. Last year was defined by movement – to travel, to work, for leisure and for the soul. This year was a stark contrast to last year. The world was indoors, the skies cleared up, Netflix reduced it’s video resolution (for a while at least).
It was seemingly the perfect time to take up a new hobby, to read the TBR books, to clean the house and your friends’ list. It’s no surprise most of us got none of this done, this year was unforgiving with its strangeness. I thought I’d go through the pile of books accumulating on my bookshelf (and on most other surfaces in my apartment. I also thought I’d write my magnum opus. The piles continue to grow and the magnum opus is a dream.
But I’m also well rested, bubbling with ideas, still in love with yoga. I have the energy to teach 7 consecultive classes and the enthusiasm to draw rough outlines for my magnum opus. I write 3 journal pages a day and read a chapter every night before I sleep. This year has given me an important pause. Next year I’m ready to blaze on…
[You may also want to check out a similar reflections exercise I did last year.]
The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry…
This sentence has fluttered in my mind every so often since March this year.
Not even the most ardent pessimist could have conjured the year we’ve had. Back in February, I remember my boyfriend saying, “Something is spreading across the world – a highly contagious virus. They’re saying it’s coming from China.” I had just celebrated my birthday and was looking forward to an Iyengar yoga retreat in the mountains with Usha Devi. Surely the virus wouldn’t come to India, and ofcourse, us yogis would be able to handle a little flu.
Within two days of the ‘something spreading across the world’ conversation, the Indian government started chartering special flights to bring Indian nationals home. Overnight, quarantine facilities were put up in major cities. The pull of the yoga retreat was too strong and I was willing to take the risk of contracting the virus to attend the workshop in Rishikesh. I had been looking forward to it for months.
As it turned out, I ended up not going for the workshop and the next few months were all about online classes interspersed with cooking and cleaning. As the months wore on plans got cancelled. Birthdays, festivals, weddings were cancelled. Court cases were on hold, exams were delayed, many remained separated from their loved ones.
Delayed Gratification/Denied Gratification
It all got me thinking about the tenuity of our lives. We postpone plans with friends thinking we can catch up ‘some other time’; wait to tell those we love that we love them until the mood or the time is ‘just right’; plan to start yoga/gym until the kids’ exams finish; wait for time to magically present itself to indulge in our hobbies or passions…we wait and wait and for many of us the wait wears us down until there is no joy in the celebrations, the hobbies and our beloved doesn’t feel that zing anymore.
If this year has taught me anything it is that delayed gratification is sometimes denied gratification. The time to act is now. After all the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry…
This is a post for Corinne’s (from EverydayGyan) prompt titled ‘What 2020 Has Taught Me’. I also enjoyed Geethica’s post for the same prompt.
All in all, it’s been a great year, one which has brought a smile to my face despite the surreal strangeness of it all. Expect more amazing pictures on my blog from now on, specially since I now have my own personal photographer handy :).
In the last two weeks I’ve had two requests for a restorative class. Seems like an interest in restorative asanas is building up. In view of the times we are living in, I’m not entirely surprised by the request. However, I do feel that the requests were fueled more by the idea that restorative postures are for when you’re unable to do your regular workout, instead of a useful addition to the routine.
It’s a common mistake to equate ‘restorative’ yoga with ‘too easy for me’ yoga. Many people consider restorative yoga classes to be ‘slow’, ‘easy’ and ‘for the old and injured’.
It is incorrect to think that a restorative yoga class is an easy yoga class that is somehow less than a vigorous sweat sesh.
What Are Restorative Asanas?
Restorative asanas ‘restore’ your body. Restore it’s energy, vitality and good health. Classes are slower, with longer holds for asanas. Students are encouraged to use props and to always rest the forehead. When you rest the forehead, your nervous system immediately relaxes. In fact, I’ve taken my students through an entire class designed to show the difference between supported and unsupported asanas. Watch it here.
The asanas in a restorative class are a subset of the ones in your regular yoga class. But these are asanas focused more on forward bending and gentle twists and backbends (all with the support of props). Below are examples of a few asanas that you may encounter in a restorative class.
Supta Badhakonasana. I love beginning a restorative class with this posture.
A restful janu sirsasana. Restorative asanas focus on relaxing the mind, by resting the head.
Dwi pada viparita dandasana. This posture is very intense, but this variation can be done even while you’re menstruating (as I was when this picture was taken).
A supported sarvangasana – a posture that should be done daily, but is not accessible to all. The props make it easier and more restful.
Benefits of Restorative Yoga
Provides relief from anxiety and stress. Holding asanas for longer helps in releasing deep seated tightness.
Great for when you’re menstruating! Even on your first day!
Promotes better sleep.
Helps the body to heal. When your nervous system is rested it starts to work optimally, providing a boost to the healing systems of the body.
Improves immunity. A stressed mind impairs the body’s ability to produce immunity-boosting cells, leaving the body prone to infection.
Lowers blood pressure (by promoting relaxation).
Relief from a busy mind and fast thoughts.
What’s interesting is that though a restorative class is slower than other forms of yoga, it doesn’t mean that a flexible and bendy practitioner who is ‘good’ at yoga will be ‘good’ at restorative yoga too. In fact, I’ve seen very flexible and seemingly energetic students find it difficult to ‘rest’ and ‘do nothing’. After all, in such a busy and complicated life, stillness is elusive and to sit and simmer with it all is more elusive still.
Have you ever practiced restorative asanas? Do you find value in adding an element of restorative yoga to your existing yoga/fitness routine?
Today we had the privilege to have Susanne Mayer as our guest teacher. Susanne’s session was called Hands & Feet in Yoga. The hands and feet are the base in all asanas, and we hardly pay attention to their placement and positioning. When practicing asanas our attention moves to the gross body, and we rarely think of the seemingly ‘unimportant’ aspects of the asana. During the session we learned how to use our hands and feet to bring stability to our asanas and used blocks to understand them more. Below is a recording of the class, since I know many of you will want to follow along.
I met Susanne about 4 years ago at RIMYI (Pune) and last year we hosted our first yoga retreat together in Liguria, Italy. Below is a snapshot of a conversation I had with Susanne some time last year. I had intended to put it up on the blog back then, but have only gotten around to it now.
When did you start practicing yoga?
On a day off during our Liguria 2019 retreat.
I started practicing a long long time ago, but it was not Iyengar yoga.
My first Iyengar-like Yoga experience came from a used little pocket book I saw in the street of some South American city, I believe it was in Buenos Aires or Santiago – don’t remember. It was titled “Yoga for Americans” and is written by “Indra Devi” who was, just like Iyengar a student of Krishnamacharya (I didn’t know anything of that, back then…), but I guess she was at Krishnamacharya’s a bit later than Iyengar. She was the first woman who Krishnamacharya agreed to teaching yoga –- after first refusing to do so. He was basically forced by the Maharaja of Mysore’s wife in whose place he had lived and taught their children for so long. Indra Devi was American from Los Angeles and had developed an early love for India and the films produced there, subsequently she starred in several old movies from that time around the 1930s onwards…
That little book traveled with me and was pulled out each morning when I had to get up and out of our tight bed in our VW camper van in which I traveled with my boyfriend and another friend through South, Central and North America from 1977-1979. We were sort of hippes then…
But each morning I rolled out my woolen blanket when I had found a level patch somewhere near and started with some rounds of Surya Namaskara, then some other poses, but mostly learnt and practiced headstand. Without any wall behind my I just did as she describes in that book, and one day it worked. Don’t ask me what that looked like… 😉
Between then and my first time with Iyengar yoga, there were lots of periods when I’d rather dance, Contemporary, Jazz, Brazilian and classic ballet styles alike. But after a while I always returned to yoga, as it seemed to offer something on top of the beauty in bodies moving along with nice music, something deeper. resonating within me with more satisfaction and promising more understanding of whatever there was out there.
On that long way I had many different teachers and went to different yoga centres – Sivananda was the most wide spread in germany at that time, but only in big cities like Munich where I lived for a while, and Frankfurt where I also had a stint for work at television. Nothing in Stuttgart… Somehow I lost it again and again because either I moved to another place for work or a good teacher changed pathways and went elsewhere.
Until I met an old friend at a jazz club one night who I hadn’t seen in a long time. I told me: ” I’m doing great, I practice yoga.” I was surprised – he didn’t seem like a yoga student type to me. He told me he had suffered from migraine all his life and was “out” for a few days each month but had been alright since he started yoga.
I instantly asked him where he went to practice and he told me about this great teacher close to my house, and I was there the next morning… 😉
After those first 90 minutes I walked out and felt my whole body vibrating and lifting up by itself.
That was it for me. I went back for years, up to 3-4 times a week. Until I asked my teacher how I could get deeper into the philosophy of yoga. He recommended a teacher training to explore that. As I had been teaching at university for many years and was happy being a student, I didn’t quite want to go there, but he said I could just do it and then see if I’d really want to teach. So….
Susanne’s cute mini cooper was also our main ride to the city during the retreat.
What brought you to yoga?
My mat was and is my island – away from my continuous stream of work and my little family back then, and
presently, as someone who recently retired and has all the time of the day to their own disposition, it’s more and more to meet with my deeper inner being, experience my breath, and to still these endless movements of my all too vivid mind.
Back then, luckily my young son also had training sessions of sports on some evenings or didn’t mind me returning home a bit later, and my partner usually never returned from his office before 7:30pm for dinner anyway, and sometimes I also went in the early mornings, before I went to uni… It was doable. In 2012 I started my teacher training and since then, for me my life has continually developed in an uplifting and creative way, breaking through what had been limits to my life so far, and it’s simply great.
I somehow also started teaching just because I really believe in the power of practicing yoga in a multidimensional way and felt an urge to help passing it on to others.
I experience teaching as a most giving process. While I still worked at uni, sometimes I felt really tired when I went to my yoga classes right after returning home in the evening, but after teaching one or two yoga classes, I come out somehow elated and energized. Which is amazing and very fulfilling.
What keeps you going?
Yoga keeps changing my life for the better, my body is healthy, my mind is alive, I feel younger than ten years ago, in some ways at least as far as my energy goes.
With age my body is giving me new challenges with problems in several joint areas. Iyengar Yoga is the best to deal exactly with such issues, and this made me start studying yoga therapy a year ago. It is physio therapeutic work including the aligning, joining and relaxing aspects of yoga.
Yoga helps a lot with another process which comes with getting older, which is much more important than physical ability, I believe.It forces us to look inside ourselves and towards an understanding of our mind’s workings.
We overcome new challenges of all kinds with new and never ending confidence about our ability to tackle almost anything by simple continuous practice of asanas and meditation.
And so on…
The entire Liguria 2019 crew having one last dinner before we bid each other adieu…until next year.
What was your day job?
I worked at the Stuttgart Media University, where I held a professor position for more than 20 years. Nearly 35 years of facing ever changing media, software and computer systems, the amounts of communication that come along with these jobs simply made me sit, and sit and sit, looking into this square screen, not noticing how time flew away, until my body cried for help.
Plus – my son told me I was hunching forward at the dining table like an old woman (…children usually tell the truth as bitter as it may taste…), and mostly my bones told me I couldn’t really get up and walk after long hours of computer work – I HAD to do something….
Why Iyengar yoga for you?
I noticed this was a different kind of teaching. I was told what do with my different body parts, where to put my attention to and what parts to connect or stretch – unlike in other yoga styles where there is no real instruction, just showing poses with the order: …and now you do it (…which ever way you can…)
There was helpful correction into alignment and I started understanding little by little what yoga really was about.
I could feel the wholeness of my body and its limbs, including my minds workings, and I understood the ways some parts wouldn’t go unless I was shown or told how to do it “right” – after which it always felt like another epiphany, one after the other…
How many times have you been to India?
Only twice in my life – but there will be more… 🙂 I had been scared for a long time, that India would catch me emotionally and I might not be able to bear seeing so much poverty next to utter luxury and not cry out loud…
But now… maybe due to my yoga practice and learnings on Indian history and philosophy I might be able and also want to understand a lot better. I can definitely feel my fascination with India’s culture after my only two visits during those last years growing…
The first time was in February 2017 when I flew back from Australia via Delhi to visit an Indian friend who came to visit my partner and me some years before in Germany. She had invited me to come and meet her family in Delhi, always telling me, if I ever come to India, to come to her house so she could plan all else from there with me.
The whole family was incredibly helpful in answering all my “newbie” questions about their daily rituals, and also the reason for all these maids in the house who all shared a different kind of mini job. Like one came just to do the dishes, another who actually lived in the house, was presently trained in cooking specials, where to shop for food and what to prepare, yet another came in each day for washing clothes (by hand…) and another one came to clean the house…
Still, my friend seemed utterly exhausted by having to manage all that along with her mother-in-law in whose house they lived.
I thought – WOW, at home I do all that by myself… plus I raise my kid and have a full-time job…
After 3 or 4 days Delhi I sort of fled to Goa, just to be able to walk and breathe some clean air on an open beach again which I had just left behind in my favourite places in Australia…
But that didn’t happen before I explored some really stunning places in Delhi – like the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb and I couldn’t get enough of the beauty of architecture, harmony, geometry, and the poetry and music which was offered through the audio guides there.
All in all this was a great introduction to one of the biggest cities, rounded by a surprise concert with my favourite Tabla player Zakir Hussein who happened to play a charity concert at my friends’ sons’ college on my last night there.
Coincidence organized by the universe I like to think.
After about a week in Goa I went to Pune to visit the RIMIY institute for the first time – mainly to find out of I really felt I could go there half a year later for my practice month which I had signed up for already years before.
I had heard all kinds of stories…
I had passed my teacher assessment just 2 years before I went there for the first time, and BKS Iyengar had already passed away by then.
But I was received very friendly, was allowed to go into the big shala to watch a class given by Abhijata and Raya who I had both met before during yoga conferences in Berlin and Basel/Switzerland.
Your favourite aspect of Iyengar yoga?
The unending depth of further explorations into our true being which keeps evolving more and more over the years.Exploring interpretations of the Patanjali Sutras with those more than 2000-year-old insights on the workings of a human brain and how Patanjali mentions bit by bit all the obstacles from simple to complex we as humans are confronted with on a daily basis… then obviously as today: it’s the very same phenomena as we experience today what is being discussed there.
Western psychology could have won tons of insights many years ago from these deep Eastern philosophical musings, had it not been largely ignored by Western snobbishness. It’s very slowly showing and dawning on the horizon in Western medicine and psychology/psychiatry, thanks to the hard work of a few determined doctors, academics, philosophers and healers alike.
It is said that if you perform the fish pose in water you will be able to float like a fish. Yoga Journal
The thoracic spine is the most difficult part of the spine to bend. That’s because the structure of your upper body has so much bone and tissue which needs to be considered in a back bend. While the lumbar spine has only soft abdominal organs and muscles, the thoracic spine has the rib cage and the sternum to deal with when it needs to bend. In the Matsyasana you are trying to bend the upper spine very deeply. Therefore, the best approach to this asana is a very cautious one.
The benefits of Matsyasana include:
Expands the rib cage and enables better breathing.
Helps to massage the abdominal organs.
Promotes better digestion.
Massages and stimulates the thyroid gland.
Fixes problems of the curvature of the back.
Be careful with this Matsyasana if you have a migraine or high blood pressure as this may aggravate the condition. Also, if you have a serious neck or lower back injury then you may want to avoid this posture. If your neck feels too tight and painful when you perform this asana, then use a pillow or a rolled up blanket under your neck. Watch the video below for some tips.
Participate in our Work From Home Challenge this entire month and win a giveaway at the end of the challenge. Download our practice tracker and asana sequence below:
Janu means the knee. Sirsa is the head. In this posture sit with one leg stretched out on the ground and the other bent at the knee. (Light on Yoga, p148)
The Janu Sirsasana is my go-to pose when I want to do a more restorative and relaxing practice. In fact, Geeta Iyengar has included it as an important asana for women during menstruation (Yoga: A Gem for Women). This is because not only does this posture help to relax the mind, but it also helps to soothe feelings of restlessness and irritability.
Other benefits of the Janu Sirsasana include:
Relieving chronic headaches and migraines.
Helps to relax the eyes and the mind.
Reduces menstrual cramps.
Regulates menstrual flow.
Gives a great stretch to the hamstrings and calves.
Stimulates digestive organs.
Janu sirsasana is usually practiced daily by most practitioners. I personally prefer a supported janu sirsasana so I use practicing it with props. There are many different ways you can use props to make this asana feel more relaxing. Watch this video to see how to do that.
Participate in our Work From Home Challenge this entire month and win a giveaway at the end of the challenge. Download our practice tracker and asana sequence below:
I met Vinay at a dinner organized by someone in the yoga grapevine here in Bangalore. During dinner I found out that like me, he used to work for Accenture too, and eventually decided to follow his passion.
Vinay also practices acro yoga and is India’s only level 2 certified acro yoga teacher. His personal practice consists of hatha/vinyasa yoga 4 times a week with some yin yoga thrown in 1-2 times a week. He does yoga nidra/meditation daily
Vinay studied yoga in school with his parents too at home but never with strong focus on asana. He cultivated an interest in asana as he grew up and become more interested in learning more about the body how it functions and exploring its capabilities. This also helped bring stillness to the mind.
Although hatha/vinyasa is his primary style or practice and teaching, he continues to explore different styles every now and then.
‘Verse 32 of the First Chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika states: ‘Lying upon one’s back on the ground at full length like a corpse is called Savasana. This removes the fatigue caused by the other asanas and induces calmness of mind.’ (Light on Yoga, p 422)
And we’re finally at the end of our Immunity Sequence. In the past few weeks many of us have incorporated these asanas into our daily yoga routines and it’s been incredibly gratifying to see everyone stick to yoga routines and, quite frankly, make the most of a bleak situation. I do feel that once we’re through this #21daylockdown, we will see that our individual actions actually did make a difference.
Svasana is also called the Mritasana. Sava and Mrita means a corpse. Your main objective in this asana is to simulate a dead body. A dead body has no movement, and no thoughts (wherein lies the challenge).
It helps to:
Calms the nervous system.
Reduces blood pressure.
No contraindications! Anyone and everyone can and should practice the savasana.
Busting the Myths
Savasana is everyone’s favorite posture. It’s often treated as a posture where your body rests. However, in this posture your mind is also supposed to remain still. And this is what makes this posture the most difficult. Read on for some practice pointers…
Initially you may fall asleep during savasana. This just means that your body needs more rest. Once your body get the adequate amount of rest, you will be able to bring a meditative quality to your savasana.
In a one hour class you must make sure to stay in savasana for at least 10 minutes.
Ut is a particle indicating deliberation, intensity. The verb tan means to stretch, extend, lengthen out. In this asana, the spine is given a deliberate and an intense stretch. (Light on Yoga, p. 92)
The Uttanasana is the first posture in the immunity sequence, and, if practiced correctly, very powerful.
It helps to:
Stretch and tone the entire back of the body.
Cures stomach pains, including menstrual cramps.
Tones the liver, the spleen and the kidneys.
Because of the reversal of blood flow, the mind is refreshed.
Relaxes the nervous system and reduces stress.
Improves balance and coordination.
Pacifies anxiety and depression.
Practice with the utmost care if you have chronic back pain or injuries to your ankles and knees.
Busting the Myths
In many yoga classes there is an emphasis on straightening the legs. Guess what? Your legs do not need to be straight. Read on for some practice pointers…
Instead of focusing on straightening the knees at any cost, focus on lengthening the spine, as though you want to extend your head to the floor.
Spread your soles firmly to the ground, distributing your weight evenly.
Lift your hips up, as though the tailbone has to reach the ceiling. You will feel an extension on the hamstrings too.
When you have a cold or flared up sinuses, you will feel very uncomfortable with your head hanging forward. Rest your head on a block or a chair and et viola! your Uttanasana feels good again. Same thing if you have vertigo or a fluctuating BP.