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yoga in pune

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

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.

 

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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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 Monkey Mind and Other Thoughts – Day 3

August 3, 2018

The great thing about being a returning student at the Mecca of Iyengar yoga is that you end up making friends who you end up meeting almost every time you come here.  I caught up with a friend today and it was great to discuss how far our yoga practice and teaching have come in the last one year.

Chai in Pune is always accompanied by conversation.  Long, drawn out, interesting conversation if you have the time.

I’m always interested in talking about self practice with other practitioners.  It helps me answer questions about my own practice, and sometimes it helps me ‘figure it out’.  When you’re practicing on your own day in and day out, it’s easy to get distracted.  Being distracted to the point of not practicing or being uninspired to practice doesn’t really apply to seasoned practitioners.  A seasoned practitioner would be someone who has had a self practice for about 3-5 years.  That’s when you know that you practice daily because of habit or discipline, and not because it ‘feels good’.  Because, to be honest, it’s not always going to ‘feel good’.  In fact, it only ‘feels good’ in retrospect.  While you’re practicing in the wee hours of the morning, trying to wake up a creaky body, assailed by self doubt and dealing with an overly active monkey mind, you’re not really enjoying anything.

And sometimes, as teachers, you end up with a bad case of the imposter syndrome.  While most teachers talk about the absolute joy of teaching and enjoying the energy and interaction with students, a lot of us constantly wonder if we know what we’re doing.  There’s always someone who executes the pincha better.  Someone who has a larger fan following, better retreats or maybe just published a book.  But perhaps the imposter syndrome is more about ego.  Comparisons with others.  Judging others.  Judging yourself.

A month in Pune can be hard.  The asanas are the easy part.  Most practitioners committed to dropping everything and coming here know what they are doing.  But sometimes as you go and grab a bolster you catch a glimpse of someone effortlessly holding an asana that has you break into a cold sweat (yes this happens).  Or someone else doing an asana that you don’t dream of (yet) and believe you never will.  This is the real test.  Do you allow yourself to get distracted and demotivated?  Or do you go back to your practice with unbroken focus?  I usually get distracted, and then my discipline kicks in and I continue.

And what about biting off more than you can chew.  Sometimes as practitioners we demand asanas from ourselves.  We contort and stretch and moan our way to what we think is the asana but might just end up in an injury.  Frequently we see students who are in a hurry to reach what they consider the pinnacle of practice.  They practice 2-3 times a day, drastically change their diets, start to devour books by advanced teachers and learn asanas by these teachers on YouTube.  I always tell my students that if you don’t have your addition down pat, calculus is just going to confuse you.  So if you haven’t given enough years to the basic asanas, advanced poses and teachers will be detrimental to your practice.  Pace means a lot.

These ideas are going to run around in my mind during the rest of my stay here.  But it will be interesting to see how they shape my yoga.

And meanwhile in Bangalore….

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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.