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yoga teacher

Yoga

Cut Through the Noise and Find Your Centre

September 9, 2019

I recently enrolled for a Master’s program in yoga studies.  I went back to SVYASA (Swamy Vivekananda Yoga Anusudhana Samsthana).  It is a university dedicated exclusively to yoga and holistic health.  In 2012 I registered for their YIC (Yoga Instructor’s Course) never dreaming that in 2019 I would be back for a masters.

Two months ago I went to the university to attend a few lectures.  My days there were reminiscent of my Infosys Mysore training.  Until now yoga has largely meant asana practice for me.  Philosophy is intimidating.

I think this master’s program may just bridge the gap for me.  The faculty at SVYASA comes with a long list of achievements and experience.  All the members are well-known experts in their chosen area of study.

Our Yoga Therapy professor, Dr. Uma gave us some enthralling lectures.  She lectured on the importance of an integrated approach to health care.  One day the discussion turned to vegetarianism, veganism and other lifestyle related food choices.  She told us about her personal conflict with milk.  For years she had adamantly supported the consumption of milk.  She holds an MBBS, MD as well as a BHMS.  Milk is a panchamrit (five elixirs). However, latest research shows that milk is not good for you.

“Then I realized that milk as we know it now is not the milk Ayurvedic texts are talking about.  The cows, the environment, the people were different, and so the milk was also different.  Now I don’t have milk.”

“Nowadays disseminating information is easy.  You will find 100 opinions on everything under the sun.  What to eat, when to eat.  What to drink, when to drink.  Why to eat, why not to eat.  Why to drink and why not,” she said.  “You must not listen to everything.  Find what resonates with you.  What do you believe in-spite of all the information that you are being bombarded with?  You must cut through the noise and find your center.”

 

Food Lifestyle Travel

Intermittent Fasting Made Me a Better Yogi

April 25, 2019

…and 4 Other Unexpected Results of the Latest Fitness Fad

I.F. (Intermittent Fasting) seems to be all the rage right now.  Fitness experts are expounding it and every one (and their moms) are trying it. At the risk of sounding trite, I’d say I.F. has changed people’s lives.  It’s helped people shed oodles of weight. It’s reduced the oft present stress around ‘clean eating’, ‘balanced eating’, ‘right eating’ by eliminating eating all together! And in my experience, it’s done a lot that we’re not even talking about.

I’m not one for fitness fads, but I’m also experimental.  I’ll always try something, unless it’s too ‘out there’ for me.  (And, to be honest, few things really are.)

WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?

Intermittent fasting is a system of eating where there is a specified ‘ eating window’, and ‘fasting window’.  There are many different styles of Intermittent Fasting depending on these windows. The most common is the 16/8 fast, where you fast for sixteen hours and eat for eight.  You can also do a 12/12 fast, where you fast for twelve hours and then have an eating window of 12 hours. You can fast on alternate days, or once in two days…

And to my surprise I found that this system of eating ‘worked’ for me.  Below are 5 things it did for me, and which have me now.

I.F. MADE ME A BETTER YOGI

I kid you not.  I’ve practiced yoga almost daily for the past decade.  In a world where distractions are many and time a rare commodity, the only way I can do this is by waking up at an ungodly hour to get some uninterrupted practice time before the rest of the world awakes.  More often than not, I’m sluggish and slow in the morning, sore from the previous day.

Enter I.F. and my body feels clearer. I am experiencing a kind of energy I’ve never experienced before. The kind where your brain might say ‘no’ but your body will move into the first sun salutation with no complaints.  By reducing the quantity of food I consume, energy that would otherwise be spent on metabolizing and digesting food is available for morning yoga practice. My asanas are sharper, my body seems to move with no resistance and I am fully present for my practice.

I.F. GOT RID OF MY BRAIN FOG

Yoga is not only a physical practice.  However, even the physical practice of yoga (asana practice) is linked to your mind.  If your mind isn’t awake, your body is unlikely to act. After practicing I.F. for almost a month now I’ve noticed that my brain doesn’t take too long to wake up.  Prior to this I would dilly-dally and procrastinate before finally stepping on my mat. Now I’m on my mat faster, more inspired, energetic and creatively abundant.

I.F. MADE ME APPRECIATE COFFEE MORE

But not because I’m guzzling down any more of it than I was before.  In fact, I’m drinking less of it! Part of my dilly-dallying used to include making a cup of strong coffee.  The aroma used to wake up my senses and the caffeine used to wake up my groggy cells. Now I don’t need the coffee.  An era of coffee enjoyment has started in my Life. I have coffee when I want to and not because I need to. I enjoy a single shot of espresso more than I’ve ever enjoyed it before.

I.F. CONTROLLED MY FOOD CRAVINGS

Along with a decrease in my coffee cravings, my snacking has also reduced.  I don’t find the need to constantly munch something. So I’m not putting junk into my system…and that may be contributing to my high energy levels.

I.F. CLEANED ME UP!

I see my waistline more often than not now.  I.F. proponents scream weight loss more than anything else.  In fact, many say that they have lost weight in spite of eating all the junk in the world! Just to be clear, I haven’t lost any weight, but I still see my waistline because of a reduction in inflammation in the gut.  Because I no longer ingest easy snacks, I’ve cut back on bloat-causing preservatives that I was invariably consuming.

HOW I FASTED

Before I end I’d also like to point out that there are numerous different versions of intermittent fasting.  

  • There are dietitians who say it’s OK to have coffee, tea, lemon water etc while you’re fasting.  I have absolutely nothing except water during my fasting window.
  • I stick to the 16/8 style of fasting.  Basically this means having my last meal by 4 and eating again at 8 in the morning.  
  • I break my fast with nuts or a banana.

I’ve jumped on to the I.F. bandwagon, and I think everyone should give it a go. Would you try intermittent fasting? Have you tried it already? Share your thoughts!

On one of the several Root Bridges during our hike in Cherapunjee last month.
Lifestyle

Why Retreat.

March 12, 2019

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 susanne.mayer@yogawest.de or pragya.bhatt@gmail.com 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.]

Food

Easy Ways I Cut Sugar out of My Diet and You Can Too

December 7, 2018

I am not, in any way, the perfect eater.  I was PMS-ing the other day and ordered a chocolate mousse with hot chocolate sauce from Cornerhouse.  The sugar-rush was so acute that I forgot to taste the chocolate.

Fitness is an ongoing journey.  I jumped on the fitness bandwagon because I was tired of feeling crappy.  What I’ve learned is that no one has all the answers.  There are people who maybe be specialists of a particular form of movement or a specific diet, but that doesn’t mean you should rely on them for your fitness queries.  Their expertise might not work for you because that system of movement or eating might not work for you.

I’ve been on various diets over the years (and still experiment with different modalities of eating), and I’ve realized diets don’t work.  Guidelines do.  Minimizing my sugar consumption is at the top of my list of dietary guidelines.  As I said in this Instagram post, there are many reasons for why I did this.  We all agree that sugar is bad for you.  But most of us don’t realize just how much sugar we consume. 

That 1 tsp of sugar you allow yourself in your coffee/tea is not the only sugar in your diet.  If you eat any kind of packaged foods, ketchup or pickles etc, you’re having sugar.

I follow the 80-20 rule when it comes to my diet, so I sometimes manage to literally have my mousse and eat it too.  

What I usually eat.

I love the fact that now everyone is into millets. This is my staple.

I switched over to black teas and coffees when I quit dairy and sugar. It’s made a world of a difference.

 

Below are easy ways I eliminated sugar from my diet.

  1. I stopped ordering in.  Food that you order in is never fresh.  It has excess preservatives, sodium, food colors, sugars etc., that negate all the good work you do in the fitness class.  I found easy recipes for days when I come home dog tired.  Stuff like poha, or pulao or even scrambled eggs.  I order in like once a year, and that mousse it.
  2. I stopped eating ketchup and other sauces.
  3. I don’t eat potato chips or any variations of them.
  4. I don’t drink colas and even packaged fruit juices.  Yes, even your fruit juices have additional sugar and preservatives.
  5. I don’t eat cakes and biscuits that come out of packages.  If I want them I will bake them.

 

These changes didn’t happen over night.  I incorporated them slowly.  There was a time I thought packaged juices are better than colas.  Now I know they are the same.  There was a time I would drench my burgers in ketchup.  Now no more burgers and no more ketchup.  All of us have been through the Marie or digestive biscuits with tea phase.  Mine ended a long time ago.  I used to be someone who actually went out for dessert.  Now it seems like another life.

Sometimes I feel like I didn’t just clean up my diet, I actually deep cleaned it.  And after all this, I have experienced increased energy levels, better stamina and clearer skin.  Enough reasons for you to ditch the sugar!

What I sometimes get away with eating. Maggi and chai on the way to Musoorie last month.

Every once in a while I’ll indulge in a latte at Starbucks.

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Repetition of vs Repeating (an Asana)

April 29, 2018

Your body exists in the past and your mind exists in the future. In yoga, they come together in the present. – BKS Iyengar

The other day one of my students mentioned (rightly so) that in my class he spends a lot of time in Adhomukha Svanasana. Other classes he’s attended didn’t repeat asanas as much our class.

Why the repetition?

The thing is, we might be doing the same asana over and over again, but we’re not actually repeating it. Emotionally, physically and mentally, the asana is different every single time we redo it. Each time we execute it, we go deeper. We look at nuances, uncover hidden depths. It’s a new asana every time. In Trikonasana, for instance, I can focus on the alignment of my ankles, or on my shoulder blades, or the rotation of my spine, my drishti, or the alignment of the femur and shin, or even the extension of the metatarsals and soles. To maintain awareness simultaneously on all the factors that build the Trikonasana is hard, and we practice to achieve that. And, if for a moment we attain that state, we meditate upon what it taught us, what we learned.

I frequently come across posts on social media about ‘flipping your perspective’ or ‘get a new perspective’ and usually such posts are usually accompanied by pictures of Sirsasana (headstand) or Adhomukha Vrikshasana (handstand). In an Iyengar yoga class, you will gain new perspective and flip existing ones while doing basic asanas repetitively, constantly, consistently and persistently. To gain new perspective, we don’t really need to look beyond what we already have. Perhaps all we need is to be more attentive.

Take the Trikonasana above for instance. We can always focus on bending to the side and making contact with the toes/foot/ankle/ground. Or we can focus on bringing out the various triangles in the posture more distinctly and intensely.

Your focus will determine the quality and maturity of your practice and your life.

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Always on the Lookout…

February 17, 2018

for a yoga bag…

Whether you are a yoga teacher or a yoga student, chances are you are lugging more than just your mat to class.  The basics in a yogi’s bag are: phone, water bottle, towel, car keys, house keys, money.  As a teacher I carry a little notebook with my class plan, belts and sometimes even blocks.

Most of us have a yoga bag and also lug around our mats.  That might be fine for you, but I’ve been doing it forever and it’s getting a tad bit tedious.  Just as I was browsing online for a bag which could work for me, Meraki Decors contacted me!  Megha, the woman behind this quirky venture spoke to me at length about her journey and passion, and the connection was instant.

And, Meraki Decors decided to customize a yoga mat for me and send it for review!

When I looked up the term Meraki, I found out that it’s one of those words in a language that can’t be literally translated.  They describe a mood or a behavior.

You can bring Meraki into pretty much whatever you’re doing, be it cooking, decorating your home or your table, and (in my case) creating a life based on holistic health and conscious movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I was excited to receive this mat and below it is for your viewing.  Needless to say, it serves me perfectly.  It’s roomy enough for even really thick and big mats.  I use a thin mat, and that leaves enough room to put my jacket into the bag too.  And even my water bottle!

There’s a really convenient pocket in the front where I usually keep my phone, car keys, notebook, spare change etc.  And the best part is that Meraki Decors put my name with an inspirational quote on the mat.  Because #postiiveaffirmations.

I’ve been using this bag for a while now and I like the way it looks and the convenience.  Meraki_Decors has so much other stuff that you’re going to love (I certainly do!)

 

And I got lucky on Valentine’s Day because Megha gave me a beautiful handmade candle stand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out their Facebook and Instagram pages for other offerings.  Some of the stuff I really like:

Megha at an exhibition with all her artwork.

 

 

 

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5 Random Facts About Me

January 9, 2018

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Enjoying the cold weather at @ Hauz Khas Village.

Happy New Year!!!!

I hope 2018 is amazing for all of us and brings us only the best in health, wealth and happiness.  Actually, since wealth and happiness come from good health, I should ideally only wish that for you.  In any case, this blog will help you with all aspects of your health.

I thought the first blog of the year should be one through which you can get to know me a bit better. A lot of new people subscribed in the last couple of months, and they might not know me too well.  So below are a some random facts about me that will help you get to know me better.

1. I’ve lived in 6 different countries and visited three times that number so far in my life.

2. I’m actually a software engineer and even worked as one for 8 years.

3. As a kid I wanted to be Nancy Drew when I grew up.

4. I’ve been journaling extensively since second grade.

5. I never thought of myself as a cook.  But as and when I started looking for healthy recipes I realized that my friends actually like the taste of my experiments and that I’m actually a very good cook.

And now for a bonus random fact about me:

6. Kolhapuri chappals and Birkenstocks are my favorite shoes. This completely irrelevant fact is probably very typical of a yogi.

 

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A collage of pictures that hangs in my house in Delhi.  Can you spot me?

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The Use of Props

July 28, 2017

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

Travel

Resetting

July 15, 2017

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The last few months have seen me travelling almost every two weeks.  Last weekend I hoped on a bus to Auroville.  I was hoping to  work on my book as well as take a break from my routine (which has become increasingly hectic).   I’ve been to Pondicherry twice before and each time I’ve done the usual tourist trail.  Tax free liquor and lots of leather.  Also handmade soap and pretty incense.  Can never resist some of that incense….

 

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Long bus ride.  Waiting to be picked up.

 

Pondicherry has long been known for it’s French architecture and quaint cafes.  Usually you base yourself in Pondicherry and then take a day trip to Auroville to get as close as possible to the Matri Mandir.  You shop in the boutiques at the Visitor’s Center and go back to your hotel in Pondi feeling very excited with your exotic purchases.  This is how my last two visits to Pondicherry have been, with the exception that last time I took a tour of a few temples and the paper making factory.  You can register for this tour at the government run tourist info center located right on the beach.

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This time I wanted to go off the tourist trail a little bit.  We got lucky because my friend Joel (an Aurovillian) booked us into a heavenly guest house.  Joel, incidentally, is an amazing photographer.  For those of you who follow me on Instagram and Facebook, you may already have seen a lot of the work the two of us have done together.  If you’re looking to get a few shots taken you should contact him.  He does really unique and artful stuff.  You can check out some of it here.

 

InstaFit_1499937145Our days in Auroville were filled with cycling to the beach, eating at Bread and Chocolate (highly recommended) and lots and of pool time.  We submerged ourselves in the pool every chance we got.  I particularly loved the Krishna statue perched on one side of the pool.  After seeing my pictures of the guest house a lot of people have asked me about it.  Here’s your link to the Sharnga Guest House.

And we can finally surf folks!  While in Bali earlier this year I looked wistfully at InstaFit_1499937303everyone enjoying the sun and waves and thought…one day.  Little did I know that the day would come so soon.  If you’re in Auroville I highly recommend going to the Kallialay Surf School and book a surfing lesson.  The instructors are professional and experienced.  Our instructor Eddy was amazing.  He broke down the lesson into simple and easy to understand modules.  This ensured that we eased our way into the ocean and handled the waves well.  His instructions and manner is so clear and concise that I would recommend him to even those who don’t know how to swim.  You can surf even if you don’t know how to swim!

And as always, my favorite part of my time in Auroville was connecting to nature.  Whether it was the pool, surfing the waves or eating simple organic food at the various kitchens – I felt we were always connected to nature and the earth.  This helps in resetting your system both mentally and emotionally.  I try and remain centred and focused through daily meditation, but some time living the ‘simple’ life allows me to revel in the feeling of wellness.  Luxury vacations with a huge group of friends to exotic destinations full of new sights and sounds is great.  But every once in a while it’s good to pare down to the basics and allow your mind and body to detox.

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@Bread&Chocolate. French-pressed, consciously sourced coffee with coconut milk.

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A Note on Teachers

July 11, 2017

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Admittedly when I started yoga I had a healthy mistrust of the entire ‘guru’ culture.  I associated it with blind faith, pointless rituals and baseless beliefs.  This perception influenced me for a very long time.

It took me years to find my teacher.  Even when I found him I actively made it a point to reiterate, “He’s my teacher, not my guru.”  Today I don’t even know what that meaIMG_20161218_143346ns!

I feel that over the years I’ve shed a lot of my preconceived notions.  This takes a while, and I feel yoga helped me ease up and soften.  After almost 6 years with my teacher I’ve come to realize that there is great comfort in allowing someone else to take control for a little while.  There is a comfort that comes from allowing yourself to accept that sometimes someone else may know what is best for you.

We need to now own our culture and our spirituality.  We need to dissociate the word ‘guru’ with orange robes and nonsensical rituals.  Studies have shown that those who consider themselves spiritual and/or religious enjoy higher levels of wellness than those who don’t.  Perhaps we need to analyse our beliefs and recognize our unique brand of religion/spirituality.  Let’s not try and fit ourselves into a mould, rather, let’s create a mould that fits us well.

If you’ve been going to the same class for years now, consider yourself committed.

If you go to class and find yourself questioning less and accepting more, consider yourself devoted.

If you seek your teacher out for an opinion on a non-yoga dilemma, you might just be on the path to finding your guru.

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