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yoga with pragya

Lifestyle Yoga

It Starts With a Cleanse – Day 3

December 1, 2019

If you’ve ever consulted with me, or attended any class with me, you would know that I focus more on well-rounded asana classes more than ‘do this asana for this problem’. The reason is that yoga isn’t a quick fix. You will start to derive benefits from a regular practice even if you only practice for a week, but you need to put in that week. And once you reap the benefits, if you quit, then the benefits also disappear. It’s pretty straightforward.

It was my second (and last day) at the Spinal Disorders department at Arogyadhama. Here patients are called participants. Every participant is prescribed a combination of yoga therapy and at least one other treatment for the duration of their stay here. This other treatment could be allopathic in nature, it could be an ayurvedic treatment or even plain old physiotherapy. The point is, yoga is essential in their treatment. Which is why OM Meditation and certain other sessions during the day are mandated for everyone.

In alternative medicine the focus is not the symptom of the disease, it is the source of the disease. The source of the disease could be external (such as strained personal relationships) or internal (a congenital physical issue such as epilepsy). Here at SVYASA, treatment starts with cleansing. The daily OM meditations, the bhajan sessions, the Sanskrit chanting etc. are ‘prescribed’ to everyone to start the process of mental and emotional cleansing. It is believed that chanting raises your spiritual quotient and the particular vibrations of the chants cleanse your nadis, which in turn cleanse you emotionally and mentally. Which is why every single participant at SVYASA is put through a deluge of meditation sessions.

Another aspect of cleansing is internal cleansing of the body. For this there are several kriyas that are taught here. So this morning all the participants were marched to the ‘kriya‘ block. Kriya simply means a practice. And on Sundays at SVYASA everyone does Jal Neti, Sutra Neti, Vamana Dhouti and LSP. These techniques ensure a certain level of internal cleanliness.

Detox diets to ‘reset’ the body have become a fad around the world now. In fact, I’m about to go on one in Jan. SVYASA is doing pretty much the same thing. Treatments for all ailments and conditions start with a round of cleansing. Patients here report an instant feeling of lightness after the LSP (Laghu Shankha Parikshalana) and Jal Neti practices. After 4 days of OM meditation along with Cyclic Meditation, patients start to report a sense of calmness and relaxation. Once this happens, patients are ready for the treatment, both emotionally and physically.

The famous Swamy Vivekananda statue in the background, in front of which I have attended many yoga classes.

Lifestyle Yoga

The OM Meditation Technique – Day 2

November 30, 2019

I’m dog-tired as I write this. Here at SVYASA they are very particular about routine. The first session of the day is at 5.30 am.

A chilly wind was blowing when I stepped out to make my way to the Sampurna Hall at 5.15 am. With uncanny foresight, I’ve brought along the warmest stole I have, along with warm sweaters. I reached the hall while it was still dark outside. The hall was dimly illuminated, making me want to go back to sleep. Surprisingly, not many people were attending the session and I found a space to sit quite easily.

My first session is the OM Meditation session. This is a technique developed by SVYASA after extensive research. It utilizes a combination of breathing practices and visualization to bring about a state of physical and mental relaxation in the participants.

This was my first time practicing this, but I was familiar with the components of the technique. The OM Meditation technique consists of 8 steps to be done in a specific order. These are:

1. Prayer
2. Kapalabhati pranayama/kriya. The teacher was particular about mentioning that those with high blood pressure, migraines and severe back pain should not practice this pranayama.
3. Anulom vilom pranayama. This is also called the Nadi Shuddhi pranayama. The teacher explained that this was one of the few techniques whereby you can purify all the nadis in your body. This technique aims to bring about a balance between the ida and the pingala nadis – and when that balance is attained then your are in a state of perfect balance. In fact, that is when the sushumna nadi gets activated and you gain enlightenment.
4. Brahmari. Through this pranayama we were trying to stimulate our heads physically with just the vibrations generated by the N-kara. Once the mind is stimulated, it is easy to relax it in preparation for pranayama.
5. Sadanta. This pranayama serves to cool down the body. This shouldn’t be practiced by anyone who has a cold as this willl aggravate a cold.
6. OM gazing. There is a huge OM in the front of the room which is illuminated by a green light. We were asked to gaze at the OM and note the details.
7. Dharana. After having focused and observed the OM for a length of time, we were asked to slowly close the eyes and visualize the OM in our mind’s eye. Then we were asked to imagine the OM within us, at the centre of the forehead. This is the dharana aspect of the meditaion.
8. Closing prayer. This happens after a relaxing savasana.

Meditation is something that improves with regular practice. I’ve come across several types of meditation techniques over the years and used to find guided meditations very helpeful. However, just like with asana practice, I realize that a meditation practice is also something that needs to be done independently as well. Depending on a particular teacher/show/recording leads to attachment and the practices ceases to be useful. The one meditation technique that has worked for me is free writing meditation, however, there don’t seem to be many takers for that here!

Do you meditate?  Do you have any favorite meditation techniques?

This sits at the front of the classroom, helping those of us who aren’t dozing early in the morning.

 

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

The Place Free of Disease – Day 1

November 29, 2019

As part of my Master’s program in Yoga Therapy, I’m required to intern for a total of 16 days at Arogyadhma – the hospital at SVYASA (Swamy Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana). I decided when I registered for the course that I would try to complete at least 8 days of the internship in 2019, to ensure that work doesn’t pile up.

In 2011, when I was a student of the YIC (Yoga Instructor Course) I once got a bad attack of allergies. I started sneezing uncontrollably, my eyes were watering and I could barely open my eyes. It was similar to my mother’s plight during Cherry Blossom season when we lived in the US. Although I was fine in the US, I had suffered from terrible allergies from the time I’d moved to Bangalore – the reason for that could be an entire medical case study. Anyways, the allergies became an yearly affair, and I’d somehow managed to live through the season. But this time the attack was the worst ever. I was (and still am) the kind that never takes medicine – unless my life depends on it. And that day it did.

I walked into the resident doctor’s office. ‘Help me,’ I squeaked, unable to even get a good look at who I was speaking to. The doctor made a sympathetic sound and said, ‘Take a Crocin!’

‘But I don’t take medicine,” I protested feebly. “I’m looking for a cure!”

‘OK then take a quarter of that Crocin to suppress the symptoms for now, and then do Jal Neti.’

It worked. Since then I’ve kept my allergies at bay just with the practice of Jal Neti. Theoretically, Jal Neti (nasal irrigation) should never be practiced during a bout of cold/allergies. However, in my experience Jal Neti can be used to prevent symptoms from getting worse. The first time I used Jal Neti (back in 2011), it was while I had a full blown allergy attack and I practiced it three times a day, and it helped more than anything else ever had.

Having experienced the efficacy of an alternative healing technique myself, I have a keen interest in alternative healing. Which is why I’m happy that a 16 day hospital internship is part of my Master’s program. The hospital here at SVYASA is called ‘Arogyadhama’ which is Sanskrit for ‘The Place Free of Disease.’ A combination of yoga, Ayurveda and allopathy techniques are used to treat various ailments here.

I’ve been allotted a hostel room – on the fourth floor, replete with an errant gecko in the bathroom, a swarm of ants, a few cobwebs, a grasshopper in the toilet which refuses to be flushed out and a family of monkeys. And I told them I wanted a room all to myself!

It will take a few days to settle in, and I look forward to a fruitful 8 days. I will be blogging daily from here – to give you insight into the kind of work I’m doing, the life of a yoga student, and general bits I learn about life here. Do check back in tomorrow evening for an account of my first day as an intern at a hospital for alternative therapy.

 

Just a purple Shiva meditating in the forest – a regular sight here at SVYASA.

Beyond Asanas: The Asanas Books Yoga

Acknowledgement From the PMO!!!

November 27, 2019

My book ‘Beyond Asanas‘ was published this year on June 21st.

Many know that June 21st is also International Yoga Day, but many don’t know that PM Modi proposed Yoga Day to the United Nations in 2014 and in 2015 the Summer Solstice (longest day of the year) was declared World Yoga Day.

Below is a snippet from the PM’s speech to the United Nations:

Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in well being. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.

— Narendra Modi, UN General Assembly

(Source: Wikipedia)

So when a friend’s mother suggested that I send the book to PM Modi, I thought it was a great idea.  And I never expected to receive a response.  But I did!!!

The world is becoming increasingly divisive, stressed, agitated. Yoga is the solution, for through the practice we connect to ourselves, and through ourselves we connect to others.

PS – not a grammar purist so found this letter incredibly cute 😁.

Lifestyle

20 years ago….

November 1, 2019

Over the Diwali break my little sister sorted out her clothes. She made piles of clothes to discard and those to give away. I chose a few things I thought I could use. Afterwards we went to the Ambience mall and she donated the clothes to the H&M recycling drive.

I’m in the midst of sorting out my clothes too. Memories arise unbidden into my mind, as I sift through them. The skirt my sister said was perfect for a yoga instructor, that unbelievable bargain at a sale. The cozy sweat pants I reach for when Bangalore is cold and rainy, the sequined rose-gold skirt I look forward to wearing during the festive season.

Our evolution as individuals can be marked by changes in our sartorial choices.

Twenty years ago, in 1999, I was a senior at the American International School Dhaka. We had moved to Dhaka from the US and my clothes comprised of the usual teenager fare of jeans and tees bought at Nordstrom, Contempo Casuals, even Sears and Macys. In Bangladesh my mother bought yards and yards of handwoven jamdani saris. As my friends got ballgowns stitched for the senior prom, my mother and I scoured the markets looking for that perfect off-white chikankari fabric which the darzi transformed into a beautiful shalwar. Years later and many kgs lesser, that shalwar started to look like a bag on me, and I reluctantly decided to gave it away to a maid. But as I wistfully fingered the border of the dupatta – I had the tailor line the edges with the same chikankari fabric – I resolutely tucked it back into the depths of my trunk, where it remains to this day.

At an Infosys event in one of the first saris I bought for myself. I got it at Deepams on MG Road, and loved the colors and the golden apostrophes peppering the entire sari.

The years 2000-2004 were spent in a tiny hamlet in northern India. My college years were defined predominantly with a sense of displacement and a visceral rejection of surroundings I couldn’t/wouldn’t adapt to. I would not obey, I didn’t care about assimilation. I admired only the art. And so I drank in the colors of patiala salwars and got many stitched for myself. For graduation and other formal events, I, like the other girls, dived into my mother’s collection of beautiful saris. If there was a gene for being a clotheshorse, my mother would be its original carrier. She has trunks full of the most exquisite silks, the purest french chiffons, diaphanous cottons. I was allowed to borrow only certain saris – but to me those were the most beautiful threads to ever adorn my body.

Once I finished college and entered the corporate world, Company Policy started influencing my wardrobe. Highly forgetful formal shirts and pants. Unimaginative cuts, fits to shroud you in conformity. I felt trapped, and creatively stunted and my wardrobe was a reflection of that. When I decided that this life was no longer for me, I remember letting my younger sister have her pick of the clothes, while the remaining went to charity. It was as though by banishing those clothes from my armoire, I was emphasizing my decision to never return to the world of countless excel sheets.

The gap left by my work wear soon started filling with workout wear. I wore a lot of track pants before I realized that I like black tights the most. Not the moisture wicking, dri-fit variety, but of the more unpretentious cotton kind. During my daily practice/teaching, I don’t want to be distracted by flashes of colors or eye catching designs.

Wearing a sari from my mother’s collection. A yellow and green jamdani, handwoven in Bangladesh.

As I continue to go through my cupboards, I realize my wardrobe is now an amalgamation of all the influences in my life. Long basic dresses that my sister no longer feels she identifies with, a beautiful hand-stitched tie-dyed skirt picked up at a garage sale, a salwar-kameez stitched by the tailor my friend discovered when she was 17. Bargains found in the racks of Forever21 sales. Fabrics sourced from artisans at craft fairs, material from Pune’s vibrant Lakshmi Road, whatever catches my fancy at Malkha. My kurtas are long, flowing and light. My collection of 100-odd saris, enviable.

Clothes are perhaps our first form of expression. Even those of us who aren’t interested in what we wear make a decision about what to wear – and that decision is an expression in and of itself. Our cultures define the tone of festive clothing, clothes for mourning, clothes for the bourgeoisie and those of modest means, those in a penitentiary and for heads of state. Clothes you’d wear to a wedding and those you would wear to the Seychelles. Clothes to wear to the cinema, to the opera and for the weekly Netflix and chill.

Perhaps the only statement more powerful than choosing what to wear is choosing not to wear anything at all.

Happy girls are the prettiest.

A handkerchief dress I wore on a birthday. My sister was visiting and we spent the day at Nrityagram.

Not a very good rider, but my riding gear is on point. I picked up the boots at a thrift store in the Netherlands, the helmet and breeches in Coonoor.

[WORDS DO MATTER! This post is written for the 3rd edition of #WordsMatter linkup hosted by Corinne, Parul and Shalini. The prompt for this edition of #WordsMatter linkup is ‘20 years ago’]

I received this tag from Reema from The Write World (https://reemadsouza.com/). It’s my pleasure to pass on this tag to Anamika Agnihotri at https://thebespectacledmother.com/. There are 29 of us on this Blog Hop and it is spread over 3 days – 1, 2, 3 November 2019. Do follow the #WordsMatter Blog Hop, you’ll love our musings!

Lifestyle

A Good Life – Diwali Musings

October 26, 2019

As many of you know, a friend of mine from my Infy days (2005-2007) visited me last weekend.  We were sitting at The Thirteenth Floor, gazing out at the Bangalore skyline when she asked me, “Do you have a good life here?  Are you happy?”  Ever the optimist, I promptly said yes.

And later, I thought about my ‘good life’.

I live in a country where poverty, lack of basic human rights, illiteracy, unemployment, lack of healthcare and proper hygiene and much more is a reality for many.  I have to only look out of the window of my air-conditioned car to see that reality plainly and starkly.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up here, or because as an empath I can feel deeply, but this reality always tinges my gratitude.  Being a ‘have’ or a ‘have-not’ is simply an accident of birth.  And our lives will be shaped by what we do with the cards we’ve been dealt.

The holidays are when I get a breather.  Maybe that’s why my mind starts to automatically take stock.  Below are a few things I’ve been thinking of lately.

In a country where making ends meet can be a constant source of worry for most, I’ve been able to create a niche for myself in a place of my choosing because I’ve had the luxury of not having to worry about rent, utilities, organic veggies and well-fitted yoga pants.

At 37 and single, I rent an apartment in a nice neighborhood with no problems.  I don’t have to contend with nosy neighbors interested in why I’m single or when I’m going to get married.  No one cocks an eyebrow when I come home late and I don’t get long ‘settle down now’ lectures from aunties in my building.  In a space dominated by the 9-5-vers, my largely bohemian lifestyle is accepted.  A decade ago this would’ve been impossible.

I’m living  in a country in which people are fueling the growth.  We are demanding more from our leaders and our bosses, from our parents and our friends.  We are choosing to get married later or not at all, and it is being accepted.  We are choosing to use are expensive technical degrees to start  small entrepreneurial ventures which we hope will make big impacts, and we are finding support.  We are trading in the old definition of stability and finding purpose in new definitions.

These are pretty much the thoughts in my mind during this Diwali.

For those of you living in India, do you also find yourself thinking along these lines?  Or am I an over thinker?

Beyond Asanas: The Asanas

Vrkshasana: The Tree Pose

October 16, 2019

Nature is about balance.  When things go off-balance problems arise.  A yoga practice is not complete without an element of balance in it.

In ‘Beyond Asanas‘ I talk about the significance of trees and why a pose is dedicated to trees.  Trees have played an important role in the dissemination of knowledge from guru to shishya.  I talk about the beginning of this parampara in Chapter 30 of Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures.

When you first start to practice the Vrikshasana focusing on balance is inevitable.  However, I’ve seen students practicing it as though balance is all there is to it.  Many teachers also encourage this notion.  To aide the balance students are allowed to place the foot of their bent leg on the shin or next to the knee of the other leg.  In one case I’ve seen a student rest the foot on top of the knee of the straight leg.

Balancing is only one aspect of this asana.  The Vrkshasana, when practiced correctly requires you to engage the groin.  The ability to do so has an impact on how well you can execute this posture.  Try it yourself.  The spine, the groin, the hips, the abdomen…all behave very differently depending on the placement of the foot of the bent leg.  There is a unique ‘hold’ that occurs, the nature of which varies with the positioning of the bent leg.

Once you overcome the challenge of balance, you must start doing the internal work of the posture.  What you must work on now is the mula bandha, which will bring more stability to the posture.  The stronger the bandha, the taller and steadier you will be in the tree pose.

 

How To:

  1. Stand in Tadasana
  2. Shift your weight to your left leg.
  3. Place your right foot close to the groin, with your toes pointing down.  Make sure the knee points outwards, to give your hips a wide opening.
  4. Keep your gaze focused and form a namaskar with your hands above your head.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Start in the Tadasana. Keep the thighs engaged and rolled in. The body weight should be distributed evenly on both feet.

The position of the heel makes a difference to the practice of the asana. Don’t be content with resting the foot just anywhere on the leg. Work on getting it closer to the groin.

Read more about the benefits and contraindications of the vrikshasana in ‘Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures‘.  The book was published this year by Penguin Random House.  The book contains beautiful images of the asanas taken by Joel Koechlin, along with a foreword by Kalki Koechlin.  Available on Amazon and Flipkart and at your nearest bookstore.

 

 

 

 

Travel

What We Don’t Think About When We Think About Responsible Tourism

October 14, 2019

The summit covered by clouds at the beginning of the trek.

Last Sunday a bunch of us decided to trek up the Savandurga hill.  My friends reached my house at 4 am.  We were to reach the base camp by 6 am and start climbing.  Later than this and it would get too hot.  We had registered for the trek on https://myecotrip.com/.  This is an initiative to encourage eco-sensitive tourism by the government of Karnataka.  They offer eco-friendly tour packages that showcase the natural beauty of Karnataka.  These include day-long treks, visits to bird sanctuaries and wildlife safaris.  Navigating through their website is easy and they are quick to respond to queries on telephone.

Savandurga is a hill 60 km from Bangalore, and is considered to be one of the largest monoliths in Asia.  There are two famous temples at the foothills which many pilgrims revere and visit year round, the Savandi Veerabhadreshwara Swamy and Narasimha Swamy temple.  The hills are centuries old.  It is believed that these hills served as the capital for Magadi rulers such as Kempegowda.  It was later taken over by those in power in Mysore.  In 1791, during the Third Anglo-Mysore War, Lord Corwallis captured it from Tipu Sultan.  At one point in time it was also known as Savinadurga or the fort of death!

It is a difficult trek – mostly uphill and on rocks.  When the rocks are wet they are super-slippery.

Our guide showed us an ancient Hanuman temple a little away from the trail. Hanuman faces left, which is unusual.

The ancient Nandi at the summit.

For the most part the trek was great.  I would wish that there was less litter and plastic strewn around, but I think the monkeys may be responsible for that.  On the whole I saw that the trekkers were responsible, helpful and considerate towards others on the trail.   But I must mention the exception.

A couple planted themselves right in front of the bull, with no regard for the multitudes of others who had huffed and puffed their way up to the top to get a glimpse of the ancient Nandi.  This is disrespectful on so many levels.  Not only is this a place of tourist interest, but also a place of worship.  All the visitors waited patiently for their turn to whisper their wishes in Nandi’s ear (a custom) while this particular couple refused to move an inch.  Finally my friend went up to them and pointedly asked them to move, which they did…for 10 minutes.

When we think about responsible tourism, perhaps we need to think of this aspect as well.  Just because this temple/place of interest isn’t manned by temple/government officials doesn’t give you permission to be rude, insensitive and inconsiderate.  Some of us trekked up for a darshan of the Nandi, some of us to look at an ancient historical monument, either way we deserve to look at it without two inconsiderate lovebirds crowding our frame.

When we talk about responsible tourism we need to factor in responsible tourist behavior too.  Lest civic sense become as uncommon as common sense.

 

 

 

Books Poetry

It’s Not That Time of the Year Without…

October 6, 2019

A surprised glance at the months gone by,

for just like last year

this year has also passed softly, lightly.

The perfect accompaniment for these deliciously nippy evenings.

Books left untouched on shelves

which, not too long ago, I swore ardently ‘to read’

A year older, a year wiser?

Change has crept up on me

Calmly

For I may yet live

more expansively

in the days to come

I will not let these months pass

Without ridding

myself of heavy clutter

Without bonding

over cards

in houses twinkling with laughter and goodwill

Without looking

at an old space

and breathing new life.

Without affirming that

though I may seem the same,

my life the same,

my spaces the same

I have ridden the waves of Time

for even as I write this

I am not the same

my life is not the same

my spaces are not the same.

[WORDS DO MATTER! This post is written for the 3rd edition of #WordsMatter linkup hosted by Corinne, Parul and Shalini. The prompt for this edition of #WordsMatter linkup is ‘It’s not that time of the year without…’]

I received this tag from Anamika at https://thebespectacledmother.com/. It’s my pleasure to pass on this tag to Shinjini at https://moderngypsy.in/. There were 38 of us on this Blog Hop and it was spread over 3 days – 4, 5, 6 October 2019. Do follow the #WordsMatter Blog Hop, you’ll love our musings!

Books Lifestyle Travel Yoga

The Pune International Lit Fest

September 23, 2019

A free flowing conversation about the process and experience of putting the book together.

I’ve been attending literature and art festivals forever. The Jaipur Lit Fest many years ago, the Kochi Muziris Biennale, the Bangalore Lit Fest, the Venice Biennale and finally the Pune International Lit Fest. For years I’ve always been an attendee, always wondering if I would ever be on the other side. The writer’s side.

And this weekend, at the Pune International Lit Fest, it happened.  I was officially on the writer’s side.

Always good to see your work next to those you admire.

 

It was amazing.  I registered as a speaker and was shown into the author’s lounge where I met other speakers and writers. I checked for my book at the bookstalls, signed books, took photos, hobnobbed with other writers.

 

 

 

Our session was scheduled for the last day, to ensure that my RIMYI schedule didn’t clash.  Joel Koechlin (the man behind the beautiful photos in the book) and I were speaking about Beyond Asanas with our editor Gurveen Chadha of Penguin Random House.  The three of us had interacted with each other extensively during the making of this book, and the comfort level was evident on stage. We had a free wheeling chat about the process of creating the book, the challenges we faced, the importance of yoga, why it is worthwhile to read the history and mythology of asanas, inspiration….the hour went by pretty quickly. We fielded as many questions from the audience as time would allow.

 

 

 

The fest was well-organized, the sessions were varied and interesting, the goodie bag was great and the bookstalls were well stocked.  A heartfelt thank you to the organizers for this amazing event.

 

With poetess and friend, Tanushi Singh. Check out her latest collection of poetry called, In Pursuit of Sunshine in Rain.

Always thankful for those who can share my little joys with me.

 

Came with a great goodie bag too!