Food

You Really Wanna Drink That?

December 14, 2017

My parents have been visiting with me for the past couple of days and we’ve been going around sight seeing and exploring the Bangalore food scene. Before I leave the house I always double check that I’m carrying my water with me. You’ll never find me carrying those ridiculously small purses which can only hold a chapstick and a Rs. 5 coin. My bag needs to hold a large bottle full of water.

We don’t know conclusively how long a person can survive without water, but we know that its less than the time without food.  You’re are likely to die of thirst before hunger.

I’m surprised when I find out that some students haven’t had a full glass of water by the time they show up to class.  Which is 8 am!

  1. Start your day with a little warm water.  It kick starts your system, flushes out toxins and increases metabolism.  Hello weight loss!  Hello glowing skin!  Hello luscious hair!  Plus warm water is easier to ingest so you will feel like drinking more of it.
  2. Add a little something to your water for a little zing.  You can add: mint, ginger, cinnamon, lemons/limes to your water to increase the immunity boosting properties.  Make the H2O really work for you.
  3. Now, make drinking this healthful, flavourful water a calm, meditative morning ritual.
  4. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink up.  When your body actively indicates thirst, it means that the water volume in our body has already fallen below a certain threshold.  Basically, you’ve already started to dehydrate.  So if you find yourself drinking water only when you’re thirsty, your body is not happy.
  5. Have a sweet craving?  You might just be hungry.  Down a glass of water.
  6. Absolutely do NOT use a plastic water bottle if you hope to imbibe healthful stuff.  Plastic in water bottles contains many chemicals and these chemicals seep into the water over time.  You don’t want to be drinking this water because these chemicals will actually interfere with the hormonal balance of your body.
  7. Get a metal water bottle and never leave home without it.  I’m actually suggesting a good grade metal water bottle, not a bpa-free, environment friendly water bottle made of some-percent recycled plastic.  Get a metal water bottle.  In fact, I’ve been considering getting a copper water bottle for myself.  I’ve been seeing them everywhere and don’t actually own one.

The thing I see people defaulting on most?  It’s the water bottles.  It’s simply horrifying to see people chugging water from a ratty old plastic Bisleri bottle to quench their thirst.  Bottles that have been sitting in their car for days, with water of questionable integrity.  With all you do (or don’t do) for your health, do you really want to drink that?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need a glass of water.

Yoga

Spine Is a Metaphor for Life

December 6, 2017

In the Ashtanga system of yoga as propounded by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, you practice backbending daily. In the closing series, you practice the Urdhva Dhanurasana followed by the Sarvangasana and Halasana.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram and Facebook, you know that I’m focusing on my backbends a lot these days. Backbends have always been challenging for me, and for this reason I favor forward bends in my practice. It’s easier to do the stuff that comes naturally to you.  But doing that which you know you’re not good at, now that requires real discipline.

I have forever intended to work on my backbends in my personal practice, but I never got around to it. But in Pune we devote an entire week of the month to backbends. So you see advanced practitioners doing the Urdhva Dhanurasana 108 times etc. There was one particular class that I feel changed my practice forever. My spine became accessible and I became open to the idea that I CAN do backbends in this lifetime. I resolved to continue the practice and I practice a back bending routine on most days. You can see a snapshot of a typical backbending practice in this video.

I often see students lamenting their inability to bend backwards (I’ve been there myself).  Over the years I’ve learned that when it comes to bending back, more doesn’t always mean better.

The flexibility of your spine can give you a clue about how you approach life.  Do you have a tendency to bend over backwards to accommodate people and situations ? Bending like you don’t have a spine can also be described as being ‘spineless’.  Conversely, are you unable to bend back at all?  Not able to be open to an uncomfortable situation or a different point of view?

In terms of yogasanas, a certain amount of resistance is necessary to execute the full expression of the asana.  A body which can fold easily at every single joint has to work hard to provide the counterforce to hold an asana steady.  So we see the inability to gauge the centre in Sirsasana and Natrajasana.  We see an inability to hold Parsvakonasana.

Being too flexible is not always a good thing.  Too flexible with your time, with your emotions, with your boundaries, with yourself…

Yoga

Healthy Body, but Healthy Mind?

November 30, 2017

With the ongoing focus on mental health have you gauged the state of your mental health?

The only way yoga works for you on a physical level is by changing you at a mental level.  Daily practice actually changes neural pathways in your brain which rewires you to think differently.  Not only are you making a conscious connection between your body and mind, but you are also ensuring that vital hormones (which are responsible for your moods and feelings) are also secreted to your system in optimum amounts.  Too little or too much leads to conditions such as Thyroidism, PCOS/D, PMS, anxiety, depression etc.

Exercising and eating a wholesome diet are key to overall good health.  But there are a few easy guidelines you can follow to ensure your thoughts aren’t sabotaging your health.

  1. Audit your quality time.  Who are the 5 people you spend most of your time with?  Do they make you feel good about yourself?  Do they lift you up or ensure you’re always down?  When those around us respect and love us, we feel stronger and more confident.  This is because when you hang out with good friends chemicals called serotonin and oxytocin which cause feelings of well being, are released in your body.  So think about the 5 people you’re spending most of your time with and consider making some changes for the better, if required
  2. Journaling.  I’ve been a compulsive journal writer since I was in second grade.  You’ll still find stacks of my journals in my parents’ home.  I was journaling all the way to the time I started working for Infosys.  But as time went on and work got hectic, it took a back seat.  Until my birthday earlier this year when one of my students gave me The Five Minute Journal.  Sitting down to do this every day has actually had a positive impact on me.  Use journaling as a means to think through things, vent, gain clarity.  Write about whatever comes to your mind, even if its just a re-cap of your day.  It feels great to be able to express yourself in a forum where you won’t be judged, where there is no right or wrong.  Sometimes seeing your thoughts and feelings physically in front of you is just what you need to feel better.
  3. Affirmations.  I would actually club this under the umbrella of meditative practices.  Write a few statements (on your phone works just fine) and go back to them often throughout the day.  Statements should be positive such as ‘Everything happens for the best.’  Reading such statements often to yourself can change destructive deep seated thought patterns that you may be unconsciously holding on to.  Repeating positive affirmations to yourself is a simple way to re-boot your mind set.

These are a few of my go-to tools to stay centred when everything around me is off balance.  Like yoga, these tools will take some time and effort to work their magic.  But once they do, you’ll have a healthy mind in a healthy body.

 

Food Yoga

Those Sneaky Sniffles

November 24, 2017

Towards the end of the year Bangalore is deliciously foggy and cold(ish).  Suddenly the filter coffee tastes better, and the post yoga breakfasts with the steaming sambhar are to die for.  Everyone is motivated to fit into a little black dress and the energy is at an all time high.  But this is also the time when many miss classes because of the common cold, sore throat or fever.

It finally happened to me too.  The other night I got my yearly cold.  My eyes watered, my nostrils got sensitive to the smallest speck of dust and I started sneezing up a storm.  Regardless of how much I try and keep my immunity up, towards the end of the year the Sneaky Sniffles manage to get to me.

But since it’s an yearly affliction, I know what to do.

  1. Ginger.  I drink ginger infused water in earnest.  Water infused with herbs is a great, easy and cheap way to detox your system.  During the winters I stick to warm water with ginger.  I find all the other spices too ‘cold’ for my constitution.  If I’m out of ginger (as busy girls with no time to stick their noses into the fridge are wont to be), I just stick to warm water.
  2. My special tea.  I’m actually a filter coffee person.  But when my immunity is compromised I turn to my trusted organic black tea.  I brew all the spices I have with a vengeance.  Some of these spices are: cinnamon, black pepper, ginger and ajwain (curcumin seeds).  I’m not a big fan of honey, but I found one forgotten jar in the back of my cabinet.  Honey is high in calories but feels great on a throat that feels like it’s lined with asphalt.  I throw in a few tea leaves as well.  Many ask which tea I use.  I like to think I bring home only the rare and the fine.  Currently I use the Korakundah Black Tea (100% Organic, single estate).
  3. Brandy with hot water.  Most  people don’t believe me when I tell them my parents used brandy as a tonic for my sisters and me.  Instead of using chemical laden concoctions, they gave us a tiny dose of liquor and it worked like magic.  We slept well and woke up healthy.  This was also my weekly staple up in the hills.  The chilly evenings are better with a soothing glass of hot brandy between your hands.  Sometimes I spoon some honey into my glass, but usually the calorie count deters me.  The other night I broke into my liquor cabinet and found bottles of whisky, but no brandy!  There was an open bottle of Old Monk.  Good enough, I thought as I fixed myself a glass of rum with hot water.  And it worked the magic of my childhood.
  4. Spicy food!  This is the time to have that really spicy curry/dal/sambhar.  I know chicken soup is the usual.  But not for me such remedies of the commoners!  I add lots of ginger, garlic, turmeric, chilli, hing (asafatoeda) to whatever is cooking and viola! you have an awesome cure for the common cold.  Like they say, let food be thy medicine.
  5. Jal Neti.  When the sniffles come, nothing flushes away the irritants better than warm water with rock salt.  If you’re not doing Jal Neti, you don’t know what you’re missing.  Do yourself a favour and drain those sinuses.  You’ll end up preventing wrinkles too in the process.
  6. Sleep.  I broke into my liquor cabinet, brewed the different decoctions, imbibed everything … all by 8 pm.  I didn’t have the mind space to read or watch something.  All I wanted to do was snuggle under my warm blanket and wake up to a clear tomorrow.

…. and wake up to a clear tomorrow I did.  The hour was deliciously early.  Not even the birds were stirring.  I brewed another cup of tea, and rolled out my mat.  And all was well with the world again.

 

Yoga

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.

Travel Yoga

Why Do We Run/Practice Yoga?

November 7, 2017

Over the weekends while everyone is asleep in their cosy beds, a few of us stumble out of bed at 5 am.  To meet and run.  Why do we run?

Before my fitness journey running wasn’t even in the charts for me.  Walking really fast would have me out of breath.  I started with running for 15 minutes on the treadmill and increased my time to 30 minutes.  Eventually I started working on distance.  After a while I quit the gym and took to the streets.

I’m not a great runner.  I don’t have special gear.  In fact, I frequently run in my yoga pants.

When I did a 5km in Srirangapatnam and felt proud of it, my sister did the 21 km in Hyderabad.  Why does my sister run?

I think I run for the same reason I practice yoga.  To do more and to be better.  When I run or practice yoga I know I won’t be better the next minute.  Or even the next day or the day after next.  But I know that soon I will be able to bend just that bit more and run just that bit faster.

We run, or practice yoga or lift weights because we have faith in our ability to be more than what we are now.  We have faith in our ability to do more than what we do now.  There is no upper limit for our endeavours.  We run because we believe in our  infinite potential as human beings.

“The obsession for running is really an obsession with the potential for more and more life.”

Below are a few images from yesterday.  This was our third run with the Go Heritage Run initiative.

 

 

Yoga

How to Manage Your Fears and Face Them Head On

November 2, 2017

When I needed a wall behind me for the Sirsasana.

Halloween got me thinking about fear.  As a society we value fearlessness.  As people we take pride in saying, “I’m fearless.”

But I’ve never met anyone who is fearless.  Some fear pain, some fear solitude, some fear poverty, some fear for the safety of their near and dear ones, aging.  Over the years I’ve heard of the fear of pigeons, fear of sprouts, fear of going bald.

A strategy that used to work for me was to avoid the cause of my fear.  But, it turns out, there are some fears you can’t avoid.

When I was ill I wasn’t able to practice for what felt like a very long time.  My teacher once told us that if you don’t practice for a day, it’s equivalent to putting your practice back by seven whole days.  As each day passed, I thought of all I learned in Pune.  With so much time on my hands I became increasingly anxious, nervous and fearful.

In the path of Yoga there are inevitable roadblocks and problems.  But Yoga is a holistic practice so the solution also lies in the practice.  The first limb of the Ashtanga (8 Limb) yoga practice is Yama.  The Yamas are  set of 5 ethical principles that practitioners must adhere to.  One of the Yamas is aparigraha or ‘non-attachment’.  As yogis we become too attached to the practice.  Some of us feel guilty if we are unable to practice.  Others push themselves too hard.  Some pride themselves on the asanas that they can do.  We stop enjoying the journey, we focus only on the destination.  And in the process become attached to the destination.

I am very attached to my asana practice. I spend a lot of time trying variations, reading, watching and experimenting.  When I can finally do an asana I feel a sense of accomplishment.  There is nothing wrong with feeling good about finally attaining something that you’ve worked hard for.  But if you beat yourself for not attaining the final asana despite a rigorous practice; or start to lose faith in the path because your goal seems far, far away; then you need to take a fresh look at your attitude and approach.

I was fearful of discovering the state of my yoga practice post illness. If you’ve read this blog, then you know that I was significantly weakened by the illness.  Waking up every day to practice felt like an exercise in futility.  It was scary to try asanas and not know if I would be able to do them.  Asanas which I ‘owned’ before.  But I guess by force of habit I kept on returning every morning…to fail.  Until one day I started improving.

And that’s when I realized that fear can’t be ignored.  You can’t not think about the object of your fears.  It doesn’t help to face fear head on.  Fear can only be managed, one day at a time.  You don’t have to look at the entire marathon, you need to look at the Majaa run first.  You don’t have to dwell on whether you’re going to get the job, you only need to work on giving the best interview ever.  You don’t have to worry about the Sirsasana (Headstand), you just have to work on doing a very good Adhomukha Svanasana (Downward Dog).

BKS Iyengar once told Patricia Walden (who was struggling with a heavy case of depression) to ‘Take one step no matter how small.’  I realize this is what I have been doing ever since I’ve gotten back on the mat.

Do you have a strategy to deal with fear?

 

 

 

Yoga

Getting My Asanas Back

October 29, 2017

The Lake as the sun comes up. Notice the little boat in the water.

I think just a little bit of effort towards health can ensure that we prevent most ailments.  But what do you do if you get attacked by a virus in those rare moments of low immunity?  I’ve already done a blog on what to do if you have Dengue fever.

My only concern after I started to feel better was my yoga practice.  I spoke to a few friends who had experience with Dengue and realized that it will take me some more time to get my strength back.  Until then I had to work with where I was and do what I could.

So I practiced a lot of patience.  I took it easy and experimented in equal measure and made some progress.  Here’s a snapshot of the week.  I’m writing this after a delicious lunch of rice and kala channa; satisfied with how this week has been for my practice.

I started Tabata workouts on Monday.  I didn’t expect myself to be able to do it, and I didn’t.  I had to take breaks, but I didn’t give up.  I wanted to focus on stretching my lower body so I did the Janu Sirsasana and Paschimottanasana.  The Adhomukha Svanasana had my legs shaking and I decided to stick to the seated postures.  Interesting enough, the Hanumanasana came to me!!!  I took classes on Monday but rested for the rest of the day.

It’s difficult to get out of bed, but this view makes it worth it.

On Tuesday my legs and shoulders ached like never before.  From the Ashtangis and the Kalari practitioners I learned the benefits of massaging sesame oil on achy muscles and creaky joints.  Before I went to sleep I tried to rub the aches away, knowing full well that they would still be there tomorrow.  I tried to do as much Tabata as I could and focused only on seated asanas.  I ended with the Hanumanasana again.  Any kind of inversion was out of the question.

Things started to improve on Wednesday.  I felt stronger and decided to practice a few standing asanas.  I did the Tadasana, Uttanasana, Trikonasana, Parsvakonasana, Virbhadra 2 and felt my energy levels flagging.  I tried the Downward Dog and sure enough, my legs started shaking.  I closed the practice.

However, by Friday I felt markedly stronger.  I did standing poses and the seated ones after Tabata and felt energized instead of drained.  I registered for the Go Heritage Run Srirangapatnam run and decided I would test my stamina over the weekend.

Saturday – did Tabata and headed to the lake to do a 5 km walk.  Legs were a bit shaky, but overall I felt good.  I also felt encouraged to head out for a 5km run at Cubbon Park with a friend.

Sunday(Today) – Tabata is becoming easier and the aches are almost gone.  Did the 5 km with no problem.  Very thrilled and determined to get all my strength, flexibility and asanas back!

Next week is to build strength for the Go Heritage Run and to experiment carefully with handstands.  I’m also focusing on good wholesome meals since I have a tendency to be a bit lax about that.  All in all, a great weak.

Hope you guys are having a great day too!

Waking up early isn’t just about the exercise, it’s about the serenity and beauty that you can see in nature.

 

Yoga

The Diwali Detox – What I Do

October 23, 2017

I ate a lot of these while recovering from Dengue fever. In fact, one of my favorite fruits.

I’m not one for crash dieting or diet fads.  And the buzzword right now is ‘post Diwali detox’.  Everyone is on one.  Except for those who are actually healthy.

Fasting-feasting and binge eating does more harm to your body than you can imagine.  Depriving your body and then forcing it to consume more than it needs or can handle is the perfect way to confuse your hormones.  That’s when a lot of women start to complain about hair fall, premature greying, wrinkles or other changes in skin tone/quality, and even an irregular period.

Right now everyone is dreading their plate…or looking at it fearfully and suspiciously.  Except, I’m happy to report, my students.  They have a healthy relationship with food and a holistic outlook to life.  Diwali is about celebrating and indulging and now it’s about cleaning up your diet.

Gigantic cucumber. Spotted it in a dhaba at the foothills of Singhagadh Fort. But I would be hesitant to eat it as I feel this size can only be achieved artificially.

Like I said, I don’t follow a ‘diet’.  But here are five guidelines that work for me.

  1. I try and follow an Ayurvedic diet.  So use your food as medicine.  Use lots of ginger, garlic and spices during the winter and eat lighter food in the summers.  Bangalore is neither too cold nor too hot, so I eat a moderate diet.
  2. Eat a largely clean diet.  Adding a lot of vegetables to your Maggie doesn’t count.  If you use a good quality oil, use organic veggies and whole wheat pasta – that is clean and healthy.
  3. No white sugar.  No sugar (any kind) in my tea/coffee.  There was a time when I used jaggery, but I have a sweet tooth.  And when you have  a sweet tooth you can go a bit overboard with even jaggery.  So I just don’t keep it in my kitchen.
  4. No dairy.  So only black coffee or black/green tea for me.  In my experience even small amounts of milk in tea causes a lot of bloating.  I notice a difference within just a week of having milk tea.  Curd however, behaves differently.  And sometimes I allow myself a little bit of curd.  But again, sparingly.
  5. Fruits – in moderation.  Sugar contents in fruits is very high.  So if you overdo fruit and have the traditional Indian carby diet – then it’s just extra sugar.

 

I love this picture of tiny mushrooms growing on a tree trunk at Amrapalli Farms about an hour and a half away from Pune. I use a lot of mushrooms in my salads.

Every body is different and what works for me may not work for you.  The above list is something that I put together after many years of observing myself.  That said, it’s always a good idea to be aware of what others have tried and tested.  You might be able to incorporate some of their learnings into your life.

What dietary guidelines work for you?  Let me know.

Yoga

Yoga is a light…A Yogi’s Diwali

October 19, 2017

pc: Geetanjali Joshi

From ignorance, lead me to truth;
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to immortality
Om peace, peace, peace

I learned the above shloka in the year 2009 when I went to SVYASA to do my Teacher’s Training Course.  I found that I was the only one unfamiliar with it.  When I went on to star teaching yoga myself, I learned from my students that this is a shloka taught widely in schools here in India.  This shloka is found in the Upanishads and is a prayer to Light.

If you look at this shloka closely, you can see the definition of the word ‘guru’ in the second line.  ‘Gu’ means darkness and ‘ru’ means light.  A guru is someone who enlightens you; takes you from the darkness to the light.  A guru gives you the strength to recognize your own ignorance and guides you towards your truth.

Diwali is then, perhaps, also a celebration of moving towards the light of truth and peace.  We celebrate the triumph of good over evil, but we should also reflect on the inner darkness that exists in all of us and pray for it to be illuminated.

During Diwali we perform the Lakshmi puja, and many people also worship Ganesha and Saraswati during this puja.  Ganesha is worshipped at the beginning of any puja and symbolizes that which clears the way to our goal.  Saraswati is the goddess of books and learning.

A yogi carries the light (deep) of yoga within.  As yogis we are on the path to truth, to the light, to peace in every moment of every day.  When we unroll our mats we are lighting a diya to a practice that is our path to a higher truth.  When we practice we are paying tribute to goddess Saraswati because the practice is a study of ourselves and humanity.  And when we resolve that we will continue the practice no matter what, it is an invocation to Ganesha to clear the hurdles that may stand in our way.

For a yogi, every day is Diwali.

The colors of the Festival of Lights.

Happy Diwali!