Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ganesha - The lord of Buddi; learning and intelligence

Yesterday I walked the aisles of my local Indian grocery store and walked right into a colorful collection of Ganesha statues. It immediately dawned on me that this was the sign of the upcoming Ganesha Festival week in India, especially Mumbai and Pune.

I recalled seeing hundreds of large Ganesha statues being made on the street sides of the neighborhood of Wakad in Pune as I would drive back to my office from my daily morning practice at RIMYI. So obviously a blog post in honor of Lord Ganesha was in order. How could I have not thought about it earlier - but then most of my blog posts are not thought through or planned in advance - they have a way of simply coming to me and yesterday Ganesha came in all his colorful glory in all sizes and shapes.

Lord Ganesha has a special place in my life, both past and present. The front doors to my old home opened to a statue of Ganesha, that I had brought back from one of my trips from India. The elephant and elephant god has always had a special meaning. There are images of the elephant images sown through my entire house, including the table top that I am writing this blog on. Ganesha has represented the calmness and intelligence in my life. He has been my spiritual protector and guide. I left the statue behind in the old house. He is the part of the yoginess in me.

This week thousands will gather in Pune - the whole city will shutdown as they will take effigies and statues of Ganesha and immerse them in every waterway around Pune.

So other than being the son of Shiva, a god with an elephant head and a broken tusk - what is so unique about Ganesha? Well, he is a very unique diety. Ganesha is probably one of the most universally worshiped god in the hindu religion and its offshoots. The Buddhists and Jains worship Ganesha as well.

According to comments in Wiki, Ganesha is widely revered as the Remover of Obstacles and more generally as Lord of Beginnings and Lord of Obstacles (Vighnesha, Vighneshvara), patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom. He also represents the symbol "OM". Intelligence and OM are connected to the practice of Yoga.

So, I am trying to connect this all together on what has Ganesha represented for me as his presence has been woven into my life for many years - ever since I heard some relatives greet me with "Jai Ganesh". Despite such strong presence I have had challenges to my intelligence. I have had moments where my buddhi (mind) was completely destroyed. But Ganesha has remained in my life.

He takes central place in the little temple I maintain in my home. Not above, not below, just right in the middle. He represents the calm, the peace, the mind and body connection I strive for every day. There is not a day I don't visualize Ganesha in my mind. In moments of strife and stress, especially when I am challenged by anger and folks who have destroyed their own intelligence with pettiness and ego, it is the image of Ganesha that comes to my rescue and inspires me to remain calm and strong - not some ubiquitous yoga pose.

Yoga gives me the ability to self learn and heal. Ganesha gives me the courage to stand up and focus on my intelligence to remain calm and still. His broken tusk represents that there is beauty and art in imperfections. It represents that even the strongest can be broken, but the broken can stand up and become the strongest with their mind and intellect and compassion. Next time you see an elephant - you will see Ganesha.

I want to wish Skeptic Yogi all the best in her upcoming great day. next week.... let that be for eternity. Her last post was inspiring. I also discovered another great blog. Visions of Cody - by an ashtanga yogi in Boston. Its funny and thought provoking. I had an immediate connection to his posts. There are so many of us on parallel paths - its comforting and inspiring.


The Yogi

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Yoga for Cold, Sore throat and Cough - Back to Basics

Yesterday was back to the basics with my personal yoga session with Nuvana. The knee problem is under control but I have been off yoga for a week while I as away to Chicago. We focused our attention on my lost ability to kick up to Adho Mukha Vrksanasana. We tried several arm strengthening positions and then hand positions as well, looking at ways to focus the weight on the palms and off the wrists, which get painful quickly. No kick up luck - I was thinking too much.

Then we worked on the sirsasana balancing techniques. I have yet to experience this in any of the classes I take at Sunset. We practiced away from the wall and Nuvana went through the subtle positions of the hands, the little fingers, the wrists, and pushing the shoulders in. I never kicked up. The legs were in half sirsasana position with feet firmed against the wall and I spent time just holding firm in the tripod position and just using my arms and shoulders. We ended with a chair sarvangasana and supported halasana...

I have been suffering from a cold and sore throat for a week. She told me to practice Sarvangasana and Setubhand for my cold and Ananta Asana for cough. I need to get my halasana bench assembled and start my home practice again.


The Yogi

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

If you are angry count to ten before you speak - Thomas Jefferson

If you are really angry, count to a hundred, before you speak ! I read this quote on the wall at the Hindu Temple in Grays Lake, IL, a suburb of Chicago. I was attending a puja in remembrance of my mother who passed away on August 25th, four years ago. It is a tradition in our family to remember our loved ones who passed away on their birthdays and the death anniversary.

Recently I was challenged by someone who said this tradition was not "Indian". Remembrance is not just an Indian tradition - its a universal tradition. This was one of the oddest comments I have ever heard. It had bitterness and anger like hot lava flowing from a volcano. I wonder if the commenter had a loved one to miss? How can you not afford to remember your loved ones and not recognize those important days? It is a tradition I want to pass on to my children, just I learned from my own parents and grandparents. Every weekend I drive by a beautiful cemetery and its full of flowers left by loved ones of those who lie in the beautiful west hills of Portland. I was reminded by Guruji's interview in the upcoming movie Enlighten Up, where is he describes yoga as universal in the words of Patanjali.

So coming back to yoga - I was very intrigued by this quote and how anger can allow us to become so insane, that we lose all objectivity in life and let selfish and bitterness engulf us. We lower ourselves to a level that is inhuman and the vitriolic words come out of our mouths as painful as any actions that may result of anger. Both in business and personally I encounter anger nearly every day. I used to react to anger with anger... but as I become more attuned with my yoga practice, I have slowly learnt to remain detached from it. Its not that angry feelings don't come my way, I think it is natural to become angry when you are provoked. But becoming detached to the provocation or the provocative behavior allows you simply hold the reactions.

I can't even describe how less stressful that is.. So Jefferson is right counting a mindless 100 maybe the best you can do in order to hold your speak and calm down or take a time out from the anger. Or, you could try a yoga pose. Several come to my mind that I have tried, which includes a half uttanasana, with every attempt to open my chest and breathing deeply. Sometimes at home I will attempt the AdhoMukhaVriksasana. Focusing all your attention on your arms and shoulders puts all that energy into lifting you up vs pouting anger.

Readers' please give me your ideas and input through comments on how "count" when you get angry. Lately, when I am angry or upset, I have gone to read Mary Dunn's blog. She gets so many wonderful comments from so many people. Everyone of these wonderful souls ends with "I love you" or "With love" to Mary. How many souls she has touched. It is uplifting and inspiring and it always warms my heart. I wish that love on everyone.

For the last several days I have been in the Chicago area to visit my brother and his family, that includes a new born son. My little yoginis are in heaven with their cousins and it has been sheer joy and nothing else. All the anger, the hurt, the pain, the wars and the battles seem distant. There has been no yoga but I have experienced my older one do back and forward flips under water, like a dolphin and self taught. I call them water back and forward bends. She pulled off a shirsasana-2 in the play ground for me. Its just pure joy to see her do such things as she becomes a yogi at heart...


The Yogi

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sights and Sounds of the Park near RIMYI

I discovered this footage I took in April while staying with the Shahani's next to the park by RIMYI. It brought back memories of the birds singing and chirping and the early morning walk through the park. Its quiet and peaceful, and the songs of the millions of birds is relaxing and heart warming. I watched the seniors practice yoga and meditation and residents of the area on their morning walks. It was the most peaceful and relaxing and rejuvenating to take these walks.... I miss them. Enjoy the footage and enjoy the music which I listened to on my walks. I was in a swing at the end, hence the up and down camera movement....


The Yogi

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mary Dunn - A legendary Iyengar Yogi

Over the last many months I have been contemplating starting a serious of blog posts to highlight Iyengar Yoga masters and teachers, their yoga practice, their style of teaching and how they impact their students. By bringing to light these highly skilled yoga masters, I feel folks who come to this blog will be inspired to practice Iyengar Yoga.
We know the three legends in Pune, Guruji, Geetaji and Prashantji under whose guidance many many of these amazing people have become legends of their own. I have mentioned several of my teachers both in Oregon and Pune, but there are so many legends I am coming across as I read about them, or communicate with them via email, that I feel compelled to write about them.
Highlighting them in a post is my way to honor and respect them for the contributions they make to share their knowledge and teachings of yoga with others.
As I was researching some of the Iyengar yoga sites, I came across Mary Dunn's blog. She started this blog sometime last year when she found out she was suffering from cancer.
Mary has been on a courageous journey ever since. She has had to face the pain of multiple surgeries over the last year, chemo and all the challenges that come with facing such grave illness. But as she mentions in many of her posts, she has kept up with her yoga practice and even attended a retreat right after her surgery in January.
Throughout this experience she has continued to write in her blog to keep her friends and students in touch and inspire them. She certainly inspired me as I myself faced my own life challenges during the same time. Reading her blog posts gave me strength and inspired me to be true to my yoga practice and to remain calm and centered. I was most touched by two posts. In the first one from Dec 2007 where she writes :
We reflect on the year at this time, and it has been a big one, with both big challenges and great joy. There was a celebration at the Institute of the Iyengar Yoga Association of New York’s coming of age. As part of the festivities, I was honored to learn that, among other things, I was “the champion of stiff people.” In the spirit of the year’s end, I want to enlarge my championing-- and will work on that in the coming year.
I am one of the stiff ones, so these words simply hit home. Along with big challenges there are great joys and we should not forget those great joys as she continues to live in those joys. Mary has been a practitioner and teacher for a very long time. Her mother was a follower of Guruji probably even before I was born. She was instrumental in the formation of three Iyengar institutes in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. She is the director of the Institute in New York. Reading through the hundreds of comments on her blog I can tell she is truly a legend in the Iyengar Yoga community and Yoga at large and has trained and inspired thousands to practice yoga.
Mary is a yoga master and its truly an honor for me to write about her. Her most recent post on August 18 was quite touching. She writes:
Before I left Memorial behind today, I had a wonderful call from Prashant Iyengar and was able to speak with him and with Guruji. Then, my daughters, a wonderful friend from California, and I made our way Elizabeth’s home in Westchester. The Bronx River Parkway broadens into a woodland ribbon of park meandering from the Bronx into Westchester. Trees, birds and little wild creatures welcomed us into the timelessness and cycles of nature.
Soon I was settled into a bright, cheery, second-story room nestled in the trees. Everything is here and thought through for my comfort and care. I spent the evening enjoying the memories and thoughts that come from rereading your cards and letters. I wish I could thank you and respond individually to what you wrote. Know that I smiled and sometimes laughed out loud learning about what is new with you and your thoughts about life --- each thought a treasure and gift to me. Know also that your unwritten prayers and ideas are reaching me and warm my heart as well.
These words touched me deeply as I was reminded of my late mother, when she became very ill. She didn't get a chance to come home, to be with family but rather had to suffer the pain, sometimes alone in a nursing home. She had to suffer from tubes stuck into her body in an ICU when she became terminal. I could never said goodbye to my mother. My children could never said good bye to their grandmother and that hurt me tremendously. I was depressed for two years and it took me a long time to forgive myself for putting her through that pain, even though she was sedated .... It was one of the reasons that compelled me to seek out yoga to bring some peace and closure.
As I read that post, I was comforted that Mary is with her family and her grandchildren in the comfort of their home, listening to the birds chirp in her room nestled in the trees, as she courageously fights the battle with cancer. I am heartened to read the hundreds of comments her well wishers, students and friends have written to warm her heart and make the pain less bearable.
I learn't a very important lesson today. Life is too short to be stuck in pain, anger and suffering. We prolong our own suffering with negativity, conflict, ego and vindictive behavior. It hurts our body, mind and soul. Legendary yogis like Mary Dunn can withstand the pain with a smile, continued dedication to their yoga practice and all the while continuing to inspire others to warm their hearts and in that stand and being they in turn warm their own hearts. Thank you Mary, you are truly an inspiration. May you continue to be blessed with your wonderful smile, courage and compassion. I don't know you personally, but I know I am connected to remind me of my mother.
Please visit Mary Dunn's blog and honor her by leaving her a comment like the many birds who sing in trees by her bedroom window. She is truly a living legend.
The Yogi
Note: I have borrowed Mary's picture and comments from her blog without permission. Its my sincere hope that she will not mind.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Inflate detachment and deflate your ego to avoid stress wrecks!

I took a two hour level 4 rope class from Nuvana at Sunset Yoga. A combination of backbends, standing poses and inversions on the ropes - I was thoroughly exhausted and so was the class. Most of them were senior students and teachers themselves. I realized how much of my ego I have let go in these last two years. I was most challenged as I am most tight everywhere - except for my head I hope. I didn't push to hard - but I did scrape my ankle while attempting a hand stand while holding the ropes. The sharp edges of the wood planks that hold the ropes the culprit. I left energized but tired at the same time.

There was a stress management class at work right after and I couldn't have picked a better time - immediately following a yoga class. I have been encouraging my employees to take yoga and have only been successful in convincing one - she takes Nuvana's back care class. Our medical insurance company United Healthcare offers free classes on wellness and despite themselves, this is probably one of the best things they do for their members.

I have taken stress management classes in the past, but this one simply brought it all together - summed it up for me. Everything we learn in Iyengar yoga, the whole body-mind connection, it all made sense. The instructor talked about the stresses in life. Most of us are stressed by work. Isn't that incredible. We get stressed by this very crucial activity in life and its caused by what she described as myths we live by. Do these sound familiar ?

- I must never make a mistake
- I must never fail
- I must never look foolish
- I must work hard all the time
- I must never get angry
- I must always play safe
- The customer is always right!
- I must live up to expectations of my _____(wife, kids, father, mother, boss, employer, customer)
- I must always deliver on time
- I have to be the best _____________(worker, mother, father, husband, son, daughter)

These myths haunt us in every aspect of our lives and it is these myths that have been ingrained in us since we were children, is why we get stressed. Stress is unavoidable. Experts discuss "good stress" and "bad stress". Any stress will increase the amount of endorphins in our bodies. Stress is addictive and we are addictive to our routines by nature. It went on.... I was listening with rapped attention till the question came up about what caused the most stress in our work place. My answer "when there was an unhappy customer on the phone". That is when the blame game starts. Egos are inflated, fingers are pointed, customers are wronged and stress levels rise to incredible levels.

There are many other events, especially for me, as I sit on the top of the pyramid - all roads end in my office and with me. This is not an ego statement - just reality of someone in a position as the head of the business. My head is only the chopping block when things go wrong. I can't blame anyone but myself. I used to be bogged down by stress - employees, investors, customers, board members. Even a benign phone call from an investor would stress me out. I had set myself for a burnout.

As I sat listening to this instructor talk I realized how much I had changed in the last two years. She talked about how to handle stressful situations, about breathing, tightening your muscles, about a short timeout to calm down. All these concepts were so familiar - I was practicing them without being aware of them and I attribute this all to the yoga practice and the readings of books by Mr. Iyengar and others. I finally had something to say to my employees and that had nothing to do with inspiring them to work harder, faster and make more money. It had to do with dealing with anger, emotions, our addiction and infatuation with success and abhorrence to failure. The instructor put the final word in my mouth; "DETACHMENT"!

We are addicted to adrenaline and the rush that comes with it. This causes stress. Whether its anger because of failure or unmet expectations, or the rush we get from success. They are both culprits. Why can't we just be neutral I asked the group! Why be addicted to anger or happiness? Why not detach from both? I am not suggesting we don't try to be happy, but isn't being happy all the time stressful. How can you be happy and pleased constantly. But we spend enormous energy and time seeking "happiness". I realized how much of "I am not happy" I had heard in the last 12 years and how sick that had made me. If you can't be happy, why not just detach from the damn happiness and take a deep breath for a change. Your quest for happiness without learning how to detach will drive you crazy and everyone else around you. That has been my experience, now that I have developed some clarity of mind and thought.

So today, I don't seek happiness - I just seek less stress. Less stress means more detachment, less ego which results in more neutrality in life. So many of us are constantly chasing happiness and the meaning of our lives. In the most animistic words and this is with utter humility and respect - the purpose of our life is to "live", reproduce and then die. To live means to survive and survival comes with stress. It is no different than the lives of the mice that have moved in my basement, and visit the garbage can every night for food. There lives have been disrupted by the construction and deforestation. We are in constant battle, they want survival, I want them out. Living is stressful. And stress can kill us before our time is up. It can destroy all the work we put into our survival and will never make us happy. So why not live our lives in ways that doesn't cause too much of it! We will be healthier and more peaceful. There will be less war!

I watched Michael Phelps win 8 gold medals at the Olympics. I am certain it gives him utmost happiness. He deserves it. He has worked for it as a child. You see his mother weep on TV every time he wins a gold medal. I am sure they are tears of joy and happiness and accomplishment. His father is absent. Where is he? Why isn't he part of the success? I went on the net and found out that he is no longer speaking to his father. That must be stressful and bigger stress than the expectation the world set for him to win these 8 gold medals. I am uncertain how this will impact Phelps in his future... but I had to detach from those thoughts. I watch the destruction in Georgia and the troops from big brother Russia destroying a small country. Why? Because of Ego, power and inability to remain neutral. All this stresses me out! I have to detach; fast.....

Many of these stress management trainers, therapists and experts tell us to breathe. The instructor did the same. She concluded with words like time out and breathe! What she didn't offer was how do you breathe. All of the attendees were sitting slouched over the table. How could you breathe properly when your chest is folded and lungs collapsed. I gave a small tip (and thank you my Iyengar Yoga gurus for constantly reminding me of this...)

- Lift up your sternum and lift from the sides of your chest
- Straighten your spine
- Roll your shoulders back and pull your shoulders down to create the space to open your chest
- If you are on your chair - straighten your arms
- clasp your hands and stretch your arms back to create even more space
- Now close your eye and BREATHE!

At the end of the class I asked the group how many of them would be interested in taking an easy yoga class at work that included breathing. All hands raised! I felt I had made a difference. Thank you BKS Iyengar for guiding me and making me more neutral. Two years of yoga had also taught me something else of great value that I share - it was on how to breathe!


The Yogi

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Day to be inspired and re-inspired - Recent TV Interview of BKS Iyengar

I found this video on You Tube. Its a TV appearance of Guruji in May of this year on NDTV, one of the news channels in India. Though there maybe thousands of Iyengar Yoga Centers worldwide - there are just handful in India listed on, the latest on in New Delhi which he inaugurated in May.

I had a moment of re-inspiration watching this video. It took him three days to transform Yehudi Menuhin. It took me one 90 minute Iyengar yoga class with Nuvana in a Gym one sunday in January 2006. I hope more vibrant youth of India is inspired to take up Iyengar Yoga.

I feel the irony in all this. Iyengar Yoga had to come to the west to go back to India and I feel lucky to be part of this movement. The world has taken heart to Iyengar Yoga. They have studied it further, practiced it, researched it, analyzed it, and enhanced it. Every year nearly 1000 of these amazing teachers and students go to Pune India and invest their time, energy, money and most importantly invest their faith and love for BKS Iyengar at RIMYI. They then come back and spread the knowledge and what they learn in Pune at RIMYI to the rest of the world.

My hats off to all of you, my teachers, as you have transformed me and my life and I am fortunate to be part of that world.


The Yogi

Our biggest fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
- Marianne Williamson

Monday, August 11, 2008

Shed the excess weight to relieve your joint pains

I think my persistent knee joint pains are not just as a result of bad posture, lengthy air travel or my over-indulgent ego while performing yoga asanas. There is another reason!

Its my expanded weight - I have put on nearly 15 pounds in the last 6 months - as a result of over indulgence in rich foods. I can't avoid them, especially when I am in India. Every trip brings back an extra 5 pounds. I indulge in my favorite dishes which are rich in calories including some of the sweets such as gulab jamun. Breakfast, lunch and dinner all include dessert. I will eat as if that was going to be my very last meal and very last trip to India.

Yesterday I had another epiphany. Not only was I accumulating fat around my belly, but over the last 13 years I have been accumulating every piece of clothing I purchased or was gifted to. They hung in my closet as mementos of year after year of expanding waist line. I was hanging on to them for reasons inexplicable, procrastination I guess! But the last two years as my expanding waist shrunk, I hung on to them so I could eventually get them right sized and save money buying a whole new wardrobe. BAD IDEA! I was awaken to this excess by my house cleaner who remarked "You have too many clothes". I only wore a fraction of them. Finally comment from Nuvana's husband "I never get rid of my old clothes as they are part of my memories" simply made it all the more real. I am an accumulator like him!

Argh! It was time for action. Yesterday it finally happened. The result -- three extra large garbage full of my memories! There were two shirts gifted to me still in their original packing. The total weight - Nearly 250 pounds! It hurt my knees to lift these monsters into the back of my car for a trip to Goodwill. I could have had a garage sale and collected a pretty sum. No way! Let that be a problem for someone else. It was time to shed this excess weight in my life and be light on my mind. Now its time to work on the 15 pounds and relieve my knee joints of the excess weight. Now here's the irony. The same afternoon I took my munchkins to the Nike Employee Store - a privilege for friends of Nike Employees to buy the latest from Nike at discounted prices. It was an invite from Carolyn - a friend and fellow yoga student at Sunset Yoga. The first words out of her mouth as she came out to receive us - "Hey you look trimmer - looks like you lost weight in India".

I simply smiled without replying and said to myself "Oh yeah and there is 250 pounds of it in my car". I must confess that I did add a small amount to my Nike collection after that.....


The Yogi

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Restorative poses for bad knees - Restart of yoga practice with Nuvana

I arrived home after a long journey from Frankfurt. The return journey from India is most unpleasant, as it is difficult to get any sleep. Next time I will try Tylenol PM. For the first time in 6 years I had no trouble at customs. I was first to pick up luggage and first to be directed to the bus at PDX (Portland International Airport). I was prepared to explain the yogs props, including a bolster, halasana bench, belts and ropes. But no questions except for the usual "do you have any food items?". I had none to declare, so I received a simple directive to the exit.

Historically, I am part of the crowd usually from India and other "third world countries', that is directed to extra checks including opening and Xray of all bags to ensure we are not carrying banned food items, drugs or anything that may interfere with national security .

I have had a word or two with customs and the city of Portland a few years back when I and several of my Indian employees who used to live in Portland were given a difficult time at PDX. "Third world, developing nations, Aliens" - I hope some day these terms would just melt away from our society. For now I keep holding on to my indifference, but coming through US customs at PDX is one of my most stressful moments.

I returned to my usual jet-lag, where around 6 pm I am out like a light. The break in Frankfurt helped, as the nap lasted just a couple of hours and I was frequently woken by my kids, which helped. My knee pains returned. They started 8 weeks ago and have become worse, especially my right knee, which I had injured nearly 20 years ago in a skiing mishap. Walking up and down the stairs is excruciating.

I decided to skip yoga classes and wait till my Friday session with Nuvana. I am certain now that long plane rides of more than 4 hours hurt my knees. There is only so much "sucking up of my knees" I can do throughout the day. For those not familiar with this term, it is frequently used by Pune Iyengar teachers to instruct you to pull your knees up.

Nuvana started with a Dandasana, by the window. It is a built in bench at the base of the window in the room we practice. Its high enough to get my arms on the bench to allow me to pull up straight, with my back and behind completely touching the wall. Then some blankets between my knees and a hard push on my feet to get the legs completely straight. This puts pressure on the glute muscles, the calves, and the back of the thighs, stretching the back parts of your legs to release the knees. You can see a portion of this window bench in the pictue.

Next was a Viparita Karani , with my legs strapped at various parts and the buckle directions alternating. The picture says it all. This pose lasted for nearly 15 minutes and ended once my legs were pretty numb. "You achieve a different kind of blood circulation" remarked Nuvana and it is actually helpful re-aligning the ligaments on the knees that get mis-aligned as we live our life in bad posture hell.

I felt immediate relief, not to mention increased blood in my brain, making me more alert. Usually this is a relaxing pose - it seemed to make me more alert and aware. We followed this sequence with a BadaKonasana, sitting high on blankets and then Nuvana wrapped the ropes around the knees, and I had to pull those ropes out, while tightening the loops to give space between the knees. It was followed by a supported Navasan, with my back on the steps of her stairwell and legs at an angle supported by a chair, shoulders rolled back, with the steps for support. Its interesting how objects and items in her house become props.

We ended with a "knee traction". I lied down on my stomach with the knees on a blanket and then a rope is wrapped around the knee and pulled back while my foot and calf was pushed down towards my back. This traction is simply amazing and can release locked knees. Its brilliant. After several iterations of this action, I was done. As I rose up I could hear the crackle of knees being released. It was a good crack! I could immediately feel the relief. There seem to be some feeling of pressure, but the pain was gone.

I imagine my knee pain is mostly due to bad posture which over time can cause the pain to build up in the knees. I could get into some life analogies here but this time I shall refrain. The readers are invited to draw their own analogies, and if you do have some please comments.

Comments are always welcome; though I have come to know the regulars on here and I thank you all for visiting and spending time. I hope these posts help you. They certainly help me. If you haven't, please do try an Iyengar yoga class from a certfied Iyengar Yoga Teacher. Next week my classes at Sunset will resume. I have heard good things about Nina's substitute Jen. I am looking forward to taking a class or two from her in Nina's absence. Nina is blogging her experience in Pune at Nina's Yoga Life.

Please visit another interesting blog called Yogue Style by Insiya Rasiwalla Finn from Vancouver, Canada.


The Yogi

Monday, August 4, 2008

One night in Frankfurt - Summer heat and no sleep

The Lufthansa strike forced me to overnight in Frankfurt yesterday. I left India one day early in order to ensure I arrived home by August 5th and avoid further delays. I surely would have missed my connection otherwise.

What a break! I was put in a hotel in town. The Euro is twice as expensive as the not so mighty dollar now. My last experience with spending money in Germany was in 1991, when we had a fair advantage. No More! Frankfurt is a small city with one of the biggest and busiest airports in the world. I didnt realize how small it was and how dead it was. Its a financial hub of Europe - the downtown is simply full of banks.

The hotel called "Victoria Hotel" was at average the best. For the same rate not only did I enjoy a very modern and airconditioned room in Pune, but a free ride to work every day and service to my beck and call. This hotel had no concept of service. I was asked to come down to get a US style plug - which turned out they didnt have. Yesterday was one of the warmest days in Frankfurt. The concept of airconditioning is quite different here. Its just a gentle buzzing sound of the vent, with no cool air. The heat was unbearable. When I called to complain I was told - "this is not America sir, we don't require much airconditioning". Aha... Incredible Germany! I should remember.

The hotel was located in a cultural hub. Bars, restaurants, food stores, cafes representing every culture. Indian, Turkish, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese - you name it and it was there all around the block. That was the saving grace but at the same time the death knell for peace and tranquility - not to mention several Beer Pubs. I have never seen so many BMWs and Mercedes parked in one spot. I walked around to the center of town. The only place where I could see some crowds. All you can hear is the noise of speeding cars - people drive aggressive here. A city very different from Munich.

I tried to find a yoga studio but none to be found - what I found instead was a row of Indian restaurants and grocery stores. I skiped Indian and tried Turkish and Thai food instead. So for a change I simply spent the day walking. The train station was amazing and you could just walk into the center of the universe for every European city. This is where you experience the culture. Cafes, stores, people and yes - Starbucks and McDonalds. I needed that! Interestingly enough other than the noise of cars whizing by, you couldn't really get a sense of the crowds, everyone relatively quiet.

The real action started after 10 pm, when the bars opened. I must have dozed off at 10 pm, with windows open to let the breeze in. And then around 2 am I was woken up by violent screaming and yelling. I thouht I heard Indian, but no it was either Turkish or German. A male was screaming bloody murder which could be heard accross the block and then wailing and screaming of a famale. It was non spot. I was frightened, but at the same time I wasn't sure if I should call the front desk. Sounded like a drunken brawl. It must have continued for an hour. I lost track of the time and the room felt like an oven.

I dozed off at 5 am and then the alarm woke me up at 6 am. It was time to get going to the airport and home. At check out the front desk person asked how my stay was - I said fine except for this fighting and noise last night. He responded "don't have the same problems where you come from"? I wasn't sure if he was refering to my country of birth or my country of domicile. I said well - depends but I am not used to such noise in the middle of the night. Breakfast was not ready as promised at 630 am. The waitress rolled in around 645 am, but promptly brought coffee and the cold breakfast was great. I took the whole experience in a stride. I didn't get much sleep, but it was a nice short break.

This will not be my last trip to Frankfurt, as it is where I usually change flights, but am not sure I will voluntarily spend another day outside the airport. Maybe Zurich, Berlin, Munich or Cologne or Stuttgart. I have a long list of cities I want to visit.

I am on my way back home finally and can't wait to see my two munchkins who I dearly miss. Yoga in Pune did me really good.


The Yogi

Incredible India!

My journey back to Oregon started at 10 pm last night. Mumbai International airport has been ripped up as all international and domestic airports undergo facelifts. It was crazy, the traffic was bad and I saw more crowds outside bidding their departing loved ones good bye. The airport was packed - with many more flights and airlines flying out that evening all at once. Things felt chaotic, but once I was checked in I simply had a long walk to the gate. I had to switch to Swiss Air as Lufthansa flights were cancelled due to a strike in Germany - yes they cancelled flights to India, one of their most promising and always full market, but not the US flights.

As I went through immigration and was waiting to take the escalator down to the gate, I saw a big sign hanging in front "INCREDIBLE INDIA". I also simultaneously heard one of the Swiss flight attendants heading to the gate make a snide comment on that sign. She probably didn't see what was so incredible about India - the noise, chaos, upheavel, poverty. That is all she could see. I had a strong desire to respond back, be defensive, but I stopped. I realized that was her view and I had to show indifference, thanks to the advice some time back by Nina Pileggi. The sutras tell us to be indifferent. I had to be indifferent.

As I walked through the maze of construction towards my gate within minutes the sight of the airport changed from Chaos, to a modern terminal. Only part of the terminal had been finished, but boy what a contrast. Suddenly the dusty, musty chaos has changed to sights I am familiar with at other international airports. Nice cafes, clean restrooms, well organized sitting areas. There were crowds, but everyone was lined up in queues to get to theri flights. There was buzz, no different than any busy airport. I felt I was in another world......

The Jet Airways crew looked the smartest - they reminded me of Singapore Airlines crew - young vibrant and most fashionably dressed. Anyone flown Jet Airways lately? They are ready to take over the world with their incredible service at the global level. They have literally revived the Brussels airport and the defunct Sabina airlines, but making Brussels their international hub. This year Jet Airways made a huge profit, despite rising oil prices, while other airlines stuggle with losses. Jet is flying every where. There were at least five Jet flights that night to Bankok, London, Brussels, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Jet is part of the Incredible India. For years they have had an incredible domestic service, setting new standards in quality and service. Now they are emerging into the global scene and their goal is to displace Singapore Airlines as the number 1 airline in the world for service.

As I settled myself in the Swiss Air aircraft - a half empty plane that looked aged and haggard. No wonder they went bankrupt and got acquired by Lufthansa. I realized they were no Lufthansa, but they certainly were no Jet Airways. I had trouble getting the seat to adjust and the same flight attendant profusely apologized.... "we will be having new seats next year"... I smirked and said to myself - Incredible Swiss! The universe strikes back!

As I settled myself, I took out a book I had just purchased - "The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone" by Shashi Tharoor. Imagine t0 my surprise - the entire theme of the book was about the incredible transformation that is happening in India today. I am still reading it but I was quite enlightened.

India is a bundle of contradictions - there is extreme wealth right next to extreme poverty. This year India had more billionaires on the Forbes list than any other nation other than the US. More than Russia, Japan and China. Number one in the emerging economies. At the same time 212 million Indians live below poverty lines. 50 years ago 350 million did. 50 percent of Indians are below 35 years of age - an incredible demographic of 500 million people. Suddenly what was India's biggest weakness, is suddenly being viewed as its strength - the largest middle class in the world. The largest English speaking nation in the world.

The country is going through a gigantic transformation both economically, socially and culturally. It is the biggest democracy in the world but at the same time about 100 of the 500 elected members of its parliament have criminal records and three recently had to be released from jail for 3 days to vote on an important matter of keeping the current government in place. What a contradiction - but despite these problems, the counrty is growing at at tremendous pace, approaching 10% GDP growth a year. It has reserves of $300 billion. Contrast this to 20 years ago, when it had to mortgage its gold reserves to pay its debt. The country was bankrupt.

So what is so incredible about India? Whats incredibe is that despite itself, India is going to become an incredible nation and a world power in the next 5 years. By 2015 India will be the number 2 economy in the world after China. After 300 years of British rule and 40 years of being suppresed in closed walls, India is breaking through the seams and racing ahead. All of this chaos is needed for the calmness to appear. But what is life without some chaos? It has to go through the pain to achieve its past glory, as a peaceful, spiritual and vibrant society where yoga originated 5000 years ago.

India is country of many cultures, languages, ideologies. Shashi equates India to a thali (plate) of many curries and they share one thing in common, the incredible spices. I think the government PR needs to change the slogan from "Incredible India" to "Incredibly Spicy India". Its the spices, the culmination of so many flavors and tastes, the dust, the noise, the sweat, the contradictions in the coexistence of calm with chaos that makes India so unique. All of this is what makes India incredible!


The Yogi

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Mainting Inner Balance - A recipe for contentment in life

Skeptic Yogi's post on "Remembering who you are" inspired me to write this post as I wrap up my last evening in India. I am writing this while I watch from the calm quietness of my hotel room - the mist and monsoon rains approach my window as the waves of the Arabian Sea crashing at the sea wall of my hotel. Its one of my most favorite view of Juhu Beach in Mumbai.

I think we all aspire for peace, happiness, wealth, success, power etc - this list is never ending for all the things we aspire for. How many of us aspire for inner balance in life? That never quite makes it on our priority list.

Maybe once we are burnt out it may be something we would consider. Sometimes I wonder if we truly ever maintain inner balance, as even the quest and aspirations to achieve inner balance may cause us to lose it in the first place. When are we truly "balanced" in our mind? I wonder...

I read another interview with Guru Iyengar where he discusses a time in his life he felt uninspired, empty and resigned to disappointment with his yoga practice. It lasted for a month and he certainly was off balance I imagine. He got back into that balance state after practicing back bends. Today when I watch him practice, most of his practice is based in back bends. So do back bends help us achieve inner balance? I think so.

Back bends and inversions are essentially physical reversals of what we practice in our every day - our daily actions, everything being pulled down by gravity. I think these poses give our bodies a chance to get back into balance, physically, mentally and emotionally. The heart in back bends and inversions moves about the head or mind causing our emotions to open up as more blood gushes to the brain to energise it. Certain parts of the organs and muscles finally get a well deserved respite, while other parts are awakened.

So this morning at the hotel gym I practiced some great back bends along with head and handstands. They were invigorating and energizing. For a change the Bollywood stars working out beside me, stared at me rather than the other way around. Maybe some of them will be inspired to try yoga instead of grinding their knees on the treadmill.


The Yogi

Friday, August 1, 2008

Adios Pune - The Calm within storms!

As I struggle to wrap up my trip to Pune I am consumed by many things - the blunders and the mistakes I made, the learning I achieved and not the least the work challenges - phone calls back to the office in Portland with arguments with a senior staffer on miniscule items, keeping my high maintenace sales people focused and off their ego, countless meeting with my Pune staff to inspire and challenge them.....

I dealt with many challenges, including sleepless nights, jet lag, sleep deprivation with 4 am phone calls and last but not the least my flight from Mumbai being cancelled due to a Lufthansa strike. I have no idea if I will get home on the 5th. I am now awaiting to hear back from my travel agent - its 1130 pm. I have been awake for nearly 18 hours and I feel like I could go on for another 8. And with all this craziness I held on to my yoga practice commuting 30 mins to an hour every day to RIMYI since July 22nd, except for the last two days, as the sacrum pain required I just rest.

Somehow I got the energy to do all this. To top it all off, I just read my earlier post and realized what blunders I made in my writing. The last paragraph on Skeptic Yogi says it all - I simply lost control of my writing. I was embarrassed first and then just laughed my head off. I made desperate attempts to change the post, but blogger will not let change. I could have deleted the post, but I am just tired of fighting with blogger to fix the words. My apologies if anything in that post is offensive. Please just see the humor in it.

So on this note, I sign off from Pune. My staff asked me when I would be back next - I replied "I going to leave that to my karma"!


The Yogi

What is your Karma? A talk by Geeta Iyengar on Bhagvat Gita

My last visit to RIMYI was last evening to attend at talk by Geetaji on Bhagvat Gita. I could only be there for an hour, and had to leave early, but I learnt something very important about Karma.

What is my Karma? Its a question I ask frequently of myself. We hear about Karma in so many different forms. Anytime an event happens either good or bad in your life, especially something bad or unpleasant the Indian way of explaining it away is "its your karma". It implies its predestined. It seems like Karma is used interchangeably as destiny by many. It only adds to my confusion about the true meaning of this word. Readers please enlighten me with your interpretations of Karma.

Karma is also used as another word for "action" and we are born with many Karmas. That is what Geetaji discussed in the context of Arjun's reluctance initially to wage war against his family of cousins and uncle. Lord Krishna told him that as a warrior it was his Karma to fight in war and fight injustice. I listened intently as she described how every action in your life, including bodily functions are "Karmas". There are good Karmas and there are bad Karmas.

She talked about "Prakruti", which I equated to our nature, or state of being. We are born with Karmas and Prakruti. The ask question I ask is are we born with the Karma that is predestined? Do these Karmic actions drive the destiny? Is Karma both action and consequence of random events? Does Karma drive destiny and kismat? Are fate and Karma the same?

These thoughts about Karma stimulated my mind, as I left the talk prematurely last night. I just couldn't stay past an hour, as I had another predestined Karma, a short walk from the center at the Shahani residence. It included bringing a box of American chocolates for my former hosts and foster family, a chance to see them again, and not the least to get some badly needed home cooked Indian food. I wish I could have stayed longer to listen to the complete talk but my next Karma was equally important.

I wish I had some time to chat with my teacher Nina Pileggi, who had just arrived in Pune. It looked like she quickly immersed herself into India with the Indian dress she wore. Nina, you looked like a pucca local! We sat next to each other, but never spoke a word. We both seemed to be constantly interchanging in various sitting positions such as Sukhasana and Badakonasana and some new and improved variations as I desperately tried to avoid a flock of blood sucking mosquitoes approaching my face for dinner. I guess filling their stomachs with my blood is part of their karma. The only way I could deny them was to escape.

That was our only communication Neena and I had in Pune. It was not my in Karma to speak to her - to get her first impressions of India and Pune. I had to leave, and I hope I didn't offend anyone or break any unknown rules. I had no idea Geetaji's talk would go beyond an hour and I had commuted for nearly an hour to get their on time that evening. It was in my Karma though to introduce myself to Suneeta Iyengar earlier, to touch her feet and thank her for making it possible to take classes in April which were life changing. Her smile was infectious and she ranted out her new email id to me.

I had a great Marathi dinner with my former hosts Neena and Manu Shahani - enjoyed the meal, the company, and a great conversation on Life, Yoga, Spirituality and Philosophy. Its home away from home, and I missed not staying at their holistic place. "You look much more relaxed in this trip" remarked Neena. Yes I was, as I have really gained strength to detach, de-stress and endure challenges, but at the same time be centered and accomplish what I planned to do at work while getting a chance to practice yoga every day.

"Chithavriti-Nirodha" is the ultimate goal. Its a possibility that can be achieved with the power of Iyengar Yoga and the learning I get from all my teachers. Along with all this serious stuff, lets not forget to add some humor or laughing yoga along the way. Skeptic Yogi you are right, some tongue and cheek humor about blowing your ex - "the office cube" goes a long way. I have to stop taking everything so seriously.


The Yogi.