The Harshest Critic

I love Ayurveda.

I love it because it is so intuitive and customisable. I love it because it has been a flashlight showing up my personality, quality and traits… as well as my eccentricities, biases and not-to-favourable attributes.

As a pitta-kapha, I get to enjoy my spirited personality as well as diplomatic tact – I take my natural courage and spearhead through life, taking charge and moving forward headfirst into whatever I need to address- and then sit back and think about ‘what just happened‘ later.. Oh wait, that’s my Aries nature, I think.

Regardless, Ayurveda has taught me to understand myself much better. I’ve come to learn what I’m naturally good at and what I tremendously suck at.

Last week, was the time for reflection – no, it was time for some traits to reflect back on me…. and the week was brutal.

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I’m not sure what exactly had caused the imbalance, but I was in a heightened mood of volatility – not angry or raging, but hot and intense. I was exacting, scrupulous and feverishly meticulous. And that was just the pitta speaking. When it came to flex, I was at my kapha best for being bull-headed and stubborn – reluctant to let go and angry at myself for being so.

My body rebelled by retaining a stubborn inflammation in my feet, that surprisingly would completely disappear during my asana time…. and the doctor’s question, “How is your stress life?” just about validated my suspicion that the inflammation was because of the stress that I was subjecting myself to.

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I didn’t realise how harshly I was berating myself until I found myself, in the dumps of a bad day, speaking with a friend over some common work, rushing to save a sheet we were working on… but not before making sure all the alignments were proper and the bold & italics were in their rightful cells.

I was unwell, I was angry (at the blood report, at the doctor, at the suspected blood culprit, at the prospect of endless other tests…), and other appointments going for a toss,…. I was furious at being out of control… that I was ferociously and vehemently being stubborn to not give up until I had the mere Excel sheet under my control.

PHEW!

Was not a joke, no it wasn’t.

Imbalances are real – and even if you don’t subscribe to Ayurveda, our personalities are even more real. Our thoughts really do make up our reality and I realised that my thoughts were being critical – hypercritcal …

Of myself.

I realised that while yoga was helping me this week physically, I had skimped on the deeper aspect of yoga that I was not paying heed to.

While I was called to being compassionate and yogic as a principle, I was not applying it to me.

Oh, the kind of self-depreciation, self-doubting and self-criticising words I kept repeating in my head. Even my acceptance felt like it was just to challenge my own self. I was fighting with myself.

And I wasn’t going to back down.

Until that reflection really caught me like a deer caught in the headlights.

I caught myself.

And it was time to get down into the much to disentangle myself from this mesh of self-reproach and castigation.

I turned back to the mat – my confidante, my ally.

And I turned towards the philosophy of yoga – my yoga…. for that solace that comes from knowing it is a source of comfort and faith.

I chose to work through my imbalance and really allow the yama & niyama to work through me. I chose to allow myself to be kinder and more compassionate to myself – to soften my heart towards myself just as I would to others.

I’m reconnecting with myself this coming week – through the yama.

And I’ll be reminding myself to just be a little more gentle with me – this is a lot, this is work… Just let me be kind to myself as I go through this.

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10 Tips for Inclusive Yoga Classes in India

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I’m a yoga teacher. I teach in India. I’m an Indian.

There, I’ve checked all the right boxes to assure you that I am speaking from the corner of the play arena where I hope to see change in.

My reasons are simple – if yoga is defined as ‘union‘, then there’s all the more reason for the teachers to bring in a sense of inclusive unity in the classes they teach. I know for a fact that not all yoga teachers out there are trained in the soft skills that they would do well to embody. And, well, not all schools and yoga teacher training programs in India have a curriculum that goes beyond expertise in asana and teach the deeper aspects of what it takes to be a yoga teacher.

So I thought today, being Accessible Yoga Day, I’d put together a few pointers to help yoga teachers make the Indian yoga studio experience a world-class one – inclusive and accessible to a diverse audience, while still maintaining it’s heritage, integrity and authenticity.

1. Smile

It couldn’t get simpler than that. During my earliest studio experiences as a practitioner, it was unnerving to get into the studio where the teacher was grumpy. And grumpy, disconnected, haughty teachers created grumpy, disconnected cultures and left their students (all of them) grumpy and disconnected. A smile emits the energy of friendliness and approachability allowing your students to feel safe to be in your class.

2. It’s not all about asana

I’ve noticed that many yoga teachers focus on asana – on themselves and with their students. Go deeper and invite your classes to take away more than the physical practice. Give them insights on the philosophy and energy of the asana. Educate them throughout the class so they have a little something more to take back with them that just the ‘workout’. Speaking of workout…

3. Make the asanas accessible.

Yoga doesn’t have to be challenging every step of the way. And no asana has to be done only in the way of the one text book example image. Recognize what the asana is intended to achieve and find options for your students to explore. Understand that different bodies may need to approach asana differently – even through props, if required. Allow them to really experience their asana as well its energy!

4. Keep your classes safe.

Ok, well, I love my yoga anatomy – but that doesn’t make it any less important for any other yoga teacher. It is really important for you to know the structure and function of the human body and how to address any limitations your students may bring into class. When you’re in front of the class, leading a class, it becomes your responsibility to keep your students safe (of course, the students also carry the responsibility to inform the teacher of any health conditions and/or concerns). But, when someone comes in with a limitation, be prepared to know how to present safe options for your chosen asanas.

5. Ask permission to touch.

Yes, Indian culture does put teachers up on a pedestal, but let’s face it, contemporary yoga practitioners are aware practitioners. They read, have access to the internet and are a more present and conscious lot. Even if they weren’t aware of their right to refuse manual adjustment, it would be safe to understand that a teacher does not know the story behind every student who enters the studio. Many of my students have shared their fear of refusing manual adjustment from their teachers. If you need to adjust to keep your student safe, a verbal cue could be just as effective – perhaps even more potent for your student.

6. Go easy on the Sanskrit.

Terminology is important – but honestly, your students come from diverse backgrounds. Not everyone would be able to pronounce the Sanskrit names but many new practitioners would probably have Googled their way to the first yoga class and are expecting to hear ‘Downward Facing Dog’ instead of ‘Adhomukha Svanasana‘. It’s OK to switch.

7. Improvise with a touch of dramatics.

Everyone loves an engaging class – even if it is a yoga class. Adding a touch of humor in your classrooms will lighten your classroom and dissipate any lingering tension.

8. Build your speaking skills.

Monotonous instructions in a yoga class can be drab and a jarring voice instructing the class to come out of savanasa  (dead man’s pose) or kaya sthairyam (body stillness) Learning some verbal cueing options along with tone, inflection and voice modulation would go a long way in building the class energy. Be  mindful, however, of talking too much or too little in your class. Be mindful of the language you use – keeping it encouraging, uplifting and inclusive.

9. Build community through yoga.

People love to be included. Practitioners come in all shapes, sizes, faith, gender identity and sexual orientation. Unless you choose to work in one specific niche, you most likely teach a general yoga class. Upskill yourself with teaching techniques, read up on current affairs, and incorporate sensitivity and compassion in your classroom. Learning to make yoga available to the entire diversity that society presents helps us truly advocate for our community members.

10. Humility

As yoga teachers, we are not faultless. We are human too and it helps to remember that. Not every teacher is able to demonstrate every asana, but they most likely can teach their students how to safely and correctly practice it themselves. And it is fine to accept and acknowledge that. We don’t have to beat ourselves up for not being able to. And most students would appreciate the honesty and integrity.

This isn’t an exhaustive list – everything else comes just from being present and experience. It does take effort and the intent to hold space for yourself and your class, but at the end of it all, it really makes the practice much deeper and beautiful – we really do get an opportunity to inspire transformation… and of course, transform ourselves in the process too.

Best of luck!

Overcoming Excuses

Sometime last year as I was working through my goals and projects, I found a tip in one of my resources to note down the possible and potential obstacles that could come in the way of the project’s success. Over the months, I’ve applied this tip in most of my goals and projects – both personal and professional.

Especially in my yoga sadhana – because getting back to practice on the mat was potentially like getting on to the battleground with excuses, ‘not-todays‘ and ‘maybe tomorrows‘. And that’s true for many of us… and the funny thing is that most of the excuses are, well, just that – excuses – sometimes quite flimsy ones too!

I’ll share my asana project ‘planning guide’ next week because today I just want to acknowledge and validate the ‘excuses‘.

My potential obstacles to not following up on my asana goals (to practice 5 to 7 days a week to achieve my target asana) were these:

  • feeling lazy
  • no time
  • falling sick
  • getting my period

Yes, at first glance they seem innocuous or even logical, but these ‘reasons’ have the capacity to snowball into weeks and months of no practice.

So I decided to nip the matter in the bud.

My favorite piece of advice to my students has always been to ‘Just Show Up‘ – that was what I decided to do in the face of my pitfalls.

I was going to show up on the mat anyway.

I was going to show up for myself.

So here’s what I did:

I planned for these eventualities… and decided what I would do if and when they’d crop up.

And guess what happened? All 4 of these potential threats launched themselves at me within 2 weeks of my project. All 4! No kidding! Even my ovaries decided to test me! And I even managed to fall a wee bit ill at the same time!

But… the prep worked.

I showed up…. on the mat! Every single day.

I felt lazy on one particular day. I showed up and ended up with a gorgeous 90 minute practice.

The day I had a packed schedule, I showed up and ensured my hour of practice was crisp. I also pushed back all future meetings to after my sadhana time. I other words, I put me first.

When the period arrived, I’d planned to stick to pranayama and meditation – but on the mat. So that’s where I headed. And ended up, instead, with a 15 minute gentle detox restorative set of asanas that made my back feel better and hips open up. At this time, more than ever, I listened to my body’s wisdom.

2 days later, I picked up a mild stomach bug – ending up in a fitful night with nausea and the chills – I didn’t want to get on the mat.

But I did.

I just sat there – then lay down on my mat. I guess Shavasana was the need of the hour and my mat understood.

I guess excuses and reasons are real and valid – temporarily – but preparing for them by acknowledging their presence is one step over the hurdle. Knowing that it is Ok to fall back sometimes and still get back on track is better yet.

After all, the only time we have is now. We’re not running out of it – we’re living in it.

What’s your excuse?

The Return of the Prodigal Yogi

I took a while to choose the title for this blog. I was chewing on AWOL, astray, MIA, AWOL (again) and finally settled on the first thing that came to mind when I had to write this – prodigal. Yes, well, technically, there wasn’t any extravagant wasting of money, but the allegory wasn’t lost on me. And while the narrative of the prodigal son’s return ends up stirring our moral and conscientious values around money, loyalty and parental indulgence despite the misplaced audacity and belligerence of their children, I couldn’t shake off the deeper feelings of welcome and acceptance after my brief hiatus from regular practice.

So, yes, the prodigal yogi has returned – and with that return, comes an insight, an understanding and endless opportunity to do what I absolutely love – introspect, dissect and make sense of the whole experience.

For, in the grand scheme of things, what else is yoga otherwise, if not to apply and make sense of life through it?

But, the making sense would have to graciously make way for a little synopsis of a 2017 that came and went with ravaging ferocity – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Yikes! That fracture
The fracture that gave me the BREAK I needed

Although the fracture took a toll on my physical availability, years of practice, allowed for more basic strengths to come forth and establish themselves. Creativity, detachment, acceptance and presence of mind – all these qualities, amongst others, presented themselves at times when they were needed the most, unbelievable to onlookers even. The year went on to heal the fracture, but it also deepened the wounds with emotional turmoil, mental unrest and a sense of disquiet that often saw me questioning my own spiritual allegiance. Thankfully, the year ended with hope and faith emerging strong and gracefully setting me back on the path that I had, through circumstances, strayed away from.

So…

This return to path, inevitably for me, also returns me to the 68″ x 24″ of space that is mine – the yoga mat.

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Cleared for practice, with some limitations, I spent the months since September 2017, courting doubt and befriending procrastination, succumbing to a truancy from yoga that reeked of fear and justified the absenteeism with much fervor to anyone who asked me about it – including myself.

I didn’t even include yoga, or any of its affiliated words in my 2018 goals.

I chose to just wait and see – or so I’d like to believe.

And yet, my faithful yoga mat, with humble grace and perseverance, stayed put right where I last left in – in a place that was visible to me every single day – undemanding yet urging it a way much like best friends who’ve lost touch, or perhaps even had a falling out, and have forgotten why.

Until a few days ago, I finally took that step to her, my yoga mat (yes, she’s a she) and made up.

The prodigal yogi had returned.

But in my story, I didn’t ask for a third of anything, I didn’t ask for results, I didn’t ask for a quick fix to lost time. I didn’t ask for anything, actually. So we just picked up where we left off.

And that was enough.

I went through the practices I had often taught my students – the centering, the intention, the breath, the asana… and slowly fear and doubt crept in.

Insidiously, those questions attempted to seduce me away.

“Can you do this? Should you be doing this?”

I wasn’t sure. I was pretty much tempted to wait till September 2018 (doctor’s visit to schedule the next surgery for the implant removal) or a blurry intention to take a doctor’s opinion on indistinct asanas.

It didn’t take long for the realization to hit me – I was doing what I had trained myself to do over the many, many years of living in my cocoon of safety. I was allowing myself to be lured to a space of pseudo safety to avoid challenging the presumptions of harm, injury and hurt that could possibly cause me pain.

What’s the worst that could happen? I’d feel sore, have some pain, not be able to get into the asana as I’d left it months ago?

So???

So… I practiced what I preached.

I showed up.

I followed the moves and cues that came like second nature. I paid attention to alignments that were new to me. I discovered that I was working with an entirely new body! I tensed at attempting my Suryanamaskara. I marveled at coming down in Ashtanganamaskar, yet noticed my grief at being unable to take my leg back in Ashwasanchalana. I was kind to my right ankle that cried in Veerabhadrasana and grateful for its amazing strength in Vrikshasana. I paid attention to those little crunches in my ankle that reminded me of nuts and bolts instead of bone and sinew and asked them permission to explore this new territory. Natarajasana that was available on the left side but urged me to move to the wall into Saral Natarajasana for the right. Hamstrings were tight in Downward Facing Dog, but my spine that was supple in Sphinx and Bhujanga. The energy of Kaliasana strengthening my legs and conviction to face obstacles and the grounding into Ekapada Rajakapota that allowed me hope that all is not lost.

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. It did (a bit). It was scary. I often tell my students that we don’t have X-ray machines or vision to see what’s happening inside our bodies, but we do have sense and awareness. So I used that – and fell back on what I knew I had to do.

I listened to my body… and I stayed with it. It was a new body, a newer practice and I loved it enough to respect its limitations.

Without a grudge and devoid of judgment, the mat and the practice welcomed me back into my space – like a childhood bedroom that has been aired and kept ready for my return. No questions asked, just acceptance, compassion and space – to show up and move on.

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Dust yourself off….

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There are a couple of things that led me to where I am today… well, more than a couple.. but let’s start with a couple. I don’t think I’ll spell them out here, but for the majority of them, they all seem similar. Most of them were shorter-lived, but the last growth-spurt lasted the longest.

The easiest and most damaging way to explain would be, “I failed… yet again”. I’ve seen myself letting go – free falling until the next net caught me. Then I’d find myself lazing on the hammock… net.. whatever … for a while… and bounce upwards.. usually propelled by some guilt. Success would follow… I’d ride the wave at its peak and then slowly float downwards again.

And it’s one of the patterns that got me to where I am today.

Only thing is, this time, I was aware that I was aware…. does that make sense? Maybe.. maybe not.. It may seem like a pathetic excuse.. but for me, it’s a shift in how I make excuses.

Truth is, I fell… I was human, I fell.. I make a mistake, that soon followed  to be a series of mistakes, correction – poor choices, many were conscious choices, but most were consciously unconscious ones… you know the one where you think you’re taking a calculated risk, but actually, you’re giving in to a weakness that seems to have a grip over you? That’s the one I’m talking about. I knew the consequences, I know the pain, yet.. something, somewhere wasn’t connecting the dots.

Spending some moments with my thoughts before drifting off to bed, I was thinking, what would really drive me to make a permanent change? And nothing qualified for the top spot… Nothing! Zilch! Nada! Maybe it was a temporary funk, maybe it a collective set of hormones (mine + pre-teen + teen in the same household qualifies for a hormone buzz), maybe it just is the muscle relaxant that’s fogging my thoughts, who knows?

So I’ll do the one thing that I know I am good at doing – dust myself off & start again.

Who’s to judge? Who’s to blame? No one…  So I step on the line, and walk… one step at a time – one foot in front of the other.. This time, hopefully, the path is longer… much longer.. because everytime the one  thing  I hold on to is the hope of making it longer than the last time…

Image credits: youtube lyrics by Aaliyah

If tomorrow never comes…

 

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Two days ago I threw my back out. Yes, it is a pre-existing injury that I generally look after very well. No, I don’t know what exactly caused it. Yes, I have some clues. No, I’m not entirely shrugging responsibility. Yes, I’m recovering. No, I do not wish this upon myself, or others..

So, what exactly happened? Well, a couple of weeks ago, I had a slightly dysfunctionalised (if that’s a word) SI (sacro-iliac) joint – that’s the joint that holds the butterfly shaped lower end of our spine, the sacrum,  attached to the edge of the hip – the ilium. One chiropractic session set the joint in place and I was back to my usual busy self, end of year and all that…. until a few days ago.

On the evening of December 28th I noticed a weird dull ache in my lower back. I recognized the pain like a distant unpleasant relative – familiar, yet not quite distinct. I had been doing quite a few ragdoll poses over the past week and feeling quite good after them, but I’d also slackened on  my own personal sadhana. I had noticed the ugly head of guilt slowly creeping up every now and then  as a warning – my core was knocking for attention (very figurative, in other words the kapha belly). Anyway,  by late evening on the 28th, that ugly guilty head revved up into an angry monster that started gnawing at my back. I knew I’d messed up by taking things too much for granted.

The next morning proved to be the most agonising morning of my entire year. Getting out of bed was excruciatingly painful, standing up was enormously challenging and taking a single step was very reminiscent of my dreadful accident 8 years ago. Amidst scary flashbacks of my  Forrest Gump gait back then,  the pain induced nausea quickly progressed to a frightful ringing in my ears threatening syncope. Some presence of mind got me to drop my head low. Quite honestly, I distinctly remember the unappealing possibility of having the cook find me sprawled unconscious on the kitchen floor in my sleeping clothes to be the driving force that got me to hold on to my conscious thoughts and make my way to the bedroom.

That’s as far as the initial drama took me. The chiropractor’s visit was what really sealed it for me. I was in agony – barely able to crack a smile, yet, chugging along knowing fully well that I would have to be in a largely functional state if I were to be to only available parent to three kids on Christmas break. The session was alarmingly excruciating – ruling out any extension of my hip or releasing my thoracic spine. My hips were definitely lop-sided and despite a TENs current, my lower back had gone into a severe lock-down – totally refusing to budge.

Not good – not easy. The walk back to my car was a nightmare, yes, but the real test was in the other movements that I would have to get through – sitting (on the toilet?), getting off the seat, lowering myself down to the bed, laying myself down and the most agonising of all, turning to my side and standing up again.

This yogi took quite a bashing these past few days. But I’ll tell you something really neat. It’s the  31st of December today and the pitta-driven, Aries that I am,  was not going to take this  so easily. The dramatics above were to express how  pain actually factors. But the undercurrent is that physical pain, like other forms, can be overcome. I don’t take any painkillers – that’s just me (and no, I’m not asking any of you to not take them – just sharing my preference, and my doc called me “ballsy” for that), but what I did do, more than anything else, was take charge of where I was at that moment.

I made a very aggressive note of all the things I was doing that I shouldn’t have and a humble acknowledgement of all the things that I need to be doing and wasn’t. And then, I made a plan – not a resolution, but a plan – my plan of action.

Now, I don’t know how far that plan of action would sustain – I’m hoping it would evolve and improve, but I do know that I was faced with the possibility of never being ‘able’ to do what I take for granted to be able to do today. I realized that the ‘what if’ could be a possibility. If tomorrow never came, who would suffer the most if not me?

Anyway,  today, all the rest, restoration and care that I took over the past 2 days, plus a second dose of chiro,  has given me almost a 95% improvement. I’m walking comfortably, just took the kids to a last-day-of-the-year movie (we watched Star Wars) and I am here  sharing this bit with you.

But I’m not done yet.

I realize that at the end of the year, this injury allowed me to express the emotion of gratitude to MYSELF. My energy is usually infectious. I am aware of  other who were often impressed by the things I did, the energy I had for everything including my children and their activities, etc, and I always thought, well, that’s just me. I realize that I may have a lot of energy for many things, but was I overlooking the effect of all those actions? Was I wearing myself out without paying attention to the body, and my back, that was allowing me so much space for DOING… Was I missing out on the BEING.

And I close this year, with an aspiration – to BE more than  I do.

Thank you for sharing in with my story, if you’re with me this far… And wishing you a very Happy New Year!

Image credits: Google images / webneel.com

When I get the once-over…

to casually turn your head towards a person of interest, then – with eyebrows raised – quickly and surreptiously (or blatantly, if you want to be obvious about it) flick your eyes from their head down to their feet.

basically, checking someone out whether you find them attractive or not.

John gave the girl entering the party the once over.
Source: http://www.urbandictionary.com

You know the once-over, right? That look that you usually get when someone’s giving you a head-to-toe look once… once-over? The one that usually a hot, well-dressed woman would give an equal or (in her opinion) a rival or (again, her opinion) an undeserving excuse for a gasp? You know what I mean.. I’m sure…

Let me tell you something else… even yoga teachers get the once-overs.. especially if the yoga teachers are blatantly slashing pre-conceived ideas and mental images of yogis and yoga bodies.

So, I, the well rounded Curvy Yogi, very often am the proud recipient of the once-over. I don’t think I ever got these once-overs when I was a practitioner in front of a teacher. No, then I received the other looks – the ones that sent vibes that echoed, “Shame!”, “seriously?” and “Oh…my… God… Does she think she can do yoga!?” looks… lol… But by now, as an established teacher, ahem, I usually get the other lot of ‘once-overs’.

So typically, the once-overs come from new students, prospective clients or friends & family of my existing students. I’ve come to anticipate them so well, it’s almost like saying I know that they’re going to breathe anyway, so let’s get over it.

This is a fun topic, seriously, so read on…

My first once-over came from my very first student. She walked into the class, saw me ready to greet her, and I was given a rather detailed sweep of the eye – top (well, it started somewhere near my chest), lingering a tad longer around my mid-section & drifted down towards my thighs. I can’t tell, but I can guess when I turned, I had a good once-over around my rear end too… Either way, I might as well have read her mind – doubts all over… wondering if this class was seriously yoga or if I was ridiculously out of my mind to teach something way out of my league…  What happened over the following months is a beautifully evolving yogi who trusts not just the class, but the process as well. Once-over? Really, that was the once and it was over.

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Then there are others who clearly wouldn’t want to even try, but would rather flow with their judgments. Those once-overs are accompanied by a cold, distasteful attitude as if to say, “You certainly can NOT be the real deal, now!” Honestly, at this point, my intuition kicks in and I can NOT be bothered with spending time in altering perceptions. I calmly explain the process, allow a good view of boob-belly-booty and make a graceful exit.

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The latest one was a surprised once-over from a client’s relative – that was a first. She had heard about her cousin’s ‘awesome’ yoga instructor and was swept off her feet at finding ME in front of her. I was tickled silly to see her mind struggling to super-impose my plus size yogi body silhouette over her agile, nimble, petite-sized mental image.

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And then come the others, who bluntly look and state, “YOU are a yoga teacher? Is it one of those slow & lazy yogas?” To which I, but of course, lamely respond (read retort, snap, whatever….) “And what exactly is lazy yoga??”

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Sigh! You really can’t win them all, but you know, it’s not about winning anyone over. I can see the growth & possibilities in simply reaching out because the ones who come around to this big & curvy yoga teacher are the ones who come in all shapes & sizes. The really beautiful ones – beautiful within and without.

Yoga gives them the attitude to appreciate their own once-overs and allows them to step out feeling fantastic.

Now, when such a reward has the price of a couple of once-overs… I say, BRING IT ON!! You can look me up, down & all over!

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