Saturday, January 30, 2010

The downward dog and all its myriad subtleties

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Note: Now I am not a yoga guru... at-least not as yet (I mean it may be a decade or perhaps a life time in the making). So I will caution you that this isn’t a masterpiece on that yoga pose called the downward dog (adho mukho asana)!

Now to the meat of things. I just got out of my Iyengar Yoga class today. I am sort of a regular yoga practitioner now, with two 90-min weekly classes, one on Wednesday at 7.30 pm with Tori Milner (will likely be Tuesday evening when I start level two classes with her) and the other on saturday evenings with Adam Vitolo (see Yoga Classes at the Iyengar Studio in NYC.) And it so happened that Adam Vitolo was on leave today and the replacement teacher was Jean Marie (who has returned to the center after 10 glorious years of sunshine in the Carribbean, as she said. She is happy to be back, despite the 5 degree chill out today). There is no doubt about one thing, and this occasion, confirms it, that the teachers at Iyengar Yoga Center are excellent and awesome. And that they all have their own subtle differences in styles. Jean Marie included. Just like the poses have their own little subtleties that keeps one exploring them for a lifetime. Jean Marie who actually even started the practice with us seated in Vajra Asana and not the usual cross legged pose (by the way I don’t know what the most elementary and routine yoga pose is called, having practiced for two years.)

Jean Marie decided that today she would really make us focus on a few things of which one was the downward dog pose. Now that is one pose that I find to be difficult and something I haven’t really “got it” . Its not that one can ever really ”get a pose”. Downward dog is not difficult in the sense that its not doable, but the correctness of the pose has eluded me. And today the pose got a whole lot going on to it.

The thing with the downward dog is that, its really not just about pushing your legs back and pointing your butt out and up, all the time opening up your back of the thighs. That’s just the basics. The pose is about creating an intense stretch/straightening of the spine/back while ensuring that the front ribs “melt away” pushing deep down into the pelvis with the front ribs remaining in the same plane as the two bony protuberances of the pelvic bone in the front. And at the same time, ensuring that the shoulder bone melts away into the back ribs creating a complete flatness. And while all this is happening, your quadriceps “hug your” thighs and pull your knee caps up, pulling the inner heel arch up. And to stabilize it all the palms remain cemented on the floor, with all the fingers stretched out and the base of the thumb as deeply imprinted on the floor as the base of the pinky finger. And while all this is happening, your big tow and the small toe mounds, bore through the ground, as nails piercing the earth to hold a flapping tent (see image below).

The various axis of stretch in the Downward Dog
Image source"

Now as you can imagine, that is a lot of minor details and points to get right. And that’s why this pose is intense. And i dont mean “intense for the body” only. The intensity required is of the mind that it can focus its attention to every point of the pose till it corrects itself. And that is the difficult part. For instance, if you are focusing on the palms, you may lose the pull of your thighs. If you focus on the thighs, you may realize that the front ribs have shot themselves out of the plane from the pelvic front. If the ribs are keeping you occupied, you may notice that you really haven’t “externally" rotated your upper arm so that the shoulder blade curves into the back ribs. If you were too occupied with pushing your buttock bones (the ischial tuberosity of the pelvic bone) into a 45% plane into the back and beyond, then you may notice that your breath has become drawn and heavy and aggressive and the lips pursed.

And that to me is why yoga is not JUST exercise. Its not a workout. And why I have been working at it, slowly and steadily as the drop of water works on the hard rock, till it finally makes its way (hopefully).

Every time I do these poses they make you realize parts of your body a little differently, a bit more deeply. As my teacher said in the very first class, “its like peeling an onion, one layer at a time till you get to your core”. So hail downward dog!

Till Some more Yoga Talk!

p.s - looking to find yoga classes, just say Hey Kiki!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The essentials Roti, Kapda Aur Makan Come First

President Obama, the essentials come first. And they are Roti, Kapda Aur Makan.
Having said that, now lets get to the meat of it.

As the democrats and particularly the President recover, regroup and re-strategize from the devastating (but a great eye opener, we all hope) loss in the MA senate race, there is wide speculation as to what the president should do. Questions linger, what is the message of the voters, what should be the priority of the administration?

The answers to such questions remain uncertain and will only emerge over the course of weeks and months. However, we do know that the administartion has been completely wrapped up in getting the healthcare reform bill passed. The President has often said that healthcare reform lies at the root of our economical and other crises and fixing healthcare (first) will solve a lot many things.

I am no expert in these matters but perhaps it behooves well of the administration to consider and ponder on a well known adage that there are certain essentials that we humans care more deeply about when it comes to daily existence. And those are Roti, Kapka aur makan (there is even a classic Bollywood movie with that title)- translating from hindi, that is Food, Clothes and Shelter. And unfortunately, they can be very dependent. For instance, without a job all three are seriously in jeopardy. And to think of it, it was the crises in the housing market that created this meltdown. So out of homes, and out of jobs, millions of Americans worry about their basic survival, not healthcare.

Healthcare is something people can worry about after the above three are met. And that is what the administration needs to remember. With unemployment at 10.5%, people need jobs,first, not health insurance. In fact if we get them jobs, a lot many will get insurance. Second people need a place to live (and have the security and comfort of home). So the housing mess should have been close to fixing if not on way to being fixed. However, the administration, led by Geithner and Summers have come up with no concrete plan - every week there are speeches, there is speculation, but nothing much done.

Its the fundamentals - unless we fix these three things, any talk of fixing healthcare or getting our troops back and fixing the climate, will be too much to ask for the common man. When basic survival is in question, you fix the acute issue. And this is basic advice that any ER triage nurse would also be able to give - you dont worry about controlling Mr. Browns diabetes when he has a fractured rib.

So the priority should be getting people back on the track. Give them a clear plan on how they can get a job soon. Next come up with a plan that can help them negotiate something with the banks to keep their homes or get some grace period in which they are not asked to pay their mortgage till they get back on their feet.

People want to feel they are back in the game. But America will be back in the game only if we remember that Roti, Kapda aur Makan come first.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Awesome Chance Meeting with The Lost Girls at the Ace Hotel in NYC

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As it happens in life (and quite often in NYC), you get to meet great/interesting/intriguing people as you go about life. Just back from two great sunny weeks in Pasadena, CA and Los Angeles (more about that some time in the future), i was looking forward to going to a nice cafe and getting some thinking and writing done (one of my fav things to do on sat is to spend time in a nice cafe/cafe-like-place). And the lobby of the Ace Hotel had been on my mind for sometime.

And so it was, i landed up in the lobby around noon. And true to what i had heard and just glimpsed earlier in an in-and-out 5-min trip, this gotta be one of the best places to spend a weekend morning/afternoon sipping coffee , reading, writing, thinking and yes, even watching... The place is part lobby, part cafe, part library, part living room and all with a bar at the back. And if the setting wasnt good enough, i happened to meet 2 (Holly and Amanda)of the 3 original 'Lost Girls' (H, A and Jen). I was introduced to them by a writer of tremendous potential, who was busily revising her (potential best seller) to be submitted to the publishers on Monday!!

If you havent yet come across/heard about/read the 'Lost Girls', then just sample some of their fares. The three 20-something girls (as they call themselves) quit their media jobs and went traveling around the world for a year. And what can one say other than.. the 'rest is history'. The year-long trip became a famous award winning blog - and a book that is being released in May by Harper Collins. But wait... there is more.. Warner Bros has bought the rights to make a film (or sthng like that).

Needless to say the girls write masterfully, peppering their blogs with wit('Om My God' takes the cake), keen observations, humor and good story-telling. They have traveled four continents and are now back in NYC and working on the launch of their book.

It will create a buzz (perhaps the 'Lost Girls' will fill the vacuum that the 4 women imagined by Candace Bushnell have left behind for countless women [even men] after the end of their series). And as we kept talking, more friends of the Lost Girls came and then very soon it was time for me to head for my Iyengar Yoga Klass (which rocks beyond, words by the way). The chance meeting captured what travels ultimately are about - being able to share stories, even when we meet as strangers.

Who knows where the 'Lost Girls' will find themselves next. Perhaps they are planning to visit some of the places we got to talk about today, like the breathtaking mountains of Leh/Ladakh, the relatively unexplored Zanskar Valley, the 30-day trek to Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarover (the heavenly abode of Lord Shiva), the drive from Tijuana down into the cactus desert of Baja California via a gorgeous stretch of the highway kissing the pacific ocean(route 1/pacific coast highway pales in comparison), visiting the ruins of Nalanda University (the Worlds first university and which is 2 hrs from my hometown), cheering the Afghan horse riders in the game of Buzhkashi or organizing their book tour as they ride the California Zephyr across the rocky mountains on the Amtrak (you can get a whole 15/30 days pass to travel on the Amtrak for dirt cheap).

Go girls!! The World is to be discovered all over again and then some more....

From one globalwander to you and the many other lost and then perhaps, found souls.

Bon Voyage!


P.S. - i havent said much but the writer mentioned here briefly but she has a mind blowing story being written in her upcoming book. I hope i can write about it when the time is right (and when its fine to tell what she is writing about).