Yoga Begins Outside Your Mat

Three Yoga Myths Debunked

Yoga is a way of life. I enjoyed (well, most of the times) practicing my Yoga Asanas and have been regular for three days a week for the past 5 years. The novice in me thought Yoga and Yoga Asanas was synonymous. I never paused to differentiate between Yoga in its entirety and Asanas being just a part of the whole. Today, I am kind of embarrassed to think that I never bothered to find out how Raja Yoga was different from Hatha Yoga, or what does Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga even mean. My understanding was very limited and often times I would blindly use these terminologies with no accurate knowledge whatsoever. Why did I not read up more or how could I not be curious enough to know more, are some of the disappointing questions that nag my mind today.

That Swami Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga is synonymous with Maharishi Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. That Yoga Asanas and Pranayamas are just a means to the end, being two parts of Ashtanga Yoga. That the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are considered to be the basic text for Yoga. And, so much more. All such information is open source content and freely available, yet I never thought of doing any detailed reading. Today I feel ashamed to say this, especially after being a yoga proponent to friends and acquaintances for all these years.

Pic 1: We start off with the residential part of the program.

I can only thank my lucky stars and express my deepest gratitude to the universe for all that I have learned at the Yoga Teacher Training Program I completed at Bharat Yoga Vidya Kenda (BYVK). My eyes have opened up, though I just got to taste a drop from the mighty ocean of our ancient knowledge.

Read more on my experience of the Teacher Training HERE.

The program also busted many myths about Yoga that I was harbouring all through these years. And, it wasn’t just me, everyone in the class had their own sets of misconceptions.

Here are my personal top three Yoga Asana myths debunked:

Myth #1: I am not flexible enough even after practicing Yoga Asanas for 5 years now. Why do I struggle to get into that Asana, which seems like a breeze for others?

The Truth: Flexibility has nothing to do with Yoga Asanas and it is certainly not a pre-requisite to start practicing. While flexibility will build over time, there will still be Asanas that one may not be able to do. Every individual has a different body structure, even the right and left sides of our bodies are not exactly the same. Some may get into an Asana very easily while others may struggle. Focus on yourself instead of looking at others. Make sure your alignment for every Asana is correct. Make sure you know the purpose of the Asana. Do not blindly copy others or get carried away with those perfect social media posts. Never be violent with your body.
Myth #2:I pack in as many Asanas as I can in my regular hour-long practice sessions. I incorporate the warm-ups in between the asanas and that gives me a good break too.(I never paid much attention to the warm-ups, they would just remind me of the "useless" P.T. classes at school.)

The Truth: Holding an Asana is more important than doing more. It’s quality over quantity. Warm ups are critical that needs to be done in a systematic manner and in a particular series. The “Yogic Sukhsma Vyayama” has a different concept altogether and the benefits are immense. It has a very different effect on the body as compared to “Sthula Vyayama” (the PT classes in school).
Myth #3:I make it a point to practice Yoga three times a week. Often times I force myself to get onto that mat. Afterall, it’s for my body and overall wellness.

The Truth:Yoga Asanas make you feel energetic. You get onto your mat not because you should but because you want to. If that doesn’t happen and you’re having to force yourself, something is going wrong somewhere. Also, it’s common practice to say something like “I do Yoga” instead of “I do Yoga Asanas”. You don’t do Yoga, it’s a way of life. You do Yoga Asanas or Pranayamas.

Pic 2: Engrossed in our in-depth training sessions.

Yoga Asanas is just one aspect of Yoga. Making a conscious attempt to live by the principles of Yoga is what really matters. Hence, it’s rightly said that Yoga begins when you step out of your mat. The practice of Yoga influences your mind and perspectives enabling real changes in how you carry yourself through life.

I’ll end this post by stating a generic misconception – Yoga is a practice of the Hindu religion. The fact is Yoga does not belong to any religion. It did emerge from the Hindu philosophy but it’s incorrect to associate Yoga with the Hindu religion. There is no God associated with Yoga, it’s all about being aware of ourselves and connecting with ourselves. Yoga means union – the union of that which we identify as body, mind, and senses with that real self which is free from all worldly limitations. By calming down the mind, Yoga aims to awaken the real self.

Yoga – Unearthing its True Essence

Yoga is a holistic way to health and well-being – a phrase that we keep hearing and using randomly but do we really comprehend its true meaning? I didn’t. Yet I never shied away from using the phrase liberally here and there and everywhere. Afterall, I have been practicing yoga (or, I thought I was) for 5 years now. I certainly knew what I was saying!

Last month I participated in a Yoga Teacher Training Course, just on a whim. My impulsive nature always catches me off-guard even though I have been deliberately trying to be more calculative. I NEVER harboured any ideas of being a Yoga teacher, yet I landed up with this course. I might have secretly wished, I guess, but I am really not sure. It could have been one of those fleeting thoughts that get no importance in one’s life. The entire experience feels surreal today. I just happened to chance upon the program the night before the course was starting. I have no idea why the thought of participating got planted in my mind. There was no time to research or even think about it. I had to take a decision that very moment.

Pic 1: A random picture from the ashram complex.

Doing a Yoga Teacher Training Course wasn’t something even remotely present in my mind. I had some time to spare and was toying with the idea of going on a trek to the Himalayas, something I haven’t done since the pandemic. While I debated between Sikkim or Nepal, I found myself at Bharat Yoga Vidya Kenda (BYVK) instead. Now, as a certified Yoga Instructor, I can say this has been one of the best impulsive decisions of my life. And, I can only express my gratitude to the power of the Universe that’s beyond the understanding of our limited human minds.

BYVK is an initiative of The Satsang Foundation and was founded by Sri M. It is recognized by the Government of India and Ministry of AYUSH. The 200-hour long course, which spans across one month, has been immensely fulfilling and enriching. So much knowledge gained and so many myths broken. [You can read about the myths I had HERE.] The curriculum is based on ancient yogic texts, like, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā. The course design follows the blended methodology of learning – 15 days virtual and 15 days residential. The crux of the experience naturally lies in the residential segment.

Pic 2: The Yogashala, also called as Patanjali Temple. This is was our classroom.

The residential segment was held at The Satsang Foundation ashram at Madanapalle, a small town in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. (Madanapalle is a distinctive town for many reasons. One of them is that Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had translated his Bengali poem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ into English as ‘Morning Song of India’ while he stayed at this place during his tour of South India. The tune of our National Anthem was also conceived here.) The calm and peaceful ashram ambience was a huge contributing factor towards all the knowledge we imbibed in the short span of time.

Pic 3: Graffiti at the ashram goshala (cowshed).

We had a packed schedule with our day starting at 5 AM and ending only between 9.30 and 10.00 PM. Asana classes that included pranayama and meditation techniques, theory classes, mantra chanting, silent walks, Karma Yoga, are some of the sessions spread through the day. We remained physically and mentally occupied all day long. The program design left no room for idling both in body and mind, which I think was done on purpose. A lot of content had to be covered in that short span of time. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a single iota of exhaustion. We were always in a cheerful and joyful state of being. Mindfulness and being present at all times was a natural state of the mind. Having trekked in the Himalayas multiple times, I was quick to draw parallels and equate the state of mind in both the situations.

In between the tight schedule, we had to carve out slots for personal study as well. We had two exams to appear at the end of the course. One internal, conducted by BYVK. The other external, conducted by Yoga Certification Board belonging to Ministry of Ayush (Govt. of India).

Pic 4: A picture from our first silent walk. PC: thesatsangfoundationofficial (Instagram handle)

As I already mentioned, I have been practicing Yoga asanas for 5 years now. More than half of this time, was in a studio which was my first training ground. But while practicing the same asanas in the training, I realized that I was doing many of them incorrectly. Since this was a teacher training course, a lot of time was spent on every asana leading to perfection in alignment and also in understanding the benefits and contraindications of each asana.

To add to the experience, I was blessed to be in the company of ten wonderful people, who were my classmates. Being bound by a common purpose, every one of us felt a great connection with each other. There was great team energy and the positivity was palpable. I need to mention the teachers too, who were not only knowledgeable but very kind and patient too.

Pic 5: All smiles on successful completion of the course.

This program has been a life-changing opportunity for me and I don’t want to take this for granted even once. It’s a blessing in the truest sense. Our ancient wisdom is so profound and insightful. It’s a pity that many of us know nothing of it and here I have just scratched the surface. The invaluable knowledge that I have gained is something I will carry for the rest of my life – the theoretical as well as the practical aspects of the Science of Yoga. I can now say with full understanding that Yoga is a holistic way to health and well-being.

Most importantly I learned that our bodies and minds are what we make them to be, and all it takes is the consciousness of our breath. Not only can we hold complex asanas for long durations or sit still with complete focus, we can reign in our emotions and show humility and respect towards fellow human beings or other beings that co-exist with us on this planet.

Pic 6: A picture from the goshala (cowshed), where the cows also appeared to be meditative. Her name is Hemavati.
Pic 7: As part of our Karma Yoga, we had to clean up the goshala, bathe the cows, feed them, make dung cakes. This activity was the best of all the Karma Yogas we had to do, which also included, campus cleaning, Yogashala cleaning, kitchen cleaning.

This experience has been so deep and intense that even the best of my travels doesn’t match up. I would highly recommend trying something like this at least once in your lifetime. Not to be a Yoga Teacher but for your self-development. It’s worthwhile to invest your time and energy in yourself by turning inwards rather than outwards. Self-reflection enables a harmonious balance between ourselves and the outside world, which then translates as wellbeing and happiness in everyday life.

Pic 8: I cannot end this post without mentioning the healthy and nutritious, yet mouth-watering ashram food. Just a little of this food and our mind and tummies would be completely satisfied. Our food intake was always comparatively less even after being so active for the whole day, which is another thing that amazed us. It surely has to do with the overall calm, peace, and contentment we experienced during those days.

International Yoga Day 2020

108 Surya Namaskars sounded enticing, but I wondered if I should go for it. I do practice Yoga regularly – three days a week, to be precise but the last time I participated in such marathon Surya Namaskars was more than two years ago. At that time, I used to practice Yoga under the guidance of trained and professional Yoga teachers. And, it is to them I owe my love and devotion for Yoga. The passion and dedication of my Yoga teachers easily rubbed off on me. That I confidently continue my practice to this day, on my own, is because of them.

Yoga is a holistic life philosophy that unites the body, mind, and spirit through Asanas (physical postures), Pranayamas (breathing exercises), and meditation. Yoga is as much about the mind and the spirit, as it is of the body. It is a powerful way to deal with everyday stress and anxiety. Consequently, Yoga does become a significant tool for the year 2020, where a healthy mind and body is of paramount importance.

Yoga Asanas involve specific breathing techniques and ideally should be practiced under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher, especially at the beginning. Yoga Asanas, if done incorrectly can cause more harm than good. Though Internet provides hordes of articles, guides, and videos that one can learn from, nothing can replace the guidance of a real teacher. There are many subtle specifications that sometimes vary from individual to individual and often depends on one’s flexibility and body type. Such minute observations and corrections come through experience, which is only possible through individualized attention from a trained and qualified teacher.

Pic Credit:

When I had started Yoga five years back, I was extremely inflexible. Not that I am great today, but my teachers made sure I understood my body and correctly did the stretching, bending, twisting, and so on. Had it not been for them, I would have long given up. Yoga doesn’t bear fruit overnight. It’s not just a set of exercise. One needs to be patient. Today Yoga is part of my life, I cannot stay without it.

“Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

Today, the 21st of June, is International Yoga Day. The theme for this year is “Yoga for Health – Yoga at Home”. My Yoga Teacher conducted a virtual session of 108 Surya Namaskars along with chanting and meditation. I was delighted to know about it but the number 108 made me hesitate. Will I be able to pull it off? A little deliberation and I just signed up.

The marathon Surya Namaskars turned out to be pretty smooth, and I did all of it with super ease. A confidence booster for sure, if not anything else!

Surya Namaskar also known as Surya Pranam or Sun Salutation is a set of 12 Yoga Asanas that are gracefully sequenced together. Six distinct Asanas are repeated twice during the sequence. The first set of six is dedicated to the right side of the body and the next set to the left side of the body. Surya Namaskar is done to express gratitude to the Sun for sustaining life on earth and has an immensely positive impact on the mind and body. It is a great cardiovascular workout too.

I have another post on 108 Surya Namaskars. You'll find it here.

Learn more about Surya Namaskars from this comprehensive post written by fellow blogger, Narayan Kaudinya.

Those Marathon 108 Surya Namaskars

I am a huge advocate of yoga and have been practicing the same for more than three years now. Yoga happened to me quite by chance and it wasn’t much of a planned thing.

I was on my way to a swimming school to enroll for swimming classes when I happened to cross Yogatree – a Yoga center nearby. I noticed the board without paying any heed to it. At the swimming school, I paid the fees and enrolled for lessons that were due to begin the following week. Just two days before the due date, the swimming school called up to cancel classes for the next two months due to an immediate maintenance work of the pool. Yogatree flashed in my mind at that moment for no particular reason. I looked them up on Google and found myself there the very next day.

That was the beginning of my introduction to the magical and fascinating world of Yoga. And, with the bunch of dedicated, passionate and enthusiastic teachers, the love that I imbibed for Yoga was quite natural. Today Yoga has become a way of life for me.

The location advantage of Yogatree suited me very well – just 2 Km. from my house meant less haggling with the infamous Bangalore traffic. In fact, I would walk my way down to class and back. The two great friends I made there were unexpected add-ons that further brightened up my Yoga experience. The three of us would look forward to those four days a week of catching up and practicing together.

Due to some personal situational difficulties I haven’t been going to class for the past three months. While I am religiously practicing the asanas at home, I miss my yoga class for various reasons. One of those is the 108 Surya Namanskars that we would practice every once in a while – usually on weekends.

Pic Credit:

Surya Namaskar also known as Surya Pranam or Sun Salutation, for the uninitiated, is a set of 12 yoga asanas that are gracefully sequenced together. Six distinct asanas are repeated twice during the sequence. The first set of six is dedicated to the right side of the body and the next set to the left side of the body. Surya Namaskar is done to express gratitude to the sun for sustaining life on earth and has an immensely positive impact on the mind and body.  It is a great cardiovascular workout too.

When I heard about 108 Surya Namaskars for the first time, which was just within a month of joining Yogatree, I thought this was crazy and undoable. However, on the insistence of my teacher I participated in my first session of 108 Surya Namaskars. The thought was daunting and I was absolutely sure I wouldn’t cross even 25 rounds. But to my surprise I was able to complete the entire session. We did it in sets of 9 and though I did miss a round or two here and there I sustained through to the end of the session.

I was immensely proud of myself and it gave a boost to my confidence as my flexibility was really bad then. Not that it’s great now, but I have hugely improved. After that, I always ensured that I made myself available for every 108 Surya Namaskar sessions.

However, for the last three months I have been missing those marathon Surya Namaskars as I have been practicing at home. I can mindfully do 10-12 Surya Namaskars at a time but 108 just doesn’t happen. I lose my focus and haven’t been successful yet.

Hoping that circumstances will change sooner than later and I can get back to class again.

An Addendum:

The number 108 has a special significance and is considered sacred. I googled to find some.

  • The numbers 1, 0, and 8 represent one thing, nothing, and everything (infinity). 108 thus represents the ultimate reality of the universe as being simultaneously one, emptiness, and infinite.
  • Vedic mathematicians considered 108 as a number of the wholeness of existence. 108 also connects the Sun, Moon, and Earth. The average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters.
  • Prayers malas have 108 beads.
  • There are 108 pithas or sacred sites in India.
  • In Hindu tradition, there are 108 Mukhya Shivaganas or attendants of Shiva.
  • Lord Krishna had 108 gopis in Vrindavan.
  • The Sri Vaishnavite Tradition has 108 Divya Desams (temples of Vishnu)

For more read:

Post in response to the theme for Bar-A-Thon: The Blogging Marathon

If You Can Walk, So You Can Run

  • “I think I am too old to start running!”
  • “Probably running is not meant for everyone!”
  • “Running can happen only if you have been into some kind of sports during your growing up years!”

These are just some of the doubtful questions that kept popping into my mind when I started running and it was nothing but struggle. Quite convinced that running is not for everyone, I frantically googled to find some pointers that would scientifically agree with what I was thinking. There was none! Every article that I read pointed to one thing – If you can walk so you can run.

Running is one of the best aerobic exercises for physical conditioning of our hearts and lungs. And, the best part is it comes cheap – rather costs nothing. Yet in all these years I have never given it a thought, even though I am quite particular about keeping fit. The main impetus for running came from my treks in the Himalayas. I will write about that in more detail in another post.

Pic Credit:

While walking is a breeze for me even for long distances, running leaves me breathless and exhausted even if it’s just a few meters. For some time, I just harboured the desire to run as I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

It was not until one fine day when the impulsive me showed up quite randomly out of the blue. And, I changed into a T-shirt and Yoga pants, slipped into my canvas shoes, and stepped out to run. I didn’t have running shoes then. I didn’t know where to go as there is no space to run in my apartment and there are no parks nearby.

As always, I started missing the neighbourhood where I lived earlier, before moving in to my own home. Every lane used to have a park there but at that time I had never thought of running. Life is full of paradoxes….Sigh!

Left with no choice, I ran on the busy road nearby alongside cars, autos, shops, cows, vegetable vendors, flower vendors and everything you can think of in our Indian roads. Coupled with the pot-holed and broken Bangalore roads, it was no less than an obstacle course. I could run for just a few meters and then walked on, finally retracing my way back home.

The next day I went out again. This time I recalled a neighbour mentioning about a park on some street close to my home and I decided to check that out. I walked up to the park and found it to be about a kilometer from my home. It was a tiny one and you need to run around it 11 times to complete just a Kilometer. I did probably just a Kilometer or less, even walked for a few rounds, and came back home fully exhausted. I did that for the next few days with the same result – coming home all flushed and fully exhausted.

Just a few days later, I went for a run with a marathoner friend. It was just a 3 Km. run. I overestimated my abilities and feel ill. There was no running for me for a long time after that. While I am impulsive, I am quite determined too. So, I did not give up. I started off all over again and perseverance paid off.

Today I am able to run 5 Km without falling sick and I do it for at least 3 times a week. It has become a part of my regular fitness regime. Running 5 Km. is probably child’s play for many people and marathoners may even have a laugh or two on reading this. But, for me it is a huge deal considering that just a few months back I was struggling to complete even a Kilometer.

So, how did I do it? Well, I will write about that soon.

Post in response to the theme for Bar-A-Thon: The Blogging Marathon