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Monday
Dec032018

The Rava Dosa of Asanas..

This blog always tries to cover multiple interests at one go.. today it will be food and Yoga.. I know those two don't mix well, as it is best to do Yoga on an empty stomach and thinking of food is the last thing you should do while attempting Yoga. 

That said.. please bear with me.

When this blog writing started a long long time ago, we used to go to every Indian restaurant and a week later, would write a review of the place with my own rating scheme. Half those restaurants are now gone. But the memories remain. On second thought, should start writing those reviews again.. Those were pre "Yelp" days. Once Yelp came out, the idea of putting out an elaborate review for like minded readers disappeared.. Once Trip Advisor showed up, the thought of trying to make the Travelog useful for others disappeared.. it started becoming a "writing for memory sake" journal.  

One way to rate restaurants, was to order multiple dishes but have a common denominator item to do a fair comparison. For North Indian restaurants it was Malai Kofta and butter naan and for South Indian places, it was Rava Dosa. One restaurant owner even named me Mr. Rava Dosa! 

If you are not familiar with a Rava Dosa, it is made with batter that is freshly mixed. It takes at least 20 minutes to make from the time you order it, and it is a real test for a south Indian chef. You can guage a lot of things about a south Indian restaurant by the Rava Dosa. If you go order it and don't hear "Sir, it will take some time compared to the other items? is that okay?" .. then you should seriously doubt the dosa quality. The crispiness of the Dosa is another thing.. too short on the stove, it sticks to the plate. Too long and it has a slight burnt taste.. you have a very narrow process window to make this one right!

Where am I going with this?

On Friday and Saturday PST, there was the World Yogasana Championship, held this year in Beijing. If I had a business trip, would have gone a day earlier to catch it on Sunday local time, but there were other plans for me that the higher powers had divined so stayed put at home.  Did manage to watch parts of it, thanks to a live feed on Facebook from the China Yoga Federation (which is real, and I hope they open more Yoga studios in Shanghai and Beijing).

The way the competition works (yes, yes.. yoga competition ? that is an oxymoron.. have heard that before.. have explained it also before.. ) there is 3 minutes per person. You get to do 4 mandatory poses in the final round and two optional poses. 

The Four mandatory poses are not the same asansa but rather picked from a certain category. The first is a forward bend compression, the second is a back bend compression, the third is a forward stretch, the fourth is a twist, then two optional poses. Within each category, you have different difficulty levels for different poses. If you do a Rabbit pose, which is a forward compression sitting down, it has a lower difficulty level than a standing head to knee pose which is a forward compression done standing on one locked knee..

I am not the expert here and you need to fact check the above, but think I got most of that right. If you fall off a pose, you can start again, but you lose points. Everything is marked by 3 judges and they give you points on a 1-10 scale. The poses have to be held for at least 5 seconds at the height of the pose (maximum). There are certain basic elements in each pose like a locked knee, or forehead touching knee or locked elbow etc. etc. which define the pose. So if any of those basic definitions are missed, you lose points. 

Basically, you start with 10 points and before you know it, you have lost it all!!! At least that was  my experience the one time I went to a yoga competition a few years ago. Just kidding. It is a lot more fun..

Now what has Rava Dosa got to do with Asanas? 

Well, there is this one pose that I have written the most about in this Yoga Journey, over the last almost 8 years. It is the Standing Head to Knee pose. Experienced Yogis (especially desis) who can do all kinds of complex poses like:

put their leg over their shoulder and stand up on the other leg,

get into lotus pose standing upside down on their heads in Shirasasana,

do a wheel pose effortlessly,

still falter when it comes to the head to knee. 

Why?

This pose is not about strength or flexibility or a tradeoff between the two. There is a third ingredient to it that takes time to develop. . . balance! Incredible physical and mental balance.!! You have to be able to tighten a select set of muscles while simultaneouly relax another set of muscles and breathe right or you cannot pull this off. The intense focus required, takes a lot of practice specific to this pose. 

There is also 4 parts to it (or so I thought, till Joseph Encina showed me there are 5 parts to it) and so far I have never gone past step 2 to successfully finish step 3 in the last 6 years.  Recently though,  I am consistently getting to step 3 which is a good sign. 

To me the six poses and all the rules in a competition are great, but mostly filler. They are like the other half dozen items we order to get an idea of the restaurant. If you have to judge all contestants with the least amount of effort, just look at how they do standing head to knee pose and you can pretty much get to the final ranking. 

It is the Rava Dosa of poses for me.. 

Really enjoyed watching the competition, although only for three or four 30 minute stretches. The best part of this competition was that my teacher and mentor Michelle Vennard won the Adult womens group.  My Yoga guru is a world champion! She smiled through the entire three minutes and was grace personified. I also got to see my friend Lee compete live and he did an amazing job. Have seen him on the mat next to me, have stared into his eyes during Yoga demonstrations, but to see him try his best the way he did gave me goosebumps. When you see folks you know transcend their usual, it is truly inspiring!

Have been very fortunate to be around champs in my life. My ballroom dance teacher was an International champion and I still hear her voice while doing Yoga, especially when the teacher says "breathe" with an accent. There are two things I still remember from my dancing days that she taught me. 

1. Sundar, you don't have to have your partner hang from the Chandeliers to win this one. You need impeccable timing and have a smile on your face the entire time.. even when you screw up

2. the trick to dancing effortlessly for round after round is to breathe right. If you know when to take a breath, you can dance for hours without any huffing and puffing

Same rules apply in Yoga! 

After watching the competition, it was time to do real Yoga..

There was a lot happening in the house over the weeekend and I was glad that there was no Asia trip. Our water main broke (service line) and San Jose Water came and shut our water down till we got a plumber to find and fix the leak. It was an interesting 36 hours. Brought back so many memories of  growing up in India when the Metro Water lorry would not show up.

Having to make some amends to schedules, using the handpump to get water from a borewell and rationing water for everyone in the house etc.. All those experiences came in handy. The inspector from the water company gave me a compliment "Sir, I am really going to do my best to help you because you are calm and not irate like most customers in this situation. Will try to jumper water from your neighbors garden hose back to your house".. He tried, but it didn't work. So we just adjusted till we got water flowing again.

It was a good experience for the kids as well, and a reminder of things we take for granted, especially when we are in a routine. 

All that said, seriously thinking about giving the competition another shot next year. For that to happen, one has to understand Rava Dosa.. I mean.. Standing head to knee..

On a side note, my beard experiment has crossed the one month mark. I am getting used to it, as are people who see me every day. The patches are gone, the gray looks dignified and as an unintended side effect, I am conscious of my breath .. every freaking breath, if I chose to be conscious of it.. because my moustache picks up the breathing. 

Even if I am not making loud noises or breathing loudly by previous standards, the breath going through the moustache literally whispers loudly. Trying to minimize that movement or sound has added a new complexity to breath control during asanas. You can't see it, but the faintest movement of those hair, makes me stop or slow down.

Even while lying down in Shavasana, the whiskers tell you the truth about how you are breathing. It is like an external meter that can give you a feed back loop.  It is interesting the way I am using it as a regulating mechanism. Maybe if I had whiskers around my knees that would do something everytime they came unlocked??? Was thinking along those lines today.

Think it is obvious that I am too eager to do that one pose which keeps evading me, but having waited all this time and seeing that  sometimes progress comes at the least expected times, will keep at it and see what happens.  My goal every year is to do yoga at least 200 times. The spreadsheet says I have done 212 this year and 1648 classes to date.. that is almost 6600 attempts at Standing head to knee (we do two sets on each leg)!

You can say "something is wrong with you", if I attempted something 6600 times and still failed at reaching the end result. While that is one way to think of it, the other way to think of it, is that this pose is not for everyone. That is why it is a mandatory pose in a Yoga Championship final.  

The yoga journey continues to be interesting..

ps. My house photographers are all on strike. So Yoga photos over the weekend..

Friday
Nov232018

Birthday happiness

Last year was 45. Folks reminded me that once you cross 45, you become less employable, etc. etc.

This year had the same birthday ingredients and that is a good thing. Last year's birthday was on the day before Thanksgiving and ended up at the company party.

This year, the birthday ended up being on Thanksgiving. The company picnic was interesting.. we had caricature artists which was a lot of fun. 

This is a collage of two different caricature artists interpretation, a selfie at the party and a picture of me the next morning.

guess the profile of how you sit down in front of the artist makes him draw you with a long face or a round face.. 

The actual birthday started with Yoga bright and early.

By the time I got back home, showered and made and drank tea, no one had woken up. That was still teh state for another hour and finally the family woke up one by one.. we were in Vacation mode, and it was a good thing!

Then came Lunch at my favorite place.. Bhavika aunty made me "mini" pooran poli's. I call them Personal-Pan-Poli's. They were absolutely yummy.  The entire Bhavika's family was surprised by my Swamiji look. Told them it is just a temporary experiment. 

Then there was a post lunch get together with friends, where again folks who had not seen me in some time were pop quizzing me on the new look. There was the group photo where the rudraksham was put outside the sweater.. so they could lay claim to having known Swamiji before he became an internet sensation.... the jokes were all good. Looks like all one has to do is:

1. Stop shaving

2. Declare an intent to add "ananda" or "saraswathi" to one name

3. be able to come up with some wise ass remarks

4. give an all knowing sarcastic smile

5. insult the intelligence of anyone who is willing to listen to you 

and a moment creates itself around you! Next thing you know, Sri Sundarananda Saraswathi is the water cooler topic.. 

There was a special banana bread for me to cut.. which was yummy.. by this time I was ready to be the acting double for the burmese python in the Harry Potter movies...

This year I also got my other wish.. an afternoon nap on my birthday! 

Then came the India women playing the England women at the World T20 Cricket semi finals and they lost big time. This was an undefeated team till the Semi finals.. and they just lost it. It was a good reminder for me that I was a lucky guy to have a lot of things go my way so far.. 

Was also thinking about my grandpa a lot be it at the company party or on my birthday. It has been 9 years since he passed away. Listented to him reciting slokas for a good 30 minutes and recited along with him. Thanks to technology this is possible!

Then we went to spend the evening with friends, have Italian food for dinner, music, games and finally called it a night. It was past midnight when we got home. 

It was a fun evening spent with smiles all around!

My friend also gave me her one word review of the beard "sahikkalai"! (unberable) which created some instant solidarity moments between the rest of my family members and her. There is a new Swami Army in town and it is hell bent on "making Swamiji Sundar again"

The only thing which we could not cram on the birthday wishlist was to go for a movie. Usually I go to a Bond movie, Harry Potter Movie or Marvel movie on my birthday with San, MIL, kids or whoever from that combination will come to the movie with me (also depends on the movie). Last year San and me went for Justice League. 

This year I wanted to see Venom first as it was already going out of a lot of theaters. It was going to be like a "Stan Lee homage visit". There were no favorable show times.. so we went to see Venom today. 

While driving there San started pop quzzing me "who is the hero? who is the heroine? etc." and I got worried. There were some expectations to set.

Me : We are going to a movie titled "venom". he is not even a good superhero. He is more like a supervillain type.. this is not a chick flick ! There are no songs, duets etc. etc.. I don't know the full story but heard there is a twist at the end of the movie. 

San was betting that no matter what, there had to be a hero, heroine, love angle, villain for any Marvel movie to work and I was shaking my head..

We came out of the movie with the realization that she was right! Both of us liked this movie. 

The birthday has now come and gone but we will use this excuse to watch another movie or two over what is left of the long weekend. Then it will be pedal to the metal again till Christmas. 

My birthday events are getting predictable and to me that is a good thing.

It has been a good week so far! Hope this year finishes off on a good note!

Sunday
Nov112018

A violin recital

We interrupt the Deepavali / Diwali programming to bring you a violin recital.. the Little One (now she is a teen-y little one) did her recital as part of her music school. 

She knows this by heart, but was a little timid while playing. Getting used to a Piano that is not in your control can be an interesting experince, or so I thought.. 

Here is a video.. 

this was at the Valley Christian school. I had no idea that there is such a beautiful "school" overlooking the valley. This place was like brand new.. still amazed by the view from the school.. 

The little one is doing better every year.. the name of the game is to stay in the game. I keep telling her that! 

Here's to her keeping at it..

Friday
Nov092018

Possibilities - a conversation

We were talking about the election results while driving back from school, when Jr. is suddenly all moping.. 

Me : What happened now?

Jr. : Everyone in my class will get to vote in the next election except me! I am the only one who will not be 18 by Voting day in 2020. Do you know how bad that makes me feel?

Me : you will get to vote in 2022. Big deal

Jr. : Who wants their first vote to be in a midterm election? 

Me : If I were you, I would be happy to vote in any election. Reminded her of the story I had already told her about my voting experience...

Back story: The only time I got to vote in India being an Indian citizen was when I happened to come home to Chennai from Varanasi and it was election time. I went to the booth and the guy there told me "you have already voted. now disappear before something bad happens to you!". My grandpa scolded me for going to the booth alone, instead of showing some rightful indignation. That was when I was 18 (Chandrasekar was Prime Minister..it was a short lived tenure). I came to the US when I was 20 and the next time I actually voted was in 2006 as a US citizen in a midterm election and voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger! Have not missed voting since then. No one has told me that I have already voted or turned me back. I drop my mail in ballot at the Cupertino City hall a few weeks ahead of the election and can even track my vote. However I do hear that people go through things like what I went through in India, even today in the US elections in many places. 

Back to our conversation..

Jr. : Could you not have conceived me two weeks earlier? This is all your and amma's fault that I don't get to vote. 

I was suddenly silent and upset. There are people these days who schedule C-sections so their kids are born on an auspicious birth star, a certain Chinese zodiac year, before Dec 31st so they can claim a dependent on their tax return, etc. etc. ( know of all above cases).. but trying to beat the voting cutoff?! That is new!

Then I thought,  she was not a planned C-section. Her poor mom pushed and pushed all day and finally after she almost came out, she got stuck and it ended up an emergency C-section. 

Me : You were two weeks late and past your due date. Your origial due date was Deepavali, but you showed no signs of coming out. We were in the hosptal instead where your mom had to go through a baby stress test. You were under no stress. So they sent us back home. If this is anyones fault, it is your own. You should have been on time! 

I knew that was mean, but there comes a time in a mans life when he is just plain tired of being the fall guy. 

Later I tried to make up for the outburst... with some luck.

Midterms are important.. sometimes even more important than the Presidential elections.. please keep saying that people. I have other reasons to support that statement now.

As long as Jr. takes her vote seriously, I am a very happy and proud father! 

Sunday
Nov042018

Happy Deepavali

Deepavali 2018 is almost here.. it is a bummer that it falls on a weekday but it will be celebrated, rain or shine!

San made some besan laddoo's and has a commitment to make some Gulab Jamun's.

Today I made some Omapodi.. 

San made a lot of laddoos.. but I already finished most of it in the last 24 hours.. by Deepavali night she might not have any left. 

This is not something I make every year. Was in a rush and did not grind the Chilli and Omam (Ajwain seeds) too fine. So some of them got caught in the nazhi (extruder) and I had to keep cleaning the holes to continue. Won't make that mistake again.

The end result is good. We still have two days to make more Deepavali bakshanams.

The little one comes out and tells me "we don't like oily stuff. it is mostly you and amma who are going to eat this!"

Sometimes you realize you have failed as a parent if your kids take this health stuff overboard! Deepavali comes once a year.. it is not every day that your dad labors in the kitchen to make this stuff..was going to launch myself into a lecture and decided to take the "fine.. just taste a little bit".. in hopes that the Savory Gene that has been passed on will do the trick..

Kids these days! bah! 

want to wish one and all a wonderful Deepavali! Deepavali is literally a celebration where the light of learning dispells the darkness of ignorance. 

Here's to light!