I was introduced to yoga in the summer of 2012. I was at home in Delhi for a month on a break. It had been a long time since I'd had the luxury of taking an entire month off with very little to do. As a recovering corporate lawyer looking to regain some sense of balance, mental and physical, yoga seemed the natural thing to turn to.
I found a teacher who offered one on one lessons close to home. She held classes in a small community room, about 10 feet by 10 feet. On the wall was a glossy poster with basic yoga poses. A bare footed woman wearing track pants, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, demonstrated each asana.
If I had to guess, I’d say my teacher was in her late twenties. She had that sheen which comes with the feeling that the world is full of endless possibilities. During our hourlong classes, she flowed through a sequence of asanas, her lithe body contorted into impossible poses. I tried to mimic her fluid movements, usually unsuccessfully. Physical flexibility never was my strong suit. While my classmates sat in cross-legged harmony during school assembly, I squirmed with the effort of trying to get my knees to comply. They always stubbornly pointed skywards at an awkward angle.
After a month of yoga, my dexterity had improved enough for me to want to continue classes.
When I moved to to the U.S., I was confronted with a mind-boggling variety of yoga classes. There’s aromatherapy yoga for those who want to do asanas in a sweet smelling room. There’s ageless yoga for those with one gray hair too many to practice with twenty and thirty somethings. There’s boxing yoga for yogis who want to build some aggression into their practice. And mommy and me yoga for mothers who want their infants within reach.
In one class I attended, the instructor ended the class with chanting. Everyone joined in. Hare Krishna, Hare Rama chanted everyone.The instructor enthusiastically played a harmonium to accompany the chants. Everyone looked enthralled by the seemingly authentic vibe it lent. For me, it only brought back bad memories. The last time I had encountered a harmonium was in my 8th grade Hindi music class, in which our teacher of little musical talent and her harmonium led us tunelessly through bhajan after bhajan.
In another class, we got to the last pose, shavasana (or corpse pose), in which you lay flat, arms and legs spread open. It is meant to offer a few moments of relaxation and calmness at the end of yoga practice. “Lie flat”, the instructor said, “like a gingerbread man”. I was fascinated by the imagery. The all American gingerbread man, toothless grin and all, has been doing shavasana all this time. Who knew.
In many classes, I encounter a sea of lululemon yoga pants, which retail for about a hundred dollars. There is a whole world of yoga “essentials” out there. Non-skid yoga socks, soles dotted with silicone grips, can keep you from slipping while attempting a particularly complicated asana. If you’re a clean freak, you might invest in a specially formulated organic yoga mat cleaning solution to keep your mat glamorously germ free. And there are “yogi approved” yoga knee pads if you’d like to treat your knees gently in lizard pose.
Even though I abandoned this blog for a long, long time, distracted by the many things that life throws at you (all good things this time, luckily), it has been on my mind. It's not a good feeling. It's like the guilt you feel when there's a friend you should be getting in touch with, but haven't had the time to call in a very long time.
On the bright side, I have been busy cooking and baking as usual. I've also had batches of family visiting this year. It was such fun to be a tourist in my city once again and to revisit all the spots that locals take for granted. We did some traveling, which reminded me how lucky we are to have beauty so close to home.
So I had plenty of reasons to work my oven. Two of the recipes I tried are this highly rated Nigella Lawson recipe for Strawberry Sour Cream Cake from the New York Times (also available elsewhere on the web) and this one for a Coconut Layer Cake.
The recipes are a study in contrast. The strawberry cake recipe is a very easy one. I made it even easier by skipping the fresh strawberries and using extra strawberry jam for the jam layer. I also slashed the sugar as I always do these days, with no regrets. The cake was delicious.
I baked the coconut layer cake because we had tasted a delicious coconut pie on one of our trips, and I wanted to try making a coconut flavored cake at home. This was one of few highly rated recipes online. I reduced the sugar by half, used two 9 inch pans instead of the three 8 inch pans used in the original recipe, and made just 1/4th frosting in the recipe keep sugar coma at bay. The original recipe called for close to a kilogram of sugar. I love my family too much to feed them that much sugar. I also added a few drops of coconut extract and a little coconut cream to the frosting. Because I was too lazy to toast the coconut, I simply mixed shredded coconut into the frosting.
In short, I played fast and loose with this recipe. I might toast the shredded coconut for the frosting next time --- the texture and taste of the frosting is probably better that way. But the recipe involves way too many bowls, specialty ingredients and steps for my liking. Lots of bells and whistles, as they say. A little bit like yoga in the U.S.