How yoga has helped me begin to explore Mumbai again/ My fight with back pain

You look so happy when you are around food, said K when I sent her this picture from the Authenticook Dine With The Kolis lunch 

Here's a little positive post from me for you to start your week with. Or, at least, me mine. It is to do with my fight with back pain and how yoga is helping me in the journey.

If you follow me on Instagram or on Facebook or on Twitter, then you would have noticed that I've been travelling across Mumbai a fair bit in the past couple of weeks. Trying out new food experiences and sharing some of what I have come across in the process. This is a bit different from my usual feed (no pun intended), which is largely from Bandra where I live. Some folks have even messaged me saying how they find this monotonous. Well, there is a reason for it being so. 

I hate travelling in Mumbai in general. The time taken to reach anywhere by road, and I travel by Ola and Uber cabs, is getting longer each day with the traffic increasing.

I also have a back problem which has been there for years. I am not the only person in the world to have a back pain of course. So many people suffer from it these days. For most of us I am told, the cause is not something that requires drastic remedies, but is more a function of stress, poor posture and of sitting at the desk all the time without getting any exercise. Bad and bumpy roads make it worse. 

Which is why I avoid travel in the city. When in pain, I further burrow myself in at home. If it gets too bad, I reach out to my doc, and then take a pain killer, which is not a good thing I know. 

I had recently gone to my doctor of many years, an orthopaedic, when I was in pain. He sat me down and told me that my back issues are due to a weak back and that pain and spasms could be triggered of by stress, mental or physical or both. He told me that exercise is my best bet in the long run. Swimming,  doing planks if I could, or yoga.

Luckily, I found a yoga teacher soon after that thanks to a friend and college senior who lives next door and whom I connected with thanks to my blog and who often cooks and feed us.

The teacher and I have started our sessions a month and a half back and he comes home for private sessions. I'd been going to the Yoga Institute at Santa Cruz for a few years before that for the group classes. Turns out that my teacher is from there too. He hardly does any individual classes he tells me but he luckily took me under his wings.

Has my back pain gone after we started? No, not yet. It actually won't go so soon, says my teacher. 

We have been working on an asana (physical exercise) routine aimed at strengthening my back. At the same time he has been talking to me about the philosophy of yoga from a holistic point of view. Through this, he has made me think about my pain and try to decode it better. "Try to understand the pain," as he puts it. His point is that the pain is something I've brought upon myself over the years through  my lifestyle, poor posture etc and that therefore I will be the one who will have to fix it  too. That a month and a half of asanas is not enough to fix it though.

What he has done, though, is urged me to face the pain and to learn to tackle it. "Pain will be there, whether you want to suffer is up to you," he said. He also stresses on the concept of ‘impermanence of situattion’ or anithya Bhavana. The fact that nothing lasts forever, suffering, pain or joy. Bringing the esoteric concept to ground level, he pointed out that my pain normally goes after a while and that this is possibly because it is not a serious injury and that I should try to deal with it rather than letting it take over my life or my running to take pain killers which, by the way, my doctor says these days that he is not too keen on it either.

It's not been easy adhering to this and in the initial days I'd get back to my pattern of tunnelling in and taking pain killers when in pain. But then, pushed by my yoga teacher who is my age but can get quite stern, I have tried to give in less to the pain as the days went by. As a result of this, I've been more open, or less closed than before, to trying out food experiences, even if they need me to travel within the city. Yoga after all, as he says is the control of the mind over the body. It is also about balance as is Buddhism, he pointed out. It is sort of cool to see both the life philosophies one follows come together again and again.

I went to Andheri, for example, to try out food from the O'tenga girls who do Assamese food deliveries in Mumbai. I loved the experience and wrote about it too. I was in pain towards the end of the journey back home front their kitchen but I didn't mind the outing at all.

With Priyangi and Joyee of O’Tenga

I said yes to opportunities which, in the past, I would be hesitant to say yes to. Wenr to Alibag, to Moshe Shek's workshop on Israeli food organised by Israeli Tourism. This involved a boat ride too. My hip began to pain the previous night and I was in such pain that day that I was limping when I walked at Alibag, I kid you not. In the past I would have cancelled the trip. Yet I woke up early, which I hate, and went to the workshop and I actually smiled through it. The smile was genuine. I did have good time there, learnt new things, had a change of scene, and most importantly felt great that I had come out. The next day I was scheduled to conduct a private food Parsi Food Walk at Fort for a lady who had booked me all the way from London. Unlike what I would have in the past, I didn't cancel despite the pain even though I was resigned to limping in Fort. I didn't take a pain killer either. The next morning my pain miraculously came under control and we had a glorious walk at Fort. I felt glad that I hadn't cancelled the previous evening.

At the Taste of Israel workshop at Alibag at Moshe Shek’s A World Away Cooking studio

At Ideal Corner conducting my Fort Parsi Food Walk for Nidhi Verma of London’s Meri Rasoi Cook Studio 

In between all this, our 16th wedding anniversary came and I had a back pain that day. However, I politely refused K's offer to cancel our dinner plans to go to Slink & Bardot at Worli. We went there and had a great meal. This was my first visit to the restaurant. Ironically, we had cancelled two earlier plans to go there because of my backache on those days.

With K at Slink&Bardot 

A week later I made last minute plans with a food blogger friend and went to Chembur to try out the Sindhi food there. I'd been planning to do this for quite a few years now and had to cancel plans each time I made them in the last because of my back pain. This time I just went to Chembur and things worked out perfectly. I had some great food, met some lovely people and came back with some lovely stories. 

With Alka Keswani of Sindhi Rasoi at the end of her Chembur Sindhi Food Trail 

The next day I had been invited to a Koli lunch at Versova. Again an hour's drive away from home. My back began to pain again that morning. However, instead of cancelling my trip, I put on a lumbar support belt and went there. Once again, I had a most amazing time...great food and great experiences which resulted in my coming home with some fresh fish that I'd bought from the market. 

Buying fish at the Versova Fish Market from the family who had hosted us for the Koli lunch along with Authenticook

During this period, we continued our yoga sessions together, and I did my practise on days when my teacher didn't come. We are a bit like Kung Fu Panda and Master Schifu as I'd once written earlier but I am sticking to it. The pain does come back but at least I've not allowed it to run my life for now and that’s a change. It's been a while since I last popped a pain killer too.

I don't know what lies next. My yoga teacher tells me to focus on the present. Thinking of the future can give anxiety he says. He also tells me to be positive and doesn't let me dwell on stories of my pain with him and this has led to my thinking less about it when he's not around too. 

When in pain, I stretch, I breathe, I move, I try to relax, I do my Buddhist chants...I haven’t thrown in the towel in a while and that has been a start and I feel a lot of gratitude for that.

The result is that I've had a larger variety of lovely food experiences across Mumbai in the past few days than I have had in a while. Experiences which have excited me, opened new worlds to me and which have given me new stories to write about and have most importantly led to great food. I have for a while wanted to move out of Bandra, to be a tourist in my city once again. To gather new experiences. I am so glad that I’ve been able to of late.

The pictures I've posted were chosen carefully. The smiles in them
hopefully tell you how I feel about the journey so far.

I know that the headline of the post reads like one desperately seeking SEO, but it tells the truth. I do feel as I have had a new lease of life over the past few days and only I know how liberating this feels.

Note: I am not a trained yoga practitioner an that requires study and practise and nor am I a doctor by any means. I am sharing my own experiences here and my understanding and interpretation of what I’ve learnt. What I have written is not meant to be taken as a remedy for pain and you should consult a professional about that. However, I do hope that this post gives you hope and energy if nothing else. 

Heading back to Mumbai after Moshe Shek’s class. At the Mandwa jetty. In pain, but feeling sort of cool and full of gratitude.