Why you should do the yoga postures you ‘hate’

yoga postures

The yoga postures we most dislike are actually the best for us.

Really? Is this just another thing that teachers say, along with flowering your buttocks (no, I don’t say this!)?

I couldn’t bear this posture called crow, crane or bakasana – or more can’t-be-asana.

I still spent years trying to ‘perfect’ the posture, which is the Instagram image of yogis everywhere.

But I learnt a lot more along the way than simply to improve my upper body strength.

What I learnt is true yoga. But at the time I didn’t know it.

Students, like me, can benefit from these tips, which are the basis of yoga philosophy:

Be challenged but don’t compete – Yoga isn’t a competition. Take your focus off the person on the next mat. Your body is different to theirs. Losing the ego also helps you to get into those yoga postures because you’re more relaxed.

Be kind to yourself – It’s only yoga! The way you approach yoga postures can say a lot about your mind. Why must you be able to do a handstand right now? Will getting frustrated and cross with yourself help?

Be patient – Yoga students would traditionally practice under a master for years but now we want everything to happen in an instant – or a yoga class. Give it time and practice the prep yoga postures. If it doesn’t happen – well, who cares? Maybe you had fun trying?

Recently, I’ve been unable to lift up into the crow posture for some reason.

But now I now laugh as I fall out of it. This definitely makes it one of the best yoga postures for me.

What is yoga posture that you dislike the most? Arm balances in general are my nemesis.

Share your experiences in the comments below.

And finally, find out more about my classes

Finding some inspiration (rather than irritation) in your inbox

Back to work blues? Greeted by a mass of emails and retreating to the kitchen/toilet/cafe at every opportunity?

Emails can be a poke in the face at work – yet another thing to do, someone complaining or a ‘who stole my yoghurt?!’ call-out.

But there is a way to keep some cheer in your inbox.

Quite a few years ago, I started keeping a ‘thanks’ folder.

I put all emails with any compliments (about work, not my hair – but whatever works for you!) into a folder in my inbox.

Then whenever I was having a stressful time, I’d take a look in there and get an instant uplift.

Ok, you’re still going to have to deal with those troubling emails but it keeps things in perspective.

I was telling a friend about this recently and she suggested taking screengrabs of positive feedback on social media – great idea! (Thanks Sarah Blinco of Travel Live Learn!)

Oh, and these emails will come in useful come appraisal time.

Now I ‘appraise’ myself as a freelancer (ha!) but I still have a thanks folder.

This gem dropped in this week from someone who featured in an article about health conditions in medics: ‘Thanks very much, this is excellent. So many of my colleagues have said good things about your piece. They really liked your article!’

A great start to the first week of the year – and an addition to the thanks folder, of course!

With the best intentions, let’s start this year

‘You don’t want to reflect on the past year or make new year resolutions. Just keep going – or you’ll drive yourself crazy!’

This is what a wise and hilariously frank friend said to me on New Year’s Eve.

She’s not wrong. Well, not entirely … 🙂 I don’t do new year resolutions but I do intentions.

‘What’s the difference?’ My friend asked.

I see intentions as positive long-term plans, or a journey towards something.

I see resolutions as negative short-term, punitive plans – banning something and then chastising yourself for ‘failing’.

To be honest, on New Year’s Eve I was feeling a bit down for various (crazy – yes!) reasons.

So, I decided to write down all the good things that happened to me in 2016 – and I got to 18!

It really was a great year overall as I went travelling, left my job and started working as a freelance writer and yoga teacher.

But still you can dwell on the negatives and the unknowns, those nagging uncertainties.

I like to plan so, with the help of a New Year’s Day yoga workshop, I’m writing a few intentions (or Sankalpas as they’re known in yoga/Sanskrit).

These are plans for the year, such as making contacts for work and building new connections, friendships or relationships.

Here’s what I do:

1) Write down the good things that happened to you in the past year – it can be a good holiday, a small success at work, a new friend made, a great new coffee haunt. Two of mine included listing my top times with friends and family.

2) Set some small intentions – little things that are achievable, perhaps not winning the lottery or taking on the US presidency (though anything is up for grabs these days!). Some of mine are around networking for new work opportunities and working on social media promotion.

3) Do a regular condition check – see how things are going in a month or two, and then in 6 months. Refine plans if needed. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed but perhaps a new approach is needed. I found this with some yoga work last year and so joined organisations to gain support, which led to new work.

4) Keep the faith, release the fear – this is probably the most important one for me. Whatever obstacles come along, keep believing in yourself and going, small step by small step.

5) Have fun – this goes back to the resolution issue. If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re probably not going to keep it up. Make sure whatever you’re doing, you believe in it (the process and the result).

And remember your best support is from those who you already know. Those funny friends who keep you laughing and support you to the hilt.

They have the best intentions at heart – and sometimes some good advice!

No sleep till Christmas?! How to find your sleepy (s)elf

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Just a few sleeps till Christmas … though I feel like I’m not getting much shut-eye at all.

I can’t say it’s the excitement of festivities (freelancers have few/no parties – boohoo), or worry that I’ve forgotten something (pretty sorted on gifts/travel plans).

But it is a mixture of these butterfly belly feelings.

My mind is excitedly buzzing with creative ideas or to-do-lists, to the point where I start writing emails, blogs, social posts in my head in the middle of night. Not good!

Or … I am in a state of anxiety, fearing financial and career Armageddon that will only be eased by doing complex sums (any for me) at 3am.
This is the kind of fear you only get in the dead of night.

But this time of year, in particular, does tend to invoke a ‘monkey mind’ as our thoughts jump about from one task to another that must be done before the holidays. Or for some it can be the dread of Christmas.

Here are a few things I do to curb middle-of-the-night madness (one of them normally works for me):

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+ Breathe – always a good idea. I mean focus your attention on the breath either at the nostrils or within the body as a whole. Sometimes, I go to sleep with my hands on my belly, feeling the breath there.

+ Relax the body – yeah, easier said than done when you’re tossing and turning. But doing a body scan, relaxing each part of the body in turn can be really effective (find a yoga nidra recording online). If that doesn’t work I find the next one often does …

+ Release tension in the face – This is within a yoga nidra but I sometimes do this separately as it works for me. Basically, with the eyes softly closed, remove any expression from your face, slightly part the lips and breathe.

+ Duvet/pillow between the legs – if you’re really uncomfortable, then lying on your side with the knees tucked into the chest (foetal position) can help. Tuck the duvet or a pillow between the thighs to stack the hips which helps to relax you.

+ Pillow/blanket rolled up under knees – lie on your back and place a pillow/blanket under the knees. This is good for lower back problems and allows the legs to release and relax.

If these don’t work, maybe just count your breath or how many sleeps till Christmas – if that’s not too much for you.

Or sign up for a meditation course to boost your middle-of-the-night mindfulness. I’ll be running some more courses soon.

Loving the ‘loneliness’ of the long-distance writer

park-pic

Once upon a time I won a prize from my local running club.

A winner’s medal for a time-trial? An award for a personal best in a half-marathon? No – a copy of Little Miss Chatterbox for, erm, conversing.

I like to chat, and don’t people know it.

So, pursuing a career as a freelance health journalist (and yoga teacher) – with no workmates – has presented a number of challenges.

Here are my tips for staying sane while going it solo (and loving it, especially random kitchen dancing!) –

1) Get out of here – Always, always go out during the day. However, busy you are, even a short jaunt to Sainsbury’s will brighten your day (the medical tips I get from checkout staff are always cheering!). Fortunately, teaching enforces going out but it can be easy to stay in all day beforehand.

2) Social media is no substitute for real fleshy friends – These days we’re so connected online, yet often so disconnected. As supportive as 6music is, arrange at least one mid-week meet-up with a friend in the flesh. It’s not really the done thing to moan to your meditation group, when you’re teaching it.

3) Talk, don’t type – It’s so easy to do almost everything on email these days. Pick up the phone instead. Like face-to-face, it does forge better connections. I’m fortunate that interviews tend to be done over the phone (sometimes even in person). I also call clients when I could have typed.

4) Wear proper clothes – I’m proud to say I’ve yet to work in my pyjamas and I always sit at a proper desk. It just puts you in the right frame of mind: ‘Now, I’m working, not watching Netflix’. Similarly, make sure you’ve got plenty of healthy food in. Lunch is often grabbed (last night’s leftovers), especially when juggling commitments, rather than living the freelance coffee shop dream. But I do pride myself on knowing the best baristas in north-east London (for sunny days and take-outs, of course).

5) Connect/network with other homeworkers/start-ups – There are loads of groups on Facebook aimed at supporting people running their own business or working freelance. They tend to encourage meet-ups IRL (in real life) too, and not just for the extroverts. Also, network at every opportunity as it brings in more work but also eases isolation. There is also the possibility of cake, prosecco or even a celeb endorser – and sometimes all three, for free!

foot-in-park

So, as tempting as it is to stay indoors as winter arrives, get out as much as possible.

You might just meet someone running around the park and strike up a conversation.

No prizes for guessing it has happened to Little Miss Chatterbox.

Meditation: how your breath can reap benefits

Meditation pose

Do you want to remove negative thought patterns and be calm, mindful and able to stay in the present?

You’re not alone. It sounds pretty ideal, hey?

The meditation technique Prana Samyama, which involves focusing on the natural breath, offers all of this.

Our natural breath reflects our emotional, mental and physical state at any given moment. For example, have you ever noticed how your breath becomes short and fast when anxious? 

The breath is connected to the body and to the conscious and unconscious minds. The unconscious mind is where the ego, our reactions/habits reside.

By observing the uncontrolled breath at the entrance of the nostrils, you can learn to live in the present moment and experience a state of harmony.

This method was taught by Buddha, and in the present time by yoga and meditation master Dr ALV Kumar in India.

It also has the potential to remove stored stress or negative thought patterns. This happens by the conscious mind neutrally observing the fluctuations in the unconscious mind. These reactions are reflected in the breath.  Doing this in a state of calm, objective awareness results in profound and permanent long-term changes.

neeta-meditating

Neeta Madahar is a senior meditation teacher with Traditional Yoga, a voluntary organisation which trains teachers and runs courses to teach this technique.

Here she explains its impact.

Why should people practise Prana Samyama?

There are lots of meditations available which work with the conscious mind, giving people the ability to develop concentration, reduce stress and become more relaxed.

This technique does all of these things. But it goes further by working with the unconscious mind, as well as the conscious mind.

Prana Samyama meditation also does not condition the mind to become attracted and therefore attached to a meditation object, like a mantra. With its focus on awareness of the natural breath, there is no liking or disliking created. There is only a choiceless awareness of the present changing reality, as manifested by each unique breath.

This objective meditation strengthens the conscious mind at the same time as deconditioning the unconscious mind.

How did you discover this technique?

I have been meditating on mantras from a young age thanks to my mother and religious upbringing as a Hindu.

Although I found that I was getting the relaxation, problem-solving and concentration benefits of these devotional meditations, my negative habits and thought patterns weren’t changing. 

In 2009, I met Anna Bhushan, an illustrator and senior teacher and volunteer with Traditional Yoga, at an art exhibition in London where we were both exhibiting. Anna and I felt an immediate connection.

Two years later, we met up again, talking more deeply about meditation and Anna’s teacher Dr Kumar, who was coming to London to run a two-day yoga workshop.

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I attended the workshop and was so impressed by Dr Kumar’s wealth of knowledge and his genuine humility that I enrolled onto a silent meditation retreat with him in India in December 2011. There, I learnt and practised the Prana Samyama technique, and continued on my return home.

Describe your personal practice?

It has changed over the course of the last five years. For the first three years, I meditated for one hour in the morning and another hour later in the day. This pattern eventually shifted to one daily two-hour session.  

I also attend Dr Kumar’s meditation retreats twice a year to strengthen and deepen my practice.

What have been the benefits to you of practising this method?

I have seen an evolution in my behaviour and personality. For example, I used to get angry and irritated about lots of things, even though I could keep these feelings under wraps most of the time.

Now the intensity and frequency of getting annoyed has dramatically decreased. I also get over things more quickly because the triggers for my anger having substantially weakened. 

I’ve also become more compassionate, have a greater awareness about things and see situations from different perspectives so don’t jump to conclusions as quickly. I am also less restless and more patient. 

These changes in entrenched behaviour patterns have been enough of a motivation for me to persevere with my practice. It’s not been five years of bliss, light and no problems. But there’s been enough of a revolution in my personality for me to be committed to this technique.

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What obstacles – or challenges – have you had to overcome in your own practice?

Restlessness. You may expect meditation to be a blissed out experience. While this can and does sometimes happen, it’s not all that frequent. This is when motivation and persistence is crucial.

It can be hard when going through a protracted period of difficulty. But whatever a meditation session is like, I don’t judge the experience nor do I have expectations anymore.

I just see my practice as something I have to do in the morning like having a shower or cleaning my teeth. I don’t overthink it or procrastinate, but see it as the driver for everything to work properly in my life – my relationships, my work… all that I do.

What advice would you give to students encountering difficulties or doubts over this meditation method?

If you’re experiencing difficulties, don’t give up. Challenges happen and are a normal part of the meditation journey.

• Sit with the restlessness, the boredom, the doubts, the sadness, essentially whatever comes up – the sensations are impermanent, they are rising to pass
• Meditate with other people too whenever possible as that helps strengthen your practice
• Share any difficulties about meditation with fellow meditators – chances are they’ve experienced the same problems and can help.

Book your meditation course

Register now for a Traditional Yoga meditation course run by Flavia in north-east London

Find out more about Traditional Yoga courses, retreats and training

Visit Neeta’s Yoga Cafe on Facebook

With thanks to Traditional Yoga for the images.

 

How to survive the three peaks 24-hour challenge

Ben Nevis halfway

Clinging to loose mountain rock amid gale-force winds, I looked to my friend Karen and thought: ‘what have you done?’

It’s always good in a crisis to find someone to blame.

Then I laughed, picked myself up, wobbling like a floating astronaut, and was guided down to a place of (relative) safety.

It was Karen’s idea to climb the UK’s three highest mountain peaks – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon- in 24 hours. Most people opt for a party or weekend break for their 40th birthday ‘treat’ – but not this one. Myself and our mutual friend Clare were foolish (or brave?) enough to join her on this ‘Life Changing Challenges’ charity event.

Ben Nevis – battling ‘The Ben’

Our stroll began in earnest at 2.20pm on an unusually windy summer Saturday (even for Scotland). From here, we began the 1,345m-ascent of Ben Nevis. It began with us stripping off layers as we sweated under the heat of the sun (yes!). It ended with us attempting a ‘summit selfie’ in what weather forecasters would describe as poor visibility, with a woolly hat and 100 per cent waterproof hood not being sufficient cover (in August).

Scafell Pike summit

Scafell Pike – where’s the summit?

Next up (after a short nap in transit on our minibus) was Scafell Pike (978m) in the Lake District. The place to be, it appeared by the crowds, at 3.20am on a Sunday morning. With rave lights, or rather head-torches, we set off up the stone steps and ascended the gravelly ground and rocks to reach the top around day-break.
This was my bleakest mountain. I was close to tears on summiting. This was the result of a mixture of exhaustion and being left alone, unable to see the summit (an unusual occurrence on this challenge and rectified by local guides on the descent). Karen and I also grouped together from then on, despite months ago saying we’d all ‘do our own thing’. This made the experience much better.

Snowdon summit

Snowdon – are we nearly there yet?

This is a frequent question on this challenge to which our brilliant guide, Dave, always responded: ‘I don’t like to lie, so can’t answer that’. At least on Snowdon, last up (a mere 1,345m up, in fact), we knew the end was near if not in sight. This was the most attractive ascent, in my opinion, but that may be more due to the fact I could see the beautiful surroundings due to daylight combined with a bit of sun. It was a scramble to the top, quick photo ‘finish’ and then the long, misty ascent. Knees suffering (even with the aid of walking poles), we did it – and cracked open the fizz at the first opportunity! I finished in just over 25 hours, a proud achievement.

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Top tips

Expect the unexpected

It’s so British to go on about the weather, but that was my biggest challenge. I expected sleep deprivation to be the biggest problem. I didn’t expect brilliant sunshine, but you can’t anticipate that it will be Scotland’s windiest summer’s day since records began!

Food is your fuel

It sounds pretty obvious but when you’re trying to press on and avoid the weather, it’s easy to forget to eat or drink. I failed to do so often enough, and I should know better as I used to be a long-distance runner. Eat or drink something small each hour. Choose food you like. I was lucky enough to have a friend bake a selection of yummy healthy snacks for me. See how to bake them on the other blog.

Snowdon descent

Moment by moment

All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and repeat. And repeat. And again. It’s best not to think too much about far you have yet to go.

Let it out

When there’s a loo, use it. You never know when the next one is coming, and time is always of the essence. The same for tears/frustration – another emotional challenge will come soon enough so let this one go.

Lean on me

If the willpower is faltering, it is your friends who will get you to the top. Agree to either post a Facebook/Twitter update after each summit, or use a WhatsApp group or SnapChat. The feedback from your friends will power you on.
Similarly, put together some power anthems for those low points – if that’s your thing.

One of the nicest things about doing this challenge is that our trio have been in constant contact for months. We all live in different parts of the UK but we’ve been chatting online about hopes and fears for the challenge, and also supporting each other in our everyday highs and lows. I probably won’t climb the equivalent of a marathon in 24 hours for my 40th but I’m glad I did it – and with these determined two friends.

We raised £2,895 for our chosen charities, Mind, the Lullaby Trust and the Brain Tumour Charity.

Fancy completing your own challenge? Check out Life Changing Challenges.

Recipes for sporting success

Flapjacks and energy balls

Food is your fuel and your friend on any endurance challenge.

That bite of a tasty sweet snack is a much-needed boost, physically and emotionally, up a mountain – whatever your mode of transport.

And if you have a foodie friend on hand, then you’re already a winner!

I was lucky to have such a friend supply the energy snacks for my challenge to climb the UK’s three highest peaks in 24 hours.

Here my recipe writer friend Lucy Battersby, who trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine, shares her recipes for successful summiting. I’d highly recommend them – yum!

Power boost bars

140g light soft brown sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
140g butter
250g rolled oats
85g raisins
85g walnuts, chopped
50g pumpkin seeds
25g dried cranberries
50g dates, finely chopped

1. Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/Gas 3. Put the sugar, syrup and butter in a pan over a low heat until the sugar and butter and both melted. Stir in the oats, raisins, walnuts, seeds and cranberries.

2. Spoon half the mix into a baking tin (about 20 x 20cm). Scatter over the dates then top with the remaining oaty mix. Pack down the mixture well (rolling a tin over works well for this – just whatever you have in the cupboard). Bake for 35 mins or until dark golden.

3. Leave to cool completely before cutting into bars.

Lucy and recipes

Energy balls

100g pecans
75g raisins
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp ground almonds
1tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp runny honey
30g desiccated coconut

1. Put the pecans in a food processor and blitz to crumbs. Add the raisins, peanut butter, ground almonds, cocoa powder and honey, and pulse to combine.

2. Shape the mixture into small balls and roll in the desiccated coconut. Put in the fridge to firm for 20 minutes.

Follow Lucy on Twitter @foodielucy or Instagram

Why teens (+ all) still need yoga in a mindful world

Teen yoga - boy and girl

Mindfulness has eased its way into modern life, from cleaning your teeth before work to strolling along a beach on holiday.

Children can learn to mindfully eat a raisin (or even a chunk of chocolate – ssh!) for their mental wellbeing.

Stressed out execs have an excuse to return to their childhood crayons to mindfully colour-in a drawing.

Even MPs are minding themselves in Parliament, though you may think ‘more work is needed’ on seeing Prime Minister’s questions.

So if mindfulness is so great (and it is), then why do yoga? And why introduce the practice into schools where mindfulness is spreading further?

Experts debated this at the Instill 2016 conference on education, yoga and wellbeing held in London this month.

What’s the difference between mindfulness and yoga?

Mindfulness came to prominence in 1979 when US emeritus professor of medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the mindfulness-based stress reduction programme.

He says: ‘Mindfulness practice means we commit fully in each moment to be present.’

Yoga’s exact age is less clear but it is widely thought to date back 5,000 years. It includes posture practice, breath work, meditation and personal guidance/observances relating to qualities such as non-competitiveness and non-violence.

The sage Patanjali, who wrote the formative Yoga Sutras, said:

‘Yoga is a stilling of the fluctuations of the mind’ (or in Sanskrit: Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodhah).

Teenyoga arms

But they still sound kind of similar?

Sat Bir Khalsa thinks so too. Dr Khalsa is assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a leading researcher in yoga therapy. He says traditional yoga, without a doubt, incorporates mindfulness.

He told the Instill conference, organised by the Teen Yoga Foundation, that the techniques of meditation are almost identical to mindfulness. ‘You focus your attention in a relaxed manner and mind wandering goes,’ he said.

Why bother with yoga at all?

Because people who just practice mindfulness have missed a trick – to engage the body. Dr Khalsa says the body contributes to cognitive functioning.

This view is supported by many including US leading neuroscientist and child psychiatrist Dan Siegel who believes the focus involved in mindful movement – or yoga – helps to integrate the brain and enable reasoned decision making.

While Dr Khalsa says the benefits of yoga include –

• improved respiratory function, coordination and balance
• ability to self-regulate emotions
• mindfulness or awareness
• Giving life purpose.

Teen yoga wheels

But can’t schoolchildren just do gymnastics?

It’s not the same, says Heather Mason, founder of the Minded Institute. She is leading a call to get yoga on the school curriculum – with over 400 letters sent to MPs urging them to support an early day motion on this. She has presented on this issue to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Indian Traditional Sciences.

The yoga therapist told Instill that mindfulness is an inherent part of yoga, as otherwise postures are just stretching (or gymnastics). She added that controlled breathing and movement helps students to sit in meditation. This allows more prefrontal cortex activation (the reasoning part of the brain).

So, mindfulness or yoga?

Both have their place. Yoga covers mindfulness too though. Or as Ingunn Hagen, a professor of psychology in Norway, offered to the debate: ‘Why focus on just our head? We are doing enough of that in our universities.’

Take mindful action

Write a letter to your MP supporting the call to get yoga in the school curriculum and the NHS.

Interested in teen yoga? I am an accredited teen yoga teacher – email me via ‘connect’ below for class details. Or find a teen yoga teacher via Teen Yoga, the UK’s fully accredited teen yoga and mindfulness training course.

Find out more about the Teen Yoga Foundation.

With thanks to Teen Yoga for the images.

Top tips for a perfect time in Pondicherry

Pondicherry prom

When I was looking at visiting Pondicherry I couldn’t find a bad word about the place.

Seriously, I tried (I like to be prepared).

But Google and fellow travellers – eastern and western – would only deliver kind words about the former French colony, affectionately known as Pondy.

Now I know why. And better still, I have memories to cherish forever.

But I did struggle with some small practical details that would have helped to make life easier and allay the fears of a lone traveller.

So, here is my guide to make your trip to Pondicherry just perfect.

Matrimandir and me

Travelling to Pondicherry

Most people travel to Pondicherry from Chennai, which is about 170km away and also in the state of Tamil Nadu. I booked a bus, through Rathimeena Travels, to Pondy for about 450 rupees (£4ish). I found it difficult to work out where the nearest stop was as many are simply under a tree on a roadside. I opted for Koyambedu bus station (about 30 minutes cab or rickshaw ride from where I was staying near Anna Salai).

Top tip – Don’t listen to the bus website about printing your ticket and id, you only need the booking reference number.

Check your bus has aircon when booking as quite a few don’t have it. Also factor in delays (especially if you want to arrive before sunset which is safer) – my bus was supposed to take 3.5 hours but actually took 4.5 hours. The aircon bus is very comfortable – the only downer is the loud films they play from the screen at the front of the bus.

A tuk tuk from Pondicherry bus stand (there’s only one but you can ask to be dropped off earlier, for example in Auroville) to the French colonial area is around 400 rupees (£4ish).

Travelling back to Chennai? Taxis this way are often less expensive than traveling to Pondicherry, about 3,000 rupees (around £30). If you’re going to the airport this the best option. Try Pondicherry Car.

Palais de Mahe

Where to stay

I stayed at Palais de Mahe in the French quarter, also known as White Town.

The beds are incredibly comfy (they are worth commenting on!). The bathroom also has a range of gorgeous smelling and great for the skin/hair Ayurvedic products. The staff are very helpful and knowledgable and the food, particularly dinner, is delicious. My favourite is cinnamon prawns, lentil encrusted catch of the day and a bee’s knees cocktail (gin, lemon and honey – hey, it’s practically medicinal!).

Oh, and the hotel has an amazing pool.

This isn’t the cheapest option but is worth it and TripAdvisor and Booking.com have good deals on this hotel.

Poor point – the wifi dips in and out.

Getting around Pondicherry

Go by two wheels! Many hotels, including the Palais de Mahe, offer free bike hire. Ok, the bikes have no gears and so can be hard work but you still get a breeze which in a very hot April (temperatures in late 30c) is to be welcomed.

One of my best memories is cycling along the Promenade before sunset with the sea breeze gently blowing through my hair – and ok sweat running down me – and smiling away.

The bikes have an easy self-bolt so no need to chain it to something.

Sights and experiences

Auroville

Auroville

Ok, this township isn’t technically in Pondicherry. It is about a 30-minute rickshaw ride away (costing around 600 rupees – £6 – for a round-trip in which the driver waits for you).

Auroville is awesome and inspirational and is a must-see.

Its aim is to be a ‘universal town’ where people of all sexes, races and nationalities live in harmony. It was set up by a French spiritual leader Mirra Alfassa, known as ‘the Mother’, in 1958.

Auroville has a strong ecological ethos with a number of sustainability projects including the reforestation of its land. It also supports gender empowerment through schemes finding work for women in textiles, and less traditional feminine employment.

The glistening jewel at the heart of Auroville is the Matrimandir. Behind its space age-style gold exterior are 12 meditation chambers in the ‘petals’ which each correspondent to a flower representing qualities such as gratitude. Within the inner meditation is a crystal ball through which a line of sunlight beams – what a focal point for meditation!

Auroville gratitude

Top tip – Choose the day and time you visit carefully. It is free to enter Auroville. Just show up at the visitor centre and get a pass and visit the Matrimandir viewing point. But gaining entry inside the Matrimandir is a bit more complicated. You must ask for a pass in person for the Matrimandir between 10-11am or 2-3pm. Your pass will be for a day or two after visiting Auroville. It is closed on Sunday afternoons and passes can’t be issued on Tuesdays.

I missed out on meditating inside the Matrimandir due to these timings, which I was gutted about.

Aurobindo ashram

Sri Aurobindo Ashram

The ashram was founded by Indian Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in 1926 and doesn’t teach a particular type of yoga or meditation rather allows students to find their own way. It isn’t a quiet place as it’s located in a busy part of Pondicherry and is open to visitors. But it is worth visiting to attend the evening self-practice meditation session in the courtyard and the bookshop where hundreds of the ashram’s publications are available to buy in many different languages for very cheap prices. There are also guided tours available.

Top tip – arrive by 4pm to take part in the evening meditation and bring a towel or cushion to sit on as the ground is concrete. Also be aware that you’ll need to use your meditative powers to zone out the scampering squirrels in the courtyard!

Pondy prom nighttime

The promenade

It may seem strange to suggest a stretch of pavement as an attraction but a stroll along here after 6pm (when it’s traffic free) is great. It is also busy though. You will see hundreds of people – way more than you ever see there in the day. It is also the most hassle-free time and very relaxing.

Eating out

Cafe des artes

Cafe des arts

This is a cool vintage-styled cafe in the French quarter serving nice sandwiches, crepes, salads, juices and coffee. They also have strong wifi and a nice garden and a vintage clothes shop.

Top tip – opt for the banana and lemon crepe – yum!

Villa Shanti

Villa Shanti

This is a boutique hotel with a restaurant downstairs. The food and service are excellent. It’s a mixture of ‘contemporary cuisine’ – fish dishes and vegetarian – and classic Indian food.

Top tip – try the aubergine confit for dessert. It sounds strange but is delicious! The fish dishes are very tasty but the fish is a bit overcooked.

Shopping

La Maison Rose

La Maison Rose

Like Cafe des arts, this is another two in one cafe – an eatery and a shop. The food is good as are the clothes but they are expensive by Indian (and even western standards) – about 6,000 rupees (£60) for a pair of silk trousers. They also sell beautiful cotton and jewellery.

Hidesign

This an international Pondicherry-based leather goods retailer. They sell good quality bags, purses and shoes at reasonable prices. Bags start from around 3900 rupees (£39), for a mixed material bag, and about 5000 rupees (£50) for a leather handbag.

These products are made using eco-friendly vegetable tanning processes. Hidesign also support sustainability projects in India.

Top tip – tourists get 10% discount in store. There is also a Hidesign factory shop up the road.

Hidesign bag

Kalki

This is a great shop for gifts unfortunately I found some of the staff quite snooty on my visit to their Pondicherry store (and the way they follow you everywhere at close range is very annoying).

But Kalki does sell some great Ayurveda massages oils, perfumes and cosmetics. They also have a huge incense stick range and stock some nice cotton clothes.

Mira boutique at Auroville

This boutique near the Auroville visitor centre sells a great range of women’s cotton and silk clothing, and also candles and much homeware. You will struggle not to find a gift for most women you know as there is so much choice from the patterned to the plain. I bought about five items of clothing (not all for me!) and had change from £50.

Again, this is an ethical store with, for example, the blouse prints are produced by local women’s projects.

Check out more information on Pondicherry via Pondy Tourism or visit the official tourist information office on the Promenade.