Spirituality, special needs, pre- and post-natal care… Three young yoga practitioners and instructors talk about using this ancient Indian discipline to approach three different aspects in life. Lakshmi Krupa listens in
It’s an overcast noon and the 136.1 yoga studio in Alwarpet wears a relaxed look. A class has just ended and the calming sound of chants from a nearby room calls out to us in a reassuring manner. We are here to meet three young yoga instructors, who were drawn to yoga from different disciplines. Karthik Thogulava was in the movie industry working on graphics; Divya Rolla was a dancer looking for an ‘organic’ way to decompress after her dance routines, while Leena Kinger was forced to take up yoga after a series of injuries. Years later, now, all three are yoga instructors for a diverse range of people. They talk about the benefits of yoga, which they say, go beyond weight-loss and fitness.
Born and brought up in Chennai, Karthik decided to learn yoga six years ago when his gym membership ran out. “I fell in love with yoga,” he says with a smile. “I wanted people to experience what I had experienced. That’s why I decided to teach.” Karthik quit his job as a graphics lighting artist in the movie industry to study yoga full-time and learned to teach. “I joined out of curiosity! And then something changed in me. I was able to get an enormous amount of work done in a much shorter time than before. I was now able to see the big picture. My productivity increased and I have this urge to go deeper into the discipline,” he says. Karthik practises the Ashtanga Vinyasa style of yoga and teaches the Shivananda tradition.
“While my first goal as a teacher is to help people stay fit, there are some people who do come and talk to me about wanting to delve deeper into the subject. It doesn’t happen with everyone. But yoga does spark off a sense of spirituality in some people,” he observes. Of the immediate changes that he notices in his students, he says, “Their posture changes! When you find even sitting and standing uncomfortable, everything else gets affected. Once you have your body in order, you are free to focus on other things,” he says, and we realise he has been sitting with his spine erect all through the interview! “Yoga isn’t just about the practice in a studio. It extends beyond to our lives. Yoga is also about ‘right thinking’ and ‘right action’,” he says.
Leena, who was a ‘closet yogi’ for a long time before she took the plunge into teaching, has been practising yoga from her school days. A dancer who worked with Chandralekha, and an intense Kalari practitioner, Leena took to yoga to heal and work-out when she had multiple injuries. “I did a number of yoga certificate programmes then,” says this certified Ashtanga teacher.
While she prefers to not talk about her own sadhana, which she thinks is deeply personal, she is happy to share her experiences of working with special children. “It began with my brother (a special child). I wanted to bring the benefits of yoga to them.” Leena works mainly with children who have Down syndrome. “I also work with their mothers,” she says. Leena works with toddlers too, and says yoga can bring more oxygen to the brain, helping them relax and focus and later on gain enough patience to carry on some vocation too.
“Yoga can help with their endocrine system, and over time, can even reduce ADHD and help them stay calm.” Working with mothers and children in Mysore, Chennai, Bengaluru as well as Delhi, Leena says she has seen yoga bring a sense of emotional well-being in the mothers of these children. “Mothers who have been depressed and judgemental have become more accepting and have stopped boxing their children with identity burdens,” she smiles. Leena, one of the founders of Integral Yoga Institute in the city, observes it has helped her become more compassionate too. “The Bhagavat Gita says samatvam yoga ucyate (yoga helps people gain equanimity). Even mothers who pushed children away embrace them and become less apologetic! And to mothers of special children I want to say, never give up. It’s not an illness. Accept the present.”
Close to nine years ago, Divya Rolla, who is also a contemporary dancer, was looking at an “organic form of exercise that would allow me to decompress after my strenuous dance sessions”. That’s when she discovered yoga. “I kept going to yoga because at the end of every class I felt wonderful and there were no residual aches and pains.” While most of her students come initially looking for weight-loss, Divya says, that over a period of three months they move beyond these concerns. “There is nothing wrong with it, but there is more to yoga than weight-loss. It helps both physically and physiologically,” she explains, “It has been proved that besides toning your muscles and body (which is physical), yoga also acts on your various organs and keeps them healthy and stimulated (which is physiological).”
Divya, who teaches at five different places in the city, says that she most enjoys one-on-one therapy sessions with her students. She also works with pregnant women. “From pre-natal to post-natal, I think yoga has a lot to offer for pregnant women, and I work with them right from when they find out they are pregnant all the way until after childbirth,” she explains. “If they have a fairly normal pregnancy, yoga can help them keep it that way! If it’s a normal delivery, they can start exercising in a month or if it’s a C-Section, after 45 days. Yoga can help mothers shed weight, tone their back and muscles, etc.” Divya too says she has found people, including her own self, become more compassionate and accepting of others. “People, especially those who want to lose weight, come to me with almost a sense of hatred towards their body. Over time, it all changes. They accept their own selves better!”