Meet P. Nikarika, perhaps the only practitioner of competitive yoga in the city talks about striking a balance between yoga and academics

If you find yourself looking at children and saying “Kids, these days…” before launching into a flashback on how disciplined your days were in your childhood and how it has all gone out of vogue, meet P. Nikarika. All of 17, she doesn’t spend time ‘hanging out’ with friends. She eats five small meals a day and her diet includes salads, nuts and dry fruits, and chicken and fish once a week. Junk food is adefinite no no.

It’s with intense discipline that the youngster has scaled the fast growing ‘competitive yoga’ world. Nikarika’s day begins at 4.30 a.m. “I do some light yoga and then finish all my work for school. School starts by 8 a.m.,” she says. After school (Chettinad Vidyashram), she spends three hours on yoga usually and if she is participating in a competition, her practice sessions go on for four hours.

She comes from a family of sportspersons. While her father is an equestrian, her mother was an athlete. Nikarika’s elder sister is a national-level swimmer. “I have been performing yoga since I was six years. I was also a swimmer,” she adds. Her yoga teacher in school asked Nikarika to demonstrate for a school day event and she entered the world of yoga competitions soon after.

“Once I started doing yoga, it took me away from swimming,” says Nikarika, who has won nine international medals in yoga competitions held in different parts of the world, including India. A gymnastics enthusiast, Nikarika is interested in rhythmic and artistic yoga too. “I watch videos of gymnasts from around the world, and try to learn from them. Rhythmic yoga is a lot like gymnastics,” she says, “It also includes music and steps.” At the Asia meet in Thailand in 2011, Nikarika was placed fifth in Yogasana, but, to her surprise, she won a silver medal in the Artistic Yoga event. “Since I have the flexibility, I am able to adapt to other forms,” she says. In Chennai, Nikarika says she is the only practitioner of competitive yoga. “There are some girls in Madurai whom I meet at National-level events and we get paired in team events, I enjoy working with them,” she adds.

“Yoga has influenced every aspect of my life,” Nikarika muses. “Because I get a good workout, I sleep undisturbed and do not feel tired despite waking up at 4.30. a.m. In fact, I don’t even need an alarm. I eat at the right time and even when I do face some obstacles, I calmly breathe in and out – the most important thing yoga teaches me – and tell myself, ‘Life is full of surprises. Some of them are pleasant and some unpleasant.’” She adds with a laugh, “But that was before 3 Idiots came, now I just tell myself ‘All is well’. ” Nikarika is now waiting for her class XII exam results. “I am definitely going to study something that has to do with the body. Medicine or dentistry courses top the list. Then there’s nutrition and dietetics too and courses like Body Mechanics that I am looking at,” she says before signing off.