Just a few years ago, I was sitting inside the four walls of a classroom, preoccupied with my fidgety fingers and racing thoughts, with my mind going a mile a minute waiting for the lecture to end. To me, it was just the ingestion of more and more information, without a need for any intellectual application. When the bell rang, I just dropped my pen and took off to take a different test; what some call – Life!
Hi, I’m Sushmitha Shrikanth, and I’m an Engineering school dropout from South India. As much as I no longer like myself to be defined that way, we’re all defined by the stories we tell ourselves and this one’s mine.
I started by spending some time with myself day after day and embraced self-talk and self-love. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and said to her, ‘Strip me of everything I know, show me how to unlearn and not fear to be uncomfortable. Help me grow.’ She taught me how to be alone and enjoy the silence, how to be one with nature and guided me to understand and learn from ancient scriptures.
Soon, I started attracting everything that would help me move closer to my goal. I learned how to live and got all the inspiration and knowledge from the best mentors from around the world who taught me how to stand my ground, how to be more understanding, how to fight, how to survive, how to be more assertive, more loving and less naive.
What is Yoga?
I am still not completely familiar with this reflection in the mirror. I am yet to know who she truly is, just my reflection or my deeper self who yearns to break the barrier between her and me? All I know is that my purpose is to try to get close to her and understand her completely. This process, right here, serves as my definition of Yoga – a seed for personal transformation.
Simply put, it sits neatly in the sweet spot between finding one’s gift and sharing it. In Sanskrit, it’s called ‘Swadharama’, which roughly translates to “one’s own role”.
“If I cannot carry forests on my back, Neither can you crack a nut.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
If I were to metaphorically reach into my cranium to dig out the first memory I have of practicing Yoga, I would find an eight-year-old version of me, walking out of mixed-level yoga classes, feeling like I had just found my secret superpower – flexibility! I was born double-jointed 🙂
So the next time when any adult or anyone with a mature tone asked me the most popular and perhaps the most hated question, “Hey, what do you want to become when you grow up?” I would just blurt out “Yogatecian!” To this day, one of the ways I get through a real-life challenge is to whisper to myself “You’re a Yogatecian, you got this!”
This has to be where the story comes to a decisive end, but we’re not equipped to question the ways stories end. Yoga found an older version of me once again, sleeping on the floor of a classroom, this time trying to re-discover myself during a gap year. While volunteering in a small village in South India, I watched countless yoga videos online, to figure out a way to keep fit without any access to any gym equipment. I spent days practicing and learning Yoga and frankly, I didn’t expect to fall in love with the practice; I haven’t looked back since then (except while doing backbends 🙂 )
Introspection and innovation
In daily life, Yoga has helped me make tiny micro-adjustments in my decision-making process, and cultivate enough discipline to achieve a distinction in my distance learning degree, despite being told that I have a learning disability.
My innovation, “Ashtanga cycles” was initially born out of a need to train my own brain to focus and I achieved this by interleaving yoga techniques and music into study sessions. Later I extended this into a research project for my Yoga Teacher Certification, which focused on the effect of yoga on school children and piloted the approach with children in rural India.
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
-William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Apart from this, Yoga has taught me self-sufficiency; to be able to do meaningful work and travel the world while using it as a means of earning a living. While in Tanzania, I co-created the first-ever mindfulness and yoga intervention for pre-school kids in East Africa. Through the medium of story-telling and role play, I monitored attention fluctuation using the ‘MUSE brain sensing headband’ and track the pulse rate changes in five-year-olds.
As a yoga professional, I have, since crafted a workshop called ‘Introspective Movement’ classes that focus on the underlying philosophy which aims to transform the whole personality, and not just focus on building a toned body!
When I look back, I feel that Yoga has helped me find some headspace between breaths and moments of doubt and confusion, giving me the confidence to overcome my fear of being creative. The reflection in the mirror told me to take everything that I’ve learned, and to share it with the world. So here I am, sprinkling my yoga classes with opportunities for introspection, tailored to various age groups and demographics, and sharing it with children, women, corporates, and athletes every single day.
Following your heart can be a muddled, tricky and obscure path, but I must admit – it’s incredibly rewarding to begin this journey of self-discovery. Like Descartes apple-basket metaphor, I dumped all the rotten apples, all my beliefs and opinions rot of error and emptied my basket at the very beginning of my gap year. By the end, the basket was replaced only with those habits, interests, and ways of living that were in line with my inherent tendencies.
My daily practice is a continually evolving work in progress, but at the moment, my daily practice is to wake up, study Vedanta philosophy, practice Ashtanga Primary Series and listen to Muse’s collection of guided meditations.
I rely on technology to keep me motivated and learn constantly, regardless of travel, or other commitments I may have. I use many apps like Alo Moves, Yoga International, MUSE and Remente and track my moods, calmness, and remain accountable to myself.
I must admit, the biggest cornerstone habit has been to wake up at 4:30 am every day for over 4 years now. I always wake up and play one of my morning Ashtanga cycles, that guides me through a bit of breathwork, followed by the Primary series, and gives me some time to journal and reflect on ancient wisdom. It’s ingrained in such a way that I don’t have to think about it or plan for it, I just do it with a sense of spontaneity.
Every day, a new seed of possibility is sown in the garden of an open mind. Mine, I envisioned would be three proud and tall trees representing – Movement, Thinking and Writing. So, I continue to water them every day, through these daily practices, fertilized with a bit of introspection.
Learning through movement
The Vinyasa flow classes I teach combine traditional yoga poses with modern breathing techniques in a creative sequence with uplifting music that will both relax and energize you. The weekend class is a unique blend of Yoga practices and HIIT, combined in a manner of play into mat-based beats-driven practice that helps you reset your body and mind over a weekend. Think sun salutations with burpees and good beats!
I have also designed a hybrid session that works on increasing the flexibility of your muscles as well as your mindset through the introduction of the latest tools in emotional intelligence. The goal is to enable you to learn to articulate what you are feeling, as you embody each power pose, and weave them into your own Vinyasa sequence that represents your core desired feelings.
“It’s not your history but your presence on the mat that matters.” Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois
In the next 5 years, I hope to travel and teach yoga to various age groups and demographics to try and understand the union of the realms of mind, body, and intellect. My larger vision is to design creative solutions for the future by utilizing my degree in Philosophy and Cognitive Computing to integrate Artificial Intelligence with Ashtanga Cycles that are suited to the individual, to foster holistic learning.
I now want to share the gift of Yoga with the rest of the world and dream of an education system or co-working space where students can work through Ashtanga Cycles to overcome exam stress, be self-sufficient, gain independence and inner freedom.
If you want to teach …
Then I have this one piece of advice: Don’t get more qualified until you are able to pay for your next TTC through your earning and savings from teaching Yoga. Use what you have, do what you can, apply yourself and use your certification to serve.
Certified Yoga Teacher (Chennai, Africa)
Facebook: Sushmitha Shirkanth