Yoga, a Game-Changer – Pragya Bhatt

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Who can really pinpoint the start of an internal journey?  When it comes to spiritual journeys, there is never a clear demarcation between your pre-spiritual life and post-spiritual life.  There is no real change in your demeanor or the way you look. But, probably like BKS Iyengar said, 

Yoga does not just change the way we see things; it transforms the person who sees.” –B.K.S Iyengar

And transformations don’t happen overnight.

Like most Indians, I knew of yoga since I was a child.  Between 1985-1988 my father (a diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service) was posted to Brasilia.  We often interacted with the local Hare-Krishna community and would spend our Sundays attending bhajan-kirtan and yoga sessions with them.  We had a book on Hatha Yoga which I would sometimes go through.  However, the interest in yoga during this time was just a passing fad.

Time for change 

I think I truly came to yoga in 2008.  At that time I was working full-time with Infosys.  It’s the usual story of being busy with a corporate job and finding no time for oneself. I had steadily gained weight and despite trying ‘everything possible’ I was unable to lose weight.  

I started to really freak out when the weighing scale hit 69kgs; that was the heaviest I had ever been in my life! That’s when I started going to the gym obsessively and went on strange and harmful deprivation diets.  Finally, a friend told me about an Artistic Yoga class which was not far from where we lived. I decided to give it a try. 

“Yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down.”  Judith Lasate

I went for a trial class, and that was the game-changer in my journey.  The class taught me discipline and the importance of daily practice. It also taught me how to wake up early, respect and value my health, and how to touch my forehead to my knees. To this day I cherish that class and those wonderful teachers.

Work in progress 

I was working with Accenture at the time and thought obsessively about quitting to teach yoga. Not only did I not enjoy being desk-bound, but I also felt creatively stunted. I remember one day I just couldn’t get myself to log in to work –  I just couldn’t bring myself to do it! And that’s when I quit.  

In 2011, I finally put down my papers and went for a 1-month residential yoga teachers’ training course at SVYASA.  I didn’t have a clear plan – but I had a clear intention. My intention was to be the best yoga teacher ever. To this end, I knew I had to be a good student too.  So I threw myself into the grunt work.  

I never missed classes or my self-practice and I read everything I could get my hands on. I didn’t worry too much about spending way too many hours traveling to teach way too few classes, I built a Facebook and an Instagram presence, I started a blog and a YouTube channel…in short, I was young, ambitious and hardworking and tried to reach out to as many people I could, and teach anyone who showed interest.  

“My body is my temple and asanas are my prayers.” B.K.S Iyengar

I worked as a yoga coach with a startup and that helped pay my bills. I kept trying to learn all I could.  I enrolled for 15 days of classes at K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Insititute (KPJAYI) and practiced under legendary teachers. I then applied to Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI), Pune and got rejected. I did not give up and kept re-applying, and got rejected every single time – until one day, thanks to the intervention of Abhijata Iyengar, I finally got accepted.  I’ve been going to RIMYI every year since then.  

I teach students online, I’ve taught corporates, I run a mentorship program for aspiring yoga teachers…sometimes I’m overwhelmed by all that I do with my time!

It keeps getting better

A couple of years ago I decided to plan a yoga retreat. I relied heavily on my student base for support.  One of my students introduced me to a friend who generously offered me his farm to conduct the retreat. Not only that but when he saw that I was a newbie, with no sense of how to plan an event, he stepped in and helped me with the rest of the logistics.  We arranged for tents and food, the students took care of transport, and it all fell in place. Today I do an annual yoga retreat in Liguria, Italy. The journey from that first retreat to one overseas seems almost magical to me.

For many years I had been toying with the idea of writing a book. I read extensively and wanted to write a book that would be of interest and relevance.  While there were many books on Yoga, there are few that address the connection between Indian mythology and yoga asanas.  

It was initially a personal project, but in time I compiled all the information I had and ‘Beyond Asanas’ was born.  The book also contains beautiful images of the asanas taken by Joel Koechlin, along with an insightful foreword by Kalki Koechlin.  I’m thrilled that the response to the book has been so wonderful. It even won the best book in the Health and Fiction category at the Gurgaon Literature Festival.  

In the future, I’m looking at doing more research-based books and papers.  I’m currently working on a Master’s in Yoga Therapy from SVYASA, and have been writing more insightful pieces.  I have a few writing projects lined up for which I’m currently doing research. In addition to this, I continue to teach extensively and already have a full Liguria Yoga retreat for 2020.

A few suggestions

The most challenging thing about wanting to make a career out of teaching yoga is that there is no clear roadmap.  You have to constantly be on your toes, try new things, be open to collaborations, be self-motivated and not let disappointments get to you.  The most important advice I can give to anyone aspiring to be a yoga teacher is:

  • If you don’t practice, don’t teach.
  • Continue to seek good teachers out and train under them.  Being flexible is one thing, but understanding the intricacies of the asana is a whole different ball game.
  • No class is ‘not worth it’. Teach as much and as extensively as you can.  Your teaching hours are the building blocks of your career.
  • Keep it real, always.

For those who want to know more about me please visit my website: www.yogawithpragya.com.  

Pragya Bhatt

Yoga Teacher, Author

Instagram and Facebook: @yogawithpragya

Also Read: https://www.juruyoga.com/there-is-no-escape-from-yoga-shaji-k-john/

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