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Yoga Helped Me Connect with Myself and My Culture

We asked our college-age readers to share stories of how yoga has impacted their lives. As a child growing up in Bangalore, India, Riya Davda was “forced” by her mom to take yoga classes in third grade. Eventually, yoga became a passion that led her to 200-hour teacher training in Rishikesh, India, the “yoga capital” of the world.

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A stronger body, clear thoughts, moments of deep relaxation–these are a few of the many changes I’ve experienced since making yoga a way of life. Yes, I believe yoga is a way of life. But, this was not how I felt about yoga back when my mother forced me to take it in elementary school, in Bangalore, India (instead of more “fun” pursuits like volleyball, basketball, swimming, or soccer). Wanting to rebel against her, I told her I thought that yoga was dull, slow, unfashionable, and meant for senior citizens. Little did I know, this practice would soon take over my life.

Yoga as a Child

It all started in third grade after having negotiated with my mom to do a physical activity of her choice for just one year, and, later, switch to any activity I wanted. While at first resistant to yoga, it did not take much time for me to become fascinated by the various poses. I was eager to attempt all the backbends, splits, and forward folds. I chose to continue beyond that one-year mark and practiced for another three years! Then, I entered middle and high school and forgot about yoga completely.

Like many teenagers, my physique mattered most to me at the time. I started skipping meals and tried various unhealthy methods to get the body I wanted. I reached my “goal” weight, but was I actually feeling any better? Did it give me the glow I wanted? These questions were not consciously in my mind, but, I knew something needed to be done about my thought process and motivation.

Just before my exams, I signed up for “temple yoga” classes: Ashtanga Yoga classes taught at a Buddhist center near my house. These classes proved to be the seed that grew my passion for yoga and, eventually, Buddhism.

See also Kino MacGregor’s 7-Pose Yoga Break for Stress Relief.

I knew one thing. I liked being there. I loved waking up for it, and I could not wait to go back the next day. It became my therapy for exam stress and anxiety. That one month made me feel stronger, more active, and, above all, happy. I was inspired to try various styles: Power Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, and more. My mindset was still stuck mostly on the physical change, but it got me going.

Yoga in College

As university began, shifting homes and meeting new people made me feel overwhelmed. I stopped my practice, and I started feeling slow and sluggish. I knew that I needed to switch things up. I needed to dedicate myself to a practice that would help me transform my body and my life drastically. I turned to yoga again.

I read about a 200-hour yoga teacher training program, and it called to me. I was excited by the chance to physically, mentally, and emotionally commit myself to something I have always loved. As I prepared for training, I grew spiritually. I found myself visiting the temple again. and discovered a newfound interest in Indian mythology.

I was always a shy person, but I began to grow more confident. The shift didn’t happen overnight, but it started once I felt more connected to myself and my desire to take steps to improve myself for myself. I’m on a journey now of self-love and acceptance, without a doubt. And having discovered the person I am within, I make it a point to take care of my inner-self now along with my physical self. I feel more empathetic, healthy, and light.

See also Should You Take a Teacher Training To Deepen Your Practice?

The Yoga Teacher Training Experience

I completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training (YTT) certification in Rishikesh, India, known as the “yoga capital” of the world thanks to its countless ashrams, religious sites, fusion of world cultures and belief systems, and its location on the holy Ganges River.

The YTT experience cannot be described in a few lines, however, I was surprised to be the only Indian in my group, composed of participants from Canada, Australia, France, and many other Western countries. I faced some stereotyping because of my nationality.

“Isn’t this like an everyday workout for you?” and “Yoga must be very easy for you because you are an Indian.” Of course, it was not meant to be negative, but some of the assumptions were quite absurd, especially when people think that every child wakes up at 5:00 am, prays to the sun god, and does Sun Salutations as the sun rises.

See also What It’s Like Being an Indian-American Yoga Teacher.

Most of my peers in India prefer the gym, and very few of them even practice yoga. My friends thought I was weird to even be doing this. It was all quite ironic. Overall, I enjoyed meeting people from all over the world who had travelled thousands of miles to learn and appreciate my culture.

Nowadays, I am a yoga teacher and the president of The Yoga Club at FLAME University, in Pune, India. I intend to keep practicing and teaching yoga, as there is so much more to learn, explore, and share. To be honest, I couldn’t be more excited. It is one of my goals to encourage young people, especially in India, to practice and spread this age-old tradition, as it belongs to everyone.

See also The Importance of Mysore and Pune, India for Yoga Lineage.