One of the major positive outcomes of the proliferation of social media in recent times, particularly Instagram, has been the growing popularity of yoga among youngsters in the country. The ancient Indian discipline did not enjoy the ‘cool’ image of the likes of crossfit, spinning, plates etc., in its mother country. But all that seems to have changed, particularly during the pandemic-induced lockdown, with more and more youngsters seeking the benefit of doing yoga from home, thanks to the burgeoning number of online yoga teachers and yoga influencers on social media. Many of whom now count their followers in their hundreds of thousands.
As one of the country’s leading pop culture platform, Rolling Stone India honored some of these influential yoginis and yogis in June on International Yoga Day, at an event hosted by actress and fervent yoga devotee Vidya Malavade. We spoke to her about her yoga journey, and how it has changed her life over the years. Excerpts:
Tell us about your journey as a yogini. When did you start, and how would you describe your journey to being one of the country’s top yoga influencers on Instagram?
So my yoga journey started about a couple decades ago due to a personal tragedy. I was completely broken and destroyed, and I was looking for answers and somehow yoga found me and literally pieced me back — piece-by-piece, breath-by-breath. And here I am twenty years later.
I think everything that I am today is because of my practice. It’s brought a certain level of detachment to everything that I do. I do everything with a lot of gusto, heart, and a lot of mindfulness and yet I have learned how to detach from the outcome of it. Which is really the biggest gain of everything apart from the awareness that one brings about in the physical self, in the emotional self, mental self and social self.
The journey’s been long, wonderful, and especially being an artist, you’re judged on every level — I think all of us are now, with social media. Every nameless faceless person is writing whatever they want on your comments. Of course, as an actor, every Friday you have a release. Either you’re good, you’re bad or you’re banned – you’re just up for everybody’s judgment. So how do you detach yourself from that? And I think this journey has kind of helped me through that.
What are the benefits that you have derived from practicing yoga over the years?
The benefits are multifold. There is what you can see on a physical level every day on my social media or the way I probably look or the way there’s a certain shape of your body that you might sort of enjoy or admire. But that’s just the outside. I think internally, it’s so much more than anti-aging or it’s my internal system that is strong and built well. My internal age or my body age is still 20, almost 20 years younger than my real age. So I’m still in my 30s and my organ age is still about 30-35. So that’s a big achievement for me.
I think that the spiritual journey can be full of darkness. And I think I’ve been through a lot of that. But I know that through all of those trials and tribulations that I keep facing, I just know that karmically, I’ve come to a space where I’m a much better, much kinder, much happier person, much closer to my own, my own self, and more aware of my internal mechanisms in terms of my mental, physical, again, everything.
Yoga is increasingly becoming popular among young people, and many people talk about it as one of the positive results of the spread of social media in the country. What is your take on this?
Well, I think it’s only because of my social media that everybody knows that I practice yoga. Nobody was aware that I was doing this 20 years ago, right? So I feel like social media has been quite amazing in the propagation of this practice and all sorts of practices. Now see, there are goods and bads for everything. You can set yourself a time limit and say this is the amount of time I am going to spend on social media. You can be following pages that you think might inspire you. Or you could be writing comments on people or things and saying all kinds of nasty things about them. So that’s really your take from what you decide to do.
For me, I feel like it’s been fantastic I’ve had one of my posts just hit 8,000,000 views and obviously it means that there are people who are watching. There are people who are connecting. And once you’re a little interested, you’ll try and see what it is. When you look at my page, when you look at me as a person and you think, “How does she look so young. How is she doing what she’s doing? These freakish poses that she does”, which by the way look great on Instagram like I said, but they probably are just a very little minuscule part of my full practice that I do.
Yoga is not just on the mat. It is also what happens off the mat. But like everybody else, for me also it started, you know, as an asana practice.
If you were to give five essential tips to youngsters who are starting out with yoga, what would they be?
First, just show up. That is the first thing. Just show up every single day, four to five times a week. Whatever you can do, whether it’s five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, one hour or two hours, whatever, just show up. The second thing is to be consistent and be disciplined.
Everything that you want to do. You know, they say that you need to give 10,000 hours to be a pro to do anything to be a pro at anything you want to do. Just start and be consistent, be disciplined and you will. You will not even realize how amazing this practice is. So I think I don’t even need to say five things! These two things are enough and the rest will just follow. That’s it. To show up on your mat and be consistent and be disciplined about your practice. It will change your life, your world, your everything.
There are lots of people who start doing yoga but give up after a while. What advice would you give yoga students to keep them motivated?
Asana practice is just at level three of the ashtanga process. Of the eight-limb practice, it’s at the very base Level 3. Beyond that is pranayam which is part of my daily practice, and it is incredible.
After pranayam comes pratiyaar, which means you are just withdrawing your senses. Your indriya, you are withdrawing your senses, drawing your senses in words and then comes your meditation. So all of these things, the asanas help you. They are only there for you to be able to sit in your physical best self for long hours of meditation.
Meditation is the crux of everything, it is the crux to build my focus, to progress, to allow the riffraff to go away and to just spearhead through towards my goals. For everything in my life. I think meditation is the first thing I do when I wake up and the last thing I do before I go to sleep. Whether it’s five minutes or whether it’s half an hour, I do not miss it for anything.
For those who are short on time in their daily routine, what are the five asanas you would suggest that they should do?
If you want to do a small short asana practice, I would suggest just start doing Surya Namaskar. That’s a set of a few asanas depending on whether you are doing whichever Hatha — yoga, Surya Namaskar or Ashtanga. You just follow that process. It’s got strength, it’s got flexibility, it’s a full body workout.
Not just a workout but also a “work-in.” I feel yoga is a work-in with your breath and your movement; it becomes a whole system and it’s also saluting the sun. So there is physical, mental and spiritual benefit. It’s got everything. So just practice surya namaskaras for 10 minutes, 15 minutes, half an hour, whatever it is that you have just do it properly and with your breath, though.
How important is meditation as part of yoga practice?
It will change your life for the better, that’s just it. And you will not even notice it. You start looking better, you start feeling better, everybody else starts realizing that there is a little change in you. I remember when I started practicing, people used to just come and tell me, “There is a certain radiance about you. What is it? Your eyes start sparkling.”
You know, we’re forever on our phones and laptops etc. So we’ve all tired with the eyes and the brain fog And you know, there is just so much that is thrown at us all the time that we need something to ground us. And this practice does just that. It grounds you and then allows you to really rise.
Tell us about your career as an actress. Are there any films in the offing in the near future?
I think that the beautiful effect of yoga and the yogic practices is that they have also trickled into my professional acting life as well. And there is a lot that is happening in terms of web series and brand work. So lot of ads and a lot of films as well. My next release is going to be a film release.
It’s with Salman Khan’s production with Ayush Sharma. It’s called Ruslan, which should be out in the next few months. We’ve just finished shooting for it. Then of course, I start shooting for Mismatched season three in a few months again.
So yeah, there’s a lot happening toward the end of this year. There’s so much to look forward to and I’m just really grateful for it all.
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