Name: Anjali Mehta
Current city: Singapore
Have you always lived a fit and healthy lifestyle? When did you start to find yourself getting more into it?
I have not. I used to be underweight and refused to eat food when I was younger. In fact, I used to be so underweight that when I sat in the front seat of any car without a seat belt, the seat belt sign wouldn’t go off.
Although I used to be a gymnast in elementary school but that was not nearly enough to make me even look healthier. My parents tried very hard to get me involved in yoga, since they practiced it themselves and were well aware of the benefits it could bring somebody as physically unfit as me, but I could not bring myself to do it. I was too lazy and too stubborn.
Finally, when I was 14, my parents signed me up for a yoga teacher training. One day, my mother just dropped me off in a room filled with 40 and 50 year old men and woman. I was upset and did not want to, in any way whatsoever be a yoga instructor let alone practice yoga, but that day I met my Guru Ji, and everything sort of changed. He eloquently described the simple yet profound philosophy behind yoga something finally clicked in me.
Before you did the yoga training, how long had you been doing yoga for and how did you get into it?
Before I attended the yoga teacher training, I attended a few yoga classes in Bangalore mostly because I was good at yoga, since I was a gymnast. But honestly, I was not at all interested in yoga I was only interested in being flexible.
What made you decide to do your yoga training initially?
I was never interested in yoga, I did it purely because I was good at it. I did not appreciate yoga initially because I was uninsured in what I thought was a practice for middle aged woman and hippies. I was of course, very wrong.
When I met my Guru Ji, he explained the philosophy behind yoga and to me it seemed so simple and logical.
I was intrigued and the more time I spent listening to him and practicing it, actually practicing yoga not just for flexibility, it appealed to me more and more and I started seeing many positive side effects in my life, physically and mentally.
Tell us a bit about your yoga training journey?
I was trained by Vyasa Yoga in Singapore. I enjoyed it because it was very traditional and emphasized the philosophy behind yoga rather than just the physical asanas.
What tips would you give to someone wanting to get into yoga instructing?
A yoga teacher training program is not just for being able to teach yoga. A teacher training program is a great way to learn about the philosophy behind yoga and the world beyond asanas. A lot of times, yoga is seen as a very structured practice, which is absolutely is, but there are many ways to get creative so don’t be afraid to add your own flavor to your practice and to your classes.
How would you say your life has benefited from yoga? What differences can you see that yoga has made in your life?
It has changed the way I think and process a lot of things that go on in life.
For instance, things that would normally bring me down, like a bad grade, simply don’t even register in my head anymore. My whole mindset has changed. It has definitely made me a more stable and balanced person.
How important is focusing on ones breath during yoga?
It is important because the breath helps you remain in the present moment. Our minds are usually moving 100 miles an hour while our body has to remain in the present.
The breath is sort of a way to connect your present body to the un-present mind. We can effectively use our breath to bring our mind to the present.
Do you incorporate much meditation into your daily life? If so what sort of meditation do you do?
Meditation is a practice for living your life. We practice meditation so that we can train our minds to be less volatile so that when life throws you off balance, you can use the skills learnt in meditation to balance yourself and keep stable.
I practice simple mindfulness meditation which just involves pointed awareness to anything, your breath, your senses, anything.
Do you give yoga classes currently?
As of now I teach meditation at NYU and am a substitute yoga teacher for NYU’s yoga program.
What other forms of training do you enjoy?
I enjoy running outside when there’s good weather and I absolutely love hiking.
What are your future plans?
In the future, I want to get a PhD in Clinical Psychology and practice as a psychotherapist.
Take us through an average day of yours:
- I wake up around 8:00 and meditate for a while (I don’t like to keep time, I just keep going till I feel ready), shower, drink coffee, get ready for class.
- Around 9:10 I take the subway or bus to class.
- At 12:15 I finish class for the day, grab some lunch and take the subway to work.
- I work at the Psychiatric Institute in New York and mainly do data analysis for research studies.
- Around 5 I take the subway back to NYU and head to the gym.
- I teach a private yoga class around 6:30.
- After the class I head back home, cook dinner and do my homework.
- Around 11:45 I write in my diary, read a book, meditate, and then sleep.
Give us a brief description of your philosophy on your diet and what you eat:
I love food! I don’t like to make unhealthy foods healthy especially if I like them (like pizza or noodles) so I eat unhealthy foods only about once or twice a week.
Other than that, my diet is very simple, I’m vegetarian so I try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. I keep processed sugar and white bread to a minimum and I don’t drink alcohol or any soda. I don’t eat a lot especially because I live alone so my portions aren’t super large. I try to cook my own as much as possible but it can get hard sometimes.
Which 3 nutrition myths do you think most people fall prey to?
- I think a lot of people believe that sugar is always bad for you, and it certainly is but fruits are good, natural sugar and we need that sugar!
- You can absolutely be vegetarian and get enough protein.
- Junk food is bad but it’s okay to treat yourself once in a while.
What are your top nutrition tips for staying in shape?
Find what works for you, your body and your lifestyle. Not everything works for everybody.
What does a typical training week look like for you?
I try to workout at least 5 times a week. I climb stairs or run and then do some bodyweight exercises.
What are your 3 favourite exercises?
- Glute bridges on the wall. This is great for your entire leg. I like it because it’s a way to spruce up the boring glute bridge.
- Wide Leg squats. Agreat hip opener and workout for your legs.
- Stair Climbing. Amazing for cardio.
What about yoga do you love and who should be doing it?
I love that yoga is both a physical and mental exercise. I also love that yoga can be anything, for anybody. For somebody who wants to be physically fit, they may enjoy Vinyasa. For somebody who is looking for some calmness and relaxation, they may enjoy meditation. For somebody who is trying to lose weight, or even gain weight, yoga can surely help with that too.
So, anybody and everybody should try it and if it works for them, they should absolutely continue it. It brings something different for everybody.
How many yoga classes a week would someone need to go for in order to see steady progress?
Up to you, whatever you are physically comfortable doing. You can start slow and build up to it but it’s important to be comfortable and listen to your body.
If someone struggles with a certain pose due to lack of flexibility (say forward fold) what tips would you give to eventually get them into the pose and get them more flexible?
Flexibility is the most common excuse I hear and the least effective barrier against learning yoga. The point of yoga and asanas is to test your limit and then settle into it there.
Go as far as you can – and you are succeeding at the posture.
The point is to feel comfortable in an uncomfortable state so wherever that is, it’s fine. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll get and you will find new discomforts that you can overcome.
What are your most important tips to becoming more flexible?
- The warmer your body, the more flexible. So if you practice after a run or around 20 or 30 sun salutations, you can train yourself to become more flexible.
- It is also important to stay as long as you can in the postures.
- Lastly, many times, flexible people skip basic postures and go into advanced postures and try to practice advanced postures to become more flexible but that is less effective. For instance if you want to master the side split. It is less effective to practice the side split, even if you can do the half-moon pose or lizard pose. The more effective direction would be to practice lizard pose and get deeper and deeper into it and hold it for longer and longer. Eventually the side split will become better. So the lesson here is do not overlook the benefit and difficulty of basic postures.
How often do you think a person should stretch and for how long? How long should someone who is not so flexible dedicate to stretching each day?
This is a tough question to answer since everyone’s body is different. But the splits are an advanced posture so I would practice basic hip openers for at least 45 minutes and hold each posture for 5 to 9 minutes. Hip openers are best when the body is warm so try to, after a workout spend 45 to 60 minutes just stretching out your hips.
What sort of poses or exercises can one do to improve their back flexibility (to do a pose like wheel pose)?
Also a tough question because back flexibility is not simple at all and can vary extremely from individual to individual.
In such a pose, you are mainly using the lower back which is connected to your hamstrings so stretching both is important.
The standard way to go for this pose is to practice forward bending postures (both sitting and standing), hip openers (like butterfly pose) and practice lower back stretches like half wheel pose, upward facing dog and bow pose.
Often across social media you see people doing the splits where their hips are not square. When you do the splits your hips are perfectly square. Is it bad for you or incorrect to do them when the hips aren’t squared?
It is not incorrect, of course it is not perfect but certainly not incorrect. Getting your hips squared is hard so keep practicing and you’ll slowly get there. Having perfect alignment in yoga is not easy but it’s okay if you are not there yet.
It is of course important to be aware of the final, perfect posture but it’s perfectly fine to practice an alternative, easier version of the posture.
And What can people do to get their hips more square when doing the splits?
Practice pigeon pose with squared hips by twisting your upper body to face the side of your bend leg.
What are your essentials that are always in your gym bag?
Water! Good music and a towel.
Favorite female icon(s):
- Jacinda Arden
- Angela Merkel
- Katherine Hepburn
- Marie Curie, Maya Angelou
What is the most common question you get asked?
“Can I do yoga even though I am not flexible?”
YES! Flexibility is not a requirement of yoga. All you need is your body and your breath.
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Acceptance is often the tool we lack in understanding ourselves. It’s the difference between who we think we have to be and who we are which often causes anxiety and a tendency to put a “bandaid” on the dissonance. Acceptance allows us to grow and move forward in our life and become whoever we want to be for ourselves. Accept and all is coming 🙂 ps. I love your mini mat @yogawithgabriella !
“To the mind that is still, the universe surrenders.” ~ Lao Tzu
Where can people get hold of you?
- Instagram: Anj.yoga