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How I Invented 23 Forms Of Yoga And Started The Country’s Largest Yoga Chain

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By Sarvesh Shashi:

As a kid, getting into trouble was my only purpose in life. But purpose, however, was a tall order to think about for little old me back in the days.

My father ran a few successful worldwide businesses, and he pictured me in his CEO chair rather optimistically. I wasn’t completely averse to the idea. If any girl asked me which position I like, I could just show my visiting card and say “CEO” then.

I do however, remember that one time when I was watching a Rajnikanth movie as a kid. There was this one scene where he climbs the ladder and breaks a pot. And the audience went ballistic. It was at that moment that I found myself wanting to be that person who provides people with the very same joy and happiness. I wanted to enthrall and inspire.

Cricket was the answer, I thought. I worked hard to hone my cricketing skills. From a very young age I gave up everything to playing cricket. I even managed to tour along with the IPL teams for close to 3 years and played a decent level of cricket. There was still something missing. But, like Ranbir Kapoor from “Wake Up Sid”, I must say that this Sid really did wake up.

This was when I discovered the catalyst – yoga.

My dad had taken up yoga classes for a month and wasn’t able to complete them. He asked me if I could finish them instead. In one month, I was so hooked to it that I was overflowing with questions about consciousness, enlightenment, etc. From my yoga teacher; a man wearing orange robes, long hair, beard, the complete set, I was expecting blessings and a promise to show me the way, followed by a halo of light appearing behind him. Instead, he said, “If you think I can enlighten you, you are a fool and I am a bigger fool if I tell you I can.”

That hit me. Hard. Sort of like how you feel when you call out to your best friend to help you during the exam and he doesn’t turn. So, I went to my dad and told him I am definitely continuing this.

The yoga teacher then became the person who took me from darkness to light. Hence I started calling him my guru. Under guruji’s guidance, I started the 5 precepts at the early age of 18. What are the 5 precepts? No alcohol, no smoking, no non-vegetarian food, celibacy, no mental and physical stealing. For how long, you ask? Not much, just around 7 years.

Then, at 19, I went on supreme silence for 10 days and did the same later for 40 days. No music, no TV, no newspapers, no friends, no books, no phones, complete silence where you can’t even look into another person’s eyes. And probably the most important of them all – meditate for 9 hours straight.

At 21 – an age so many of us look forward to finally being able to enter a bar legally – but for me, it was a time to make choices. My heart yearned for something different. Yet, I still couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

It was then that I had a long, deep conversation with guruji and before I knew it, I had ‘zorba’ in my head. It involved yoga, which was something that had by then become a major part of my life. The least that I could do was to give back to the world what I experienced in the last 5 years. And it involved helping people and bringing them happiness,

‘Zorba’ in Greek means one who lives fully each day. That’s what we teach our clients – how to live in the now. And the road to my endeavor began on December 1 2013, with Zorba – A Renaissance Studio.

Yoga has always been part of our culture. But we wanted to stand out by presenting yoga to our clients not as something serious and austere, but fun, diverse and entertaining all at once! We presented yoga not just as a discipline, but as a lifestyle. I have a session where 14 homemakers crack jokes and laugh and do nothing else; that’s what makes them come back for more.

Now, how did I get the 6-year-olds and 19-year-olds to attend? The moment I say hatha yoga, they might run away. So, we formulated and customised 23 forms of yoga just to ensure that we packaged it for everybody from a 6-year-old to a 90-year-old.

We started paddle board yoga, aerial yoga, insight yoga, basketball yoga, yoga in the middle of the sea on a surf board and many more. No matter what form of yoga we practiced, there was one thing that brought them all together.

It was a unification of mind, body and soul, which is pretty much what yoga is, and has been for thousands of years!

So, it isn’t all about just ‘surya namaskar’ and meditation. It is packaging happiness to people, and giving them means to bring out the best in them and live and enjoy every single day to its fullest.

With one studio, we had about 100 clients of which most of them were women who were home makers. Suddenly, after we introduced the new forms of yoga, we got people, from 12 to 80, we started 20 new studios, and are planning to start 120 more. We went from 100 to 5000 in no time.

I always was a bit wild. But zorba helped me channel that into presenting yoga that is unconventional, bold and has changed the way people, and maybe the world, will look at yoga.

So, what’s next, you may wonder?

I’ll strive to make people happy, and spread it across and beyond the country. Watching others’ happiness fuels my own. And at the end of the day, that is the one thing we all strive for.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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