Awakin Calls » Pranidhi Varshney » Transcript
Pranidhi Varshney: Staying Strong in Values
Guest: Pranidhi Varshney
Host: Amit Dungarani
Moderator: Angela Montano
Angela: Thank you so much and I'm so grateful to be here. I'm utterly honored to have this opportunity to moderate this call. If through the sharings I have, the questions I bring to Pranidhi, if we're provided even a glimpse into her consciousness this morning we're all so deeply blessed. So I'm so grateful to be here and you know I love this question, "How am I staying strong in my values?" and I have to say one of the confronted things about that question is that I'm really called to to question what are my values. And as I've moved through my life you know my values have deepened, values have changed, so I am so aware that the question, it's such a living question. It's not like well you know in 1997 I figured out what my values are and I've been at it ever since. You know we change and grow every day, so I'm almost scare of that question when I hear it like having thought about my values, am I living my values. For me as a spiritual practitioner of twenty three years seeing clients on a daily basis, you know one after another for all these years, you know what I value so deeply is prayer. I believe in prayer in a way that transcends religious doctrine, I believe it's one of our deepest human instincts in fact like breathing or sleeping. It's reaching beyond whatever sense of limitation I'm having in this moment, whether it's the limitation of my greed, my fear, my fatigue and to to dig deep into whatever for each of us a sense of higher power is. Whether we're atheists, we might think of that as. Our sour subconscious mind. You know whatever our varying backgrounds are so well how I stay true to my values is that I practice prayer and my evolving, my practice evolves and I do my best to bring that to the world. And that's how I stay true to myself to the best of my ability. You know even as I make eight hundred ninety nine mistakes a day, I appreciate that question and I do believe Pranidhi is both a prayer: her life is a prayer and her life is an answer to prayer. So I am fascinated by how Pranidhi has created what she has created in her life. I just want to say how I have met Pranidhi personally, then speak a little bit more about her work, and then we'll dive deep into our question for her this day.
So, I live in Los Angeles and Pranidhi lives in Los Angeles and Los Angeles is an area of more than 14 million people, it's a conglomeration of 80 different areas. You know they're named Beverly Hills, Culver City, and I live in a little one named Westchester. We refer to my area as (those of us who live here refer to it ) as the Mayberry of L.A. It's just the sweet little community and we have a community why. Formerly Known as the Y.M.C.A.. The name now is just the Y. and it is a community center where there are many classes for and you know exercise classes then equipment for exercise. Pranidhi taught Yoga class there, and I was always so interested in coming to that class. But it didn't quite work out, the time it was when I had to get my daughter to school in the morning and I definitely thought of it as a more advanced yoga class than what I would be able to do but one day I got myself there. And Oh my god.... I wept, I actually wept that first day. I couldn't believe, I felt like I had gone through a portal you know another reality. In that moment and Pranidhi sings to us at the end of class and we chant with her at the beginning and that's when I was introduced to the Ashtanga Yoga practice that Pranidhi practices and is a master teacher of and now she's the founder of Yogashala West which is her own value-based center. There is something about the humble beginnings,. of this yoga class and she taught other places in L.A. I think you must have been in your car going from class to class. It built from a from a deep place of community I believe.
So again as you so beautifully said Amit in the opening introduction that you did, Pranidhi is an extraordinary, inspiring yoga practitioner of the Ashtanga tradition. She has founded and it is a jewel in the heart of Westside of Los Angeles that is truly counter the cultural norm for how yoga is experienced in West Los Angeles. She is an artist with her extraordinary voice, she's an activist, with her yoga give back work, and she's also a provocateur. Pranidhi’s writing, just some of the titles of the things you can find online: Coming Out as a Conscious Omnivore, The Business of Teaching Yoga, The Ideal Yoga Diet, Confessions of an Indian American Yogi. I mean there is a wealth of gifts that she brings to us. The first question I want to bring to you Pranidhi and thank you so much for being here and offering your heart and your wisdom to all of us. I want to know how do you feel as you hear Amit and I talk about you like... how does feel? (laughter)
Pranidhi: So funny, because....Man, I wonder if I could just sit here quietly for ninety minutes and have people say nice things about me. It's really such an honor and I feel that I have sort of a warm feeling in my belly when I hear you talk. And there's so much gratitude, because, though you're saying all these nice things about me. You know I hear them with this understanding that the manifestations of my work, it's all possible because of the community around me and the Service Space community has been a huge part of my ability to grow in my values and really keep that at the core of what I'm doing. So I the feel very grateful and honored to be here.
Angela: I wonder if it's almost a little bit of an out of body experience because my hint is you are putting one foot in front of the other. You are doing the work, just to feel the breath, and depth of what has already been accomplished. Really is a testimony to practice itself, practicing that of your values and that of Yoga.
Pranidhi: Yes.. Yes... I wanted to point out one thing that you mentioned earlier which I loved in your when you were talking about your own work is that you know the 899 mistakes. I just love that because I think for people who are on any sort of path of practice, whether it's a spiritual practice or any type of practice that you are trying to become conscious and bring into the present moment and connect with other beings. There can be the the sense that we must really have to have it all together all the time. I so appreciate the vulnerability, the realness of what you that we do make mistakes, a lot of them. Then we take the next step, and I think it's true of who you are, that you would bring that up at the beginning of the call. Right now in our culture there's a lot of conversation about othering. We are trying to solve this tendency to other someone that we might not express our compassion because their other. We also inspiring people you know because we think, I'm not like them, I mean I would never do it, and it really breaks down that barrier when you speak about the mistakes that you make as you move forward. It's so important for all of us to remember that's part of the process and as the call continues I'm going to ask you about your biggest mistake.
Angela: We want to know, everyone wants to know the dirt, I really want to begin with setting a context. I want to understand more fully your route I want to begin with your roots. Even though you're my teacher and I'm with you many days of the week, I really don't know how you grew up. Off course, I know you're an Indian American, but can you set the stage for us in terms of your cultural and environmental beginnings.
Pranidhi: Sure and my mom and dad might be on the call so just in case there are on the call... "Hi mama, Hi papa"....So I was born in India, in New Delhi, and I moved to the United States around 6 years of age. I was fortunate to have a strong Indian cultural upbringing, with a context for our traditions, we grew up in a semi-religious household but it was never really forced on us strongly. But the awareness was there you know of all of our cultural traditions.
When I think of Indian culture -- food is one of the first things that I think of. My mom was always cooking for us, our culture was vibrant in our upbringing, and part of that was that on the weekends we would go to, a spiritual school - it was called Chinmaya Mission, and that was really my first introduction to chanting. And it was interesting, at that time, the way it was taught to me it was very much about the ritual and memorization, and it lacked -- soul. In my understanding at that time was that it lacked soul. I wasn’t connecting to it on a deep level. But it was present, and so somehow I think it imprinted in a part of my brain that develops at that young age. As I was continuing to grow I left that religious world for sometime until I started practicing yoga. My first introduction to the asana practice, the physical practice of yoga was through a video tape it was called Fat burning yoga or something.
Angela: So you didn’t practice yoga with your family?
Pranidhi: No -- the last time I was in India was about 6 years ago and I was hanging out with young people about my age and they would make fun of me because yoga is so not in fashion in India. People like to go to the gym, and practicing yoga is sort of -- I don’t know, it was funny. So my first introduction was this video, but I remember practicing with my sister in the living room and then as I --
Angela: So you were interested in burning fat? (laughter)
Pranidhi: It was just part of a rotation, by sister and I would do Tae bo and then one day we would do fat burning yoga. (laughter). It was just so funny that that was my first introduction to the asana practice. But I was really fortunate that when I went to college which was in 2002, I went to college at Northwestern outside of Chicago, and during that time, I found this yoga class that met once a week at my local gym and that too was called Power Yoga -- and I really loved the class, and I didn’t know much about yoga but I started researching to find out what is this yoga that we’re doing, and I realized that what we were really practicing was the primary series of Ashtanga yoga, so that was actually the first real yoga that I did -- it was Ashtanga yoga even though I didn’t know that was what it was called. So that was the first little seed that was planted. I started taking classes at another yoga studio. And shortly before moving to LA I committed to a daily yoga practice and that’s when it started to change.
Angela: I’m very fascinated that you're coming to yoga, even as you were steeped in your cultural roots, your yoga it sounds like came more from being in America and trying different ways of working out.
Pranidhi: That’s totally true. And that’s why - people often ask me - “What do you think of all the yoga out there? Is it real is it authentic?” And I try to remember this story that was told to me by a senior teacher in our lineage, she was asking her teacher Pattabhi Jois who is the guru of our lineage -- “There’s so many types of yoga out there people are calling it all yoga doing whatever they want.” Nancy just to hear the word yoga in our lifetime is a blessing.” And that has stuck with me because it just allowed me to view the whole yoga landscape from a place of non judgment and just remember that my introduction was a video called Fat burning yoga. SO if someone’s introduction is yoga on a standup paddleboard or yoga and wine. So though I may have opinions on those things I try not to judge because it’s just a seed and can flourish in so many ways just as it did for me.
Angela: So as you went through this journey and deepened and studied with master yogis of this tradition, what did it mean to you in terms of being Indian?
Pranidhi: That’s such a good question. It reminds me of what I was saying about the chanting. I’d mentioned that early on I grew up chanting but didn’t feel that soul level resonance with it and it was only through diving deeper into my yoga practice that I actually rediscovered the roots of the chanting. The felt experience of chanting. What it felt like in my body, what it felt like to chant with other beings, in a way that transcended language -- or our tendency to “other”. When we chant at the beginning of Mysore practice, the traditional method of Ashtanga yoga, when the teacher walks into the room she stands at the front of the room and all the students then chant together and in that moment we transcend our differences, it doesn’t matter whether we can speak English ir Korean or Spanish or whatever. Every practitioner of Ashtanga yoga knows that mantra. And so - it’s just such a beautiful moment in which we all connect on this soul level. So through the Ashtanga yoga practice I began to connect to chanting on that soul level, and my Indian-ness -- it’s interesting you bring that up -- I felt this sense of coming home when I discovered this practice, because it just felt natural in my body, it felt natural in my voice, it just felt like coming home.
Angela: It’s so beautiful. And the value, to me of this sharing as I listen, and where I feel it offers so much hope for all of us listening is, what I am hearing is, you followed your curiosity, and you followed what felt really good to you, and in that process you felt a coming home to yourself, and I find this so powerful, that that can be trusted. For many of us we’re afraid to follow something like that because we’ve got to put food on the table, got to do something that is marketable today. So it’s so interesting to stay true to our values, stay strong in our values, so what an amazing thing it is to consider that following our curiosity and trusting that the more we get clear about our values, and what feels like home to us, that that is us on our path of life. Now I know for you at the same time, you were in college studying psychology, music and theater did you move to LA for acting?
Pranidhi: I was working in Chicago for a couple of years, and I got booked on a tour that went through Berkeley to Kansas City and it was about 5 or 6 months, and I’d decided that after that tour I was going to move to LA partly because I wanted to explore the opportunities out there in terms of the arts industry the acting industry but also because I needed a lifestyle change. I was living in Chicago and getting quite depressed in the winters. And i joke that my body was just not meant to live in that type of climate. I joke - but I do think there is a kernel of truth there because once I moved here things really did open up for me energetically. And during that tour - it was when I was on the road that I really decided to commit to a daily Ashtanga practice before that I’d been practicing two to three times a week and when I was on the road was when I realized I need the discipline of practicing daily because I don’t have any other sense of stability. So that was the beginning of my daily practice.
Angela: Talk to me about how you navigated -- you were deepening in your realization that you value this practice. As you do move to LA and you are experiencing the entertainment industry and navigating your way in the industry as an actress and continuing to pursue Ashtanga yoga - I don’t know when exactly you began to teach, but can you speak a bit about the process of that? There may be listeners who are having some kind of melding experience themselves. And it’s so hard not to compartmentalize. How did that happen for you in the internal realms?
Pranidhi: As you ask the question, what comes to mind for me is that it was all about the body. I came to LA...and I’m going to challenge myself to be more vulnerable -- I want to share that very soon after moving to LA I’d found an agent and one of the first conversations I had with my agent, this person told me that I would need to lose weight if I wanted to make it here, and that wasn't the only conversation that I also had a manager that gave me very similar feedback, and so that was really my introduction to the business here, you know. At that time though, I felt strong enough in myself to just to hear that and respond with uh a no, with a sort of you know like I am going to do me and if you don't want to [respect] me because of that, then that's fine, and I was lucky that my agent sort of heard that and chose to work with me anyway and but I think that experience was really indicative of what the industry is here, a lot of it, and so you know it is a very external approach to the body, it's like how can we manipulate our bodies and really exasperate our own insecurities and make ourselves fit into these certain moulds, because that's what society values.
It's leading with these image based values, rather than value based inner transformations, but I continued regardless to work in the industry for several years and during that time, during the Yoga teacher training continuing to practice daily and teaching a little bit, here and there and it was around that time at some point that they started to teach us the 'why' and while teaching us the 'why' I was working as actress and teaching Yoga, and what started to happen is I noticed change in my body where my agent would call me, I would get nervous in a way that wasn't an excited type of nervous, it was like a dread type of nervous. I was like, I have to go on an audition (laughs), you know that type of feeling in the body and I started realizing, 'hmmm' my body is not excited to go on these auditions, my body doesn't feel good about this work and what I also started to sense was that, I wasn't giving either thing my full presence, I wasn't giving acting my full presence and I wasn't giving the yoga or teaching my full presence, and so it just ended up being a very natural process that I started to think, okay so what's really feeding me here, you know, what's nourishing me and the answer just started to become yoga more and more and more. And once I really made the transition and I said I’m no longer investing in this other part of my life, or this other career, then the yoga really started to flourish. I feel like what happened is that I made an active choice and that act of making it an empowered active choice is what then allowed the yoga to blossom even more, because I was choosing to give it my full presence and energy. And I want to say that within that process I think the hardest thing was that I had had this dream from such a young age, I had had this dream that I was going to be in the arts and the burial of that dream, that was the hard part. But it’s just such a metaphor for life, because when we bury something, it allows often for other things to grow.
Angela: Yes. So true. You know there is such rich value in your sharing and so deeply. And I’m grateful for your vulnerability and your sharing and I think about that moment when you’re in that agent’s office and they are saying you need to lose weight and something in you was able to choose in that moment, self-love over self-image. And I think that’s such an important choice point that we have. So many of us are trying to get a life that looks like a good life. That looks like the right life, the good work, and we’re not in the felt sense of it, because we’re choosing self-image over self-love.
Pranidhi: I think this is why -- I love the yoga practice. It allows me an opportunity to practice self-love each day when I get on the mat. And I think what I needed in those early years in LA where I was feeling a lot of pressure to conform externally, I needed a practice that was giving me a felt sense of the body every day. And that’s just why I love yoga, because it gives me a felt sense of the body and so many of us walk around every day without that. We’re just living from the neck up. And so I’m so, so grateful for this practice because it allows me to tap into that deeper wisdom of the body.
Angela: And I wonder too if it’s true that that which saves our life is the place from which we are to give service because we are giving from an internal need -- meaning -- I’m not looking out there - you didn’t look out there and say “What does LA need? And thinking LA needs more Yoga.” You’re not looking for the external need and then filling it. And I believe that when we keep looking out there for what we perceive to be the lack, I have a sense that’s where burnout comes from. And when we’re giving from within, “This saved my life, and I need to give from what is saving my life.” I wonder then if we tap into something that is inexhaustible. I’m not saying that it doesn’t require rest and breaks, but the inspiration - of course it comes in ebbs and flows, but it’s there. And i’m also wondering if you’re presenting us with a very important guidance about -- “Listen to your body.” So often I’ve heard people say, “The body doesn’t lie.” And when I met my husband he wasn’t what I would have called my type. Even my girlfriend, said, “Ah I don’t know -- I think of you as needing to be with someone more vital than him.” Or something like that. And my head was like -- he didn't live in the right place, he didn’t wear the right clothes. But my body - and I don’t mean just sexual attraction, but the wisdom of my body was like I feel good with him, I feel safe and happy with him. And I kept walking toward that even though my mind was all this chatter. But you do have to get still and listen don’t you!
Pranidhi: To me that’s supremely important. And one thing that you mentioned that I found really interesting -- it wasn’t that I thought LA needs more yoga -- there are yoga studios like Starbucks or gas stations around here. One on every corner! But what I did feel that you very astutely picked up on, was I felt like the method that had saved me, the form of practice, the way it was taught to me by my teacher, the love and humor with which it was shared with me -- that was something I thought I could offer and I felt uniquely moved to offer that. And because of that I think our community has really thrived and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be able to hold space in such a way and that this community has arisen of which you are an integral part.
Angela: And that’s such an important distinction. I’d practiced yoga in many places but I’d never practiced yoga. I was just waiting for the teacher to tell me what to do next. And it wasn’t until you brought this into my life that I found my own rhythm and it’s made an extraordinary difference in my life. I want to go back to the burial of a dream. I wonder if devotion to service is not really born until we've buried a dream. To give birth to that deeper devotion and this idea of bearing a dream also goes counter to culture especially here in the United States those of us in the United States its like, "make your dream come true", "never give up", "dream it", "believe it", "have it". When it is time to bury a dream, what was the most important thing that you can speak to that gave you the capacity to actually let go of something you had dreamed about it being a certain way for so long. This being this way would be what meant you were successful, what meant life had meaning. It's what you made it. How do you put that into the ground?
Pranidhi: That is a great question and what is coming up for me is, that it was just so supremely important to have a support system. Because failure is a word, is a concept that we are so scared of in this society. Like failing is the worst. It is the worst thing that could happen to us in this society. So I think that that is what I was afraid of. I was afraid of being perceived as a failure. I think what allowed me to step into that fear is the support system. Particularly of my husband, who has a really different background than I do. He is an entrepreneur in the tech world. In that world, failure is just a part of the game. You try one thing, it doesn't work, you try another. You try this other thing, it doesn't work, you try another, and you keep trying and keep trying and iterating until you find that one thing that really lands. That context helped me a lot because I just didn't have that context before. I had the context which you've been speaking of; I have a dream and if that dream doesn't thrive then I have failed. And so, just having a different context was incredibly helpful.
Angela: Beautiful. And that is wonderful thing for all of us to look at. Where are we willing to re-frame what success is? Where are we willing to re-frame what is necessary for our moving forward? In researching more about you as preparation for this call, I looked at more of your videos. Your open source yoga videos are amazing. You're on screen. I mean one of your videos has over 200,000 clicks and that is people really experiencing the heart and soul of you in your authentic expression. So I have a feeling that even in the burying of the dream there is another way in which the dream was to come full circle and have a new iteration. It is difficult to give up the old iteration. The idea that that's it. Thank goodness you are willing to get in front of the camera, with your voice, with your mind, with your body and present. That is performance in a certain way. That is at least presentation.
Pranidhi: Absolutely. For those experiences, they did give me a set of skills that have transferred to this other stage of my life and work. Absolutely.
Angela: I know that from this point of you determined to connect more deeply into, and I love how you said an empowered active choice. As I was hearing you say that, when you really chose to go more full throttle with what was actually feeding you and you connected to that by realizing "I feel dread when I go to do this", and "I am not feeling dread when I go do that". The word that comes up for me is "commitment". You must have committed to yoga. So, what occurred for you? You could easily been a shining star at some yoga studio really bringing the values of the traditional Ashtanga practice to an already burgeoning yoga studio. What occurred for you that enabled you to create the Shala? And in my home -- I know we are calling it here as ‘Yoga shala west’ -- but in my home, it’s like ‘Where are you going?’ “I’m going to the shala’”. “Are you going to the shala today? Have you been to the shala?” It’s part of our lives! I’m in my office and I texted my daughter who’s sleeping in her bedroom (I have an office at home) “Don’t come in. I’m on air”. She knows I’m doing this call. And she texted me back saying “You are amazing. I’m thinking about you and holding a good space for you as you interview Pranidhi.” It’s like you are part of our home, you’re part of our lives! The shala! And it is the energy of the shala and I wish I had the way of describing to everyone what it’s like to be there. You go in and the first thing you do is you smell a smell. It smells the same smell that I have at my home, but it smells like home. It smells like my home away from home! It smells like a home where I don’t have to be anything for anybody. I don't have to be anything for anybody - cook, cleaner, wife, mother, practitioner. I get to be me. And when I take my shoes off, which is what you do when you come in to the shala, it’s like, I know that this sounds almost selfish, but it’s the ultimate ‘me time’. It’s the ultimate time for me to say ‘Hi’ and ‘Gee, how are you?’. And from the flowers that fellow students will leave...When you come to the shala and you sign in, there’s often food right there. And if i’m feeling achy about my practise, i know i’m going to get to eat some of that, after. And it’s so utterly warm! And just the kindness that’s experienced in the studio itself between practitioners. Even when someone new comes in, we move over our mats to let that person in. There’s something about that -- when you feel someone’s creating space for you because you are coming in and you need the space -- it’s heartfelt. And then you’re so eager to create the space for someone else. I want to know what occurred within you that enabled you to make that leap where...did you see this vision of this possibility? What took you on this journey? You know, fitting into some other yoga studio as a master teacher to creating this ‘jewel’, this ‘beacon of light’, in creating your own space?
Pranidhi: Wow! It just feels so good! It is just so heartwarming to hear the shala described in such ways. It’s like, you know, yes, I buried a dream and then I had this new dream. And now it feels like, when I hear you speak, it’s like, “Wow! This dream has been realised!” My heart is so warm. I think what inspired me to create this space, is that I did spend many years teaching, in a way, in a lot of different contexts... So I met you, Angela at the Y...One thing i remember earlier on from our conversation is when you were talking about how you came in that first day and you had such a moving experience on that first day. I want to paint a little bit of a picture for the others on the call. That class was held in a gigantic gym, where the doors wouldn't close all the way, we could never get the temperature right, the kitchen was right next to it, you know, it was not an ideal setting for a yoga class at all. And yet, we were able to create this experience together - students and teachers and all practitioners - this experience of embodied presence together. And that is what touches us. It doesn’t matter if the conditions aren’t ideal - we can still drop into that experience that’s felt in the body. So anyways, i just thought that that was so amazing that you were able to feel that even though the conditions weren’t ideal (50:15)
Even though I continued to teach, I also assisted many other teachers in L.A., in all types of rooms: Ashtanga rooms and I also taught very regularly at an Ashtanga studio in Culver City which is a part of L.A. and I was doing well but what was happening was I spending a lot of time in my car driving from place to place and that’s like a way of life for many in L.A. unfortunately. That is very draining to spend that much time in the car but that is just one tiny aspect of it. I think the bigger thing that I started to sense is that even in a lot of the other rooms that I was teaching, some of the image based achievement oriented ethos was seeping into yoga room. I felt like it was my responsibility to create a space that was more nurturing and more therapeutic and that honored my teacher. Frankly I didn’t feel like my teacher’s voice really existed in the city. I wanted to create a space where my teacher’s voice and methodology was present and also I had a voice. This is also something that I learned from my husband and I felt so supportive that he being entrepreneur knows that the freedom that comes with it. There is responsibility but also freedom when we are allowed to make our own choices without feeling the pressure or need to fulfil someone else’s expectations. That started to feel more and more attractive to me and not have to answer to anybody else, particularly in the ashtanga yoga tradition, the respect for the teacher is very important. When I was teaching at the other studio, the senior teacher at the studio that’s the voice was the voice in the studio and my voice was just complement to that. As I grew in my practice and teaching, I started to feel like I have a voice and I think other people need to hear it. That is what really inspired me to create the space and it is flourishing.
Angela: I appreciate the boldness of “I have a voice and other people need to hear it”. I don’t think we will be given a voice and be aware of it and if is of to be value to others, that is an important shift in consciousness to make and own that and step out on that. I want to shift gears and invite Amit to ask any questions. I still appreciate all that you have shared. I feel the deep sense of spirit and splendour of this trajectory and there are so many rich nuggets in there. We have covered in many ways of what it takes from the inside out to burst something like you have. Now I want to switch gears into the nuts and bolts -- what is involved in designing for your values. I would love to sit at a cafe and talk about it forever. (Laughs) We can brew on these ideas but to put them into form to actually find a place that you can afford on the West side and how do you communicate this to a stranger who walks in the door chewing gum and asks, “Do you have a yoga class starting in 5 mins?”. How do you establish the designing for the values and have it so solid that it is honored and respected and you are able to enroll the individuals in the value.
Pranidhi: Great question. I would also love to talk about all the things that we talked for an hour but I also like the nuts and bolts. I am happy to converse about it. I think when we were designing the Shala right around the time I was engaging in laddership circle that is one of the offering that Service space provides. Through the laddership circle I learned the idea of creative constraint. Creative constraints are basically -- what are things that I am not going to compromise on. When I designed my Shala I had two creative constraints. I did not want to turn anyone away, any dedicated practitioner away because of financial constraints and the other creative constraint was I wanted the Shala to be self reliant because I didn’t have the unlimited financial capital to be able to invest. With those two creative constraints, we came up with two design key elements and one was the contribution model in which we invite students to contribute between $100 and $200 every month and if they cannot contribute that amount then they can contribute any amount underneath the $100 level but it is expected that each student contributes and it is not a free ride. This has just allowed the practice to reach people that wouldn’t otherwise. I don’t mean casual yoga students who take class once a week. This is students who come everyday to the Shala and who cannot come actually practice at home. It has allowed people access points into the practice who otherwise wouldn’t have. It is really created a diverse community at the Shala . Our students are coming from all races, ethnicity, ages. We have high school students, college students, people who are senior citizens, who are retired.
You asked how to get students enrolled? For students who have no experience in Ashtanga and who are brand new to the practice, we ask for two week commitment and we ask them to come to the Shala everyday and if everyday is not possible then at least three days a week and that two weeks is offered as a gift. We are not asking for any financial compensation for the two weeks first. That puts the practice first and the relationship first. That relationship between the student and the practice. Does the student love the practice? What I find is if the student makes it to the two weeks then they are likely to join the monthly practice. If the student doesn’t make it to the two weeks for whatever reason then -- no harm, no fault. I am not just interested in picking that student for money. That is not what this is about. This is about developing deep relationship. Those two design elements address that first creative constraint -- we don’t want to turn anyone away. Next for self reliant, we have done lots of things to help ourselves be self reliant. You mentioned our space -- it is a very small space but for L.A. it is relatively affordable. So the rent is feasible for us to have this model and be self reliant. I have been talking for a long time but I can go further but I want to give space for anything deeper that you want to go to.
Amit: I want you to continue but I did want to also open up Q & A for any of the folks that are on the call that would like to add to share a comment or share any insight about Pranidhi especially if you happen to be a parent or have a question for her. I'll just just want to welcome and just share thoughts on our theme of how you stay strong and so if you're on the call you can push the star six and you'll be entered into the queue and you'll be prompted and then when it's your turn or you can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Angela: I meant to ask you that it sounds like the contribution model that you created that you know it's one hundred to two hundred dollars a month and if someone wants to go up or down from that you know you work it out with them so that you don't turn anyone away and then you give the gift of two weeks of practice which is a substantial gift especially the way ashtanga is taught is because when you're new you actually need more attention than when you've been practicing a while in a certain sense.
Angela: It sounds like those design elements in a certain way allow for who really participate that it's almost like a self-selecting process like here you can't be in the constraint of that it's probably not for you.
Pranidhi: Absolutely and that's the experience that we've had and yeah and it's interesting, it's been a good practice for me to to lean into the strength of those constraints because like you said we do have people walking in some time and just asking like oh when is your next class? Can I drop in? To say “no” that takes some strength.
Amit: We have a question from someone that is listening in from Asheville, North Carolina and the question is How do you address the trend to "scientize" and desacralize / de spiritualize yoga for western consumption (which is perhaps especially so in Los Angeles)?.
Pranidhi: It is a great question. So for me yoga is interesting question because the spiritual experience aspects of yoga to me comes through the felt experience of the body which I talked about a couple times on the call already. It is the ability that the practice gives a to drop into the present moment and particularly if we are in community when that’s happening, it's all the more powerful. That to me is different than the religious connotation that yoga tends to have in India and actually even here in L.A. or in the Western world in general. Our yoga seems to be inexplicably linked to a sort of pseudo hindu religiosity. and I actually find that when that stuff isn't linked to authenticity, when it is a grounded it actually ends up turning people away from the practice.
Yeah and yet I really hear the question in terms of how do we honor those roots and how do we honor that felt experience without giving over to the image of a culture. And one thing I have done to kind of increase the level of authenticity or to bring a more authenticity to the yoga at large is are the practice videos that you mentioned and in those videos I consciously try to invite practitioners to be a part of those videos who have all kinds of different bodies, of different abilities and we do chant in those videos. We chant at the beginning, we chant at the end so there is a connection to source and a connection to lineage. And then in between that chanting it's just the practice and it's about creating that felt experience and so for me I guess it would just come down to authenticity.
Amit: In thinking about this path that you take in and I love how Angela said it sort of set up the foundation really well starting with your cultural environmental upbringing but one aspect of that I wanted to sort of hear about was how did your parents play a role in this I knew especially for being an Indian American myself, traditionally the rules or expectations of children especially going about over here with the opportunity to take a traditional path whether it's medicine or law or business or in old technology wherever have you and so to take a sort of nontraditional path when you were first acting at first and now in teaching yoga I'm just curious how your parents felt about that and how you guys feel?
Pranidhi: Yeah it is such a great question. I joke that my parents got the two most rebellious daughters that they could out and both my sister and I haven't tested them. It certainly wasn't easy I think at the root of some of the pressures that we feel as a first or second generation immigrant of this country at the root of them is really this felt sense of scarcity that we know our parents came here with very little and what they want for their kids is the opposite of that they want to bond and for their kids and so the traditional path to abundance are these careers that you mention these very stable careers that are going to give us financial abundance and so when it became clear that I wasn't going down that route I think it was difficult of a parent and it strained our relationships at times but what been amazing for me to witness is that unconditional love that parents have because though they didn't understand some of the choices that I was making they chose to support me regardless and that's been a really beautiful journey to be honest with them. It was funny and when I sort of started transitioning away from acting and toward yoga, I had this sense that they were breathing a sigh of relief actually because they felt yoga was something that was a part of our culture, our background even though we didn't practice that actively as a family still there was connection to our roots in some way and so it was more familiar to them than this other world that I had been playing in for many years. And then I also think getting married helped.
I am being very honest here. Then there is that sense that OK there's a grounding here, there's a support network that I had that I have that I think as a parent if you want your kids to be secure and so that added level of security in the point really help them to be able to relax and just support me fully.
Amit: It's wonderful and I'm hoping that they're listening to this call or seeing the beautiful mpact that you're having and so many people and it's just so thoughtful listening to the design principles that went into how you set everything up and this idea of really creating connection. It's beautiful. I'm going to go to one of our callers and again if you have a question you can push star six on your phone and you enter into the queue and just tell us your name where you're calling in from and then share your comment or question. On to our first caller.
Birju: Hello Pranidhi, this is Birju calling, really appreciating this call. I've really enjoyed volunteering alongside you for some time in the ladder ship circles that you've alluded to and what I'm curious to hear your reflections on is having walked with journey of stepping into the uncomfortable for so long and in multiple different ways. What would you say is your own edge of growth right now?
Pranidhi: Birju, you just have such a knack for asking questions. One thing that comes to mind actually is something that I've been playing with at the Shala and end edge of the community growth is I've been sort of exploring ways that I can invite students to feel more and more empowered in their contributions to the Shala, not financial contributions but other types of contributions and actually challenge them to contribute more so that the Shala becomes more self-sufficient. I think what's happened up to this point is that I've basically been in charge and that's very comfortable for me because I like being in charge and what I'm more interested in now is seeing if I can let go of that a little bit and allow the Shala to become a little more self organizing and a little more self-sufficient frankly because one of our creative constraints was to be self reliant and when I first envisioned that creative constraint, it was very much tied to finances but as I'm growing the Shala, I'm realizing that self-reliance is not just about finances it's like I want to get the Shala to a place where when I leave town it's cool and so I'm I'm just exploring different ways to do that now. So that's an edge that I'm actively exploring and looking forward to exploring more.
Birju: Thank you
Amit: We will go to the next caller Jacob Kramer
Jacob: You're actually probably really cool and I was at the Shala today. I was wondering how you balance both financial and stable income for the Shala and desire to allow people to come to your yoga studio and practice ashtanga?
Pranidhi: Thank you for that question. So going into building the shala or creating the space I knew that I didn't want to turn anybody away and I also am very fortunate in that my income from teaching at this point in my life doesn't need to support me fully. I have other streams of income that support me and mainly that's my husband and so I'm very grateful for that financial support because it did allow me to step into this somewhat risky model. That thing said that I did want to make sure that the Shala was at least self reliant because we don't have an unlimited reserves to pour into the space. And it's been an interesting line for me to walk because one thing that I've started noticing a little bit is that I do hold a small amount of judgment on some of the contributions that come in.
For example if contributions come in that are a little bit on the lower end below one hundred dollars or significantly below one hundred dollars, I do find myself carrying a little bit of judgment about that and so it's been a really interesting practice for me to just sort of look into that judgment and see where they were coming from and challenge myself to receive whatever contribution is being offered as a gift to the Shala.
So that's been interesting line for me to walk and it's been an interesting way for me to really step into the trust so our motto as a Shala in terms of our model is that we're moving from transaction to trust because what I felt like was happening in the yoga culture was becoming very transactional, so you pay for a class and then you get this experience there and then you walk into the studio in the first thing you see the huge boutique and then you are going to buy that clothing and then you know you're going to become enlightened. So that's what I was experiencing is a very transactional quality and I wanted to move away from that to a more trusting quality and so it's been interesting because it's been a challenge to receive every contribution as a gift from God with the amount whether it's twenty five dollars a month or two hundred fifty dollars a month and we do have that wide of range of contribution from students. It’s been a really good practice or a need to review each student as equal and view each contribution as a gift and then to see how ow trust emerges from that because then what happens is that it's no longer of a -- they're not giving me this and this didn't give me that and they didn't even give me that. It's oh wow the community is contributing this much and it just allows me to lean into trust even more.
Angela: It feels to me like what you have to hold so solidly is how deeply you value whole yoga, value the ashtanga practice, value the Shala and that's another kind of way you're enrolling the student but if they practice their day they are to value the way you value it because it's easy to know well because I've tried to explain the fee structure to other people and they're like “oh! it’s pay as you can”, “oh! it's this”, it's like in my own practice as a spiritual practitioner when I would work on a sliding scale. I had an example of somebody coming to me to my office and saying I can't pay today and I said OK and I happen to run into them at a store where they were buying a rug. I had a few of those things and I felt really hurt. Yes people spend two hundred fifty dollars a month getting their hair done but what are they contributing to the Shala. I mean how do you address that in your design?
Pranidhi: That's such an insightful point because I actually recently had the experience where I have a student that is contributing what I would perceive to be a pretty low amount and then I saw the student eating lunch at a restaurant and so I had a moment's judgement in almost immediately that came up and I had to think of that and see where it was coming from and then I tried to put myself in the student's shoes and I thought maybe that was the only meal that she is eating all day. How do I know and just that simple shift in perspective allowed me to then again love the student. Because I think in this model it's really not up to me to dictate what anybody is contributing. It's a really up to that student to feel into what they can sustainably contribute and I'm actually really grateful that experience happened because it was a test of my values and it challenged me and I'm grateful for that challenge and one other thing that I want to address and take up in your question is something you brought up is the sense of responsibility that I try to instill in the community. So, yes it is contribute what you can with the expectation that a contribution is coming every month so I have had students who have tried to shirk off that responsibility and in those instances I do make it very clear that responsibility is a part of our ethos and this isn't a space where it's OK to just not contribute anything because that contribution is important to the work we're doing even if that contribution is one dollar and what I've found is that when students can't get on board with that then they just leave and that's OK with me.
Jacob: Yeah, thank you so much. that's really cool.
Amit: For callers, Jacob was one of our interns last summer. We have at Service Space a 9 week or 10 week internship every summer and Jacob is just in high school and Pranidhi was one of his mentors. So in addition to all the wonderful work that Pranidhi does at the Shala, in her writing, in her videos, she also took time out of her schedule to mentor Jacob and participate in our internship and I have you on the phone Jacob if there's any thought that you wanted to share what it was like to have Pranidhi as your mentor
Jacob: Wonderful. Yeah I really like got a lot out of that last summer and I think it's been almost a year and then I feel like this year, I was junior this year throw it was a very stressful time of my life but from from our leadership circle I kind of learned to just like be more mindful of myself and how stressed I'm feeling and just sort of recognize that whenever something would put me down I kind of just take a little bit to think about it and just be more conscientious and that was one of the lessons we learned at our ladder-ship circle. We meditate quite a lot during ladder-ship circle and although I don't do it for like an hour every day like we did during the circle. I actually downloaded like this meditation app onto my Amazon echo and every night before I go to bed I've been really good about that the past couple of months I've been like meditating just like laying down and it's really made junior so much easier for me and now that I'm finishing it up.
It's like I don't know I guess just having Pranidhi as my mentor and every time we would do a skype call, we would do like a little thing at the end of it where you really read like four lines that was really calm and soothing. I've kind of like taken all by heart so that thank you so much.
Pranidhi: Thank you Jacob.
Amit: Thank you for sharing. Really appreciate that. Pranidhi, thank you for being such a wonderful mentor and just hearing and sharing all the wonderful things that you have shared during the call I know that we're coming close to to the end of our call. I wanted to see if Angela had any questions I have one or two left on my side and then we will move towards closing.
Angela: Well, I would love to hear your questions and I just want to say one comment as I listen to the callers questions and listen to you is that it's just what's impacting me is how much this kind of value based business requires you to stay awake because it's always in progress. it's not like set and now it's running. It is always in progress in you're responding to various needs as you move forward so I appreciate that.
Amit: t's a wonderful observation and that's sort of what my next question is sort of based upon that. What you and Angela were speaking about earlier about you describing this experience when your manager called you and you started sensing this feeling of dread or hesitation or really have to go to a audition and and so often you know I feel like many of us or all human just because you know my body is telling me something in one form or another, yeah we ignore that and we push through that just because of what we think it's going to affect our livelihood or how someone might perceive or even in the case of judgment too, you feel that I know I should be doing one thing but I'm feeling this and so it is such an active process and I'm curious how do you keep yourself both aware of what's actually happening inside and being consistent to that as well as helping you determine what is the right what is the best way for you to grow and look at some of the situation from both sides and dissect it.
Pranidhi: For me I think commitment to practice is just the most essential. That's also part of the ethos of the Shala is that I really try to encourage the students to practice every day because I think that without that consistent dedication to practice, without that mechanism that you have to check in every day to look in a mirror but really the mirror turned inward. Without that check in process on a consistent basis I don't know how you are able to tap into what is authentic going on inside one’s body.
I think the most effective way that I inspire my students to commit to daily practice is to commit today with part of myself. I'm there pretty much every day at the Shala opening the door and doing my practice and as I'm practicing other students start to walk in and so that's how my morning begins every day, is opening the doors to the Shala laying down my mat and practicing and then being there in community with students as they also begin their practice and then very naturally finishing my practice and then that and into that teacher role for the next three hours. It is such a beautiful way to begin the day and yeah all that to say that I just think commitment is is the key. And then from there how we take those lessons off the mat, that requires skill and that's where I come back to what Angela was talking about at the beginning of the call is that this is a process where we're going to make mistakes that we're going to have stumbled, we're going to have moments where we're not moving into our authenticity or not skillful or we have an outburst or something there can be any number of ways that these things manifest. But with commitment to practice we become more and more skillful I believe.
Amit: We have one more caller.
Pranidhi’s parents: We have been listening to this very beautiful conversation in a very thoughtful working memory to appreciate and thank you. It's not a question, we just wanted to share our feeling and support to you and we're so proud that you have done such an amazing wonderful job of yourself and then giving back to the community, how you are helping others to live what they should be living.
In any many ways I think that you have led us to a better path of righteousness that you were so strong and determined and committed to what you envision your life and that has been an inspiration to us and like I said it's it's just led to a stronger path to being honest to yourself, honest to others around you and and be righteous in any situation.
Pranidhi: I am crying.
Amit: I know. I am tearing up over here. Beautiful
Pranidhi’s parents: Well, we as a parent think that we want to teach you but Pranidhi has taught us well back. We appreciate that. Pranidhi, you have given us lot of insight into how to lead a righteous life.
Pranidhi: I just feel so grateful. What a beautiful opportunity for me to when I feel like yeah I play the role of teacher a certain period of time throughout the day but really I have so many teachers around me and just so so grateful to have all the teachers -- Mama, Papa, Birju, Amit, Jacob, Angela. You are all my teachers as well.
Amit: Is there any we as a larger service space community can continue to support the work that you're doing.
Pranidhi: What I would love is for everyone on the call to take a little time today to consciously love themselves. That's something that's really alive for me these days is how I can grow in my capacity to love myself and so it would just mean the world to me if everyone took some time today to love themselves.
Amit: Do you mind if we make a small request of you. We've heard about it from Angela and from others. You usually like to end your yoga classes with a beautiful chant and so perhaps give our callers an opportunity to hear your voice.
Pranidhi: Oh sure, I'd be happy to do that and so in honor of my parents, I'd like to chant the specific mantra.
Twameva Mata, Chapita Twameva.
Twameva Bandhush, Cha Sakha Twameva.
Twameva Vidya, Dravinum Twameva.
Twameva Sarvam Mama Deva Deva.
Kayena vacha manasendriyairva
Buddhyatmana va prakrite swabhavath
Karomi yadyad sakalam parasmai
Amit: Thank you Pranidhi. Thank you Angela for a masterful job moderating today. You know we we will we wish you all the best of luck with the Shala
Scribes: Prabha Nallappan, Indira Jambulingam, Harish Bhuvan, Jole Morton, Gayathri Ramachandran, Pavi Mehta
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