I was born in 1977 and I think it is fair to say that Yoga has been part of my life since I was a baby. But I would never have expected Yoga to become such a prevalent part of my life. For this, I am grateful to my parents and my father’s wonderful Guru, Swami Satchidananda. From a young age Swamiji has been a part of our family and I never realised or fully appreciated the impact he would have on my life.
I grew up in Southeast London with a mix of the British lifestyle and my own Tamil culture. My family brought me up with a strong connection to my Tamil heritage, whilst engaging in all that was British. This way of being brought up felt natural to me and I still feel I belong to both cultures. When I was about 5 years-old, I was lucky to have my grandmother stay with us for 6 months. With my Am-mamma (grandmother) not speaking a word of English I had no choice but to learn Tamil. I’ve yet to master reading and writing in Tamil, but there is still time. I find that having learnt Tamil helps me have a better connection with Sanskrit. Again, little did I know this would be helpful to me later in life.
From as early as I can remember, we would have annual visits from Swamiji. Whenever he visited London he would stay with us, and he loved my mother’s vegetarian cooking, which consisted of all the foods from Swamiji’s own Tamil childhood, growing up in South India: sambar (lentil stew), saadam (rice), and other dishes. If he wasn’t staying with us, we would definitely visit him and my mother would bring him her home-cooked food. I remember attending various talks and programs that Swamiji gave in London, over many years. When I was growing up, I didn’t understand all that was being said but his words definitely sunk in. Now when I read Swamiji’s books his voice is still there and it’s as if he’s in the same room with me, teaching me in his kind way. Swamiji makes Yoga philosophy easy to understand with examples from our modern lives.
So, even with this start, I never imagined that teaching Yoga would become my path. As I studied in school, my weekends were spent learning cultural arts from Sri Lanka. The Tamil part of Sri Lanka is where my family is from and where my father first met Swamiji in the 1950s. Swamiji was sent by his Guru, Swami Sivananda, to live and teach in Sri Lanka, which he did for 13 years prior to coming to the West.
In the UK, I learnt to sing South Indian classical music, to play the mridungam (a South Indian percussion instrument) and to dance in the style of Bharatha Natyam (South Indian classical dance). Even with all those skills, and all my exposure to Yoga, I didn’t pursue a career in Yoga or cultural arts. When I was 16 years-old I decided I wanted to be a car designer, so I went to university and attained a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
After finishing my degree, I got married and successfully attained my first job at Gillette. I still remember going to the job interview wearing a sari. Why not? I was born in the UK and I was Sri Lankan—so I was different and I liked to be different and wasn’t afraid to be myself. Gillette was a wonderful company to work for and if I had stayed there I’m sure I would have worked there for many years. However, a strange turn of events happened at a critical time in my life. The factory I was working at was closing down and everybody was being made redundant. I was also pregnant with my first child. A few opportunities presented themselves to me. I was at a fork in the road. I needed to come to a decision about where my life should go. Having a young family soon, should I re-train and continue pursuing my engineering career or do something else?
The universe sent me the signs on how to proceed. I soon learned that a Yoga Teacher training course was just about to start. My Yoga teacher, Carole Rolls, was running a Yoga foundation course and even though it had already started she said I could catch up privately with her and join the group. This meant that I would be able to join the Teacher Training Diploma course. With the teacher training, I was blessed to have a Sivananda-trained Swami running the program just a few miles from my house. It was as though all the planets were aligned and it really couldn’t have been easier. My diploma tutor, Fidelma Spilsbury, was amazing. The spiritual teachings I learnt from her are indescribable.
I was finally connecting with all my heritage that had been drummed into me during my younger years and what I had learned from Swamiji. The Sanskrit mantras felt like coming home, reminding me of my singing lessons as a child. The anatomy of postures made sense with my mechanical background and the mudras and philosophy became clear with my dance training. It felt as though I was really connecting with the Universe, with God. I was beginning to feel so connected and, yet at the same time, feeling so small in a very vast space. How would I ever be able to teach Yoga to others Yoga when I myself had so much to learn? Then I remembered Swamiji’s words “Know that you are not a teacher. You are still a learner. You are sharing what you have learned, what you know and can tell them that there is still much more you are learning.”
At the beginning of my classes we always chant the Shanthi mantra, as I was taught, and I feel this is important for us all to remember that it’s not only the teacher teaching the students but also the students teaching the teacher. When doing this we create a kind and open environment to practise. Chanting can feel a bit mumbo jumbo for some people and perhaps not always included by others who teach a more “generic” Yoga. But, I’ve found that my students now love the mantra part and we all love how the sound energy brings us together. This is still resonant even during our online classes, which I transitioned to doing during the pandemic. I have always tried my best to teach Yoga as a holistic practise, just as Swamiji taught—an Integral Yoga system. Yoga is not just the postures we make on the mat, it is so much more than that. Yoga has so many tools to offer and it is up to us to use the right ones when we need them.
I was a little sad when Swamiji passed away just months before I decided to take the path to become a Yoga teacher, but I know that he is looking down on me and guiding me along. Life is funny and amazing. My five-year-old self would never have predicted that I would teach of Yoga, yet I feel Swamiji knew all along. I realize that now, in all the love, encouragement, and gentle guidance he always gave me.
As a teacher and as a human, I am forever grateful to all the people I come across in my life. All of my life experiences help me to grow and learn. We can never know what the future holds and we cannot change the past but we can be present. What is important is that we stay positive and calm in all situations and have faith that the universe is looking out for us and sending us these events to better ourselves.
My aim in life is to stay well and healthy so that I can serve others; to help others find the tools of Yoga that suit them so that they can help themselves. I send my love to all.
About the Author:
Kalyani Verma is a Yoga teacher and member of the British Wheel of Yoga and Friends of Yoga. Learn more about her at: kalyaniyoga.co.uk and via her YouTube channel, Kalyani Yoga. You can also follow her on Instagram.