Hundreds of years from now, if the world is anything like it is today, we might invent a tablet that would cure everything. Be it a psychological condition or a respiratory issue, one tablet would solve all riddles. Posterity might call it the ‘magic tablet’ that wouldn’t let anyone fall sick or suffer from stress. Or they might name it ‘Yoga’, medicine that can heal and restore inside out.
But yoga is not medicine, it’s better. Yoga is for everyone—you could be suffering from a medical condition or just seeking healthier living, this timeless discipline would not disappoint. A universal motif for wellbeing, yoga truly cuts across cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles.
An ancient practice in a truly adapted, modern avatar, yoga has its roots deep within the soil of Indian heritage. The last 100 years have seen yogic science and practice not only reach shores across the world but also make its way into modern urban life. Researchers and scholars have dedicated their lives to comprehend what makes yoga so effective. Insomnia, PTSD, anxiety, anger, chronic stress, and even cancer—yoga helps fight all battles and win them too.
There’s an interesting analogy to help fathom the brilliance of this discipline. Einstein’s theories were not understood or accepted at first, but decades later, after years of research, they are the foundation of how we perceive the universe. The science behind yoga has seen a similar acceptance, all thanks to those who have made practising and teaching yoga their life’s purpose.
To celebrate this way of life that’s changed many lives, Soulveda spoke to Hatha Yoga instructor Reena Bhanot on International Yoga Day. During her long-standing relationship with yoga, this Netherlands-based yogi has helped individuals achieve holistic wellbeing. In an exclusive interview, Reena shares her story of learning, teaching, and paying it forward.
You come from a family of yoga practitioners. Tell us about the inspiration behind your journey in yoga.
I must have been six when my mother, Tripta Bhanot, now a renowned yoga therapist, was operated upon for her persistent lower back pain. Even after the surgery, nothing changed. I remember seeing my mother low and sick. During this time, someone suggested Siddh Samadhi Yog (SSY), back then taught in a park by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, which later grew into the Art of Living. For the first time in months, I saw my mother smiling and feeling better.
Soon, she began to take professional training from the Bihar School of Yoga and also started learning naturopathy, Reiki, and Pranic healing. My siblings and I would accompany her and help her demonstrate at seminars and courses during summer break. All this passive learning continued through my growing-up years.
Fast forward to when I finished university, passive learning gave me the courage to further explore yoga and understand its intricacies from different standpoints. An activity I got into unwittingly soon became my vocation.
Hatha yoga is a popular term today. Tell us what is hatha yoga? Is it for everyone?
Hatha yoga is one of the most commonly known and practiced forms of yoga today. According to the yogic scriptures, it is the combination of two mantras, ‘ham’ which represents the sun (Pingala) or vital energy or prana, and ‘tham’ that represents the moon (Ida) or mental energy. In this context, hatha yoga is a tool to balance these aspects.
Hatha yoga is a highly restorative and well-defined practice that can provide you a clear understanding of your own body. Through hatha yoga, you can achieve harmony between sympathetic, parasympathetic, and central nervous systems—you can also refer to them as pingala nadi, ida nadi, and sushumna nadi. It can be practiced by anyone irrespective of age, gender, or physical condition. You can follow it at your own pace.
You have been teaching yoga for many years. First in India, then in the Netherlands, and now in Singapore. Did you find any difference in how yoga is perceived in these completely diverse societies?
My experience has been quite different in all these countries.
In India, yoga is about devotion. As a teacher, you are put on a pedestal—which is extremely humbling, of course. Here, I taught yoga for about three years before moving to Amsterdam.
Back then yoga was still a thing for the rich and privileged, unfortunately. Though people had some understanding of the yoga philosophy and its background, they lacked the motivation to pursue it. Yoga, as you know, is to be experienced and not intellectualised! I felt that the quest to explore more was less.
In the Netherlands, the interest is divided. There’s one section that doesn’t want any cultural references at all. They are only interested in the heavy physical routine—no mantras or meditation. Then there are those who are spiritual but I found them conflicted on the inside. This being said, a large number of my students were seekers who were looking for internal balance and spirituality. Everything you teach there, in the Netherlands, has to be substantiated by facts. The level of commitment is definitely higher there.
And now in Singapore, though I am fairly new to this country, I have already met some lovely yoga enthusiasts here.
You work with the theme of “identifying the inner patterns”. What patterns are these? How do we identify them through yoga?
I have a theory that I go by—acknowledge in order to address.
Most of us operate on an autopilot mode, attracting similar outcomes and hitting the same roadblocks over and over again. That’s because many grow up with a certain belief system; with set routines and ideas about life and the world. Our response to difficult situations, disease, and problem-solving mechanisms are set as well. With all these preconceived notions, we end up creating a mental outline of what works for us and what doesn’t.
Notions like “I get a headache if I drink more than two cups of tea”, “My family is prone to depression, diabetes, or cancer”, or “I’m not capable of being in a long-term relationship” are all impressions collected by us over the years or even before our conception. They can also be an accumulation of self-limiting beliefs that are passed on from one generation to the next.
What if I told you that it is possible to break this cycle and you don’t need to inherit everything that’s being passed on to you? You can choose! You can redesign and reprogram, revert, and restore. To understand that it is not that extra cup of tea that is giving you a headache, it is the conditioning that you have been put through. That is where tools like yoga help.
Once you decide to mute the noise and start listening to yourself, the effects of yoga become evident. And the best part is, there’s something for everybody in it.
Tell us how yoga helps in breaking these reoccurring patterns or loops?
In yoga, you use your body as a tool. And since it’s familiar territory, it’s easier to forge an instant connection with it. With the help of the right asanas, pranayama (breathing techniques), and proper relaxation techniques, you can overcome almost any obstacle.
Yoga can give you a heightened sense of awareness. With awareness comes consciousness of your inner self. We begin to question predictabilities, patterns, and norms. It becomes easier to answer why something is the way it is? What is making you sick? If it is your own thoughts or the information you’re feeding yourself?
As an experiment, start paying more attention to your breath for a few days. Just the conscious abdominal breathing itself will put you on a path of self-healing.
Yoga has become synonymous with fitness today, but yoga practitioners insist that yoga isn’t about fitness but holistic wellbeing. What is your take on it?
A well-sculpted muscular body might not necessarily translate into a healthy body. Whereas, through yoga, you don’t only achieve good health but also gain mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing. In yoga, the emphasis is on sustenance rather than short-term gains. Having said that, the lines are indeed becoming blurred between fitness and yoga. The fitness industry can no longer deny the benefits of yoga, which is why they are incorporating the principles of yoga into their training and rebranding them with new names.
If you are someone who works out regularly, it should be easy to incorporate a few yoga asanas into your routine to enhance its outcome. Yoga has some wonderful stretches that can further complement your workout.