Intentional Well-Being Podcast Ep2 - Anusha Wijeyakumar
In this episode of The Intentional Well-being Podcast. Anusha and I discuss the roots of Yoga, well-being and how the wellness industry can improve.
Anusha is a sought-after motivational speaker around the world on the science of mindfulness and meditation at the intersection of yoga and social justice. She’s delivered keynote speeches for health and wellness conferences, Fortune500 companies, and the top-ranked universities across North America and the UK.
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Hey everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Thank you for listening to that first podcast, our inaugural podcast, and I’m here with another one of my friends in the social justice and wellness space with Anusha Wijeyakumar. I’m very excited to have her on the podcast today. You might know her as Shanti Within on Instagram. She’s also part of the Women of Color Wellness Collective which also has a handle on Instagram. We have met in a lot of wellness spaces and social justice spaces so I really appreciate her perspective on the world. Anusha is a sought-after motivational speaker around the world on the science of mindfulness and meditation at the intersection of yoga and social justice. She’s delivered keynote speeches for health and wellness conferences, Fortune500 companies, and the top-ranked universities across North America and the UK. She has been booked to speak at some of the top universities, leading hospitals, health and wellness events around the country. Anusha, wellness consultant for Hoag Hospital. One of the leading hospitals in the US where she is actively engaged in c hampioning mindfulness and meditation practices for maternal mental health programs, early risk assessment for breast and ovarian cancer prevention programs, and breast cancer survivor programs. Anusha is one of the first people to create a meditation program to be used in clinical research at Hoag Hospital. Anusha has over 15 years of international senior management experience working for Fortune50,100 and 500 global corporations around social justice, n onprofit organizations, and private companies on three continents. I could go on and on. Her bio is incredible, but I’m going to stop there and I’m going to let you listen in on a conversation I had around w ell- being not only in corporate spaces in the world, and how w ell- being and social justice intersect. Can’t wait for you to meet Anusha. Anusha Wijeyakumar welcome to the podcast. I am so grateful. You are here. I love your energy. I feel like we are sisters from another mister. We’ve only known each other for about a year but you have been in my crosshairs from the moment I saw women of color on your Instagram and I started sharing your stuff. Then Melanie Klein, a mutual friend of ours, co-founder of The Yoga and Body Image Coalition introduced us together and we did that talk right after the George Floyd Black Lives Matter, all that stuff happened in May of 2020. You invited me on the Instagram page, the Instagram live, and we were batting that tennis ball back and forth. I just felt like she gets me. I get her. We are t wo Brown and Black women who are about to set the world on fire. Then this year, I started my first 300-hour teacher training and I found your book Meditation With Intention, and it blew my mind that you could lay out something that was so comprehensive, whether you were just starting a meditation or you had been meditating for a long time. Getting people to sit and getting people to figure out why it’s important not only to meditate and why intention needs to be connected to our practices of meditation, and how that is the seed, if you will, to your social justice work. Because once you kind of know who you are and you’re grounded in your self-worth and in yourself, and you have those self-regulation tools that meditation brings for you or that clarity that meditation gives you, or that grounding that meditation gives you. I think it gives you a new perspective on the world and you are more in tune and able to step out in the world in a way that is life-changing. In a way that is culture-shifting. In a way that is consciousness-building. I thank you for that. I thank you for that and I’m glad you’re here. I said a mouthful. I’ve said a lot.
Well, first of all, thank you so much for inviting me to your podcast. I couldn’t echo your sentiments even more so than you’ve already said, Dianne. I do feel like we are sisters from another lifetime that are reconnecting in this lifetime. Just from the moment that we spoke on the phone last year, that energy and the spark, and you don’t have that with everybody. You really don’t.
For me, it was really important that in the time and the stage of life that I am in, it’s important to nurture the connections and those bonds with people where you feel that it is igniting your spirit. Let’s be honest, over the past year, we’ve had relationships that have been the opposite of igniting our spirit. For me, the older that I get, I want to really focus my energy and time on either collaborating with, working with folks who I feel that connection with, and it doesn’t happen all at the time. So I’m truly grateful for you and this space and all the work that you’ve been doing over the decades and for us to be connected. I’m really excited about some of the things that we have coming up as well.
Yes. I’m very excited to know you and I feel the same way. We’re going to do a little workshop if you will. Stay tuned for that. The truth about the cancel culture. We were on, I guess, a video chat, an open forum, a round table discussion, and it came up, and I think I was one of the only people on the chat. You and I were one of the only people on the chat. We’re like, “Yeah, we’re okay with cancel culture with parameters.” Right? With paramters. Because I’m seeing that Barack Obama’s talking about cancel culture on his platforms and I’m noticing a lot of people are talking about it, but you and I have a slightly different spin on it. We’re just teasing out what we’re going to talk about because I think it’s much deeper than most people realize. I think we’re going to talk about the difference between cancel culture and accountability, right? How subtle cancel culture is and in some situations it’s not called cancel culture. It’s called my right to do whatever, right?
After that panel that we were on, like you said, you and I kind of echoed the same sentiments , but to really explain to people the difference between cancel culture and the difference between accountability and repair. That’s often the nuance that is lost in the yoga and wellness space and beyond, would be the faux spirituality that we see so rife and the neutrality that we also see that’s highly problematic. We’ll be covering all of this and more, and that’s happening in October so stay tuned. We’re really excited about this.
I know people are going to reach out to me and go, “Okay, on the podcast, you talked about this thing. When is it happening?” You know what? If you want to know about it, you can go to either of our websites and sign up for our newsletter, follow us on the Instagrams. We will be blasting it everywhere. Don’t worry. If you want to know about it, you will know about it. The first question I’ve been asking people on this podcast, the Intentional Well-being Podcast, tell me, what is the difference for you between wellness because I have some very deep feelings around this, and well-being? Do you have any feelings on what is wellness versus what is well- being? I’ll give you a second.
I think for me, personally, wellness has been something that has become, what is it now, a trillion-dollar industry?
It’s been completely co-opted and commercialized and commoditized. We all know that wellness has become very elitist, very whitewashed, very inaccessible, and that’s in itself, highly problematic and harmful. Both of these things are collective to me. So wellness is more of an industry really, right? Whereas to me, the difference between wellness and well-being is well- being is something that is focused on our mental, physical, and emotional health. The two overlap.
Yeah, intersect for sure.
But one is definitely more about to me that mental, the psychosocial needs, and wellness really now is, I mean, let’s be honest, the psychic healing. Not that there’s anything wrong with going to psychics but just get the picture. This, to me, is problematic. Because you have the yoga teacher but suddenly the psychic and the Reiki master and leading the Cacao ceremony and the meditation this, and the mindful that. To me, you can’t be all things to everybody. It’s often also people not from those indigenous roots who are leading wellness, and I say this in inverted commas, activities, catering to a certain demographic of the person that I’ve highlighted. Wellness has become incredibly problematic and all those, Dianne, has become the opposite of well- being in many ways.
Agreed. My issue with wellness is I found that toxic diet culture has appropriated the word as a new marketing gimmick or tool. So when I think of wellness, there has to be a certain amount of either body shaming, one, and two, disposable income that can allow you to attain wellness. So for example, if you don’t have the access to healthcare and you don’t have money to go to a doctor, that’s going to impact your wellness. We see a lot of people running around getting manicures and massages and facials under the umbrella of wellness. I’m not saying those things don’t help with wellness, but they become the central focus of wellness and if you don’t have the access to those things, then you feel like you can’t participate in the wellness industry. Then there’s always toxic diet culture. We’re going to diet our way into wellness. We’re going to change your bodies so that we’re well. It’s really taken on a toxic and a commodified kind of entity for me. So I’m no longer interested in exploring wellness because the minute I hear wellness, I hear diet, right? Those things are just intrinsically linked for me. It’s just every few years, every decade or so, the diet industry rebrands itself and lately, the diet industry is rebranding itself around wellness. Wellness is really, I think, a whitewashed thing that people of privilege and non-people of color, that’s what I’m saying these days, non-people of color have more access to than of color. That’s been my whole idea around well- being. Well -being is something I find that if we don’t have a lot of money and it’s something that’s very individualized and very personal and doesn’t require a lot of money and doesn’t require having your nails done or going to a massage, I mean, again, if those are the things you like to do there’s nothing wrong with those things. Great for you that you have access, but there’s a lot of us who do not. I think it’s really interesting to separate those two things. For me, well-being can be going for a walk or standing in a grassy place in my bare feet or taking a nap, or I have a snack drawer that I replenished every Friday and it’s got every kind of snack in it. I don’t demonize any of the food in this drawer. Whatever makes me feel happy in the moment, whether it’s a gumdrop or a chocolate bar or a mango, I’m going to eat it, right? All of that is part of my well-being because it alleviates any stress or it gives me joy, or it brings me pleasure. Those are the things that, to me, enhance well-being less so than spending $50 on a manicure or whatever. There’s that moment of well-being where my nails look really cute, but then there’s that moment of, “Do I have $50 to be doing this?”
I think with well-being, it could be that you’re watching your favorite show on Netflix, or you’re reading a book, or like you said, you’re out in nature or you’re spending time with friends and family or your pets or whatever it might be. Wellness has been completely co-opted. I think about yoga and Ayurveda, both indigenous to my faith and the Indian sub-continent and the philosophy, and you rarely see South Asians ever represented in either of those areas. Things have only just begun to change, but so often it could be the summit with a zero South Asian representation, or it’s always White folks, especially leading things about Ayurveda. There’s some shift with yoga now with those of us and there’s many of us speaking out about it now that are South Asian, but even that’s very… So all the time, Dianne, I see zero representation of South Asians, be it at summits, be it on panels, be it at yoga events, and I think what people get misguided about now is, and that was the same for Black folks before. Now what they’re saying is they’ll pull two to three Black folks and be like, “That’s the diversity. Done. Tick,” when actually, when we think about BIPAC, it’s Black, Indigenous and People of Color. It’s all of us under that umbrella. We don’t easily get to just platform two Black people and tick the diversity box or sometimes even one. That’s problematic in of itself. I think there’s so many issues within the wellness space and to me, and this is as a woman of color working in science, the rise of misinformation, disinformation, and the anti-science in wellness specifically over the past year has created so much harm and created so much hatred and division which we still see unfolding to this day. Listen, that didn’t just happen over the past year but certainly, we have seen it become much more clearly evident and people are quite proud of it, certainly in the community that I live in. There is zero remorse shown for these actions that are rooted in White supremacy and racism within yoga spaces. I will add, yoga studio environments have now become very cultish in the way that they operate, and that has to be explored. The amount of harm that’s being created by that abuse of power and privilege and preying on those that have had perhaps a significant history of trauma and preying on them with these subversive and subliminal messaging is the antithesis of what yoga is and what the essence of yoga is.
And is the antithesis of creating these wellness spaces because often yoga is aligned with the wellness spaces. With the healing of yourself. With the connection of spirituality. With the connection to your community. With the rising up to do the right thing. All of those things are often connected to wellness in that way, for me anyway. To have this kind of divergent situation happen, I had the most interesting email. Somebody reached out to me from a studio saying that they’re really working hard to have a more clear representation of yoga within their studio. Making sure that their studio is diverse. Making sure that they’re not appropriating cultures , inviting people to come in. I went on their website , still, no South Asian people there and I’m thinking, “It can’t really be authentic until you can have somebody speak to it as their personal intentional practice.” They were asking the people of color who were coming into their studios because they still can’t see to pull that demographic in what’s going on in the space that is not inviting people to come in. Why don’t you feel safe here? The person that they asked was a Black woman and she said, “I find the staff is great. I find you’ve got a diverse staff that works really well, but I’m feeling a lot of racial tension from other students.” My question is, if you’re coming to yoga as an intentional well-being practice but yet you’re still looking down at the people practicing next to you. How is this a wellness space? How are you uplifting the world? How are you practicing your yoga when there’s racial tension with the people who are not White in your class? Have you ever had an experience like this, I know I have or had anybody talk to you about anything like this?
For me personally, I haven’t experienced it in an overt way but I think it was that covert way . I certainly have heard from Black women that it has been overt Dianne. So I think we also have to understand that within BIPOC, there are different ways within which people react to us if that makes sense. What I’ve experienced a lot of is Hindu-phobia, honestly, within the yoga and wellness space , which is highly problematic because people don’t… That comes down to one of the key reasons that I really focus on decolonizing yoga to teach the origins, the roots. Listen, I was doing this since birth. I was born and raised in the philosophy of Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism, which by the way, yoga is one of the Shad Darshanas of, one of the six philosophies. It’s a philosophy. It was only termed a religion because of British imperialist colonization in India. However, yoga is attributed to Hinduism, contemporary Hinduism as we know it. It’s one of the Shad Darshanas which is one of the three main religions of the world. I personally don’t like the word religion because I feel that all of the religions have been completely misconstrued and misrepresented . I prefer the word faith. I think religion has become steeped in patriarchy and has become another abuse, a form of abuse and a form of power and privilege. That is evident in all of the five world’s main religions. I don’t think any of them are exempt from that. So to me, we have to deconstruct the way that we view religion. We have to look at it from the patriarchal lens within which it is sold to us or it is taught to us in many senses. But when we think about yoga specifically, a lot of that is negated and that’s problematic. In fact, Dr. Sean Ranganathan who you may be familiar with, he’s the philosophy professor at York University who founded yogaphilosophy . com. He and I were both we’re, both Dhamo. We’re both Dravidian. We are coming together to lead a training in August on yoga origins, lineages, and cultural appropriation and to address a lot of this misinformation, this disinformation , the Hindu phobia, and so much of the harmful cultural appropriation and toxic spiritual bypassing that is happening in yoga under the guise of selling it as yoga when it actually has nothing to do with the philosophy of yoga itself. I’m excited about that. I’m also excited that I get to collaborate with my brother, you know? Because the other thing I will say, colorism is a big thing as you know, Dianne. Very often when we think about South Asian representation, it’s rarely darker-skinned representation and that has to change. That has to change. I’ve experienced colorism my whole life, but that’s something that we don’t talk about enough within the yoga and wellness space. This could be said, I would say, not just of South Asians, but of Black women and any other minority as well, and this is something that we have to address.
It’s something that has been taught to us through colonialism. It’s something that has been taught to us as for Black folks in our enslavement, the color of your skin determined how hard you were going to work in your life. The darker your skin, the harder the labor and the lighter your skin, the closer to the master to live in the house, to do things that are less laborious than in the field, and then that translates back into how we see Blackness in the judicial system , in the policing system. You’ll notice that darker skin folks will be considered more dangerous than lighter-skinned folks. We all know the closer we represent White, the more attractive we are perceived, the smarter we are perceived, the more doors that are open to us, and that is a direct product of colonialism. I didn’t know colorism had a name until about five years ago, but I’ve been living with it my whole life. My mother, who’s not the lightest out of all of her mother’s children was treated the worst and the ones who were closest to the White were treated the best in a country that was like 98% Black but colonized by England. English wealth comes from the Caribbean. Barbados and other countries that harvested sugarcane is what gave the British their wealth. The British got their wealth, the Americans got their wealth , they became super powers on the backs of Black and Brown folks. We have that embedded internal struggle around our own race, and it’s wonderful to see you come together and push through that. The 21st century has to be about telling the truth. Be intentionally telling the truth. Telling the right parts of history. Letting other people tell their own history and the removal of that whitewashing of history so that we have an opportunity to heal, but we have to be intentional about it. We have to tell the truth no matter how uncomfortable it is, because if we start this propaganda that telling the truth of people’s histories is indoctrinating people, and White folks don’t want to be blamed for what their ancestors are doing, nobody’s blaming them for that. But we are asking that the truth be told so that we can start the building blocks of creating a better future for all of us. That’s the intention. If we can tell the truth, that’s the intention, then we can work toward a better life for all of us. But if we deny the truth, if we keep the veils on, if we keep pretending like these things aren’t happening, we are never going to get better and we are never going to reach in light, and that’s the most frustrating part of people not being intentional. My favorite word for 2021 , not being intentional with their actions and not actually looking at all of the things that they do that continue to perpetuate the White supremacy in the world. Own it, name it, deconstruct it. As painful and as hard as it is, let’s collectively make a change because you and I, and we talked about this before we jumped on the podcast, our ancestors have done the work. We’re no longer working for free.
Exactly. I think to that point, the other thing I will add is there is absolutely no doubt that the enslavement of people from Africa created wealth for imperialist European powers, as well as America, but I will add that the colonization of the Indian sub-continent gave European imperialist powers a vast majority of the wealth, and that’s what people don’t realize. I myself am first-generation, much like you, Dianne. I have had a history of 443 years of brutal colonization and imperialism in Sri Lanka. I’m of Sri Lankan Dhamo origin. We were colonized for 443 years first by the Portuguese, then by the Dutch, and finally by the British. If we look at the wealth that was raped, robbed, and pillaged from the Indian sub-continent through the East India Trading Company the British set up, and there are so many examples, if you even look at the crown jewels, where did the Kohl-I-Noor diamond come from? India. There’s so much that was robbed and pillaged, and because of the whitewashing of history, nobody is taught. When I talk about colonization in America, the Indian sub-continent, nobody is even aware of it. I will add, it’s not what they’re teaching that in the UK either, so let’s just be honest, right? This is not being taught anywhere, and that’s what we have to dismantle and that’s what we need to deconstruct because not teaching people the truth about colonialism, the truth about imperialism, and the truth about slavery does nobody a service apart from White supremacy. That’s why I think White folks find it so difficult to confront this. What’s really interesting to me, if I put myself in a White person’s body which is almost impossible in that many ways because-
Let me know how that works out.
Exactly, just to kind of think about it, to me, I would think to myself, I’m not being personally attacked here, right? This is the history of things that I really had nothing to do with, but wow, how harrowing? How horrifying? What can I do in this life, in this physical body, to focus on accountability and repair and to focus on being actively anti-racist? Obviously, we don’t see that happening, unfortunately. I think that’s part of the work that you and I are both doing in terms of the anti-racism work that you’re doing, the decolonization work that I’m doing, to bring these conversations into the mainstream, because Dianne, we have to have them. So often I’m sure you get this with what I post, you and I are trolled all the time. I’m told, “You create the hatred. You create the division .” It is not BIPAC that are creating the hatred and division. That’s something that White folks have to reconcile themselves with. BIPAC highlighting racism and White supremacy is often to the detriment of ourselves, our businesses, and I will add, our personal safety as I myself have experienced. Pointing the finger and attacking us and vilifying us and gaslighting us isn’t the solution. What is the solution is to actually make a genuine commitment to doing better and to unlearning and relearning.
100%. Which circles back to our own personal well-being. As a person who is putting themselves out there constantly, you and I, open to trolls, being told that we are racist because we are shedding a light on racism, which is pure projection, how do we continue to keep ourselves well so that we can do the work? Because I almost feel like we’re afraid to put our head down for a moment of self-care because we’re afraid if we close our eyes for a second, or we look away for a second, there isn’t going to be somebody else there to continue the work. How do we continue the work and keep ourselves well, because this is tough to be taking in trolls. It is tough to be constantly educating people. It is tough to be told, “Not everybody’s racist. I wish you wouldn’t just constantly paint us all as racist.” I just had somebody say that on my Facebook page too a while ago. I go, “But we live in a systemic racist country. We live under the guise of White supremacy. You may not be racist but you may say things that are racist. You may participate in things that create these problems. You need to look at the whole picture. We’re all living under the umbrella of White supremacy.” For those of us who are constantly bringing it to light, constantly doing the work, constantly showing up and then having our rights eroded because we’re gaining too much power, how do we take care of herself so we don’t just go, “Fuck it. I’m done.” You know what I mean? I’m beating my head against the wall. I’m going to go climb into the bed, pull the covers over my head. Because you and I get up e very d ay and still do it as exhausting as it is. How do we protect our well-being?
That’s a great question and one that I think you and I, and I’m sure many others are asking themselves daily because it’s hard.
It is hard.
You wrote something recently, Dianne, that I loved on your page, where you said, “I post what I post on my page, and I don’t have to engage with every comment or even read the comments.” I loved that you put that out there because that’s what I’ve been doing to protect my own mental health and well-being. I don’t want to block everybody that has a differening opinion to me. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t, I’m just speaking from my own personal opinion and trying to practice the path of yoga to my own best ability. I don’t want to be in my own echo chamber. I don’t want to every comment and block everybody that might have a differing opinion to me, which in some ways allows you to be trolled more. But I want that if people do read the comments, for there to be a variety of opinions, if that makes sense, and not just me and only editing the people that agree with me, but also inclusive of comments that don’t. That doesn’t mean that myself or you or anybody else has to engage because the comments on both becomes the quagmire, right? I love that you said that because it was really giving us license to do what is best for us in each moment. Let’s be honest. The way that I look at trolling, I don’t do it. I’ve never done it because I just think it goes against my own practice. I don’t have to agree with everybody, but I certainly don’t want to harass people on their own page. By the way, when I think about Sanatana Dharma, my Hinduism and the philosophy of yoga itself, I have my opinions Other people have t heir opinions. Tearing everybody down because they don’t agree with the same opinion in you is not the same as making a commitment to being actively anti-racist. I think that’s where things start to get a bit convoluted if that makes sense. People that are focused on a nti-racism and decolonization are painted as, “Oh, but you’re not willing to see the other side.” We are. We could actually have no comments if that was the case on p osts. I don’t think people realize what a toll that takes on our own mental health. To answer your question, I truly do not know what I would have done without my practice of Sanatana Dharma and yoga, the spirituality behind the practice. I will say to everybody, yoga is much more than Asana. Yes, Asana is the only form of physical activity that I personally do along with hiking and walking so it’s an integral part of my physical well-being, but Asana is not yoga and you are never going to reap the benefits of the practice if you’re not understanding the spirituality and the deep philosophy behind what yoga is. There are eight limbs. By the way, what people are often completely unaware of in the west is that yoga was mentioned in many of our ancient scriptures, be it, the Upanishads, the Taittiriya Upanishad in particular. Yoga is not just the Hatha Yoga Pradipika or even Patanjali’s classical yoga test , the Yoga Sutras. We have yoga evident in many of our scriptures and obviously the Bhagavad Gita, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana. So please understand that you coming to find one scripture is and not even reading it I might add… You lead trainings. I teach trainings. How many people get the copy of the sutras and don’t turn a page of it?
Totally. All the time.
They go, “I got it, but I haven’t read it.”
I’ve read one that everybody quotes all the time.”
Exactly. . So I just think if for those listening, please make a commitment to decolonize your practice and to understand that the true wisdom of yoga lies in its philosophy. You’re not going to find it in a handstand. You’re not going to find it through the physicality of the postures. Meditation is yoga, and that’s what I talk about in my book. It’s how do we make these practices accessible? Because guess what? As you know, everybody can’t do Asana, and certainly not the answer that’s taught in mainstream yoga environments, which isn’t accessible to most people, I would say.
That’s the colonization and that’s the appropriation.
That we’re doing this calisthenic, acrobatic, able-bodied, cisgendered, heteronormative, highly feminized practice. We market it as body beautiful and buy my clothes and buy mine… That’s the cultural appropriation when we extract that one little bit and make it a commodity. We don’t interweave it into action and into spirituality and into connection and into social justice. So I love it. You made a great segue to your book. Your book is Meditation With Intention: Quick and Easy Ways to Create Lasting Peace. I think it is integral for people to pick up your book. I think it’s necessary for your 300 and 200-hour teacher trainings, because you tell everybody… My teacher training always starts with a meditation piece. I usually have a meditation teacher who is very dedicated to the practice, come in and talk about why we need to meditate, how it connects to social justice, why it’s important, and why we need to be intentional with it, and then they’re expected to meditate throughout the whole year-long practice. I know most of them do the first class and then never come back to meditation again. So this book is integral to having that meditation with intention. Can you explain to me what meditation with intention means to you?
The whole book, Dianne, was born out of my clinical work to be really honest with you. I realized that in my work at Hoag Hospital where I work with breast cancer patients, I work with ovarian cancer patients, I work with maternal mental health patients that are having mental issues, anxiety, depression, et cetera, that meditation was an integral part of our mental health and well-being. The way that I look at it, of course, these practices should be available to everybody irrespective of their ethnicity, their religion, their cultural background, their economic status, and means, et cetera . That, of course, isn’t the case. When we look at what, how meditation is packaged and commoditized and sold, it’s inaccessible. To your point though, when I meet with our patients as part of our programs, they do it, they seem really excited, but I have absolutely no idea if they’re doing anything beyond the time that I see them in our clinic. Meditation isn’t going to work if you don’t do it every day. It’s very similar to the practice of brushing your teeth, or eating, or taking a shower. It has to become that integral part of your life. Even, I would say for most people that are attending mainstream yoga events, studios, classes, et cetera, they don’t have a meditation practice, and if they do, it’s certainly not daily. I see this all the time in my work as a speaker around the world on the science of meditation and mindfulness. So the book was born out of a deep desire to be able to offer a concise, simplistic and clear program to anybody. Why intention is important in that is it gives us a purpose. There are nine chapters and every single chapter has an intention associated with it, and there’s a practice at the end of the chapter, and they are all only five minutes long. Nobody can tell me that they don’t have five minutes because we spend five minutes doing absolute nonsense. We do.
We go on Instagram.
Exactly. The animal memes, the YouTube videos, scrolling. What I say to my patients is do the nonsense. I’m not telling you not to. I’m not here to judge or tell you not to but what I am inviting you to think about is, okay, clearly I’ve got five minutes. I find the time to do the things that I want to do. Very often in life, we don’t find time to the things that we need to do. Packaging it as five minutes to my patients makes them see it in a different way because everybody thinks 60 minutes sitting in Lotus pose. I decolonize meditation in the book as well and I talk about sit wherever is comfortable to you. Of course, you don’t have to sit on the floor, and please, don’t quite frankly. In the west, we’re not used to sitting on the floor so as soon as we do, your ankle’s hurting, your knee’s gone to sleep. Sit where it’s comfortable to you. If we think about yoga philosophy, the only rule of a meditation Pranayama practice is the spinal column must be in a neutral position. Meditation, which also needs to be decolonized, is when we are coming to sit in stillness. We are coming to sit without doing anything externally. I often hear from people, “Running is a meditation. Gardening as a meditation. Asana is a meditation.” That’s not meditation. Those are mindfulness practices which are great. We think about mindfulness popularized as an ancient Buddhist practice. That’s bringing the mind to focus on the task at hand. You can be mindful doing whatever you’re doing in your day, showering, working, whatever it might be, but that’s not the same as meditation. I always talk about the neuroscience of meditation. I’m very fortunate to work in the neurosciences Institute at Hoag, to be one of the first certainly women of color but people to create a meditation program to be used in clinical research at Hoag Hospital. As we know, BIPAC are completely underrepresented in stem and specifically science so that’s a huge privilege to be able to work in science with two other renowned and esteemed colleagues who are both breast surgeons and who actually see the impact that meditation and mindfulness practices have on our breast cancer patients. That’s one of, I think the greatest blessings in my life, is to see the results and hear from our patients the impact that meditation has on their physical and mental health and well-being.
Wonderful. That’s amazing. I love that you’re doing that. I was going to ask you to elaborate again on Hoag. How did you get involved in that?
This is when it gets divine intervention. I was actually speaking at a wellness event in Orange County, a very big women’s wellness event and Hoag’s Director of Operations for their Hoag for Her Centers for Wellness Salpi Salibian was actually present at this event and was present for my speaking event and contacted me thereafter basically. I was invited to meet with their senior leadership at the women’s health Institute, which was, it’ll be six years ago this year, and I’ve never looked back. It was one of the greatest blessings and certainly divine intervention and guidance because it’s actually been six years this month since I left my corporate job and actually pursued starting my own wellness business. I talked a lot about my journey in the book as well. I’m asked that question a lot actually from people and I also thought this is a great way. You can get the book and you can read about how I was able to leave a job that I was unhappy in, utilizing the practice and philosophy of yoga to really follow my Dharma and tune in and listening to my intuition and wisdom within and have the courage and the strength to pursue what I knew was going to be the path for me. I personally, I’ve never paid for PR or marketing. I’m not saying that other people shouldn’t. I didn’t have the fancy connections. I didn’t have the budget to spend on the PR and marketing and I didn’t want to, to be honest with you. I just really wanted things to happen organically. To me, that’s when really in my business, when we think about karma yoga, that selfless service to God, divine consciousness, that’s what I aim to do imperfectly every day in my business because I really do believe that god Ishwara is my boss, my director, and that’s who I’m reporting to. That’s who makes the opportunities happen. The more that we can live in alignment with our thought, word, and deed, the more that we can actually live the true practice and philosophy of yoga and be able to attract what is right for us at each moment of our lives. Be it people, be it career opportunities, be it anything quite frankly, to really be living with the essence of yoga and every aspect of our day.
That is the ultimate in connecting with intentional well-being. That spiritual, divine alignment, the truth of what we’re doing, connecting to our Dharma, doing all those things are so intentional in our well-being. I think we need to listen in. We need to sit deep . We need to be in meditation. Because I always was taught by my mother who’s my first meditation teacher that praying is talking to God, to divine consciousness, connecting to divine consciousness, and meditation is sitting and listening for it and just being quiet and still and listening for it. Some of the most incredible things have happened to me the same way, almost synergetically, almost by divine intervention or by divine creation when I was most at my peak with my meditation practice. For me personally, I live by a great lake. I live by Lake Erie . Lake Erie is like the size of the ocean, pick an ocean. It’s massive. I live by like five huge bodies of water. Whenever I have an opportunity to meditate by a body of water, I do because water has consciousness and when I’m in that space, it becomes that much deeper and it becomes that much more powerful. Also, meditation is intentional to my well-being because it allows me to see the world as a whole. It also allows me to slow down and just take it in. I think that’s really important and your book has been just so instrumental in helping me really realign the focus. I love that you make it accessible by telling people, “Sit in a chair. Take five minutes.” We’ve been so brainwashed and conditioned that everything needs to be an hour, 75 minutes, two hours. I don’t have time. I don’t have time. I don’t have time. But like you said, we always make time for what is important and that’s it and you need to make your well-being important. You need to be intentional with that time. What I tell people all the time is I have my calendar open and from 6:00 AM, because I’m an early riser to 9:00 AM, that time is blocked out. I don’t answer emails. I don’t answer phone calls. I barely talk to my children. They don’t have to be at school . My husband is home so he deals with them. That is my time for intentional well-being. I’m purposely getting out of bed at that early time so I have the time for myself. My kids sleep till 8:30 so I have a little window of half an hour where I can still hide from my family. That’s when I do my meditation. That’s when I do my Asana practice. That’s when I work out. When you see me on my bike on my Instagram, it’s like 6:30 in the morning and I’m living my best life dancing my off or doing whatever, but I’m intentional about it. I mark it in my calendar. My assistant knows it. My husband knows it. My friends know it. Don’t contact me at that time because I have to take time for ourselves because if we don’t refill our bucket, and if we don’t participate in intentional well-being, we can’t be there for the rest of the world. We can’t do the work that needs to be done. Then we get resentful and we’re like, “Stop the world. I want to get off.” I think everybody needs to buy this book so that you can figure out how to be intentional with your meditation and you need to start thinking about yourself as a worthy individual that is deserving of intentional well-being. Two things I like to say about intentional well-being is sometimes the intentional things you have to do aren’t fun but are necessary, right? We can do these joyful, mindful movement practices and that’s fabulous and it feels good and you’re dancing, but sometimes intentional well-being is having to take care of the things that need to be taken care of in order for you to live a better life or for the people around you to live a better life. Or you can start to think of it as you were banking that time for your future self.
If I take care of myself now, intentionally, I’m putting that time in the bank for future.
I also think you made a really good point about being intentional with the time that you have every morning. For me, I have a three-year-old son and I wish I had hours but-
It’ll get better.
That’s what everybody says but I do make a commitment to waking up earlier so I can meditate and I can do my mantra practice, and I can do my reading of the Sutra every day that I add on, and then I can do my prayer . I need to do that every morning so I do wake up earlier. It’s interesting because the more that you meditate, the more that you realize it isn’t a choice, it’s something that replenishes me, rejuvenates me and makes me really connect to a higher consciousness and divinity so I can operate from that place, imperfectly, again, throughout my day. It doesn’t mean that I’m not reacting. It just means that I’m far less reactionary. I do want to say that just because you meditate doesn’t mean that you don’t get angry. It doesn’t mean that you don’t get frustrated.
Right, that you’re not human .
It’s not this toxic positivity that’s incredibly, again, harmful to mental health. I think we have to really repackage how we see meditation because I’m told all the time, this is the other thing I’m told about as well is, “Oh, you’re a meditation teacher but you shouldn’t be talking about anger.” We need to talk about anger and quite frankly, if you haven’t been angry and frustrated over the past year, where have you been?
Really, where have you been? You need to start plugging into what’s happening in the world around you. I will just also ask this question. If you haven’t been feeling sadness, anger, frustration over the past year, really examine your proximity to power and privilege. That’s a really important nuance because that’s something that we don’t talk about enough and it seems to be this, again, faux spirituality that’s out there which then masks the White supremacy, the racism, the anti-science rhetoric, all of those things that have just exploded in wellness over the past year and in yoga and the things that we have to shine a light on because they’re only getting worse. Not talking about issues at hand never resolves them. We have to talk about them.
It’s true. It’s counter to our well-being. Nothing ever goes away if you hide it under a bushel and pretend it’s not there. It just festers. The only things that can be brought to the light can be healed and healing can only happen with accountability. Can only happen with accountability. We have to make amends. There’s a debt that needs to be paid. There’s a debt that needs to be paid to Brown folks. There’s a debt that needs to be paid to Black folks. There’s a debt that needs to be paid to women. As long as we are going to hide our heads in the sand and deny and try to cover up and lie about things, these things are only going to fester. They’re only going to fester. They will eventually come to light and the debt will eventually be paid. So you can pay it now and learn from the experience or you can pay it later when we all suffer. But I really feel like there’s no way around it. There’s a debt to be paid and there’s accountability to be had. You can hide from it as long as you want to but karma always comes to get you in the end.
And the truth always comes to light. So this continued whitewashing of our education system and the far-right now being anti-racism which people are packaging as critical race theory which has only taught in higher education is completely… I mean, they should be teaching anti-racism as soon as we enter the school, quite frankly. Teach the children young. Of course, we see the children aren’t the problem. It’s the parents that are the problem. Children are not the problem. It’s what they are being fed. It’s what they are being taught. If we’re able to dismantle some of that within the public education system, we need to, and we also need to really revisit the whitewashed history that is taught in Western countries around the world about the enslavement of people in chattered slavery, about the colonization of various parts, but certainly of the Indian sub-continent and Africa as well.
And to island indigenous folks.
Yeah, exactly. In this country, they talk about the founding fathers negating that indigenous people were the first people here.
Those are the founding fathers.
Thank you. They’re the founding fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers, nonbinary individuals, et cetera, not what we see packaged as the White men rolling up and founding America. I think we have to, for the greater good of all of us, focus on dismantling White supremacy in all of its forms and all of its guises, because it manifests itself everywhere, whether you’re conscious of it or not.
100%. As we come up on the hour, I could talk to you forever about this, you’ve given us so many gems. I’ve been just making copious notes so that when I put the show notes in, I can direct people where they go. I’m going to be making some of these memes on my Instagram. I’m like, “Ooh, that’s a good meme.” I’m going to have you back to talk about toxic positivity. I really want to dig deep into that because I was part of the Anusara world for a long time and that’s all that’s about. So anyway, I so enjoyed talking to you. Can you tell us what you have coming up that we can be a part of? I went to your website. You offer many courses on your website. I’m about to dive into your Bhagavad Gita course and I’ve actually taken your decolonizing yoga course on Yoga International. I know you write a column for Yoga Journal. Where can people get more of you?
First of all, thank you so much for having me. I could talk to you for hours and days and days. What a blessing it is to have connected with you in the space. You can follow me @shantiwithin on Instagram. You can go to my website, shantiwithin.com, and sign up to my newsletter like you mentioned to stay up to date of all of my upcoming trainings. But this year coming up, I think the one that I would really love to promote, which it’s not even up for sale yet, but is that training coming up in August with Dr. Shan Ranganath focused on yoga origins, lineages, and cultural appropriation. That’ll be my next big training. Then of course, the workshop that we have coming up in October. I do have a live Bhagavad Gita course with Kripalu which is coming up in November but the best way to follow is just to follow along, sign up to the newsletter, and I also share this on my Instagram as well. I’d like to end by just saying please buy the book. Because the reason, I’m one of the few South Asian women to get a book deal, and that should not be the case, Dianne. It should not be the case. There should be many of us being offered the opportunity to write our stories and to be involved in the narrative and rewriting the narrative in the space of yoga, and that isn’t the case. So please buy the book. Please support BIPAC authors and please support South Asian women because we are completely underrepresented in yoga and wellness. I’ll just end by saying, the damning indictment of colonization is that the top five books on Hinduism, on Amazon, as an example, are all written by non-South Asian authors. That’s a problem.
That is a problem.
That is a problem . You can spend your money where you wish it to but we really need to divest from purchasing books, especially about people’s indigenous space really, and be platforming the voices who were born and raised in those religions and faiths and philosophies. It’s not saying that you shouldn’t buy a book from somebody that hasn’t written it, but quite frankly, if I’m going to buy a book on Judaism, I’m going to go and source it from somebody that was born and raised in Judaism. I’m going to do the same with Christianity and Islam. I’m not going to buy the book on Islam from me. I know nothing about it, quite frankly. But White privilege, if I was White, would tell me that of course, I can write a book on Islam or Judaism because-
And it’s your right to do so.
I’ve gone to one, two-hour class about it. Here we go. Here’s my offering to the world. So please, when we talk about decolonization, decolonize, your bookshelf, and really start to look at the yoga books that you have. I recently went to a Barnes and Noble to the self-help/wellness/yoga section. The South Asian authors that were represented what all deceased. They were amazing enlightened masters but hey, there are others of us.
There’s not one person. Get a plethora. Get a diversity of voices because only focusing in on people who have passed away or one person is very much tokenism and is not representation. There are lots of ways to look at things and if we want to have a really well-rounded understanding of our culture, of different cultures, of , yoga, of all those things, we need to read diverse sources. More than one source. More than one source.
Yeah, more than one source , and more than one source who is deceased as well . I love the authors of certain books of mine who are now deceased and there’s so much wisdom in there, but I’m also looking to platform and amplify BIPAC voices who are writing books now and are relevant for the time that we are in too.
Yes. Ancient history, current history. Things that are happening right now.
Exactly. So thank you so much and I hope you all enjoy this episode. Thank you so much. We love you. Remember, to learn more, I’m going to put in the show notes where you can connect, where you can find the work and go out there and buy the book. Wait, I’ve got it. Meditation with intention. Quick and easy ways to create lasting peace. Lasting peace is all about your well-being. Thanks everyone. We’ll catch you next time. Thank you.
Thank you so much for listening in to this podcast. I hope you learned something. I hope you took away something useful and I’m grateful for Anusha for spending some time with us here on The Intentional Well-being podcast . Thank you so much for listening in. If you enjoy the podcast, please like subscribe, leave a comment, rate it on Apple podcasts , because that really helps us out. I’m grateful to be in the space with you. If there’s anybody you think I should be interviewing that can bring or shed some light on the well-being spaces for all of us, I’m always happy to oblige. Once again, thank you very much for listening in and I will see you next time