Shruthi Kumar, a teenager from Nebraska, is the first Indian American to represent Team USA at the 2018 World Championship of Yoga Sports.
Shruthi Kumar, junior at Marian High School in Omaha, Nebraska, has made a great splash in the world of yoga: she is the first Indian American to compete in the World Championship of Yoga Sports, in 2018 in Beijing, China, representing Team USA. She traveled to India in the summer of her 9th grade to complete a 200-hour yoga training certification from the headquarters of Universal Peace Foundation of North America (UPFNA) in Tamil Nadu. Kumar teaches yoga to very young and teenaged children in Omaha, and has founded a nonprofit organization, GoYogi Inc., which promotes benefits of meditation and mindfulness in one’s life.
Excerpts from an interview.
What attracted you to yoga at an early age?
I started doing yoga when I was in the first grade. As a kid, it was just like any other extracurricular activity. But, as I grew older, I realized that it was a life skill. As I entered high school, I saw many of my friends across the United States experience academic and social stress, anxiety, depression and peer pressure. Meditation and mindfulness helped me in my academic life, so I wanted to learn more so that I could help other students learn and apply this practice in their own lives. When I returned to the United States from my teacher training in India, I started teaching yoga anywhere I could! I love how I am able to have a place of calm and peace in my life. I love how I feel when I am able to stretch my body in new ways and it allows me to bring control over my body and mind. It gives me time to be with myself, introspectively, and stay fit at the same time.
How is sports yoga different from the regular yoga we usually practice?
Yoga as a sport is much more detailed than regular yoga practice because you have to be extremely engaged with every push and pull of your muscles. In certain poses, you have to remember to breathe when, sometimes, you can’t. Regular yoga is much more relaxed and not as intense. Yoga as a sport has a focus on strength, flexibility and balance, rather than just workout. There are disciplinary rules and regulations to follow as well as the pressure of performing in front of an audience and judges. Yoga as sport involves different difficulty levels of the poses and, in order to reach a high score, you must know your strengths and weaknesses to showcase your best poses.
How was your experience competing in the 2018 World Championship of Yoga Sports as the first Indian American to represent Team USA?
I was extremely excited to be competing in the world championship and to be representing the United States. That was my very first experience competing against people from all across the world and it was absolutely amazing to meet so many people from different countries. I was extremely happy to be there as an Indian representing America.
It was so amazing to see how people across the world were so passionately in love with yoga. I hadn’t realized the significance of the global reach of yoga until I competed in the world championship.
After the competition, I met one of the judges, and he informed me that I was the first Indian American to represent Team USA. I was proud to represent both my countries. This experience shaped my identity, as the gap between my American and Indian worlds formed a bridge.
What is it like to teach yoga to children and to instill a love for it at an early age?
It is truly a magical experience, being able to work with young kids, because their perspective of the world is completely pure and peaceful. Although they may find it harder to calm down and follow instructions, once they enter a meditative state, it is so awesome to see the loudest kids become so quiet. In class, we talk about moral life lessons, basic personality development skills and healthy lifestyle topics, which will help them navigate the world with clarity and kindness.
Could you tell us about GoYogi Inc., your nonprofit organization?
I started the nonprofit organization when I realized that there was a lack of education in the field of mental health. High school students are not being taught how to deal with stress, anxiety or depression, and it results in detrimental effects. When people in my life were deeply affected by peer pressure and anxiety, I couldn’t wait any longer. I needed to do something. I created a program to be implemented in schools, workplaces and care facilities. I created audio lessons on guided meditation and mindfulness practices, from breathing exercises to focus drills curated for specific audiences. The goal of my nonprofit is to instill the habit of meditation at the start of the day which, in turn, brings more productivity and clarity throughout the day. Currently, we have audio lessons and a curriculum for high school students and late-stage Alzheimer’s patients, as well as audio lessons in Tamil for students at Udavum Karangal [philanthropic organization] in India. I hope that in the future, I can use my nonprofit to help people around the world.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now, I am working toward implementing GoYogi Inc. at institutions and businesses across the world. Recently, we launched an ambassador program, in which anyone across the world can become part of the GoYogi team to launch it at their own school or workplace. I am looking to work with government bodies to implement mental health education in all schools and workplaces. I want to work to create policies that provide mental health resources to people in all facets of life. Meditation and mindfulness are becoming mainstream, and I would like to work with institutions and businesses across the world to integrate those practices directly into each student, employee or worker’s day.
I am also interested in conducting neurological research with the unexplored benefits of meditation. Through community service and leadership, I hope to make a positive impact on the world and inspire younger generations to get involved.
Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City