In conversation with Ashtanga expert Deepika Mehta
Who can do the best Surya Namaskara in B-Town? Why are one-on-one sessions with actresses off the cards? Ashtanga trainer to the celebs Deepika Mehta reveals all during her visit to Dubai
INTRODUCED TO YOGA in an unconventional manner has not impeded Deepika Mehta from becoming one of the most sought after Ashtanga teachers in the world. In fact it may have even contributed to a more intense understanding of her art.
A fall from a 40ft cliff face whilst rock-climbing in her native India 16 years ago saw Deepika's doctors claim she may never walk again. During two years of recovery in a wheelchair and on crutches, it was reading Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda Paramahamsa, which gave Deepika hope and faith she'd get back on her feet.
"Straight away I was into the deeper aspects of yoga as I was trying to heal myself that way," she told us when we met at Dubai Marina's 136.1 Yoga Studio on Sunday where she was about to embark on a week of classes.
Dubai's visit is just one of dozens of invitations to teach Deepika receives from around the world. A firm favourite with Bollywood celebrities, her assuring approach and expert training means many of Mumbai's film stars put their faith in her to keep them toned and grounded.
Here we speak to Deepika about the film world, her yoga philosophy and why everyone should give the exercise a go.
Who in your experience are the best yoga practitioners in Bollywood?
I have trained a lot of actresses. Yoga has a lot of layers. I'd say the best on the physical level is Jacqueline Fernandez. She's super fit. She used to be a dancer, so she is super flexible. She has a perfect yoga body and perfect yoga practice. She has a strong core.
In terms of the essence or a more spiritual aspect, I would say Aishwarya (Rai), because she had a lot of Indian classical training as a dancer. She has this very strong connection to the roots of India. She gets the deeper aspects quite effortlessly. It's almost like a natural thing for her.
How do you find teaching the higher-profile clients face-to-face?
I now prefer getting people into groups. I used to teach a lot of celebrities one-on-one, but what I found is, they need a lot of discipline. When I ask them to come to a class they end up being more disciplined. They are just one of the people. When a teacher comes to them, it's like they're still in their kingdom. A lot of the actresses come to me now. I think they enjoy being anonymous.
How would you describe the relationship between yoga teacher and student?
It's two things. One thing, the teacher has to be clear that when you step into the space you are a channel or medium. People have to have respect and look up to you because they have respect for the practice.
When that happens people do end up opening up to you, which for me isn't what it's about. You have to make it clear you are not a shrink after the class. All my students have complete respect, but afterwards I chill out because I'm not into that whole guru thing. I'm here to learn and share.
What are the major benefits of yoga that you'll see immediately and over time?
On a very physical level it's a complete form of exercise. You are working your body as a unit as opposed to the gym where you just work one bit at a time. It works the body in a proportional manner. You're not just doing tonnes of bicep curls. If you do Ashtanga, there's perfect balance of flexibility and strength.
In a more subtle aspect, it's a real need in modern times. We are constantly bombarded by materialism. Dubai is the best example of this. It is very difficult to be here and feel you're not wearing good enough clothes, for example. Yoga gives you perspective. It takes you deeper and you can connect with yourself - whatever form of yoga you are doing.
What is it about the way you teach that makes you so in demand?
I think because I'm quite compassionate. I have been through a lot. Even now I have arthritis in my ankle because of my accident. I have to have a strong mind and not give into my weakness or what doctors say. I bring that into my teaching.
Do you maintain any sort of diet?
Because I went through these incidents in my life, I'm not extreme with a diet. I eat very healthy. I have always loved eating! Healthy eating makes you feel clean and inspired. I am vegetarian 80 per cent of the time, but if there is no alternative I will have seafood. I'm not judgemental about diet though. Yoga is freedom. You shouldn't have limitations.
What are your hopes for Dubai's classes?
I'm excited. I'm intrigued with the culture. Teaching is a medium to connect to people and to feel part of the place rather than a tourist.
Photos: Supplied, Getty Images