Covid has made us contemplative: it’s got us thinking. About life, love, relationships — including our relationships with our bodies. According to Dubai-based yoga instructor Brinda Hora, who runs Happy Feet Yogi (classes are held in India Club and at an Al Wasl Road fitness centre), more and more people want to build a connection with self. “It has become more about thinking long-term than immediate transformations,” she points out. “They don’t want results in three months or six, they want a healthy life from inside, for as long as possible.”
One significant offshoot of this trend has been that UAE residents now believe that even their kids need to focus on their physical, emotional, psychological and mental wellbeing. “The pandemic has posed a big challenge in terms of how kids now express themselves. Some have learnt the values of being together; some miss the ‘physical’ side so much that they have become frustrated, with not being able to meet their friends, go to school etc — it’s like a part of their personality has closed down. With schools opening, it would be interesting to see how they shape and I am hopeful they will value friendships and relationships even more.”
Brinda, certified in kids’ (aged 3-12) yoga and mindfulness and teens yoga — other than being licensed in Hatha Yoga from the Sivananda Vedanta Yoga Centre in Tyrol, Austria — has been giving lessons by converting fitness and wellbeing regimens into experiences that excite children: basing sessions on storytelling and themes, with the help of props and interactive tools.
If you were a kid, wouldn’t you fancy a ‘fit’ yoga session with a “puppy” as your companion, listening to your fave pick-me-up narrative, doing a spot of role play from time to time?
Here’s Brinda to talk about turning mindfulness into a fun activity for the young ones.
How do kids react to a ‘grown up’ notion like mindfulness?
A child who could be shy as they walk in with their mat and water is soon curious and excited to know more about the concept, story and how it is comprehended into a yoga class with mindfulness. As a yoga instructor, it is critical I understand as much as I can about the kids’ personalities… however, some things are left to the imagination too. The same child can sometimes come to the class with amazing energy whereas some have even walked in crying. In some classes, parents want to watch and I suggest they leave soonest so the kids are more settled and can have fun, connect with the others, as it is all about them… most importantly, it is about the connections I tend to build with them.
Most parents want their kids to be active, although I have come across parents who want a child to calm down as well, be aware of the surroundings and create balance in their own lives: some kids are super active, so they want them to relax. At the end of each session, we relax in stillness for a few breaths (Savasana) — this is the most challenging part for some kids, as stillness is not something they are used to… But they enjoy the storytelling, and they have stories of their own to share before we close the class in unity.
Explain the kids’ modules.
Each 40-minute session — with one child or two or a few — is a unique experience. As they walk into the class, we discuss the topic for the class (mostly, it is decided in the previous class so they have time to think). I use tools: like a dice that is used to roll to know who starts first or gets to speak. Then there are cards, Yoga Pretzel cards with poses, we use these during some of the concept classes to keep them engaging and for partner poses. At times, I use a prop: for example, Puppy Yoga has a puppy (actual stuffed toy) to balance on the kids when they are in a pose. This is one of their favourite concepts, some kids want it again after a few sessions. I also have eggs that I use during the class, as well role-play seasonal concepts like Easter, Christmas, Diwali, Halloween etc, explaining the concept of the occasion with a storyline and yoga poses with their participation.
Every session is based on a theme; I have covered more than 100 themes already — from Underwater to Safari, popular kids’ games like Among Us, Minecraft and even board games like Yoga-poly (Monopoly) and Cluedo. For teens, it is more about partner yoga poses, as between them we build trust, strength and a sense of calmness for their confidence and decision-making.
Tell us about connections you forge, since Covid has made us isolated.
I often have sibling yoga classes (two sisters or a brother and a sister), besties time together, etc. I have a nephew and two nieces, I often practise yoga with my nephew who is almost 10 and very close to me, we call it “our time”, and hopefully I’ll do it soon with my nieces too who are not based in Dubai.
I was a bit nervous in the beginning: you can either make the connection with a child or not and vice versa.
You’ve had an interesting life yourself: from hospitality and PR to yoga, with a lot of marathons being run alongside…
I moved to Dubai in 2006 from India and started working in the hospitality sector — in the fields of marketing, e-commerce and PR. After 10 years, at the peak of my career, I packed my bags and left Dubai to follow my passion: yoga and fitness. I did a course in personal training in London, then the Hatha Yoga course (in Austria) and one in Ayurveda nutrition course (in Kerala, India). I returned to Dubai in late 2016, and resumed work in hospitality, and then left for Maldives to work there, before returning in 2020 to start Happy Feet Yogi.
Fitness has always been a passion for me, since the days I used to run marathons — from 2009… maybe even before, as I used to play basketball and volleyball in the school’s team back home in India. I found my grounding in yoga the day I entered Sivananda premises [suggested by my sister-in-law] in 2016… it just felt right, as if this is where I belong and where I discovered myself, and the rest is history.
Why did you call your ‘brand’ Happy Feet Yogi?
Happy Feet Yogi — the name has an interesting story. When I was in London in 2016 studying to become a certified personal trainer, a part of our final assignment submission was to come up with a business plan and at that stage I named my future ‘company’ Happy Feet Runs since I used to run marathons... I liked the vibe, especially the emotional word “Happy”. It brings a smile to my face, and I wanted it to do the same to anyone who hears or says the name. So, when it was time to teach yoga, I named my brand Happy Feet Yogi with a logo of a headstand which, again, has several meanings — prime one being to see the world upside down and making sense of it, having your own definition, being different and, more importantly, believing that anything is possible if we put the work behind it, a.k.a, stand on your head!
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