A yoga enthusiast who has also walked the ramp as a showstopper during the Dubai Fashion Weeks. Neetu Singh (37) earned the tag of being the most dynamic and fitness-driven person, whose style statement is Power Yoga.  She started up Total Yoga with co-founder Manish Pole. Currently, Total Yoga has centres in Bangalore, Pune, Delhi, Singapore and California.

She shares her story from being a flight attendant to an entrepreneur with SheThePeople.TV. Excerpts from the interview:

How did you get into Yoga? And, take us through your journey of becoming a Yoga Entrepreneur…

After finishing my graduation, I joined Sahara Airlines’ as cabin crew in 2002. It was at a party that the first time, I saw celebrity yoga guru Bharat Thakur performing Nauli Kriya – a yoga cleansing exercise. That evening never left my sight and I approached the yoga class next morning demanding a proper, more intimate learning.

I remember Bharat say, “to learn the art of yoga, you must leave everything behind and join me. It’s a lifelong commitment. You can’t compromise with its exclusivity.”

Deciding to change my whole career wasn’t a matured option back then; at least I thought so. But I couldn’t ignore the serenity of this fine art. So within a few days, I jumped up to the idea of learning these incredible techniques and thank God I did! From few hours of practice daily to make it a way of living  – yoga turned out to be the saviour for me.

Neetu Singh of Total Yoga
Workshop in Thailand

I quit my job, shifted from Mumbai to Delhi and started training under him. I worked as a Yoga Teacher in Delhi for 5 years. After moving to Dubai, for the next 3 years I conducted Children’s Workshops and Corporate programs. When I came back to Pune I decided it was time to do something more that could inspire more and more yoga enthusiasts like me.

All I can say is a positive and strong mind can defeat any evil, any disease. The longer you wait for it to heal automatically, the more you suffer. So our mantra is nobody can treat you except you.

In 2010, I started Total Yoga in Pune, introducing the idea to a new city with no big expectation. I never saved up much as taking the entrepreneurial route was never my intention. Manish also moved from Dubai and we took the initiative further in Pune city, hoping to build a sustainable platform for youth but without any encouragement from family or friends. It was a bold move and I remember enrolling the first 6 girls in teaching training. We moved to Singapore later with a vision to set up Total Yoga’s second branch. We spread the wings to Bangalore with the idea of setting up four centres. After five years in this city, now I can proudly say my hard work paid off.

How is Total Yoga different from other competitors?

Total Yoga offers learning plus certification and a month of internship to the participants. The idea is to take yoga beyond the studios. An interesting fact is that these classes are filled only with women and girls. Total Yoga is involved in various projects such as teaching yoga to the children of The Poona Blind School, as well as conducting numerous Yoga retreats.

These days, people are highly fitness conscious – they visit gyms, they do a lot of Zumba, Pilates, etc. Where does yoga fit in the midst of all this? What’s the biggest change you see today?

Yoga is more popular among women. When we started here in 2012, yoga had reached a new high in places like Singapore – it was a hit among fitness freaks there. I noticed in my class, there were very few participants who took it seriously. The rest were there as it was prescribed to them. But for the last three years, I see a change, a good number of teenagers are showing interest in the programs we offer.

Neetu Singh of Total Yoga
NGO training

Any challenges that hold you back?

My mom and dad both didn’t speak to me for a year when I decided to take up yoga full-time. It was definitely not easy. Then came a time when I appeared on Doordarshan on a Yoga show. They were secretly proud of me, but never confessed. As a working woman I understood their worry. But slowly and steadily everything got sorted and now my parents couldn’t be more proud.

Also Read: Staying Healthy: 10 Popular Types Of Yoga

What’s your vision behind all the activities you conduct?

We must all give back to the society. There’s nothing greater than the power to change people’s lives. This one idea will get you moving in life. For improving moves, learning hard postures, mastering more techniques – everything is connected. This very idea landed us in The Poona Blind School, where we gave a basic training. In Singapore too we made sure of doing something for the society so we took the mats to an old-age home. In Bangalore, we work with NGOs as well, where we bring classes for girls with auditory impairment and women.

One thing we always keep in mind that teaching yoga can be very unpredictable. The patterns change, the formats develop. New techniques come up every day. So our courses change every month.

As a Yoga Instructor, the main agenda is to provide a platform to help the participants decide what they want in life, to lend a hand in making sure they stand for themselves. Yoga comes as an aid to the hormonal imbalances, teenage girls go through. For The Poona Blind School, it was an eye opener for Total Yoga team of how carefully we need to treat these kids as they have a high sense of power, beyond our reach.

READ: A story of Yoga, healing and survival: Meet Prabha Singh

How can yoga help mental health?

When we talk about mental illness, treatments are very different from one to another. We have special retreats twice a year, with no contact with the outside world and bring in sessions on ‘deeper understanding of yoga’, ‘training on internal organ’ which help clean up the whole organ system and one comes back to the routine life refreshed. Along with it, we offer meditation experiences. Our motto is to help them out tackling life challenges. So when they come back, the process gains them more clarity about healthy life.

Neetu Singh of Total Yoga
Yoga Fest Dubai 2016 – With live music – We call it Yoga to live music

Mental illness could be treated in regular classes as well, but with a little more support and humbleness.

Stress, hectic schedules and competitions have made us puppets that don’t connect with each other anymore. It’s just like we are battery-operated. It’s an isolated world we live in now.

How do you define women empowerment and fitness as a core idea since events happening simultaneously in other parts of the city, promoting different aspects of fitness among women especially?

I have personally been close to a number of women who survived breast cancer and how beautifully they achieved it through yoga. Even when she was going through the treatments, she experienced a rich retreat that helped her stay strong. Taking care of home and being on strong medication wouldn’t have been easier if it weren’t for yoga.

Every major learning begins at home. Empowerment of the sexes will only happen if we brighten our senses and educate others in a right track.

READ:How can Yoga be Transformational for Working Women?

Observations of the Millennials?

I am delighted to see so many teens and college going girls taking up yoga as a career.

Neetu Singh of Total Yoga
Yoga for baby and moms

You have worked in countries like Dubai and Singapore. Are the interest levels towards Yoga the same in both these countries vis-a-vis India?

In other countries, extra fit people come to us looking for mindfulness and internal journey. In India, masses come to us to lose weight. Having a fitness funda is the big difference here.

Tips for working women who need to put their feet up:– One hour for themselves daily, and can be any form of exercise.

Any Advice?

Be positive. Have faith in own healing. Cope up with your inner power.

READ: Celebrating Yoga Day with a flashback of its storied history

Read More Stories By Ria Das

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