International Yoga Day: From PM Modi to Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, this lady teaches everyone the right moves
Indian-Canadian sports and corporate yoga trainer Niharika Tugnait studies at Harvard University and has international and Indian sports stars for disciples
Life at Harvard University can be hectic, but 23-year-old Niharika Tugnait, a Canadian of Indian origin pursuing a graduate programme in strategic management, makes sure she does not miss a single day of yoga - a passion that has taken her places. From performing yoga for prime minister Narendra Modi in Toronto during his 2015 Canada visit to teaching Real Madrid (and the Spanish national football team) captain Sergio Ramos and his partner Pilar Rubio everything about stretching and flexing – Tugnait has done it all.
Born and brought up for some years in Mumbai, she was introduced to yoga by her grandparents at the age of nine. Yoga was “all around me” and got a little too much initially, so Tugnait almost gave it up during a rebellious phase between age 12-15 when she thought it was “not cool.” That was until she turned 16 and realised how much exercising helped, thanks to her parents waking her and her sister for yoga classes at 5 am. Their “drive, determination, and influence” motivated her to give yoga a try again and after attending a workshop by Baba Ramdev,” she was totally committed to the cause.
“I could see clear results; it was just something that started very small, but it plays a huge role in the way I lead my life today,” Tugnait says. She then trained under gurus at the Art of Living ashram in Bangalore, India, at the Yoga Institute in Mumbai, India, with Baba Ramdev and at the Yoga Sanctuary in Toronto, Canada. This led to an undergraduate degree in health sciences from the University of Toronto. Integrating her understanding of the human anatomy to her yoga teaching has enabled her to customise her teachings for practitioners. “It is the guiding force to my life and it makes me feel empowered to be able to make a positive difference with sharing my learnings with others.”
An aspiring entrepreneur, she has set up Health. Energy. Yoga. (HEY!), a yoga and fitness organisation that specialises in sports, health/restorative and corporate yoga, and has worked with renowned sports personalities such as Ramos, and USA’s National Basketball Association (NBA) players like James Johnson and Terrence Ross.
She has also recently added another feather to her cap: Signing on as coach of wrestling champs Geeta and Babita Phogat.
A high point in life? Performing Nrityoga, a fusion of yoga and Bharatanatyam in front of an audience of 10, 000 at a stadium during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Toronto after which “Shri Narendra Modi also sent out an appreciation tweet after the show.”
On yoga lessons with Sergio Ramos, she has her father, Sanjay, to thank. His friend based in Spain knew the footballer and arranged the meeting, enabling Tugnait to go to Madrid and coach Ramos and Rubio for a week. She spotted a problem immediately. “ A few minutes into our first session, I realised that Sergio had very stiff muscles in his lower body. So we focused on these muscles most of the times as they have to be more active on the field and they need regressive sessions which relax their muscles.”
After the training session came the guru ‘dakshina’ – a ticket to a football match from Ramos himself. “It was amazing to watch the game from Real Madrid’s family box at the Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid,” she says.
On the benefits of yoga, Tugnait feels it defines her as a person. “It gives me clarity of thought and food for my soul. It allows me to appreciate every ion of nature and life around. It gives me control when I feel I have none. It gives me love from the most important person: myself. It gives me a connection with God. I feel like I get the best of both worlds in business and spirituality as a yoga trainer. It amalgamates my professional and personal aspirations beautifully,” she adds.
Her message to young people still confused about their careers is: follow your passion, identify a career that ‘fits’ you as a person. Like it’s said, ‘Follow excellence, success will follow you’. That’s the mantra she lives by and strongly recommends for people. Just chase excellence.