Renee Rampersadsingh chants Hindu scripture, the Guru Gita, at sunrise at the Temple in the Sea at Waterloo in Carapichaima. She’s been doing it since she was a child.
She has fond childhood memories of attending the monthly sunrise devotion with her mother and brother. She also remembers some of her earliest experiences with yoga.
“I was first introduced to yoga in 1993, at the age of ten when my mom started attending classes with Sri Vasudeva of the Blue Star Yoga Ashram," in Claxton Bay.
“She usually took me and my brother along with her. From then to now it has been a continuous journey of self-discovery and that is what attracts me to yoga,” Rampersadsingh told WMN.
Her mother ensured yoga was part of the family’s traditions. She began the day with Hatha yoga, which involves breath, body and mind; and satsangs, spiritual fellowship, became a staple.
“From 1993 to now I may not have always had a physical (yoga) practice, but I have always been practising my yoga,” said Rampersadsingh, explaining that yoga is not restricted to physical exercises.
Yoga is a set of disciplines that include metal, physical and physical practices, including meditation, breath work, self-study, service, and chanting.
She said being ethically grounded and aware of oneself is what transcends yoga beyond the boundary of being a simple physical activity.
Rampersadsingh, 37, is on a mission to continue building on the spiritual foundation laid by her mother who succumbed to a 17-year battle with cancer in 2013.
“My mom was one of the kindest persons I have ever known. I truly believe yoga sustained my family through the years of my mom’s (cancer) recurrence and remission.
“That experience brought home to me that yoga is so much more than a physical practice.”
Following her mother’s death, Rampersadsingh left her job as a research assistant. In 2014, she founded Anugraha Yoga.
Meaning “all-encompassing divine grace” in Sanskrit, Anugraha was the name Rampersadsingh’s mother chose before her death for a healing support group she planned to form.
Rampersadsingh admits there were initial doubts after leaving her job to start Anugraha Yoga. But she wanted to bring to reality her mother’s dream of helping others find the inner strength to persevere through everyday life and live the best life that they could.
Initially concerned about financial security and questioning the time it would take, to establish herself as recognised yoga instructor, she placed those doubts aside after recognising the greater importance of her undertaking. And she had the support of her then-boyfriend now husband, Gareth Leigh. Rampersadsingh and Leigh married in 2016.
“It was important to me to have a (yoga) space that was not at my home, so I split the rent with my then boyfriend-now husband.
“My husband is my best friend and one of my biggest supporters. His encouragement gave me the push needed to change careers.”
Now a full-time yoga instructor, Rampersadsingh guides her clients from Parkview Studio, near Palmiste Park in San Fernando.
Leigh, a photographer, also uses the studio space as a photography studio.
Rampersadsingh’s yoga classes are to groups as well as individuals. During groups sessions, clients do a mixture of breathing exercises, warm-up poses, a sequence of posters and meditation. Yogic philosophy is also covered.
The format of individual yoga classes is based on the client’s needs.
“An individual yoga class may be mostly breathing, gentle poses and relaxation for those working with anxiety or it may be very physical if someone is working on strengthening their body or focusing on a particular pose.”
Rampersadsingh often hosts workshops and retreat sessions, some of which are free to the public, which focuses on various aspects of yoga.
“As an instructor, it is my hope that persons feel comfortable, safe, connect with their breath, build awareness of their body and develop a deeper appreciation for their emotional and mental state.
“I hope that they leave class in a more relaxed but vibrant state than when they arrived,” she told WMN.
Her qualifications in yoga include a four-month Karma yoga programme done at the Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health based in Massachusetts in the US.
“I wanted to know what yoga was like outside of the space I knew it in. At Kripalu I was exposed to many different styles and teachers.”
There she met the directors of the Nosara Yoga Institute in Costa Rica and, liking their approach to yoga, in 2013 she was certified by them after competing a 200-hour yoga instructor programme.
With an interest in holistic therapies, she has done courses in aromatherapy, reflexology, emotional freedom technique (EFT) and self-massage, along with being certified in level one of Reiki, a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing.
Beyond her yoga qualifications, she holds both a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in entrepreneurship, leadership and innovation from Anglia Ruskin University, England, through the School of Management and Accounting (SAM) in TT.
When she is not immersed in yoga, Rampersadsingh finds time for other interests like reading, craft making, photography and even a bit of water colour painting.
Being all-rounded not only helps her relax but also helps her achieve balance.
“One day I plan on writing a book…or more than one book. I am currently working on building those skills through a write club I belong to.
“I like being in nature, I like oracle cards…so I share cards daily on my Instagram stories, I have also practised Tai Chi and Qi Gong.”
With the covid19 pandemic being a stressful and uncertain time for many, she understands the need for people to tap into their resilience and strength. To help, she is offering online classes and share tips regularly on her Facebook and Instagram pages.
“Yoga allows us to find balance, not just physical balance but also mental and emotional balance as well. Especially now when life is so uncertain due to covid19, the practice of yoga builds our resilience and our strength.”
People interested in doing yoga at home are encouraged to first find an online instructor and style of yoga that will most suit their preference.
The needs for yoga varies according to the type of yoga practice, she said. Physical yoga routines, for example, require space for a mat and if a mat is not available, a comfortably padded floor space.
People who think they are not "flexible" enough for physical yoga should not be worried.
“If your practice is physical then the postures can be modified to suit any ability using props and walls. Physical practice will improve one’s flexibility.”
Knowledge-based yoga practices require finding information and a group of people interested in discussing the information. Meditative yoga requires a quiet space to mediate.
Whatever the type of yoga a person decides to do at home, Rampersadsingh says the most important thing is to ensure they practice safely and respect the limits of their body.
For those concerned that yoga is a “religious” practice, Rampersadsingh said there is a difference between religious and spiritual.
“Yoga practice can bring you closer to what you believe in, and deeper into your faith. I have had students of all different religions. I have known people of all different religions and they have all found their yoga practice to be very grounding.”
Anyone interested in learning more at home yoga tips can visit Rampersadsingh’s Instagram page @anugrahayogatt and Facebook Page at Anugraha Yoga.