A former development worker, an ashtanga yoga trainee at KPJAYI, a reputed yoga teacher and health coach at Yoganika, a women's right advocate and a mother of one, Anika Rabbani has shattered a lot of glass ceiling and carved a niche for herself as a modern day yoga instructor in Bangladesh.
Something that struck us the most about her was when she took to Instagram on June 2020 to post an old photo of her hugging her mom after having returned to Dhaka following a modelling stint in Paris in 2002 where she wrote "I was around 21 years old, weighing 90lbs, emaciated, did not eat anything, smoked over a pack a day and have a lot, lot of black tea. My roommate in Paris was severely anorexic and in addition I had met and been influenced by many girls there who took drastic measures to stay skinny for the modelling industry there reducing them to the glorified status of clothes hanger rather than actual people with personalities.
I also had decided to not go to collage (went at 23) by then and read a lot of existentialist literature and morose poetry and worked instead and at the height of my youth suffered from extreme self loathing and low self esteem. Little did I realise depression has so much connection to the food we eat back then and what a close role lifestyle habits played in. Anyhow now heading to 40 much more cheerful and happy from within even if I am never to be 'skinny' or 'a model' I mean much more to myself now than I ever used to before'
She discussed a little bit about her journey with yoga and her business venture Yoganika while saying "I used to work in the development sector as a communications manager. I volunteered on the night of the Rana plaza collapse and also witnessed some of the aftermath of cyclones Sidr and Aila. Seeing stuff like these makes one do a doubletake and question how they are living and whether a 9 to 5 cuts it or would I really want to do something more idealistic or meaningful with life. Hence I turned to yoga which healed me and I feel has the potential to heal many more."
While discussing about the challenges she faced while building her business as well as how she balances the authenticity of her her practice while being commercially viable she answered "Being a woman in Dhaka and being judged, leered at as sexy or just showing off my body or criticised for being bold and challenging the status quo. Mainly that." She added "I don’t look for too much financial gain teaching yoga. You can't teach yoga and hope to be a millionaire the two don’t go side by side. I believe myself to be idealistic as an individual. I know it’s taken me to places that scare me and will continue to do so."
We asked her about what is actually the thing that yoga brings to people's lives and what inspires her own practice to which she said "There are obvious scientific benefits that everyone can google but in entirety it brings about calm, peace, serenity, a sense of release and renewal." She added "The sense of calm that envelops me when I practice yoga reminds me why I need to come back to it again and again. I love watching people enter a class with frazzled energy and leaving with a zen look on their faces. You can’t explain the energy of yoga, you can only experience it"
In the last part of the conversation we ask Anika 10 Quick Questions about herself and the world of healing, health, beauty, inner peace and wellness.
1. What was your first experience with yoga?
I fractured my spine at 14. I started yoga then as rehab.
2. How would you describe your personal practice?
3. If you could roll out your yoga mat anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Mysore, South India.
4. How do you practice yoga off the mat?
Yoga is a lifestyle. The way you react, talk, eat, interact, feel and are mindful (of course impossible to do all the time and this is what makes us human) are all elements that tie in when it comes to doing yoga off the mat.
5. What are some of our historical or cultural values that yoga reflects upon?
In Bangladesh? Not anymore.
Most yogis were forced to leave following partition and then in 1971.
6. What other exercises apart from yoga do you practice?
I love to do different forms of challenging physical activities alongside yoga like going to the gym thrice a week, HIIT and cardio and I particularly enjoy walking at the park just to pet the stray cats who wander there.
7. If not a yoga instructor what would you be?
A development aid worker or someone who works for a charity. Or a literature teacher.
8. Your advice for people interested to start practicing yoga would be?
Go slow if you want to be pro.
9. Your advice for new entrepreneurs turning their passions into a career?
Money isn’t everything, your soul is.
10. What has been your purpose with the work you do and you will be doing in the future?
Serving others. Learning to have compassion for others warts and all. Learning to be tolerant of myself and others -- for we are all equal in the end.