Meet my mom friend: Anita Mawji 🧘🏽
I come from a family of yoga teachers but over the years, I’ve fallen off track with my practice. Given everything happening around us, I feel more drawn than ever to pick Yoga back up, even if it’s just connecting with my breath, and gaining pockets of stillness throughout the day. Plus I wanted to see if there were easy things I could teach Mishka to build a healthy foundation for yoga. So I spoke to LA-based yoga guru, Anita Mawji.
Can you share your quick background?
I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. I moved to the U.S. when I was 13 in 1985. My mother sent my sister and me to New Jersey to be raised by my grandparents and aunt. I attended Business School at Rutgers University, worked, and lived in Manhattan and Cobble Hill Brooklyn, before moving to LA. I also have a Holistic Wellness Retreat center in Cabo, Mexico.
What led you down the path of becoming a Yoga instructor?
When I attended school in Mumbai, some of my favorite subjects in school were Science, Art, and Yoga. I can still recall laying down on our school’s terrace floor in Supta Padangusthasana escaping the hectic and worrying world, immediately feeling safe, nourished, and magnificent inside. I had no idea then what an imprint those classes would have on my life as a young adult in America after I migrated and put myself through business school.
While living in NYC, first as a Wall Street banker and later as an advertising executive, I started taking yoga to combat stress from long and grueling work hours. On 9/11/2001, as I sat in the conference room not too far from the Trade Center watching the towers come down, I had an awakening. I started to question my current path, how I spent my time, my work, and wondered if there was a way to bring more meaning to my work, a connection to my soul and to serve humanity. While I didn’t exactly know what that was yet, I started practicing more yoga.
While taking classes at some of the best schools in NY, I noticed a lack of diversity in the studios, specifically, there were no other South Asian people in the room, teaching or studying yoga. It bewildered me on two fronts, first how incredibly healing and nourishing yoga and meditation is and secondly, how this ancient practice from India was being taught to, for, and by Westerners. Although I connected with my childhood experience of yoga, I longed for a sense of belonging, the same kind when I was in India as a child. As I fell back in love with this practice I decided to take a leap of faith and walk away from tradition. I left my lucrative career at Yahoo! in 2003 and enrolled in my first of many Teacher Training programs. Soon it became clear to me that I had to go back to India, study more, connect to that feeling from my childhood and become a practitioner of the healing arts, yoga, meditation, reflexology, and now reiki.
Is it possible to “practice yoga” even if I’m unable to dedicate an hour of time?
Yes, any amount of time will do, whether it’s five or 55 minutes. You can do one pose and gain physical, emotional and spiritual benefits. Additionally, the benefits of breathing and mindfulness will become accessible to you. The beauty of this practice is that there are so many benefits to it as mentioned earlier, additionally, one can customize the practice to complement or supplement the kind of day one is having. For example, if you are run down, a restorative practice can bring back vitality and energy; conversely, if you are feeling blue, a heart opener or a slightly more “rajasic” active practice will not only get your blood flowing but pick you up. So the ability to use yoga and meditation as a prescription is available too if one is challenged on time available.
What are some things we can be teaching our children to help them gain some stillness / mindfulness and also to have in their back pockets when they feel themselves getting anxious?
I can write on this subject for hours!
* Do deep belly breathing: Look down and draw your breath into your belly and watch it expand. Tell them to place their hands on their belly and feel the inner walls of the belly expanding. This can be done sitting or laying down.
* Pretend to blow out candles: Our breath holds the key to our health. Taking a long exhale not only allows for more oxygen to flow in on the next inhale, it releases and relaxes the nervous system, it slows us down, it also helps us focus inwards and it elongates the breathing cycle.
* Chant OHM
* Get into child’s pose
* Snack mindfully: Another fun activity is taking one piece of cranberry, or raisin, or a grape and eating it slowly. Make it fun for kids, “Who can take the longest time to eat one piece?” This is a mindfulness practice and I do this with adults in my meditation classes sometimes, the results are fascinating.
* Paint with music: Painting is always meditative and I do this with my three-and-a-half-year-old old while listening to jazz or classical music.
* Perform a “body scan”: This can be done laying down or any other comfortable position. Depending on the child's age, start from the toes, and say, “Can you feel your toes? First wiggle them then stop. Can you still feel them?” From toes move up to the entire foot, then shin, leg, knee, thigh. Move through the landmarks of the body up to the head.
* Warm up with your hands: Rub hands together until they get warm and then place the cup of the hands on the heart and the belly, take a breath.
Do you have any self-care / rituals you practice with / teach your children?
I believe that self-care is each of our personal and individual responsibilities. Sometimes I call and schedule a massage or an acupuncturist appointment for myself and my husband.
For my 14-year-old daughter, her meditative time is baking, so bakes several times a week. She also joins me in yoga a couple of times a week.
When I teach teens yoga, I talk about the “Healthy Mind Platter.” This includes making time for quality sleep, play, focus, connecting, downtime, physical time, and time-in. A healthy balanced, conscious yoga class can achieve six of the seven, hopefully resulting in a peaceful sleep ahead.
I hold sleep sacred. I get seven-eight hours a night. I practice yoga several times a week. I teach several times. Learning is big for my self-care, so I am constantly reading older yogic texts, wellness texts, science on essential oils, anatomy, and reiki. Listening to music, meditating, chakra balancing, using essential oils, monthly oiling my hair, self-massage are all self-care rituals. I also read daily guides and spirit cards and spend time alone. I walk in nature, hike, read, and listen to healing music.
Besides Yoga, how do you make time to care for yourself?
I try to remember that Health Is Wealth. I try and remember to eat well. I cook with lots of vegetables, grains, beans, and seasonal foods. I cook Indian, Mexican and Italian meals. Caring for myself includes caring for others, so now and then, I host friends over for meals, or I drop off food for a neighbor. I am active in my community so doing things for others is part of fulfilling what is important for me. I do Reiki and connect with my communities.
Thank you, Anita for sharing your wisdom with the Love, Mishka community.
Anita Mawji is a passionate advocate and practitioner of the healing arts. For the past 17 years, Anita has taught yoga and meditation to an audience spanning the globe. As a former Wall Street banker and Advertising Executive, Anita returned to her childhood roots of growing up in India and expanded her private practice to teaching for non-profit organizations, large corporations, schools, and commercial studios. With over 2000 hours of training from teachers in India and the US, in reflexology, yoga, anatomy, wellness, reiki, meditation, and nutrition, Anita has grown her following to include A-list celebrities, entrepreneurs, corporations, inner-city youth, and a community of teachers and guides.
Anita is currently teaching online and is working to open Soul Sanctuary, a healing retreat center in the heart of the organic district of San Jose Del Cabo. Soul Sanctuary will be a place for mind, body & spirit health and growth, a home away from home, and a restorative escape from the everyday.