THE PORTAL INTO ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN TAMIL NADU

The Journey of a Tech-Savvy Yogi

“It’s where yoga meets lifestyle design!” giggles an effervescent Sushmitha Shrikanth describing her personal brand Sushi Yogi. The 25-year-old certified yoga instructor went through a wild path of self-discovery before she became a yoga and wellness coach. “I was introduced to yoga when I was about eight—like most other Indian parents, mine forced me to attend a class where an instructor would sit in the center and tell us to inhale and exhale,” she recalls, “It was boring. I had no clue what was going on, but I did it anyway.” A few classes in, everything changed. “I found out that I had a superpower,” she says with a grin, “I could rotate my shoulders entirely because I was double-jointed which made me more flexible than the others.” She walked out of class that day amused, thinking to herself, “Wow, I’m special!”

After spending High School as a girl who despised exercising and sweating, Sushmitha found herself joining a local gym as she began Engineering College in Chennai. “Going to the gym made me realise that I had a lot of energy that wanted to be expended,” she laughs, “Although I was doing two years of regular movement and strength training, I’d also do some yoga on the side.” She enrolled herself into the college theater club and began spending her energy on acting, writing and directing plays—which very soon became the only thing she liked about being in Engineering School.

Two years in, while writing and directing a play about emotions (a spin-off of the animated film Inside Out), it dawned upon her that she was in dire need of a break from the ‘rat race’. “Ma’am I can’t do this anymore, I need a year off,” she said before heading off to Trichy to volunteer at a village school where she taught students using theater techniques. “I was living on a floor in a classroom during this time and didn’t have any equipment to keep myself fit,” she recalls the moment of enlightenment. “There were a couple of yoga mats lying around so I started following videos on YouTube like ‘Yoga with Adriene’ and ‘POPSUGAR Fitness’. What started as an adaptation to her surroundings soon became a preference. “Going to the gym made me feel good. I would grit my teeth while lifting weights and say to myself—okay I’m strong! Yoga on the other hand felt natural and the movements felt almost second nature.”

The same year, Sushmitha took up the five-week Swadharma course at Auroville, focused on self-discovery and finding your ‘true calling’. “I met so many people practicing yoga as a lifestyle here (as opposed to an activity on a mat during a certain time of the day).” That was the first time Sushmitha was introduced to integral yoga—a form that was not just about the body but also the emotions and the entire being as a whole. “By this time I started to think—Wow! Yoga is really calling for my attention!”

When she returned back to the village school she found a way to help the hyperactive kids during their ‘dreaded’ homework time. “I would play some music on a speaker and give them twenty-five minutes to study, followed by five minutes of music-driven yoga for concentration,” she explains, “I wasn’t certified yet, so I introduced them to very simple Ashtanga (eight limbs) yoga techniques.” That became Sushmitha’s stepping stone into her journey of identifying yoga solutions for real-world problems.

Soon after this, Sushmitha did a five hundred hour yoga teacher training course. “When I graduated I knew that I wanted to become more than just a yoga teacher who counts numbers and tells you to bend different limbs.” she elucidates about how she always felt that yoga had the potential to understand yourself better. She volunteered at Swabodhini, a school for children with special needs in Thiruvanmiyur where she realised the true essence of being a yoga instructor. “I felt like I wasn’t ready, but once I got to the school and began to move and express with my body with full energy, I noticed that it had a healing effect on everybody. It was proof that yoga was more about the internal feelings and emotions (that aren’t as easy to express) as opposed to being good at asanas.”

By the end of the year, it was time for the young yoga instructor to resume Engineering College. “I felt trapped behind the folding desk chair and couldn’t even sit in padmasana (folded legs) which is supposed to be the most comfortable seating position,” she recalls. “The turning point for me was when one of my closest friends asked me what I was doing with my life,” she pauses, “I had no answer to that question.” She let that question guide her path. Against the advice of her closest peers, family and faculty, she decided to drop out of college. “It was a challenging time, I had a part-time job and was trying to become financially independent,” she says, “To me, it felt like I was gaining two more years to do what I really wanted rather than just dragging it out and then finding my ‘true calling’.”

In search of the answer to her question. she left for London, took a couple of class passes and experimented with a few courses focused on philosophy, fitness and yoga. The experience gave her insight into what was wrong with western yoga practices and what she could offer to this space as an Indian. There was so much opportunity but such little resource in this space. “I gathered some people and started with a short philosophical introduction before playing music and conducting a fun pilates-like yoga session.”

With time Sushmitha went from experimenting to streamlining. She traveled the world and made sure to teach yoga wherever she went. “It was during the pandemic when I took the last flight back to Chennai from Tanzania after six months that I got a remote job with a Swedish company that was trying to build an online platform for yoga. I was beta testing the product so I got an insight into how online group classes (a previously unfamiliar concept in yoga) would not work for me way before it got popular,” she laughs, “I did not want to go down the counting numbers path.”

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