An Interview With Pranidhi Varshney
By Stephanie Santos
I met Pranidhi Varshney at the Ashtanga Confluence in San Diego almost a year ago. She probably wouldn’t have remembered me, as you meet so many people over the three days, but I remembered her. Her Primary series practice seemed effortless, even joyful. But what I remember most was our conversation, she invited me to Yoga Shala West, a studio that she founded with Nina Collins in Los Angeles. I was lucky enough to spend an hour with her after morning Mysore to learn more about the Shala’s history and philosophy of complete yogic inclusion.
Tell us the story of Yoga Shala West.
I was teaching in Los Angeles for many years when it occurred to me that I wanted to create a space for all types of people to come to practice Ashtanga yoga. Nina and I had been teaching in LA for a number of years, before we decided to open the Shala. I think the presence can be felt in the space, that it was created by two strong women with a deep love for the practice. We are alike in that we both have similar yoga teaching philosophies, and we are both married to partners that are supportive of our dream.
How is Yoga Shala West unique?
We are unique in so many ways. For one, we allow families to join our practice. Children of all ages can be seen in class. It’s important to us that moms and dads have the freedom to bring children. Not to say that they do it all the time, but that they feel welcome to bring them along. We don’t charge a monthly fee to our students. We don’t like to use the word donation, as to us that implies lack of responsibility and lack of commitment. The Shala is “community supported,” as we like to think of the support we receive as less of a transaction and more of trust. Our students are encouraged to contribute what they can each month, and this philosophy has worked well for us and our students. Doing things in an unconventional way can initially bring a bit of fear, but this philosophy has actually been met with a lot of warmth within the community. The students consider this their studio as well.
This family atmosphere benefits us in many ways. Just the other day I needed to hang a bulletin board (the Shala is a place for people to post upcoming events in the community) and I knew one of my students was very handy. And I asked her to help. She was very willing to contribute to the benefit of our shared space.
Are students encouraged to come everyday?
We hold a Mysore practice Monday through Friday from 7:30am to 10:30am and 4:30-6:30pm, with the inclusion of devotional music during the Friday morning practice. The first Sunday of the month is a led primary series at 9am followed by an exploration of topics including pranayama, chanting, meditation, philosophy, and practical applications. There is an opportunity for students to ask questions and engage in discussion. We encourage students to come to class as much as they can while honoring their responsibilities and energy level. I do think that you get the most benefit if you commit to the practice every day.
As a teacher, I develop an intimate relationship with each student. I take the time to get a read on someone’s energy level, their commitment and their life. For example; if I have a younger practitioner with a lot of energy and dedication and not a lot of family commitments, I’m going to push them a bit more. If I have a practitioner that perhaps is returning to the practice after taking time off or having a child, we are going to go slower. It’s wonderful to have a close group that you can really watch grow through the years and share that experience with them.
What teacher has inspired your practice most?
I have many teachers to thank for my personal progress in yoga; I was lucky enough to meet Manju Jois in Chicago when I was a pretty new practitioner. I am still amazed years later that this was one of the first workshops that I attended.
Yoga Shala West is a beacon for those of us that believe that yoga is for all. Those who believe yoga is about the self as well as sharing with others. They believe in Parampara, the lineage of sharing from teacher to student. To learn more about the Shala visit yogashalawest.com.
This written interview has been paraphrased, based on an in-person conversation with Pranidhi Varshney.