From India to the UK: Ravi Dixit, the 'Smiling Yogi,' shares his Yoga journey

Wednesday 12th June 2024 06:39 EDT

Ravi Dixit, known as the 'Smiling Yogi,' began his yoga journey at nine when his grandfather taught him to chant mantras. In his early twenties, he moved to Rishikesh, where he studied Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga and occasionally taught tourists at the Ashrams, discovering his talent for teaching. After several years immersed in yoga, he became a resident teacher at a major retreat centre in Goa, leading classes for international students. In 2017, he moved to London, where he continues to teach. 

In an interview with Asian Voice, Ravi Dixit discussed the reception of yoga in the UK compared to India, the incorporation of Indian culture and tradition in his UK classes, and the importance of building a community around yoga.

1) What motivated you to shift from India to the UK, and how has this transition influenced your practice and teaching of yoga?

I moved to London to be with my lovely wife, as long-distance was difficult. I believe destiny and karma takes you where you are supposed to be. Initially, it was challenging since I knew no yoga studios and few people had heard of me outside the Goa retreats. Finding work was tough in a market dominated by celebrity yoga teachers focused on looks and fitness.

From the beginning I was quite confident that there was interest in what I had to offer but I knew that I had to work hard for it. I understood that in London you need to promote yourself, tell people who you are and what you do, so I put my website together and Instagram and said, well, I am Ravi, I’m a Yoga teacher from India, so my brand name was born. RAVI YOGA - ‘Authentic Indian Yoga’. I chose "authentic" over "traditional" to avoid the stereotype of an old guru meditating on a mountain. I teach yoga based on the values and principles I grew up with in India, but as a young man living in London, I understand Western life's challenges. My passion is to make these principles approachable for everyone.

2) How has the reception of yoga in the UK compared to India, and what unique challenges and opportunities have you encountered teaching yoga in the UK?

For a long time, many Western yoga studios have considered traditional yoga too "spiritual" or "complicated," focusing solely on the physical aspect. When I first moved to London, a studio found my classes too "special" for their schedule. A friend, another Indian yoga teacher, was asked to avoid chanting mantras and using Sanskrit names for asanas at a well-known studio. If studios want to erase yoga's roots, they should call themselves fitness studios instead. Thankfully, some studios welcomed me, and moments of rejection drove me to carve my own path. I believed in my practice and never compromised, trusting there were people who wanted to learn the true depth of yoga. 

3) How do you incorporate Indian culture and tradition into your UK yoga classes, and how have you built a community around it? 

I learned Yoga in India and for me it is a true lifestyle, so I teach Yoga like we do in India, it’s natural for me, I wouldn’t know another way, I use the Sanskrit names of the asanas, I chant Mantras, teach pranayama, but most importantly I explain what Yoga really is, the Yogic path, and how it’s more than just an exercise. 

Creating a community happened naturally and was something I never really planned. Once I began organising classes and workshops, I started getting regular students who would return and bring friends or family, they would then meet other students in the classes would become friends. When we started organising retreats this grew even bigger, people would arrive on a location in another country as strangers and leave as friends. We have this incredible group of people now, from all different cultures, different ages, many who know each other, some come to the same local classes, some only see each other on retreats or in my online sessions.

The transformative power of yoga is incredible. Witnessing people overcome depression, anxiety, and physical ailments to find health and happiness through yoga is inspiring. Personally, yoga saved my life. After a severe accident in November 2020, doctors credited my survival and recovery to the strength of my body and mind cultivated through yoga practice.

4) What message do you want to share about the importance and benefits of yoga, and how do you envision its global future? What role do you see for yourself in that vision?

Just start where you are. Just 10-15 minutes a day can make a difference. You don’t need a long class, an expensive Yoga mat or extreme flexibility or fitness to start Yoga. Willingness and a commitment to yourself is all you need. Yoga is not about the perfect pose, it’s about harmony between you and you. This will bring peace and health to your body and mind.

Also, find a good teacher if you can, someone who can support you on your journey. 

I think people have become more open to learning about the real benefits of Yoga. Especially in the last years since the pandemic where many people have had a hard time mentally and emotionally, there has been an openness to really listen and learn how yoga can benefit beyond a physical practice. In terms of where I see myself in this, I just keep doing what I do, which is to pass on the authentic Yoga teaching to as many people as I can in any way. I feel blessed and grateful this is the path I have been given.

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