Men do yoga | Niraj Shah
Niraj Shah. Born 1979. Property entrepreneur, meditation and mental well-being advocate.
MEDITATION:UNLOCKED | The Present of Yoga
When and how did you start yoga?
Physical yoga postures - asana - were a small part of my childhood. Growing up in the UK’s Hindu community, I was occasionally led through some basic yoga postures like sun salutations and was probably around 4 when I started. I need to ask my mum! Adolescence came and I forgot all about yoga.
At the age of 30 I suffered a sudden and serious stroke. My doctor made it clear that the only physical exercise I was permitted to do during my recovery was yoga so I started practicing 2-3 times a week. Starting my first business was the catalyst for yoga postures becoming a near daily habit.
I want to clarify here that I see physical yoga primarily as gateway tools and systemised frameworks to help alter my state of being to one closer to feeling consciously yet effortlessly aware, energised and elevated. It’s certainly not the only way to get there; I can find the same connection and mindspace via a snowboard and I know people who find it via running, martial arts, painting, playing an instrument and so on. Alongside meditation, yoga is the most accessible of these tools for me.
What style of yoga do you practice?
No particular yoga system or style, I try to avoid rigid thinking in everything I do. Systems and frameworks are extremely useful to accelerate learning, until the system itself and its ideology becomes either limiting or a crutch. I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of things called yoga and now I do the movement that my body needs and the mental practices my mind needs to optimise my state on that day. Every day is different. Some days that looks like yoga stretches, other days it looks like riding a snowboard, other days it looks like sitting still. My default settings gravitate towards slower, breath fuelled, simplistic but fiery movement.
How has it changed your life?
At the most basic level, yoga and meditation are antidotes to the overstimulated urban life I choose. A good stretch often feels great and complements a lot of the other physical stuff I do. Sitting quietly cultivating stillness - depending what I’m specifically doing - can activate either deep rest or help build my focus and creativity. I treat yoga stretches and meditation like life hacks and entrepreneurial secret weapons. Of course movement and stillness are both gateways to different states of consciousness and when that happens it just feels incredible in ways that words cannot describe.
What is your most memorable yoga moment?
Too many to single one out as the most memorable, but leading my first guided meditation practices has been a highlight for 2017. I know what I do is credible because I’ve taken the time to understand the true relevance of every component of it. The feedback has been great and doing it feels good for me too. I’ve been saying no to a lot of good opportunities to guide more meditations because of choosing to prioritise my other interests, but I will say yes to leading at least one or two more before the end of the year.
What makes a great yoga teacher?
For asana the non-negotiable for me is that they must understand anatomical safety. Next is when they have a clear understanding of who they are - at least at that point in time - and lead and guide congruently from that place. Then it’s not being a douchebag. Seeing themselves as a yoga guide rather than a teacher is always attractive. Finally mastering the technical craft of leading a yoga practice such as command over a space, clear cueing, communication that is inclusive, intelligent sequencing and so on. I have a tonne of respect for great yoga teachers, I appreciate how hard it is and what sacrifice it takes to get good at doing the above.
What is your favourite pose and why?
Of the traditional poses it’s easily savasana because lying around doing nothing comes very easily to me. My favourite yoga pose of all is hug-asana - a hug to you and me - because it encompasses all of connection, vulnerability, trust, care, acceptance and so much more that I can’t even verbalise. I should point out that because of all that it means to me, I’m only going to hug someone I’ve already got a connection with!
What do you do when not doing yoga?
Most of my time goes into MEDITATION:UNLOCKED and my other business interests. In the winter my wife & I chase as much snow as we can, snowboarding is my yoga of choice. More regular downtime usually involves losing myself in a not-necessarily good movie or these days one of so many great TV series’.
What are you listening to?
I grew up in the 80s and 90s so in the end it always comes back to Metallica, Guns N Roses, Nirvana and Oasis. I’ve sneaked a Metallica instrumental into a guided meditation before…
What are you reading?
I have a lot of books open at any one time spanning business, autobiographies, health and meditation. A snapshot of current or recent reads from each category would be something like “Keys to the Vault” by Keith Cunningham, “It’s So Easy (and Other Lies)” by Duff McKagan, “The Rise of Superman: Decoding The Science of Ultimate Human Performance” by Steven Kotler and “The Science of Enlightenment” by Shinzen Young.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Not what, who - Spider-Man with Batman’s lifestyle.
If you could be any animal in the world, what would you choose?
I love tigers for their grace, power, elegance and sheer beauty but I don’t want to be one. Dogs seem to be the happiest. I’ll be a dog. The more wolf like the better.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Last year I got my body fat down to 13% and decided I like pizzas, ice cream and chocolate significantly more than I like maintaining 13% body fat! A typical week will involve at least one pizza, a couple of ice creams and more chocolate than I’m willing to admit to…
When are you happiest?
Floating on a snowboard makes me feel alive. The taste of ice cream makes me feel alive. Experiencing someone themselves come to life when they talk about their passions makes me feel alive. Honestly sometimes feeling the wind on my face makes me feel alive! I’ve experienced how fragile life really is and I know I’m incredibly lucky to be here at all, to be physically and mentally intact and to even get to do the things I do so it’s usually very easy for me to be happy. Noticing that I’m simply alive and intact doesn’t just make me happy, it makes me feel both deeply grateful and euphoric.
What is your greatest fear?
For a couple of years after my stroke I had some very dark thoughts. From there, becoming incapacitated is still a very real fear but not something I ever actually think about anymore!
Where would you go if you could time travel?
Getting a glimpse of the future 10 years from now would give me huge business advantages. A sports almanac from then would be handy too.
Why should people do yoga?
People shouldn’t necessarily do ‘yoga’. Everyone has their own path. People should do whatever makes them feel alive, awake and want to contribute to the world.
Tell us something we don’t know.
My name is derived from the sanskrit root níraja, a compound meaning “[one who is] born from water”.
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