Born in the US to traditional, immigrant Indian parents, though I looked and behaved as an American, my household was very much living in India. My parents were strict and traditions were strong. Most of our practice of Hindu religion was based upon ritual. There were so many ceremonies, festivals, and cultural events during the year, but I could not connect them with any meaning or purpose.
Growing up as a teenager was a challenge. A challenge for the entire family. As the eldest and only daughter, and at a time when I was the only Indian in my high school, I wanted to follow the lifestyle of my peers - wearing stylish clothes and attending co-ed social events - but my parents would not allow that kind of freedom. It was beyond their comprehension and not open for discussion. Sports was my life and passion since I could walk, and I was always a part of team sports at school, but when I became a teen, I often had to tell lies to attend my games. I earned a spot on the varsity basketball team but my father declined my request to join. Demanding that I needed to play a sport, my father taught me tennis, and played with me regularly.
Arguments over cultural differences were not uncommon in my house. Our religious ceremonies were one thing that brought us all together. They were the bond that kept the peace and harmony among us (and sometimes funny - how can kids not make fun of gods with 6 arms!) When I turned 16, I set out to find some answers on who I was and where I came from, in hopes to keep my Indian culture alive once I was on my own.
I started reading the Bhagavad Gita and books by Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna, Mahatma Gandhi, and other great saints of India who had answers on what my religion was all about. But after a few years of reading, I knew I needed more than just books...I needed and wanted a systematic, proven practice that would contribute to my body and mind, as well as my soul. I became a vegetarian spontaneously at the age of 17, having grown up in a meat-eating family. I visited temples and spiritual centers. I took trips to India. I attended lectures when gurus would visit my area. And then on an exploratory trip to South India at 22, I stumbled upon a yoga ashram where I stayed and studied yoga for a month. It just so happened that everything I had read in the spiritual texts above was repeated in this curriculum, except that it also accompanied daily practices to reinforce the knowledge we gained, and to keep us on the path of virtue. It all gave meaning to ritual, to ceremony, to tradition, and even to strict cultural values. What I didn't understand growing up around my Indian parents, I now understood, respected, and embraced.
That was the beginning of my yogic path - the introduction. To this day, what I learned at that school resonates within me and inspires me daily.