Paying it Forward with Yoga Classes
Meet Rohit Bhattacharya, director of portfolio management at Temasek and part-time volunteer yoga instructor.
A kind gesture, no matter how small, can bring about an impact we least expect. In this ongoing series, we comb through the office in search of colleagues who are making a difference to the lives of others — through the way they live theirs.
“You’re single, you’re young. You work hard during the week, then you unwind by partying hard over the weekend.”
Back in 2009, this was Rohit Bhattacharya’s mantra.
Rohit Bhattacharya, a Director with Temasek’s Portfolio Management group, has been giving free yoga lessons
for the past 6 years.
But in the wee hours of one such day, Rohit had an epiphany after having to cook scrambled eggs for his German Shepherd after a long night at work — because he had run out of dog food.
This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. “I thought to myself, ‘what am I doing with my life?’ I wanted to turn it around,” says the Director with Temasek’s Portfolio Management group.
A knee injury from his younger years practising karate, exacerbated by long hours at a desk, was also hurting constantly.
Rohit (right, facing camera) teaches yoga class every Friday evening and Sunday morning at Ramakrishna Mission.
Each semester lasts 12 weeks and includes breathing techniques and basic postures
He sought medical advice from a long list of experts including physiotherapists and sports physicians, and received different treatments ranging from ultrasound therapy to sports massages — all to little effect.
“Eventually, one of the physiotherapists showed me an exercise to stretch my leg, and I thought, ‘My dad has been doing this everyday at home,” says the father of a four-year-old daughter.
At that point, it was yoga that offered the promise of physical relief he was desperately seeking. After flirting with the idea of heading to India to pick up yoga formally, a colleague introduced him to a school run by welfare organisation Ramakrishna Mission.
Located along Bartley Road, yoga is taught for free there. All instructors teach on a pro bono basis and are part of the Yoga Nikam group, comprising of volunteers inspired by the founder’s selflessness in propagating the ancient Indian exercise.
The free yoga class attracts large queues and works on a first come, first served basis, where the first 100 will be registered.
Rohit remembers being turned away the first time he stood in line outside the school to sign up for the popular yoga classes. He only landed a spot in the class three months later.
Even then, the initial experience wasn’t pleasant.
“It was packed with people, and there was no air-conditioning. The first few lessons, there was just so much pain in my body that I would start tearing,” he recounted, grimacing.
Determined to see if this could heal him, Rohit bit the bullet and practised diligently twice a day for 12 weeks. To do this, according to Rohit, one has to “take decision-making out of the picture”.
“When you are groggy at 5.30 in the morning, choosing between yoga or an extra half hour of sleep, you know what the decision will be.”
He adds without hesitation: “Splash water on your face and get on the mat. Thirty minutes later, it’s done and you’re fine. You don’t miss the sleep.”
The yoga course is open to everyone regardless of age, gender and religious affiliation.
At the end of 12 weeks, his injuries started to heal.
“I couldn’t do forward bends at first, but on the twelfth week, my knee pains just sort of vanished,” he says.
Today, Rohit has come full circle. He volunteers as a yoga instructor at Ramakrishna Mission alongside up to 200 other volunteers, ranging from taxi drivers to high-powered business executives.
“The first time I went on stage (to teach), my mind completely blanked out. Your heart’s thumping and you know you’ll make a mistake on stage. It was classic stage fright,” candidly admits the 37-year-old, who now teaches classes every Friday and Sunday.
Rohit, second seated from left, listens to a briefing before invigilating the basic class. At the end of the basic course, students are allowed to register for an invigilation, that upon passing, allows them to progress to an intermediate-level class.
The school also encourages troubled youths from the mission’s boy’s home to attend the yoga classes to shape their temperament. Rohit says they attend the classes grudgingly.
“To most teenage boys, yoga isn’t a cool sport. They would rather play football! But at a later point in life they would have the ability to go back to it. By then, it will be much more accessible for them,” he says.
With yoga such a big part of his life, what does Rohit enjoy the most about the experience?
He says: “It keeps me as a student. Even as an instructor, compared to our teacher, you’re still a beginner with lots more to learn.”
Rohit has no plans of quitting soon. He hopes that the lessons will spur many more to pick up the sport, with more instructors then paying it forward and spreading their knowledge for free.
Everyone benefits in this cycle of giving, he adds.
“Yoga takes your mind off the smaller irritants in life and makes you zen about things. To me, it is a constant, never-ending learning process.”
Rohit Bhattacharya, a Director with Temasek’s Portfolio Management group has been giving free yoga lessons
for the past 6 years.
The Yoga Nikam group first started out in 1997 under the auspices of the Ramakrishna Mission. In the past two decades they have expanded to ~20 centers across Singapore, and have enrolled over fifty thousand participants