Spreading Passion and Presence Through Yoga
“It's not choosing the 'right' path that matters. It's knowing what ignites your passion,” says former Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich on the complex subject of figuring out the purpose of one’s life. “Once you've figured out what brings you joy, you don't have to worry about finding the right path. Any path – any path – will take you there.”
This concept of creating a passionate life, instead of blindly following the usual societal standards, has made it possible for some lucky people to do incredible things with their lives. In a way, it makes it easy for “life to happen”, as the main driving force is passion and not anything stiff, material, or external.
For Ankit Ranakoti, one passion after another eventually led him to find his special place in teaching yoga. He never wanted to do it specifically, but as they are fond of saying in Rishikesh, India, the holy birthplace of yoga – You did not choose to be a yoga teacher. Yoga chose you.
But it is almost simplistic, how Ankit found the yogic path. No grand higher power encounter or unexplainable spiritual experience. “I was a football player, sports captain in my school,” he explains. “But I got injured. They said I can’t play football for around two years. I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ My friends are into modeling and say ‘You should also come into modeling. You have the face.’ Since I have nothing to do, I go into modeling, but everyone was taller than me. Then another friend recommended yoga so I can stretch myself and increase my height. I did not know anything about Ashtanga Yoga but after doing it, I grew a little bit taller, one or two inches taller.”
He could have returned to modeling after gaining the result he wanted. But his heart had other plans. “When I was 15, I was reading about the yoga because I was interested in how the body works so I was learning about this but not practically. But when I also do it practically, it takes me into a very good place.”
This good place unraveled an entirely new universe, not just for him but for everyone around him. Quickly and naturally, he progressed from learning yoga to teaching, simply because he wants to share what he has.
“So I was learning about this and my friends have yoga place and want me to share something to the students. I share my knowledge, especially to many child who cannot afford to learn these things, so I would go and try to teach them. When they do yoga, there is a smile on their face and it makes me happy. This is how I come into the teaching. But I am not feel like I am a teacher. I am like a friend sharing my knowledge in class.”
Every single class Ankit teaches is marked by this friendly atmosphere. More than a knowledgeable and skilled teacher, he is a good and supportive friend. Everything feels natural, because ultimately, he is just doing something he is passionate about.
“I never thought to be in a profession of this thing,” he admits. “In my family, nobody does yoga and they were so shocked, ‘You want to make career in yoga? Don’t you want to be a doctor? Don’t you want to be a engineer? Because that is a profession, you know? I did not say anything because it’s not until now that I want to be a yoga teacher. I become a yoga teacher,” he adds.
It is this becoming that makes Ankit a special teacher. There is an unmistakable lightness to it that can only come from passion and presence. The way he trained has a flowing quality, too. He learned from many teachers, some of the most popular in Rishikesh. But he learned, and continues to learn, not because he is now a teacher but for the sake of learning. “Where I find knowledge, I just sit and gain that, absorb it,” he explains.
Now he is mainly teaching Ashtanga Yoga and dabbling into Acro Yoga, but he refuses to be bound by anything. “People usually say that ‘Are you Ashtanga teacher?’ I say no because for me yoga is a thing – not Ashtanga, not Hatha, not Vinyasa. I have done every form. I share everything. For me, everything is good.”
His positive attitude spills to every aspect of his teaching. Ask him if he gets frustrated about teaching and he gives an incredulous laugh. “Moving into the yoga is always fun. People think the hardest part is always when people are not finding the poses, but for me, that is the most fun part because from there the journey starts.
I like everything about teaching. I never feel frustrated with the teaching. I feel frustrated when the student feel bad about himself or herself and sometimes say ‘I can’t do it.’ It makes me feel bad. But you have to motivate the person then you can move on in the class. I am too motivated. Teaching starts from the head, not from the body.”
It is also worth noting that Ankit does not teach ordinary yoga students. He teaches people who are aspiring to be yoga teachers, too. In this context, the teaching may seem more serious but Ankit’s light, grounded, and passionate approach continues to make an impact.
“Becoming a teacher is always difficult. Learning yoga is like by yourself. You learn what you learn. If you learn wrong, that is your mistake then you can make it good if you see somewhere else how you can make it good. But when you are teaching someone, you have to be sure, “he says. “You have to be sure that you are teaching right because around 40 to 100 students we teach in one month and if you are not sure, you are getting wrong knowledge to that 100 people and they will take that knowledge with them.”
Ankit also emphasizes the importance of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, something that most people miss out on with the modern or western interpretation of yoga. It is not just asanas or postures that look cool for Instagram.
"Before doing asanas, I think the Yama and Niyama are so important. And people always forget that,” he discusses. “The self-control and the rules and regulations of the yoga is most important. First, your body should be adapted to what you are trying to do in the asana, then how the asana will do with you.
I have seen many person who don’t follow the rules and regulations and try to do the yoga. Even though I tell you on the first day that people usually do the asana and meditation, they skip the in between, the three parts: how to control the senses, how to dissolve, how to do the concentration. I think they have to go through the Ashtanga Yoga Eight Limbs.”
But this is not to say he does not appreciate the popularity of yoga, especially its strong social media presence. “I think it’s good,” he says with a laugh. “That’s all good, that people are doing yoga. That always feels good, because, maybe they are just doing it for the sweat, but they are doing it. So it feels good for us. For seeing it on a large scale, it’s so good from my point of view. It’s so amazing. Maybe you are just doing it for a photo, but at least you are doing it.”
He also has a constructive attitude towards people who can do advanced or fancy poses but cannot perform basic poses correctly. "I think they should be more into the alignments," he suggests. “If you can do the advanced poses that’s good. But if you are doing it wrong, you can fall down with your face. I think this will teach you more, how to plan the alignments, how to find the muscle.
Because sometime people used to do the advanced poses, but they feel somewhere else where they don’t have to feel. That means you are doing wrong. So I think you should start from the basic things. You should not see someone’s post and seeing someone and try to do the advanced things. Maybe you can get there, but you are doing wrong. So start from the stance, from the downstairs, then you can go to the roof.”
There is a lot to learn from Ankit's perspective, from how he approaches yoga and how much he shares his passion. And did we forget to mention that he is only 21 years old? Shocking. Most students find it hard to believe because he is an incredible teacher: so experienced, skilled, and wise.
Thinking about how he will grow in the profession in the future is simply mind blowing. But as with everything, he takes it all in with even disposition and with the sweetest smile. He shares, "I don’t know about the future. Nobody know what happen tomorrow. Now I want to live in the present. If two years, three years, five years, someone want knowledge from me, I will give that. I always want to be in present."
As for how to be in the present, this is the simple but powerful advice Ankit suggests, "There is no trick to being present but inhale and exhale. Breathing is in the present. You can’t breathe for the future. You can’t hide some breathe in your pocket for the future. So if you try to see how you breathe in and exhale, that is a great thing to be in the present."
By following his passion, Ankit influences thousands of new yoga teachers, and in turn these people will also spread the love and awareness and it goes on and on transforming lives. It is a wonderful phenomenon that will change the world.
Get more inspired by Ankit and follow him @YogawithAnkit on Instagram and Facebook.