It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you meet a person and spending time with him or her leaves a wonderful imprint on you-for me Rupa Mehta is one of those rare & amazing people.
Last month I was reading American Vogue when a strong picture taken by the legendary photographer Norman Jean Roy of a fit young woman caught my eye: the article titled ‘ Stealth Dynamo‘ made quiet a punch but it’s the book that Rupa Mehta, the woman in that picture, wrote, titled ‘ Connect to you one ‘ that really peaked my curiosity. I looked it up on the Net and when I realised that you could only get a Kindle version of it in the UK via Amazon, I promptly downloaded it on my Ipad.
I read the book ( all of 105 pages, pictures included ) in two evenings !!! It made so much sense and tingled my inner compass so much, that I decided to e-mail Rupa and see if I can interview her. I received a reply fairly quickly, which caught me a bit off guard-so many people just wouldn’t bother, yet here was this intriguing young woman and she was willing to talk to me via Skype from New York.
We actually talked twice in one day that we scheduled our Skype link-the first time I saw a beautiful, young woman, who looked both inquisitive and shy but when we started talking, I quickly realised that this woman is a force to be reckoned with-strong, opinionated, yet caring and with a wonderfully refreshing sense of humour, she was answering my questions without pausing for breath. The conversation easily flowed and I was startled when I realised that over an hour went by-Rupa was nursing a cold but apart from sounding slightly congested, she was like a power-ball of activity, brimming with thoughts, experiences and ideas.
As I went through my notes after we switched off, I realised that I have forgotten to ask her a few questions that I have jotted down while preparing to interview her, so I e-mailed Rupa and she cheekily replied that we could talk some more later in the day. And by the time we Skyped again she looked different, tomboyish, with a baseball hat pulled over her damp, long hair, as she just came back from a run-visually, almost two different characters and yet, I felt energised, like I have drunk cooled liquid sunshine and buzzed for the rest of the day with thoughts that Rupa shared with me-a curious amalgam of joy, determination, self-assurance and wisdom.
One of the things that endeared Rupa to me from the beginning is the fact that she is not only very close to her father and mother, but she actually credits them for teaching her how to be herself, happy ( like her father ) and balanced ( like her mother ). Her parents were born and raised in India, her mother coming from a well-off family, while her father had a much more modest background, yet instead of an arranged marriage, her mother chose the boy she fell in love with, Rupa’s father, and eventually they came to live in the USA, where Rupa and her brother were born. Her parents seem to be very wise and very close to both of their children ( Rupa has a brother ) and to continuously nurture and cherish their children and Rupa talks of them with so much joy and pride, it almost brings tears to your eyes and heightens the determination to say ‘I love you ‘ more often to your own parents.
Rupa never met her father’s parents and yet, when she published the book, her father not only felt proud of his daughter’s achievement, he felt equally humbled, saying that his daughter’s written words made him ‘feel like such a good son ‘ and her mother actually cried, as she told her daughter that her own child was saying things to her that many parents don’t get to hear while they are alive, so she felt ‘very lucky’. Rupa said to me that we all need to take time to sit down and articulate where each one of us comes from, otherwise we will be doing ourselves a disservice.
Having seen many clients of different ages, professions, single or married with children and at different stages of their lives, it was very interesting for Rupa to observe & ponder the fact how much we all are affected by our parents actions and in many ways how we interact with people comes down to how we all were brought up. Until Rupa said that aloud, I haven’t consciously devoted any serious time to that thought but come to think of it now, it’s true-we look up to our parents, we learn from them, we copy them and in many ways they do mould us to become who we are.
When I asked Rupa how the idea of writing a book came about, she said that she wanted to articulate her life’s lessons, as she knew deep inside that they were not only valuable, but worth sharing too. It took her six weeks to write the book, writing every day. As she is inspired by young people’s energy, she went to random classes at a college down the street from where she lived, sat at the back and just wrote. When she noticed that most of the kids were at least ten years younger than her, she switched to post-grad classes and continued to pen her thoughts and trying to be as open and personal as she could and I can testify that he book is exactly that, honest and very endearingly human. Or as Rupa put it to me: ‘ I got everything I wanted to say written down in that book and out of my body when the book was published ‘.
It was also important for Rupa to tie the emotional and physical connection, as often her clients can be fit, yet they don’t have an emotional escape or release, so she considered offering emotional exercises as part of the classes that she taught, as she knows it is extremely beneficial to ‘ plug and play with your own life’s experiences ‘.
Rupa self-published the book because she wanted her message to be on point, to have the control over pictures and her thoughts on paper. She says that her fitness business and Nalini method ( of which we talk more later ) is successful because it’s home-grown and matured in a very organic way. Now, as the book unites more and more people ( she does book readings at LuLuLemon in NY and as one of her best friends lives in London, I volunteer the idea of a London event in the future ), she has been approached by publishers but is adamant that she likes ‘the gorilla marketing aspect ‘ of what she has achieved with her book so far. Rupa tells me that often what happens is that a person will come to her class, then decides to buy the book and sometimes what follows is that she ( or he ) will buy ‘ Connect you your one ‘ to give to friends or family members, so the good sparks spread, as the message seems to resonate with different women and even men too ( note: you can buy a Kindle version of the book on the Amazon but the paper one is only available in the US at the moment ).
Have you ever asked yourself what is the essence of parental love? Rupa, who is not a fan of big statements, likes to reflect and she gives me an example of how her own mother, being a vegetarian, can get up in the morning, go buy the necessary groceries and cook her daughter her favourite meal just because she knows that it will give her pleasure. As I listen to this, I realise how often we take gestures like that for granted-we do appreciate them but we don’t thank our father, or mother or friends for it in that particular moment in time and maybe, just maybe we should, as life is too short and no one knows what’s around the corner !
We talk about being specific with our emotions-when you are grateful, say it aloud, when someone upsets you, say it to the person too, explaining why. Equally, it’s helpful to set up realistic goals. If a client comes to class and says she needs to loose a 100 pounds, Rupa’s reply is ‘ it’s a massive goal, why not start with loosing three and getting up earlier in the morning or drinking more water to start with ‘-this ties up with the concept of ‘ emotional weight ‘ that we all carry around and often it’s a heavier burden than our physical weight.
In person Rupa is beautiful-her smile brightens her features and pulls you in, like a strong embrace, so you start grinning back like a person in love, looking at this petite young woman who has a very strong core and talks a thousand words a minute at you, articulating her thoughts very precisely. She also comes across as very real and approachable and has a nurturing layer in her personality too. She says to me again and again, in the course of our conversations, how much she loves teaching, as it gives one an opportunity to transform and change people and their lives and in some way, the world around us too. She never planned to teach to start with, but now she can’t imagine her life without it.
Her Nalini Method journey started in the same year that 9/11 happened, when everyone in New York was looking at the pavement, rather than upwards, to the sky and the city was full of sadness and grief. Rupa also got fired from the fitness studio where she was teaching around that time, as the skinny look was very much ‘ in ‘ but Rupa refused to pigeon hole people, hence the difference of opinion with management led to them parting ways. As Rupa didn’t have a list of her clients details, she had to start a new page and within four weeks she found a small place to teach, gave out classes flyers, taught the classes and then sent e-mails thanking people for attending them. At the same time, as she was doing her business degree, she was thinking about opening an ice-cream business upon graduation-her mother makes and amazing ice-cream and it seemed like a good idea to proceed forward with that, but life had other plans for her in store-Rupa’s clients loved the classes that she taught so much, that Rupa’s fitness endeavour grew and gained strength and momentum. Then an opportunity presented itself for her to partner with Equinox gyms, which are very well known in NY ( note: there are plans for Equinox gyms in London now too ), so Rupa signed on the dotted line and it seemed to work well for a while, until a year or so ago Rupa came to the conclusion that corporate America wasn’t for her , so she went back to doing her own thing, continuing Nalini Method, a combination of Eastern and Western practises, an amalgam of yoga, pilates, strength work, ballet and Lotta Berk method. There is one studio in New York where seven teachers, in addition to Rupa, who teach and continuously evolve or as Rupa puts it ‘ it’s easy to teach how to do a push-up, but it’s hard to teach empathy or to have an open mind and be able to continuously learn and explore the fitness and the emotional aspects that form our nature’.
The core of Nalini method is the idea that one can be fit, but not necessarily be able to run a full marathon or to put it more bluntly, ‘No matter the workout, most of us aren’t going to be a 5’11 blonde‘. We are all different, we have different body shapes but it’s important to feel good in our skin and your attitude to life is most important, as unfortunately too many of us choose to get obsessed with our looks, yet not address the meaningful, emotional issues that can render our physical form obsolete. We often forget that stress is the biggest contributor to weight gain and current pace of life, wherever you live-New York, London, Moscow or Hong Kong makes us run even faster, forgetting that being in the moment is more important than striving for that ever elusive success or the next big thing.
Rupa tries to exercise herself four times a week but when she teaches her classes she is very hands on, as she says ‘ if you are paying to attend my class, you aren’t paying to watch me workout, I should be looking at you ‘. Up to thirty people can attend a single class but there would be two teachers, who help you to make adjustments and make sure that you are doing the moves correctly. Rupa herself still teaches six days a week and her classes vary from one to one, to group, to teaching Nalini Mathod in the corporate environment with the emphasis on a personal approach, as Rupa loves being asked questions and making sure that her clients get what they need from each class.
When she started Nalini Method she taught six classes a day, six days a week, so by her own admission she must have taught close to 20, 000 classes to date, gaining knowledge and experience, while allowing herself to experiment with movements and poses to achieve a perfectly balanced and effective exercise.
I wondered aloud how Rupa keeps her joy and enthusiasm, as people often are too engrossed in themselves and their own world, rather than face outward, so I fall to laughing pieces when I hear ‘ if you think you are too small to make a difference in the world, you haven’t been in bed with a mosquito ‘. ‘ I guess for me this applies to life in general, as small things can affect our relationships-like not turning up on time or forgetting to call back when you said you would. All the little things make the difference and that’s how I approach life. If God gave me a place on Earth, I might as well be happy. It’s not about making lemonade out of lemons, it’s just that things pass and we are all created the same ‘.
There is a what Rupa calls a ‘ group of untouchables ‘ in her life, many of them friends going back to childhood. She says she is always open to new relationships, but adds that maintaining relationships is important. She might not like going through rough patches-we all do at one time or another-but she knows that misunderstandings happen and both sides need to have the desire to work through it. Another secret that the Nalini method creator has up her sleeve is organising dinner parties every two weeks or so, to which her friends are allowed to bring a person to whom they feel close and I think it creates a healthy, friendly and sometimes intimate networking environment, where loving shoots of friendship or even love can grow, after all we can all raise a hand and admit that Internet in some ways has created a sort of discomfort when it comes to relationships, as an e-mail can’t be compared to the touch of a hand or a smile directed at you, while looking you in straight in the eye.
There is a special someone in Rupa’s life but looking back she admits giggling that she tends to have long-term relationship and has dated someone close to ten years in the past-she talks about that relationship in more detail in the book, so even though we discuss this, I prefer not to tell you about it. If you become curious, Rupa tells it how it is in her own written words. She does say that she believes that a relationship between a boy and a girl can feel like a destination of calm, where two people can be different, yet look in the same direction, adding something perfectly unique to the mix. When Rupa volunteers ‘ I love people easily, but to earn my respect takes time ‘ it makes me go quiet for a minute, thinking about my own relationships, past and present.
Mrs Mehta, Rupa’s mother has a saying ‘ simple living, high thinking ‘, which is the same as saying have low expectations on high-end level. Or as Rupa says ‘ I rest my hat on the fact that I would rather be a person who does let it out, you feel lighter that way-keeping compliments and empathy to oneself must be so hard. I would rather someone take me for granted than change who I am! I feel like I have been given an opportunity to shine but thank god for bad experiences with people too because if you tried your hardest, you are walking away feeling good about yourself. Maybe you are not feeling excited in that moment, but you did good interacting with a not so great person. If you got only good energy from people, you wouldn’t know what bad feels like. You do have expectations of your ‘untouchable unit’. If I love or care for you, I do have 100 % expectations and if you are a stranger, I just don’t. ‘
To me those revelations are probably one of the core reasons why this tiny fairy like girl spreads joy and enthusiasm with such gusto. She does sincerely and innately believe what she teaches-not only that, she has put all of the advice that she offers through herself and her own life and she is only too happy to share with grace and dignity and yes, determination added to her actions too.
I touch down on the subject of how tricky relationships can be between siblings ( personal and friends experiences galore ) but Rupa seems wise and upbeat when she says that ‘ no one is going to show love how I show love ‘, meaning that we are all different in the way we express ourselves and our emotions towards each other, but we do show love in different ways too. Rupa’s father has a very wise saying: ‘ No one made you God and no one made you your sibling’s or friend’s doctor ‘ and hearing that, I just fall under the spell of the wisdom, simplicity and honesty of that statement, as none of us can fix another person or help them without their consent or desire to change. According to Rupa ‘ how we all see each other is relative ‘ and she cites as an example her relationship with her brother and her resolution this year not to have an image of him of how he is now or how he was in the past, but only looking at her brother as a person in the moment in time when they are together. That approach is changing the already close relationship between the siblings and making both sides look at each other not only with love, but with deeply embedded respect that sometimes only comes with age and experience that comes with it. It’s as Rupa says that we all have our routes to get to the shop or university or work and sometimes it’s very useful to take a different route to the same destination and open one’s own perspective on the way our mind works and the way we view things.
And then the subject of children arises and Rupa opens and blossoms further just before my eyes. It all started a while back, with a client of Rupa’s, who works in Mayor Bloomberg’s office. Nalini was inspired by her work and they went to a recreational centre ( a sort of public gym in New York city, where a mere $ 70 buys you access to the basic gym equipment for a year ). Rupa was so inspired that she put together a 50 page long proposal, brought businesses on board and transformed a centre in Brooklyn ( the mayor came for a visit and the programme was rolled around the city of New York with the help of people and businesses with deeper pockets ).
Ever since Rupa was 12, she has been making videotapes for her future children ( when I ask her whether she got this idea from her father, who loves recording things on his camera for posterity, Rupa quips ‘ either that or I am just freaky ‘ which makes us both giggle ), telling them of life’s lessons or new skill that she has been learning ! She says she has always loved kids, for their openness and unifying spirit and so when an opportunity arose to teach a class 14 delinquent boys, Rupa jumped at the chance and haven’t looked back ever since. She says that the children, once they started doing her class, transformed gradually before her eyes, re-learning to breath properly and using breath to calm their senses down and to help them concentrate. Rupa says that she tends to be mature and understanding and at times forgiving too, that she doesn’t get personally offended if the boys push the boundaries a bit, as her primary concern and focus remains on making sure that every child that she teaches is heard and understood. She is convinced that kids and adults are alike in that everyone wants attention.
‘I have two gifts in life-teaching and my parents-and for me, classroom is the perfect place to use both, to be in the context and to help children to find their own path’, says Rupa and adds that if the boys allow themselves to disrespect her, she puts it out to them and holds an honest dialogue, giving them a sisterly talk but also letting them be in the moment, holding their eye contact and teaching them to communicate honestly and freely. Her course runs for 12 weeks, during which she teaches one class a week, for an hour and a half.
When boys graduate, Rupa thanks each of them, shaking their hands, looking them in the eye and saying something personal to each boy, as many of them often lack the ever so important personal attention that each one of us needs. She adds that she feels very grateful when people reach out to her but what is very important to her is that success shouldn’t change who she is. ‘ The world is my playground, I am never going to be too big for anyone, we are all built to last, yet we are all going to die ‘.
When I ask how she relaxes, Rupa pauses as if she finds such a question surprising, and then says that she loves to skateboard and also to chill at home and watch TV, any movie, ‘anything to escape’. When I ask her if she loves make-up and whether her bathroom is a relaxing oasis, Rupa in all the seriousness says that she isn’t an overly ‘girly’ girl. One of her girlfriends gives her bathroom a make-over once a year and Rupa loves it, but sheepishly says that she wouldn’t do it all by herself. She also loves reading business books or books like ‘Beirut to Jerusalem ‘ or ‘Freakonomics ‘ and she….paints.
She stands up and points to the walls, behind and to the side of her, and shows me a six-part series that she painted/created after parting ways with Equinox gyms ( she actually bought a one-way ticket to Africa after that but her clients had other ideas on that account and the rest, as they say is history ). They are titled ‘See’, ‘Smile’, ‘Stuck’, ‘Sign’, ‘Struggle’ and ‘Sanctuary’. ‘See’ is all about being born and looking around, learning all about the unknown world that each one of us enters straight after the birth. ‘Smile’ relates to us getting bigger, becoming a toddler who is happy and inquisitive all the time. We then go on to become teenagers, a time when we all get a bit stuck, struggling to find our own voice, our own space under the sun, as Rupa says the stage where ‘ our heart and mind compete with each other ‘. ‘Sign’ signifies, forget the punn, the moment when you know or realise what you want to do in life. ‘Sanctuary’ is about focusing on your heart and your spirit. While I listen and look with amazement at those exquisite collages, I realise that people like Rupa don’t have just one talent but many of them, and because her heart is open to the world, her creativity flows and helps her to connect with people or rather, in Rupa’s own words ‘ if you are open, your life will change every day’.
p.s a few days go by, as I am thinking of my conversations with Rupa and transcribing my interview with her. She intrigued and inspired me with equal measure and the thought keeps on popping in my head how I should be focused more on finding people like Rupa, because people like her make a difference with their inner strength and beliefs, their joy and the smiles that they are willing to share, asking for nothing in return in our very materialistic times because they truly believe that they have something to offer to the world and the people that surround them.
I try her exercise podcasts and love her precise instructions and then one morning I hear my mail land on the mat with the thud and there is an brown bubble envelope, with the Rupa’s book cover on it, so I know it’s a parcel from New York. Inside I find two of her ‘Connect to your one ‘ books and realise that she has sent me a gift, as during the interview I expressed my frustration at not being able to get a paper copy of her book on Amazon. Now it lies in my hands and I ponder the fact that this incredible, multi-talented woman has a big heart that produces love with its every beat.
We so often say things to each other that we don’t mean, like ‘let’s have a play-date with the children’ or ‘I will call you, so we can organise a lunch date’ and those words remain just that, words that are never put into action and yet, life is full of surprises and sometimes people or things happen to us for a reason, so while many people discuss the issue of paper media becoming obsolete, I beg to differ. If I didn’t read the article about Rupa, her book and her work in American Vogue, I might have missed a great opportunity to have a meaningful discussion that led me to review things in my own life and start implementing some changes and for that, I am very grateful ! Rupa, I connect to you and my word is ‘Give’…..