One evening recently, a group of yoga enthusiasts met at a studio in downtown Toronto for a session that married the tradition to the backbeat of tracks like Kolaveri Di and Jai Ho.
If yoga and Bollywood are the two most successful cultural exports from India, Indo-Canadian Ashima Suri has harmonised them into a form that she calls “Bolly Yoga” and this particular class was devoted to that.
Suri described this still-evolving form of yoga as “an interactive workshop that combines Indian dance and yoga therapy. Bolly Yoga is all about connection and community. In this dance yoga form, we create a safe and healing space where participants can tune in and let go of what is no longer needed.”
It brings together her passions – she is a formally trained Bharat Natyam dancer and a certified yoga teacher who also enjoys bhangra.
Watch | Ashima Suri’s Bolly Yoga, which combines Indian dance and yoga therapy.
Suri, who was born in Britain and has roots in Delhi and Kanpur, originally got the idea from her yoga teacher Emerson Lim of Karma Teachers, who told her last year he could see her doing Bolly Yoga. Her initial response was: “Really?”
Soon, though, it was a concept that appealed to her: “It started to take off very fast, I got a lot of event opportunities to present this to big crowds and in yoga studios. As we continue to develop on it, it evolves more. It can be festive or it can be like a healing circle,” she said.
While still recent, Bolly Yoga has already featured at events in the Toronto area, including the Festival of South Asia at Gerrard Street, also known as Little India; and another organised by the Mississauga Arts Council.
“We really wanted to bring in the fun of Bollywood, just light, let loose, express yourself without it being so serious and choreographed,” she said.
Ashima Suri (left) at a Bolly Yoga demo in Toronto. (Courtesy Ashima Suri)
So, over-the-top emoting as in Bollywood films is used, for instance, to work the facial muscles, and mudras from classical dance and a touch of bhangra can be brought in for upbeat exercises.
The music she selects includes her favourites from Amitabh Bachchan films of the 1980s and the Sri Devi‘s Lamhe, while also featuring numbers like Kala Chashma to appeal to a younger crowd. More contemplative songs go with lessons that are about mindfulness. Live drumming too has been incorporated into the routine.
About a decade ago, Suri, 39, founded her own company Limitless Productions, which blends Indian classical dance with contemporary ballet, and extended that to another venture, I Am Limitless, focussed “more on the holistic end of healing and workshopping.”
She also teaches yoga for diabetes prevention and mental health and has worked as a pre-natal and post-natal yoga instructor.
Suri in a promotional poster for Bolly Yoga. (Courtesy Ashima Suri)
Suri began her yoga journey almost a quarter century back, as she said: “Yoga’s always been my go-to whenever there’s been a period of my life with any type of transition. I actually started yoga in Abu Dhabi when I was 15 years old and it was a period when I just moved from Toronto and it was a bit of a rocky period. Yoga allowed me to go within and find a spot that felt grounded.”
But in this latest period of her life, she has created a form of it that adds a dash of celebration to the holistic discipline.