Of Indian descent, I was born and raised in Paris, France. My indian grandmother chose my name at birth: in Sanskrit Joti means « light ». Because my indian family is Sikh, I also bear the traditional name « Kaur » which means « princess ».
My childhood was a strange mix of cultures. On the one hand there was the French culture, inherited from my father, and on the other, the Indian culture that I mostly experienced in London where my mother’s side of the family immigrated to in the late 50s.
I’m not going to lie, growing up as a franco-indian in France was exotic. Except perhaps when my childhood friends would taunt me by saying my family members ate eye-soup and monkey brains for dinner… (queue Indiana Jones music) I always felt that my Indian side was intriguing to a lot of people in the West, while my French side brought on much questioning in India: « Fraaaance? Atcha! Mummy indian? Papa Fraaanch? Atcha, why? »
In France, doctors prescribed tube after tube of cortisone to fight my recurring eczema, while in London my Indian grandmother chewed oats, spat them out and made little balls that she placed in the creases of my arms to alleviate irritations (as I sat there crying my eyes out thinking she was a witch…! God bless her)
My family is everywhere: in India, in Europe, in the US and even in the Emirates. I’m hardly familiar with the concept of Christmas dinners and family reunions. Until recently, I didn’t realize how much I’d suffered from this lack of family connection in my life. Even if I’m often told that I am lucky to not have a typical family, that I avoid many judgements and evenings spent arguing, what remains is a void that I have been trying to fill for most of my life by recreating that structure and support system around me.
(Oddly enough, my last name « Poirier » is also the name we French use to describe the headstand posture)
Yoga has been the best adapted tool in my quest for structure. It is truly the only thing that stabilizes me and helps me accept the world, people and most of all myself Indian or French. Yoga puts me in front of the fact that I belong to a whole: not just one culture, one country or one belief system. It’s the only discipline that has allowed me to accept that I am made of many different things: that I was raised a tat catholic, a bit jewish, and a dab sikh, and that at the end it didn’t really matter whether I believed in God or Hashem, as long as I believed in myself.
This void in my life, which has been a source of sadness and sometimes anger, has generated many physical problems: asthma, eczema, and allergies that no treatment has managed to alleviate in over 25 years. Only yoga has allowed me to understand the cause of these aches and remedy them with patience. Yoga is a constant battle, an infinite quest, a journey that lasts a whole lifetime if not more. It is a tool, a philosophy, a way of living that pushes us to face certain things, at times painfully, but thankfully often with a smile on our face.
I have been practicing yoga for over 13 years and have taught it for 6, but I remain a student first and foremost. I continue to learn and to practice for myself. I’m still terrified of snapping my spine in half while doing a drop-back (picture picking up your keys by doing a backbend…). I despise Kurmasana (the torTURE) but I still practice it because I know that what matters is the journey to the posture, not mastering it: those distressing moments when we are so far, so stiff, and so stuck that we tell ourselves that we’ll never make it and when we let our minds wander to catastrophic thoughts… I still have those moments often. But eventually, I manage to center myself back onto my breath (long enough to realize I am no longer breathing because my jaw is clenched so tight! ), I take a long and deep inhale and exhale hard, as though to chase away all these negative thoughts. And after a while, for a moment (at times quite brief), I surrender, and everything is alright.
Becoming a teacher didn’t hoist me up to the status of Guru or master. It allowed me to teach the discipline of yoga as I know and live it daily: a reminder to come back to the simple things such as breathing, positive thinking and calmness, that we all have a tendency to easily let slip out of our reach. For me, joy and happiness don’t lie in the achievement of a posture but in the journey, often annoying and riddled with doubt, that has led me there. This journey is ongoing and continuous, but in time, we acquire the tools to face the obstacles we are sure to run into on the way with much more serenity.
That’s what I teach. Because it’s also my own struggle. I may be a yoga teacher, I am a human being first and foremost.
My Indian side is proud to have found its place in teaching yoga because the practice is part of my cultural heritage; but my French side is still very much present, in the way I express myself without shame on certain issues (La Pensée Relou du Jour will be available in English shortly)
My annual trips to India are an exploration, a search and an adventure that I have chosen to do through the practice of yoga. It is something that I hope will help me better connect to my roots, and perhaps to seal my two sides, my two cultures, my two heritages, which is in fact the definition of yoga: to yolk, to unite. Because in my case, it’s not only about uniting mind and body by ways of the breath, but also uniting the French woman and the Indian woman, Punjab and Normandie, and to manage, through practice, to ease the struggle, and live this complex masala in complete harmony.