With Mini Shastri
You know how when you were growing up, there were some women you saw, and you wanted to be them. Like that time when Mini Shastri walked into one of our pop-ups, on a sweltering summer day, the coolest girl in the room in a wispy Pero sari. She holds herself effortlessly, leaving an impression of lightness. Just as she moves on the mat, lightness bolstered by what can only be profound strength. Mini is a Yoga teacher, practicing and teaching out of her Delhi studio, Om Yogashala. And as she recounts how she came to Yoga, you can’t help but feel as if her life has indeed been a series of events leading her up to here.
For Mini, Yoga is a complete way of living, in conjunction with her belief in the principles of Ayurveda, or her study of ancient texts. With this holistic take on fitness and wellness, she also consults for Paro Good Earth where her appreciation of traditionalist practices and crafts helps her decode wellness as luxury. She values timelessness, and seeks out forever pieces - descriptives that we too are always trying to honour in our work.
Natasha: Why don't you tell me a little bit about your career and how you got here?
Mini: I danced Kathak from the age of 6, because that was what we were meant to do, to please mummy. But I didn’t like the way it was given. Strict was the norm for traditional teachers, and that put me off, I’d think of ways and places to hide. But my love for dance never stopped, and when I was older l told my mother that I needed to experiment. The Delhi School of Music had professional dancers who’d come from places like Brazil and Venezuela to teach and to learn Indian classical dance, and in exchange they’d teach forms like Ballet and Jazz. My God, my teacher there, Veronica, was pivotal in my understanding of fitness, health, dance, expression, meditation, and attention. I fell in love with how she celebrated every form. Every expression of dance was an expression of attention from within, there was an aspect of deep attention and awareness that I didn't know existed in physical expression. I was blown away.
Growing up in a Peshwari family – my grandparents came to India during the Partition from Quetta – meat was food staple, there wasn’t a meal without it. I didn’t have a day where I didn't eat liver or kebabs. The tandoor was always on in my grandmother's house. And here I was getting all that in my tissues, trying to stretch, it was the most painful thing ever. So, I understood that there was dance, and then there was fitness, and there was flexibility and then there was your diet. And the combination of everything that you were, that was dance, an art form from inside. The stretching made me a little more aware of the food that didn’t serve me. I started to eat food that served me, unconsciously. And that was when the seed of Yoga was born.
I remember my parents going on Sundays for Shatkarmas, like the cleaning of the esophagus, where you're drinking copious amounts of salt water and throwing it up. And I’d think that Yoga was the worst thing ever, like why do people even do things like that! I didn't realize that Yoga was that and everything I loved about dance and the mind. All three things that I loved came together in my first class because I started to fall in love with philosophy.
My life in my first marriage was fast paced, there was so much fun and drama and movement and travel and events and guests. We were zipping here and there across the globe. I needed to find something that grounded me. I didn't want to live a life that was so much, so mobile and transient and every day directionless. Whatever the day would present to you, you would head that way. So, it was beautiful and at the age of 25 I couldn't pinpoint what was missing when everything was in such excess. Someone told me about Geeta classes at the Ramana Kendra. Quietly, I’d take my notebook and the teacher would make you do three verses a day. He would come from the south for six months, the hall full of women in perfectly starched saris and buns with grey. It was all 50 and above and I’d rush in, this young girl. Geeta talks about the divinity and the excellence within you and how to empower yourself in that excellence that resides within you. And I found what I was looking for, what was missing in my life. My diary is one of my most prized belongings.
Parallelly I was a member of a health club and I loved lifting weights. Even now I feel women ought to have strength, that’s the big component of exercise that's missing in what I see women doing to lose weight. Yoga celebrates strength like very few other modalities of fitness because we use our own body weight and then our own body weight becomes ends up becoming ends up becoming the resistance. So, when I went to my first yoga class – after doing 10 years of weights six days a week – I never went back to the gym. I found everything I needed there. I found the Geeta there, the dance, the gym, in that one Yoga class. All three came together then. And I've been teaching since.
NK: So, your style, I mean I always see you wearing gorgeous saris for example, how would you describe it? What are the things you you're attracted to?
MS: As much come as I love the simplicity of life with Yoga, I also admire and love craft. I love handiwork, I love fine work and I really admire artisanal skills. I love buying old, old, jaali shawls, old filigree work or old Art Deco kundans. And I’ve realised, the pieces that I bought years ago, I still love them for their traditional work. Even the home I made is a lot of old and new. As much as I love all our furniture designers, I only wanted a few pieces. I've always liked an old Goa chest or Silhanese brass work on a wooden chest, or an old Phulkari. And similarly, the jewellery I wear is old and new. I celebrate our artisanal skill in everything.
Which is why for my consultancy with Paro Good Earth, the idea of ancient wisdom and craft and the luxury of it, I so aligned with it. Because so is Yoga and Ayurveda such a sophisticated combination of understanding the human mind, so subtle and so potent.
So, I feel like my style is timeless. I always bought slowly, never in a rush. But what I did buy, I still like. Every year it comes out. I don’t have a piece of jewellery, or clothes that are out of fashion and I'm so proud of that because nothing is wasted.
Even the shawls that I bought are just something that the next generation would admire because those skills are going. Or the terrazzo flooring that I used in my home is an old art. The same thing applies to the pieces that I have admired and acquired or bought.
NK: Going back to jewellery itself, do you remember that first time when you felt attracted to jewellery?
MS: My parents moved from Quetta to Calcutta. Some of the pieces I saw my mother wear as a child had very fine gold filigree work, very fine. She was a tall lady and she wore these large umbrella-shaped earrings, like literally they were like chattris, with very fine filigree and tiny little bells at the bottom in gold. And she would wear it with a sari, and that's all she had to wear.
That impact of earrings, to a dress, to an outfit, or a sari impressed upon me and, even now, when I teach in my yoga center, or I teach online, I'll run back because I've forgotten to wear an earring. So, if I have to dress up, to me, it’s an earring. Like your earrings, they’re very Zen – clean and powerful. It's like less is more with your earrings.
I have these five pieces, that are in my little gold box in my dresser. And the only thing two things I do when I go to yoga center is curl my lashes and wear earrings. That’s it. I would never forget to do these two. I think earrings really dress up a face and pull an outfit together. And even like a simple dot, a simple hoop.
But I love, I love , jewellery. I love costume jewellery, I love restringing things. Some of the old beads, they used to be made like gold hexagons, I don't see them anymore. So when I saw my mother-in-law take out this very old piece with hexagon gold beads, I said “Yes Yes, I want this”. All the pieces she thought I wouldn't like are the ones I took from her. I didn't care for the big heavy things. All these old pieces are the ones I treasure most.
NK: What was the first time you made your own independent purchase?
MS: It was an eternity band, a simple band with diamonds. I wear it on my ring finger. I take my wedding ring off because it comes in the way of practicing and binding and adjusting people. I always keep this band on. I bought when I started working, early on, in the first year of college. My mother semi-paid for it, she said buy it, and that she’d cover what I couldn’t pay. I lost that one, and then I replaced it. Can you imagine I wear exactly the same thing 30 years later?
I have the same thing in hoops, in two sizes. The smaller ones I gifted to my daughter who's now 25, She lives in New York, so she likes simple stuff, a singular piece of jewellery that she can wear to work. Then I started wearing the slightly larger ones.
NK: So what do you wear on an everyday?
MS: I have a tiny emerald with a little kundan dot on it. A friend gifted it to me when I had my second daughter. I wear that, and just two or three slightly hanging earrings – I don't wear studs anymore. Slightly hanging earrings, they just hold my face, I feel instantly dressed up. And my ring. All the other rings I take out, I only wear them if I'm meeting friends.
When I met my second husband, and he said, let's go choose a wedding ring, I picked a ring like a band again. It’s a platinum Bulgari ring which has the floating ring inside it, like a wide band and the inside circle swivels. It’s a classic, the B.Zero1 ring. I’m not big on big diamonds.
NK: And what calls to you when you’re buying jewellery?
MS: I think that it's versatility, it's timelessness, and not necessarily bling, but a classic design. Like I have these broad hoops, with nice-sized rubies set with a border of diamonds. Or once I found in Jaipur hoops in navy meena, and I’ve never seen meena on a hoop. These pieces are so versatile because I can wear them with the white shirt, and I can wear it with a sari.
NK: And your purchases – are they more pleasure-seeking, or more value-driven?
MS: Workmanship is of utmost importance to me and for good, clean workmanship, I feel like there is a price and I'm okay with that. Good craft has value like nothing else and that value will only grow because that craftsperson or that artist will not necessarily be able to pass on their skill. It's just something that he has. Or it's the eye of the designer who commissioned it to him. For example, your pieces and their clean detail. It's one of those things you want to acquire, because each time you look at it, there's something lovely about the finish, no?
Photography Kirti Virmani