Anika Rabbani: Empowering Wellness through Yoganika

Anika Rabbani, a yoga instructor and founder of Yoganika, has created a calm space for self-discovery and well-being through Yoganika in the bustling cityscape of Dhaka, where the rhythm of life can feel fast-paced and demanding. She has become a source of peace, bringing people on a transformative journey toward bodily and mental harmony. She discovered the significant impact of yoga on her own life after training in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at the original school in Mysore with Sharath Jois. She set out on a mission to make yoga accessible to the community, motivated to share the transforming benefits with others. During an exclusive conversation with Tinds, Anika shared her journey of coming this far and developing a successful business.

TINDS: Tell us a little about your childhood. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Anika: I was born in Dhaka. I grew up partly in Bakshi Bazar in Old Dhaka and partly in Beniapukur and Ballygunge in Kolkata, India, because my mother (a single mother) is from there. Growing up, I had a lot of cousins around because we lived in a joint family. I was a shy, timid, and quiet child who loved art, nature, and animals. I started doing yoga at the very young age of fourteen because I had fractured my spine and tailbone. 

TINDS: What three words do you think describe you the best?

Anika: Rebellious, Confident & Artistic.

TINDS: Yoga is so much more than just exercise and meditation; it is a lifestyle. Tell us about how you got into the discipline.

Anika: It’s a discipline that I have built up over time. I used to work for the development sector and have had the opportunity to work with several international NGOs. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Literature and a Master’s in Development Studies. There’s a saying like, “You don’t do yoga – the yoga does you,” which is so true on many levels. 

Once you enter the discipline, you would not feel comfortable skipping it, even for a day. If you do any movement, the whole idea here is not just yoga; it’s any kind of movement. It makes a massive difference to your day. It instantly changes your mood, and you have this energy boost. You would have endorphins released in your system and that hit of serotonin. Then, even if your vibe is low you start to feel like, hey, no, I can find a way out of this. That’s the fantastic thing. I have somewhat militant discipline, I think. And it’s something that I’ve done with myself over the years very lovingly. Wake up, go to bed, eat on time, and have a structure. I plan my day in my journal and structure my time usefully.

TINDS: One must have a mentor to be very efficient and effective while doing yoga. Who has been yours?

Anika: I’ve had a lot of yoga teachers along the line. I’ve trained with one of the most famous yoga teachers in the world at a school called Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Institute of Ashtanga Yoga and was the only Bangladeshi there. Celebrities like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow etc have attended there. Anyone who does Ashtanga Yoga goes to that school at some point in their lives or aims to. But for me, my teacher is David Garrigues, Ashtanga School Pennsylvania, and I’ve studied with him for ten years. He’s my Guru because I feel like we have a connection. He’s deeply empathetic and understands human conditions and situations. I also was born into the Sufi faith and am mureed to my pir the great Sufi saint Syed Shah Rashad Ali Alquaderi from the Quaderia Silsila. My non-dogmatic faith in the divine runs very deep and helps me find strength during times of trouble. I am always grateful for these powerful teachers.

Empowering Wellness: Anika Rabbani, Founder of Yoganika

TINDS: How’d you injure yourself when you were a kid?

Anika: I shattered my spine in the tailbone area in several places, and it was a very bad injury. I couldn’t walk for six months and had to go to school and sit in a special chair. It was very embarrassing, and being only 14 and a self-conscious adolescent – you don’t want to be like that kid in class. I have always been blessed with amazing friends and they never made me feel any different.

TINDS: When did you fall in love with yoga?

Anika: I think from the very first moment. I fell in love with the teacher first. Her name is Fouzia Mansoor, she is currently living in the US. When I went in, I saw her smiling at the students, looking positive and encouraging everyone. I fell in love with the art of breathing attentively. There’s something about yoga that’s deeply soothing and nurturing when you’re doing it. Even if you know how to breathe properly, it helps because breathing properly is an art form. We do it constantly, but we don’t know how to do it, and we get stressed out breathing. 

TINDS: When and how did you decide to let people in on what you have learned along the way?

Anika: I worked in the development sector for a decade. It was around 2008 when I was working for CARE Bangladesh as a Communications Specialist. My boss then was really into yoga, and we would often have conversations, which one day led to her asking me to teach the female staff in the office yoga after work on Mondays and Wednesdays, and that’s when it started. That went on for a while, and then I started teaching at the Nordic Club, where I taught yoga for the longest time without having any formal training. After two or three years of doing this, I decided to get formal education regarding yoga and went ahead and got certified.

Empowering Wellness: Anika Rabbani, Founder of Yoganika

TINDS: You’ve collaborated with several brands. If you had to name one you loved working with, which would that be?

Anika: I loved working with Lux Unilever. I love that advertisement because it featured five very strong, powerful women who are very different from each other.

TINDS: When did you start Yoganika?

Anika: Yoganika started in 2012 when my daughter was just three months old. Right before she was born, I was working for a company called Chemonics International as a Consultant specializing in Strategic Partnerships. After my contract ended, I was very bored sitting at home because I have always been used to working. When my daughter turned seven months old, that’s when I started working again this time for UNWFP – additionally teaching yoga on weekends. Movement is very necessary after pregnancy, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly starting over.

TINDS: You’ve been overseas and are now in Bangladesh. How would you compare the scenario of people being interested in yoga?

Anika: The interest in fitness in general is growing. It’s an upcoming business and industry, and it’s already here. We tend to follow the West regarding almost everything, but yoga originated from our part of the world. It originated from the Indus Valley civilization. Time to reclaim some of that and reintegrate it into our world and philosophy. Colonization robbed us of many assets and the British dismissed the existence of yoga and Ayurveda back then. We can bring it back. 

Empowering Wellness: Anika Rabbani, Founder of Yoganika
Empowering Wellness: Anika Rabbani, Founder of Yoganika

TINDS: Which age range of people do you usually find who shows up to your classes/workshops?

Anika: Yoganika is a space for women only. I have students of various ages. I have people who are in their 60s, and I have even had someone who is 75! Until recently, I have had young girls who are in their teens show up. I also teach kids sometimes; that’s my favorite class. I hope everyone understands that age has nothing to do with exercise or yoga. The body of a woman in her 60s can be just as efficient and powerful as that of one in her 20s. It’s a matter of how well you’ve oiled your machine figuratively speaking. I also love to teach yoga for free at orphanages, charity schools, and street kids. People who normally would have no access to a studio or class. I encourage other yoga and wellness teachers reading this article to do the same as part of their karma yoga practice.

TINDS: What would you be if not a yoga instructor or a health coach?

Anika: I may have been a lawyer because I’m argumentative, strategic, and analytical. Or maybe a poet, who knows? I love reading and writing. I love poetry, enjoy writing for myself, and have written several informative yoga articles. I have had a very interesting life and see myself writing a book someday.

Empowering Wellness: Anika Rabbani, Founder of Yoganika
Empowering Wellness: Anika Rabbani, Founder of Yoganika

TINDS: Coming this far, what would you say you’ve had to struggle with?

Anika: Understanding and communicating with people especially women who are catering to the patriarchy. I have given up trying to break bread with most men. Why is it so hard to just get along, respect, and love others? I get perceived as being a misfit and a rebel – when in reality I am just a person with a mind of her own and gallons of self-worth. I talk too much and have too many ideas (or tattoos). Women are judged harshly in this part of the world even if they sneeze! I try not to alienate others however it takes a lot of energy and I am not one for people-pleasing. So you can imagine lol. 

People in general, especially in Dhaka, are not helpful. The world I grew up in is gone. Old families like ours and neighborhoods like the ones I grew up in are gone. It’s a whole new world out here, the morals, traditions, values, and ethics have changed altogether and everything has become highly fleeting and capitalistic. I have been raised with socialist values and still adhere to them. If there were no rich or poor, if everyone was equal most of our problems would disappear – sadly this is not the case. 

Many appreciate me for who I am, but what will they do for me beyond appreciation? I might be the most idealistic person trying to look out for others, yet the very people I have helped would forget me in a heartbeat. This is the nature of the world it seems although it should not be so. I guess I see the world through rose-tinted glasses. This is my Achilles heel. I was a child of four, growing up in a family torn apart by the war and my parent’s divorce, my father’s alcoholism, getting along with a huge brood of step-siblings, and watching my mother strike out as a powerful female warrior role model who stood up for herself y taught me the importance of not caring what others think but instead amazingly caring for yourself, building yourself up, self-reliance, and believe me nothing beats being courageous and independent. I have plenty of both. I also have a whole lot of love in my heart and I know this is the journey I have to undertake – difficult as it may be. I know God is there to light my way if not make the path easier.

Empowering Wellness: Anika Rabbani, Founder of Yoganika
Empowering Wellness: Anika Rabbani, Founder of Yoganika

TINDS: What would you like to say to our audience that might encourage them to have a healthier lifestyle?

Anika: Value yourself, look after yourself, and treat yourself the way you would treat somebody that you admire or respect. Do it all for yourself and notice everyone around you prioritize you and do the same in return. Have healthy and high self-esteem, cultivate it if you are not currently in possession of it. Fake it till you make it I say! Never treat people any differently based on their socioeconomic status. Care for all living beings. Your body is your temple, and it is not going to last forever, so take care of yourself – your machinery which is your ammo At the end of the day it is our health that is everything. Who cares if someone loves you or not? Wants you or not? Sticks a knife in your heart or not? You are enough. Know this. Carry this power with you wherever you go. 

TINDS: What are your plans for the future?

Anika: I plan to expand my business. Yoganika is going to grow a whole lot bigger and for this, I actively seek corporate sponsors. As a certified health coach specializing in autoimmune diseases, I have a vision of starting a food business. As an empowerment coach I wish to speak to and inspire women to break traditional mindsets and social stigma and reclaim their power to become the leaders they were born to be. I want to highlight my facial yoga classes and teach yoga as a path to building strength and cultivating self-acceptance no matter what the odds may be. I want to extend and expand yet at the heart of it, I will always be a yoga teacher because it’s my heart’s calling. It’s the one thing that uplifted and saved me from my darkness. We all have darkness, and we all have light. The option is to select which one you’re going to go with. Everybody comes with their own set of baggage or their trauma along with their set of unique gifts. There is nobody in the world who’s like you; you are a masterpiece on your own, and a child of God – the universe has your back. Know it, be empowered by that knowledge acknowledge it, and nurture your gifts to the fullest. Live only as the highest version of yourself.

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