For Uma—Yoga, Ayurveda and Tantra were naturally integrated as a worshipful way of Indian life. Under the guidance of her Hindu elders, Uma pursued an inborn passion for ancestral traditions. In the classics Uma read as a child, the Sanskrit word “Yogi” was applied to rarified, divinized human beings on the fringe of society.
She grew up with legendary females as role models—Indian mystics such as Mirabhai and Savitri—whose strength of faith and devotion enabled them to attain the seemingly impossible. Uma was born in East Africa, free to venture into the forest bordering her home and privileged to commune with the Masai in the savannah surrounding family-owned safari lodges.
Uma’s first guides in the tradition of Yoga were her mother and her maternal grandfather from Gujarat, who is celebrated in Kenya as a “Freedom Fighter Extraordinary” and whose extended family compound is now a national monument. Pushing the edge by nature, Uma walked off the beaten track in her late teens to finally meet her secluded master in Bali—in the late 80’s—where she took initiation into a 14 year long Kundalini Tantra apprenticeship.
Uma returned to the West for a short spell where she confirmed her Kundalini experiences with scholarly sources, and where she pursued her studies in the tradition of Shaivism and the medicinal science of Ayurveda.
Uma is an Ayurvedic Practitioner with Diploma of Ayurvedic Sciences (D.A.Sc.) and an Ayurvedic Panchakarma Specialist certified in India. Uma is an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance (E-RYT-500; YACEP). A researcher of Kundalini Awakening, Uma is the Founder/Director of SATYA: Synergistic Alignment of Tantra, Yoga, and Ayurveda (RYT Yoga Training School). Uma is the Founder/Director of Aranya Ayurvedics and the Co-founder and former Director of Ayurveda at KUSH: The Ayurvedic Rejuvenation Center, Bali.
Why did you start practicing yoga?
As a child, I poured over the classic yoga teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. I knew well the tireless elation of chanting to the Lords of Yoga: Shiva and Krishna. I was enthralled by the play of in-dwelling love and grace. My aptitude for Bhakti Yoga was nurtured by my elders. I remember the yogic rites of communion just as much as I remember my grandfather’s daily practice of saluting the sun and standing on his head.
Yoga to me appeared to be something immense, glorious and powerful. So powerful, it seemed that I would never meet an actual Yogi in my lifetime. I reignited my fervour for liberation in the Siddha Yoga lineage as a teenager. Yoga Tantra blazed into focus once I met my master at 20 years of age.
Looking back, I do not remember a time when I felt totally bereft of meaningful guidance. Even in despair, I was made aware of a watchful, unconditioned presence. An irresistible force that lifted me to the surface when I attempted drowning in an ocean to escape fate. An incapacitating force that pressed me down to the valley floor, when I attempted to run away from the commitment I made to my spiritual process.
Intensive, daily and nightly Yoga Sadhana began in my twenties to train unremitting awareness of what’s real and what is illusory. Yoga Sadhana enabled me to not only apprehend pure consciousness, but to interact as a purified, conscious instrument of the very grace that has saved my life over and over again.
While my descriptions of interacting as an instrument of an innately intelligent force may sound foreign, occult and sacrilegious, they are integral to Indian Tantra which is an ancient and perennial way of being, a sanctioned path for illiterate and academics alike. Traditionally, the science of Yoga enables identification of the microcosm with the macrocosm, the individual with the universal. Yoga is engrained in the way a practicing Hindu plays, works, serves, and realises—whilst alive—original, infinite Selfhood.
What is your greatest achievement as a yoga teacher?
By living true to my real nature, embodying unity in diversity, I inspire others to do the same: to attain—sustainable, integrative commitment to one’s own fundamental nature.
It works. I see the fruit of practice in student’s conduct. I see the budding of healthy relations with one’s self, one’s family, one’s community and environment. I can hear unmanufactured intelligence in voice and verse as one’s body, speech and mind realign for the love of truth.
Who has been your greatest influence?
Even though we can be as different as day and night, my greatest influence has been my former master. I committed to a 12-year apprenticeship 30 years ago. I lived by his side for 14 years. He was the fiercely unbounded guru I dreamed I was destined to meet. He initiated me and one-pointedly trained me to penetrate the mysteries I had forgotten existed for real. He was intent on showing me what was possible beyond what I could cognise with limited sense perception. He was not for everybody, and he was perfect for me.
What is your yoga philosophy?
Aham Brahmasmi: “I am That”. I am Absolute”. I am the Immensity. “I am the Infinite Reality”. “I am the Ultimate”.
Shivoham: “I am Shiva.” “I am Pure Consciousness”.
Yad Bhavam Tat Bhavati: “As you worship so you become”.
My Yoga philosophy is no different from the philosophy of Yoga in the Indian Tantric tradition. Historically, philosophy is not separated from science in India. Therefore, the path to liberation has been laid, not by debated postulations alone, but by the tested, recorded results attained systematically through the experimentation of countless intrepid practitioners over thousands of years.
How has yoga changed your life?
Yoga Tantra has worked measurable miracles in my life. Without Yoga Tantra, I would most likely be dead, literally. Through my practice, I have come to know who I am both personally and trans-personally, why and how I have come to be. Yoga lead me to study Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the wellspring of all I could ever wish to know, in order to fall in love with my real life every day, in stabilised, expansive ways. Through recognition of the universal laws of correspondence made evident through Yoga Tantra and Ayurveda, I have developed utmost respect for the innate intelligence of mine and others elemental nature.
What is your greatest weakness? What are you doing to improve it?
Perhaps my greatest weakness is naivety. My tendency is to allow, forgive and let live. I am told that I am too accepting, easygoing and many have questioned me on why I don’t punish or take vengeance on people who have admittedly violated me. Unrealistic expectations have made me vulnerable to attack. I have had expectations that I am seen and heard just as I am, rather than as I am projected through filters to be.
It’s an expectation that I am presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is an expectation that I am free to be as viably far-ranging as I am by nature and supported all the more for it. Is this a weakness? It certainly has been when navigating Westernised cities and communities.
My work is to relax expectations and allow for anything, including allowing myself to not allow.
As a child, I was knowingly bequeathed my freedom of expression and I was cherished all the more for it. We had so much space in Kenya. And then of course there was the equator and the incredibly rich biodiversity running alongside it.
The tribespeople I bonded with taught me more about being human through silent tracking and harmonising with sovereign wild beasts in their natural habitat, than by going to school.
I have practiced rites that are sacred to the Indians, Balinese and Masai. Rites that are sacred for us, but illegal or despised in the West.
What is my weakness? I am intrigued by this question as when I sincerely attempt to evaluate myself in black and white terms such as weakness and strength and any linear relationship between both, I resist falling into line without question.
Is that a weakness? The resistance to be so pegged? I’m sure it can be perceived that way. But that resistance to being pigeon holed is a default setting and therefore an innate strength, being that my physiology is by nature qualitatively light, mobile, subtle, sensitive, mercurial and intense.
From the Ayurvedic perspective, actual weakness is the effect of degradation due to the dysregulation of certain biological factors, some of which are defined by those very same qualities of: light, mobile, subtle, erratic, dry, rough and cold.
For me, this means I tend to feel more easily weakened or more vulnerable to imbalance in cold, dry and agitated conditions, such as in an aeroplane for long periods of time, or overexposure to high-and-dry-minded moralists who preach what they don’t practice.
As I am thinking back, I realise I must have had this great weakness of expecting too much from a young age. Yes, one of my teachers reflected it.
The most impactful transmission I received in school was in that precise moment when he, my white teacher in khakis, bent his knee to crouch in front of my little brown person and say, “Life is not fair.”
Of course, he was a teacher of History. He would know all about fair and foul play. He pulled me up. Why? I imagine he saw me revolt. I was about 9 or 10. You see I had the expectation that justice prevails in all minds. I strongly felt that people of colour were entitled to the right to be different and to co-exist without being forced to deviate.
The ignorance and violation I witnessed around me in a post colonial country was insurmountable. Perhaps my teacher saw me on fire and put the flames down by saying something so very dampening and cold. “Life is not fair”.
Even though I was a child acting instinctively against stupidity, I put myself in danger. I regularly landed in trouble protecting children of colour from supremacist-minded whites. My grandfather and grandmother had also risked everything to fight for the emancipation of Kenyans from British rule.
Having spent about 40 of my over 51 years in Africa or Asia, I have been obliged to work harder to relax these expectations and become stronger in integrity, not weaker by homogenisation. This is a process of self-responsibility.
I am gratefully taking on the full responsibility for uncovering and respectfully clarifying the nature of my current position on matters of shared interest, so that people who willingly engage with me can do so more responsibly.
What types of yoga do you have the most experience instructing?
Kundalini Tantra Yoga
Hatha Yoga in the Tantric tradition
How do you stay up to date in the yoga industry?
The industrialisation of Yoga used to be a foreign concept to me, until I embraced the inevitable. I do not stay abreast of unchecked derivations. I remain positive, however, that behind most spin offs, is a sincere desire to share what works for the innovators to transform lives for the better in some way, shape or form.
Once anyone is coordinating conscious breath with measured movement, there will be a neural synchronisation leading to greater balance, calm and clarity. Yoga asana in that way is its own methodology of human optimisation, no matter how you mix it up.
When I first arrived in America, having practiced Yoga in the Tantric tradition in nature for 14 years, I did not recognise and relate to the sequencing I saw in studios and fitness centres as Yoga. Conversely, it was challenging for most Americans to relate to me in significant, extendable conversations.
After being admitted to a hospital within the first few weeks of arrival—in shock, choking dangerously, unable to talk—I realised that I would have to relearn how to think, speak and act in a world so utterly far removed from home. I decided to train in the Yoga du jour, so I could discern and resolve the polarities, and adapt in unexpected conditions until I went back to Bali.
What is your greatest strength? How has it helped you be more effective?
My greatest strength is faith in myself. Faith moves mountains as it has been said. Faith is the basis for my experimentation in integral adaptation.
What do you feel is the most important skill a yoga teacher should possess?
The most important capacity a Yoga teacher should develop, in my opinion, is self-awareness. Such presence of mind transmits wholeness of being, without even having to speak or move.
How important is meditation to your yoga practice?
The ability to train self-possessed one-pointedness is instrumental to the attainment of Yoga: stabilized identification or oneness with the Immensity. Yoga Sadhana is the effortful surrender that leads organically to a meditative state of being that, if uninterrupted for long enough, will lead itself to viable presence as a constant.
What have you done in the past year to improve yourself?
The more I discover about the elemental, ancestral, historical, cultural, transpersonal, archetypal, universal, multiversal aspects that compose my particular nature, the more I am able to healthily fulfill my purpose for being here at all, in this form.
As a health practitioner, I am intrigued with the human psyche, studying to further understand the proclivities of the programmed mind and survival mechanisms in the context of spiritual emergence.
How do you handle stress and pressure?
I have been trained to perform skillfully under pressure. Whether competitive athletics as a youth, or with my tantric master, I learned to ally with the force of pressure. Pressure can paradoxically heighten and hone my senses. A switch is thrown in my mind. The moment comes into sharper focus. If the pressure is on, I don’t fight it. I invite it. If it dominates me and takes me down, I allow the weight of reality to compress me into adamantine awareness of infinitude.
Even as pressure closes me in, I swell all the way up to the banks. I relish the feeling of limits, knowing that they serve to define the particular expression that will thrive, in terms of volume, velocity, temperature, colour and tone. To handle foreseeable stress and even as it rises, I re-arrange my day to safely allow for the feeling and expression of restlessness and agitation. If I make room for the build up and bubble over of excess stress, it works itself out of my body. Like an animal, I may pace, snarl, curl up, self-regulate with unsuppressed vocals and bared fangs.
Like an infant, I may need warm, wholesome, sweet fluids, softness, smoothness, warmth, rocking, lullaby and frictionless caress. As an Ayurvedic practitioner I know how self-administered and professional massage with warmed, medicated oil can work to soothe, nutrify and protect frayed nerves. And how long and circular strokes can dissolve the holding patterns of repetitive stress, allowing trapped energy to flow and consistently pervade.
I attain a great deal by doing less: the bare minimum. Planning for the bare minimum as a general lifestyle philosophy for me, serves to prevent “hurry sickness”, mental clutter and the unnecessary stress of keeping track of loose ends and untying knots. In a sense I ally with the force of stress just as I would with pressure. I want to work with my stress feeling, not against it.
Stress is my body signaling for specialized attention. If I can dissect to the root cause of my stress and explore what feeds into its somatization, I can better prevent it from re-occurring, by declining the original causes of disturbance, as much as possible. In the throes of stress, I will instinctively use my mouth as a pressure valve, and my throat center as the purificatory complex it is, according to the Yogic system.
I also practice relaxing my nervous system by relaxing my anus, which is another pressure valve so to speak. If I am relaxing both my anus and my vocal chords, I am an open-ended chamber, like an instrument, not an implosive pressure chamber. As an instrument, I give voice to the internal phenomenon of stress. I can better circulate and transmute the energies of stress, by liberating them, in a purpose-built environment of course, like my sanctuary, or in the wilds of nature.