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‘Yoga in the US needs more authenticity and people of color’

–Suni Gargaro, the founder and CEO of Sunia Yoga

Suni Gargaro sells yoga clothes, mats and other accessories. being of Indian origin in the yoga industry in the US means her business, Sunia Yoga, is more than what she sells — it is about representing the Indian cultural heritage of yoga.

Gargaro told CNBC, “Our company is a mission- and purpose-driven brand, where we are trying to get people on the yoga mat and go deeper with their practice.”

Now in her 40s, Gargaro moved with her family from Kerala to Des Moines, Iowa, when she was 10. As a kid in India, she had learnt Bharatanatyam, which she describes as a “dance form” of yoga. So in her late 20s, she started practicing yoga.

After a tour through corporate life, working as a business systems analyst at a wireless services company, she met her now husband, who introduced the idea of being an entrepreneur.

“It took me five years, but I truly was doing yoga the whole entire time,” she says. “One day, it just clicked, I said, ‘I love retail, I love fashion. I love yoga, I put them all together.’”

In 2018, Gargaro launched Sunia Yoga with yoga wear featuring unique patterns that connected with the Eastern mentality, she says.

Outside of a few exceptions, Gargaro says many yoga studios and teachers today aren’t aware of the whole of yoga. Yoga is about union of the mind and body, she says, and in particular, many miss the mindfulness. Instead, American teachers and studios tend to push complicated postures or fast-moving flow series. If they do chant, often the teachers don’t know the meaning of the words they are saying.

“I practice Hatha Yoga, and it’s very calm, and it’s very holding your postures and then realizing your mind, you’re breathing, you’re connecting your breath with your mind and your movement. When you’re doing flows, I don’t feel like you’re doing that,” Gargaro says.

She would like to see a greater effort in yoga teachers understanding and honoring the cultural roots of yoga.

“I really feel the authenticity and the essence is gone. And I also feel the spiritual part of it is gone. And that’s one of the main reasons that Indians in the community are not happy because of the mindfulness part of it and the spirituality aspect of it,” she says.

Going forward, she would like to see more diversity in the yoga community: more people of color and Indians.

Gargaro says the Indians who do teach yoga are often struggling and feel like they’re not being given a fair chance, “because a lot of the white people are going to go to the white instructor,” Gargaro says. “They just want to be heard more.”

Gargaro knows that Western yoga teachers aren’t necessarily aware of what’s missing.

“I don’t want to be critical,” she says. “I know everybody has their good intentions.”


Photo and story courtesy CNBC

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