Rajen Palsingh, yogi and owner of SKY Yoga, shares how he found his calling.
By Shruti Kothari
There is a palpable warmth in the air the moment I step inside Rajen Palsingh’s home studio; it is clear why his students, from eight to over 60 years old, would feel centred in this space. As we work through a Kundalini Yoga class incorporating chanting, posing and breathing exercises, I feel energetic and uplifted. When he plays the gong and allows the vibrations to wash over us, I am imbued with a sense of connection to those around me. My preconceptions of yoga are challenged, and I sit down with Raj to learn more about the experience he has led me through, and how he came to be the yogi he is today.
Where does the story start? Tell us about your childhood.
I was born and raised in Bangkok, in a building where almost every unit belonged to family and friends. There were so many children, and it was wonderful to grow up with such a sense of community. After attending Trail International School and Bangkok Adventist International School (both before they got accredited), I graduated from Ruamrudee International School in 1997. I then achieved my BBA in International Business and Finance at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
I worked as a teacher at the Miami Beach High School, but after 9/11 occurred, the state of Florida decided to no longer sponsor work visas for foreigners, so I came home midway through the school year. I joined my family business shortly after, and continued working there up until October of last year.
When was the first time you practiced yoga?
I had been doing yoga at the Capitol Club since 2002 to stretch my muscles, as I used to gym back then. In 2009, my friends and I decided to play football on some concrete at the back end of Soi 39. During the game, I got tackled and fell on my back. From the next day, I had shooting pains down my spine all the way to my feet. I saw doctors to no avail; that is when I truly started doing yoga. My back begun to strengthen via the various spinal flexes and sciatic nerve stretches I did. I now have the same flexibility in my spine as in my early 20s.
While I healed, I felt inspired to try many different types of yoga at various places. This resulted in me trying Kundalini Yoga, which was initially an outwardly weird experience, but I felt moved to explore further, and it has been the best decision I’ve ever made. Probably after my 10th session, I realised that I was getting very connected to the Great Spirit that is ever-present around us. I felt a deep gratitude for life I had never felt before. It also removed a lot of desires I thought I wanted in life, like cars and watches.
Why did you decide to open a home studio?
I held my first classes at my home, where mainly friends and some family came to learn. Then I led the Bangkok Farmer’s Market yoga division at K-Village for a couple of years. When that option became unavailable, we started to hold classes at the park, but it was difficult for people to focus on the practice, as there were too many distractions. There had to be a closed space, another dilemma, since space means fixed cost. How does a model that is based on donations pay for fixed costs? After my wife and I visited my teacher, Dr. Ajit Singh, in Chandigarh, we decided to mimic his method and open up our home. It’s ironic that I’m back to teaching in the same place I started this journey eight years ago! Our space is welcoming and grounding.
Tell us more about this donation-based system?
Early on, I made a commitment to myself that I would teach Kundalini Yoga without ever charging people for it, but if someone teaches you for free, then you inexplicably owe them something. I don’t want anyone to feel that way, so I charge by donation. Once there is a transaction, then the teachings themselves become your teacher, not the person. I learned this system from my main teachers, Dr. Ajit Singh, George Craig McMillan, Sukhmandir Singh and Rajveer Singh of Chayo Studio in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
Are these donations all monetary?
When they are, I always give half to a different charity each month, and the other half goes towards my continued training; it is not for profit. However, donations in kind have brought some very interesting thanks over the years, like Reiki healing, massages, Shamanistic experiences, tango concerts, restaurant meals, and hotel stays. There is an older lady in my own building who once made a generous donation because I was able to help her back. I had a backpacker who couldn’t afford most yoga and meditation places, but here she gave what she could and was able to hit the reset button in her life. I take pride in all of this. I have never had to turn anyone away who is looking for what the practice of meditation and yoga can do.
Is this a sustainable model?
I left the family business to pursue this weird, impractical calling. I cannot do what I do without the support of my wife, my father, my mother and my grandparents. I have a child I am raising who goes to an international school. The costs of these schools, as you know, are equal to or greater than buying a car every year. If not for this encouragement and support, this would be impossible. I have so much gratitude for my family, without whom I am literally nothing.
Does your family practice yoga as well?
My wife joins me in doing morning practice. If, for whatever reason, I cannot wake up, she does; and vice versa. When you have a life partner you can share your best with, it brightens every dynamic.
Your home studio is beautiful. What is the philosophy behind it?
SKY Yoga gets its name from two things. One is the view from 43 floors up. Really though, SKY is an acronym for School of Kundalini Yoga. It is meant to be a calming place where any individual can come in and feel centered. Bangkok is a chaotic city, and SKY Yoga is serenity amidst that chaos. It is a space to pause and reflect. See, with Kundalini Yoga, you are taught methods to take care of yourself, to heal yourself, and to connect with yourself, especially with your racing mind.
How do you define yoga?
Yoga is not a bunch of exercises, stretches, or even breathing and chanting. Yoga is at its heart devotional. It is Bhakti, it is a sense of self that understands it has all the qualities of the divine. One can be a yogi without having done a single asana. The Sikh Gurus, or Buddha, are ultimate yogis. There is no record of them having taught people asanas or leading people in the downward dog pose. This is important to know.
I have friends who I consider yogis. They keep themselves fit, take time to help others, and have a strong sense of spirituality. They may find it funny that I call them yogis in my mind, but that is exactly what they practice and who they are, per the definition of yoga. Guru Nanak taught that the true way of Yoga is found in those who enshrine truth within (Ang 223). I take a lot of pride in bringing Gurmantras to those who would never be normally exposed to them.
As an instructor, what do you most hope your students take away from your classes? If someone feels centered and connected to themselves, then I have done what I set out to do. I met many of my students at Wonderfruit, where I have taught for the past three years. I have great admiration for them—they are healers music producers, artists, or people from the UN World Food Programme, who do a lot of good in this world.