TikTok Creator Series: An Interview with Nish about Yoga and Spirituality
Whether you are new to yoga, or have been practicing for decades, there is always something to learn. A new perspective, new information, or simply new poses - we are forever students of the practice, and that's all part of the journey.
Nishanth Selvalingam, on TikTok as @Nishthef1sh has been sharing content on the platform about yoga, meditation, and spirituality since June 2020. But it's not your average yoga account. Far from it, actually. Nish has been digging deeper into the topic, and sharing the beautiful history and philosophy behind the practice - a significant and important change to what we have been consuming on social media of late.
His content is refreshing, and incredibly important, and it's not going unnoticed. Not even on a platform typically known for lip-syncing and trending dances. In fact, his TikTok account has created an amazing community of over 18,000 followers on the platform, and is growing daily.
I had the chance to get to interview Nish, and I am so pleased to share with you our Q&A. He answers some important questions about keeping a consistent practice, starting on your meditation journey and more.
Chelsea: Let's start by getting to know more about you! We would love to hear more about how you got started, what you do, where you are based etc.
Nish: I was very fortunate in that I was born to a family of yogis. My grandfather was a devoted practitioner who set up an ashram (a place of spiritual learning) right next to our family home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My family emigrated to Malaysia from South India before I was born. When I was very little, my grandfather would sit me down and have me memorize the various yogic scriptures, since it’s an oral tradition as you know. While I didn’t quite understand the meaning behind all the Sanskrit and Tamil words that I chanted as a child with my grandfather, somehow a sacred seed was still planted and it later flowered into a full-blown love for spirituality. At home, there was a big picture of Shiva, King of the Yogis on our altar. I used to stare transfixed at that image of Shiva sitting in padmasana (lotus pose) on his tiger skin mat high up in the Himalayas with his long flowing hair, eyes half-closed in meditative ecstasy and the crescent moon tucked into his dreads…it was all very romantic. It moved me deeply. As a kid I liked Star Wars and Lord of the Rings (I suppose I could sense the latent spirituality in Tolkien’s Christian mysticism and in George Lucas’ repackaging of Eastern concepts in his Jedi Order haha) and I initially wanted to be a fantasy or science-fiction writer! But that all changed when I discovered rock n roll music. From that point on, all I wanted to do was play guitar in a rock band! Funnily, there was a connection between the loud music I heard at the Hindu temples and the powerful Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin songs I was getting into at that time. Anyway, I moved to Los Angeles in 2016 to pursue a career in music and study philosophy at UCLA. While I had been practicing yoga all my life and while I was teaching here and there, I had no intention of becoming a professional yoga teacher when I first moved to the states! That happened because one night, shortly after my grandfather had passed away, I had a dream in which he was waving at me from a small temple across a river. I woke up the next morning and felt a strong urge to teach. Perhaps I am carrying on his work!
Chelsea: How long have you been practicing yoga? Do you have advice for someone new, just starting on their journey?
Nish: I’ve been practicing yoga for as long as I can remember! I didn’t practice any asana (yoga poses) as a child but I did a lot of chanting, meditation and hanging around temples with my family. When I was sixteen, I picked up a copy of Ram Dass’ Be Here Now. Somehow, I found myself resonating a lot with Ram Dass because even though he was telling me all the stuff I had heard from my upbringing, he had a certain youth appeal that attracted me even more to Yoga. I started practicing asana and pranayama (breathing techniques) around this time and I intensified my meditation with a more consistent, daily routine. I got very involved with Kabbalah, Western Occultism and Greek Philosophy (particularly Neo-Platonism) around this time too and I started experimenting with the Tarot and the ritual practices from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. I did a little bit of traveling in Europe (one highlight was studying Christian mysticism in the libraries at the Vatican) and South-East Asia. I started to see connections between the various spiritual traditions around the world. This excited me a lot. It was like everyone was talking about the same thing in different words!
My advice for anyone getting started is: follow your bliss. If something interests you, even just a little bit, throw yourself down the rabbit hole! For instance, if you heard about Zen one day riding the subway and you felt even the tiniest brush of curiosity (what is Zen? What’s that all about?) then you ought to go and do a google search at the very least if not buy yourself a book. By following your curiosity, you will sooner or later find your way to the practice that is most appropriate for you. Remember that everyone is different and everyone has unique spiritual needs. The path that might work for one person might not work for another. So it’s important to specialize and find out what works for YOU. Don’t be afraid to mix and match practices from various traditions (as long as you do this respectfully and with reverence). Remember also to practice, practice, practice. You will likely start by reading about spirituality or watching videos on YouTube or TikTok about the subject but eventually you’ll want to start practicing too. While theory and book-learning is important, it should never take the place of practice. Start small at first. Do just 5 or 10 minutes a day of practice (whatever practice looks like to you) and then work up from there until your whole life is practice! There is no greater joy than being constantly engaged in a life-long romance with Spirit. But it takes time. Baby steps! Stay curious, stay open. Beware of dogma. Things are only true if they are true for you in your own experience of your life. Stay in your own lane and let others practice in their own way!
Chelsea: You have so much valuable knowledge to share about yoga, the history of it, and the traditions behind this beautiful practice. What do you recommend for someone looking to gain a deeper understanding of the practice?
Nish: Why, thank you! I am humbled by your kind words! I think Ram Dass’ Be Here Now is a good introduction to the spirit and energy of Yoga. For a more complete historical understanding of this 9000 year old tradition, I recommend Georg Feuerstein’s book The Deeper Dimensions of Yoga. That book will teach you all you need to know about the history and various traditions of this ancient practice! Remember that this practice lives on in you and lives on because of you! You are part of this tradition wherever in the world you are.
Chelsea: You create such amazing content that is incredibly valuable to anyone interested in practicing yoga. What is one take away or one lesson you hope they can learn from your videos?
Nish: Thank you for the compliment! Above all, I want to teach that All is One. Concepts like Prana, Chi, Ki and Holy Ghost are just concepts: they point to the same vital life force that you can feel flowing through you, guided by your breath. Whether you say AUM, Amin, Ameen or Amen-Ra, they all point to the same cosmic vibration, the Word that was with God and that was God. Whether you call it God or Shiva or Vishnu or Source or the Universe or Being – it doesn’t matter. We’re talking about the same thing here. And that thing we are talking about is not “out there”. It is all “in here”; it is all in YOU. In Sanskrit there is a saying: tat tvam asi which means That Thou Art. If we could summarize 9000 years of philosophy in three words, that would be it hahah. That Thou Art. You already are everything you hope to be. Your natural state is Enlightened Perfection. All this practice is not to improve you since you cannot improve that which is perfect. You practice hard so you can “remember faster that you are the master” as one of my mentors says. Remember that you do not practice to become spiritual. You practice because you are spiritual.
Chelsea: Meditation is becoming increasingly popular today and more and more people are seeing the value in it. What is a good way to get started, for someone who has never meditated before?
Nish: Jumping right into a meditation practice without some preparatory work can be very frustrating. I recommend learning asana (yoga poses) and pranayama (breathing techniques) first to prepare the body for meditation. Find a teacher near you or online to learn the proper alignment and sequences for asana practice. Having a teacher is invaluable, but you can also learn out of B.K.S Iyengar’s book, Light on Yoga. Practice poses every day for just a little while at first and then eventually work up to about an hour a day of asana practice. After about a month you should feel a dramatic change in your levels of peace and focus. Then, a month or two into your asana practice, start introducing a pranayama practice. Learn the various breathing exercises, either from a teacher or from B.K.S Iyengar’s Light on Pranayama. Practice these for about 5 to 10 minutes a day. After three months, you will be ready to sit in meditation. At first, any style of meditation that calls to you will do. Try everything out! Vipassana, guided meditation, Zazen, Binaural Beats…whatever it is, try it out! Once you find something that fits, practice every day for just a few minutes at first. Slowly, gradually build the practice up. Don’t try to do too much at once. Take it easy at first. That way, you will more likely stay consistent. Many people go hard right at the beginning, burn out and then eventually put it all aside. Pace yourself!
Chelsea: In the western world, most yoga teachers are seeking a 200hr RYT program to become certified and there is a lot of emphasis placed on Yoga Alliance Certification. What are your thoughts on this? Do you have any advice for someone looking to become a yoga teacher?
Nish: I think RYT training programs can be incredibly helpful if you intend to teach asana (poses). While I had been teaching poses informally before I came to the states, I still took my 200hr RYT and my 300hr RYT with YogaWorks in Santa Monica and I found it to be invaluable to my career as a yoga teacher. It helped me not just in my understanding of asana in all its anatomical dimensions but also in my understanding of how to be a good teacher. It’s important if you intend to teach yoga poses that you get some kind of training in the art of teaching yoga poses. Having a strong yoga practice is not enough to be a good yoga teacher. A lot of people make this mistake. They think that because they can perform complicated poses, they are qualified to offer instruction. But since every body is different, in order to really serve your students, you MUST take the time to study proper alignment and anatomy. I recommend the YogaWorks teacher training program because it is very heavy on philosophy, ensuring that new teachers get properly grounded in the traditional roots of Yoga while providing them the anatomical and technical grounding necessary to teach safely and effectively. When you’re getting started, don’t be afraid to work for free. The money will come. But first: teach everyone! Teach your cats. Teach your dogs. Teach your friends. Give free classes in the park. Take any studio gig you can find. Teach your butt off! The best way to get started as a yoga teacher is just to get started. The more you teach, the more you will find your Voice and then everything you ever dreamed of will just come to you. Focus only on serving your students and mysteriously, the Universe will see that you’re well taken care of! You are doing Her work after all in spreading the message of Yoga!
Chelsea: Having a consistent yoga practice can be tough, especially during lockdown when most of us are staying inside all day, even to work! Do you have any advice for those looking to become more consistent in their physical yoga practice?
Nish: Certainly! One thing I’ve found helpful with regards to staying consistent is to consecrate a little corner of your living space for your yoga practice. Make this little corner beautiful. Decorate it with flowers, incense, an altar etc. Keep your mat rolled out at all times in this space. This way, you have place that is inspiring to go to every day. Everything you need for your yoga practice is all laid out for you so you can jump right into it anytime you have a spare hour or so. It’s also helpful to take some classes online, if only to stay connected to a community of dedicated yogis. This group (satsanga) will keep you accountable and excited about your practice because you are not going at it alone. Finally, once you commit yourself to a daily practice, it is helpful to do it at the same time every day for 21 days so that the habit can form. Initially, the going might be tough. There will be days where you’ll have to grit your teeth and use your willpower to go to your mat even when you don’t feel like it. Endure this and in 21 days, the practice will take a momentum of its own. Then it will be very difficult to disrupt your routine! Now, life happens and sometimes you fall off the horse. Don’t be hard on yourself if you miss a day. Just dust yourself off, get right back into the saddle and keep going!
Chelsea: Do you have any books or podcasts that you recommend for someone looking to deepen their understanding?
Nish: I really like The Vedanta Society’s podcast with Swami Sarvapriyananda called “Vedanta Talks.” Anand Mehrota from Sattva Yoga Academy also has a podcast called Sattva Himalayan Wisdom that I’ve found helpful. As for books, there is SO much out there. I like Swami Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga a lot. Autobiography of a Yogi is a must read of course. I recently read Sadhguru’s Inner Engineering and thought it was excellent! B.K.S Iyengar’s autobiography Light on Life delighted me to no end. And above all, my favorite book is Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha.
Chelsea: In addition to TikTok, where can we access more content from you?
Nish: I promote most of my stuff on Instagram: @itsalloveman. On my Patreon (patreon.com/yogawithnish), I post video recordings of my asana, pranayama and meditation classes as well as some of my guided meditations and articles on Yoga. I hope these humble little offerings will serve you on your journey!
Chelsea: What can people look out for in the future? Are you working on anything currently? (can include any classes you are teaching, podcasts, etc)
Nish: Right now, I’m working on a book! It's intended to be a user-friendly guide to Yoga philosophy for those who are new to it. I expect to have it out by February! I have a podcast called “For the Love of Yoga with Nish the Fish” on all the streaming platforms featuring some of my recorded lectures from my yoga philosophy classes. Also, I teach live classes on asana, pranayama and meditation on Monday, Wednesday and Friday on zoom with a virtual studio called Stay Om Yoga and every Thursday night with Yoga World Heart, another great virtual studio. You are welcome anytime. I hope to see you in one of my live classes soon!