Dance and the Five Ways to Wellbeing

In some of the most challenging phases that I have experienced in my life thus far, I have somehow found myself pulled towards the dance studio to ease my mind. I was drawn to the idea of leaving all aspects of my life, apart from that of a dancer, outside the studio. I was fascinated by the thrill of creating something beautiful with my own body in the moment. I loved blasting music out loud and being able to completely lose myself in it, and express myself the most at the same time. 

I recently realised the reasoning behind this feeling. Last year, on two of the virtual talks that I was invited to share my experiences on, I chatted with Poppy Jaman OBE (City Mental Health Alliance), and ‘Mental Mantra’, both of which had asked me about the intersection of dance and wellbeing. I was introduced to the UK’s “Five Ways to Wellbeing”, and the idea of dance therapy. I realised that dance as a form of wellbeing worked so well because in a single activity, you touch on all five ways to wellbeing. 

1. Keep Learning:

Especially with classical dance, Riyaaz (rehearsing) consists of constant repetition until perfection. You are constantly learning about the dance form as well as your own body. 

2. Take Notice:

Again with Riyaaz, you focus on the tiniest of movements. What is each finger doing, how is your eyebrow curving, what arch is your waist forming? This helps you to be fully present and involved in our actions and creations, leaving other stress factors behind. 

3. Be Active:

It is well-known enough how exercise aids with both physical and emotional wellbeing, and dance as a form of physical activity is often under-rated. My fellow kathak dancers know how many calories even 10 minutes of tatkar can burn and how many months/years of stamina training a one-hour traditional recital requires. 

4. Connect:

Connect with yourself, with the musicians, with other dancers, with the audience. Dance at its core is all about the connections that you make to your inner self and the world around you.

5. Give:

You are giving your time, your presence and your creativity to the art form. With each time that you enter a space to dance, you are giving a part of yourself to that space. With each performance that you share, you are committing an act of service by sharing joy, entertainment, and tradition.

Above all, dance forces you to be kind to yourself. In a world where we are constantly analysing how we look, the journey of classical dance teaches you to appreciate the beauty that your body can create, the limits it can push, and the steady improvement that it supports you to make over time. Apart from kathak being purely a beautiful form of art, these are the benefits that I hope to share when I teach, and when I share my dance with the world. Also, the reminder that it is never too early or late to prioritize your mental wellbeing or start your dance journey.

A Year On from the Delhi Riots

On 23rd February 2020, the streets of Delhi were on fire. While India’s capital burned, so did a big part of my childhood.

Delhi to me was falling in love with Urdu through my ancestor’s names. It was the poetry in our neighborhood’s Mughal architecture. It was hearing Bhajans and Qawwalis in the same household and gushing over how pure the tabla sounded, rather than questioning religious contexts.

Delhi to me was visits to Jama Masjid to take in the breath-taking beauty amidst bustling crowds, to eat at Karim’s, and understanding that the Masjid (mosque) was just as important a part of our lives as the Hanuman Mandir (Hindu temple) was. During the Delhi riots in February 2020, it puzzled me to see that Hindus and Muslims viewed each other as symbols of war and violence.

Religion to me is the celebration of good over evil. It is what makes me touch the feet of my Gurus and fold my hands in respect towards my elders. It is mythological stories that I learned as a child. Yet somewhere along the line, religion got mixed with politics. They changed it to ‘us vs. them’. They changed it to dictating what you could and could not eat, or where you could and could not go. They shifted the focus from holding small candles, to wielding firearms and burning homes.

While I understand that the issue is deeply rooted in a painful partition history, I do not understand why almost seven decades later, the same socio-religious hostilities remain an integral part of South Asian society, despite the fact that Muslim influence and contribution is so integral to Indian society.

India will take pride in national awards for music created by A.R. Rahman, Zakir Hussain, and Amjad Ali Khan, all Muslims. The country runs to the cinema every time a Bollywood movie starring the Muslim stars Shah Rukh Khan, Amir Khan and Salman Khan is released. It relishes the tourists that India attracts for the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, and Humayun’s Tomb, all examples of Mughal architecture. Yet, there seems to be so much Islamophobia within the nation, against the same community that continues to create beautiful and iconic parts of India.

We have international organizations dedicated to security, peacekeeping, and human rights. They are able to identify the conflict, yet unable to unite the relevant leaders in dialogue. Meanwhile, those who ride on the power of fractured societies get to paint images in our minds that those who are different than us are difficult to co-exist with.

So, I wonder what our role is in all of this. While we may not be inflicting physical harm, are we causing harm by not thinking or talking about these issues in our own homes? Are we actively making sure to unlearn these ideas that were born decades ago? Is there really any point to discrimination on the basis of religion? 

Syaahi: Ink of Black Fear

It can’t be a coincidence that my birth month, September, is also Suicide Prevention Month and Alopecia Awareness Month, the two causes fueling my social work over the past two years.

For anyone trying to imagine what the mental health traumas of their loved ones may look or feel like, it is an extremely difficult task to understand the intensity of their experience. And especially so, where in a world full of mental health stigma, you may not have engaged with vocabulary and conversations around the topic.

“Syaahi: Ink of Black Fear” is a visualization of what goes on inside the mind of someone experiencing mental illness, or the psychological stresses of any chronic condition, such as alopecia. The supporting dancers swoop in and out like vultures, resembling the pain and disarray of uncontrollable and invasive thoughts.

I spread mental health awareness through dance because certain communities do not have the vocabulary to express or understand what mental health issues are about. Having something visual that depicts specific and relatable emotions can be a good starting point for conversations and removing social stigma.

My hope with this is that we can better understand the idea of invisible illnesses and make space for more comfortable conversations surrounding them within our communities. If you like this concept, I would love for your feedback and a share amongst communities that can benefit from this.

Equating Working to Wellness

Recently, I have been invited by a few organisations to give talks on workplace culture, and especially on how to incorporate mental wellness into potentially stressful environments. I don’t want to spill the beans on the presentation content too much, but I think it’s important to publicly share a few of my preliminary thoughts.

I am now one month into my first full-time role (it’s so exciting to be able to say that!!) as a public policy analyst and one thing that struck me immediately was the mandatory mental health training that was a part of my virtual on-boarding in my first week at the new job. Being someone that cares so much about mental health awareness, just knowing that each person in my organisation has had to go through a basic mental health briefing about recognising symptoms, how to access resources, and helping each other to destress, was incredibly important to me.

As someone who has battled with mental health issues, I am aware that recovery is not linear. It can all come back at any time, but knowing that everyone in my office has the base level of vocabulary to speak about mental health is an extremely comforting feeling.

COVID-19 has chucked us into unprecedented work cultures between telecommuting, webinar sessions, and virtual conference rooms. But through this, it has also shown us that we are very able as communities in adapting to non-physical work environments. And while an extensive work-from-home setting is understandably not conducive to the most productive work environment, perhaps it is opportune for senior leaders to think about how a hybrid model will serve as a refreshing and more productivity-maximising method to go forward with.

Continuing with flexibility such as allowing work-from-home on one day a week may well be the trick for happier and healthier employees for most industries. With a little more freedom, we typically see happier employees, as they feel like they have slightly more authority over smaller lifestyle matters. I am so grateful that my office has this flexibility, a beautiful garden to take breaks in or even take my laptop out and work in, and united lunch breaks. Whether I regularly make use of all of these things or not, just knowing that I have these options takes off so much pressure and keeps me so much more refreshed.

For the incoming entry-level workforce, being graduates of a fresh pandemic was a rough enough experience as it is, and I strongly urge us all to continue to prioritise sustainable mental wellbeing practices from the start and take up conversations in workplaces with our employers and colleagues on how to best incorporate wellness resources.

My goal: to make sure that working adds to rather than detracts from my wellbeing.

A Dedication to Kashmir

While many of us are facing woes about lockdowns and inability to meet loved ones, it is painful to think that much more drastic militarized and blacked-out lockdowns are not uncommon for Kashmiri citizens.

This piece is dedicated to the Kashmiri citizens who bear the brunt of the conflict, who are the most powerless yet the most impacted. The song ‘Aaj Ke Naam’ is adapted from Faiz’s poetry (Intesaab) and translates to “A Dedication”. The part that I have chosen to perform to is dedicated to the widowed women, the motherless children, and the ruined streets.

The full poem and its translation can be found here.

A brief timeline about the Kashmir conflict is linked here, and a more in-depth analysis of the global consequences one year on is linked here.

Kashmir is located in the Northeast region of India and has been subject of dispute between India, Pakistan and China since the subcontinent’s partition in 1947. On 5th August 2019, the Indian government revoked Article 370, which previously gave the Indian-controlled state of Jammu and Kashmir, “special status” for the past seven decades. Article 370 gave Kashmir the right to make its own laws. It is a clause in the Indian constitution that had given Kashmir levels of autonomy that included a sovereign constitution, an independent flag, and liberty on all state matters excluding foreign affairs, defense, and communications.

The revocation of the article by the Indian government has heightened concerns of increased armed conflicts as a result of political and religious tensions between India and Pakistan. measures between the mentioned nations. Human rights organizations around the world have labeled the region as one of the most militarized zones in the world, which is evident today with persistent and frequent clashes along the border.

The decision to revoke the article was made by the governing party, the BJP which has long opposed the article and has called for its abolishment repeatedly including via their 2019 election manifesto. They have cited security concerns, economic rationale, and legislative reasons as motives behind their action. One of the most consequential effects of the Indian government’s recent actions is that it effectively removed the ability of Kashmiri legislatures to form residency rules as well. This means that non-residents are able to purchase property in the region.

Currently, Jammu and Kashmir is the only Indian state with a Muslim majority. Allowing non-residents to own property in the region essentially clears the path for Hindu settlers to create a foothold in the area, which could weigh down on regional demographics and worsen religious tensions. Considering the Hindu nationalism aspects of the BJP, critics of the party are inclined to believe that the party does have religious motives behind their actions.

There are thoughts on whether Kashmir would receive independence, whether war will break out, and ultimately how the citizens of Kashmir will react once the lockdown is eventually lifted. It is important for India and Pakistan to work collaboratively in order to protect the interest and livelihood of the region. Furthermore, international organizations must play a more pressing and firmer role in aiding India and Pakistan to eradicate this violation of human rights. There is no clear answer to what the “right” consensus should be, primarily because there is an abundance of information missing regarding India’s motives, both nation’s intentions and capacity of war, and the reasons behind the sheer lack of obvious communication that needs to occur between all stakeholders involved in the issue.

Eat More Palak (Eid Mubarak)

I have been celebrating Eid for as long as I can remember celebrating Diwali. Every year, on the morning of Eid, I would jump out of bed to wear the shining salwar outfit that my mum had laid out for me. I would sit patiently while she carefully put sparkly butterfly shaped clips in my hair, and then I would grab the box of sweets and make a dash for the door.

First stop, me and my brother would go to Nasim aunty’s house and ring her bell. We would exclaim “eat more palak!” when the door was answered. For quite some time I thought that when everyone was wishing each other “Eid Mubarak”, sounded like they were actually saying “Eat more palak”, and my brother had let me embarrass myself with that for many years while he giggled away.

Next stop, Neeta aunty’s house. By the time we got there to wish her, she had already prepared my favorite biryani and we could smell the fresh waft as we approached her floor travelling up in the elevator. That was enough to get us past our fear of her cat.

To celebrate the Hari Raya holiday in primary school, we would have little workstations with some of the Malay teachers showing us how to make ketupat palm leaf pouches. I loved the colors and it was so exciting to me to bring them home for my mother to proudly hang up outside the house.

These were my simple Eid and Hari Raya traditions that I have followed throughout my childhood. Once I went to California for college, the semester timing always worked out well for me that I would be home for the summer just in time to celebrate with my GuruJi and go to Jawed Uncle’s house for our Eid feast.

This year in May, when there were restrictions on meeting neighbors and relatives for Hari Raya because of COVID-19, I found that something felt very amiss. It was only over the last five years maybe that I really understood what different religions were, how they were celebrated, and what traditions were observed. So, what difference did it make to me, a Hindu Indian-Singaporean, that Eid wasn’t being celebrated in full form this year?

Over the past couple of years, I had been studying South Asian politics, and specifically socio-religious hostilities. I had realized that a lot of my other Hindu-Indian friends did not have Eid as such a big part of their lives as I did. I realized that even to my relatives in India, it wasn’t as big of a deal, despite the national holiday.

Last year I was in India for Eid. Specifically, in Amritsar at the Attari-Wagah India-Pakistan border. That was such an exciting moment for me to be amongst all the hype of the border ceremony and to observe so much patriotism. That was just one week after the revocation of Article 370 in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

I didn’t see any exchange of sweets at the border as per usual customs. Pakistan was celebrating Eid at home with their families and had a comparatively very empty side of citizens to watch the ceremony. I heard shouts from the packed India side commenting on how the “other” side was weak due to less people. I heard boos against each other, and I heard slurs about disputed territory. I saw angry competition rather than neighborly friendship.

Last year on Eid, I felt that my excitement of being so close to the border that my T-Mobile International plan gave me a “Welcome to Pakistan” text, was out of place.

Perhaps growing up outside of India, I don’t fully understand all of this. But it has been something that has bothered me a lot over the past couple of years and something that I feel really strongly about because I wish more of the people that I knew were raised with the same emphasis that my mum raised me with – of loving our neighbors in Singapore and celebrating their festivals with them, and of loving our nation’s neighbors in the South Asian diaspora world.

What I can say though, is that religion or nations aside, a lot of the time we are told at a young age who our enemies are by those higher up, or even by our relatives, without even knowing who those people are. We then grow up to group and divide people by religion, nationality, race, caste, disability or wealth. Meanwhile, those who ride on the power of a fractured society get to paint images in our minds that those who are different from us are difficult to live with peacefully.

We can blame events from almost a century ago, we can ignore these issues completely, and we can pass bitter thoughts onto the next generation. But in that, we choose to put control in the hands of those who thrive off of the marginalization of others. Or, we can choose to make active efforts in unlearning and relearning how our differences should initiate appreciation rather than discrimination.

This year on Eid, me having to tone down celebrations to a socially-distance sweets delivery with a mask on instead of my butterfly clips might not be important. But my heart goes out to those in Kashmir who are separated from loved ones, those who suffered in the Delhi riots, and those who want to celebrate with their loved ones in the “other” group but are expected not to.

Selamat Hari Raya, Eid Mubarak, and eat more palak!

Training the Mind to Love The Mirror

As much as people tell you that looks don’t matter, the truth is that to a 20-year old girl, it does. And I needed to work with that fact.

For so long, I had lived under the notion that there was an inherent flaw in my appearance because of my hair loss. It seemed to be more of a widespread societal fact rather than an anomalous opinion.

However, in truth, people would obviously always comment nice things about my appearance to my face, and I realised that the bulk of the doubt was within myself. I realised that I didn’t care about seeking external approval about my appearance, I wanted it from within myself. I had read a lot about how people can train their brains in the same way that we train our muscles at the gym, so I figured I could apply that to loving myself as well.

I was never one to really dress up too much or spend much time thinking about my aesthetic either. I had always maintained a pretty simple style that reflected my thought process and personality, and that wasn’t something that I wanted to change.

Rather than going down the route of doing specific workouts for my body to look a certain way, or shopping at selected stores to accessorise myself in outfits that I thought would look more appealing, I really just wanted to love how I was at the time. Of course I would do workouts and shop with that mindset later on, but I figured that if I could train my mind to believe that I am beautiful enough as a raw and very vulnerable version of myself, I would be able to always see myself like that despite any external changes.

So, I started to compliment myself. At least two times a day. I forced myself to pick out things about my face that I liked, I complimented my own outfits that I put together, and I grew into loving my body. By pushing myself to do this daily, I discovered that I liked how easily I smiled in candid videos that my friends took of us, I felt more authentic in the way that my eyes were so revealing of my inner emotions, I started to recognize that I liked how soft my skin felt and how I was learning to feel comfortable in it, and I began to focus on how the delicacy of my hands and the strength of my legs felt and looked when I danced.

The truth is that, as much as you compliment that 20-year-old girl who is told that looks don’t matter, but is expected to fit into societal beauty standards, it is already ingrained in her mind to not internalise the compliment. We’re so deep-rooted in the idea that we need to put ourselves down with regards to our appearance, and instead of normalising self-appreciation, we have normalised “correcting” our own “flaws”. I definitely get weird looks or questions when I look in the mirror or at a photo of myself and my instant reaction is to compliment something that I see, because it is such an absurdly unorthodox concept. Some people call it being cocky or self-obsessed, but I prefer to call it confidence and self-love.

Despite the compliments that I gave myself and the photos that I started liking of myself, I knew that I felt extremely self-conscious about the bursts of cystic acne spots that I would sometimes get when I travelled, or the moon-face side effect that I hadn’t been able get rid of after my steroid medication, or the way that certain clothes didn’t end up looking like how I would ideally want them to when I wore them.

But in training my mind to think that I look attractive, I didn’t avoid any of these insecurities. I just learnt to put them in my back pocket when I walked out the door. I believed that it didn’t matter whether I had the most gorgeous hair in the world or none at all, and whether I looked “fit” enough or “radiant” enough, or “enough” at all. People would always find something to comment on to each other. My task instead was to make sure that I never became one of those people, and to ensure that I found myself feeling and looking cute on the way.

This is by no means a fool-proof ‘one solution fits all’ path to self-love, but I hope that it encourages some positive energy that you can hold onto when you next look in the mirror.

For someone who lost all her hair within a month and refused to meet people because she was so terrified, it takes a lot to gain back any level of confidence. But at some point, you realise that it isn’t going to come from anywhere else, and that after spending years pinning yourself down to your appearance, the only part that you will regret is that time that you lost chasing hair solutions rather than your dreams.

Catch-22: Health vs. Education

Four years ago, I moved to California to pursue my higher education. My parents being expats in Singapore, I went through the international baccalaureate education system – a western-centric education. At the age of five, I recognized my identity as a third culture kid and I already knew that I would be going to either the U.S. or the U.K. for university.

Four years ago, Trump was elected as president, and I remember my roommate and I lightly joking about the potential of having to leave the country or be deported, knowing that it could very well be real, and hoping that it would remain an absurd joke. Four years later, I have graduated and just about managed to escape that nightmare.


A lot of international students go to university in the United States for a better life, to gain access to better educational resources, to essentially learn from the best institutions and be able to give back and support the development of their native countries.

Behind each of these international students, are families that have sacrificed their lives in the hopes of their child being able to gain the education needed to pursue a better life for themselves, for their future generations, and to make a difference in the world. I know that my parents have dedicated their lives to ensure that my brothers and I get the best of the best when it comes to education.