When it comes to the world of women and fitness, there is almost no one as formidable as Natasha Noel. A dancer at heart and a yogini in form, she is truly a force to be reckoned with. Having been a victim of sexual violation and a knee injury that changed her dancing career, fitness and yoga is what brought Natasha back on her feet, stronger and fiercer than ever before. HG chatted with her about her fitness philosophy, how to get a beginner to start their own journey of fitness, and what fitness really means to her.
HG: You practice and teach yoga. What exactly does yoga mean to you?
NN: Yoga for me, means freedom. It’s liberation, it’s acceptance, it’s just understanding yourself, and being yourself. Being okay with all the dirt and all the muck, and all the things you’re not supposed to be okay with. That’s what yoga is to me. Truly going deep within yourself and accepting all your negative emotions, and being authentic to yourself.
HG: How would you say yoga and dance helped you find yourself again?
NN: With whatever happened in my life, I was a very negative person. When I started dance, it is what gave me confidence. Dance is what led me to believe in myself again. I professionally trained for 5 years in Jazz, Ballet and Contemporary. I went to a professional dance academy, and over there we were taught to own our bodies. At the academy people would make fun of me and ask me why I wouldn’t show off my stomach, since I had such a great body. To which, I’d always deny it ever being a possibility. But slowly I started becoming more comfortable with just being me. That gave me the confidence to start removing layers of myself, internally and physically and also mentally. Dance made me find that where I was okay with being me, being authentic, being myself in this body.
Then I had a really bad injury and I had to give up dancing and it completely destroyed me. For a year and a half, I did no physical activity. Movement is poetry to me, I feel like that is the only way I can express myself, more than anything else. That’s when Yoga came into my life. It came at a time, when I needed to be mentally strong. I knew my body was capable of doing certain asanas, and if I trained my body, I could do it. It changed the constant negative thought process I had, I wouldn’t blame myself thinking that I was worthless, that I was useless. My mind set just changed.
HG: Can you talk about the specific form of movement you love to practice?
NN: Yogance was already created on Instagram, by Cuchira, and I was just inspired beyond belief. It has both the elements of dance and yoga, and that is again where I found my movement and my personal way of moving. However, I only take a few workshops in yoga dance and teach a class now and then. When I teach, I only teach yoga with a focus on flexibility of course, but most importantly strength.
HG: What is body confidence to you?
NN: Body confidence is honestly just owning your body wherever it’s at. It’s very subjective because everyone has their own definition of beauty and it’s such a personal thing. What I truly believe in, is that wherever you are at - big small thick skinny round - whatever you are, you need to be comfortable there. With all the lenses and filters we use, we’re almost made to feel like we’re not good enough NOW and you think “I will get better”, but the fact is that if you’re happy where you are at, you’ll always carry that happiness forward with you.
I also believe that no matter where you are or what you are, you’ve got the be grounded. Even if you are well on your way to achieving all of your dreams, and everything you have ever wanted is yours, you still have to remember where you came from, and that you still have a long way to go. And that is why I personally love yoga - it is just so humbling. You may think you’ve reached perfection, but the best part is that there is no such thing.
HG: How has your view of fitness changed?
NN: I’ve always wanted to be strong, and I would constantly ask myself “Why is being strong so important to me?” I’ve realised that a lot of it comes from the fact that mentally I wasn’t strong - I was raped and sexually violated, and at the time I didn’t have the physical strength to push the other person away. I thought that I couldn’t. What I’ve realised now is that if anything like that were to happen to me again, I know I can beat the human out of the person. I know I am capable of doing that, and not just condemned to silence. For me, that is what fitness is about. It’s not having the sexiest abs or someone having insane calf muscles - but rather being able to run, skip, move and do all of that and be the healthiest version of yourself. You can still go home and eat chocolate cake and not feel guilty about it because this is your life and you need to balance it out.
I always thought that I was fat - I thought i had “thunder thighs’ when in fact I hardly had legs. I had always assumed that being fit meant being skinny - being able to show your body off - protruding collar bones and all. While that might be fit some some, for me it still stands that fitness equates to strength. I’m not saying being skinny is wrong - it’s just that it has to do more with the strength of your body than thesize of it.
HG: What is your favoruite digital life hack?
NN: Nike Running App to Run. I think that helps me alot - gives me my pace, how much I run and how many calories I am losing. It kept me in check. On sundays, when you run, you have Kevin Hart and Serena Williams cheering you on. So there’s that. Thanks for believing in me guys!
HG: Tell us 5 asanas to kick start your day.
NN: I think the hatha surya namaskaras are the best way to start, although that’s more than 5 asanas. Slow counts - it helps you work everything. Groin, hands, shoulder, core, back - strength and flexibility. I would say if you are a beginner just start with one on each side to start your day. You need to stay and hold those positions for 5 to 10 counts so you work all those muscles.
HG: How do you shake some stress off?
NN: Stairs. Running up, or just lunges - it gets my heart rate up a lot and I sweat easily. I don’t go to the gym (I find it very boring) but I love working my legs using this method.
If i’m feeling low, and not confident enough then I do backbends or heart openers (your chest is lifted up and it helps you in just feeling better about yourself). If i’m feeling tight I’ll do sqauting postures - more grounded postures that activate the yoni or feminine energy.
HG: What’s on your breakfast tray?
NN: Oats, fruits and coconut water (it’s life).
HG: What is your favorutie place to practice?
NN: Home. My personal practice starts at 4:30 in the morning, with no lights on and Pratabhi Jois chanting from my laptop.
Photographs by Akshay Tambe