TWI Woman of Substance – Roma Bajaj Kohli

Most women today, especially those of us in the western hemisphere, are at a high risk of burnout, thanks to the demands of everyday life. We want to be it all, do it all, and in this search for perfection, a part of us goes unrecognized and unacknowledged. That part is our soul, our prana, which is responsible for our internal well-being. We are hurtling towards the future, while ignoring the lessons from our past. Meet Roma Bajaj Kohli, a woman entrepreneur, who aims to narrow this gap with her approach to holistic healing – a combination of yoga, cooking and love! Let’s find out more about Wellness by Roma.

AM: Hi Roma and welcome to TWI’s Woman of Substance series. Let’s start with a little bit about your background – where you’re from, your education etc.

RBK: Thank you Anu! I was born and raised in Pune, India. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce and a Diploma in Fashion Apparel Design from SOFT (School of Fashion Technology). I have worked in the fashion industry for almost 10 years in India, right from being an intern to managing and launching an entire corporate-wear  brand. I have also been an adjunct professor at Symbiosis Institute for Design where I mentored degree project students and taught subjects such as History of Fashion as well as Global Fashion. I have lived and worked in 5 countries over the last 12 years!

AM: Where did Fashion and Apparel designing take you and when/how did you come here to the US?

RBK: My fashion career took me all over the world! At first in India, I started out as a kid’s sleepwear designer, and was involved in designing graphics and sleepwear for Disney in a manufacturing company called Sleep-Ins. I quickly got promoted – within a year – and was tasked to launch and design my own corporate womenswear line for the same company.  

Soon after that, life had other plans for me. I got married and moved to London with my husband, where I started working as a design intern for a manufacturing company that supplied to high street brands like Zara, TopShop, and River Island. It was going great for me and I was learning a lot, but soon my husband was asked to be back in India for an exciting opportunity. I accompanied him back, as I was on a dependent visa, and started working as a guest lecturer at Symbiosis Institute of Design (SID) in Pune.  

Thereafter, my husband was given another great opportunity to live and work in Europe for a few years, and we both decided to move (yet, again!)  to Switzerland.

We lived in Zurich for a few years, where I noticed that one needs to know German to do any kind of work, and hence I decided to learn some basic level German and despite the language barrier, secured myself a job working for Esprit as their catalog designer and editor. During that stint I also freelanced and exhibited with one of my friends in Pret-a-Porter Paris, where we designed a hand curated collection of digitally designed batik outerwear, scarves, shoes and bags. Everything was hand made and hand printed.

AM: How did Wellness by Roma come about, and what is your primary goal in this venture?

RBK: From Zurich, we moved to New York in 2012,  this time however it was a bit different as I arrived here on an H-4 dependent visa, and realized to my agony that I was not authorized to work on that visa, as it was not a work permit. I had almost decided  to apply for an MBA in Fashions Communication, when I discovered that I was pregnant with my second child. That was a huge surprise as we were not planning to have a baby! Anyway the baby stayed and the MBA flew out of the window, leaving me as a clueless stay-at-home mom. I hated every bit of my life then except for the fact that I was having a baby girl, which I had been manifesting unknowingly for a while.

After the birth of my daughter, I suffered from postpartum depression, in addition to anxiety and a severe identity crisis. Being a stay at home mom is not easy, as I discovered. It took me a year to recover from the self-destructive patterns of burnout, weakness and victimization.

However, thankfully, I emerged out of it and this was when I discovered yoga, and the joy of cooking. My mom was constantly inventing healthy recipes for me as I was really depressed, homesick and struggling to survive with one toddler and an infant. That’s when I started making nutritional patties, made with chickpeas, soya, and couscous. These were ready-to-cook patties with fusion dips like sweet-and-sour green dip , golden nectar (made with turmeric and ginger), red chilly curried jam (made with fresh red chillies and apple cider vinegar) etc. These were such a hit with family and friends that I started to spend all my weekends prepping and cooking to supply to friends. I started dreaming about growing this business which was then called Passion for Fusion Food.

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Gradually, I started taking small catering orders. I did baby showers, first birthdays for friends’ kids etc. It was all going so great that I started hoping that one day I would launch my patties and sauces and sell to local farmers markets and eventually, trade shows. But then we moved into the suburbs, where I found it almost impossible to find convenient and cheap help. Also, the commercial kitchens were very far from where I lived. Meanwhile the kids’ schools and activities were taking a toll on me. I had no reserve to invest in hiring or outsourcing. I could see my catering dream dying a silent death.

 

I was starting to feel lost again. But truly, when a door closes, a window opens. It was during this period of introspection that I won a scholarship for a yoga teacher training course. This is what first lit the spark that led me to my true calling. I no longer felt suffocated, and I discovered my true purpose in life was to help others. The exposure to many diverse international cultures provided the impetus to create a course on the art of fusion, and fueled my desire to meld the teachings of yoga, food, and spirituality into a program that would also enlighten others.

With the help of my mother, we created unique fusion recipes. They are a collection of ‘Mother’s recipes for her daughter.’ This collection allowed me to design a very easy, healthy, highly nutritious and organic life for myself and my family. I learned about the physiology and the anatomy of the body, which helped me synchronize my mind, body and soul through yoga. The stress slipped away and Prana (energy) struck me like lightning. I was finally breathing life into every cell of my body again. As I unlearned my old ways, I adapted to blend our consumption and mindful movements into new ways of living a healthier, peaceful life. Yoga became my telescope to see all distant visions very clearly and closely.

So essentially, the combination of food, love + yoga helped me discover the answers — to reconnect, rise and shine. The divine light and sanctity within me was unknown to me until I adapted this holistic life approach of How, What, and When. This made me realize that if I was able to do it myself, I could help others reset, recharge and revitalize!

My mission is to inspire time-starved moms to instill the art of self-love, to help gain confidence and clarity to lead from within, and to keep challenging the status quo by being curious and gritty. I want them to live every moment of life with intention and purpose, and leave behind a legacy of wellness.

AM: What do you think are the biggest problems faced by women of today in terms of their health? How do you think these can be overcome?

RBK: We are, technologically, the most advanced generation. Our biggest struggle as women, is that we have forgotten to take care of our inner well-being while we compete with the rest of the world. We have alienated our own selves in the process. We need to figure out, in this day and age of information overload, how to be true to our own self. We need to do this by diving within ourselves, and understanding our own selves before we go out filling others’ cups. We need to find ways to refuel and constantly check in with ourselves. Igniting our inner sparks and trusting our inner gut and wisdom is very important. Finding peace and balance within should be the first order of business.

In olden times, it was easier as women stayed home as caregivers and nurturers, while men worked outside the home, and put food on the table. Today’s biggest challenge is that everyone has to do everything. Have a great career, bring money, nurture as well as produce an awesome generation to come. It’s harder in such times to stay true to our inner selves and do what truly serves us as we are all trying to master the juggling game.

AM: I notice you say you design holistic lifestyles for women. How do you do that, and could you give us an example?

RBK : I teach creative life skills to busy moms and their families in a kinesthetic way. As a mom, you are the powerhouse. Making sure your spirit is fed well is my priority. If you is suffering from burnout, your family and their well-being will suffer too. I’m here to inspire you to rise above the mediocrity of life. I want to create a movement of moms who are awakened and whole. My main goal is to nourish the mental, physical, and spiritual needs of women just like you. As the onslaught of digital distractions add complexity to our lives, I want to lead you to a better, more fulfilling life experience. By reviving the “dying art of cooking” and blending ancient yogic wisdom into our modern lifestyles, we can simplify our lives and create a legacy of wellness to pass onto future generations. I do that by taking every mom back to her roots and helping her to grow deeper inwards so she organically shines outward.

AM : How and when did you get into Hatha Yoga? What has been the most important change since you started practicing it?

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RBK : Five years ago, I started practicing a yoga style called Forrest Yoga, which was adapted by a woman called Anna Forrest. She had learnt yoga from her teacher BKS Iyengar, who also taught Hatha Yoga in his own way. This form really appealed to me. I was in love with how yoga was helping me heal emotionally, mentally and physically. When I moved from the city to the suburbs, I couldn’t really find a yoga studio that taught yoga like that. I really hated hot yoga, and vinyasa flows were nice, but I was really looking for a more holistic practice, that wasn’t really diluted by westerners. My desire to learn Hatha Yoga, which is the most original and authentic from of yoga happened to take me to India in an ashram called Govardhan Eco Village, where I was trained. The most significant change since that experience has been in my outlook towards life. The physical flexibility gave me the ability to open up my mind and control my emotions. It has transformed my relationship with myself.  I feel liberated and free of my thoughts and emotions. I’m no more controlled by my physical incapabilities that I see, and make decisions from my inner wisdom now. This is what I was unaware of before.

AM : In your creative fusion cooking workshops, what sort of cooking do you focus on? Do you notice a difference in the moms who take your classes in terms of their well-being?

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RBK: In my creative fusion cooking workshops, I focus on fast to cook and easy to make recipes. I classify it as healthy fast food. I simplify the steps and usually use ingredients that are easily available in most households. It’s an alchemy of flavor, texture and colors. Food needs to be eaten in its raw form as much as possible, and so, my cooking time is usually very less and it’s mostly stir fry, or raw food with mild seasonings.  Unless I’m dealing with meat. Fusion food was really developed by a mother to give ease, confidence and comfort food to a young mom (such as me!). Yes, the few moms to whom I have taught these are raving about how these fusion recipes have become their staples, and easy weeknight dinners. Also, how their kids are asking for barley and spinach more now!

AM : Do you practice the art of mindfulness? How do your clients react to their sessions with you, and how has it changed their lives?

RBK: I practice consciousness over mindfulness. I’m fully aware and present in each moment. I’m awakened to the experiences of life. My yoga practice helps me find my balance, clarity and purpose every time. My clients often feel the same way. Fully awake and recharged. They have tons of headspace and have successfully started to catch the irregularities of their mind.  One mom even said that in the last 5 years she never slept as well as she does now after practicing the holistic style of yoga.

AM: Meditation is certainly proven to have excellent health benefits. What do you think of the new apps like Calm etc. that promise relaxation and peace within 5-10 minutes?

RBK: I’m not a direct consumer of these apps. But I have heard that they work well for many. I truly believe that it takes courage, commitment and determination to sit down to meditate. If you are an absolute beginner, then these apps work fine. If you are someone who seeks wisdom, clarity and direction from your inner wisdom, then these apps seem a little useless as you are already well equipped with the tools from yoga to find calmness and stillness in your physical as well as mental and emotional state of being. If one wants to find true inner peace and balance, I believe that a few sun salutations (about ten surya namaskars) followed by breath work (pranayama) really set the right tone for one to sit still with their eyes closed, and awaken their inner wisdom.

AM: You have sessions for children too. Do they respond well to yoga and meditation and also the fusion cooking you design for them?

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RBK: Oh definitely yes! These are creative life skills that I teach to kids and more often than not, kids are more receptive and adaptable than adults. My younger clients are always asking me more for more secret garden (savasana-guided deep relaxation), more breath work, which works wonders on their immunity system, by which they learn to breath deeper and fuller from their nose. Cooking is a whole new ball game altogether. It makes them feel empowered. Though I must admit the younger kids have a shorter  attention span. Even then, I manage to keep them engaged in an open and playful manner. They love being valued, given big jobs and responsibilities that help them feel self-sufficient.

AM: Who are your mentors who have influenced you, and how?

RBK: My biggest influence is my mom (Anju Bajaj), who is a culinary artist and into the business of food for the last 30 years. She has been my role model for creativity, perseverance and grace.

My yoga teachers, Anmol, Aarti and Nimai Lila Das, who have taught me life enhancing skills. With their discipline, love and commitment to teach yoga above and beyond themselves.

Jay Shetty whose mission in life is to make wisdom go viral.

AM: Name 3 books/movies that have had a profound impact on you, and why.

RBK: The Alchemist– Paulo Coelho, The Journey Home — Radhanath Swami, Big Magic– Elizabeth Gilbert, The Secret.

AM: What are your future goals/dreams for Wellness by Roma and what do you expect to see in the next 5 years or so?

RBK : My future goals for Wellness By Roma is to go viral with the message to Embrace imperfection, heal from within and rise up to meet your ultimate potential and truth.” Not just online but offline in others’ hearts and homes. In the next five years I hope Wellness By Roma will be in people’s homes, kitchens and their hearts. I hope it becomes a household name that brings joy, ease and grace in the lives of people.  I hope their kitchens and homes are full of laughter and mess, because we bond the most when we cook, eat, and move together, with a sense of purpose and service to our highest and most authentic self, leaving behind a legacy to live life to its fullest.

AM: If you were to leave us with one governing motto for women – health wise, what would it be?

RBK: To see with open eyes is to dream, but to see with closed eyes inwards is to actually awaken”.

Thank you Roma, for taking the time to talk to us, and we wish you all the very best in your current and future endeavors!

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