At first glance, Reyansh Surani appears to be your everyday 10-year-old.
He enjoys watching YouTube, gaming with his friends online and listening to music.
However, this schoolboy has a surprise talent: he broke the Guinness record for being the world's youngest fully certified yoga instructor in July 2021, when he was 9 years and 220 days old.
Surani did his 200-hour teacher training programme at the Anand Shekhar Yoga School, and says founder Anand Shekhar's patience went a long way in helping the young pupil to absorb yoga as deeply as he did.
Despite his tender age, Surani has mastered yoga to the extent where he now trains others — including people much older than him — in this Indian ascetic practice that has purported physical, mental and spiritual benefits.
Many might wonder if, given its contorted postures and lofty purpose, yoga is safe or even doable for most children this young?
Surani certainly sets a positive example, while Sindhu Shivajyothi, founder of Shivajyothi Holistic Lifestyle Coaching Centre in Dubai, also welcomes getting youngsters involved, insisting there is no lower or upper age limit to practise yoga.
“Yoga is not merely an exercise format; it works on a physical and psychological level and makes children healthier in body and mind,” she says. “However, health-coach supervision is important when children practise yoga."
She says getting the right trainer is important, to prescribe a holistic diet that helps improve health, while also inculcating positive traits "such as love, kindness, gratitude, happiness and peace".
She also says children as young as 3 can embark on their yoga journeys under proper supervision.
Reyansh’s mum Aashna Surani recalls he began displaying a deep affinity for yoga when he was between 4 and 5 and devoted himself to the practice in the years that followed.
His parents and teachers encouraged him, with the wonderkid himself revealing “his true love” is yoga.
Shivajyothi says the discipline can help children achieve greater mental and emotional balance, enabling them to better channel their energy.
“Yoga is the greatest tool to uplift our soul; various meditation and breathing techniques and postures help heal our chakras or energy centres, which helps us to lead a happy, healthy and peaceful life, no matter our age,” she says.
Surani agrees: “Children have a lot of pent-up energy, and sometimes they don’t have the right outlet and are unable to focus on things that matter, or things that need to be done.
"Yoga brings balance, which helps in organising Reyansh’s routine. Yoga is not only about exercise or sitting in one place. It’s so much deeper.”
This is especially important in an age where children are reporting high levels of stress, which leads to less energy, poor concentration, and even violence and self-harm.
“The warm-up exercises, asanas and postures along with the right diet help heal the body, and cure and prevent various ailments,” says Shivajyothi.
“Yoga can help strengthen mind power, enhance creativity and productivity, and alleviate stress, anxiety, and behavioural and sleeping disorders, plus increase concentration and memory power in young children.
“More schools should add yoga to their curriculum. It is most effective when inculcated from a young age, and can help children get healthier and happier.”
Yoga has obviously had a profound effect on Reyansh, who despite exposure to various activities such as skiing, playing the piano, scuba diving, parkour, rock-climbing and gaming, continues to gravitate towards the discipline.
His passion for the practice begs the question whether some of his yogic influence has rubbed off on his peers, and whether children his age feel the same about yoga?
“Well, the answer is yes and no,” says Reyansh, who is a student at GEMS Modern Academy in Dubai. The school, most notably principal Nargish Khambatta and Reyansh's class teacher Subarna Banerjee, encouraged and motivated the youngster to conduct yoga classes for his peers.
“Many of my friends have learnt what yoga is from me and tried to enjoy it. However, like my best friend did, they consider it for some time and then find another interest to pursue. But I am glad, they at least know about yoga and its benefits right from this age."
Going forward, his dream is to perform yoga with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is also a yogi, as well as with Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, who he says is a fitness icon for the youth of the UAE.
Aptly, given his age, he wants to conduct yoga classes in the metaverse. After all, the centuries-old discipline and the new-age virtual reality world both believe age is just a number.