For Soniya Mehra, waking up early in the morning is what makes her day truly meaningful and fruitful. Experiencing the quietness of the morning and practising her yoga exercises are her most favourite activities of a day. "If there’s one practice I’d suggest everyone should try to adopt into their life it would be to wake up early in the day and do some exercise or yoga," she says.
The Bollywood actress, who has worked in movies such as Victoria No.203, Ek Main Aur Ek Tu, Ragini MMS 2, should know. A full-time yoga teacher based in Dubai, she has been practising the ancient Indian exercise regimen for decades now and underscores how it has helped not just improve her physical but mental well-being as well.
Daughter of the late Bollywood actor, Vinod Mehra, a popular Indian actor who starred in over 100 films from the 1970s to his death at 45 in 1990, Soniya did not think twice of leaving her glamorous life in Mumbai to live a more fulfilling life of a yoga practitioner and teacher in Dubai.
Now a UAE resident, she offers yoga lessons to individuals and has a packed schedule shuffling between one-on-ones and group classes.
"I moved here in 2016, as I fancied a change. For now, Dubai is home. The best part about living here is being able to live a healthy life, enjoy and have access to great food options and be part of the massive health, wellness, and fitness community," says Soniya in an exclusive interview with Friday.
Living with her fiance and her pet, an English bulldog named Buzz Lightyear, she is at peace with the way life is panning out for her in the emirate. "The UAE truly has plenty to offer," she says.
Life in four cities
Before arriving in Dubai, the 30-year-old Soniya lived in Mombasa, London, and Mumbai. "Dubai really is my fourth home," she says.
Mombasa though is her first home. Her maternal family are fifth generation East African British Indians. "Dubai is a great central place and a land of many opportunities in every field. Life is easier for me when I am here as I can conveniently go back to London, Mumbai and even Kenya."
After making her acting debut in Victoria No.203 in 2007, Soniya also worked in films such as Shadow, and Ek Main Aur Ek Tu. She was last seen in Ekta Kapoor’s horror thriller, Ragini MMS 2, that released in 2014.
"Most people who want to be a part of the film industry are dreamers and artists who have big dreams and ambitions. I had those same desires too, and I tried my hand at it," says Soniya, whose brother, Rohan Mehra, who lives in Mumbai made his Bollywood debut in the Saif Ali Khan-starrer Baazaar in 2018. "I’m so grateful to have experienced the industry and am happy to have landed a few projects," she says.
Sonia’s biggest takeaway from her Bollywood experience is the fact that she gave it her best shot. "[I think it’s important] to always give your best in everything you do," she says. Whatever you do give it your 100 per cent. "Even if you don’t succeed at least you tried."
Starting yoga young
Born and raised in Kenya, Soniya was less than a year old when her father, Vinod Mehra, suffered a fatal heart attack. It was her aunt – her mother’s sister – who played a enormous influence in her life. "It was she and my mother who got me interested in yoga, something that has remained with me all my life."
Her tryst with yoga began after she started to experience lower back pain at the age of 13. Rather than put her on a course of medication alone, her aunt brought home a set of DVDs of yoga and gently encouraged her to practice the various postures.
Young Soniya soon found relief in yoga and she continued practising it regularly. "It is more of a lifestyle now; it is something I am rather than something I ‘do’. I learn more about it every day," she says.
Although she started practising yoga to soothe her back pain, "the more I practised, the more I realised yoga is so much more than something that [helps the physique alone]."
Keen to share it with more people and to take it to the next level, she decided to train herself to become a yoga teacher enrolling for a professional training course. To that end she completed a registered yoga teacher’s training progamme in Goa; she also has a certificate from the Yoga Community called Blissology by Eoin Finn, says the actress. (Blissology is a yoga system that works on bringing more joy, love and bliss into an individual’s life.)
For a while she taught yoga in Mumbai before deciding to shift to London and then Dubai.
Battle with depression
Though Soniya’s Instagram page is choc-a-bloc with images of her doing challenging postures, including headstands, handstands, planks and arm balances, she also uses the platform to discuss mental well-being.
Having battled with mental health issues since very young, she recently made a video where she spoke about her journey underscoring how yoga helped her manage her issues.
"One of my favourite sayings is a Mexican proverb – ‘they tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds’ – where I perceive ‘they’ as life experiences. So, I’m grateful for this journey because if I never faced the darkness, I wouldn’t have found the light within me. It was my best learning – of the power, of the mind and positivity."
The actress believes that every experience in life has a lesson within it. "Every day is filled with lessons, every experience has a blessing within it. Life is constantly filled with ups and downs – it will never be perfect. The sooner we accept that, the happier we will live our lives," she says.
Over the years, Soniya has been working on destigmatising mental health issues by regularly posting videos and positive reaffirmative quotes disclosing her experience with mental health. In one video, she says, "During my teens to my 20s, everything was filled with self-doubt and lack of self-worth." She believed ‘external forces’ would provide her with the happiness that she was seeking. But it was not to be. "In my life, I realised when things don’t go according to plan, it doesn’t mean that my life is over, but quite the contrary. In reality, the journey begins once you have completely broken down. That way, you can find the real treasures to stand on."
A modern-day gypsy
Going by the name ‘The Pixie Tribe’ on Instagram, Soniya describes herself as a fashion artist, mystic flow, lightworker, spiritual alchemist, tree hugger, and real-life fairy. So who is the real Soniya Mehra? "I definitely would say, I am a spiritual explorer and will forever be a student. I have studied and trained in various healing and spiritual practices, but the true best teacher will always be life for me. It has taught me so much and will always teach me daily."
Soniya who enjoys travelling, has been to several transformational festivals like Boom Festival in Portugal and Ozora Festival in Hungary. These counterculture festivals popular among millennials are billed to promote a community-building ethic and a belief system that values life, personal development, social responsibility, healthy living, and artistic expression.
Although busy with yoga and yoga teaching, Soniya is still keen on movies, and is open to taking on exciting opportunities. "I am still very much open to good work and interesting scripts. Bollywood is great, and the industry is growing in many directions right now. There are a lot of ‘out of the box’ and different movies being made which I would love to be in."
Right now though, Soniya is keen to make the most of the cooler clime in the UAE. "I love the yoga culture in the UAE and appreciate how much it is growing. There are so many yoga festivals and activities." She is hoping more people would recognise the health benefits of the exercise and begin to reap the benefits of it.
Sonia’s advice to those suffering from mental health issues
• Communicate – you are not alone. Talk about it with someone you trust.
• Have patience. Things will surely get better.
• Focus on your strength. You are given this life because you are strong enough to live it.
• Take deep breaths when stressed. It is most important.
• Workout and journal: Move your body, do a lot of journaling and find an activity that helps channel some of this negative energy out.