Meet our Mentors: Rashmi Balakrishnan

Interview by Madhumalika Bharani

Would you like to introduce yourself? Tell us where you’re from and a little more about yourself?

First off, thank you for considering me for this, I am very humbled by that. So, about me, I am Rashmi, based out of Banglore, India, but I am a Malayali, with deep roots in Kerala, India. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time in Kerala, but I am a Malayali by heart and soul. About the work I do, I believe I have two avatars, haha. I have a ‘corporate avatar’ where I am a Learning Consultant. I get freelance projects or opportunities to work with different corporations to develop and design their training material. I started this around 2006 but about 7 years ago I told myself that I really wanted to do something based on what my heart’s calling is. It started with dance because I have been dancing, performing and choreographing from the time I can remember. I also always believed that dance had more to it apart from its performative aspect. Hence, when I researched and discovered ‘Dance Therapy’, I jumped into it and decided that I wanted to study it. That’s how I started, studying Dance Therapy in India. Then I decided that I will not let go of the wisdom that I received from that training and went on to work with groups, teenagers, women through various programs. Now, I am a movement based art therapy practitioner.

Unfortunately, Mental Health is not something as common or celebrated as physical health. What is your take on that in context to the world and India specifically?
I do agree with that statement and that is very sad. But, I also believe that times are changing and we can all take baby steps and work towards breaking small barriers, small taboos through conversation. I say this because I understand the thought of wanting to change the world and make a huge difference at that moment, but that is not always the solution. Indeed, we don’t talk about mental health as a society, as a culture, however when I look at the age-old traditions and rituals, I believe it was taken care of, but over the years, we have lost a lot of it and now it’s a big taboo. We can make it happen, make a conversation about mental health, but let’s start with baby steps.

You know, we keep saying that mental health is not a topic that’s talked about, I want to know your take on WHY it is so.
It is because there is this common notion of roles set for people in our society like a man has to be ‘strong’ and can not be emotionally vulnerable while a woman has to be ‘calm’, ‘patient’, all sacrificing and more. Everywhere, we’re all boxed into certain roles and every role has certain expectations around it that we are all trying to live up to, very subconsciously because we are all conditioned to it since birth, so now to say or admit that we have an emotional moment is not accepted. Therefore, when someone says that they’re tired or that they need a break, not listening to them is the biggest mistake we make. Whatever it is, physical or mental fatigue, we need to start listening and stop preventing people from talking about it. We need to bring about safe spaces for people to be able to be comfortable to talk about how they’re feeling.

And do you have any personal solutions to where we can start the process of spreading awareness?
We need to start by really talking about it. I don’t think there is any other solution to breaking that barrier than to talk. I also understand and honor the fact that these conversations can be uncomfortable but I still say that we need to start talking about this. I have two daughters, so to have conversations with them like ‘it’s okay to be angry, upset, sad and even feel bleh’, helps them validate the emotion and not disregard it. They will also understand that it is okay to not be happy and jumping around all the time. So, it is important to have these conversations with our loved ones for them to understand and validate these emotions. It will also allow them to feel seen and understood.

What do you think about “teaching them young”, as in teaching or having these conversations with children?
For me, I feel like we can have almost all sorts of conversations with children but it is about offering the content of that conversation in an age appropriate manner. So, I will not talk to my 12 year old the way I talk to my 8 year old but I might still convey the same message. I will try and put it differently for them to understand and have context. So, it is really about how we set context and talk about it and that’s very important. I do believe that we can have a lot of these ‘uncomfortable’ conversations with children because, at the end of the day, we are teaching them basic values about respect, consent and community. It is all universal. A child will grow up to learn the world’s ways, we can’t control that, but we can teach them universal truths and what is right in hopes that they will grow up with these lessons at the core.

YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. It’s not even a question, it’s a fact. Not just young adults but every living human being deserves to have good mental health, to have access to spaces that offer them a place to be seen, heard, validated and to be honored for who they are and what they experience. As a young adult, there is so much happening in your life and every lived experience sort of becomes a part of mental health in some way because it is your emotions that are involved. So your mental health is always a part of your life, your experiences, because of which I feel like young adults need a lot more spaces where they can come and talk or just ‘be’. I always say, even if you don’t want to talk, you don’t have to. So we need spaces where people of any age can come and be themselves. Therefore, proper mental health is very important for people of all ages.

Do you take days off, you know, mental health days? How important are they?
I do not have proper, scheduled ‘mental health days’ but the moment I feel like I need a break, I just stop what I’m doing because that’s the break my body needs. I need my time and space and now I take it with no guilt, haha.

Now about you and Shine From Within. Where did you find us and what was your first impression of us?
So, I had just randomly searched for ‘spaces for young adults’, where we can empower young adults and that’s where I came across SFW. The moment I saw Shine’s page, I was inspired and I felt like this was the kind of space I wanted to be in. I felt like I was home, because this is where I wanted to be and this is what I wanted to do, create for and connect with others. But, when I saw that SFW was based in Australia, I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t reach them, therefore I didn’t have the opportunity to be a part of this amazing community. But, thanks to the pandemic, everything was shifted online, giving me the opportunity to connect with Amanda and therefore becoming a part of this incredible community.

I’d also like to say that there was one flip side of the pandemic where because everything went online, it gave me the opportunity to connect with and meet so many amazing people and be a part of such amazing communities.

Here’s one question that’s my favorite to ask (and I heard it first when I joined the Shine community haha). What is your ‘Why’?
My Why is my experience. It is my story, it’s what made me who I am today. What my past is, what my experiences are, good, bad, great, ugly, everything put together has made me who I am today and that’s my Why. I choose to use that as seeds to grow my tree of my dream of creating safe spaces for people in the community, to create communities. I think I took all of that experience and put them together and I hold them really close to my being. I do not think I’d want to change anything that happened before. Yes, I have had my ups and downs but all of that put together is what has created what I have today and working with young adults is my inspiration. I know how it feels when we don’t have a community or an adult to talk to or that safe space. I knew I was missing something for a long time but wasn’t sure what it was until I had the realization of a safe space. That is when I decided that I did not want to let go of that chance.

Do you have a business or something in this field that you’re a part of except for Shine? If yes, could you tell us a little about what you do?
I have started a project called ‘The Safe Gray Circle’. I have been fortunate enough to have a lot of opportunities in this space and I feel like I have an inner voice telling me that I am on the right path, because I do get opportunities to collaborate and create safe spaces. But, I do want to make something of my own with an established structure and hence, I am now working towards establishing something that I don’t like calling a business, instead I would like to call it my calling. So, that’s the main thing I’ve been working towards currently.

You have been facilitating the Trust Circle for the Online Academy. Would you like to tell us a little bit about it and your experiences relating to that?
The Trust Circle was born during the pandemic. Right when the pandemic hit and when the world went into a frenzy, I knew the virtual world had opened up giving me an opportunity to connect with people, because now, everyone was cooped up in their homes. I took the opportunity to reach out and initially, I wasn’t sure what to call it. That’s when the epiphany hit me that I was planning on holding a safe space where people could be themselves without having the fear of judgment and the first condition that people hope for is Trust. Hence, the name ‘Trust Circle’ was born. My intention was purely to create a safe space using the modalities of art, drama, music, movement and all the wisdom I’ve received from the various past trainings. I also appreciate open conversations with the members in the trust circle but before that, I also let them know that I do not have all the answers but I will be there holding their hands through the journey of finding the answers they look for.

Here’s another question I like to ask. What is one piece of advice you’d like to give your young self?
If I could turn around and see my younger self, then I’d say that she doesn’t have to pretend to have a sense of belonging. I do wish that she knew where she belonged but I know it is easy for me to say today, but the thirteen year old me’s best solution at that time, according to the extent of her understanding, was to pretend. She didn’t know better and I honor and respect her for that. Everyone’s doing their best with the length of their understanding, I’d like to believe that.

Someone once told me something that resonated with me a lot, so much so, that I teach the little ones in my family that. ‘Your greatest achievement is when you become someone you wanted and needed growing up, to someone else’. What is your take on that?
I think that’s exactly what I am doing. That’s what my calling is. I may or may not succeed in that everyday but I give it my all to be that person I wanted growing up. I am not saying that I don’t show emotions like anger or sadness but I communicate that with the receiver and I also tell them that despite what I emote, I will always be there for them, no matter what. I will always see, hear and honor you for your experiences.

Where can we find you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheSafeGreyCircle


If you’d also like to become a youth mentor and be part of our Shine From Within community, as well as start your own youth mentor business like Aruna in your part of the world, here are a few free things to get you started! 

  • You can take the free quiz, ‘Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Youth Mentor?’ and discover your youth mentor archetype here
  • You can listen to our podcast, The Youth Mentor Podcast here.
  • You can download the free eBook, ‘How Working with Teens Changed Their Life and Business’ here.
  • You can take the free masterclass, ‘Take Your Teen Programs Online’ here.
  • You can watch the free masterclass, ‘How to support teens in 2021’ here.
  • And you can register for the free mini training series here. 

And when you’re ready to go further and get the support you need to build or grow your youth-related business, come and join us in the Youth Mentor Training!

We also offer limited business coaching and consulting for more established businesses or folks who need a more personalised approach. Get in touch to enquire or request to book in a complimentary 15min call at youthmentors@shinefromwithin.com.au