An Interview with The Unusual Finance Executive-Turned Spiritual Hospitality Entrepreneur
I first heard about Pawan Malik through my wife. She’s been raving about his amazing yoga retreat, Shreyas, ever since her first health retreat there two years ago. Every time she came back from a retreat she would rave about this beautiful place and the great service they provide. She had exchanged a few emails with Pawan, the owner, but had never met him.
She was keen on meeting him and the opportunity finally came up during our short holiday in London in November last year.
We met Pawan in a café and the three of us had a beautiful, deep and very spiritual conversation. It turns out Pawan was a finance executive whose life changed after discovering yoga. Not only did he embrace the practice of yoga but he decided to set up his own yoga retreat. It fascinated me how his whole approach to customer service was deeply steeped in spirituality.
I wanted to know more about the man, so naturally I interviewed him for our blog. Below is the interview. I hope you find it useful.
How did you discover Yoga? Was is something you grew up with or discovered later in life?
Serendipity. I happened to attend an asana class in New York around 1998. I have never left the mat since. However, my deeper study of Yoga started in 2001 when I moved to India.
I recall being exposed to is as child so was somewhat familiar. But I had no retained interest until my early 30’s.
If someone were to ask you what yoga is, how would you describe it?
It is a gamut of spiritual process and practices that harmonises, strengthens and purifies the body and mind.
How often do you practice?
When did the idea of starting your own yoga retreat start?
It was based on my own experiences. Having travelled extensively and stayed at exclusive hotels, I felt that although the aesthetics and comforts were great, the experience was spoiled by the conversations with other guests. Most of these would in one way or other, simply be an expression of showing off. I also found the conversations shallow and meaningless in the larger context of life. With my interest in Yoga and a growing understanding of its principles, and combined with the fact that I had moved to India and needed to do something constructive around my studies, the concept of Shreyas was born. It was an attempt to balance the upscale lifestyle in a simple environment where people could focus on more important questions in their lives.
And why did you want to have your own place?
The simple answer is - I could afford it. I also loathed to have to convince other potential partners or investors why Shreyas would have to be a non drinking, vegetarian environment.
Isn’t it easier to just go to an existing yoga retreat without having to own your own with all the associated headaches?
Very true. And I travelled to many retreats also. However, I always felt a little empty and incomplete as either the yoga was an add-on to the stay and the underlying principles were not observed. Or the teachers had several unresolved issues which meant their classes felt a little hypocritical.
When did you first open Shreyas?
The idea was seeded in 2001 when I purchased a parcel of 25 acres in a remote part of Bangalore, India. We officially opened to guests in 2004, although friends had been visiting since 2003.
What are the main benefits you’ve gained from practising yoga?
Don’t know of the benefits. I see the world differently to the way I recall when I was younger. So that could simply be age and maturity. I like to think I am more patient and understanding but my near and dear ones will also challenge that assumption. I do however generally feel lighter in my mind and don’t spend much time reminiscing the past or worrying about the future. Just looking at the number of times “I” is used in these passages, question whether there has been much learning!
What does spirituality mean to you?
To discover god within you and then in the whole world - all things, people etc.
Is there a conflict between being a spiritual person and a businessman/financier?
Depends. If you are concerned with profits alone and are especially serving the interest of outside uninformed investors/peers, its difficult to balance the two. However if you build your own business and manage according to a set of principles that you don’t compromise on, then over time, you can find the balance. You have to avoid making the mistake of thinking that you are making a huge positive difference to the world. This can distract you and your practice.
What gives you the most pleasure in your life?
The knowledge that I am not separate from the world.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start on a journey of spiritual self-improvement?
Be realistic. Often you want to alleviate some pain and resort to a spiritual practice for solace. But its much deeper than that.
Back to Shreyas… I’ve not had the pleasure of visiting the centre yet but as you know my wife Alia is a huge fan. What is the secret to the extraordinary customer service you provide? Is it linked to your spirituality?
The driving philosophy at Shreyas is that we serve every one as an embodiment of divinity. Its easy to be humble, courteous, and provide an attention to detail to all facets when you constantly remind yourself of that principle.
How do you keep your Team Members engaged and motivated?
By constant reminders that this is a sacred journey and that as their yoga practices deepens, they will reflect the peace and serenity they expect others to experience in their affinity.
What kind of training do you provide for them?
Practice of Yoga, which is compulsory.
Is there any crossover between the two worlds you live in (Finance and Spiritual Hospitality)? Or are they two completely different and separate parts of your life?
They are the same to me. However, I may not vocalise my spiritual understanding of an issue unless I recognise a like-mindedness amongst people that I meet. You also have to downplay the spiritual aspect as it can be scary and off putting to some.
What are your goals in life when it comes to business and personal life?
My goal in life is to play each and every role that is given to me - well. I have no goals in my business life expect to be true to myself in everything that I do.
Any parting words or advice for our readers?
That contentment or happiness cannot be found in any job or relationship or in the acquisition or ownership of anything. You have to discover the source of contentment within you. Find out who you truly are. You will be surprised at first and then amazed. It will change everything … for the better. Also, if you are not getting happier and more content every day, then my experience is that you are headed in the wrong direction.