Most of our identities are based on what we have observed and internalized throughout our upbringing, culture, and life experience at large. Oftentimes, we assume that the construct of what we have experienced is who we are, and although that’s definitely a part of us, we are more than that. We are continually shifting and changing with every new awareness we discover and choose to apply in our lives. In essence, we become what we consciously—or unconsciously—identify with.
Kanika Chadda-Gupta, an inspirational speaker and a facilitator of tools for people to discover more of who we are beyond our physical identities, says, “I think that we feel rushed to put a label on who we are and try to fit ourselves into a box. A curious, giving, and passionate soul is in the essence of who I am. For me, it’s so important to live with purpose and to make an impact. To give you a little background on the meaning of my name, Kanika means gold or golden in Hindi. So perhaps I’m a golden child.”
Born in Bombay, India, Kanika immigrated to the United States with her parents at the age of two. As a young girl, aside from her regular American school, Kanika attended The India School every Sunday, where she learned Hindi and to read and write the Devanagari script. She also took Indian classical vocal music and dance classes, specifically in the Kuchipudi art form.
“I still remember when I was nine years old, I participated in a talent show at my elementary school, where my principal, students from all grade levels, the staff, and faculty, were all there. I chose to do an Indian classical dance performance on stage. I wore flowers in my hair, a bindi, ornate headpieces and necklaces, bangles, mehndi on my hands, and ghungroos (dancing bells) around my ankles. I felt so proud. Even when my peers asked me ‘Oh, what’s that dot on your head?’ I didn’t feel self-conscious; Instead, I educated them and in turn, they responded back to me, ‘Oh, that’s so pretty. That’s really cool.’ Moments like this made me feel confident enough to embrace my cultural roots and heritage. Growing up in a Maryland suburb, I was still going to homecoming and prom and the movies, and I loved having an American childhood, but I also had my Indian background which I loved sharing with everybody I met,” candidly reminisces Kanika.
It’s beautiful to embrace whatever our soul resonates with—the identities we are exposed to—and make them our home. Kanika reminds us, “Home is where the heart is. I feel like any place can be home, if you’re centered, and you know who you are, and you know who your people are. I think it’s important to embrace that; I feel that right now New Jersey is home. But if we happen to leave this area and be transient, I’m open to it. And India will always be a second home. When I go back to Bombay, I feel so connected. It’s just so palpable. As soon as I land there, I’d get this rush; a heightened stimulation of all five senses – the feeling of a warm hug from family members, people around you everywhere you look, the taste of pungent spices, the fragrance of flowers, the noise. It’s all in your face and it makes you feel so alive.”
Oftentimes we fear any kind of change. But change is the only constant that drives the expansion of the universe, which reconfigures itself with every new request we send, and therefore every new answer we create. We are the creators, creating the creation. We make our preferences through the observation of variety, and there is nothing more stimulating than having the opportunity to travel and explore new places, new cultures, and new people. Whether these experiences bring us more questions or more answers, they are all beneficial to our expansion and expression.
Kanika is now happily married to a wonderful husband with three beautiful kids. As with every love story, hers is also unique. Kanika met her husband at an Indian bridal photoshoot in New York; ironically, they were to model together as a married couple for the cover of a bridal magazine. Years later, they would meet again and eventually recreate the photo shoot—but this time, for their own genuine wedding photos.
When we discover the tools that make us happy and inspire us to lead a fulfilling life, we can’t help but want to share it and make an impact on others, too. As Kanika navigated the balance between being a wife, a mother, and an entrepreneur, she created a podcast, That’s Total Mom Sense, for anyone who is a parent, who wants to become a parent, or who resonates and wants to apply those tools in every important aspect of their lives.
“Time management is key. We have to be mindful that everyone only has 24 hours in a day. So what you prioritize versus choosing to outsource, and how you optimize makes all the difference. You also have to be clear about what your non-negotiables are. For me, my family comes first. So I make sure that I have dedicated one-on-one time with them. With my husband, we arrange date nights or go for outings when the kids are at their classes. And with my children, I have what I call “Magical Mama” time. I carve out an hour with each child and we can do whatever they wish. We could build with Legos, draw pictures, do math and brain teasers, read, or give each other back rubs. These special moments are memories in the making.
“My other non-negotiable is my job. I really pour my heart and soul into That’s Total Mom Sense, making sure that I have my time to record podcast interviews, plan my calendar, promote episodes and series, write for publications, and stay on top of social media and PR. And to that end, it’s so important to have a great team where each of you can stay in your lane and shine where you excel most.
“And the last and the most important is self-care. I know that term is overused, but it’s the philosophy of being 100% present and whole, before we give any of our energy and focus away. For me, it’s a five-minute meditation which can go longer on days I choose to, it’s journaling where I jot my inner most thoughts on paper, or doing yoga a few times a week to reset and recenter,” shares Kanika.
Being present now, regardless of the time we decide to give our attention to anything we do, will be the most efficient and satisfying process. Showing up for ourselves is of utmost importance because when we are feeling tired or down, there is not much we can offer to others. Taking small breaks to consciously breathe—and breathing is life—will soften our mind and create the space for fresh thoughts and new ideas to emerge.
We all look at life from our unique lenses. But we are not the lenses; we are the light behind them, expressing and imprinting through all the physical faculties and tools available to us.
This is what Kanika candidly says about her three children and her family’s unique expression, “You must trust your built-in sixth sense. I call it mom sense and dad sense because it’s an inner knowing when it comes to your kids. I have boy-girl twins and a younger son. With my twins, my husband and I were quick to recognize the bond that they share. It’s beautiful to watch. They have always been connected. Womb mates to roommates, we say! I remember when they were first born, our pediatrician told us to put them in separate cribs. I didn’t follow her advice. We kept them together. We swaddled them and kept them on opposite sides of one crib, positioned lengthwise. Somehow, during their naps and at night, they would wiggle over to the center and would be next to each other. It’s incredible that they managed to find their way back to each other even in their sleep. My twins have very distinct personalities and identities, but are forever connected, and will always be for the rest of their life. My son Krish is calm and introverted. He’s definitely animated and out there when he’s around family. But in public, he’s a rule-following, well-mannered, brilliant kid. He’s such a sweet, kind-hearted soul. My daughter Suhana, his twin sister, is a go-getter. She is fiery and knows what she wants. She’s my challenger, if you will. So, they are respectively the rule follower, and the challenger, and they’re both giving us something to learn along the way.
“My younger son, Shrey, is a ball of sunshine. When walks in, he lights up an entire room. He’s always been that way since he was a baby. He’s super talkative and chatty with anyone he meets. He’s our comic relief. Raising three young kids can be stressful and exhausting. But he brings the fun. I call him my shining star. So each one has their own lifeforce, pranna, and it’s so magical to see it unfold.”
No wonder children are considered intuitive, because they really are—and we as adults are intuitive, too. But we often adjust to certain societal constructs that block our sensitivity to our innate intuition. It’s not about eliminating our social structure, but embracing these innate tools and applying them to experience the life we consider is best for us.
“When you’re younger, there are no rules—you don’t really know how to navigate life and the world. And so you just trust yourself. There’s no one to guide you. Especially when you’re formulating your identity and thoughts. And of course, you have your parents and loved ones to help you. But so much of it is internal. And you really feel like your thoughts and opinions are real and valid and are 100% unapologetic about that.
“I think as we grow up, we become exposed to society and we become affected by certain norms. With that come stereotypes, gender inequities, racial profiling, the list goes on. Those weigh in on your own thoughts of ourselves and they influence, either for bad or for good, how we feel,” shares Kanika.
When we are born, we tend to sleep more because we come into this physicality more unfocused, with our intuition and innocence untouched. It takes us time to adjust to so much focus, and we then practice the process of focusing via our brains and the rest of the physical faculties we have. But we don’t lose what we came with; it’s always there, and we can always balance our focus-unfocus dance. In fact, over the years, we naturally become more vital, because we have more tools to raise our awareness above our physical realm.
Kanika lovingly says, “Children sleep 18 hours a day. And sleep is essentially an altered state of consciousness. Meditation is also an altered state. Being under the influence of alcohol and drugs, also an altered state, but the purest form is sleep, because it’s so unconscious – it just happens. And you allow your dreams to navigate what you’re feeling and thinking during a period of time where you literally have no control. Through meditation, which is an altered state that you are in control of, you are consciously setting this intention to check out for a certain period of time, to be an outsider who is aware of the thoughts in your mind that are floating by like clouds. That’s an important life skill for human beings because we can’t be sleeping all day.
“I feel babies have this innocence, in the sense that they are fine not knowing as they have an insatiable curiosity and they give themselves the freedom to truly feel every emotion. Somehow in adulthood, we’re expected to know everything. Yet again, because of the impact of society, we’re hardened by things that have happened to us, circumstances we’ve faced, and what’s going on in the world, that’s why so many feel innocence is equated to ignorance. It should not be that way. I think adults who can truly embrace their inner child are the happiest. It’s something that you can’t teach, it’s just an intention that you have to set out for yourself to be carefree. So rather than allowing yourself to get discouraged, sarcastic, or bitter because of the world around us, you choose to preserve your innocence and have an optimistic outlook on life. It takes a lot of effort. And, yes, people are going to look down on you, because that’s not the norm. It’s not how most adults behave, but for those of us who have that quality, that spark – keep it alive as you age. You’re going to be so much happier, and you’re bringing happiness to the world by being that way.”
Perhaps children come to teach us too, to parent us and to remind us about the beauty and benefits of intuition and innocence—to see the world through the eyes of who we are, in our truest essence.
Kanika contemplates, “I feel like it’s this mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. You can’t change your children; they are living, breathing, thinking human beings, and you won’t be able to mold them into who you want them to be. That is a complete misconception. However, I think it’s important for parents to be a guiding light, to make sure that they know what is right, what is wrong, and how we do things. Because at that age, they don’t understand cause and effect. As parents, we must also be receptive. Your children are going to bring out your innocence again, and a new sense of curiosity and zeal for life. It doesn’t have to be these big grandiose things, it can be noticing a beautiful flower on a nature hike or singing a song or building blocks so high only to knock them down – these moments can teach you to find joy in the simple things. Though you may feel you’re the teacher, you’re a student when it comes to your kids and vice versa.”
Kanika teaches her kids how to meditate in different, fun ways. “So, if they see me taking some time out, whether I’m sitting on the sofa, or crossing my legs on the carpet, I’m just taking my own time to do deep breaths and meditate. They will come to sit next to me and do the same thing. We don’t even have to instruct them to do anything. I feel the first thing is knowing that you don’t have to feel like, ‘Oh, I need to sit and do this. They’ll observe and follow suit on their own.
“You can also come up with fun exercises. A dear friend of mine, Tejal Patel, has a book called Meditation for Kids, which is a great resource. I also use a deck of cards called Mindful Moments by Boundless Blooms, which has affirmations and discussion questions. As an example, you can teach your kids to do the windmill breath when they need to calm down. You turn your fingers like a little windmill in front of your mouth. When you blow, it sounds like air going through a propeller. They love it. It’s so neat!
“Then you can teach them to close their eyes, think of their happy place, pretend they’re at the beach, pretend they’re making a sandcastle, and they feel the sun beaming down on them as they’re sitting in the sand. That is visualization, imagination, and transportation at its finest. They feel that. Then say, ‘Okay, breathe in through your nose, and you can feel the air go in through your nostrils and down into your belly. And now, blow out the candles on your birthday cake. That’s deep breathing right there.
“Another fun exercise is box breathing. Breathe in and count to four in your head, then breathe out and count to six. So inhale for four. Exhale six. Like that, it becomes way more tangible.”
These and any other tools that Kanika offers can be useful to anyone who wants to experience a more fulfilling and satisfying day-to-day life experience. On That’s Total Mom Sense, she hosts guests and has inspiring conversations not only about parenting, but also about how to experience a balanced existence.
Weola, one of the contemporary inspirational teachers spoken through Kosta Trifunovic, says, “To be selfless, you first have to be selfish.”
Kanika shares a few mom sense tips she applies herself: “The first kind of mom sense feeling, or your built-in sixth sense feeling, would be knowing when it’s time to take time for self-care. I think making meditation part of your day-to-day routine is crucial. It can become second nature if you do this right when you wake up and it can be for five minutes, fifteen minutes, or more. And then you continue with your day.
“Secondly, I would say, take time to journal. You will be so surprised by the thoughts that bubble up which you feel are worthy enough to write down. Because in a dream state or a meditative state, you have a sea of thoughts. But when you put pen to paper, you are choosing which is most relevant and important to you. After this brain dump, you can revisit your notes or let it pass. If you want to make this specifically a gratitude journal, you are prioritizing only what you’re thankful for; which definitely brings you back to a place of abundance and positivity in itself.
“Another way to tap in would be to do a random act of kindness or some form of service to others. Because at the end of the day, we are just our souls, we shed our physical bodies when it’s time. The impression that we leave on others which affects their soul and their lives, is what I feel we leave behind. So if you can do one small gesture, like if you’re going through a drive-thru and you pay for the person behind you, or if you help someone to cross the street, or if you write a note or send a text to someone, unexpectedly, those kind of moments bring so much joy to that person and in turn, to you. These actions are fuel for the power of your soul.
“Also, do things that make your soul happy. The most organic, expressive form for me is to dance.”
Being inclusive and compassionate is the nature of every human being on this planet. And this same compassion and inclusiveness you offer to yourself is also what you’re able to offer to and share with others.
Photography // Laura Brett
Website // www.kanikachaddagupta.com
Podcast // That’s Total Mom Sense