Reclaiming Her Culture on Her Terms With Chanchal Garg
Growing up, Chanchal (formerly known as Gangorti) didn’t even understand that she lived under the “shoulds.” She lived in a narrative that she didn’t belong to herself - in her culture, it was normal to adhere to the traditional roles for women, one of which was belonging to the men in her life: her father, husband, and even eventual son.
In this episode, Chanchal shares that when she finally questioned the expectations placed on her and started to listen to her body. She asked what was serving her and what she truly wanted during one of her yoga classes and was finally able to make a true connection with herself.
After that experience, she felt that she questioned her culture for some time - but found beauty in reclaiming her culture on her terms.
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Watch Chanchal's Story
Editor’s Note: After the recording of this interview Gangotri has changed her name to Chanchal. Here is her statement:
“Gangotri was a name given to me by the ‘guru’ who was abusive. It is the glacier that is the origin of the Ganges river. While this may and does sound profound to many in my culture- a glacier is heavy and unmoving.
Chanchal was given to me by my maternal grandmother in a dream. I have never met this woman as she died when my mother was a year old. After her death, many of the ‘elders’ in my grandfather’s family thought it best to destroy her pictures so that my mother could move on with a new mother. She was erased. Neither my mother or I have ever seen a picture of her.
I’ve been feeling her around me for the past few years and was delighted when she came and gave me my new name. It means playful, chaotic, unstable (like the wind) and a little bit naughty. I have always been the one to shake things up so this name feels much more appropriate and in embracing it, I can feel myself putting the glacier down and finding a new lightness. It feels incredible. It also feels wonderful to be able to stand for my grandmother.”
Today my guest is Gangotri Garg.
Gangotri is a leadership coach and facilitator for Stanford's Graduate School of Business interpersonal dynamics course. She specializes in embodied leadership and interpersonal dynamics consulting for leaders looking to create a truly inclusive workplace and society.
Over the past 21 years, she has held leadership positions within large healthcare organizations. She's led yoga teacher training programs, coached leaders across a wide range of professions, and run several small businesses through coaching workshops, group work, and speaking engagements. Gangotri uses her experience and expertise in corporate leadership, embodiment, employee, empathy, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging to create unique learning experiences that result in sustainable change.
When she's not helping leaders create more authentic relationships, you can find her spending time in nature, stand-up, paddle boarding, and relaxing with her husband and two children in their home in California.
Gangotri, I am with you on the stand-up paddle boarding - that is my zen! I love what you said about yourself - there's nothing like getting out on the water.
I'm so happy that you're here. Welcome!
I'm so happy to be here!
So, okay. Let's not, let's not spend another minute - I'm so excited to hear your story. So why don't you just tell us what it was like when you were living under the shoulds?
Yeah. Well, I want to say this first. I don't think I knew that I was at first.
I hear that very often.
In the very beginning, it was almost like I'm living my best life.
Um, and, and doing the shoulds and going by the shoulds was like the goal, right?
And when I started to recognize what was really happening, it was almost like a feeling of suffocation where you just don't almost feel like the walls are closing in there's nowhere to go.
At that point, it's hard to find a way out. It's hard to see a way out, I think. I think I remember working with a coach way back in those days and the practice that she gave me. She said, I want you to go and get ice cream every single day, and your only job is to choose a flavor.
Oh, well, okay. I like this homework assignment - tell me more about this.
I couldn't figure out what I liked a little - I couldn't tell you what I wanted to eat. And so, um, I just remember that as, like, I always remember that as being so profound.
Because it's like, you don't even you're so buried under all of the shoulds that you don't even know. You don't even know what you want. It's suffocating - a feeling of almost being lost.
Yeah. So when you look back at that time, what did the shoulds look like for you? Because I imagine what they were, but I'd love to hear it because in my mind I'm thinking, oh, it's probably, you did the next thing that was expected.
So maybe it was to go to college, maybe it was, but then I realized I don't want to make assumptions. I want to hear from you.
What did that look like?
Yeah, well, you know, I'm South Asian, and so my family was also very, very religious growing up. I think a lot of the shoulds were just around like our day-to-day ritual. Right?
Like there, you know, when I was younger, I would spend probably an hour or two each day in ritual, and I'm talking like age nine and 10.
And you know, well now you can look at it from a mindfulness perspective and be like, wow, that's amazing when it comes from that place of. And so I just didn't feel like I had any control over my days over what to do. So there was that when I was in school, I wasn't, you know, as an Indian woman, I wasn't supposed to be on stage, for instance. And yet I was like singing and dancing and, um, drama and all of these things.
And so, you know, it was like, those things weren't allowed. And, um, I definitely pushed against somebody eventually, but, um, yeah, those were, that was a lot of what may look like. And then, you know, like beyond that, just in life in general, you know, like the, if you look at the trajectory of what I was supposed to or should do, it was yeah. Go to college, get married. Once you get married, you serve your husband.
There's sort of a narrative and my culture that when you're young, you belong to your father, and you belong to your husband. And then after that, you belong to your son.
Well, ever belonged to yourself.
Wow. Right. Yeah. Yeah.
Um, and every time I say that it causes me to pause.
It's worthy of a pause, frankly.
No wonder you didn't know what you wanted. No wonder you were feeling suffocated. I mean, just that alone. I can see that.
And I imagined you as a person who has a passion for singing and being on the stage and the friction that must've been going on inside of you, between what you wanted, versus what you'd been told your whole life was acceptable for you in a culture that tells you, you belong to your dad and then your husband and not to you. I can only imagine what that was like for you.
What do you think was the catalyst, because it's clear, we're here talking about this today. So this is your life looks very different and we'll get there. But you said you were working with a coach. So what do you think was the catalyst that allowed you to sort of go a different course and hire a coach and do whatever.
And I'd love to hear what you did, but what started the change in your trajectory, to use your word?
Yeah, well, so I have to say, like, even when I was under the shoulds, there was always a little bit of a rebel inside of me. There were times where I still did all the things in school, you know, even under the, but over time.
I think the biggest catalyst wasn't even a coach, a coach came afterward. So I, as I mentioned, was raised very, very religious, and so we had what's called a guru.
Growing up from the age of like 16 and our family didn't do very much without his permission.
And so this man, like, honestly, I thought of him this almost as God, right?
Like it was, this is who we worshiped, and so over time, you know, we used to go to his seminars, we would go back and forth to India to listen to him, all of these things. But then, um, let's see about, I want to say, 12 years into following him, unfortunately, he sexually assaulted me.
Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that.
That continued for 10 years - I did not question it.
Cause I mean, this is the power, and I get that this is not like your everyday story.
You're this because it's the power of the shoulds.
Oh, that's such a great point.
You know, like you, you find yourself buried under there.
I don't live in India. I have a master's degree. I'm well-educated, and I'm a solid woman.
I was in this situation without questioning it, and so I remember one day, um, when I, when I did question it, I was actually teaching a yoga class.
And up until that time, whenever I would talk, teach me yoga classes, it would be very traditional, as I had been taught, you know, like, just do this, do this, do this. And I honestly feel like, because I had been practicing for a while and I was in contact with my body.
I had started to learn how to listen to my body that day when I was teaching, and all of a sudden, I started asking my class to question themselves. And I was like, so what are you getting out of this yoga practice? Like, is it serving you, you know, or are you just kind of doing it because you think you should.
And so I was questioning this over and over in class, and after that class, I was like, that was a really different class, like that's not how I normally teach.
And I remember going into the bathroom and looking in the mirror and like having, sorry, it was like a big, oh, moment. Like, oh my gosh, what is happening? And when I finally realized it, it was like, I don't know that it happened overnight because there's a lot of grief, obviously that whole situation like that. But I think that was the catalyst to recognize like, wow, someone who I had considered God-like, right?
To see the reality of that and see the impact of the way that I was raised and my belief system and what that did to me and my life was really the catalyst for me.
I imagine it had you questioning everything.
You know, like it had me honestly questioning my whole culture for a while.
I think the beauty of it is that I'm now able to reclaim my culture on my own terms.
Oh, I love that. I love how you didn't let that experience really take away from you that you own it. It sounds like on your terms, in your way, your own way. Yeah.
Yeah. It's, and it's been an incredible experience.
I'll give you, um, like a little story - so I was raised like, uh, as I mentioned, just very religious, and so there's a mythological story in our culture called the Ramayana.
And it's the story of Rama and, you know, Rama is this man who's very righteous and, um, has a ton of integrity in all of this stuff- so it's his story.
He also has his wife, Sita, who is also a big part of the story, but the story is never told from her perspective. And so it was just, I want to say, like a year and a half ago, um, I came across somebody who had written another version of this myth from her perspective.
And it was just like mind-blowing, you know, to hear all of these narratives from the other side of it and to see like, what does it really, what can it really mean?
You know, so it's just, it's been an amazing journey.
And I have to say they should suck, like at some point, at least for me, they served a purpose. You know, like the way that I feel empowered, I don't think I would have ever gotten to this place if I didn't live under that,
You know, to be able to say that, to have gone through what you went through and to be able to look back on all of those experiences with gratitude really speaks to your character.
I just think you were incredible in that way, and, you know, when you shared the story, the catalyst story, you said that's not everyone's story. And I get that, but I wonder how many women watching this actually can relate to that.
Even if that wasn't the exact experience, I do appreciate what you said, that it still exemplifies living under the shoulds. And for most of us, those should, that really ingrained themselves in us as we were growing up. We didn't question those because we were kids, and that's not what we weren't supposed to do that, but if we keep living under those shoulds as an adult, we're really denying ourselves.
Like you didn't even know what you wanted to eat, but I want anyone watching who's listening to this to understand that's so common.
We're just so disconnected from ourselves that we don't even know something as simple as what do we want to eat.
So I just really want to reflect back on that and what an incredible place you're at now, being able to have that perspective. And, also how, how fortunate, if you will, for you, that you were so practiced in yoga and so connected to your body, that you had space to hear that wisdom.
Because many of my clients, I'm sure you know this too. They live up here. They're not down here. And so that wise voice often gets completely overshadowed by all the overthinking and all the stressing and the.
They can't hear it.
Absolutely - it's why, um, my focus is on embodiment. The power of our bodies is so important, and we can. It's not biased.
Yes. I love that. I love that. And that, and that you listened to, that you took the time to say, wow, that was really different, what's really going on here.
I think that it's so important to take the time to question ourselves about what's behind what's going on and where the magic is. If you will, that's where the secret ingredients are. If you really want to start understanding yourself, go deep.
So what does life look like now on the other side of all of this?
Oh, well, um, well, it's been an unfolding process, right?
It's a little while to first realize, like, oh my gosh, there are options out here, and for a little while, it can feel overwhelming. I feel like you actually go through cycles of that - what is actually possible.
Um, and then there's also taking responsibility for it. Because you know, when there's possibility and when you now have choice, then there's also responsibility.
Oh, I love that perspective. I was going to ask you to say more about that, but what you're saying is there are options. There are opportunities, and then what are you going to do with that? Right. Yeah. I'd love that.
And, you know, responsibility, I think, is empowerment.
So, um, it's like, I tell my kids, you want more freedom, then you get more responsibility. Um, so, you know, it's, it's amazing, and it's beautiful, and I get to create what I want to create. Um, and, and for me personally, I just love being able to look back on my life and take what I've gained to take what I've learned and be able to turn that into a gift for the world.
It's so inspirational.
And it leads me to my next question too. So how has your own experience influenced the work? So tell us about the work you do now, and I'm curious how this journey has influenced the work you do now.
I'm also a leadership coach, and my focus is on women, and for this very reason, I think women, as you know, we all, most of us live under these shoulds.
It takes a lot to get out from under the narrative that many of us have been raised with about what we were supposed to do, who we are, what our roles are. And when I look at the world today, um, and where we are right now in the middle of a pandemic with all the chaos going on around the world, um, I truly believe that we're in need of more humanity and
I couldn't agree more.
And when we look at women, one of my focuses is on feminine leadership. And when I talk about feminine leadership, I'm actually not even talking about gender.
I'm just all of the, more of the feminine energies, which are more humane when you look at that, and I'm not talking about just nurturing soft stuff. I mean, there's, there's some ferocity behind the feminine as well.
And so I'm talking about all of that, and how do we start to reclaim that as a society? And I do think that women aren't in a better position to start doing that. And so that's why, um, that's, that's my focus. And when I look at my own journey, you know, a lot of times, again, the feminine is sort of buried under this soft nurturing persona - those are all the shoulds.
But that's how we're supposed to show up.
That's how we should be. But again, like there's this, um, fear side of the feminine that I feel like I needed to access to be able to get out from where I was once I got out, I mean, there was still, there were battles to be fought, you know, like, I mean, I left behind my entire community that I had been raised with. It was just like, I, I, yeah, there and I started fresh. You can't do that with just the softness, right? So there's a ferocity to be gained. And I find so many women are afraid of their own anger. They're afraid of their own rage. And I tell women all the time, I'm like, the rage is, is what you want to worship. The rage is what you want to be grateful for what you want to honor so that you can transform that into ferocity, right? Yeah. You need to spew it, but if you keep it inside, it's going to burn you up. So do,
Would you say that culturally and this probably cuts across many cultures, women are taught that being angry is not okay. This should side, um, you know, if women get angry, we might actually really make some change in the world. And so the way to handle that is to teach women that anger is not safe.
It is so interesting that you say that we are very disconnected from that, and I've never heard anyone say it quite the way. You just did like to worship that. And to, I think what I'm hearing you say is to take that and put it into action, and that's where that ferocity is coming from.
Oh, I love that so much.
There's so much fuel behind it.
Good fuel, though.
I mean, I think that's the thing is we're afraid we're going to get angry and go crazy, and people won't like us and what's going to blow up and what's going to happen. But if you can utilize that, that's, I, I don't hear you advocating for people to blow up their worlds, unless maybe you need a blow up to start over. I mean, that's possible, but I hear you saying to harness that, is that, is that right?
Absolutely - I just think, you know, like we're so afraid, and all of us, you know, when we feel anger, there's, um, I know, for a lot of my clients, I think I was like this for a while. There's sort of this narrative that, um, we start to enter that I've done something wrong because, And the truth is that if you're angry, chances are one of your boundaries has been crossed. So it's not you. It's someone else.
And this is what we were talking about before getting behind it. What is going on behind the anger? I often talk about this too, those negative emotions, most of us want to shy away from it, but there's usually a message in there.
Go in there and think about why you are angry? Why are you frustrated? Why are you irritable? Get in there and figure it out.
It's exactly what we're talking about.
It's just it's so important, right?
Those are the messages that come from our body cause anger is usually physical, right?
This is so good - I imagine women watching this right now are like, yes, I want some more Gangotri - how do I find her? How can I connect with her? So would you mind sharing with our viewers, um, how to connect with you, how they can follow you?
Absolutely - I have a website which is, gangotrigarg.com
I cannot thank you enough - I found this conversation so fascinating. I really enjoyed getting to know you. Thank you for your frank sharing of your story and this vulnerability.
I honestly think it's such an incredible model for people to see that it is important to be real and authentic and look at what happens when you do and when you dig down. So, oh my goodness -thank you so much for showing up and sharing with us. I really appreciate it!
For me as well. And to those of you watching, thanks for joining us, and please come back next time for another episode.