(November 18, 2022) Whenever he’s back home in Kerala, Vinay Menon likes to sit by the backwaters, sipping chai and wearing his most comfortable chappals. Growing up in the sleepy backwater town of Cherai, Menon’s dreams were modest – he hoped to be a police officer. He had simply never imagined where life would take him, hadn’t pictured himself going from the quiet backwaters to a swanky London apartment overlooking the Thames, that he would be the wellness coach for the Chelsea Football Club with stars like Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba hanging on his every word. He often refers to it as the “Cherai to Chelsea” story, which is also the title of the biography his wife, Flomny Menon, published back in 2020. This year, he’s part of the Belgian contingent that will head to Qatar for the FIFA World Cup and is the team’s wellness coach. The Global Indian sees his upcoming role in FIFA as a means of representing his country, which he is, as he takes yoga, Vedanta philosophy to one of the world’s most glamourous sporting events, and its millions of spectators.
Call of Duty, and a calling
A judo champion in school, Vinay’s dreams of being a cop were thwarted when he couldn’t find an opening at the right time. Instead, he went to Pondicherry University, where he did his M.Phil in Physical Education. Like his grandfather, a yoga guru, Vinay went on to do a course in Yoga Science at the Kaivalydhan Yoga Institute in Pune. That decision took him to Ananda In The Himalayas, a luxury spa resort in Rishikesh, where wealthy clients arrive in helicopters. He rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, who opened his eyes to the many opportunities that awaited him abroad. It was also where he met his wife, Flomny.
The couple packed their bags and moved to Dubai, where Vinay worked with Jumeirah. “I started something called full moon yoga,” he told The Hindu. “I often felt like Madonna. I would be dressed in a white kurta, standing on a stage at the five-star resort and instructing my clients. There, he happened to befriend Dasha, whom he knew then as the wife of a billionaire. Vinay was invited back to England to meet the family and maybe teach them some relaxation techniques.
The Roman Abramovich connection
Menon said yes at once, and visited the Abramovich home in West London. They invited him to join them at a soccer game. Menon, still had no inkling of what kind of company he was keeping and when the Abramovich’s asked him if he would like to see a football match with them, Menon naively said he didn’t have a ticket. They told him that wouldn’t be a problem. That’s how, in 2009, Menon ended up at Stamford Bridge stadium, where they were taken to the owner’s box and he saw his own face flash on the arena’s video screen. “I literally had no idea who he was,” Menon told the New York Times. “I just knew him as Dasha’s husband.”
Chelsea’s boys in blue
After two years as the family’s personal wellness consultant, Menon was ready to look for something new when Roman Abramovich offered him the chance to be the wellness coach and mind strategist for the Chelsea Football Club. He knew nothing about football but decided to take a chance on himself and accepted the Abramovich job offer. It wasn’t an easy job. He had to deal with heavyweights like Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard, which was, perhaps, easier because he had so little understanding about their stardom.
“In the world of European football, they would have been thinking, who is this guy? Initially, they think I am doing voodoo or something,” he said during the NYT interview. That was, in fact, what Hazard was quoted as saying – “To be fair, when I saw him for the first time, I said to myself: ‘Who is this guy? Why is here there?'”
Menon stood firm, knowing that the players would benefit from him and hoping that would earn him a place. It did. Star striker Didier Drogba was the first to take a class and when he enjoyed it, word spread. Soon, the players were lining up for Vinay Menon, who remained with the Chelsea Football Club for over a decade, a pillar of the backroom where he worked with the head coach to ensure that every player was at his peak when he stepped on to the pitch. “Roman Abramovich changed my life,” he told NYT.
The Menon magic: Beyond Yoga
Adhyatma Vidya, Menon says, describing his method, ‘the knowledge of the self’. It is an Upanishadic concept, referred to by Lord Krishna in the Gita when he says, “I am the Adhyatma Vidya among the vidyas.” Vinay Menon’s job begins at the point of no return, when tensions are running high. There’s lots football players have to deal with, both on and off the pitch, from racism to unpleasant fans. Simply put, it’s his job to maintain the calm.
“Sometimes we do yoga. Sometimes, I observe the players and talk to them for a long time. My work doesn’t have a regular pattern. I help them remain calm and it doesn’t matter how we do it or what we do,” Menon explained to the Indian Express back in 2017.
Menon’s programme is called ‘ARFA’, which stands for awareness, recovery, focus and achievement. There’s no fixed plan, really and Menon’s sessions, although very much sought after, always remained optional for the team. Sometimes, they would do yoga, at other times, he simply listens to the players talk.
FIFA World Cup 2022
For Vinay Menon, being at the FIFA World Cup means doing so as a representative of India. This he definitely is, accompanying the team with his Adhyatma Vidya programme. “If Belgium, with a population of 11 million, can make it to the World Cup, there’s no reason why India with a population of 1.3 billion cannot. I believe that India can play the World Cup by 2030, and if and when that happens, I would very much like to end my expertise to the Indian team.”