Alumna Aditi Desai uses yoga to get in touch with vulnerable populations

| Academic & Student Affairs, Departments, Global Health, Monday Letter, Our Alumni

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

USF College of Public Health alumna Aditi Desai is using a special set of skills and her public health passion to reach vulnerable populations – through yoga.

Desai recently returned from Nairobi, Kenya, where she completed her 200 hour yoga teacher training with the Africa Yoga Project. Now that she’s returned stateside, she’s begun her volunteer work with the Purple Dot Yoga Project.

Aditi Desai practicing her poses beachside. (Photo courtesy of Aditi Desai)

Aditi Desai practicing her poses beachside. (Photo courtesy of Aditi Desai)

“I became attracted to Purple Dot Yoga because of its mission to help empower women,” Desai said. “I love the fact that I can use something I love [yoga] to help others. Yoga is such a powerful tool in life and being able to spread it makes my soul shine!”

The Purple Dot Yoga Project works with survivors of domestic violence and abuse.

Desai also works as a health education specialist with a medication assisted treatment program at Tri-City Health Centers in Fremont, Calif. In both of her positions, being able to effectively communicate is crucial.

“It is tremendously important that I not only listen, but really hear and try to empathize with the community that I’m serving,” she said. “I’m working with an extremely vulnerable population so listening to them and adjusting my teaching practices to better serve them and allow them time to heal is the most important thing I can do as a teacher.”

Desai credits the COPH for helping her to build the skills to be able to truly listen to the communities she’s trying to serve.

“USF COPH was the best thing that happened to me and my career,” Desai said.


Alumna Aditi Desai. (Photo courtesy of Aditi Desai).

The Orlando, Fla. native earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, with minors in biology, chemistry, and photography, from Mercer University in 2009.

She graduated from the COPH with an MPH in global health practice and a graduate certificate in epidemiology in 2013.  Desai intended on a different academic path and often refers to her introduction to public health as “accidental.”

“I was planning on attending medical school and when I didn’t get in I thought instead of wasting time and retaking the MCATs, I would go ahead and get a master’s level degree while studying,” Desai said. “Little did I know, I would fall in love with the master’s degree coursework!”

Aditi practicing yoga on the patio with her four-legged-friend before her classes. (Photo courtesy of Aditi Desai)

Aditi practicing yoga on the patio with her four-legged-friend before her classes. (Photo courtesy of Aditi Desai)

Although she’s come so far—between Nairobi, multiple professional positions, working with the U.S. Peace Corps in Uganda—Desai has no intention of stopping anytime soon. The first thing on her list: the Purple Dot Yoga Project.

“I hope to expand the project to northern California,” she said. “I plan to continue acting as a volunteer yoga teacher.”

Desai also hopes to tackle a new vulnerable population using her yogi practices.

“I am going to expand my yoga practices into teaching those in addiction recovery,” she said. “Using yoga to empower vulnerable populations is my ultimate goal and whatever I can do to achieve that, I will.”

Along with her work she’s doing with Purple Dot Yoga, Desai will also begin teaching yoga with The Art of Yoga, an organization that teaches yoga to young girls in juvenile detention centers.

“This is a great opportunity to expand my yoga reach as yoga is being used to not only empower these young girls, but also to help them change their futures,” Desai said. “Similar to the work of Purple Dot Yoga, yoga is being used as a tool to help and change lives for the better.”


Fast Five for COPH Alumni:

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?

An astronaut! I still love space, the solar system and the stars.

Where would we find you on the weekends?

Probably in the park doing yoga or binging on Netflix.

What is the last book you read?

“The Alienist” by Caleb Carr.

What superpower would you like to have?


What’s your all-time favorite movie?

Bollywood: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Hollywood: I Love You, Man!).


Story by Shelby Bourgeois, USF College of Public Health