Laasya Mangalampalli

coffee date #44 with laasya mangalampalli

counselor at Bal Ashram, owner of the most precious smile, my-Telugu-speaking-bestie-in-Rajasthan, voice notes lover, a Trauma-Informed Therapist, singer!, ukulele player, Hyderabad-born, Bombay-raised, Rajasthan-based

me: chai | laasya: chai
location: bal ashram, viratnagar, rajasthan

Meet my Telugu-speaking bestie based in Rajasthan, India!!! This friendship was truly a little gig curated by the Universe.

Laasya and I met at Bal Ashram. My first time visiting Bal Ashram was in January 2023. Two days after I had arrived, Laasya joined as a new on-site counselor for the boys. I remember seeing her from a distance for the first time. She was hovered around by a bunch of children who were eager to talk to the newly arrived Didi [older sister]. She was so gentle and had that radiant, wide smile across her face the whole time.

Approximately 3 seconds later, the boys started screaming “Esha Didi! Esha Didi!” as they dragged Laasya all the way over to me. The boys screamed in my face “Esha Didi, Laasya Didi speaks Telugu too!”

I couldn’t help but to be overtaken by a deep source of happiness. I had spent 48 hours in utter culture shock, knowing maybe 2-3 phrases in Hindi and using my entire body to communicate with these boys. Finally, having someone (other than my Dad) who spoke a language that I knew how to speak brought me so much joy. The boys forced us to talk to each other in Telugu in front of them and were astonished as soon as we did.

That was the start of our relationship – a language and a few Bal Ashram boys brought us together.

Ever since then, for the next two weeks I was there, we just got really comfortable with each other. We were both new to a place that felt so foreign. We were trying to find our footing and figure out a way to create a relationship with the boys. Here and there we’d be vulnerable, and then we’d share some wholesome moments, such as dancing our hearts out with the boys and girls of the Bal Ashram and Balika Ashram, respectively; absolutely no care in the world – we danced, bopped, and let ourselves be free.

This picture was taken on literally day 2 or 3 of us meeting each other – feels historic now lmfao

After I returned from Bal Ashram, I left a piece of my heart back there. It took me a few weeks to recuperate and Laasya and I had kept in touch. She introduced me to the idea of voice notes (I’m more of a ‘voice texter’ – yes, that’s a feature on iPhones); we’d exchange voice notes regularly, which we’d both listen to on 1.5x speed and update each other on the current deets from our lives.

She had even arranged a little FaceTime call with me and the boys once 🥺 Ugh seeing those boys again after a month made my heart feel all squishy. I obviously had to go back; so I did.

I went back to Bal Ashram over my spring break (not even 2 months since I’ve left LOL). Again, what a freaking heart-warming experience. There, I reconnected with this wholesome soul yet again.

What I appreciate about my relationship with Laasya is the incredible amount of space we have both created with each other to speak about mental health and our emotional wellbeing. I cherish the relationships that I make quickly with people who feel like I was meant to meet. I mean how in the world did I meet a Telugu-speaking, trauma-informed counselor, in rural freaking Rajasthan? The Universe was truly knocking on my door by introducing Laasya into my life.

Diving into the world of Laasya Mangalampalli….


  • Having control as a [child]

After listening to Laasya and coffee date #43 speak, I learned something new. 

Children, similar to the boys at the Bal Ashram, want to know that they have some sort of control and ownership over their lives. Yes, children are dependent on the adult figures in their lives when learning behaviors, societal standards, the good, and the bad. However, they also yearn for some sort of independence, especially as they enter adolescence. 

The Bal Ashram boys LOVE photography and anything to do with learning more about technology. 

In January, I was extremely cautious of giving my phone to the kids because I, being a control freak, didn’t know what they’d open, delete, or see. I also didn’t want any of them posting any of their own pictures anywhere through my phone because their identities must be protected until they reach a certain age due to certain rules and regulations. I’ve also seen three of the older boys completely wiping out a faculty member’s phone data when I was there and witnessed the panic it caused. Therefore, I had a few reasons as to why I was hesitant to give my phone (and when I did, I’d still be peering over their shoulder to make sure they don’t randomly open other apps or files). 

When I went back a few weeks ago, I saw Morgan giving her phone to anyone who asks. The boys take turns taking pictures and videos of each other and of me and Morgan. That’s it. That’s all they do. And they freaking LOVE that. Morgan said that the boys are so used to having outside people coming in and clicking their pictures, but don’t have that sense of control over being able to take their OWN pictures. This was my first epiphany. 

Later, Laasya, Morgan, and I were chatting and that’s when I had my second epiphany

Laasya described that many of the boys at the Ashram feel as if they have no control over their lives. They all live under the same ‘roof’; are required to abide by a strict time schedule; can not leave the Ashram unless they’re going to school; and many more reasons. Note: the way the Ashram functions is extraordinary (i.e. the morning prayers, meditations, game times, classes, food, etc.). I am just listing some reasons from the boys’ pov, which are very valid.

Laasya mentioned that one of the few ways that she sees them regaining that ownership is when she gives them her phone or laptop if they ask her for it. She explained that this shows the boys that she trusts them and also hands over some sense of ownership back to them. Almost all of these boys have been stripped of any control, ownership, and sometimes even dignity because they were forced to work at such a young age. As a result, doing something as small as just trusting them with a phone allows them to reclaim that lost internal power. That’s when the lightbulb rang in my head followed by a slight tinge of guilt. 

I realized then that arguing about why I can’t give them my phone further proves to the boys that I do not trust them, which is not my intention to outwardly convey that message to them. Thus, ever since that conversation, I had to let go of my own ‘control freak-ness’ and gave my phone to whoever wanted to take a picture of me or of themselves. The cutest part is once they finish clicking those photos, they give me my phone back and say, “Look at them Esha Didi. Are they nice?” We then take a few minutes to blush at their talented photography skills. 

  • Having control as a [counselor]

I am realizing that I have been meeting and connecting with so many empaths lately. Similar to coffee date #43, Laasya is also a fellow empath. After all, she is a counselor.

Laasya described to me that although she had more of a work-life balance at her previous job, she feels more in control while at Bal Ashram.

At her previous job, Laasya worked as a therapist in schools, where she’d have counseling sessions with children from sexually abused backgrounds. After the counseling session and their school day, the children would return to their abusive homes – and Laasya would have no control over this situation.

At Bal Ashram, though, she can watch the children, keep an eye on them, and make sure that they are safe, protected, and run to them whenever they need something.

“I would feel so separated and helpless from them. Here [Bal Ashram], I get to watch over the child and actually be there. I can make sure they have that sense of safety here.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

It’s important to note that though she feels a greater sense of control with the boys at Bal Ashram, Laasya described that she still has many moments of feeling helpless and out of control here too. There are only so many things that Laasya can do to shield these boys from the cruelty of the world. On top of that, once they leave the Ashram, Laasya has no way of knowing whether or not the boys carry the emotional tools that she equips them with into their homes. Thus, I guess being comfortable with not being in control is a feeling that counselors like Laasya have to deal with on a daily basis.

  • The importance of following through

Laasya taught me A LOT about promises and following through. She mentioned that because of the background of these boys, making sure we do what we say we are going to do is of utmost importance for them. It builds that trust that so many of them have had broken time and time again.

Laasya put this concept of ‘following through’ very eloquently in her own words:

It sounds so simple: do what you told them you’re going to do. But, it’s not. I think we take the promises we make to children rather lightly. We think that they won’t mind and they’ll forget, but based on what I’ve seen with children at Bal Ashram and everywhere else is that they do not forget. They crave for someone to act on what they said – it provides safety (listen below).

  • Trauma & Trauma-Informed Therapy

“Safety also feels unsafe for them.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

Why is therapy important? Answered by a therapist:

“I feel like the basis of counseling should be trauma-informed because everyone has trauma.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

The difference between a trauma-informed therapist and other therapists is that a trauma-informed therapist will focus more on safety, connection, and the person. Instead of being a therapist that operates from “I’m going to help you and I’m going to make it better for you,” a trauma-informed therapist operates more from the sense of “I see what’s going on with you. I see what you’re going through. Let me just sit with you here and let’s talk about this.”

“It’s not like I am going to make your life so much better. I am just going to hold your hand and be there for you while you go through this.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

  • Empathetic Witness

Laasya defined what it means to be an ’empathetic witness.’

When I asked Laasya why she chose to pursue a career in counseling, she told me that she wanted to be an empathetic witness for other children. She reflected on how her 8th grade school counselor was her empathetic witness and how having that counselor be present and consistent in her life made little Laasya feel much more comfortable and valued. Ugh precious.

“The thing with children who have gone through so much trauma is that they just need a safe space. Safe space does not necessarily have to be a space – it could be a person.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

Being an empathetic witness also means being able to listen and “feel their pain.” A counselor or an empathetic witness’s job is not to provide advice and instructions on how to ‘fix’ your life. It’s guiding the person in a way that makes them feel like they can make and own their decisions to lead an authentic life.

“As a counselor, you need to be used to that loss of control. There are times when you will feel helpless because you cannot tell the kids ‘this is bad for you.’ Instead, you have to be like ‘so what do you think about this?’ You can’t directly tell them and give advice. So, a lot of times you just have to sit there with them and feel their pain and not be able to do anything about it. It is so painful to be able to do that.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

  • Hyderabad –> Bombay –> Rural Rajasthan

This queen truly has done 360º turns from being born in the bustling city down South (i.e. Hyderabad) to being raised, educated, and having lived in the well-known city up North (i.e. Bombay) to now….living and working in rural Rajasthan.

For someone who has only been accustomed to the urban lifestyle, I asked Laasya how that shift from urban to rural was. Despite the occasional cultural misogynistic experiences, Laasya still said that rural Rajasthan makes her feel at home.

“It feels like home. It doesn’t feel like I don’t fit in here. I do. I fit in with the kids and I do not have problems living in a quiet place like this.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

Cities are great, but for people who are so in tune with nature, cities can make you feel like you’re missing a part of yourself. For example, I can barely see the sky whenever I’m in NYC and Laasya said the same thing about Bombay.

“Every night, I look up at the stars. I never got to do that in the city.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

Hearing Laasya speak about her life’s changes and how she is at a place that makes her happy has further motivated me to not be afraid to leap. I used to believe that I’ll live in NJ for the rest of my life because this is where I was born and raised and where my entire family/extended family live. Now, I’m slowly starting to allow myself to be open to exploration. I don’t want a physical space to limit me from experiencing all the other wonders of life and Laasya has helped me realize that this is a possibility.

  • Little Things

“Work-life balance” is a phrase that we hear often and it’s something that is encouraged for all of us to practice. This is usually referring to those whose ‘work’ setting is in one place and their ‘life’ or their home is in another setting.

Laasya’s ‘work’ and ‘life’ settings are both in the same place at Bal Ashram. The staff and faculty of Bal Ashram all either live amongst the boys, at the Ashram, or live a couple miles away from the Ashram. Majority, however, live in the dorm areas with the older boys. That’s Laasya’s home.

“Working with children and just dancing with them, that’s my ‘me’ time. I feel that you get to know so much more about these kids when you live with them.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

There is literally no physical barrier between her job and her personal life. So how can she separate from her work and create time for herself?

Laasya described to me how her job at Bal Ashram is wildly different from her previous job, where she did work in more of an office/school setting. Thus, as soon as she left that work setting, she’d do little things that would signal to her mind that she has officially wrapped up work.

The little things included opening her hair after a stressful day, taking her shoes off while on the train ride home, or even bopping to some music with her headphones in.

At Bal Ashram, getting even those pockets of moments of ‘me’ time can be difficult, especially as a counselor. This is because the boys just have so much freaking love to give, so they will ALWAYS want to speak to you and make you feel whole, loved, and connect with you. With Laasya, though, there’s another layer of familiarity and even safety that the boys feel, so they’ll go to her when they need their emotional needs met too. This is commendable that many of the boys feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable, however, anything that is mental health related often feels incredibly urgent at all times. Thus, how does Laasya fill her cup while living at the Bal Ashram, so that she can pour from that filled cup for all the boys there?

She noted that majority of the time she gets her ‘me’ time when she’s in her room or after all the boys have slept at night, and she takes a walk around the Ashram.

What I admired the most about how she creates a boundary for herself is she said that at around 6:30 or 7:00pm, she tells the boys “Let’s talk about something fun now. If there’s some sort of problem, don’t worry, we’ll talk about it during counseling tomorrow.” Boundaries! Boundaries! Boundaries!

“Before, if I did not attend to a child immediately, I’d be like ‘oh my god, what kind of counselor am I?’ and would just spiral down that negative self-talk.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

In the trauma line of work, everything always seems so urgent, so one might always be ready to pour from their cup even after its empty. The crucial point here is that Laasya is not necessarily pouring from her empty cup. Rather, she is setting a boundary for herself.

Laasya is not saying “No, we’re not speaking about this anymore.” She’s letting the boys know that she is there for them no matter what (keep in mind if something is actually urgent, like suicidal thoughts/tendencies, Laasya will show up at any time of day/night), but at this given moment, “Let’s keep it light. Let’s laugh a little.”

  • Connecting the Bodies with our Thoughts

Something Laasya taught me about counseling is that one does not need to use all of the top-notch Freudian/Gestalt/Erikson revolutionary type of techniques to be an incredible counselor.

She told me that one of the major things she does with the children that helps them greatly is connecting their bodies with their thoughts. When a child tells Laasya that he is feeling some sort of way, she walks them through an exercise to get them to reflect on how their body is reacting to their thoughts.

This is the process she walked me through:

Prompt: When you think of this, do you feel something in your body?

Example Answer: I think I feel restless in my hands and heaviness in my chest.

Prompt: Okay, let’s try to focus on that heaviness. Let’s give it a shape and a color. Is it moving from here and there? Do you think it’s growing or is it stationary? If it had a sound, do you think it would have a beep beep sound?

Now let’s move on to the Straw Technique. This blew my mind.

Still focusing on that heaviness, now let’s imagine a straw going up your hand and through that heaviness in your chest. Imagine that that straw is pulling out that color from that heaviness.

Now, scribble all of that anger, or whatever emotion, comes out.

“When you are working with people who have undergone trauma, it’s not just the mind you work with – it’s the mind and the body.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

  • Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn

I’ve learned that people who have experienced trauma generally have senses of flight, fight, and freeze moments. Laasya mentioned that there’s also a fourth mode called Fawn.

Fawn mode is essentially the idea of people pleasing. Did you know that people pleasing can also be a trauma response? Holy shit.

Laasya explained that this is a trauma response because usually when one is in Fawn mode, their brains shut off and they will do anything that the other person wants to be able to get out of the traumatic situation. Woah.

  • Emotions and Cycles!

If you’ve been here a while and know me well, you know that I am a huge advocate of letting ourselves feel every emotion and emote every emotion. It’s what we were all born with. As babies, we cry when we want to cry; we yell when we want to yell; we laugh when we want to laugh. We had not yet developed the tool of pleasing other people, so we lived life on our own terms.

As we grow older, we’re conditioned to suppress a lot of our feelings, which creates a layer of shame when we do get caught up in the moment and let it out at times.

Laasya described to me that many of the boys at the Ashram also feel loads of emotions, but it’s ingrained in them to never let it out.

This is the example she gave me:

If I’m angry and I do not get to express it, it will fester inside of me and will come back like a volcano later.

This emotion needs to be given enough space to complete an entire cycle, so that emotion needs to be expressed in that moment.

She explained that whenever a kid tells her that they’re angry, she tells them, “Let’s throw rocks or let’s take a stick and beat a pole. Let’s write it down and burn it.”

“The impulse at that time needs to complete an entire circle.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

  • Radical self-acceptance: don’t run away from the past versions of yourself.

“All the past versions of yourself are you and it led up to who you are currently. It wasn’t like at that time you weren’t being yourself, and so today, who you are is probably going to be a little different tomorrow.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

Here’s an epiphany that changed EVERYTHING about how I now think about all the past versions of myself.

I had the idea that who I am now is better than who I was in the past because I’ve healed and grown in various ways. Thus, when I catch myself engaging in habits that past Esha would have done, I shut down and think Esha, you’re reverting back to that older version of yourself. Your past Esha’s were not perfect. Don’t go back. What that type of thinking does is is kinda creates anxiety over always wanting to be better than who you were before. There’s too much emphasis on ‘changing for the better.’

Laasya believes in radical self-acceptance. Instead of trying to suppress those past versions of ourselves, we can accept that in that time we were ourselves, trying to survive the situations we were faced with. There’s nothing wrong with who we were. We were just human and we continue to be evolving humans.

“I like to just be as I am. I just want to be a human. I do not want to be a good human. I do not want to be a perfect human. I just want to be human with the emotions, thoughts, and not necessarily name them as good emotions or good thoughts. Just a human being with thoughts and emotions with all this beauty inside of me no matter what.” – Laasya Mangalampalli, 2023

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