The air might usually be filled with thick traffic fumes in Bangkok, but that doesn’t mean you should hold your breath. In fact, you’d be doing your body and your mind a great service if you were to learn to breathe properly in Bangkok – or anywhere else.
Practising the ancient art of yoga can help with the various health problems – and the stress – that can come with changing countries. And even if you’re healthy, it can be a good way to boost your immune system and energy levels.
“Yoga is a natural extension of the way Indians think anyway,” says Anuradha Kumar, a 28-year-old Indian expatriate who moved to Bangkok two years ago to take a job as a subeditor on a daily newspaper. “My father actually taught me to practise yoga at home when I was a child. Then I was taught it at school. It’s really a part of my life.”
Anuradha, however, had not practised for some time before she came to Bangkok. “And when I was here, I realised that yoga really is the best way to maintain your health comprehensively. I tried going to the gym, doing weights, but it’s just not the same. I don’t get the same energy lift.”
Leslie Hogya, a Canadian yoga instructor, came to Bangkok several months ago with her husband, who is here on a teacher exchange program. She looked up the Iyengar Yoga Studio (http://www.iyengar-yoga-bangkok.com/) and says she felt lucky as it made her feel like part of a community immediately. “But on my own, practising yoga allows me to focus my mind inwards. This time in Bangkok is a time for reflection and growth for me, an inward journey.”
American Justin Herold, who runs the Iyengar studio, notes that women outnumber men substantially in his classes. “Most women are more flexible than men, “ he says. “Men tend to be stronger, but they have a lot less flexibility.” He finds some men come to class just a few times as they feel overwhelmed by the number of women practising who appear “better” than they are.
But yoga is not just about being flexible. “The moment you stretch your legs and you feel the stretch – already you’re opening up energy pathways,” says Hilary Fedderson, who teaches her own blend of hatha yoga several times a week in Bangkok.
She also points out that the objective of yoga was never merely to exercise. “It was to have a healthy body so that you could go higher spiritually,” she explains. “It’s like you’re joining the individual soul to the universe. At a lower level, it’s the joining of the mind to the body.”
American Colleen Duggan, who works in finance and is now Bangkok-based, found that yoga particularly helped her when she was working very intensively in Hong Kong. “It was a good transition after work – it really relaxed me after being hyped up all day,” she says. “Yoga is good for anyone who has a stressful life. And it’s really good for expat women because it gets you out meeting people, but in a natural way. ”
Duggan has worked and practised yoga in Hong Kong, Barcelona and Bangkok over the past six years, so her advice is certainly based on extensive experience.
“Yoga is also something you can take with you wherever you go,” she adds. “You can do it in a small place, and you don’t need any special equipment. You don’t have to do it in a class, and you don’t need other people to make up a team.”