Although the history of yoga stretches back some 5,000 years, in Bangkok yoga has been taught formally for only around 40 years – rather surprising if you consider that some scholars assert that yoga practice is central to Buddhism. There are many different styles of yoga, with the main differences stemming from what component is emphasised. This can include the alignment of the body, the coordination of breath and movement, or maintaining a smooth flow from one posture to the next. What’s important is finding a style and a teacher that you like.
There are now more and more classes being offered around Bangkok, so options are on the increase. Here’s a rundown of a few teachers and places to start:
Teacher’s name: Chomchuen Sidthivech
Style taught: The Sivananda school of yoga, developed by Swami Vishnu-devananda and named after his teacher,is one of the world’s most popular. It follows a set structure of asanas, pranayama and relaxation. Chomchuen emphasises that this form of yoga is very graceful, with no jerking, a trait that can sometimes be observed in other schools. "Srivananda is smooth, gentle, slow," she says.
Background: Chomchuen learned the Sivananda form of yoga from possibly the first teacher to open a school in Bangkok. "My guru studied at the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh in north India," she says. After several years there, he returned to Bangkok to open a yoga school on Soi Wattanayothin – that was around 40 years ago. Chomchuen studied with him for three years before she too began teaching at his school. Eventually they moved the school to her current home, where they taught together for around eight years. Since her guru died she has taught alone, although she is now training her youngest sister to assist her. One group of around ten women have been coming to her for more than ten years. "A lot of my students are like my sisters or my cousins," she says.
Contact details: 310/1 Ekamai Soi 16. Phone 392 9869.
Class times: Daily except Wed and Sun, 7.30-10am, 2-5pm. Students work individually, and can thus start and finish at their chosen time. Beginners should arrive early in the sessions.
Cost: Bt150 per class.
Teacher’s name: Justin Herold
Style taught: The Iyengar style of yoga is another of the world’s most popular. Created by BKS Iyengar – who taught the Queen of Belgium to do a headstand when she was 83 years old – this style is noted for its great attention to detail and the precise alignment of its postures, as well as the use of props such as blocks, belts, ropes, bolsters and blankets to help students get into poses. Iyengar teachers must complete a rigorous two- to five-year training program before being awarded certification. "I tried other schools of yoga," says Justin. "But I found that the Iyengar system was the one that best suited me."
Background: Justin started practising yoga in 1979. He eventually took a teacher training course in Los Angeles, taught at the Los Angeles Iyengar school for three years and has visited Pune, India, to study with BKS Iyengar on several occasions. He arrived in Bangkok nine years ago, where he has since taught at the Sukhothai, Phillip Wain, the Sheraton and the JW Marriott Hotel, among other places. He opened his own studio in October 1999.
Justin points out that one of the main things with yoga is finding both a school and a teacher you like. "The end results are pretty much the same. Some people like Ashtanga yoga, where you go through a series of postures, and it gets really rigorous. It’s subjective, and that’s why I get people here – because some people like the way I teach."
Contact details: 55th Plaza Building, 90 Sukhumvit Soi 55. Phone 714 9924.
Class times: Sessions are 1.5 hours, daily except Friday. See http://www.iyengar-yoga-bangkok.com/ for details.
Cost: Bt330 for drop-in, Bt2,700 for ten lessons to be used within two months, Bt2,700 for unlimited classes for one month or 27,000 for a yearly membership.
Teacher’s name: Hilary Fedderson
Style taught: Hilary teaches her own version of yoga which she describes as being mostly Iyengar and Sivananda based.
Background: Indian-born Hilary Feddersen learned yoga on and off while she was in her twenties. She started practising more seriously when she developed some lower back problems, and found the yoga helped strengthen her back and eventually eliminated the problems.
After learning yoga with eleven teachers of various disciplines she began teaching her own combination of yoga. Besides the basic yoga asanas, Hilary believes the breathing and the meditative aspects of yoga are very important components to be included in each practice in order to receive the full benefits of yoga. "To treat yoga merely as a form of physical exercise is a mistake many people make, because well-being results from harmonising both mind and body," she says.
She gave her first yoga classes in Bangkok over 20 years ago where she and her family have been residents for about 30 years.
Contact details: Apt 6A2 Royal Mansion, 304 Sukhumvit 55 (between sub sois 8 and 10). Phone 390 2310 or 01 692 0081.
Class times: Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 9.30 and 11.00 a.m.
Cost: Bt 1,000 for 4 sessions.