Yoga is quickly gaining steam in Yangon as the city continues to develop. This practice of ancient tradition has adapted to aid the lives of our modern warriors. From quieting the mind to joining a social scene, from keeping our bodies physically strong to tapping into deeper spiritual awareness, yoga serves a laundry list of purposes for Yangon’s vibrant, growing community.
I sat down on my own mat with three dedicated yogis at Yangon Yoga House (YYH) to explore what yoga means to each.
The past: Pathway to discovery
Every yogi at YYH has had a unique pathway to discovery. For Quade, a Communication Specialist, heartbreak initially propelled her to yoga. She hit the mat at an Ashtanga studio in to quiet her mind after a bad breakup.
She recalls, “It was a man that drove me to yoga… I didn’t know Ashtanga from anything else, but there was something so comforting…” Tears tinted the rigor of her poses as Quade “sweated him out”. Eventually, heartbreak faded but the yoga habit did not. Quade was hooked on this life practice.
Carl, a GIS Specialist and Rocket Yoga Teacher at YYH, initially sought to gain friends through yoga. When he moved to Colorado, his new roommate was shocked to learn that Carl had not yet jumped on the yoga bandwagon and promptly dragged him to his first class.
Carl remembers with a grin, “In Boulder, it’s essentially required to do yoga. Otherwise, they kick you out.” However, yoga quickly became more meaningful than fitting in with the cool kids. Carl came to cherish the coexisting focus and community of yoga enough to spend 500 hours learning the trade of teaching.
Kallene, a Project Development Manager with Plan Bee Honey, also sought through yoga to deepen relationships, honoring the one with herself. She dabbled with yoga while working for a small NGO in India, but it wasn’t until she moved to Vietnam that yoga truly impressed her.
At Kallene’s first class here, she says, “Something about it just clicked, even though I didn’t know what they were saying.” The friends who accompanied Kallene to class never returned, but that did not deter her from rolling out her mat at her new sacred space nearly every day of her year in Vietnam.
The present: Yoga around Yangon
Yangon shapes the practice of yoga for its residents. Despite its lush green splendor and sparkling “shwe”, some ex-pats may feel uprooted from the comforts of home amidst the heavy traffic flows and developing infrastructure. Kallene admits she was challenged by the country when she arrived, and her stable yoga practice came unhinged. Yet she has steadily recommitted to yoga, finding her studio home of YYH a stable pillar to lean on.
Moreover, the co-joined vegan Nourish Café provides Kallene a stable source of plant-based nutrition that supports her yoga.
She boasts, “I should be the spokesperson of Nourish Café because currently this is my diet… I think that everything here makes me feel good, it makes me feel strong.” For Kallene, having this nearby nourishment as well as a reliable space for practice is so important that she recently moved across the street from YYH to improve her ease of access of her living essentials.
In contrast to the stress experienced by some, Quade cherishes Yangon as a space of lesser emotional challenge compared to her previous home in Kuwait. In her mind, the city is colored by the peaceful nature of local demeanor and the uphill climb of political development. Nurtured by the comfort of such characteristics, she is less driven to the mat than in previous years. Nonetheless, she realizes that her practice is always waiting when she needs it.
Carl echoes the reliability in his mat for his morning practices in Yangon. He says one of his favorite aspects of yoga in Yangon also continues to be its social elements, stating, “It’s been good to… come to YYH and practice here with a smaller community than I’m used to, but maybe try to reinvest in that community.”
The future: Ready to begin your journey?
From self-liberating to subscribing to a tribe to deepening a physical, mental, and spiritual relationship in oneself, yoga has served Yangon’s yogis well throughout their journeys. What more reason needed to begin your own? Kallene encourages new yogis to create their practice as a foundation for personal stability.
She says enthusiastically, “It’s really great to have (yoga) to come back to, to ground you no matter where you are, what you’re doing, who you are at the moment. It’s something that strings together each stage of your life.”
Yoga is the twine that binds the life milestones of Quade, Carl, and Kallene, and it is the tight-knit strand that laces them into the community connection of yoga in Yangon. Yoga has distinctive meaning for each yogi, but it singlehandedly connects each together both on and off the mat. Join the party and the personal journey but unfurling your own mat, and breathe through your individual experience as you unwind and unfold with everlasting grace.
My personal website: https://www.laceygibson.com/
Yangon Yoga House: http://www.yangonyogahouse.com/
Nourish Café: http://www.yangonyogahouse.com/nourish
About author: Lacey Gibson is a global health researcher, a food writer, and a Vinyasa yoga teacher. She recently graduated with a Masters of Science in Global Health Population from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Here, she also served as a Food Literacy Project Fellow, coordinating community events to inspire education of the food system.