Ashtanga with Bikram heat and Thai-ing myself in knots

11th April 2014

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The title basically sums up my yoga experience in Thailand, so feel free not to read on if you have short attention span, otherwise, happy reading!

The three week trip to Thailand has been six months in the making, with numerous changes to the itinerary but with the certainty I’ll be practising yoga on my jollies. So thank goodness I badgered my boyfriend Warren to bring a yoga mat because alongside my face cream and toothpaste, I left my treasured mat in Burnage and have had to make do with a second rate blue thing.

Yes, Warren’s mat has allowed me to keep a regular practice in Thailand but as it’s on the thin side I almost yelp every time I rest on a joint with Nirvasana eye-wateringly sore even with a thrice folded mat. But hey, it’s a mat.

Since beginning a daily asana practice nearly three years ago, I’ve taken my mat to places including Bali and India, so assumed I was prepared for the heat in Thailand. How wrong was I. Averaging at 35 degrees with 65 per cent humidity (weather forecast says it feels like 44 degrees), I only have to think of a sun salute and I break into a sweat – think Bikram but with Ashtanga postures and transitions and you get the picture (believe it or not there’s a Bikram studio in Bangkok!).

As an Ashtangi, I’m kind of used to practising alone and have done so for most of the trip. After a few days in Koh Phangan, I hankered for some companionship so headed to the nearby Yoga Retreat which holds morning Mysore-style classes. Led by KPJAYI Level 2 Certified teacher Elise Greenspoon, it was a lovely treat to spend my birthday with other practitioners in the lush jungle like setting, although I felt somewhat misled by our receptionist’s assertion that it was a five minute walk; an uphill 20 minute hike would be more accurate. Sweating profusely, I sneakily did four instead of five Sun As as I didn’t need to build any more heat. The yoga focus worked it’s magic though as I soon acclimatised and managed half Primary and half Intermediate – Garbha Pindhasana is child’s play with buckets of sweat!

Loving the companionship, I booked a taxi for the next day’s trip to the Retreat. Starting off a little cooler than the previous day, full Primary and half Intermediate felt right, and I made the downhill trip to the hotel feeling light, bouncy, and absolutely starving – I even jogged in order to get to breakfast those few vital seconds earlier.

Sitting at the beachside restaurant eating toast, eggs and a fruit salad, I’m sure I muttered the cliche sentence “this is the life”.

On the lovely island of Koh Lanta, I decided to drop by Oasis Yoga. Taught by a charismatic American called Mona, the vinyasa style class was a good antidote to the Ashtanga. Although it featured postures I was familiar with, the pace was a little slower but it was a nice change to yield to the instruction of the teacher and not to mention seizing the moment by using two mats – I think I would’ve paid 400 baht for this alone!

Utthita Hasta Padangustasana before the flies come to get me!

Utthita Hasta Padangustasana before the flies come to get me!

With ants coming from far and wide to crawl on the crazy person lying on the floor, the heat is a treat but I’d be lying if I said I’m not secretly looking forward to practising in the chilly Manchester climate when I return next week.

Ashtanga is a challenging practice and especially so when the environment we’re used to changes. On the flip side, the set sequences mean we can find that sense of continuity and stillness regardless of where we are in the world. By way of example, a few years ago I felt a little strange while staying with a Balinese family in the middle of nowhere, however, the moment I began to practise I felt ‘me’ again and any strangeness faded away. Such is efficacy of a regular Ashtanga practice.

So what would be my words of advice if thinking of practising whilst on holiday? Here are a few pointers:

Bring a thickish mat. Yes, travel mats may be light but if you have a bony bum you’ll be happy to make the trade off between added weight and yoga comfort.

Sample the local yoga. At home we can all be guilty of sticking to what we know, but whilst away we have no routine so can throw caution to the wind and try out something different.

Don’t underestimate the annoyance of ants and flies. These creatures can take you from a blissful standing leg lift to almost stumbling off the terrace.

Set your alarm. I know it’s a holiday but the morning is the best time to practice as it’s cool. Any later and you’ll be sweating cobs and spied on by fellow tourists.

Don’t allow your practice to get in the way of your holiday. Use the heat as an excuse to enjoy a shorter practice. This works a treat.

Update

Since the first draft of this blog, I’ve returned home to my chilly Burnage yoga room – I can’t tell you how lovely the temperature and freshness felt! Come Matt’s monthly 6am Mysore sessions in over a week, I’ll no doubt I’ll be longing for the Thailand heat but without the flies…

Charlene teaches regular classes with Yoga Manchester and Yoga Express. Visit her teacher profile for more information.

Charlene McAuley

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