New Face Of YOGA

So many styles, so little time…

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
My Reading Room

So many styles, so little time…

My Reading Room

Five thousand years ago, give or take a century, when Ayurveda was born, yoga created a framework of healthy exercise, mental calm and spiritual accessibility that went with the health philosophy. The mind-body phenomenon that now has millions taking to their mats every day around the world has since spawned a number of different practices, from the strict Iyengar, flowing Ashtanga and energising Power to rather more alternative forms.

There’s ‘doga’ where dog owners potty about their pooches encourage real downward dogs. There’s ‘gloga’, when you don your most neon yogawear and follow a class in a dark room with black light. There are people attempting to do asanas on horseback – surely not ‘hoga’? Purists may add rolling their eyes to their regular tadasanas and savasanas, but if out-of-the-box, and sometimes off-the-mat yoga makes the practice more accessible to more people, I say “Namaste!”

Quantum Yoga

A recent discovery for me, which combines a Vedic health focus with yoga is Quantum Yoga, created by British yogini Lara Baumann in 1999.

“Quantum Yoga works with Ayurveda allowing students to be in accordance with their nature,” says Baumann, who encourages students to take a dosha questionnaire before class to discover their current personal prakriti (nature and temperament). “This maps out how the three doshas (pitta, vata, kapha) are balanced in your body and mind and tells me what kind of yoga would be most beneficial for you.”

Along with her hotelier husband, Baumann has recently co-launched Tri resort in Sri Lanka, a beautiful Zen-like boutique hotel near Galle, where she and visiting instructors teach Quantum Yoga.

I instantly feel that adding the dosha philosophy to yoga makes wonderful sense. Quizzing my physical body, my mental state and my personal preferences, unsurprisingly to me and to Lara who can tell at a glance, I’m predominantly pitta with a splash of vata. In a nutshell, this means I have an athletic figure and a fiery, energetic temperament and choose gymnastically challenging classes to feed that fire, rather than slower classes to soothe it. Light bulb moment.

“Naturally we are drawn to things that makes us more extreme,” says Lara, pre-class in the beautiful, breezy sala. “However, Ayurveda is all about recognising it is balance that brings health and harmony. I would recommend grounding, calming classes to you. You may not like it, but you need it.”

We start with a steady and calming focus on each chakra, before a flow of strengthening and grounding poses, more demanding in terms of flexibility and balance than coordination or speed. However, she is well aware that the class needs balance too. “I realise I need to give students something they are attracted to too,” she says. And to my delight we end with a mini routine of headstands, transitioning with strength and balance into crow and back again. Yoga therapy made fun.;

My Reading Room
AntiGravity / Aerial Yoga

Aerial yoga barely needs an introduction. But if you’re yet to try it, it appeals to the inner gymnast while using gravity, not only to help strengthen and lengthen, but also to help the body relax into inversions and moves like wheel.

Created by Christopher Harrison, join an AntiGravity branded class and you’ll be introduced to a whole new set of asanas with entertaining names like monkey, flying shoulder stand, swoosh and vampire. And that’s just the beginning as there are all sorts of hammock-based classes – Fitness, Pilates, Flow, Zumba, Barre, Power to name just a few.

My first AntiGravity class takes place in Singapore with Sophia Sng, AntiGravity instructor at Upside Motion. “Aerial Yoga is particularly good for the shoulders, tight hip flexors, back muscles and for relieving stress.” Sounds like a recipe for everyone on the planet today.

We start with some simple balances and stretches while I get the feel of the fluidity of the silk. The first inversion we do finally gets me ‘flying’ and I love it. The process that takes me to hanging bat-like upside down is systematic and makes it easy to trust the hammock to keep me safe.

“Fear is what prevents most people from relaxing,” says Cholthicha Srivisal, master developer for AntiGravity Singapore. “But AntiGravity Aerial Yoga is a lot of fun, and when you start having fun you can relax and fully feel the benefit of being upside down.”

Naturally I’m instantly wishing for the next inversion. Setting the correct grip, making an adjustment of the hammock and then using your balance to flip, it’s incredible what position you can find yourself in, a bit like creating a piece of silk and human origami.

As well as fun, upside down poses are great for the spine. “AntiGravity Aerial Yoga stretches the spine without putting any weight on the body. You hang upside down, suspended in the hammock and decompress completely – that’s why they are called zero-compression inversions,” says Srivisal.

While AntiGravity Yoga helps train core and upper body strength as well as balance, there are psychological gains too. “My spirit feels elevated after just one inversion,” says Srivisal. “And it also changes my perspective on the world while I’m upside down. I feel like a child again, it makes me playful in my heart and spirit.”

Canto Yoga

A few months ago I found myself chanting a rather different tune during my yoga lesson. In Hong Kong’s boutique yoga sala Yoga Bam Bam, Matina Cheung leads a class of stretches and folds, lunges and downward dogs, butterflies and pigeons. So far so yoga. But this was a yoga class that was also a Cantonese lesson. Cantoga? Or perhaps Yoganese?

Yoga Bam Bam founder Melanie B created the Yoga with Basic Cantonese for Expats class when she discovered how little of the language most expats know. She herself arrived in the SAR with a determination to learn, but packed it in after three months of tedious lessons. “It is proven that we learn more easily when we are relaxed,” she says. “Yoga Canto is a gem of a class. It is a two-in-one for those of us too busy to learn Canto the traditional way.”

We start with kap hei, inhale, and fuuuu heiiiii, exhaaaaale, as we stretch and fold. Cheung adds lunges with our left, zo, or right, jau, legs stepping back, before bending into haa gau sik, downward dog. After an energising sequence she takes the pace down with wu dip, butterfly and gaap zi pigeon, encouraging us to move slowly, maan maan. And of course there’s everyone’s favourite, fong sung, relax, as we settle into savasana.

My Reading Room

THIS PAGE: While the elemtents make it more challenging, SUP yoga allows one to connect with Mother Nature as well as the mind, body and spirit . OPPOSITE PAGE: At Tri resort, Lara Baumann combines Ayurvedic philosophy and yoga to create Quantum Yoga.

It’s fascinating witnessing your brain go through the process of learning a new language while it should be relaxing. As I searched for mental hooks to help commit the new words to memory, I found my attention divided between the mental and the physical. It made me realise how intuitive yoga in English with a smattering of Sanskrit is.

“It’s a fun and creative way to teach and learn Cantonese,” says Cheung. “Also it’s easier to learn and remember the words without books through moving your body and speaking the words together. Language is the key to culture. If you can speak some simple Cantonese here, you can actively break the ice with locals and make your stay more interesting.”

As I peel myself off my mat following savasana, I am relieved to find that Om is still Om and Namaste is still Namaste. I walk away with a looser body and energised mind, but also considerably more Cantonese than when I arrived.

SUP Yoga

Another yoga gaining traction with the adventurous crowd is SUP Yoga. Not content with struggling with tree pose, wheel and triangle on a static, solid mat? Paddle your practice offshore on a supersized surfboard and see how far you get before you wobble off into the drink.

My first attempt at SUP Yoga was also my first time to try SUP. If you’ve got a sense of balance and a relatively calm sea you’ll nail the basics of getting around on this rather unwieldy steed pretty fast. Add in choppy waves, wind, currents and a local team practising their dragonboat racing and it gets a little more exciting.

I head out with a meditation and Yin class with SUPYogaHongKong at Stanley Main Beach. Co-founder Nadine Bubner talks us through the basics of SUP before we launch our vessels and paddle out into
the bay, throwing our makeshift anchor sandbags overboard to slow drift.

First we stretch out on our boards, feeling the slightly rough, hard and moving ‘mat’ beneath us. The sound of the waves lapping, the breeze and birds overhead, punctuated with the distant, rhythmic dragonboat drums, create a perfect background to Bubner’s guided meditation. But it is the gentle rocking of the sea beneath me that takes relaxation to another level.

“Living in a city it’s so important to get out and connect with Mother Nature,” says co-founder Diana Cheung, “and SUP yoga is all about total connection to mind, body and spirit.”

When it came to the asanas the waves are more of a challenge. Cow and cat, followed by downward dog with their four points of contact are relatively easy. Lunges get wobbly. Triangle – aiyaa, splash! But the class takes it up a notch with shoulder stands, which are relatively doable, and even wheel, when looking at the sea from upside down adds its own brand of weird and wonderful.

“Anything you can do on a mat you can do on a board,” says Cheung. I clearly have a few more sessions before I achieve that kind of confidence. “The great thing is that if you fall you’re not landing on the floor but in water, and I haven’t seen anyone fall into the sea and not laugh yet. Some poses like lunges are definitely trickier – you have to work your inner legs and core a lot harder than on the mat.”

I paddle back in with an extra skill, a heightened awareness of my sense of balance (or lack of) and the uplifted feeling that comes from being out on the water and moving with the ebb and flow of the ocean, which adds a spirituality all its own.