In Phuket, I go for yoga regularly in a sweet little studio on the seafront. The tourists, and long term residents like myself, come and go with the seasons. But the bedrock of the class is the three ladies in their 50s. Two of those ladies were born in Patong itself, less than a mile from the yoga studio, whilst the third had been living here for the past 21 years. Rain or shine, and throughout the seasons of the year, they are here.
In this sweaty little room, we practice a kick-ass type of yoga. Hot yoga has brought fit young men to their knees, so punishing is the 90-minute routine in the hot room. We often have young visitors who come to yoga as part of their Thai boxing training experience, and they have been known to crumple down on the towel trying to fight nausea and dizziness.
The three ladies laugh and joke their way through the session each day. Sometimes, in my more serious mood, I find their chatter and giggles annoying: there I was trying to mindfully elongate my scarred hamstrings and there they were laughing at each other over some schoolgirl childishness. Though I don’t understand Thai, their conversations can be distracting.
But most of the time – I would say 99% of the time – I enjoyed their sunniness. Whenever I am struggling in the hot room, I would catch one of them smiling encouragingly at me, or say something nice. In time, I learned to adapt my practice so that I can be harmonious and at peace in their space, though our philosophy and approaches to yoga are diametrically different: I am competitive and athletic, and I take yoga as seriously as I do my 35km a week run.
One day, a young Indian guy walked into our studio and started practising with us. He is in his late twenties or early thirties. He is small in stature with a smiley face. The three ladies’ attention were turned onto him immediately. Most people would have found this daunting and annoying to walk into a yoga class to learn yoga, but becoming instead the centre of attention, curious questions and teasing. But this young chap took this all in his stride and is now part of the gang.
In came another young lady, visiting from afar. She has a fantastic body. She got annoyed with the ladies. She told them to shut up. “This is not how this form of yoga should be practiced,” she said loudly. “You have to do it in silence, focusing only on the mirror in front of you. And be quiet. I have paid my money for this class and it is my right to be able to practice in peace.”
On the mat beside the complainer was a practitioner from the same country as she. This lady looked like a hardcore yogi. She unwound herself from the eagle pose and moved her mat away from her countrywoman, to moved over to the side of the room where the three ladies and the young Indian guy practised.
“I’m with you,” she said. ‘Thank you for having me in your space.”
Where would you stand? And where will you teach your child to stand?