Mind, body and soul
“Yoga teaches you to be in tune with your body, your mind and your environment. And I think it’s very important for your lifestyle. It’s like an escape from my day-to-day life,” AnItA BoentArmAn, a co-founder of the rumah Yoga studio in Kemang and the annual namaste Festival, tells Ajeng G. Anindita
When Prestige meets up with Anita Boentarman at her interior design showroom in Kemang, we could never have guessed that the place is also a yoga studio. Anita greets us with a smile while still steaming her outfit for our photo-shoot. Offering us some snacks and coffee, she tells us how the place came together.
“There’s a yoga studio upstairs, and it was actually one of the first to open in Jakarta,” she says. Anita points out that while Jakarta may not lack yoga studios nowadays, it was quite hard to find a proper one in the city 10 to 15 years ago.
“Rumah Yoga was the brainchild of five friends,” says Anita. “It was in 2000 that we all first started yoga. For a couple of years we were practicing at Amalia Wirjono’s house. Then more and more people started to come. Certainly, we realised were going to need more space for this!” says the 55-year-old yogi.
In 2002, Anita and her friends set up Rumah Yoga in Kemang to meet Jakarta-based yogis’ requirements for more places to enjoy serious yoga sessions. Fully equipped with extensive props and professional teachers, Rumah Yoga has become one of the most established studios of its kind in Jakarta.
How did the interior designer discover yoga? “It was mainly because I was travelling to US and Europe a lot,” she recalls. “I think at that time, people here were starting to familiarise themselves with yoga. It was not as big as it is now, but in other countries it’s been popular for two or three decades.
“I started to look for a yoga teacher in Jakarta, and it was quite difficult to find one. There weren’t a lot of certified yoga teachers here. You could count them on their fingers of your hands. Finally, I met a journalist from London who already had a lot of experience in yoga. He was not a certified teacher, but he practiced Ashtanga (a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga) regularly. So I started learning yoga with him.”
What are the benefits of these practices? “Yoga teaches you to be in tune with your body, your mind and also your environment,” Anita explains. “And I think it’s very important for your lifestyle. You will feel almost instantly better in mind and body, and beyond, when you finish a session.”
The soft-spoken designer continues: “Yoga may seem easy to do, but it’s actually not. At first for me the difficulty was the concentration and how to connect your breathing with your movement or flow. You don’t realise how difficult it is until you actually do it. The more I practiced, the easier it became, and now I couldn’t imagine myself not doing yoga. It’s like an escape from my day-to-day life. It’s my way of self-care.”
Yoga was first developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. The practice is commonly understood as an exercise for health and inner wellbeing in the modern world. One of the big misconceptions about yoga, Anita points out, is that it adheres to any particular religion or belief system. But it actually has always been approached as a way to achieve inner wellbeing, “I guess people are more open-minded about it now, as yoga is going all around the world and is seen as a good way to achieve wellbeing,” she says.
“Another thing people like to say about yoga is that they’re not flexible enough to do it. Well, the reason you should do yoga is just because you’re stiff! It improves both your strength and your flexibility. If you’re flexible but not strong enough, you could get injured easily. On the other hand, if you’re not flexible, there’s this saying: ‘You’re only as young as your spine.’ So if you’re not flexible, ageing is going to be hard for you.”
While the origins of the practice can be traced back to 1,000 years ago, the yoga universe is ever-expanding. Some gurus are creating new styles, more and more of which have been introduced during the past 10 to 20 years.
“When I first practiced yoga, I started with Ashtanga,” Anita says. “In Ashtanga, you have to remember all the sequences by yourself. The teachers will not lead you in class. They only guide you and correct your alignments. Iyengar is a yoga style you can do with props. Hatha is more
classic and traditional. It’s quite gentle compared to Vinyasa. Yoga is always evolving. There are so many styles now, and that’s why it’s really great to have the Namaste Festival here. You can try a lot of different styles with different teachers.”
The annual Namaste Festival was founded by Anita in 2010. Usually held for three days, it’s an event where members of the local yoga community meet and share their knowledge about yoga and beyond. The festival offers many classes of diverse yoga styles every year by local and international teachers. Last year, the festival featured sattva yogi Caleb Packham, artist-yogi Daphne Tse, Qi Flow founder Ronan Tang, celebrity yoga instructor Fajar “Penyogastar” and Tymi Howard, among others.
How did the festival come about? “The Namaste Festival started from my dream actually,” Anita recalls. “At that time I was travelling a lot and I saw there were so many yoga festivals taking place in other countries. I thought that maybe we could create one for Indonesia. Why don’t we bring all those experienced and dedicated yoga teachers here and introduce more styles of yoga to a lot of people? That was the idea.
“For someone who’s experienced at doing yoga, the event is a good opportunity to catch up with others in the community and maybe to try some new styles. For beginners, it could link you to new teachers and you can gain more in-depth knowledge about yoga, because these people that we bring in have so much experience and expertise.
“The first Namaste Festival was in 2010, and people were so excited about it. They felt really grateful that this event existed so they could learn more about the yoga universe. So for the community, this is like a rare opportunity, which is great! Since then I have always tries to find more teachers to come, new styles to introduce. It’s great because these people are also certified, and it’s always nice to deepen your practice with the right teacher.”
Living a healthy lifestyle is no longer a strange concept in the modern world. The wave comes mainly because of social media like Instagram to promote ways of achieving wellbeing. With so many new fitness and yoga studios opening in Jakarta, Anita is more than happy to see how the yoga scene is expanding here. “If you could imagine how hard it was to find a good yoga studio a few years ago, you would appreciate these people trying to instill healthy lifestyle in everyday life.”
For someone who has just started taking regular exercise, going to yoga classes can be intimidating. Anita advises beginners to take it slowly at first. “The first thing to do is find a suitable style,” she says. “Yoga is all about knowing your own body. You need to listen to your body more than what your friends or even your teacher tell you, because you know more about your own body than they do?
“After you find something that’s suitable for you, I suggest to take it easy. Don’t take it too hard, you know. Some people only need weeks to be able to do Wheel Pose. Others may take years to master it. Everyone’s ability is different, and there’s no competition in yoga. Everyone has a different journey in yoga. It’s not that one is worse than another. You just have to focus on yourself and your practice.
“It’s also important to find the right teacher. Choose a certified one, so that they can properly guide you and make sure your alignment is correct. For someone who prefers to do yoga alone, or at home, there are a lot of yoga apps that you can download on your phone or tablet. They’re quite easy to follow. You can start from there and practice regularly. But again, you’ve got to be careful with your alignment, because no one is watching you, right? At least once in a while you should try to go to class, so you can be sure you’re doing it right.”
Having accumulated so much experience, has Anita thought about becoming a yoga teacher? “I’m actually certified for 200 hours of yoga teacher training,” she says. “I just don’t have the time yet to teach because of my busy schedule and my travel commitments. I think a lot people now see yoga teaching as a real profession.”
As we begin our 2019 journey, Anita expresses her hopes and dreams for the year to come: “I want to do yoga even more often. Maybe I can escape to some place for two to three months and just do yoga there. My schedule is quite full right now, but I feel like that kind of retreat is what I’m looking for.”
“Why don’t we bring all those experienced and dedicated yoga teachers here and introduce more styles of yoga to a lot of people? That was the idea”