Yangon’s yo­gis en­ter the com­pe­ti­tion

The emer­gence of yoga con­tests in Myan­mar shows a surge of in­ter­est in the dis­ci­pline. 11

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend|Exercise - NYO ME More on the Myan­mar Yoga as­so­ci­a­tion here: https://www.facebook.com/ Yo­gaas­so­ci­a­tion­myan­mar/

TRAF­FIC, fast foods, tough dead­lines, de­pres­sion and even sui­cide (which rate has gone up ac­cord­ing to the min­istry of health), such are the trou­bles of the mod­ern lifestyle for plenty of Yan­go­nites.

To fight the stress, most peo­ple do ex­er­cise these days. Gym clubs are pop­ping out ev­ery­where. Zumba classes are on the rise. Tai Chi fans in­vade parks early in the morn­ing. But yoga, which started to flour­ish in the early 2000s, is also a good choice for peo­ple anx­ious to get rid of their anx­i­ety.

This year, the Yoga As­so­ci­a­tion Myan­mar, a fed­er­a­tion of clubs, has or­gan­ised the first ever com­pe­ti­tion in Myan­mar on June 2nd and 3rd. Dur­ing two days, con­tenders ex­e­cuted poses, which were judged by a jury of pro­fes­sion­als. The win­ner had to freeze for 10 sec­onds in the most beau­ti­ful bal­ance pose.

Saint Chan Myae Tin from South­ern Shan state was the win­ner of this year’s con­test. Four months af­ter hav­ing started yoga, she was crowned na­tional cham­pion. And she’s al­ready see­ing re­sults. “Be­fore prac­tic­ing yoga, I used to get an­gry very eas­ily and get vi­o­lent in acts and in words,” she says. Now she can chan­nel her en­ergy by breath­ing in and out, she says.

Most of the peo­ple her age are not in­ter­ested in yoga. In fact, it’s her mother who im­posed yoga on her – she thought she looked a bit pale and wanted her to do some ex­er­cise. Af­ter a few classes, her trainer said that she was fit for com­pe­ti­tion. She fell in love with yoga. “I re­ally like the feel­ing that I get when I can do new poses,” says Saint Chan Myae Tin.

The right bal­ance Yoga is all about bal­ance but not nec­es­sar­ily gen­der bal­ance. Wai Yan Ye Yint was one of the two male competitors who par­tic­i­pated to this first edi­tion of the championship. The other 10 were all fe­male in se­nior level con­test. This is not a Myan­mar thing. In the US, in 2012, only 18% of yo­gis were male, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey by the Yoga Jounal.

But yoga has a social cost. Some of his friends do not ac­cept his new pas­sion and would not talk to him any­more. “They as­sume Yoga is for girls,” he says. He thinks they fail to grasp what yoga re­ally is about. He sees the changes he goes through, if they don’t, well, their loss, he says.

A for­mer martial art fan, he dropped the ki­monos for the yoga pants two months ago. He said that the sports that he had tried be­fore were not ab­so­lute reme­dies to re­lease stress. Af­ter three or four days of yoga prac­tice, he said he felt lighter and health­ier.

Kyaw Soe, a trainer from the Himalayan Yoga In­sti­tute, thinks he knows why there are more women prac­tic­ing yoga. He says women are more prone to stress, mar­ried women es­pe­cially. To be sure, Kyaw Soe is not statis­ti­cians, but he has been in the busi­ness for 10 years, teach­ing peo­ple in Taung­gyi and Yangon, and he had the time to sur­vey his pupils. Not a sport, but a lifestyle De­spite be­ing a Bud­dhist coun­try, where med­i­ta­tion mat­ters, Myan­mar does not seem too mind­ful. “Most peo­ple here don’t breath healthily. They do it rou­tinely, for their me­tab­o­lism,” says U Khin Maung Swe, 69, whose show on yoga has been broad­casted ev­ery morn­ing on na­tional TV for 6 years now. He be­lieves that breath­ing can ac­tu­ally in­crease your life ex­pectancy and im­prove your health.

He re­gards him­self as the first gen­er­a­tion of yo­gis in Myan­mar. He learned about yoga watch­ing In­dian tele­vi­sion. He started prac­tic­ing out­door in Kan­daw­gyi Park with his wife and friends. More passers-by joined. One month later, 30 peo­ple had joined, he re­calls. That was back in 2003.

To­day, around 200 trainees gather in Peo­ple’s Park to hear his ad­vice - and about 80 club in Kan­daw­gyi. He has pupil from 3 to 80s year old. (The av­er­age yogi is in his or her 50s).

He in­sists that yoga is better prac­ticed out­side, and not in air­con­di­tioned rooms where the air does not cir­cu­late as much. He rec­om­mends parks.

Ideally, one would also es­cape the city. One stu­dio’s web­site lists the places where one can go on a re­treat in Myan­mar. Ba­gan is high-up the list (stretch­ing dur­ing sun­set by the tem­ples is ap­par­ently great).

For In­ter­na­tional Yoga Day (yes, there is one) U Khin Maung Swe has big plans: he wants to or­gan­ise a gi­ant yoga ses­sion in Peo­ple’s park. He might find more peo­ple prone to raise their arms and stretch their legs with him this year.

The ap­pear­ance of com­pe­ti­tions at lo­cal level is a sign that yoga is gain­ing ground; It is also a good thing for the dis­ci­pline it­self. Com­pe­ti­tion among yo­gis should be stim­u­lated, says one yoga coach. “Some day yoga will be in the Olympic games,” he says – so much for the re­lax­ation.

“I re­ally like the feel­ing that I get when I can do new poses” Saint Chan Myae Tin Yogi “They as­sume Yoga is for girls” Wai Yan Ye Yint Yogi

Yo­gis prac­tice in a stu­dio in Yangon, June 2018.

A group of yogi prac­tice in a yoga stu­dio in Yangon, June 2018.

Pho­tos: Nyo Me

The win­ner of the first Myan­mar yoga championship prac­tices in a yoga stu­dio in Yangon, June 2018.

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