Yangon’s yogis enter the competition
The emergence of yoga contests in Myanmar shows a surge of interest in the discipline. 11
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.
The winner of the first Myanmar yoga championship practices in a yoga studio in Yangon, June 2018.