For more than ten years I’ve been trying, sporadically at best, to get into yoga. During our time in Saigon I finally learned to love it.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in the wee hours of a day in early February, with one thing on our minds: unpacking. The time had come for us to take a deep breathe, slow the pace, and “settle down” so to speak. So we found a small apartment, went grocery shopping, and made ourselves a home. Saigon isn’t a place most people would think to spend an extended period of time. It is steamy hot and absolutely mad. But we knew we had a few months on a beach coming up and thought an urban scene would be a nice contrast for a bit. We also knew some people there, so it seemed like a good place to pause for a while.
Max immediately got right to studying for the CFA, which took up most of his time every day. In our first week I scoured the city looking for a volunteer opportunity. But, Tet was on the horizon and most places were about to close their doors for 2 weeks or more. It wouldn’t be worth their resources to train me for such a short and interrupted time. I heard the same tune from every organization I met with. I needed something to fill my day, and I was desperately craving routine and normalcy, so I turned to yoga. (I did eventually find a gig teaching English at the fantastic Sozo Cafe, but unfortunately it took several weeks to get it underway.)
Shortly after we arrived, a friend introduced me to Yoga Living. The bright airy studio in a second floor corner building is a cool, calm, quiet respite from the chaos below, and the owner, a Vietnamese man who lived most of his life in Japan, is and incredibly gracious host. Classes are taught in English by Vietnamese, Japanese, Singaporean, and Australian instructors. The clientele is a nice mix of locals, expats and short-term visitors. Most people hang about to chat after class so it not only gave me something to do, but also allowed me to make a few friends. I went nearly every day. And every day I went next door and drank an ice cold coconut afterwards – one of the undeniable benefits of living in a tropical climate. It almost makes the midday heat bearable. Almost.
Yoga, day one: I almost died. Really. I was miserably out of shape. One of the most difficult things for me about our life on the road is the lack of exercise. Sure, occasionally we do some hiking or something, and I did a few light restorative yoga sessions in India, but for the most part we have no routine physical activity. (We do walk a lot, but in a leisurely sightseeing sort of way, not a vigorous exercise sort of way. So it doesn’t count.) After seven months devoid of physical activity and eating all of our meals at restaurants, I can say that this is unequivocally the most out of shape I have ever been in my life. Day one of yoga was a day of reckoning: I was forced to face my new found weakness and slovenly lifestyle, head on. It wasn’t pretty.
Admittedly, there were some special challenges to being in a class with mostly tiny Vietnamese people. Apparently Vietnamese women do not have sweat glands or hamstrings. The aircon is turned off during class, so within about three minutes I, along with most of the Western students, was soaked to the core in sweat, struggling with all my might to make my fingers meet my toes. The Vietnamese students, on the other hand, would show up, say that they had never done yoga – or any other form of exercise – in their entire lives, and would immediately fold in half Gumbi-style. An hour later they would pop up looking like they’d been lounging in an air conditioned cafe for an hour, not doing power yoga in an unairconditioned room in 95 degree heat. These women were the perfect foil to my shortcomings, seemingly magnifying them one hundredfold.
Nonetheless, Yoga Living was a haven for me during that month. And I actually got stronger doing it – I arrived in Thailand the other day feeling like I could actually try to go for a jog – the first one since last July – something I wouldn’t have dreamed of a month ago. The jog was certainly no PR, but a far better start than it would have been without the yoga base.
My mission for this week: sample the classes at all four of the yoga studios I’ve found here on Koh Tao and get right back into it, ice cold coconuts and all.