Yoga in Chiang Mai

I came to Chiang Mai with one main purpose: to get back on my yoga mat. As mentioned in my previous post, I since decided to hop foot it back to India before my visa expires, and to make the most of the five weeks I have before my friend comes to Thailand and I’ll join her back there again for another month or so. So, in the short time I was in Chiang Mai I didn’t have the chance to do a proper reci of the yoga on offer in the city. However I did take two classes at two different schools, which I thought were worth sharing.

The first was at Body and Mind Healing. I found about this place on Trip Advisor, along with a couple of other yoga centres I wanted to check out whilst here. So, on my first afternoon I sauntered down to the closest one on my to-do list, which I knew from their website had a class at 5.30pm. Actually, that’s a lie: I pretty much ran there as my useless iPhone alarm decided not to wake me up from my afternoon nap. (I’d been on a train the night before, by the way. I don’t take naps every day, I promise.)

Arriving ten minutes late for the class, I wasn’t sure I would be allowed in, but I needn’t have worried as there was only one other student there and they had only just gotten started. The friendly English teacher, Rod, beckoned me in and was very welcoming. I found out later he’s from North London but has lived in Thailand for seven years. He’s obviously quite settled here, which I established in part from his adorable little girl who sporadically entered the room, ran around in circles, and tried to offer him a plate of bugs to eat that she’d supposedly collected from the garden. Slightly distracting, but cute nonetheless!

The class is described on the website as “Dynamic Hatha Yoga and Meditation”, although the class I took I wouldn’t describe as particularly dynamic. I enjoyed it very much actually, and as my first class in about a month, I felt great afterwards. But it was a bit unchallenging for me. That could be because the only other student on the room was a real beginner so Rod was tailoring the class for him (not that I am an expert by any means!) Rod’s attitude to yoga, which he alluded to a few times during our class, is to be gentle to the body, not to try and force yourself into the more elaborate and advanced ‘glory’ poses, but instead to focus more on the spiritual and mental benefits yoga brings. I agree and I like his philosophy (although I secretly hope I can one day get my foot to touch my forehead too). We were taken through a few gentle sun salutations followed by some standing asanas including Warrior Two and Tree Pose, followed by some seated postures – mostly focused on stretching the hamstrings and hips, which I love. Although it wasn’t the most ‘complete’ practice I suppose I’ve had, and I have to say it was a little distracting having his little girl running around, I liked Rod and would definitely go back to try his class again. According to his site, although I didn’t get a chance to ask him about this, he offers treatments and classes in other techniques such as Tai Chi and Reiki – another thing to explore next time I’m in Chiang Mai.

The second class I took was at The Yoga Tree. Again I found the centre on Trip Advisor and looked at their website before going along. The class I attended was described on the website as “Gentle and Restorative Yoga for All”. I had debated whether to go to this or a “Dynamic Flow” class at Wild Rose Yoga, whose reviews on Trip Advisor also speak highly. However, my energy levels by the afternoon were fairly low so I opted for the gentler sounding option, and I’m very glad I did! I loved this class.

When I first came into the studio, which is situated off the main road in a lovely complex with a garden area and seating outside, the teacher Stef asked me to take one of all the props on the shelves in front of me, including a mat (obviously), various cushions (rolled and flat), blankets, a wooden block, straps and a chair. Now I was intrigued: I’ve never done yoga with a chair before.

I liked Stef from the get-go. She started by asking if any of us were new to yoga and Restorative Yoga in particular and if we wanted to know a bit more about it. I did. All I knew was that it was gentler going, but I hadn’t expected all these props, so was interested to know more. Stef explained that it was a gentle practice, suitable for people of all abilities, and especially good for those with chronic pain or other injuries, as the props support the body and can help you ease into the poses without forcing yourself. She also explained that some of the postures we would hold for up to ten minutes. Holy moly! I wasn’t worried though: looking around the room I noticed that the ages of the people varied and the atmosphere was very open and relaxed. I knew it was going to be a lovely session.

And it was. This was totally different to any other yoga class I’ve done before. As promised, we held each posture for between four and eight minutes. That sounds gruelling, but the basic asanas we practised were aided with the props to help support, providing cushioning as well as distance from the floor so that you weren’t pushing yourself from the get-go. The first minute or two in each posture I found myself feeling like the resistance wasn’t enough, used to being told to reach further, extend, push, pull, etc. But after a couple of minutes, gravity took its course and sure enough I started to feel the stretch intensifying. As I concentrated on my breathing – really focusing on breathing deeply into the muscle then relaxing as I breathed out – I found I was gradually getting deeper and deeper into each pose, my breath and gravity doing all the work.

This style of yoga isn’t for die-hard devotees of Ashtanga or Vinyassa Flow – you won’t get a sweat on. Instead it’s a much slower, meditative experience. But if you love a good stretch, this is the one! I honestly never knew that Child’s Pose could be so intense. I felt like I had melted into my mat after eight minutes down there! And what was amazing was that the source of discomfort kept moving. While at first it might be my hamstrings that pulled, soon they’d relax and instead I’d feel the bottom of my back niggling me. By breathing into each of these ‘issues’ I melted further and further into each pose to a depth I don’t think I’ve achieved before. I never thought I’d sit in Pigeon for eight minutes each side, that’s for sure. Ouch! But good ouch. I felt amazing at the end of the practice, helped also by Stef coming round and giving us each a little shoulder and head massage while in savasana. That is a deal sealer for me… absolute bliss. 

Stef teaches once a week at The Yoga Tree (Restorative on Thursdays at 5.30pm) as well as at Namo (Vinyassa Slow Flow, Fridays at 10am and Restorative, Saturdays at 6pm).

I look forward to trying more classes in Chiang Mai when I return to Thailand in June. It seems to be the place to be to get on the mat and host to a number of teachers I’m interested to meet.

Namaste x

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