As Hanoi temperature is dropping down to welcome Tet, our lunar New Year, I notice students coming for classes less and less regularly. “Oh it’s just so cold”, “it’s really hard to get going”, etc.
So I have practiced yoga solidly for 7 and a half years, however, the first 6 years of that, I did my yoga fully in the tropic. I only experience yoga in winter during my time in the US.
Last January in New York City, in a day so cold it my brain froze, after my practice at Yoga to the People (a community yoga studio), I wandered out to the window and looked outside. All streets in East Village are very similar I recall, dirty, crammed, full of hippy people. I suppose that morning I was rather lost in mind. By then I had been living in NYC for about 6 months and despite all the jealousy I received acoss the globe, I liked it not. My mood swing got worse as the winter came so early and so viciously. In my best luck, my distant Lamb (let’s call my boyfriend so) kept me in check for most parts, including to urge me to get back to yoga as soon as I landed. That morning of cold snowy Manhattan, from the window of 12 St Mark’s Place, I saw a cozy studio across the street, a few people were practicing, each of whom were doing a different thing. Despite my frozen brain and body, I stretched a smile as I had found the styles that I had always wanted to try – Mysore. The next day, I cam to meet Alex of number 9, St Mark’s Place.
As you know I left New York 5 months after I found out that little gem and the City only had it last snow in late May. My New Yorker crew warned me so dearly in February when I, with joy, declared Spring had arrived with the colour of tulips around the city. So for that 5 long months of extended agony of winter, rain or shine (in addition to the -20*C brain-freeze cold), 5 times a week, either 6.30am or 6.30pm, I ran that 10 blocks to the studio.
The moment I finished the climb to the 3rd floor and open the door, a rather strange New Yorker sight met me. You know the thrill – bare red brick wall, old wooden floor, the windows, the railing outside which we dellusionally called our balcony sometimes. But it was different at this place. It’s spacious with high ceiling and it smells good. Alex always keeps a boiling kettle on the stove, sometimes lemongrass and ginger, sometimes eucalyptus and cinnamon oil. Its like a cozy Christmas every day! My favourite part is that the studio is full of natural light (thanks to the amazing space Alex secured) and its fireplace. I loved loved practicing Ashtanga next to the crackling fire while watching snow falling wind blowing briskly outside. It reminded me of the fairy in The Little Match Girl.
Everyone here, from Alex the studio founder and head teacher, other teachers and all practitioners, was so kind and respectful and the space always gave me the calm and silence I sought. When I was looking for a place to rent in Manhattan, It took me 3 viewings to know it’s rather impossible to find a place that was quiet, even in the middle of the night. There we all lived in harmony and compromise with noise pollution to the point we didn’t feel it anymore. And yet, I had found my quiet oasis in the middle of the City that never slept. I remember one day I came early around half past 6 in the morning and it was snowing and -15*C outside. Alex was curious, “You’re early girl. What’s happening at home? Are your kids being naughty?”. Oh I laughed, “How on earth you think I have kids Alex. Phewww! Home is ok but I like it here!”.
I myself found a good, clean, conducive space that appeals to our senses of aesthetics, calmness and safety motivates us to practice. It’s a known fact to my friend that I would go to a studio if it’s pretty. The times that I came to practice Mysore with Alex is like going on a retreat. No phone, no noise, no judgement or competition (if you ever practice in Singapore or New York you know what I mean here. Everyone was so good and determined and focused it almost feel ashamed not to do well, even for a teacher). I was enchanted with serendipity!
I have started my winter yoga practice just like that.
I opine when the weather is good, people tend to want to do things, like a Vietnamese saying, when things go without a hitch, everyone is happy. Yet life doesn’t go that way. If we are waiting for right place right time right mind, it may never come. I learn that training a new habit when we don’t have the 3 vantages helps ourselves to be more resilient, motivated and adaptable. My cousin, against all odd (meaning the Asian ways of overprotecting kids), took her son, a 4 year-old, to swimming lessons at noon. Did he get sick in the beginning? Yes. Did he resist? Yes. Did the phase pass? Yes. Now he can swim any time, even when it rains with less worry of getting sick.
I hope you find some courage and inspiration to start your practice, in the cold or in the tropic. Roam and find your practice space.