Yoga Around the World – Part Two: Bangkok, Vienna and Paris
At the risk of using an over worn cliché, it has to be said that Bangkok is a city like no other. The seemingly endless skyscrapers nestled alongside small, rundown shack-like houses and shops, the occasional patch of dusty green inhabited by stray people and dogs, the streets teeming with cars – some of which look like they have been navigating the roads for a very long time – and motorbikes seating entire families, as well as the obligatory tuk tuks, usually occupied by wild eyed tourist – either looking terrified as they hang on for dear life, or else enjoying living life on the edge.
My arrival in Bangkok surpassed all this immediate madness in favour of a hotel about ten kilometres out of the city – a suburban street in Sathorn, lined with trees and what seemed to be the Bangkok equivalent of gated (high-rise) communities. And everything was so blissfully quiet! Apart from the teenagers drinking outside our hotel room on New Year’s Eve, and the massive rubbish truck that insisted on coming by every morning at 6.30am. But that was no problem – I had three days in which to practice getting up early to prepare for my yoga class that I had planned to attend on New Year’s Day. I had worked out perfectly how to get across town, and what to do if the class was in fact taught in Thai instead of English (which was to lie down in child’s pose for an hour – not a bad plan). The only problem was that the Thai people – despite operating on an entirely different calendar to the West (i.e. the 543 year difference makes the Thai year 2558 )and despite celebrating their New Year in April – take the Western New Year very serious.
In fact, seriously enough to declare a five day holiday, marked by a mass exodus from the city, and a closing down of everything except the shamelessly gigantic shopping malls. In short: no yoga classes.
Feeling just a little, tiny bit like a complete yoga flake, I ended up boarding the twelve hour flight to Vienna with very strong intentions to be more informed and organised for the planned yoga session in Austria. And if you ever want to experience what it might feel like for an alien to be dropped from out of space onto earth, then you should definitely try to visit Vienna after a holiday in Thailand. Grandiose, well-mannered and historically über-significant, Vienna also is a place like no other – walking the streets you are dwarfed not by high-rises but by massive old buildings of Romanesque, Baroque and Art Nouveau origins, with fancy details and even figures from ancient mythology. Vienna’s buildings seem to take up entire blocks, and made me feel continuously awed and secretly pleased at being kind-of-sort-of related to these clever Austrians (Disclaimer: I am not at all Austrian, but my mum is from Germany, which I figure is close enough to make exaggerated claims).
Yoga in Vienna, I figured, would be a breeze – bound to be held in an architectural marvel of a building, and taught in an orderly and efficient manner! With great expectations I went to bed early enough to get up in time to still have a go at the hotel’s buffet breakfast before the yoga class, and set off on the marvellously easily navigated subway system that rings Vienna’s inner city, noticing that for a Tuesday it was a very quiet morning. Figuring that Vienna may be too grand to have rush hour, I arrived outside the yoga studio, which was indeed inside a large, old building, complete with fancy scrollwork around the door. It was when I tried the door handle, and found it most definitely locked that I started to doubt the efficiency of the Viennese a little – why, on a perfectly normal Tuesday, had Yoga Zentrum Wien decided to lock their doors against desperate yoga disciples? I found the answer to that question upon return to my hotel, when the front desk kindly informed me that today was “Drei Königs Tag”, possibly a day where people go from door to door and sing in celebration of something holy – in other words, another bloody holiday!
Knowing that I had missed the yoga- boat again (as I would be leaving for Paris early the next morning) I toyed with the idea of renaming my blog to “how to not do yoga around the world – an inspiring and thought provoking list of how to excel in avoiding healthy, life-sustaining activities.”
But seriously, Yoga did happen, and it happened under some most un-yoga like circumstances. The day we arrived in Paris the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine occurred literally four minutes down the end of our street in Place de la Republique.
Two days later my two very reluctant yoga buddies and myself made our way to Rasa Yogarivegauche, which was housed on the bottom floor of a large 18th century apartment block. A massive wooden door led through a courtyard, and into the yoga studio which really did feel like a haven of tranquillity amidst the chaotic and potentially shambolic city that is Paris. At least it felt tranquil until the police car sirens started up, and then kept going. For the whole entire one and a half hours that we were in the class, outside police cars went rushing by, sirens blaring, while we were in downward dog and handstands. Not being familiar with the police activity levels in Paris I was wondering whether this may just be an ordinary Friday afternoon in Paris.
My inkling that something unusual may be going on was confirmed when the lovely, calm yoga teacher spoke to us about a particular breathing practice that we were to take out with us to be “strong in the midst of chaos”. Stepping out of the yoga studio and expecting to see scenes from World War Z all around us, we found that part of Paris life was going on as usual. Being close to Notre Dame the tourists were streaming to and fro in droves or sitting at the roadside cafes, while on the streets bus-loads of armed police and army rushed by.
When we returned home we found out that a man wielding a gun had entered a Paris delicatessen and was holding a bunch of people hostage, while out at the airport the two people suspected of the killings during the Charlie Hebdo attack had also taken a hostage and were at a stand-off with half of Paris’ police force.
I tried the yoga breathing – but I think there are some things which no matter how you breathe leave you feeling awful.
Three very long days later we boarded the Eurostar from Paris to London. This time I am completely prepared with the knowledge that there are no public holidays during our time in England. As for the rest? I probably have very little control over that, but in the meantime I will practice just breathing.