“Yoga does not remove us from the reality or responsibilities of everyday life but rather places our feet firmly and resolutely in the practical ground of experience.”- Donna Farhi
One part investigator, one part yogini, one part tired mom just looking for a good place to rest my yoga mat (and head), I’ve been getting around Noumea, New Caledonia, shopping yoga studios, trying on teachers and pretending to understand french-yoga-speak for almost 6 months now. I’m looking for a few things.
1. My personal practice. Since 1999 I’ve been hooked on yoga. For me its a lifestyle, no longer just a good stretch for my hamstrings. And now, more than ever, I require a daily practice of some sort. I love the challenge of taking my practice on the road but am ultimately seeking a home studio to sink into while I’m here.2. The world of yoga as it relates to business. Yoga is everywhere. Over 20 million people practice in the united states and 30 million people worldwide. People are seeking stress relief, better health and spiritual awakening and there is a global movement of self-examination. I opened Sol Yoga as a tiny boutique studio 10 years ago to carry on the community that my teacher, Katherine had started. Opening night gathered 12 students and now we have 4 studios, 50+ classes per week and 40+ teachers. Our growth has reflected the worldwide trends and I’m excited to get a sampling of yoga in the southern hemisphere and around the world.
3. Community here. Being away from my little nucleus of yoga (Sol Yoga) is both liberating and challenging. But there is no comfort like the ease of being with a group of like-minded people. I’ve met a whole lot of nice people through Adam’s work, but very few of them are locals or into yoga. Studio hopping is a nice way for me to get to know New Caledonia outside of the expat community as well as create a new support network for myself.
My escapades have given me perspective to how spoiled I was in Frederick practicing at my own studio. Sol Yoga was free to me, available everyday, right around the corner and exactly the kind of familiar practice I (thought I ) loved. Now, limited by the normal things like children, finances and time, I practice at home 4-5 times a week and take a class on the island the other days. But the groovy thing about practicing here is that I’m anonymous and its a whole new world of old school yoga. I love it.
There’s Christine who was the first teacher I found and perhaps the one I feel the most at ease with. She knows my truth – that I don’t speak a lick of French and I’m a yoga teacher – both things i’d prefer to keep under wraps. She gives me a nod when I show up late (which i STILL seem to do) and ignores me just the right amount. We paced off of each other for the spring equinox yoga mala (108 sun salutations) and earned each others respect without saying a word. I go to her Ashtanga class on occasion (the one with mostly teenagers in it) and she tries to make my hands come together behind my back in one of the marichi-asanas. I laugh. She does not. She studio hops, just as I do. So I’ll catch her in one of two lovely little studios within 5 minutes of my house. She speaks as much English as I speak French, sounds like a smoker from a life past and gets down to business. I particularly love her yoga nidra. She talks the entire time and its like melodic white noise through a rusty microphone. I stay just alert enough to know when to roll over with the rest of the class. Perplexed after class, she asks (awkwardly) if I know what she said. I give her a shoulder shrug, a smile and $1500 franc. “Merci,” I butcher because I still can’t get the throaty ‘r’ sound. So I add on a “good-bye, ” in my best English.
Lawrence is simply lovely. She is not the man I thought she would be when I read the schedule. In fact, she teaches an incredibly sweet yin yoga class a few times a month at the Noumea Yoga Association. The studio is a bit grungy and I often sit on my mat thinking of all the ways I would rearrange the space to make it more efficient and beautiful. But the classes are well attended, teachers seem down to earth and the sequences are really fantastic. Old school Hatha yoga. No vinyasa bologna. No music. No frills. Just good yoga. And I love me some good yoga. Lawrence reminds me of Kristina Molinari Oboyle. Part beautiful wise, nurturing and warm, part sharp, precise, don’t-even-think-about-it, drill sergeant. So, naturally, I seek to please her.
Par for the course, the French are very good at their yoga. People in the class are middle-aged, fit, tan, healthy looking and quite serious about getting it right. They all follow directions exactly as they are supposed to and seem very dedicated. I can fit in well as long as I don’t open my mouth. My American accent is horrendous. So I secretly follow along. I keep the eye toward the teacher closed and the other eye opened to watch for the next move. I listen intently to the change in tone of the teacher’s voice to indicate when its time to switch sides. All of the teachers talk non stop, spewing French instructions and cues life a continuous waterfall. I love it. I just get the gist of what we are doing, then sink into my own head space while the teacher won-won-won-won’s on. I tell myself I’ll learn French by yoga-osmosis. A new kind of language immersion.For better or worse, I can easily get my head stuck in my armpit like Lawrence demonstrates, but it gets me in a bit of trouble this time. I positioned myself poorly with no-one to watch for the next cue and it was here, in some deep expression of thread the needle (with an extra twist) that I had my first awkward encounter. I must have put my arm in the air ten seconds before I was instructed to do so and un-benounced to me, the lovely Lawrence, in her sweet French, yin yoga tone has been talking to me for some time before I realized that everyone was looking at me, just waiting. I recovered gracefully, until we returned to the same position the next time (facing away from the class). Lawrence appeared. Standing over me, looking down into my armpit, she spoke directly to me in gibberish. My mind raced to remember how to say “I don’t speak French.” All I could recall was PA-LE-VO-ANGLAY, which I think was semi-appropriate. To which she replied, “Ahhhhhhhhhh, now I understand!” I can only imagine that she thought I was deaf, dumb, or just being a difficult (not listening) student.
Come to find out, she speaks perfect English and we had a lovely chat after class. I confessed to my lack of French and abundance of yoga experience. Like everyone down here, they immediately suggest I teach a class in English as there are so many foreigners. This idea horrifies me as I hardly have time for my own practice, let alone teaching, but I’ve come around to just saying “Yes, maybe someday.”
So far, if I had to pick a favorite class, it would be this yin class. I live very near a place called Anse Vata and for those of you that know the vata of Ayurveda, it is that. Extremely windy, mobile, light and airy. So grounding down, sitting on the floor doing slow, deep stretches feels just right to balance the vata energy.
On the other hand, my least favorite has been a class in the centre of town. I tried several times to find the studio without luck and finally gave it one more shot at the invitation of a friend. Sure enough, it was where it was supposed to be it took my friend hollering out the window from above. “Come up here.” A tiny little L-shaped studio with great windows covered with weird curtains welcomed me (late again).
It was a flat experience. I can’t totally pinpoint my dissatisfaction. Perhaps the difficulty in finding it, or the Ashtanga based practice which makes me feel like I’m literally and figuratively trying to fit inside a small box, or the fact that the teacher put us in savasana, left the room to go get dressed, noisily put the props away, shut off all the lights and then stood at the door with her purse on her shoulder telling us to come out of savasana when we were ready. She seemed like she hated us. AND, it was VERY expensive.
Up until now in my new cal yoga experience, the scene is not as hip and uber cool as it in the states. Which has been refreshing and delightful. Enter Acro Yoga. High flying fun for partners, this form of yoga is a spin off on acrobatics. About a decade ago it was unheard of and now, its all the rage. Yoga beautified and made playful. Indeed it is fun! The workshop promised to be led in English in a Capoeira studio just outside of town. I emailed with the teacher (ahhh, communication in my native tongue) a
nd she encouraged me to come even without a partner. Naturally, after driving around in circles and even off road a little, I arrived 20 minutes late to a group of 18 people in a neat little circle sharing a little bit about themselves in French. From what I gather they want my name, any injuries and what kind of animal I want to be in my next life. Yoga is so f*&%ing weird sometimes.
“Bonjour, Jem-ma-pell Dorcas. That’s all the french I know and I’d like to be an elephant in my next life.” I said.
The american teacher’s partner translated then asked me to repeat my name five times, slower and slower. Dumb sounding American accent + weird Greek name is all I can hear. Finally we moved on. Whew. Or at least I thought so. After a few silly circle exercises, we were now standing in the circle and told to show our best dance move in the center. I almost left. I can do a lot of things, but this is not one of them. After a momentary lurch toward the door, I remembered that I’ve been blindfolded at Kripalu walking around with my hands in front of me searching for a partner. Again, the weird, uncomfortable shit that yoga has made me do is, well, uncomfortable and weird, but in the end liberating. So, I popped into the center on my hands and walked around. Not exactly a dance move, but hand stands, like Acro are very hot right now. I can be fresh when I need to be.
After flying like around like a bird and getting all vata-derranged with my partners Luke (a local Kanak capoeira dude) and Franny (a cliché beautiful French hipster with a zero inch waist), I did some basing (I lay on the ground and become the support). It turns out I’m twisted somewhere (hips or shoulders) and Franny just couldn’t fly straight. Luke worked it out just fine and we ended the whole things with some partner massage and a dance party. I felt like a part of some cliche-lets-call-it-yoga, but-it-might-really-be-a-dating, club. Every thing the teacher said (American), I have said. Hello mirror in your face. Also uncomfortable.
This is the reason, I don’t invite other people to yoga with me. You just never know if it is going to be super hip and cool, totally zen and boring, uber spiritual and freaky, bad ass workout, or just right. I’m fine with the whole spectrum, but I hate taking on another’s experience. But my friend Zita insisted. She has been asking for months.
I thought the Ashtanga practice with Christine would be fairly reliable. The studio is pretty, the teacher is straightforward, the practice is athletic and well, a set sequence. How can it go wrong?
Show up on a full moon, that’s how. Only a few people were there, we started with a LONG meditation, progressed into bhanda work and eventually full uddiyana bhanda and agni sara. This is all stuff I’ve been dying to play with in a class environment, but for a beginner, this is full on weird and subtle work. All in french mind you. Then, top top of the advanced practice, Christine led us all outside to look at the red full moon. Needless to say, Zita has not been back to class with me:-)
All the more for me I suppose. I’ve had the luxury of sharing yoga with friends for more than a decade now. This solo journey is right up my alley and timely. My personal practice is steady, the business of yoga is good and although I have yet to speak to anyone in my classes, I’ve spotted a woman with a pair of lululemon shorts. I think I might try to make her my friend. Wish me bon chance!
“I believe that most yoga teachers can attest that yoga is visibly de-stressing and healing countless people each day. This new wave of peace and tolerance can be felt rising, and not just in America; the wave has now stretched across the seas to Europe, the Far East, and even the Middle East. International power-cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing, Singapore, Berlin, London, Istanbul, and Tel Aviv all offer yoga classes in impressive yoga centers. Lives are being changed and are souls re-inspired to reach beyond themselves and into the possibility of a greater world through peace, health, nondogmatic spirituality, and a conscious life.” Matt Strom