It’s Week Two of uni, and I feel like I’ve settled into a nice rhythm. We’ve started catching the bus to Bhaktapur instead of shelling out Rs 700 a trip like those bideshi paryatak (foreign tourists), I managed to get my student visa last week after navigating the Kafka-esque bureaucracy that is the Nepali immigration department and banking system, and I even caught my first ever solo taxi by saying only the following:
“Lazimpat road, Standard Chartered Bank Lainchaur?” (Destination)
“Bhadhah kati pur cha?” (How much?)
Though when the taxi drivers reply in English you know the game is up and they’ve seen right through your futile attempts at assimilation. Possibly because I didn’t haggle.
Doing yoga in Kathmandu however, isn’t an acculturalisation thing.
In Canberra, I’d eat moderately well most of the time, walk 8 kilometres to work on weekdays and participate in some kind of group exercise sesh at the gym. In Kathmandu, I take taxis to cover 3 kilometres (walking without a mask is a sure fire way to get a throat infection), sit on my bed or balcony doing readings and essentially just count the hours down until my next meal.
Prem, the owner of the hotel I’m staying at, has been taking a little too much care of me. Breakfast is usually muesli and yoghurt, followed by cocoa pancakes and aloo (potato curry) with roti, fruit juice, masala chia, masala omelette and bananas. Dinner is equally resplendent and almost always followed by dessert. If I intend on trekking to Everest Base Camp in May, I don’t want to run the risk of turning into a slug by April.
Mahu and I stumbled upon Pranayama Yoga studio on a recommendation from Sarah. Most of the reviews on tripadvisor appear to be from non Nepali people based overseas. The only review from a fellow ethnic reads:
if you like eat pray love then this is the studio for you. if you are a serious student of yoga, you’ll want to find another place but good luck in nepal…this is about all their is and they over-market themselves. another minus…right above brattish* himalayan java where spoiled kids from near and far hang out and pose for each other as cool people…sorry, not a genunine feeling there.
*We were actually sitting at said Himalayan Java when we found out about this place.
Come Sunday morning, Kathmandu weekday traffic meant we were almost late to our class despite leaving half an hour early to travel five kilometres.
First impressions – clean, quiet and I had a flashback of my first ever politics tutorial at the University of Sydney.
Everybody is white.
This isn’t a bad thing, merely an observation about who we were practising with. The price per class is 700 rupees or AUD $10 which is probably what drives away ‘a genuine feeling’. In fact, the whole premise of paying for yoga, which Deepika said she’d do at school every morning like roll call or assembly, is the reason I’m not surprised yoga is ranked #15 on StuffWhitePeopleLike.com.
We set up our mats and cushions and sat cross-legged on the floor because that’s what everyone else was doing. The idea of being comfortable was novel given my previous Bikram yoga instructor had yelled at students for wanting to drink water and told them their asthma wasn’t real.
Our instructor Thanos (note the super authentic Nepali name – Mahu says he looks like Sting) began the session with closed eyes and deep breathing.
Oh no, this is the class Sarah had warned us about.
Prayanama practises varieties of yoga, one of which is less dynamic and more about meditation. My shallow research indicates that this variety of yoga is closer to the ‘real deal’.
I kept my line of sight firmly away from Mahu because I could hear her giggling uncontrollably in the background as a collective Om filled the studio.
Would he notice if I lip-synced?
Everyone else was pretty into it and luckily the class and my heart rate got more excitable towards the hour mark. All I can remember were repetitions of downward dog and cobra until my core muscles twinged. It wasn’t physically taxing, but I have all the flexibility of a piece of driftwood so there were some postures I just couldn’t get into.
Also Thanos kept dropping some amazing one-liners in his calm steady tone of voice including, “Don’t be embarrassed about your dirty feet,” and, while my legs were spread in a particularly vulnerable fashion, “This pose is good for your reproductive abilities”, at which point I just lost my Zen (wait, where were we again?).
Then there was the meditation phase. We were told to lie on the floor, close our eyes and without movement, be aware of different parts of our body. “You will now feel heavier…” (which I did), “…now lighter” (which I didn’t as my back was keenly aware of the timber flooring), “…now you are normal again… and I want you to think about a goal you would like to achieve…” (ok, uh, well maybe I’ll finish the first draft of my 6907 essay tonight?) “…like health, I want to be a healthier person…” (Oh right, bigger goals – ok then I want an HD in this subject? Wait no, that’s shit, how about –) “….now that you have your goal…” (I don’t, I actually haven’t got-) “…visualize yourself as if you have already achieved it…” (right, I want a new job – kthxbai).
It isn’t as stressful as I’ve depicted. It kind of like that state you’re in ten minutes after you’ve hit the snooze button and you’re not quite dreaming but you feel relatively asleep. It’s rarely at those moments that I’ve ever found the urge to plot out the rest of my life so that’s my excuse for not taking it seriously.
In retrospect, my favourite part was sleeping in my snowboarding jacket and being mindful of the sounds outside the studio (aka listening), which were mainly car horns and dog barks at varying pitches. All in all, Mahu and I are going back and I’ll write a more critical piece about cultural appropriation probably comparing the Colour Run and Holi when I feel like it.
FYI – Satyananda Saraswati, the late Swami whose brand of yoga we practised, was an asshole.