FOR BODY & MIND

The benefits of yoga have gained in recognition over the last decade in Vietnam.

on November 06,2017 03:33 PM

FOR BODY & MIND

When he came to Vietnam to visit his brother a couple of years ago, the last thing Kuldeep Janjoter expected was to also live and work here. He only planned to stay a few days and discover a country he really knew very little about. But after seeing a chance to develop his career as a yoga instructor, he decided to stay and make a go of it. Other Indian yoga instructors in Vietnam have a similar tale to tell, as local people have started to become much more interested in yoga over recent years.

BOOMING POPULARITY

With qualifications in computers, Kuldeep, from the northern Indian city of Karnal, never thought about teaching yoga, let alone doing it in another country. He began practising yoga after finding he spent too much time sitting down, and then fell into it. When he was in Vietnam visiting, his brother helped him get a job and he now works for Aesthetic Ultimate Fitness.

FOR BODY & MIND

If he came to Vietnam a few years earlier he would probably have returned home as planned. Just a decade ago, yoga was a totally new idea in Vietnam. There were no international-standard yoga centres and only a few places held sessions, according to Praveen Verma, Yoga Manager at NShape Fitness.

Arriving in Vietnam in 2009 specifically to work for NShape Fitness, the first international-standard yoga centre in Hanoi, Praveen, from the north-western Indian city of Hisar, took on the challenge of being one of the first Indian yoga instructors in the country. His first impression was that not many Vietnamese knew what yoga was. Misperceptions abounded, with many viewing it as only suitable for old people, that it was difficult, or that it was only for people with flexible bodies.

FOR BODY & MIND

Practising from the age of seven, Praveen studied yoga and has won medals at different championships. With a deep passion for the practice, he chose Vietnam as his next destination after finishing working in Singapore. Though he received job offers from elsewhere in Asia, he saw that the challenge of promoting the benefits of yoga in Vietnam was also an opportunity.

In the years since, he’s seen yoga boom in the country. ‘Vietnam is very good place to work now, as there are many yoga clubs and Indian teachers are in demand,’ he said. A lot more Vietnamese are now aware about and practise yoga. They also know and understand the benefits it can bring, like relief from disease if practised under an experienced yoga teacher.

After coming to Vietnam in 2012 to satiate his desire to live overseas and experience something different after teaching yoga in India for some time, Satyanarayan Lohar, from the central Indian town of Garoth, is now Group Yoga Manager at Elite Fitness and has also witnessed the strong development of the practice in the country. Compared to five years ago, yoga centres are now found in various sizes, from big to small, in places such as Hanoi, Haiphong, Quang Ninh, Hue, Danang, HCMC, Nha Trang, Can Tho, and elsewhere. Opened in 2010, Elite Fitness now has 14 clubs in Hanoi and HCMC, offering six or seven classes a day at each to some 200 people.

Women represent about 90% of people going to yoga classes in Vietnam. They are usually more than 30 years old and work in different fields. One of them, Thuy Hanh, a 38-year-old program officer at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), chose to study yoga for exercise, to ease the stress of work and taking care of her kids. One advantage of yoga, she said, is that she can do it anytime, anywhere. ‘After the very first time, I felt good, both physically and mentally,’ she said. ‘I no longer felt tired all the time, and instead felt energetic and at ease.’ She’s now become ‘addicted’ to yoga, and needs to do it every day or she just doesn’t feel right.

She added that she prefers Indian instructors, as they can pass on the real spirit of yoga. ‘Yoga originates from India, so it’s different practicing with an Indian teacher,’ she said. ‘Vietnamese teachers are good, but their lessons are bit scattered, while lessons from Indians are usually connected, like a flow.’

Meanwhile, Thu Ha, a 33-year-old sales manager at a bank, started practising yoga after gaining a few kilos from childbirth. After doing yoga for one hour a day for six months and following a strict diet outlined by her instructor, she succeeded in losing eight kilos and regained her old body shape. She plans to continue, as it also helps her sleep.

LOCAL DIFFERENCES

Most Vietnamese have a goal when coming to yoga classes, according to Satyanarayan. Having travelled to Europe, China, and Thailand for yoga workshops, he found that Americans and Europeans share some commonalities with Indians in practising yoga, viewing it not as exercise but as a way to relax. Vietnamese people, meanwhile, look to yoga to improve their health. ‘They believe in the instructor, and follow what we tell them to do,’ he said. ‘The results are good.’

FOR BODY & MIND

Having visited and held lessons in countries such as Brazil, Portugal, Singapore, the US, Mexico, and Malaysia, Praveen also sees a difference between Vietnamese and other yoga practitioners. While in the West, Hot Yoga, Astanga, and Yin Yoga are quite popular and many people focus more on Pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation, Vietnamese are less aware about those types but pay more attention to Asana (physical posture). ‘Doing Asana is fine, but one thing that always makes me concerned is that sometimes people force themselves into certain poses and can injure themselves,’ he said. ‘So I always try to tell yogis to do it with awareness and care.’

The differences in Vietnam present challenges to instructors. Kuldeep said he had difficulty in preparing lessons that would be suitable for everyone in the class, who are generally at different levels. So he become more creative, holding lessons with both hard and normal yoga to give his students what they’re looking for.

They all try to provide correct information on yoga during classes, in the hope of spreading the practice further. They believe yoga will develop strongly in Vietnam in the future, as everyone’s a little stressed from modern life. The good thing, however, is that students are becoming more conscious about their health, and yoga is the best way to be stress free and live well.

Kuldeep suggested that yoga be promoted as a subject at schools, colleges and universities in the country. If people start from childhood, it will make them stronger physically and mentally. Parents should point their children towards the practice, for a bright future and a healthy life.

Agreeing, Praveen said it would be good to make Yoga ‘compulsory’ everywhere, not just at school but also at the workplace. Yoga will then be more popular and practised everywhere around the country, bringing health benefits to all.

LIFE IN VIETNAM

Living and working in Vietnam, the Indian yoga instructors not only do a job they’re passionate about but also very much enjoy life in the country.

The thing Praveen likes most in Vietnam is his students’ dedication, respect for yoga and teachers, and their enthusiasm. ‘They always inspire me, and I try to learn more from them,’ he said.

Another thing that impresses the instructors is the hospitality of Vietnamese people. Having been to different countries, Satyanarayan chose Hanoi to live as the people give him a lot of comfort. He likes to drive around and out of Hanoi and Ha Long city, where he manages some clubs, to enjoy the beautiful landscapes and talk with local people. ‘Vietnamese people are usually willing to talk, even if they can’t speak much English or are shy,’ he said. ‘It reminds me of India. Once you start a conversation, they will talk and be very friendly.’

Vietnamese are also very warm and caring, they discovered. More than just teacher and students, Praveen and his students have become friends and occasionally hang out, to drink coffee or celebrate birthdays, Teacher’s Day, and Tet. ‘The language was a little bit of an obstacle for me early on, but now I can use some Vietnamese and my students always enjoy my funny pronunciation,’ he laughed. ‘It’s a good feeling.’

Likewise with Kuldeep. He and his students usually ‘buon dua le’, or chat, after the yoga classes. This, he said, keeps everyone’s minds fresh and stress-free. He once had an accident and struggled to find a good hospital, but his students took him to a good doctor and visited him until he recovered.

Living standards in Vietnam are improving every day, which makes living in the country an even more attractive proposition. The instructors said that if the government eased conditions on long-term visas and permanent residency for foreigners, they would like to stay here forever.  

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