I had no intention of teaching my first class in the beautiful and historic city of Luang Prabang in northern Laos. But it's always funny how things work out, how the universe places obstacles and opportunities in your path, allowing you to test yourself. If there's one thing I took away with me from my yoga training, it is being sensitive to this.
I arrived in Laos to visit a dear friend. We had both discovered yoga separately and it was a perfect time for us to reconnect after many years, with our new shared passion. After a four-week teacher training intensive at the Samahita Retreat in Thailand, I needed some rest and relaxation, time to internalise everything. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered Julie is spearheading a fledgling yoga community in Luang Prabang, teaching and organising classes and workshops for the many travellers that come through, as well as the local expat community.
It's real. It's raw. From an outdoor deck overlooking the Nam Khan river to a creaky room in an active Buddhist temple complex, the locations are truly inspiring. I'm used to practicing yoga at home or in a standard yoga studio. This was a treat. And a challenge too (think, mosquitos at dusk).
Julie dragged me to a class every day, sometimes more than one class a day. She's passionate about sharing yoga and has taken it upon herself to help create a community in Luang Prabang. One of the ways she's doing this is by inviting teachers and practitioners to come and visit. And that's where I come in.
Julie gave me one of her teaching slots and made the class a donation only event. All the money collected went to support the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center. Their mission is to preserve cultural diversity in Laos by empowering ethnic minorities. And so my first class became an exercise in karma yoga or selfless service. Needless to say I was very nervous, but I figured it's best to just take the plunge. Not to mention I had only just completed my teacher training, so everything was still fresh in my mind.
I taught in an old, dark, wooden room that lay at the back of an active temple complex. Monks walked the grounds in their orange robes. You had to ascend a wooden ladder to get to the space. It was beautiful. Full of character and energy. It was a small room, and much to my surprise, it was full. There were nine students, 10 if you included me.
And then I began. I was committed for 90 minutes. These students were looking to me for knowledge, direction and stillness. I tend to enjoy high energy classes that build a lot of heat. So that's what I dished out. I had prepared an Ashtanga Vinyasa sequence with time for a long relaxation (Savasana) at the end. The first 45 minutes were a little nerve-wracking. There was a lot to concentrate on at the same time, remembering the sequence, guiding the students, adjusting their poses where needed, while being mindful of the time and the energy in the room. But then something clicked. I relaxed. Deep down I think I realised I had nothing to fear. I've been practicing yoga for years and often dreamt about leading my own class. Here I was doing it, and I wasn't about to let it become an unjoyful event.
The last 45 minutes I began to find my voice. I felt more comfortable offering up suggestions or modifications to poses, sharing anecdotes about yoga, and towards the end, guiding my students through a meditation and relaxation sequence.
The highlight for me was most definitely one of the students who, after class, came up to me and said she'd never have guessed that this was my first time teaching yoga had I not told her. I was buzzing for hours afterwards.
As a teacher, you'll always remember your first class, good or bad. It is upon that first experience that you build yourself and strive to be better. Teaching yoga is the ultimate exercise in humility, and as such, is a form of meditation, because it forces you to step outside yourself, to leave your ego at the door and 'become' the student you're trying to teach.
I am forever grateful for the chance to experience this.
If your travels ever take you to Luang Prabang, make sure to visit the dedicated website Julie has set up for information on yoga activities in the area. And say "hello" to her for me.
Yoga overlooking the Nam Khan river
Julie leading a candle-lit seated meditation
Teaching my first class
Teaching my first class
Follow Bhanu Bhatnagar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bhanu_bhatnagar