From Mantras to Monasteries: 10 Ways that Yoga in Nepal Changed My Perspective

  • Cindy Wei
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As you can probably imagine, yoga on the other side of the world is almost a whole different world. The birthplace of Buddha and home to a living goddess, countless monasteries, and the world’s highest peak, landlocked Nepal is certainly a destination worthy of a spiritual retreat. On July 1, 2016, I left my home in clean and quiet Coquitlam, BC, and took off on a 30-hour journey to the earthquake-ravaged Kathmandu – an adventure that changed my view of yoga and the world.

Although every morning was spent at a hectic paediatric hospital, I had afternoons to myself which I dedicated to exploring and learning. Throughout the month, I attended 12 yoga classes at four different ashrams, or studios, and made some observations that helped me realize what a remarkable and resilient, country Nepal really is. 

The Sanskrit word ‘gu’ refers to ignorance or darkness. ‘Ru’ means someone who takes something away. So, in sum, the word Guru refers to a person who removes ignorance and thus, teaches awareness. True to the definition, my meetings with different gurus brought light into my life.

Here are 10 Ways that Yoga in Nepal Changed My Perspective:

1. Classes are cheaper. 

I’ll be honest - as a broke university student, saving money while travelling is one of my top priorities. Once I discovered that yoga classes in Nepal cost around 700 rupees ($7 CAD) for 75-90 minutes, I was convinced to sign up.

2. 95% of instructors are male. 

While I can only name one male yoga teacher after two years of practicing in Canada, the ratio of male-female instructors is entirely reversed in Nepal. Out of a dozen classes at four studios in Kathmandu and Pokhara, I encountered only one female guru. The others were tall, slim men with extraordinary flexibility and calming voices.

3. Classes have fewer students. 

Most of the yoga classes I’ve done in Canada, whether they are hot power yoga or de-stressing yin sessions, have between twenty and thirty students. In Nepal, I was shocked to discover that classes never had more than four students. At least five of the yoga classes I attended were private.

4. There are many different types of yoga.

Some types I had never even heard of, many of them focusing solely on the breath. When the class I’d showed up to was cancelled one afternoon, I was eager to get my workout fix from Kundalini Yoga. Imagine my surprise when the guru commanded me to lie in crocodile pose for five minutes before breathing in short, loud exhales to awaken every chakra. The entire two-hour class was composed of odd breathing techniques and effortless asanas. I was slightly irritated that Kundalini wasn’t intense or interesting – until I started savasana at the end of class. As I lay on my back, eyes closed, I experienced a warm, magnetic feeling – as if the instructor wore heated gloves and was gently placing them on my head, fingers, stomach, and feet. After what seemed like half an hour of this warm, tingly sensation, the guru declared that he hadn’t touched me at all. The warmth, he explained, was simply the energy created by my yoga practice.

5. There is no such thing as special yoga clothing. 

As someone whose wardrobe looks like the athletics aisle (with just a couple Lululemon sweaters thrown in, since I’m broke), I dress like the majority of young female yogis in North America. Yogis in Nepal, on the other hand, don comfortable sweatpants and breathable t-shirts. Some women even practice yoga in traditional saris, simply because yoga is part of their everyday life.

6. There are never mirrors or music. 

Is a yoga studio without mirrors still a yoga studio? Is a class without music still an official class? In Nepal, ashrams were small, dimly lit rooms, with candles placed strategically around the room to illuminate the beautiful and intricate shrines in front. Without music, the rooms are eerily quiet until the teacher begins to chant or teach.

7. Chanting is always involved. 

In every single yoga class that I tried in Nepal, three long, vibrating ‘ohms’ were done at the beginning and end of each class. One guru taught me that there are three parts of each ‘omm’: the ‘au’ which comes from the belly, the ‘oh’ from the throat chakra, and the ‘mmm’ from the crown of the head. ‘Omm’ is considered to be the sound of the universe, the first sound ever known.

8. Poses are held for longer.

In general, class pacing is slower and there is more repetition. Regardless of the type of yoga, from hatha to ashtanga, instructors ensure that each pose is done for an extended amount of time, multiple times. One guru told me that, “the human body craves repetition and responds best to it.”

9. Savasana is taken seriously. 

Savasana, the lying-down corpse pose taken at the end of each class, is a minimum of 10 minutes. During this time, some gurus are silent. Others lead meditations by encouraging students to focus on a single body part or to sink into a deeper state of relaxation. One of my favorite instructors spent fifteen minutes describing the experience of soaring above a dreamlike world of emerald grass, clear and sunny skies, and fields of vivid flowers. It is believed that savasana, rather than the movement component of the practice, is the most important posture because it allows one's mind and body to make improvements, such as building muscle or letting go of stress.

10. Class includes special rituals. 

Rituals were performed both before and after yoga. When setting up mats at the start of class, each mat was lined up for “good vibrations.” Before my hatha yoga classes, the instructor stunned me by telling everyone to stand up and jump side-to-side quickly, exhaling in short puffs with every jump to “clear the body of toxins.” This went on for around five minutes before we were seated once again, breathing and preparing for our first postures. One of my favourite things to do after savasana was to sit up, rub my hands together to create heat, and place my palms over my eyes. Nearly every instructor did this. The purpose? Massaging our faces and necks using the energy formed during the practice is meant to heal the mind.

After doing yoga in Nepali ashrams several times a week, I realized that yoga has the ability to unite people from all over the globe, perhaps due to the fact that it is merely human nature to seek good health and emotional freedom. Today, I feel inspired to observe how humans around the world have embraced this empowering practice and how we continue to seek it out as a means to evolve.

About Cindy Wei:

Cindy is an 18-year-old kinesiology student from Canada with a love for creative movement ranging from figure skating to aerials to yoga. She writes a popular blog “Cookies and Chemistry” that has won a “Creative Blogger” award and “Liebster” awards. She is currently going through her 200-hour yoga teacher training and spent her summer in Nepal. There, she discovered drastic differences about practicing yoga in Nepal compared with North America, though in the end she realized, “yoga has the ability to unite people from all over the globe”. Her biggest aspiration is to go to medical school after university and become a pediatrician, but with some time and opportunities still ahead of her, she is keeping her options open.

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