Walking into the shala, we were greeted with serenity and the sound of breathing from the students. There’s no music playing nor any mirrors around and the students seemed to be doing their movements by themselves. We wondered why, and we asked Yan during our interview session to get the answer. Read further to find out what her answer is!
We can see people of all different ages, races and body sizes were practising their yoga. Yan and Manuel then came to introduce themselves as the owner of the shala. Right after the introduction, we were invited to take a look at how the class is done while both of them continued their class. With the two of them and their hired assistant, My Sore Room is probably the only one authorized shala for Ashtanga Yoga in Malaysia.
In between the class, Manuel came to us and explained that they let the students practice by themselves with their own pace while Yan and Manuel stood close by to observe them in order to not let them injure themselves. Manuel also told us that the reason why there is no music playing and why it is so silent was because it is to allow them to listen to the sound of their own breathing. He explained that it would allow the students to focus more on themselves rather than focusing or following other people.
Not familiar with Ashtanga Yoga? We asked Yan to explain a little bit about Ashtanga Yoga. Yan laughed upon hearing our question. “That’s a very very GIANT topic!”
Ashtanga came from a Sanskrit word that can be directly translated to 8 limbs. “Ashta is number 8, Nga is limbs“. The 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga can be defined as yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption). “It’s sort of a handbook or a guide book on how to be a better person,” she added. Yan took us to delve deeper into Ashtanga philosophy and teachings.
“What we teach in Ashtanga Yoga is how to breathe and move. Find calmness in breathing and moving and hopefully it can be translated in your daily life. It should affect you in your daily life positively. After you learn how to control your body, you should be able to control your speech, behaviour and tolerance.”Yan
We continued to ask Yan what are other benefits of Ashtanga Yoga she could share with us. Other than the benefits she had mentioned before, she added that the practice helps you to focus more on yourself. Not on the teacher, nor the other students next to you. “When there’s music or mirrors, or when you are following other people, all of your focus is outside and you are not going to focus on yourself!” she exclaimed.
There are 3 main points of focus in Ashtanga. First, your breathing. Second, your movements. Lastly, your focus on one point.
Yan and Manuel
Yan and Manuel both studied Ashtanga Yoga in India. In fact, that’s how they both met each other! The husband and wife never stopped learning and practising despite having been involved with Ashtanga Yoga for ten to fifteen years. Sometimes they would go back to India to practise more as they need “to fill our cup before we give”.
They went travelling around the world to teach Ashtanga but when they realized that Malaysia did not have any authorized Ashtanga instructor, they came back here to open the establishment. Their dedication and passion for the teaching of Ashtanga really inspired us. From the way she told her story to us, we can see how important Ashtanga practice is to her life.
Fun fact about Yan is that she used to backpack alone around the world for about two to three years before going to India. It is her proudest achievement and the best thing she ever did that taught her a lot of things about life. She really advocates solo travelling to overcome your fear, see the world and see the people.
Challenges As A Yoga Instructor
The first thing she said to us is “the challenges are endless!”. She laughed before continuing, “we basically sacrificed our life to teach this”. Yan and Manuel classes are open every day for four to six hours per day.
As Malaysia does not have any other authorized second level instructor, they sometimes have to fly someone in to teach the class. However, Yan wanted to support our local people. She decided to train some people to become an instructor in Malaysia.
She then continues, “the challenges are a lot, even if you are sick, you still have to open the door and show up no matter what”. The students may come for an hour class every day. However, since they open every day and the students can come at any time they want for an hour, Yan and Manuel still need to be present all the time and they even practice for another extra two hours.
Some other challenges that are looming both Yan and Manuel right now are Covid-19. We interviewed them before the RMO was put in force, therefore they were worried if they have to close down as many of their friends already had to close down their establishment.
Since they refuse to commercialise their teaching, it became a challenge to keep the purity of the teaching while keeping the business running. They had never advertised their business so much as they wanted to create practitioners, not teachers. “We try to keep the space with its pure giving instead of commercializing it. I mean we could have opened a teacher training here and probably gained a hundred of thousands per month, but we try to not do that,” Yan reaffirmed.
They were even surprised that we managed to find out about them! They try to balance it by teaching the practice overseas. In fact, they were supposed to have a tour in Europe and she is the first Malaysian to be able to do that! Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, they might have to cancel their tour.
Building A Relationship
In yoga, as we all know, it is important for the instructor to build a relationship with their students. We queried it to Yan who revealed that it is a hard topic and it is a topic that she’s trying to write an article about.
“Balancing a relationship with students is difficult. What I do is first to make sure that I treat all of them as equal. The students’ physical capabilities in doing the practice are not something that matters as much.”Yan
Their principle is to teach the students to reach a point where even though the students practice every day, they will still struggle. “If one person has more physical capabilities than the others, we will try to give the person more. It is so that the person will still struggle like everyone else,” Yan said.
If you are wondering why struggle matters a lot in their principle, Yan explained it simply “struggle keeps the person humble and focused”. Everyone in the room is treated as equals, that’s the relation that Yan and Manuel have with the whole room.
Another thing that Yan and Manuel hope to balance out is the respect between each other. They want to help their students to fall into a place where they are aware of their surroundings and considerate of each other. “Sometimes it feels like we are the parents of our students,” she said before adding “it is a very loving and selfless giving”. However, Yan also admitted that sometimes it can get lonely as students won’t know the sacrifice they made for the students.
She concludes their relationship as loving, intimate but sometimes it can be one way. Regardless, the proudest moment along her career is when they can see their students progress to be a better person (more patient, calm and relaxed in life). In addition to that, when some students are aware of the selfless giving that they gave out to them, and express their appreciation to them, that’s what makes everything worth it.
Dreams And Vision
“My dream is to come into a room where the students are silently practicing every morning”. She dreamed of having 50 people or more in her class who already know the movements and sequence, practicing silently with just the sound of their breathing filling the room.
“It’s a powerful thing you know, to be able to sit in a silent room that is only filled with the sound of breathing. It is a very nice and relaxing feeling.”Yan
Yan also wants people to know that everybody can practice yoga! “There’s a stigma…” she began, “that Ashtanga is very physical, difficult and advanced”. Where in actuality, it is not true. “With an experienced teacher, it’s not about you trying to fit yourself into Ashtanga, but it’s more to me bringing Ashtanga to you. It doesn’t matter what problem or physical abilities you have, illness or anything” she reassured. “It is not a difficult thing to do. Even more, it is actually customized to fit you!”
Located at Binjai 8 Premium Soho, Kuala Lumpur, MySore Room opens every day and is suitable for all levels from total beginner to seasoned practitioner. The students are usually allowed to be free and to practice at their own pace with observation from the instructors.
They described the vibe of the class as a private but group class as it is more to a one-on-one basis teaching. After finishing the yoga practice, the students will move to a resting place where they will rest their body and calm themselves down. They would lie on the floor and practice their breathing.
The goal is to not fall asleep. If you almost fell asleep, it’s a sign that the resting time is done.
Now, what if you are a total beginner? Will they leave you alone to practice on your own too? No! We experienced it first hand as on the day we visited the shala, there’s a newcomer who’s a complete beginner.
We got to observe how they proceed with the class. One of the instructors came to the newcomer and sat with him to teach the basic steps. The first 2 weeks to 1 month, they will have a one-to-one session to learn how to breathe and move properly. “It’s a slow, long process,” according to Yan. After you are able to move on your own, they will let you practice by yourself.
They did a lot to keep the place alive – from every sweat and tears dropped for making sure their students get the best, to even ensuring the teaching stays pure. Their passion really touched us and I hope the passion is delivered to everyone that is reading this piece too. We hope for them to keep on making names for themselves and achieve their dreams. Best of luck to both Yan and Manuel!