I was running late. In flip flops, I clumsily sprinted past the Chinatown stalls and hustled my way through dawdling groups of tourists. Passing the Hindu temple, I paused to allow some worshippers to cross my path as they made their way towards echoey chanting.
Sprinting across the road and ignoring the oncoming traffic, I leapt up the steep stairs that led me into the heart of the traditional shophouse. At the top of the stairs, I kicked off my shoes before a painted yogi, who serenely stood holding his foot above his head. I arrived at my first yoga session feeling anything but zen.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been using my Guava Pass to try out new classes. Here is my experience of each school:
- Nithya Priyan School of Yoga
Although I arrived in a sweaty, disgruntled state, the receptionist greeted me warmly and encouraged me to enter the yoga room where the session was about to begin. The studio overlooked the colourful Sri Mariamman temple opposite, and the iconic shopfront wooden shutters were opened wide to allow natural daylight to stream in, creating a silhouette of the instructor.
Our instructor, a young woman named Sonia, was quietly chatting to a fellow student who had brought her daughter along too. Each week, the school follows a theme and allows its instructors to interpret the theme true to their own style.
Unfortunately for me, that week’s theme was the splits. There was an audible groan and the man behind me rightly said that our eight year old companion was definitely going to show the rest of us up. As I am a beginner and only recently started practicing yoga, I was terrified.
However, the session started with slow movements and I could follow the salutations, which focused more on building strength through holding the poses rather than busting out all the moves.
Sonia was hands-on and helped us with our form individually, complimenting good posture or gently manipulating us into the correct position. Her voice was soft and soothing, and I could follow her breathing patterns without forcing any raggedy breaths.
After some heavy lunges and three-legged downward dogs to work on our hips, we were ready to tackle the main theme. Leaning against the wall, Sonia showed us various levels but encouraged us to listen to our bodies.
Kneeling on one leg and resting the other shin flat against the wall behind us, we sat up then reached up our arms for an intense stretch in the quads. Following this, we tried to reach up the wall with straightened legs. I was heartened to see that she could not fully do the standing splits either, so my effort didn’t seem quite so pathetic. After thinking this, I realised my competitiveness is best left outside of the yoga studio.
The session ended with a long savasana. I was able to meditate away from the noise of the traffic and focus on my breathing. Sonia had a calming presence and time seemed to be suspended. The singing bowl sang in a gradual crescendo and finished with four soft clangs. Overall, it was a rejuvenating experience and the pace and attention to form was perfect for beginners.
Amenities: yoga mat and blocks provided, lockers, shower, bathroom and towels.
2) Yoga in Common
Despite promising myself that I would give myself more time to find the studio, I found myself running around Little India in the hot midday sun, cursing myself once again.
Eventually, I found a chalkboard announcing the studio in a beautifully painted and leafy corridor of old shopfronts, but had to make my way round to the back past a puffing truck and entered what appeared to be a marketing office.
Walking up the stairs, I was pleased to see a handwritten sign announcing no phones. Instead, the sign encouraged you to ‘connect to yourself.’ Having given up social media for the past three months, I felt I was in the right place.
The room was large and square, the floor polished and its colour contrasted against the bright turquoise mats. The tinted glass in the windows created a playful ambience and ample light spilled in.
We left our belongings on a white wooden staircase and knelt down, ready to begin. Next door, some building work hummed but was soon muffled by the sounds of my neighbour, who breathed so loudly I thought his nose might pop off.
The class was suitable for beginners as it focused on the asanas (poses) and incorporated the movements of the body with the breath and connecting the mind. The instructor Vivian opened the session with a group ‘Ommmm.’ As a newcomer to the spiritual side, I felt a bit self conscious but joined in, being careful to harmonise.
Vivian was experienced in Ashtanga yoga and provided lots of feedback as she paced around the room. She was very attentive to my injury and ensured I felt comfortable in each position.
We worked our way through lots of core twists, extended planks and returned regularly to downward facing dog. I was slightly frustrated with myself as the towel I had brought with me was too small to cover the top of my mat, so my palms kept sliding forwards.
Many of the moves worked on the back and core strength. The repertoire was slightly larger as the moves were a little quicker than my previous class. My breathing was harder to control as I was distracted thinking about which arm or leg to move next, but Vivian was there to assist me in coordinating my limbs.
There were more warrior poses and the challenging inverted triangle. We did some work using the wall, but the main challenge for me was the extended bridge pose where I thought my neck might snap, but thankfully didn’t. We were rewarded with a happy baby pose which is my new favourite move.
The end of the session had a soothing digital soundtrack of nature. As our eyes were shut and we let our breathing wash over us, little cushions infused with lavender were placed on our eyelids. Again, we were allowed a long time to reflect on the session and be grateful for our time in this oasis, away from the outside world. We gave a final ‘om’ and I left the boutique studio feeling stretched and relaxed.
Amenities: yoga mats and blocks provided, water refill, changing area, bathroom, shower and parking.
3) Yoga in Sync
Having learnt from previous experience, I gave myself plenty of time to get to Outram Park. Of course, I arrived 30 minutes early and walked up the vertical steps (a workout in itself) to the cosy waiting room. There was a sofa and a water cooler, and I sat listening to my music until someone else arrived.
“Hey. Are you here for the class?”
“Yes. Is it your first time?”
“No…I’m the instructor.”
A good start, as usual. I quickly apologised to Mehar, my instructor, and began sharing my experience of meditation so far, moving between being caught up with the flow of my thoughts to just falling asleep. She said the trick was to not try, and to allow your mind to find its way there naturally. When I mentioned I was a beginner and wasn’t too flexible, she said, “That’s why you’re doing yoga.”
We entered the studio which was long and thin, but was the first place I had been that had a mirror. The wall was painted a simple off-white with some appliqué leaves for decor. The other ladies joining the class were friendly and we built camaraderie during the session. After disclosing my knee injury to Mehar, we began.
The poses were at a faster rate and the cat cow seemed comically accelerated. Seeing ourselves moving so quickly made me chuckle lightly under my breath, and it reminded me of being told off for giggling during a hot yoga session for accidentally farting. I fought hard to maintain my focus.
We spent a lot of time twisting and doing deep lunges. For the first time, I had a go at the twisty eagle pose which felt completely alien.
There were some poses which highlighted the inflexibility of my knees such as the lotus seat, and I felt the instructor’s surprise at my inability to do it on either side. “Are both knees injured?” I felt slightly put out by her straight-talking style but realised it was inevitable as I’m still learning.
Some moves that the others found easy, such as dropping their heads to their knees on the forward fold, were impossible for me. There were some funny moves such as lifting up your feet to your ear as if picking up the phone. My toes barely lifted an inch from the ground.
But then, some moves that were difficult for them, I found myself able to do. Grabbing my big toe, I stretched out my leg until it was straight and held it comfortably for 5 breaths, then twisted it sideways. Only a month ago, I would have struggled to do this as my hamstrings have always been tight.
I found that the mirror made me more competitive, which is perhaps best avoided as I should have focused on my body and breathing, or checked my posture in the reflection.
The final corpse pose was shorter than my other sessions and we finished the class chatting about where we were from and whether I would return the following week.
I would like to return as I found it the most challenging of the three, and Mehar knew her students abilities intimately and pushed them to achieve more. The class is not yet available on my Guava Pass next week but hopefully I can re-book soon.
Amenities: yoga mats and blocks provided, water dispenser, shower, bathroom.
Overall, I have really enjoyed experiencing yoga outside of my home and learning new poses that I can try. It has pushed the boundaries of what I thought my body was capable of and I am starting to appreciate connecting my mind to my body, a concept I’ve never explored before. I would return to all of these studios as each offers a friendly and peaceful environment for anyone starting yoga.