Can Yoga Transend Barriers?

It wasn’t easy finding quality yoga instruction when I was in Shenzhen. By that I meant that it was close to impossible to find a teacher who spoke English. When I started practicing regularly 4 years ago, I wasn’t totally bought into the practice. I went to a nice studio, but I felt quite alienated because my Chinese speaking skills were pretty much non-existent. I’d always be at the back of the room, and look at the instructor and those around me to figure out what poses to maneuver into next. I had a sciatic nerve issue once and I was too scared to try and ask how to modify poses to prevent further straining it. Did I breathe ‘properly’ during vinyasa classes? Heck no! I’d go to a class, sweat for a an hour, rush to the showers, and leave as fast as I could. Even the 5 minutes of waiting before the classes was a chore. Add to the fact that many of the patrons that frequent this place were all staring at everyone one else, like they were competing to see who was the best at yoga. Many come in these haute couture yoga outfits, and I swear these two ladies were going to have it out one day because they happen to sit beside one another and they wore the same outfit.

I kept going back because I wanted to be active, and I paid a lot of money for a two year membership (kind of stupid in retrospect, I know).

Don’t get me wrong, the instructors were always friendly to me, but it was hard to connect in any way because of the language barriers, or so I thought.

Her name is 李杭生 (Shanti). I never once addressed her by her name.

Enter the teacher above. I went to about two of her classes before she tried to talk to me. I remember having to sit at the front of the class (sacrilege!) and she tried to ask me how long I’ve been doing yoga. Luckily there was a nice lady who spoke some English to translate.  I remember feeling really embarrassed over the whole thing. I did the usual, rush out of class and back home as quickly as I can.

One Sunday, I signed up for another one of her early morning classes.  I did what I usually do and sat at the back. She enters and closes the door. We both realize then and there that I was the only student there that showed up for the class! She must have remembered me because she smiled and motioned for me to pick a mat at the front of the room. I would have loved then and there to bolt out of the room, but I’m sure I would never be able to show up at this place again if I had done that.  We sit down and she tries to talk to me. I try to reply in English.

Then, a miracle of sorts happened. She started breathing in and out, and motions for me to do so. We breathe in silence for a bit. Then she starts inhaling and says “inhale”, both in English and Chinese. She does the same when she exhales.  Instead of sitting at her usual spot, she sits at the mat beside me and motions for me to look at her. She demonstrates the pose she wants to teach me and shows when to inhale and exhale. I do the same.  If I didn’t need any modifications, she does a thumbs up and smiles. If I didn’t do something correctly, she does the pose again until I do it ‘correctly’. At the end of the class we sat and chanted ‘om’ three times together.

Instead of rushing out, I bowed and said thank you in Chinese and she said it back to me in English.

In subsequent classes, she always had a full room, but made sure to stop by me and check I was doing my poses correctly. I learned to breathe properly because I learned what those words were in Chinese.

She was one of the first locals that I was able to connect with and made my time in China easier. And I am very grateful for that.

If you are ever in Shenzhen, she now teaches at Hotz Yoga. They apparently have instructors that speak English now.

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One thought on “Can Yoga Transend Barriers?

  1. Yes. Yoga helps us dismantle the boundaries we impose on ourselves and possible relationships. Happy Year of the Snake!

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