When I came across the notice from Bitu – an experienced Hatha yoga teacher based in the North Indian State of Ladakh-taped to a lamppost offering classes in his rented room in the Asia Guesthouse on the Chungspa Road in Leh, I have to admit I wondered what that would be like. Coming from the Western world of underfloor-heated Yoga Studios with surround sound speakers and adjustable lighting I felt slightly uneasy with the idea of sharing such an intimate, private space with a complete stranger – and practicing yoga to boot. But, a fellow traveller recommended the classes to me, and so I dropped my preconceived notions of Western propriety and cultivated expectations of what a yoga studio should offer the student in terms of setting the tone: space, light and cleanliness, and set my watch for the 6.30am wake up. When I walked through the sleepy Asia Guesthouse courtyard at 6.55am, guests sipping their early morning lassis before taking to the surrounding Himalayan mountains en masse- and proceeded through a narrow, unlit corridor, onward up the polished stone steps to room number 3, I was met with a lesson over the following two weeks of early mornings that I will never forgot.
First, to drop all preconceived notions of what is or is not an appropriate place to practice yoga. And second, to understand that yoga, with the right intention, approach and teacher guiding you safely through your practice, can be practiced anywhere. Sure, the aesthetics of your space are important and one of the precepts of the traditional Ashtanga 8 -Limb system of philosophy is cleanliness (saucha). This room could have been cleaner, perhaps. But it was flooded with the cleanest and brightest morning sunlight I have ever seen. There were no yoga mats, belts, blocks or eye pillows. Instead, it had a gradually inclined floor, several layers of (dusty!) carpet and a mattress (where the teacher slept, up to about -oh, 5minutes before my arrival!) laid up against the wall. But the room did have a view and a natural soundtrack- a lazy stream- melt waters of the Himalayas, skirting the Guesthouse. And the windows, shut tight to the early morning chill, offered stunning mountain vistas. At 3,500 feet above sea level, the city of Leh is nestled on Ladakh’s high plains at the foot of the Himalayan range. Beyond the range as seen through the window of the Asia Guest House and due West, lay the embattled State of Kashmir; Pakistan lay further West and China rose due North. Ladakh is a Buddhist State, formerly Tibetan – and at this altitude and through the month of July (when I visited), promises days of glorious sunshine, with the finest of visibility. The mountains, rising from the horizon – humbling, inspiring and bold in their lofty beauty – made each morning practice a joy. The uneven floor, became part and parcel of the daily challenge.
So when it came to considering where I might begin to explore my own yoga practice as a new and recently qualified yoga teacher, I was reminded that with the right intention, approach and teacher guiding you, yoga can be taught anywhere. And so, this evening marked my first steps – not quite like in the Asia Guesthouse but here, in my own home in Limerick- and appropriately on the banks of Ireland’s longest River, the Shannon. Converting the living room space into a bespoke – or to use the buzz word of travel magazines – ’boutique’ style yoga studio was perfect. I am lucky to rent a room in a very well cared for home, with an open plan living room area, offering plenty of floor space and options for mat placement. I did invest in some props and scents (rose, for the heart!) but I opened my first class as a new yoga teacher with a welcome and a very warm acknowledgment of the lesson learned from Bitu, who taught me well in his humble quarters at the Asia Guesthouse on the Chungspa Road.