Myanmar climbers take latest yoga trend to new heights

|     Athens Zaw Zaw     |

YANGON (AFP) – First there was paddleboard yoga. Then someone added goats to the mix. Now fitness buffs in Myanmar are taking the latest body-bending trend to whole new heights – pulling off yoga poses on a climbing wall.

Khin Myat Thu Zar zips up to the top of a wall at a newly opened climbing centre in Yangon with ease. But her climb isn’t finished yet.

With the support of a rope partner she flips upside down, her feet gripping two climbing wall holds in an inverted split that would make the couch potatoes of the world wince at just the thought.

“Much more strength is needed to do this kind of yoga and the mind has to be entirely stable,” she told AFP after a climb intermixed with an array of elaborate poses.

“You need to be courageous,” she added.

Khin Myat Thu Zar (L), a 32-year-old former lawyer who has been teaching yoga in Myanmar professionally for the last five years, gives directions to a student trying to perform a yoga pose on a climbing wall during a class at a studio in Yangon, August 16
A student reacts to her effort at striking a pose during a climbing yoga class in Yangon. – PHOTOS: AFP

The 32-year-old former lawyer has been teaching yoga in Myanmar professionally for the last five years. She started climbing six months ago as a way to strengthen her muscles and decided to marry the two hobbies together.

“The feeling on the wall is very different from (yoga) on the ground,” she beamed, while admitting climbing yoga was not for the faint hearted and carried some risks. “If we do something wrong, it can hurt and it is dangerous.”

Most of her students hail from Myanmar’s rapidly growing middle classes, who have been devouring global trends since the once isolated country abandoned outright military rule six years ago.

Lifestyle options that many in the west might have taken for granted – from fast food joints and hipster cafes to nightclubs – are still seen as novel in Myanmar. Now yoga studios, climbing walls and gym clothes, trends almost unheard of under cloistered military rule, are breaking through.

“Things are changing,” Khin Myat Thu Zar said, when asked whether the gear turned heads in the country.

“Sportswear fashion is a new trend now in Myanmar,” she explained.

At $12 for an hour long session, her climbing yoga classes are inevitably only affordable for the wealthy in a country where the average annual salary is just $1,250.

But there is no shortage of willing participants. At a recent session, some half a dozen women and two men warmed up before trying their hand at various yoga position on the wall.

Myint Myat Sandy, a 25-year-old student, said she wanted to use climbing to boost her fitness and improve her yoga skills on the ground.

“The way we do climbing yoga, it builds up strength in your hands,” she said.

Sandar Win, a bodybuilder in her 40s, says it is inner peace she is after.

She explained: “I love the feeling I get at the end of a yoga session. My mind is totally at peace.”