For most people during the COVID-19 restrictions, staying put at home for a prolonged period brought about significant challenges, especially in keeping physically active.
However, on the positive side, it helped to raise awareness on the importance of a healthy lifestyle by engaging in fitness activities.
One impact of the restrictions was keeping people from engaging in outdoor activities. But people somehow unconsciously picked up routines during the period by working out at home such as gardening or light exercises.
Since the end of movement restrictions, the country has seen a rising trend in outdoor activities, including hiking, jogging and cycling as well as yoga, which has seen an increase in popularity, be it at home, studio or gym.
Yoga is the practice of the mind and body, involving movement, meditation, and breathing techniques to promote mental and physical well-being which also includes postures and techniques.
Several types of yoga and many disciplines are followed throughout the world. However, the purpose is still the same, to build strength, awareness and harmony in both the mind and body.
I was always interested in yoga but never attended a class due to work commitments. But the interest persisted, which led me to free yoga classes conducted by a married couple, who not only have the passion in practising yoga but are also certified trainers.
Super Slim Fit Brunei is a group that provides free yoga classes and is one of the largest local charity groups. Tan Sui Seng, the founder, and his wife, a master trainer, scheduled classes around their other commitments typically four to six days a week.
According to Mrs Tan, “Things came very naturally. We started the group sometime in 2019, about six months before COVID-19. Then, the pandemic hit and after the restrictive period, we continued again.
“Our yoga is quite different from the exercise that you pay in the studio. It is more therapeutic,” she added.
“As most people today tend to look at their mobile phones and complain of neck and shoulder pains, we train our members to practise neck therapy.”
She also noted that yoga therapy is similar to bone setting, which can be done by oneself.
“We are not choosy. Whoever comes, regardless of their age or gender, we welcome as we care and love all members. I have a soft heart, hence when I see a senior citizen wishing to join I welcome the person.
“It was heartbreaking to have an 88-year-old with a walking stick tell me he wanted to join the class. It made me feel sad and felt like seeing my late father. After joining the senior class for several months, he is now capable of slow jogging,” said Mr Tan, with a proud look on his face.
He added that all members only need to bring a yoga mat.
From a couple of hundreds of members in 2019, the number is steadily increasing. They now have a few thousand members in the group, some of whom attend the free class daily.
“Our Instagram and our members are good referrals. They bring friends and families because they have benefitted, have seen changes and effectiveness. Some even bring three generations of family!”
Member Siao Hong shared that she was never interested in fitness activities but a friend persuaded her to tag along. One session was enough to convince her to become one of the active members.
Lee, meanwhile, said the classes have benefitted everyone, especially the elderly.
“As long as you show dedication and willingness to practise it, the Tan will give their hearts, time and effort to teach their students,” Lee said.
“Mrs Tan corrects you when she sees that you are doing the poses wrong. She shows us the right techniques to prevent injuries. From the knowledge that she has shared with us, we now try to help the beginners,” Lee added.
Being a regular member from day one, Lee praises and admires the Tan for their dedication, love and care for the people they barely know. “Everyone in the group treats each other like family and Mrs Tan always guides and leads them.”
Pensioner, Nikmah binti Haji Timbang joined the group four years ago. She is a regular with a brother who sometimes joins her for the class.
Since practising yoga, she has more energy, and most importantly, it has helped to strengthen the spine area and muscles.
What she finds interesting is that most began as strangers but gradually become friends, regardless of race, age, gender and religion.
“We are a mix of people from different backgrounds – Chinese, Malay and even Arabs. We are very close and always help each other with the exercises. Principal and master trainers provide the class without asking for anything in return; all to keep us fit and healthy.”
For Nikmah, rather than staying at home idling, she prefers the yoga class as they relieve stress.
Super Slim Fit has 15 to 20 volunteer trainers and assistant trainers to inspect, monitor and help members to ensure that the techniques are correct. They also manage the administration and training site, which the Tan are thankful for.
They set up rules for the members, such as keeping the park clean and tidy and to respect other visitors.
Yoga aside, the group also holds total body stretching, roller yoga class, pilates, stretching, meditation, reflexology and foot stretching, total body sculpting and toning and total body workout.
“Members do not require skills to join these classes and most of our members startedfrom zero. Our trainers will teach and guide the members in English, Malay or Mandarin,” Mr Tan said.