Published on July 22, 2007
In Thailand, as in many other countries around the globe, yoga is being heavily promoted for its physical benefits - trimmer tummies, stronger muscles and better cardiac health.
"That's fine," says instructor Saithong Gladpetch, a slim mother of two and author of the new book "Dharma and Yoga", adding, "physical yoga is a stepping stone for yoga of the mind."
"Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly," she instructs us as we stand, legs apart and arms raised to shoulder height. Breathing in, stretch your right arm upward as far as you can as if you are reaching for something. Put your left hand down beside your body.
"Breathing out, bend your right arm to the left. Turn your attention to the tension at your waist."
The postures of headstand, cobra, one-legged frog, tree pose and forward bend that Saithong guides us through are no different from the moves we would practise at any other yoga class. But, what gives this session a less than conventional feel is her teaching style, particularly her constant repetition of the one instruction: "Turn your attention to the mind at every movement."
Saithong's aim is to help practitioners recover from medical imbalance and bring peace of mind. "Teaching how to pose is one thing; that's easy. Bringing peace of mind to my students is another."
While correcting postures in first timers, she introduces the principles of releasing tension, letting go and living in the moment.
"The past and the future are not real. Focus on the now and you won't get easily angry or frustrated. If you practise yoga based on the four principles - right asanas, right relaxation, right breathing and right mindfulness - you will finally stop competing with each another, stop taking advantage of others and have a real desire to help those in need," she explains.
To Saithong, yoga offers an integrated approach in taking care of ourselves and leading a happy life. "Few of us live to be a hundred, so while we're on earth we should live the right way. Taking care of ourselves both physically and mentally can also benefit those around us.
"Yoga brings peace, and frees you from anger, hatred and envy," adds Saithong, who has been interested in Buddhism since childhood and was ordained as a mae chee at the age of 12. She remained in the nunhood for 10 years, leaving only to take care of her elderly parents.
Saithong has never been to India nor has she ever joined a yoga class. She began practising the ancient art on her own 12 years ago by reading books, on the advice of an Indian doctor.
She said she was feeling weak and had a variety of medical problems, including migraine, allergies and a thyroid condition.
After practising yoga for no less than 50 minutes a day, she gradually regained her health and came to understand that the principles of yoga were closely related to Buddhist teachings.
"You don't have to go far in order to practise," says the instructor, who has been teaching for 10 years.
"Yoga focuses on the whole body and the mind. One of the meanings of yoga is unity and it also means to control - controlling the body through the mind. When the mind is trained and is rid of selfishness and negative intentions, it has a positive impact on the body.
"Yoga is dharma and dharma is yoga," she stresses.
Saithong's yoga and dharma concept is in line with the traditional yoga-meditation philosophy that says witnessing your physical and mental movement is the most important aspect of yoga practice and that observing the natural flow of the mind can bring about a state of peace.
There is an inter-relationship between yoga and meditation, according to the eightfold path of yoga that examines mankind's morality. This is made up of yama (self-restraint), niyama (self-observance), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyhara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (pure consciousness).
The book "Dharma and Yoga" explains the meaning of yoga and the proper conduct for those who wish to practise it. It also features 30 yoga postures with comprehensive instructions, illustrations and benefits, including 10 postures for mothers-to-be.
"There is a Buddhist teaching that says 'yoga jitta virutti nirotta', which means the goal of practising yoga is to end suffering," Saithong adds.
Saithong Gladpetch conducts daily classes at the offices of Khwam-ngam 2000 Co, next to Panjathani Building, off Rama 3 Road, Bangkok. Call (081) 834 5286 or (02) 651 1000 for details.