YOGA IN VALENCIA
Mend and bend: The yoga trend in Valencia
With Valencia’s big-city hip-n-happening attitude, why isn’t the yoga industry booming? English writer Suzanne Worthington investigates.
I turned into a Bendy Wendy. Went to a few free classes, thought I’d hate it, got hooked. When I arrived in town a few months ago, I was surprised how few good yoga classes take place here. Is Valencia yoga-sceptical, just like I was ten years ago?
Spain opens up to yoga
Yoga’s ideal for travellers: like walking, running or swimming, it’s a peaceful recreation you can do anywhere with little or no equipment. It’s big-business in the UK and US. Every teeny town has a class on somewhere. In big cities, you can barely book a place in a class without being married to the teacher. There are even men-only ‘bro-ga’ sessions.
Like many trends that make their way over here, yoga is on its way but a decade behind. It’s easy to forget that until Franco’s regime ended in the 1970s, many people in Spain didn’t or couldn’t travel abroad. While thousands of Brits and Americans traipsed to India, the Spanish holidayed at home. Exploring alternative ideas through travel and education is relatively new for Spain.
‘Yoga’s getting more popular in Spain now because doctors are starting to prescribe it,’ says Jana Czipin, from Austria. She teaches ashtanga yoga in three languages on yoga holidays and at My Ganesha in Valencia. Now modern science is validating what yogis already knew, yoga has become a bona fide therapy.
Fitness and therapy
Jana first tried yoga to sort out a serious back injury. Within months she was pain-free, stopped smoking and went from hyperactive to peaceful. She attributes these benefits and more to yoga. ‘Try different styles with different teachers to find the yoga you connect with,’ she advises. ‘I prefer ashtanga. It’s a smart system. The movements flow and we sweat. People are surprised at how hard we work in class.’
In contrast, relaxation is the most important aspect for English yoga teacher Tina McCallan. In her 20s, she discovered the inner peace yoga brings and now teaches hatha-based mindful yoga in English at Centro Budista Triratna. ‘People come for the relaxation and find they develop flexibility and strength.’
For most teachers here, like in the UK and US, yoga can’t yet provide a full income. Jana also teaches German, thriving off constantly learning and passing knowledge onto others. Tina is an artist, creating projects with businesses in Spain and the UK. Making people happy ticks her boxes: through both art and yoga, she leaves people feeling great all day.
Maybe Spain’s reverence of Christianity makes people uncomfortable venturing into a studio furnished with an image of Buddha or Ganesh? Both Tina and Jana emphasise that yoga isn’t a religious practice. ‘There’s no god involved, you’re not asked to believe in anything,’ says Jana.
The word ‘yoga’ means ‘union’, and since we spend much of our time directing our attention out into our external world, uniting the mind with the body through the asanas (poses) can be a spiritual experience. ‘For many, yoga is a path of self-realisation,’ says Jana, ‘It has more in common with Buddha’s teachings than any religion: how to calm our mind, how to understand our experience, how to live in harmony with ourself and others.’
Modern stress, ancient body
Of course yoga isn’t a new Western trend. The styles Jana and Tina teach are based on Eastern wisdom over 2000 years old. It’s still relevant today because while our environment has evolved tremendously, our human bodies haven’t. We’re not evolved to cope with the stress of modern life.
If you’re thinking of trying yoga or starting again, go for it now, says Jana, before the winter blues set in and we get crammed together with relatives: ‘The immediate benefits include mental and physical harmony, less tension and pain. With regular practice, you notice more subtle benefits: more positivity, confidence, and faith in your instincts.’ And if you’re worried about overdoing the food and drink at Christmas, you might like to know that most yogis find it helps regulate their weight.
The next step (down the mat)
So what next for yoga in Valencia? Jana dreams of one day running a busy studio here, working with teachers of other styles to offer yoga for all in one dedicated place. Tina is keen to see more teachers using the city’s open spaces as venues, building visibility and curiosity.
I’m supporting the scene by going to group sessions. The city’s opening up to yoga, and more peaceful people leads to a more peaceful city. And if you’re sceptical about that, well, yoga’s a cunning way to eat, drink and stay merry.
Yoga in Valencia
Jana Czipin: www.yanayoga.com