Travel Stories

yoga in bagan

On a sunny hot afternoon in Bagan, Myanmar I decide to do yoga out of doors, but am self-conscious about doing it where I can be seen.  But next to our guesthouse is a lovely 1,000 year-old brick and mortar temple that I wander over to and set up my mat on the level back terrace, out of view of people at the guesthouse and in the midday shade.  From my mat I can see the bamboo hut village that abuts the temple, the dusty ox cart and walking paths that connect the village, and the garbage heap where the plastic bags and bottles that blight the countryside are dumped.  Focusing on yoga takes a bit of effort, but soon I am moving from posture to posture, eyes closed, breathing mindfully and rhythmically, somehow having forgotten about my setting.  Perhaps forty or so minutes into my routine, on instinct, I turn around and look to my rear where I see four boys, about 8 to 10 years old, each carrying hand made slingshots, and each staring at me in a mystified, fascinated, respectful way.  I have no idea how long they’ve been there, but my guess is about three to five minutes.  And although I laugh out loud on seeing the boys, which markedly breaks the silence, I also continue my practices and postures.  Only now the boys have put down their slingshots and are imitating my movements and giggling.  And while I am doing the postures, I am also laughing out loud at the boys and at myself.  And the more I laugh the move unbounded the boys’ movements and laughter become, and soon we are all laughing loudly together and doing yoga postures together in the shade of the temple.  After about five minutes of moving through a series of standing postures I simply cannot go on with the yoga in a focused way, so I sit down on my mat, cross-legged, facing them.  And they sit down on the terrace floor cross-legged facing me.  I say “yoga” and they laugh.  I do a side stretch and they do a side stretch.  I move very slowly and explicitly into a full lotus.  They move into full lotus.  I briefly lift my butt up half an inch on my palms.  They all lift their butts up four or five inches and swing back and forth on their palms as I can only imagine doing in my next life.  They are so wiry, and funny, and, of course, laughing hysterically.  And when we move into downward dog, the rocks they are carrying around for their slingshots fall out of their shirt pockets and clatter to the brick and mortar floor, and they are laughing even harder.  And I am laughing.  And there is no way to keep up even this level of the practice, and it is nearly time for me to be ending anyhow.  So I sit down again facing them.  And they sit facing me.  And I say “hello” in Burmese.  And they say hello.  And I put my hands in prayer position in front of my heart.  And they put their hands together in prayer position in front of their hearts.  And I say, “Namaste.”  And they giggle.  And I bow toward them.  And the boys bow toward me.  And I get up and roll up my mat.  And they get up and grab their slingshots and start firing at leaves and tree trunks and the temple bells.  And I say goodbye.  And they say goodbye.  And I wave.  And they wave.  And I ring the temple bell loudly with the large wooden striker left there for that purpose.  And the bell reverberates.  And I reverberate.  And I walk back toward the guesthouse.  And when I am almost there I turn around, and the boys are still standing on the temple terrace waving, and I wave again, and say “Namaste” again, and walk to my room, my asana practice over for the day.