Health and wellness

Yoga on a climbing wall – exercise reaches new heights in Myanmar

Hanging upside down on the end of a rope can be risky, and takes more strength than yoga on a mat, but participants are hooked – and their revealing sportswear is fuelling a fashion trend in once buttoned-down Yangon

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 8:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 8:30am

First there was beer and 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.

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

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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 couch potatoes wince.

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

“You need to be courageous,” she adds.

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 combine the hobbies.

“The feeling on the wall is very different from [yoga] on the ground,” she says, and admits climbing yoga is not for the faint-hearted. “If we do something wrong, it can hurt and it is dangerous.”

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Most of her students are from Myanmar’s 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 take for granted – from fast food joints and hipster cafes to nightclubs – are still seen as novel in Myanmar. Now yoga studios, climbing walls and tight-fitting gym clothes, trends almost unheard of under cloistered military rule, are breaking through.

“Things are changing,” Khin Myat Thu Zar says, when asked whether the skin-tight gear turns heads in a country that remains deeply conservative and where women are not encouraged to show flesh.

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

At US$12 (HK$93.60) 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 US$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 positions on the wall.

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Myint Myat Sandy, a 25-year-old student, says 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 says.

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

“I love the feeling I get at the end of a yoga session,” she says. “My mind is totally at peace.”