In Martinique, it’s easy to lose motivation for keeping fit. Without the incentive of deadlift day or hitting personal bests to get me exercising, I often lose track of whether I deserve that second slice of Mont Blanc cake. I do go surfing, I’m taking a modern jazz dance class and have mustered up the audacity to go for runs (I think running is silly), so all is not lost. Easily bored, I decided to change up my routine…so I took a Kriya Yoga class at an ashram in Schoelcher.
I am by no means a yoga fanatic, but I enthusiastically went to one to two yoga classes a week to complement weight training during my summer in Toronto. I grew to prefer the Hatha style: emphasis on the breath, meditation and a focus on creating a balance between strength and flexibility through maintaining asanas (postures). It’s not the trendy hot yoga that swept the West, so I was happy to find Association Apsara. I read up a little bit before calling: they offer three styles of yoga (Babaji Hatha Kriya yoga, Sivananda yoga, and Biorhythmic yoga), Bharatanatyam lessons (a traditional dance from the south of India), as well as Reiki and Magnétisme Humaniste.
As it turns out, your first class is free, yoga mats were provided and my partner happily agreed to come with me.
South Asian Influence
Martinique has a great presence of culture and traditions from the Indian subcontinent. From 1853 to the end of the 19th century, 20,000 Tamil indentured workers arrived in Martinique to replace slaves on plantations. With the national dish of Martinique being Colombo and the traditional dress being Madras, the influence of South Asian culture is significant. Compared with other ethnicities in Martinique, these people were the only ones to conserve their religion (Hinduism) and maintain a small community in Basse-Pointe where you can visit the heritage site and watch ceremonies at their Hindu temple.
Kriya Yoga Class
As we walked up to the building, we saw women wearing salwar kameez (loose pants that taper at the ankle and a colourful tunic) sharing pastries. One of them, Lalitha, smiled and pointed us around the corner. I recognized her – she was also the yoga teacher in Trinité where I take jazz. We were late and the other women in the class had already begun their relaxation. Shantidas, Lalitha’s husband and co-owner, greeted us with a handshake and lay our mats for us as we removed our shoes and turned off our cell phones.
“Respirez dans le ventre,” he reminded the class often. After a series of hip openers, we did two pranayama, or breathing exercises. The first, Kapalabhati, involves short, explosive exhales meant to cleanse the mind before further pranayama. The second, Mrigi Mudra, involves alternating the sealing of a nostril to control breathing. After a few hamstring and back releasing asanas, we ended with Shavasana, or corpse pose, for a final meditation.
After the class, we spoke with Shantidas and Lalitha. They have been in Martinique since 2007, when Shantidas arrived for a training course. A Reiki practitioner since 1998 and yogi since 2000, he has studied in Germany, India, France, and finally in 2011 he was officially initiated as a teacher of Kriya Yoga of the guru Babaji. They are a very friendly and welcoming couple who teach around the island; Shantidas expressed his interest in learning English.
Overall, I enjoyed the class. One shortcoming was that he didn’t offer enough guidance to beginners, though he did help if you were struggling or making mistakes. Furthermore, my partner pointed out that compared to the class we did together in Toronto, Shantidas didn’t take as much care to explain the postures. For me, it was something different and added a new dimension to my home yoga practice. Maybe I can trade him English lessons for yoga classes!