Yoga in Chiang Mai, and how I got from practicing Gentle Yoga to Vinyasa Flow Yoga over 30 Years.

Khru Annie Bliss practicing on one of her retreats in Northern Thailand.

I’ve been practicing yoga for more than 30 years and have explored much of the full spectrum of practices available in that time. My development in practices of the asanas has in many ways been the wrong way round (compared to many people), moving from gentler slower forms of practice in my 30’s to more dynamic vinyasa flow practices as I’ve moved into my middle 50’s . Practicing in Chiang Mai in recent years, and with one teacher in particular, has been a big part of the reason for this.

It could be of course that it’s the right way round to start Yoga slowly and understand the internal dynamics of grounding , breathing and the spine before taking that into more dynamic flow movements. It’s just that that is often not what many people do. It does just take time and slowing down to learn the subtleties of Yoga. I was just very lucky with the early teachers I chanced upon in Brighton and London, UK, notably : Pete Blackaby, Mary Stewart and John Stirk. They had explored blind alleys of potentially injurious forms of yoga practice before me so I didn’t have to; they gave me an amazing foundation and the tools to feel like I could explore anything whilst feeling safe that I knew what I was doing.

I do though have an uncomfortable body and an unusual spine (something of a scoliosis) with some old pre yoga injuries ( long story) that even the most intelligent gentle yoga couldn’t really transform (which is what I have always believed the potential of yoga can be). Also my inherent nature is quite intense, even sporty maybe, and I craved a stronger, but still intelligent practice. It’s pretty clear to me that different people need different frameworks of practice (and at different times of life) for all kinds of reasons. The next most influential teacher I had was Dona Holleman who used to come to London from Italy. She taught the same movement principles I was familiar with, but expressed in a more physically intense way – it helped a lot – but still was not quite ‘it’.

Wild Rose Yoga Centre in Chiang Mai.

Other excursions into more dynamic forms of Yoga practice had been unsatisfactory and had felt variously too fast, unsafe and/or chaotic, with not enough time to feel into what I was doing. Then on my massage study trips to Chiang Mai I started exploring Yoga there at the Wild Rose Yoga Centre ( above), run appropriately by Rose. The generally vinyasa flow style classes there were more demanding than I was used to but were coherent, intelligent, creative and fun . One teacher in particular was right for me, Khru (teacher) Annie Bliss. Finally an intelligent form of dynamic Yoga, sequenced in counter intuitive ways (initially to me at least), but seemed to be working to unlock the various twists, turns and blocks in my body that nothing else had really touched. It seemed I needed help from someone thinking outside the box to support the change I felt I needed. When the student is ready (or not ready?) the teacher appears in unlikely form (my previous teachers had all been older than me).

I never quite know what’s coming next in Annie’s classes – a good thing for an ageing mind/body with a tendency towards getting stuck in habitual movement patterns. A useful additional benefit of Yoga is its potential to enhance our neuroplasticity by expanding our movement options.

There was something original and different about her classes. Later on as I got to know her a bit more I was not surprised to find out that in her former life she had been an academic at Chiang Mai University and had a PHD in Education. On top of that when she started to be serious about Yoga (after a health crisis) and aspired to teach it, she took five different approach 200 hour teacher trainings in order to be satisfied with her understanding of what she was doing and teaching: Ashtanga Vinayasa, Anusara, Traditional Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Flow and even the more left field Aerial Yoga. Her rigour and continuous exploration was clear, a woman after my own heart: not easily satisfied and keeps digging for knowledge and understanding. I had unexpectedly found a teacher after not really having one for twenty years. Later, the pandemic, with all its frustrations and woes, did at least afford me the opportunity to practice with Khru Annie online for most of a year which transformed my practice.

Annie also has her own studio in Nimmanhaemin, Chiang Mai.
There is often a playfulness in her practice and teaching, which stops someone like me getting stodgy in my practice.

The culture that yoga is transplanted into does seem to affect the flavour of its practice, which I personally mostly see as a good thing so long as core principles are not lost. Annie told me that the traditional Thai Yoga (Reusi Dat Thon, the Yoga of the Reusi’s, the origins of Thai massage) has not really influenced modern Yoga practitioners in Thailand that much, and that most of the influences were the traditional Indian ones (of the last 100 years) that most of the world has been exposed to, or other more recent global innovations in Yoga from elsewhere (Anusara , Vinyasa Flow etc) . My own feeling is that one Thai cultural input to modern Yoga is playfulness and creativity (a good thing); in addition Thai Buddhism and previous other Indian religious/cultural influences that came to Thailand and S.E. Asia surely provided fertile ground for Yoga to take root here (though as yet there are not large numbers of Thais practicing modern Yoga).

I wasn’t really allowed to just take a ‘normal’ photo on the whole.

So if you are passing through Chiang Mai, or staying a while, I can recommend Wild Rose Centre where all the teachers are interesting. At Wild Rose at least some experience is needed, the classes are not generally for beginners (but contact them to check). If you want to find Khru Annie in particular then her centre information is on Facebook, she does have very accessible beginners classes, don’t let all the exotic poses put you off trying.

If a Yoga teacher in Thailand says ‘let’s play’ this will either inspire fear or joy in your heart (but there’s always a way to start with these things).

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One thought on “Yoga in Chiang Mai, and how I got from practicing Gentle Yoga to Vinyasa Flow Yoga over 30 Years.”

  1. Thank you for this, Nev.

    Very interesting to hear about your yoga journey over the years and I have happy memories of Thailand and Chang Mai in particular where I travelled (after working in Japan for two years straight out of uni in) en route to an action packed over land trip across many countries in Asia in 1986.

    I continued practising yoga at home throughout the pandemic and beyond and am definitely in need of moving on soon to reinvigorate my practice – x sporty type who stills keeps active but needs the calmness of yoga to keep me focused in life and my work. You were my first teacher when I moved back to Totnes. Keep writing….

    All the best,

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