Yoga can help maintain your sanity – at least according to Ashley Elgatian, a yoga teacher from the Midwest of the US who found her way to Oslo via Seoul, South Korea. She talked to Culture Trip about the misconceptions around yoga, mindfulness and the joy of meditating on Norwegian mountains.
Ashley Elgatian began practicing yoga in 2009, while attending a dance academy in Seoul, South Korea, with the goal of becoming more flexible for her dancing. She fell in love with the practice as she instantly felt a difference after her first class. Elgatian, a high-energy person who has struggled to balance that energy for a long time, became calmer with each yoga class. In 2013, she founded Tyan Yoga in Chicago but later moved to Norway in 2016 to open her second yoga studio in the Norwegian capital.
My first year in an office was spent in NYC at a financial firm (Wall Street). I noticed my energy levels dwindling, my sugar cravings heightening and my mood/motivation was not the best! I also noticed some of these behaviours in my colleagues. Once I recognised this, I made a habit of exercising during lunch or even sneaking into a boardroom to stretch or meditate. For me, this was a life saver. I maintained my identity, sanity and fitness due to yoga. I would always encourage my colleagues to do the same and soon after, I began teaching at my office.
This was just the beginning, I continued teaching at other firms. Private yoga also became popular. I was teaching yoga for various executives that wanted to practice yoga in secrecy – they were my secret yogis. Aside from corporate yoga enhancing mood, energy, and fitness levels, not everyone has time to spend traveling to a studio or the gym after a full day at the office! So, I definitely saw the need for this space.
My everyday life is just like most people, in the sense that I have daily administrative tasks and long lists that I need to tackle. What separates me from others is that I practice yoga and mindfulness every day, throughout the day. I switch it up between practicing in the morning and the evenings. Sometimes I pop into a studio and sometimes I practice at home. Throughout the day, I will practice the child’s pose and pigeon pose, to keep my body fluid from sitting in front of the computer. I’m also a big fan of meditation, I use the Headspace app for mindfulness; they have amazing packs that you can personalise. That aside, I am always checking in on my breathing. This is one of the major factors of stress that leads to less flexibility. Take a deep breath right now. Do you notice your chest and back relaxing? It’s magic!
Wow, there is a huge difference! I think one of the biggest factors is the work-life balance. The average American works over 40 hours a week and the number is higher for those that live in larger US cities — this does not include commute time. As a result, there simply isn’t a lot of time to devote to wellness, especially if you have a family.
In Norway, life is simply easier for office dwellers — even if they have a family. Norwegians work less and spend less time on the commute. Also, the culture here caters to families, so wellness does not take a back seat in Norway! I can honestly say that every person I have met in Oslo partakes in some sort of wellness activity. Even during a blizzard Norwegians are out enjoying a run and skiing! I love it. Go Norway!
I think the cultural differences are challenging at times. The US is full of chatty people, especially in the Midwest where I’m from. I wasn’t sure if I was imposing when I was trying to speak with others. I learned that Norwegians have this magical “poker face” that might seem to show indifference, but really can mean they are simply happy to have someone’s company. When in doubt, I just ask.
I think a lot of people think that yoga is for a certain type of person; skinny, young, vegetarian, and female. That is not true. Yoga sees no age and no gender, which is another reason why I love it. Coming from a background in dance, there is a lot of pressure to be or look a certain way and there is a lot of pressure for perfection. There are no rules in yoga, just come as you are.
And while we’re on the subject, there are a few misconceptions pertaining to yoga instructors as well. I think the biggest misconception is that we all always have inner peace. Inner peace is something we all practice for, we exercise our brain, just like we exercise our body. Therefore, I can become just as agitated as someone that doesn’t practice yoga if I do not meditate and practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means being aware of one’s thoughts and not being those thoughts. For example, if someone cuts me in line at the store, I feel irritated. That does not mean I am irritated nor do I need to act on this irritation, but to recognise it and watch that feeling is mindfulness.
Seeing as I have travelled and moved quite a bit over the last decade, my preferred place of practice has changed. My favourite spot in Seoul, New York, and Chicago was always in a skyscraper. I loved being in the sky and looking directly at the clouds or horizon while I practiced, it’s amazing! In Bali, it was a blast to practice outside; to see the beautiful landscape and the smell of incense in the air. So far in Norway, I have enjoyed meditating on mountains after a hike and practicing yoga at home in the evenings with little or no light. It’s cosy.
Right now we are focused on growing corporate yoga and private clientele in Oslo. Over the next few months, I will be teaching dance and yoga workshops for adults, open for all levels, in the centre. Next year, I am planning a yoga retreat in Yerevan, Armenia, which will be intertwined with seeing some of the ancient landmarks. I am also scouting for private spaces for teaching. I definitely see this evolving into a wellness base for different forms of movements and various clientele.