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Discovering HSE and Russia: Yoga in Moscow

In addition to interviews with international faculty, The HSE Look has launched a new feature – a column about their life in Russia, what they discover in different cities, and interesting venues at HSE and beyond.If you have an interesting experience to share, please contact us at ifaculty.support@hse.ru. In this issue, we present a column by Lili Di Puppo on practicing yoga in Moscow.

Yoga in Moscow

I’ve been living in Moscow for about 5 years, and by far my favourite place (apart from Orthodox monasteries) is the Yoga 108 studio, which is located in the Kitai Gorod neighbourhood, very close to Myasnitskaya Street. I had practised yoga for one year in Berlin before coming to Moscow, which means that almost all of my yoga practice has taken place in Russia. It has been so far a unique experience of learning yoga while learning Russian at the same time! First, I had to look often at the yoga Russian teachers and tried to be placed next to them to see the positions. Now, I have acquired a substantive vocabulary about the human anatomy in Russian. But since in yoga we work with so many bodily organs and muscles, some that I didn’t previously know existed, there is always something new to learn. Breathing is very important in yoga and to this day I cannot yet always follow the very detailed instructions about breathing techniques.

 Some of my HSE colleagues have joined me for yoga classes over the years and some continue to actively practice yoga. Quite often people are a bit apprehensive before attending their first class. Most of the time, they are afraid that others will look at them and notice their lack of flexibility, strength, etc. But this could not be further from the truth! Especially in Moscow, as it seems to me, people take yoga very seriously. They go to a yoga class to do yoga, which means devoting their full attention to their practice. When you are completely relaxed in a yoga position and have left all your other thoughts outside of the room, you will definitely not look at other people and judge them. The only time when we may happen to look at others is when we are laughing together, after the teachers explain how a position that looks impossible to do is actually very easy. Nevertheless, be prepared to do any positions that may look impossible the first time after some practice!

Yoga is about relaxation, stepping out of one’s circle of redundant thoughts about the past or future. This makes it just perfect for academics. Also, it helps you to balance the many hours spent at your computer. It makes you aware of your body, which is, again, a very good thing for academics!

The vibrant yoga scene in Moscow would be a very good choice for an ethnographic study. As I understand, yoga has deep roots in Russia and was practised during the Soviet Union. My teachers regularly go to India and come back with perfumes, oils, food, etc. My studio organizes all kind of retreats, including a trip to see Siberian nature. Classes and retreats are affordable, and the price of a yoga class in Moscow is not as expensive as in other big cities in Europe, as far as I can tell. Another difference with yoga studios in other European cities is that a ‘beginner’s class’ in Moscow resembles more an ‘advanced class’. The word ‘beginner’ seems to apply to any class that is not for yoga instructors! Be prepared for an intense yoga practice that lasts close to two hours. However, this doesn’t mean that the teachers are not very careful about possible injuries; they will help you to understand how to do a position in the right way. And with the help of regular practice, an intense yoga class can easily become a normal class. Nevertheless, if you want something for real beginners, try ‘beginner’s light’.

I cannot imagine Moscow without regularly practising yoga. I always leave yoga classes in a happy mood, ready to join the flow of people entering the busy Moscow metro, and content to have finished a long day with a relaxing moment. I leave my redundant thoughts behind and feel fresh for the following couple of days. Yoga is perfect for life in a big city and it is perfect for academics. When will you start?

Lili di Puppo is an Assistant Professor at the School of Sociology. In addition to doing research on religion in Russia, in particular Islamic education, and anti-corruption reforms in the post-Soviet space, Lili also teaches courses in qualitative research methods in sociology as well as supervises students’ thesis papers.

Read more in The HSE Look March 2018 issue