James the non-stereotypical yogi (and now yoga teacher)

James Bitanga
Defying the yoga stereotype

How did you discover KPY? When I first moved to Singapore, I had already been practicing yoga for 4 years in two other cities in two friendly neighbourhood studios, so I found it paramount to find something similar for me here. During my first year here, I had to settle for “gym” yoga classes (which were free!) and franchise studio classes, but it wasn’t what I was used to. My officemate at the time was pregnant and practicing, and she said that she went to a neighbourhood studio that even used the tagline that it catered to “normal people.” I was intrigued and decided to try it out. I met Kate my first day and she hugged me to welcome me to the community. At that moment, I knew I was in the right place.

Did you have a health concern before you took up yoga? I was involved in a near-death car accident in New York some years back but came out relatively unscathed. I started doing yoga because I herniated a disc in the lumbar area and I was just too unhealthy to sustain my spine in that condition. Yoga (along with Pilates) helped a lot in getting back on track.

How has yoga changed you and your life? Prior to practising yoga, I was in terrible physical shape. I had no stamina to finish a complete class and I could barely jog for 20 minutes. Yoga gradually changed all of that and created a natural effect on everything else: my body started rejecting bad food, and I reduced my “type A” personality, which included becoming much less irritable and intense (came with the job when I was a litigator in New York). I also learned that remembering to breathe during daily activities makes a whole world of difference.

How do you fit yoga into your busy schedule? Believe it or not, because yoga has become such a high priority in my life, it was one of the biggest considerations in shifting my career from a 9 to 5 job as a lawyer (more like 8-1 AM!) to a legal consultancy arrangement. Now I can dictate my work schedule and manage my own time. This allows me to practice almost everyday.

Why do you carry your cork block with you all the time? It was a great gift from my wife a few years back! I carry it because simply, it’s a really great product compared to some of the softer blocks and deepens my practice in the littlest ways. For example, in seated poses or meditation, the block helps me sit properly since my lack of hip flexion would prevent me from doing it without such support.

What do other people, especially men, say when you tell them you do yoga? My friends are amazed with my commitment because I do not fit the “yoga” stereotype, and I respond by saying that’s exactly the issue: there should not be a stereotype. Some teachers in other studios would approach me after seeing my practice and say, “If you need help, I can help you progress since it’s your first time doing yoga.” They have no idea that I’ve been practising for 7 years and that what you see today is an incredibly developed practice from what it was years ago. My male friends have been impressed enough to come along with me during some classes. None have made fun of me for being so committed. Stereotyping shouldn’t belong in yoga.

What do you think is the key difference between KPY and the other studios? It’s a genuine community in which its members and teachers care for each other, but it achieves this by also maintaining a talented faculty. Yoga is more than a workout for me so I find it refreshing to practise with friends and teachers who care about your growing practice.

What does the KPY philosophy ‘Yoga for Normal People’ conjure in your mind when you first read about it? For me it affirms the notion that since yoga is more about the journey than it is about achieving asanas, then it would be equally right to say that it is less about body types, gender, and health trends, and more about your personal practice while focusing inward. I have been honored to receive affirmation from many teachers who see beyond the fact that I cannot complete many or most of the asanas; they see a commitment to breathing through the practice and making the small self-aware adjustments and alignments that fittingly define my journey as a microcosm to the way I am trying to open up in all aspects of my life.

To read about the other Friends of KPY, click here.