In our journey searching for unique individuals creating a happier, more positive Vietnam, we came across Avi Nguyen, an aerial yoga instructor in Da Nang. The carefree and relaxed lifestyle that she shared with us is something that many visitors seek when entering her studio.
“Everyone is always under a lot of pressure,” Avi Nguyen said. “Pressure is not a bad thing; it helps motivates you on a daily basis. However, an overwhelming and unmanageable amount of pressure can be a threat.”
As a yoga instructor, her mission is to help her students relax and recharge for their next workday. “In my studio, I don’t force students into performing difficult poses that can put more pressure on them,” she said.
Avi Nguyen discusses the emergence of aerial yoga in Vietnam with Vietcetera, as well as how this form of yoga helps shape her self-perception and self-acknowledgment
Can you share with us your journey towards aerial yoga?
I used to be part of a film production crew. This job constantly demanded me to work in a high-pressure environment. Hence, I started to learn yoga as a way to train my body. I also liked the slow rhythm of this exercise. However, I had never thought that I would teach yoga someday.
Afterwards, a friend in Singapore introduced me to aerial yoga. My first aerial yoga session ended with some snapshots of me posing with the hammock and multiple compliments from my friends. When I returned to Vietnam, I continued to work and started teaching yoga to a few friends. The main goal was to sustain a habit and to keep our bodies active.
One day, I decided to move to Da Nang and open an aerial yoga studio with right hammocks.
What are the differences between aerial yoga and regular yoga?
Aerial yoga, developed by a circus performer, is still a very recent, newly-formed type of yoga worldwide. The most common question that I always receive is, “I have never done yoga before, is aerial yoga suitable for me?”
In aerial yoga, practitioners perform aerial adaptations of yoga poses on a specialized hammock, a tool that supports your body weight for easier performances. The biggest difference between these two forms is aerial yoga’s inversion poses. These poses fully stretch our spines, relax our hearts, and relax our minds.
However, a challenge that beginners face is the lack of confidence they have on these hammocks. When they are not on the ground, their brains will trigger a defensive response to alert the danger, creating a sense of fear. Consider your hammock as a dance partner. You’ll need time to figure each other out. Eventually, you’ll become comfortable doing poses with the hammock.
Born and raised in Saigon, what motivated you to open a studio in Da Nang?
Da Nang is one of the best places to live, with a strong potential market thanks to its tourist industry. The majority of foreigners are familiar with aerial yoga, so I don’t always have to persuade them to join. Instead, they actively search for my classes to relax after long days of traveling.
Personally, I’m not trying to persuade students that are not ready for the experience. I’m just trying to show everyone a new perspective and provide a closer look at the viral aerial yoga on social media. Over time, they will convince themselves to explore and join.
What are your most favorite and least favorite things as a yoga instructor?
My favorite thing is the ability to see my students’ mood changes during classes: from being terrified to excited. I’m glad to see these positive transitions in both their mood and health. For instance, students experience less pain in their backs and necks. This makes me feel like I’m playing an important role, comparable to a doctor (laughs).
My least favorite thing is when students expect me to teach them difficult poses. Aerial yoga stems from acrobatic circus acts. Students often associate yoga with theatrical and artistic moves. I usually have to explain and discuss this perception with them before class.
Moreover, I still feel pressured to stand in front of a class after all these years. When my students are afraid of stepping on the hammock, I internalize ten times the fear. I eventually realize that we have to trust each other to produce a satisfying result. I have to trust my students and they need to believe in me.
I believe that teaching acts as a way to transform energy. Although classes are often an hour long and I only teach a few poses, I always have to ensure that my classes are sources of positivity to all my students. After my classes, I want my students to feel relaxed, energized, and mentally prepared to continue their work or journey. That is how I define my success.
What does your yoga teaching method focus on? The state of mind or physical health?
My teaching leans toward students’ state of mind as well as their flexibility and endurance. Most of my students are tourists and office workers. The majority of them endures back pain due to heavy backpacks and constant sitting.
Thus, I often focus on poses that stretch the joints, combining them with breathing to relax students’ mind. These classes provide the opportunity for my students to focus on themselves and re-generate energy for a new day after a long day at work or a long travel trip,
Besides, I encourage everyone to respect and understand their own body. During the class, my students have the right to stop at any moment if they are experiencing back pain, feeling tired, or they simply cannot perform the pose.
Everyone is at a different level of capability and has a different body structure. I want my students to create their own positive energy, and from there, they can grow at their own pace rather than comparing themselves with others. Everyone should live their lives in a similar way. We need to enjoy the things that we can accomplish and be happy with them.
What are some misconceptions people have when they take yoga classes?
Everyone usually takes yoga classes with a specific goal, whether it is for a fit body or the feeling of accomplishment when they perform tricky poses.
There’s a saying that I think is very well-known among experienced yoga practitioners, “Yoga is not about touching your toes, it is about what you learn on the way down.”
For me, yoga is a process that requires time and patience. It helps us find tranquility, listen to ourselves, and change our perceptions on life. Still, it is very hard to make someone feel happy when they … haven’t accomplished their goals (laughs).
Is it true that you always have to be in shape and fit to be a yoga instructor?
When I first came to Da Nang, my neighbors looked at me and asked if I was really an actual yoga instructor and why I was not “in shape.” Those comments used to greatly hurt my feelings.
After a while, I understand that everyone has different body types, and I don’t need to be too skinny or to have perfect skin. I just need to be honest with myself. Back when I had an office job, I used to be an urban woman who always had to take care of my appearance with makeup and skin care routines. However, it is not a priority anymore.
This is not to say you can completely let go of yourself, but do what makes you feel comfortable. I’m not trying to maintain a slim body, because I love meat and consume a lot of protein.
Nevertheless, I always prioritize a happy, confident inner-self with a stress free life. My carefree and positive lifestyle are also factors that attract students to my studio. Thus, I always encourage everyone to experience something new, acknowledge your emotions, and love yourself.
Why is exercise important for everyone?
The human body, similar to a machine, consistently needs maintenance at the right time to stand the test of time.
At a certain age, our bodies won’t be able to regulate at the same rate compared to our younger selves. In addition, excessive or lack of nutrients can be the cause of declining health. Even though we can be aware of this, we always find a better reason to skip exercising.
Plus, we don’t prioritize our time to de-stress and reduce the pressure we feel from our jobs. Pressure accumulates over time. If you don’t pay attention to it or understand the signals that your body is giving you, you will be defeated. So … do you want to live a healthier, longer, and happier life?
For instance, I used to think my strength is my ability to sit in front of the computer for more than 10 hours straight. Now, two hours can give me a lot of back pain. Everyone wonders why a yoga instructor can have back pain, but it really is a normal thing.
My body is alerting me to turn off the computer and relax for a little bit. You only need to pay attention to those little details to have a healthier life.