Yoga mama

Ninie Ahmad balances motherhood and helping others discover their inner yogis with perfect poise. - Picture by Choo Choy May
Ninie Ahmad balances motherhood and helping others discover their inner yogis with perfect poise. - Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 4 -- There’s something about Ninie Ahmad: this petite, bubbly yoga instructor will make you smile within seconds of meeting her. She has taught yoga full-time for more than 10 years but still remembers what it’s like to be a beginner so her students feel safe and happy with her guiding them.

From starting her own yoga studio and yoga magazine to becoming the Malaysian yoga ambassador for an international fitness apparel brand, Ninie seems to have done it all. Yet her happiest experience may be giving birth to her baby girl in February this year, after teaching yoga during most of her pregnancy.

What’s life like now for this yoga mama?

What was teaching yoga during your pregnancy like?

Believe it or not, aside from not being physically able to demonstrate yoga poses that involve twists, nothing really changed about my teaching when I was pregnant.

Yoga is one of the rare exercises that are proven helpful for expecting mothers because of its relaxing, opening, strengthening and de-stressing properties. As for teaching yoga while pregnant, I was definitely more compassionate to my students and somehow blessed with greater intuition to feel “within” when my students needed gentler adjustments or healing touches.

Furthermore, I believe my baby girl Pincha is the calm, healthy and strong baby she is thanks to the hundreds of hours I spent practising asanas, stillness and meditation when I was pregnant.

In fact, I named her Pincha after my favourite peacock feather pose. It’s a very difficult balancing pose but I could perform it effortlessly when pregnant. So I believe she chose her own name!

Tell us more about how you’ve changed after having Pincha.

Honestly, I thought I was the most peaceful person I knew until I had a baby. I didn’t know that I could be more humble. You see, I always had what I wanted with my yoga journey. I like being in control about everything; not only my breath but my poses too.

But after giving birth, I realise now I have something I can’t control and I have to slow down. That there’s now a life that grew inside of me but I can’t control her always now that I’ve given birth to her – this humbles me greatly.

I used to tell people who say they had no time to do yoga that they can always wake up a little earlier to exercise; I would wake at 4am to do my Ashtanga practice. But now I allow myself to sleep in a bit more because I want to spend more time with my daughter when she is awake.

Thanks to Pincha, I’ve changed my perception about how to become a better yoga practitioner. It’s about being in the moment, and being compassionate. I think now that is my yoga. This is my new challenge, being a mother.

You were very athletic even before practising yoga. What is your definition of fitness?

I started doing yoga because I thought I was very fit when I was younger – I was playing hockey, rock-climbing, and even running marathons – but I knew I was not flexible. For me, back then, a fit person is someone who is strong, flexible and has endurance.

It was only after practising yoga that I realised a fit person also needs to be able to keep their centre of gravity whatever position they’re in, and to be healthy. For example, I know many gym-goers who can perform perfect handstands but if you remove the wall they are leaning against, they’ll fall down. Some can work out for hours but afterwards they still eat junk food and smoke. That’s not healthy.

As a mother, I have to watch what I eat, how much I sleep and keep healthy for my daughter. Staying fit is my responsibility.

You conceptualised Upward Yoga to be a yoga studio with no mirrors. Why?

All the yoga studios that I have taught at in Kuala Lumpur were mirrored. Most gym-oriented yoga practitioners prefer that. Being a perfectionist and a pretty vain person, I used to find myself adjusting my hair or my clothes unnecessarily, getting distracted by other people’s movements in trying to maintain my stillness, and judging myself (and sadly others) by the reflections I saw in the mirrors.

In 2010, I took a year break from teaching and travelled for a bit. My idea of a vacation is being able to wake every morning not having to teach and getting to practise at different yoga studios in my favourite cities in the world.

I had an epiphany in New York City where I noticed a significant difference in my practice. There, all of the studios were not mirrored. Inspired by the Kula Yoga Project and Dharma Mittra Yoga Centre in New York City, I vowed that my next yoga studio would not be mirrored. The less we see with our eyes, the more awareness we gain within.

In July 2011, Upward Yoga was born. My students here also find the non-mirrored practice space a breath of fresh air, with our open windows and trees outside as the background instead of superficial mirrors.

What is your biggest insight from your years of practising and teaching yoga?

It took me a decade of practising physical yoga (asanas) daily to realise that it’s not all about the poses. While I truly vouch for practising yoga as often as you can with experienced teachers to maintain general health and to keep fit,  I have also come to terms with acceptance and realisation that being kind to others through our actions is actually more “yoga” than the complicated yoga poses most of the time.

These actions can include being respectful to our own bodies by feeding ourselves with only clean and nutritious food, and simply being content and grateful with what we already have. Signalling that you’re about to change lanes while driving also counts!

This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on October 3, 2013.

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