My yoga life in Provence

Yoga - France - Provence - Expat - www.MyFrenchLife.orgMy passion for yoga has led me to Heathir Monassa, a Canadian yoga instructor based in Aix-en-Provence.

This gorgeous yogini has settled in France thanks to one very special reason:  the love of a Frenchman, whom she met in India.

Heathir opened her own studio, Yoga Evolution, in 2010. It is a centre for dynamic yoga where she teaches a demanding, creative discipline of a high standard. So it is with great pleasure that I was able to interview her – and I was especially curious to learn about her ‘French experience’ of yoga.

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Differences between France and America

Yoga - France - Provence - Expat - www.MyFrenchLife.orgThe first ‘French culture shock’ that Heathir experienced was starting a business. She wasn’t expecting all the obstacles of French bureaucracy, or the difficulty of hiring employees (who are highly protected here, therefore very expensive). Nevertheless, thanks to her hard work and tenacity, she now successfully runs her own well-appointed studio.

“I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning. I lost a bit of money because I didn’t understand anything about the VAT (value added tax) system, but now everything is under control!”

The second surprise was realising the disparity in the approach to sport between the French and North Americans. “The French are a lot less sporty,” says Heathir.

In France, intellectual effort is more highly valued and sport is always put second. She notes a huge imbalance between the regard for mentality and physicality, while for her, and especially in yoga, the two aspects support each other.

“Yes, the French are slim, but at what price? Often, instead of doing sport to lose weight, they starve themselves and because of this, are not in very good shape. My students, however, are women who are connected to their bodies; they want to be slim, but also healthy! Yoga is a holistic approach to a healthy mind within a healthy body. I try to illustrate this concept when I’m working on my own body. Giving off this impression of myself is my best form of publicity!”

“That Heathir smiles all the time is something else the French love – especially since they are more accustomed to the typical French sulky pout…”

In general, the French know little about yoga and often think of yoga as a gentle, static and rather boring exercise.

“In France, if you say that you do yoga people say, ‘You must be Zen!’ In the US, people would say, ‘You must be very fit!’”

Heathir has had to challenge her teaching methods and her patience to show that her type of yoga is an intense and demanding exercise.

Yoga in the sun in Southern France

Yoga - France - Provence - Expat - www.MyFrenchLife.orgIn Aix-en-Provence Heathir has found the sun all year round, a quality of life and a job that she never dreamed of.

She also appreciates the more personal side of her classes, since, in the US, “The classes are jam packed and the instructors become celebrities! It’s difficult, almost impossible, to really establish a relationship with the students.”

Here, she is closer to her students and particularly enjoys seeing them improve and following their progression.

She also notes that one of the big advantages about teaching in France is the structure of the year. Most of her students enrol in September, so it is easier for her to develop a course progression. As a cherry on top, everyone finishes work in August, a novelty that doesn’t exist across the Atlantic.

Yoga as a method of integration

Yoga - France - Provence - Expat - www.MyFrenchLife.orgThanks to yoga, Heathir is now well integrated into life in Aix-en-Provence. When she first arrived in France she didn’t speak the language very well and still has a charming accent that the people of Aix love.

“It’s a good feeling to be exotic! People are friendly, curious and interested. I’ve met some really lovely people here. Some of my students have become my friends – it’s a really great atmosphere,” she says with a big smile.

That Heathir smiles all the time is something else the French love – especially since they are more accustomed to the typical French sulky pout…

Have you tried yoga before? Do you think that yoga will become as popular in France as it has in America? Share your experiences in the comment box below.

Translated by Emily Arbuckle.
All images © Yoga Evolution (Facebook)

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Julie Guégan

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