Six years ago, Michelle Lloyd came to Ho Chi Minh City from California without any particular expectations. But now the slim yoga teacher who looks like a dancer has made the city her home.
"Three years of teaching yoga have been the happiest years of my life," says the stylish young American known in the expat community for her love of yoga.
Lloyd travels to Vietnam's famous scenic spots to practise yoga and make short yoga videos. Through these videos, yoga enthusiasts the world over can learn more about their discipline and discover this country's diverse scenery, from the sand dunes of Mui Ne to the deep Van Phong Bay, from the forests of Da Lat to Phu Quoc Island.
"We post the videos on our website to promote our personal project: me, as a yoga teacher and Vietnam as a beautiful destination," says Lloyd. The "we" includes Pier Laurenza, her French partner who makes the videos.
Lloyd has been invited to teach yoga at classy resorts and hotels in Vietnam such as the Sofitel Saigon Plaza, Ana Mandara and Sofitel Dalat Palace.
Recently she started yoga classes at home for "friends who want to save a bit of money." She finds the home more congenial for teaching yoga; the students have a lot of fun and there's time for them to chat after class.
"I try to illuminate the many aspects of yoga with whoever crosses my path in the hope that they may shift their perception and be inspired to tap into this peace," she says as we sit at The Deck in Thao Dien, District 2, one of the places where she teaches yoga every week.
"I teach Vinyasa (Ashtanga) yoga, which combines breathing and movement together to help me be more creative. I enjoy beautiful movements and controlling the breath," she says.
Her class at The Deck takes place in the early morning beside a bend in the Saigon River, opposite a patch of greenery. Looking upon a scene of floating water grass and boats passing by, the students look relaxed before class.
"I have been learning with Lloyd for three years," says Tessa Finland, a tall and slim Scot from DanCenter in Binh Thanh District.
"With a lot of twists, squeezing and breathing, this class is good for cleaning the internal body and getting rid of toxins. Lloyd listens to her students and adjusts her routine accordingly. When she corrects us, she speaks in a calm voice and has a special touch."
Another student is 29-year-old Ellen Riggenbach from America, who practises yoga with Lloyd six times per week.
"She makes me aware of what my body can do. She shows how to do things more easily and makes it more challenging for us. The class makes me feel light, and more balanced, grounded and stable. It also builds my strength," says Riggenbach.
Most of her students at The Deck can do difficult movements such as head stands and hand stands. These movements seem light and easy in the light of the morning sun.
The road to yoga
Now aged 29, Lloyd holds a marketing degree from CSU Chico in California and worked in marketing when she moved to HCMC. But it didn't take long for her to realize that marketing was not the job for her. "It's too stressful," Lloyd says to explain why she switched to yoga.
Lloyd began practicing yoga seriously in 2005. As her journey into yoga evolved, her commitment grew from once or twice a week after work to an all-encompassing way of living, letting go, dreaming, breathing and calming the mind.
Lloyd received her RYT200 hour certification in January 2008 from It's Yoga in San Francisco with Larry Schultz, a practitioner of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. She is now registered as an E-RYT200 instructor through the Yoga Alliance.
"When I gave up my stressful job at a furniture company and started doing yoga, I felt so relaxed. Yoga helped me to know myself better, have better balance and feel good. Then I became an independent yoga teacher. The new job gives us more freedom to travel and to do the things I love," she says.
Asked whether she would capitalize on her reputation to open an expensive spa in town, Lloyd says she is not ready for such a responsibility.
"I'm going to Mango Bay on Phu Quoc Island and Ninh Van Bay to teach yoga for a bit," she says with delight in her eyes and voice.
For detail about Lloyd's yoga classes and videos, check out her website: www.michellelloyd.com or www.vimeo.com/user1882521