Keeping a level head in 40 degree heat, always smiling but always serious about her yoga, Tammy Gaymon is a popular Bikram Yoga teacher. In April she won the Swedish National Yoga Asana Championships and will be representing Sweden in the upcoming Internationals this week.
I met up with Tammy Gaymon just a week or so after the championships in Stockholm, where she won with a practice so beautiful that it quickly became obvious to all who were watching that she would score highest. Winning, however, came as a surprise for Tammy.
“It’s a bit scary, you go through these emotions like – did I deserve this? Did I do that good? How did I win? After watching the video I felt a bit better. But there is a part of me that is SO proud and there is a part of me that is SO humble.”
It is one of the first really warm days of the year and on the recommendation on one of her colleagues, Tammy and I head for Il Caffé on Söder, not too far from the studio where she teaches. Generally, I see Tammy in rather hotter conditions, leading a class of about 40 eager Bikram yoga enthusiasts (myself included) in the 26 asanas that make up Bikram’s Beginning Yoga class. But today, we’re talking about events that led to Tammy’s teaching in Stockholm and representing Sweden in the upcoming International Asana Championships in LA June 7th to 9th.
Having always led an active lifestyle, Tammy was introduced to Bikram Yoga in the early 2000s whilst working as a social worker for Sacramento County. At that time her main form of exercise was running and aerobics, but this was about to change when a co-worker finally persuaded her take a Bikram class.
“I honestly didn’t go back to the gym after that. I kept my gym membership for a year but I just felt like I got everything I needed from that yoga class,” Tammy tells me.
Bikram Yoga is a form of Hatha yoga consisting of twenty-six asanas (postures) practised in a heated room (38-40 degrees Celsius) for 90 minutes. The founder is Bikram Choudhury, born in India in 1946. In 1973, Bikram arrived in the US and opened a studio in Los Angeles. Since then he has taught the Bikram Yoga-series to millions of students around the world. There are now over 500 affiliated Bikram Yoga studios worldwide.
For Tammy, this was yoga of a different kind than she had ever experienced. She soon started to practise regularly as well as starting to help out at the studio. However, it wasn’t until she was in a car accident that she seriously started thinking of the yoga as something more than just her personal practice. In 2003, while still on sick-leave, her doctor signed her off to go to Bikram’s Teacher Training as part of her rehabilitation.
“After the accident my whole life flipped around. I desperately needed that break; I needed a break from everything.”
Despite the fact that the intense Bikram Yoga Teacher Training is known to be very demanding both physically and mentally, Tammy says she would do it again if she could.
“It was where I needed to be and where I wanted to be at the time. So, I loved it.”
After graduating, it wasn’t long before Tammy made the decision to give up her job as a social worker and pursue a career as a yoga teacher full-time, first in the US, then on to Bangkok, Thailand and in 2008: Sweden. Her parents live in Germany, so Sweden seemed the best place in terms of being able to see family. And in 2009 she met her current partner in Stockholm and they now have a son together.
According to Tammy, teaching in Sweden or in Asia is different than teaching in the US.
“You really have to learn new cultural norms and new rules. When I left Asia and was coming to Sweden, I thought it would be more like the US here – but it wasn’t at all.”
The unwritten cultural rules can sometimes get an expat in trouble, especially in a teacher-student relationship:
“Teaching in Asia I once winked at a male student while chatting to him during class. I immediately felt that I had done something wrong. Afterwards I asked a Thai teacher why the situation had turned awkward – and he advised me never to do that again.”
Though Sweden isn’t the same as Asia, there are still cultural differences. According to Tammy, teaching Swedes is great fun but it can be hard to know when to push people to try harder and when to back off.
“It’s the lagom thing – I don’t get it. Compared to the US you really don’t want to push people in Sweden, you have to tread more gently. At the same time I want to help them develop their practice – so it is a fine line.”
There are things she finds difficult with living in Sweden. The long, dark and cold winters aren’t easy and managing day to day tasks in a different language can make life difficult. But, having lived in Stockholm for a number of years, Tammy isn’t going anywhere in the immediate future.
“I went through those years when I just wanted to go back home to now accepting that I live here and that I am content. There are many things that I love about this country. I have never felt compromised or unsafe in Stockholm. It is an even more comforting feeling as I raise my child here.”
She also tells me how she finds most Swedes she meets very warm and friendly and that she hasn’t experienced the alleged Swedish coldness that many expats speak of. And of course, there are the kanelbullar.
The upcoming 2013 International Yoga Asana Championships in LA kicks off on the 7th of June. One would imagine that representing your new country could be rather nerve-racking for any expat. However, Tammy is unfazed.
“If Sweden is happy to have me – then I am excited to represent Sweden,” she says.
A yoga competititon is in itself something controversial. There are always those who will question whether yoga really is something that can – or should – be competed in. However, according to Tammy, yoga competitions have been around for hundreds of years.
“And I really think that these people misunderstand. It isn’t a cut-throat competition. My yoga practice is so personal to me and stepping out of my comfort zone and getting up on that podium – it is an expression of my yoga. One of our senior teachers once said that it is like ‘telling one’s story’, it might sound cheesy but it is so true.”
Thinking past the upcoming championships is difficult, but Tammy tells me that her short-term plan is to stay in Stockholm. Eventually, in five or ten years, she might decide to return to the US with her partner and son. When that happens she would consider opening her own studio there as well as coaching students who want to compete. That she is dedicated to the practice is certain.
“It’s my job, it’s my life, it’s my passion, it’s my fun – it’s everything.”
Watch Tammy’s practice from the Swedish National Yoga Asana Championships below:
Whatever the future may hold, her students in the Stockholm studios are happy and grateful she remains here for the time being so that we can benefit from both her excellent teaching and the positive attitude she radiates in and out of the studio.
GOOD LUCK TAMMY FROM YOUR LIVING CITY!