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Expat Series: Yoga In Rome With Aleisha

Ever wished you could take a vacation from your mind? Try yoga! Close your eyes, and take a deep breath in. Relax and take a break from thinking for a minute or two. When was the last time your mind was completely switched off? Don’t lie, we know that being in Italy has not stopped you from worrying about work meetings, travel plans and responsibilities of all kinds.

The truth is that our brains rarely get a full rest. For some running along the Tiber river, or swimming at the local pool will do the trick. Others may still be looking for their trigger.

For Aleisha Smith, a gorgeous and energetic young expat in Rome, the key to switching off is yoga. Aleisha left Australia a few months ago to take some time for herself. She moved to Italy and is now teaching yoga at ZEM, an English-speaking studio in Rome, in the heart of the historical centre. Through the practice of yoga, Aleisha gives her students the precious gift of getting in touch with the present moment.

If you’ve just moved to Rome and are still adapting to the Roman lifestyle, yoga may be the key to find your inner balance and stay healthy while you embrace the change. In fact, apart from being a great way to switch off your mind, yoga has many health benefits.  Read our interview with Aleisha and let her words inspire you!

Tell us a bit about yourself… what inspired you to move abroad?

When I was 19, I spent three months travelling in Africa. Ever since that trip, I was waiting for the right time between career and studies to spend more time abroad.  Being young, I thought I needed to do everything first before I could treat myself to moving abroad. So I studied for 2.5 years and I worked for 4.5 years. I was happy with where I had gotten at my age and I knew that was time to take a break, concentrate more on my yoga, move overseas, and worry about my career later.

Why did you choose Italy?


I have been asked the question quite a bit, especially from young Italians like you. I think I have always appreciated Italians’ zest for life, and their passion for culture and family.  Being a rustic Australian, I felt that this was something that maybe my family was missing a little bit or at least our culture was missing a little bit, so I was very happy to come and experience the passion that you have for life. That is something that I have always felt on par with. Rome is a beautiful country and yes, sometimes, you want to shake some of the people that you meet or work with, and yes some things are different from how we do them back home, but you cannot help but appreciate all the amazing little good things that make Italians the way they are

How is practicing yoga in Rome different?


Yoga in Roma

Staying healthy with yoga… and juice

Rome is a fantastic city to do yoga in. Through yoga we can not only cleanse out the incredible food, and vino that we have the option to drink and indulge in most days of the week, but also just take a break from the Roman busy lifestyle. Especially for expatriates, I think coming to an English-speaking studio is a great way to get to know your local community. At ZEM where I teach, we are all about creating our own little community within the magical city of Rome. It is kind of a perfect add to your work day, and a perfect way to give yourself the chance to check out and commute from your busy life

Did moving to italy meet your expectations?

Yes, it did, more and more. Especially as I spent a bit of time in different areas in Italy: Sardegna, the Dolomites, Tuscany and now Rome where I plan on staying for the next six months. But, I am very worried about what people tell me: “when you are here you may not want to go home”.

Is there any trait you still find odd or funny in Italians?

The patience. I love Italian time. The bus might be 15 minutes late and the waitress might take the time to serve you –  and coming from the West people might say this is just not how things work, but for me,  someone who is very often late and very relaxed, this trait is perfect!

What is your favorite, non-touristy, spot in Rome?

I have to say Monti. Monti is my favorite suburb in Rome, a bit underdiscovered, but with a good taste for bars. If you want to be surrounded by locals, go outside the Roman walls, which is why I decided to live there.

What do you miss most of Australia?

I don’t actually miss too much. I miss the sea, as I was born and raised in a beach town. Some say that if you have come enough near water, you don’t realize how much you need it every day of your life. Of course I also miss my immediate family. And brunch, I miss brunch!

What do you like the most about teaching yoga?

The thing I love about teaching yoga is being able to give students the gift of a refresher, guiding them with some words or with some postures; being able to give them a vacation from their mind, this is probably what I like the most. It is almost like an addiction, I want to share this addiction with as many people as I can around the world, so that they can take it into their own practice. At the end of a class, when the whole class is laying in what is called a dead corpse pose – you are just on your back doing nothing – if I can see that most of the students are relaxed and have taken a “vacation”, I know that I have done a good job for the past hour.

Aleisha’s favorite yoga style: Hatha yoga! ha means the moon and tha means the sun. It is a mixture of yin, a yoga for the mind, and yang, physical tough yoga.

What kind of people join your yoga classes?

Mostly people who are curious, curious to try a form of exercise that is a little different but has some benefits other than just toning.

In general, we see regular young people who join mainly for the fitness at the beginning before they realize all the benefits, and then a lot of older people, some retirees, especially expatriates, who know they now need a non-invasive form of exercise.

In general, I don’t think there is the perfect mind for yoga. Any given day, anyone, at any time can come try a class, and then take ten more or take no more and that is their choice.

What is your single most important recommendation to anyone trying yoga for the first time?

A simple recommendation is to listen to your body and to listen to your mind. Most people first sentences are: I would like to try yoga but I am not flexible. What I answer is: it is not about being flexible, it is about being open and listening to how your body wants to move in and out of a pose. If you are moving into a pose dangerously, pushing yourself too far, it means you are not listening to your muscles, to your breath and to what your head tells you. It is a funny play between your body and your mind.  Your mind will tell you to break and to stop before your body needs to.

What are the health benefits of yoga?

There are many health benefits for your heart: doing yoga you learn to to bring your heart rate back down to a resting pace from a really high running pace, through the use
of your breath. During my yoga lessons there is a mix of yin and yang: first you feel like you are running a marathon, and you are completely out of breath and then you come down to a really soft pose. It is your mind yoga posethat tells you to respond to the breath and helps bring your heart rate back down. Yoga also helps regulate your blood flood from your head to your toes. During classes we do a lot of sequences in a certain order so that the blood moves in a particular way.

But there are thousands other health benefits for your body and for your mind. Since all people have their own medical conditions, our goal is to to teach and adapt to that student. It is a process that you have to do slowly and carefully.

Doctor’s note: Scientific medical research has proven that yoga is more than a simple stress reliever, and actually can have quite a few health benefits. Practicing yoga may not only increase practicants’ flexibility and quality of life, but also ease chronic low back pain, cancer related fatigue, and inflammation. Yoga is also indicated for patients with osteoarthritis and other rheumatologic disorders and for pregnant women to reduce pelvic pain and improve perinatal outcomes.  Many major universities have training programs for both patients and healthcare professionals in yoga and integrative medicine.

At what point did you decide that becoming a yoga instructor was your path?

I am still trying to work out if it is my career path, or just a path.  But I think this is like  with anything in life. When you try to work on your passions, maybe your passions are your hobbies, maybe your passions can become your career. I knew as soon as I started practicing yoga more seriously, when I was about 18, that I wanted to eventually be a teacher. It took me four years to decide to do the training because I thought I had to be at a certain level of practice, but somewhere in my head I knew that I wanted to share this gift with other people.

Moving to a foreign country can be quite the challenge: new habits, new food, new language. No wonder your head is full of thoughts and worries! Someone very wise once said “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance”. After meeting with Aleisha, we have no doubt that she has joined the dance!