Kaizen Korea, Busan – Studio Review

There has been plenty of mention in my writings of my good friend and mentor, Mindy Sisco, who has been running the only English language yoga studio in Busan, South Korea since 2012. She works as a team together with co-owner/teacher, Simon Kang. During my two years in Busan I had the good fortune of learning from each of them, practicing an array of classes at Kaizen.

Whether you’ve recently moved to Busan as an English teacher or are visiting a friend for a short time, you should make time in your schedule to get to a yoga class at Kaizen, and here’s why.

NO SMOKE & MIRRORS 

Yoga has a tendency to get frilly-la-la/hippy-tastic, which is nothing bad (I’m sometimes found guilty of drifting into that lotus-flower field,) but don’t expect so at Kaizen. Their yoga classes jump right into the deep end of the physical practice and stay there through the end. There might be some om-ing to end class, but it’s yoga – it’s expected.

THE STUDIO

The same can be said for their studio, which is minimal in nature, but has all the props a prop-aholic like myself could want – blocks, straps, eye pillows, and more blocks. There are cubbies for you to keep your personal items and mats for borrow (ask which are public and which are private first, since some students store their mats there long-term.)

THE TEACHING – They Know Their Stuff!

Mindy & Simon have done their fair shares of trainings and there’s no sign of slowing down. Teaching yoga is what they do, and they are good at it.

12983453_10156683111315567_662446499601727085_oMindy teaches Ashtanga-Vinyasa classes that bring in elements that feel like physical training. It’s never the same old, same old sun salutation warm ups in her class – she switches it up to work different muscles and prep students for what’s to come. As a fellow teacher, I highly appreciate the design details that each class has and I truly learn from classes, instead of just being guided through poses. The sign of a good yoga teacher.

Her teaching style is creative and unique. Students leave having worked their muscles, often in partner exercises which are an extension of the playful and challenging acro yoga classes that Mindy also teaches. If you thought I couldn’t compliment Mindy’s yoga teachings anymore, then you were wrong because her acro classes are an equally fun way to learn more about yoga, yourself, and yourself through yoga. You can read more about my Kaizen acro experiences here and here, oh, and here (I told you I went to a lot of her classes.)

Simon, the other half of Kaizen, has a background in body weight training which comes through in his classes that push students physically, but most importantly safely. Simon’s other trainings (he also teaches jui-jitsu) aid him as a teacher of yoga and therefore benefit the students by giving them a well rounded practice from start to finish.

His Handstands Club class for example, is a four-week series that works on form, Simonalignment, and technique. Rather than just having students hop up into handstand against a wall, Simon works the areas of the body necessary in the advanced pose, and he works on them for the full four weeks. It’s a continuous series, and while the goal isn’t to perform handstand in four weeks, which is very unrealistic, he will get you pointed in the right direction to maybe one day to master the pose.

DIRECTIONS

Take the green line of the subway (Line 2) to stop #212, KSU (short for Kyungsung University) or 경성대학교 in Hangul. Go out Exit 5 and walk straight. Take your first left directly in front of Artbox. Walk two and a half blocks until you see a boutique called Zebra on your left (on the right is a yellow cafe [of course – there are a gazillion cafes in Busan] called Compose Coffee.) Walk into the building entrance which is just left of Zebra, and take the elevator to the 6th floor. There is no sign for Kaizen in the elevator, look for Man to Man Fitness in Hangul on a red sign for the 6th floor, which is what the studio was called before Mindy and Simon took over.

 

COST

Since classes at Kaizen are designed and taught in four week series it is best to buy a month’s pass. You can buy a 4 class pass to cover a specific class, say Simon’s Handstand Club, or you can buy a bigger quantity, or you can get a one-month-unlimited-membership pass which covers all classes. Visit this page for details on pricing. Drop in classes are 20,000 won (roughly $18.)

mindy&simonacro

Mindy and Simon of Kaizen, Busan.


Disclaimer: The reason that I have not written my Kaizen studio review for so long is because I was a stand in substitute teacher at Kaizen when trainings and workshops took Mindy hopping around the globe. Teaching at Kaizen then became a regular class in my teaching schedule. I felt it unprofessional to review the studio while teaching there, so am writing the review after my Busan departure.

 

Bhavana Yoga Center, Athens, Greece – Review

My time in Athens is short, so I’m happy that I was able to find a  community class at a centrally located studio right in the hustle and bustle of the old city. Bhavana Yoga Center  is easy to get to (directions below) and hosts frequent classes throughout the week.

The class that I attended was a Saturday noon-time community class. You can find specifics about community classes, like who’s teaching and what style it is, and all other classes (they host an array of styles and list level specifics) on their website under Weekly Class Schedule.

Directions

Bhavana Yoga Center is located on a popular pedestrian street called Aeolou, which you’ll likely find yourself on as you explore Athens. It’s not far from the Acropolis and is home to lots of cute cafes and restaurants. There are also two Greek Orthodox churches on Aeolou Street which are good landmarks to use to find the yoga studio as it is situated between them, so if you pass both of them then you’ve gone too far.

The address is: 43 Aeolou St. & Kolokotroni                     20160402_141723.jpg
105 51, Athens – Greece

 

The Studio

Is beautiful. I couldn’t stop thinking how beautiful it was while I was having a look around before class began. Everything about it is warm and homey with sprinkles of humor thrown in (a handmade sign on the cork bulletin board read: “Warning: yoga causes health and happiness.”) The entrance way invites you to remove your shoes straight away and silence your phones. There’s a changing room for each of the sexes as well as bathrooms and showers. They have lockers which you can lock up if you bring your own lock. There are mats to borrow as well as props.

Be sure to arrive 15 minutes before your first class to fill out a student form and get changed. There’s a comfy lounge area with a couch and yoga books to browse if you arrive a bit too early. Directly in front of the check in desk is merchandise to buy like mats, straps, and teas. 20160402_141201.jpg

The yoga studio is long and open with windows all along the front. There are a lot of yogic relics like Hanuman and Shiva around that made me feel homesick for India and that add to that warm feeling. The community class I attended lasted an hour and 45 minutes. The teacher was a visiting teacher from Germany and the class was taught entirely in English, which is not always the case I was told afterwards. Classes are taught in the native Greek as well, but with some Sanskrit knowledge and peeking while in poses classes can be taken anywhere in any language. (Side note – the studio and their website were one of the most English friendly, and therefore tourist friendly, that I saw while searching for a studio in Athens.)

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Cost

The cost of Saturday community classes are 8€. If you try a mid-week class and it’s your first class at the studio, then the cost is also the same low 8€ with regular drop-ins costing 15€, not too bad for a European capital city.

More detailed information on pricing can be found via their website here.

 

Bhavana Yoga Center, in my opinion, is a must for a travelling yogi or yogini in Athens. All in all it was a great experience visiting the yoga center and I left ready to start my Saturday touring Athens with much needed energy and warmth.

Radiantly Alive, Ubud – Review

Bali won me over, but after spending two weeks there in January with my boyfriend, we decided to head east for Lombok beaches and diving in the Gilis.  We managed to take a few yoga classes in that part of the country – one at Ashtari on Lombok and two at H2O Yoga on Gili Air – but our time over there was mostly spent in the sand or under water.

Kuta yoga

view from Ashatari yoga studio in Kuta, Lombok

Once I was back on Bali in February, this time solo, it was time to hit the mat and fall fully into the Ubud lifestyle again. While my first time there was dominated by classes at Yoga Barn, I decided to branch out during my second visit and check out Radiantly Alive, a smaller studio across town. I bought a three-class card for about $22 that I used over my four-day return trip.

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Balinese Hindu temple

The classes

My first class was pilates with Acacia, a former dancer and yoga teacher from Canada whose energy and enthusiasm for movement lift up the entire room. The class reminded me somewhat of a barre workout, with small pulses within yoga poses to challenge the muscles. We moved in and out of poses quickly, doing a lot of ab work to strengthen the core.

The next morning, I took Daniel’s RA vinyasa class, a class offered only a few times a week. Daniel is the founder and director of the studio and teaches the class in addition to running workshops and hosting yoga teacher trainings.

He began the class by asking about our relationship with time. Is it a positive relationship or a stressful one? Is there never enough time? Are we always worried about what time it is? Ubud may be one of those places where time doesn’t matter, but for most of us, our lives are dominated by schedules and timelines. It was an interesting way to begin the class, and I find myself  – a month later  – still wondering about my feelings towards time.

Physically, the class was dynamic and demanding. The room was crowded and sweaty, and the day’s heat was in full swing already at 9 a.m. After core work, we played around with half moon pose, practiced going deeper and opening up more, losing our balance, laughing and trying it again. This led to the final challenging pose of the class – pincha mayurasana, aka feathered peacock pose. The inversion practice began by placing our forearms on the mat, walking our feet in and raising one leg. From there, we practiced little hops, floating our standing foot up just a few inches as we put weight into or arms. With practice, those hops become higher until the full inversion is reached with both feet overhead.

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practicing pincha mayurasana, working towards the full inversion

 

Daniel related learning to balance in pincha mayurasana to learning to walk on two feet. We’re afraid of falling, but bit by bit, with continual practice, we can find our balance. The body knows how to fall, he said. We recover and try again.

I intended for acroyoga to be the final class of my Ubud experience, but a cancelled class meant signing up for something I never had any interest in – yoga dance. Again taught by Acacia, the class was packed with yogis who came for acro and ended up playing together in a completely different way. We began the class with a free dance – no mats to contain us – closing our eyes and moving to the beat of the music in any way we felt. Once we got a little loose and more comfortable, we started learning the 3:39 minute dance that Acacia had choreographed.

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Acacia (front center) leads a small group of us after class

Yoga dance incorporated yoga poses, like standing forward fold, seated twist, and downward facing dog, with quick dance moves. The class was full of laughter, and Acacia’s encouragement carried us through to the end of the 90-minute session. Check out the embarrassing but awesome video of a few of us practicing the choreography one last time after class, here.

Facilities

Radiantly Alive has one main open-air studio with a gorgeous jungle view. Drinking water is available at the front desk, and the studio is equipped with mats, blocks and straps.

Anywhere from two to seven classes a day are offered, with 15 different classes throughout the week as well as yoga teacher trainings and workshops. Visit radiantlyalive.com for more info.

Pricing

Radiantly Alive offers just about any option to suit your stay in Ubud, from single drop-in classes at $9.50 to 180-day unlimited passes for $495 – and everything in between.

Directions

The studio is conveniently located across from Bali Buda, a fantastic restaurant with a neighboring natural foods market. For detailed directions, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Day Retreat – BK Meditation Center – Tagaytay, Philippines

Over the Lunar New Year holidays, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a short three-day-trip to the Philippines to warm up one last time before leaving cold, wintry Korea. Three days is not much time in the mass array of islands that is the Philippines so my friend and I did some research and decided to visit a lake district just south of Manila to cut travel time. Just a simple two hour bus ride and we were out of bustling Manila and in the diversely green hillsides of Tagaytay.

In a quick Google serach of yoga in Tagaytay, I discovered that there is a Brahma Kumaris center there, and fortunately for me they were hosting a day retreat on the day of my arrival. It was perfect. I sent my email registration and soon received an acceptance email that outlined the theme of the retreat –  Heal the Heart and Feel “The Circles of Love,” so themed because of the Valentine’s holiday coming around the corner. As Amy wrote before, residents at BK centers refer to themselves and others as Brother & Sister; in my acceptance email, Sister Tim Tim answered my inquiries about the retreat like this: “The facilitation of this event is free as our service to humanity. However, for your snacks, lunch and use of the facilities, there is a contribution of 500pesos per person. You can bring your own notebook and pen with you should you wish to take notes.”

“The facilitation of this event is free as our service to humanity.”

– Sister TimTim, BK Meditation Center, Tagaytay

Getting There

How to get there from the Tagaytay bus terminal, which is more of a gathering of trikes waiting to take customers to destinations, buses don’t actually stop and park at the terminal, but instead stop on the side of the road so passengers can disembark; be sure to tell the bus driver in Manila that you’re going to Tagaytay and he’ll know when to have you get off.

Once you get off the bus, grab a trike and tell him to take you to Magallenes Drive. He’ll know the name of the road but may not be familiar with the center, so keep an eye out for it. It’s a white building on the right-hand side of the road, with a blue Brahma Kumaris sign hanging from a light post. It will take a few minutes of driving on Magallenes Drive to get there. From the bus terminal it should cost about 150 PHP for transport by trike.

The Center

The center is beautiful. The atmosphere is peaceful from the very second that you enter the blue-lit entrance-way after ringing the doorbell. Visit the front desk and inform them of your visit. If you’ve registered online beforehand then that’s great, they’ll have your information, but if you didn’t, or bring a friend who hadn’t registered then ask if there is still space and more likely than not they’ll say yes to having added participants.

My friend and I toured the area after registering and were joyously surprised by the beauty of the center. They took care to display an array of thriving local fauna in the garden and even in the indoor areas. The center facilitates a dining area, a large hall where our retreat was held, a meditation hall, the main lobby with toilets, and even has a residential area for participants and guests to stay overnight. A Sister asked upon our arrival if we had a hotel booked already, which we did, but I imagine that via email you could inquire about the cost of overnight stay.

The Event

The Day Retreat was from 9am-4pm. Before it started we had some coffee in the dining area, then everyone grouped in the main hall to start the day’s activities. For the first few hours we were divided into random groups in which we discussed topics about love – it was a good opportunity to get to know some local Filipinos.

In the afternoon there was a guest speaker who took over for the rest of the event. She was Timmy Cruz, a TV star turned singer, who entertained us with songs aplenty. At times the event felt a little on the long side, due to travel (an overnight flight with only little sleep on the concrete airport floor,) but the vibe of the event was warm and inviting, and the people’s warm energy (and multiple cups of coffee) got me through the seven hour schedule.

The Food

Go for the food, stay for the meditation – it was good. Another energy booster was the frequent breaks for food. In the morning we had a heaping pile of vegetarian pancit (pictured below,) a Filipino staple, and banana for a snack; lunch was veggies, rice, a soy-meat in sauce, and desert of pandan flavored jelly; afternoon snack was a sweet cassava cake (pictured below.) All food at the center is vegetarian and delicious. What a great deal, especially for this budget traveler, to pay the event fee of 500 PHP (roughly $10 USD), get atmosphere, learning, amazing food, and good company.

The People

Meeting local Filipinos was the best part of the event. Previously, the primary interactions that I had had on my past two visits to the Philippines were with service industry workers, who were very friendly, but I didn’t really get to know any locals. Having conversations together during the workshop event and casual chats over coffee was nice and enjoyable, especially after so much time spent in Korea where the language barrier doesn’t allow for conversation with locals as easily.

There was a mix of people who were attending their first BK event like I was, and there were some people who frequented the center often. Of the people who were attending for the first time, many said that they would like to return, and I think I’d put myself in that category, too.


 

Brahma Kumaris is a meditation center that hosts meditation classes, retreats, and seminars and has locations dotted around the Philippines and the rest of the globe. If you get the chance to visit the Tagaytay BK center, take it. The experience was nothing short of delightful: beautiful, natural surroundings; delicious food; and warm-hearted people.

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