Shaun White & Instagram Inspiration

The 2018 Winter Olympics are in full swing in my second homeland of South Korea and watching expert athletes push themselves to their best has inspired me to push my physical yoga practice as of late. Shaun White especially inspired and impressed in his final run that won him gold in the men’s halfpipe finals.

Concurrently with the Olympics I have been taking part in my very first Instagram yoga challenge, which has turned out to be very beneficial to my yoga practice, keeping me constantly practicing and practicing poses that I generally shy away from.

Let me get back to Shaun White for a moment, though. Sexual harassment settlement aside, the man has skills. He performed a physical feat that most of us can hardly even comprehend. One of the most impressive things about Shaun’s performance is his age. He is one of the older Olympic athletes at 31, one of his biggest competitors was Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, aged 19. More than a decade separates these two, on paper the 19-year-old should have looked better based on youth, but Shaun gave one of the best runs of his life in his 30’s.

Just as Shaun White showed the world, ability is not solely determined by age however, great for us yoga students in or beyond the 30s Club. My good friend and international yoga teacher, Mindy Sisco is training her body, through a lot of hard work, to do yoga poses that she couldn’t do just a few years ago. I witnessed her transform her handstand practice in a matter of years to a point where she can now confidently lift up into a handstand and handstand straddle as if she was born doing it.

Mindy is the yoga teacher responsible for my first Instagram yoga challenge which just ended yesterday. I have seen these challenges before and the first thing I thought when invited to participate was – that looks like it takes up a lot of time – the reality being both yes and no.

Yes, to participate fully in an Instagram yoga challenge, which to clarify, is a predetermined list of poses, one for each day for every day of the challenge; yes it does take time and commitment, but yoga as a whole takes time and commitment. Mindy’s challenge took place over 16 days and included poses such as urdhva dhanurasana (full wheel) and adho mukha vrksasana (handstand). For each day of the challenge I had to prepare my body for the pose that was to be photographed. Many of the days involved backbending, which is a shape that does not come easily to me, and therefore, a shape which I do not much enjoy. That meant that I had to warm up and prepare my body more than I would have for a different type of pose that m body is prone to, such as a forward fold. I joked on my Instagram feed that I was annoyed by yet another backbend, but to be honest, I was partially annoyed and partially grateful, because in my own home practice I barely ever incorporate backbends, but this Instagram challenge forced me to practice them.

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Yes, the challenges take commitment and time, but not a lot of it. I would say I averaged ten minutes of warming up and taking pictures. That’s not that much time. By completing the challenge I completed 16 days of challenging poses, the practice may have been short at times, but at least I got on my mat. I believe it is Jason Crandell that says, “Fifteen minutes of yoga is better than zero minutes of yoga.”

Shaun White and IG yoga challenges are two recent places where I have garnered inspiration from lately. It was exhilarating to watch all of the winter athletes display their skills in the Olympics, such precision and expertise which surely means a ton of conditioning, practice, and discipline. A good reminder that any type of practice is also a discipline. If you practice an instrument daily, then it is a discipline; if you practice an instrument every other month, then it is a waste of time and you will never see much improvement. Yoga is a practice that requires consistency and diversity in poses practiced.

What’s inspiring you these days?

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You can find Mindy on Instagram at @kaizenkorea You can follow me with yoga, travel, and sustainability posts at @karabemisyoga

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Peace, Love & Wellness, Warren, PA – Studio Review

This  is a bit overdue, but three months ago I visited a somewhat local yoga studio to attend my first gong bath at a wellness studio in Warren, Pennsylvania, which is a short drive from my home. Warren is an old oil town with monstrous Victorian homes and a little downtown area next to the river, which is where the yoga studio is located. To call Peace, Love & Wellness a yoga studio is a little bit of an understatement however, because the studio also has massage space, an inviting seating area, a sauna, and Kelly, the owner offers wellness coaching to individual and corporate clients. Peace, Love & Wellness is not a yoga studio, it is a well-rounded wellness studio.

Back to the gong bath, my only other experience with gongs in yoga had been at another local studio attending a Kundalini class with the same teacher offering the gong bath at Peace, Love & Wellness. My first experience was magical, the gong vibration flowed up and swirled around the room before crashing down on to me. That may sound hippy dippy, but try it for yourself. It feels great.

The gong bath class at Peace, Love & Wellness also involved some Kundalini kriyas, which can be more challenging than a vinyasa practice. A lot of dynamic endurance is required, as opposed to a still, static endurance for a yin practice. I have done Kundalini kriyas in which I swore that my arms were going to fall of. Luckily, difficulty did not reach that extent at the class in Warren before it was time for the gong bath. After some sun salutations we were brought down for relaxation. I layered up because I am always cold, and closed my eyes to absorb the gong. It was similar to my first experience except that this time the teacher had a second gong that offered a sharper sound, reminiscent of whale song, and it lasted for a longer time. I left the experience feeling relaxed and settled.

Classes at Peace, Love & Wellness are various and plentiful. Check out the schedule, here.  Yoga styles offered include hatha, buti, vinyasa, and kids yoga.  Classes can be bought as a part of a monthly or yearly package, which include massage and sauna services, or as drop in classes. The gong bath that my husband and I attended was reasonable at $15/person.

To get to the studio, go to downtown Warren, PA right on the Allegheny river and the studio is located at 338 Pennsylvania, Ave. You will see large letters spelling out YOGA in their second story front windows. The studio is located right above a lovely little cafe that I enjoy visiting when in Warren, the Arbor House Coffee House Cafe & Tea Room. Might I suggest that you make a day of your trip to historic Warren and visit the cafe after your yoga class, a plan for a fantastic day trip.

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What I Would Have Said

I hosted a clothing swap this past weekend in Jamestown, NY. It was the third swap that I have hosted in the area and I was determined to speak at this one about the ethics behind the event. At the previous swaps that I hosted in Korea I spoke to attendees about my reasoning behind hosting, how I disagree with the modern, fast-fashion industry, and the primary problems with the industry in terms of labor and damage to the environment. However, back on U.S. soil in the small city near the small town where I reside and teach yoga, I could not give a similar speech.

Let me explain that technically I could have and the people attending would most certainly have been polite and receptive, but at each of the three swaps in the U.S. the time for speaking came and went. I felt that there weren’t enough people and if I spoke to a handful of swappers, then it would have felt too much like preaching. At this last one I even advertised that I was going to speak on the ethics, but as the clock ticked closer to my time to speak everyone seemed to funnel out of the door. Do I think that this was intentional? Maybe on a few accounts, or maybe they had elsewhere to be and had already done their swapping for the afternoon. There wasn’t a massive collection to browse, so this is a very feasible option. Whatever the reason, my audience left the room.

I was bummed, but upon reflection I realize that “preaching” to happy people swapping their clothes for others’ may not be the best way to go about it. Posting on my website might be a better way to share my views on fast fashion and why I avoid it. For if I were to have spoken to people who happily (and blindly) shop fast fashion then it may have been perceived more as an attack, like a vegan lecturing a gang of omnivores on the detriments of factory farming at a party, at a Korean BBQ restaurant.

There is also the sad truth that environmentalists can come off as being major Debbie Downers (I have been extremely guilty of this in the past) when they share how the world is slowly ending at the hands of consumers, also known as people. That last statement, was of course a cynical joke – mostly, but on a serious note, people having a good time may not want to hear about pollution and labor rights. But if you have made it this far into the post, then you may be curious enough reading about exactly those two things and more depressing facts of fast fashion, if so, then carry on reading.

Why I Host Swaps… My Unspoken Speech at My Most Recent Swap (altered slightly for word and general public, main ideas the same)

The reasons that I host swaps can be summed up in four words: labor rights and environmental degradation.  The fashion industry today looks completely foreign to how the garment industry of the last century looked. As recently as the 1990’s, 50% of clothes sold in the U.S. were made in the U.S. Thirty years prior to that in the 60’s, around 97% of clothes were made in the U.S. for a U.S. market.

Today? A measeley  TWO PERCENT or in numerical langauge – 2%. Two percent?!?! We went from almost 100% in my mother’s generation to almost 0% in mine. For the United States that is an entire industry nearly completely lost. Jobs lost. Skills lost. The reason being? Globalization.

The textile and sewing industries were shipped to developing nations where labor could be paid far less than an American worker. Where labor rights were skim, so workers could be forced to work 10 to 12 hr. days, for very little pay, and in unsafe conditions. My fashion revelation and shift in consumerism occurred as a result of learning about the tragedy at Rana Plaza in 2013. Rana Plaza was an eight story building that housed seamstresses in a shoddy building. In a day in April, 2013 the building collapsed killing 1,134 people.  Read more details here about Rana Plaza.

My other gripe with fast fashion is how utterly unsustainable it is. We do not need even a fraction of the amount of clothing that we buy these days and we certainly do not need close to the amount of clothes that companies and the media try to convince us that we need. Fashion trends come and go, and come and go, and come and go again and again and are so in our faces that we feel lesser-than if we don’t keep up. Luckily for us we can generally afford to keep up with the trends because clothes are becoming cheaper with the outsourcing of the work and lower grade fabrics. Clothes have become so cheap, that they are disposable.

We buy without limit. Sometimes we buy without even liking what we buy and definitely without knowing anything about the item. Without knowing that a lot of water, air, and soil pollution was created by production. By material being shipped around the world to be dyed, cut, sewn, and shipped to a shop near us. That those dyes are harmful to the communities that live near the factories that produce them. That most of the items at fast fashion shops are made of synthetics, many of which (polyester & acrylic I’m glaring at you) are plastic based – i.e. come from oil production.

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[Sidenote – It is this sort of information that makes me feel slightly sheepish for sharing. Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news, but isn’t it better to be aware of how our choices affect others half way across the world? Anyway, it’s about to get a little more positive.]

This is where the clothing industry has evolved to. It is totally different from the past when people used to make their own clothes or buy from a skilled, local tailor in their community. But we don’t have to shop fast fashion all the time. We have options that are more ethical that we can use to supplement our closets with.

A clothing swap is one, or second hand. Buying fair trade or organic is another way. Or simply getting by with what you have and ignoring the billboards of what’s new and desireable. Ask yourself when you shop: “Do I really need this? Do I have something in my closet already that fulfills this need? Is there a more sustainable way that I can obtain a similar item? Can I just borrow from a friend?” And hopefully by having that dialogue in your head you will realize that you can happily go without another polyester tank top in your closet.

 

That is roughly what I would have said if I had had an audience to say it to. Changing habits is hard, especially when the habit you are changing is one that brings you a lot of joy. Retail therapy, anyone? But you can still feel the buzzy high of finding a good find a thrift store, or a really well made top of environmentally friendly fabrics and made by fair trade labor. The shift may take some time, but it’s still fun and much more rewarding.

Learn How to Love

As Valentine’s Day nears I have had love on my mind and those thoughts have seeped into my recently taught classes. Most prominently, the book 5 Love Languages has influenced my thinking and outlook on love. 5 Love Languages is a well-known, self-help style book on how to save loveless marriages written by Gary Chapman.

Don’t let that description scare you off though, I would recommend this book to anyone in a relationship. It’s an easy read and at just over 200 pages, a quick read youthat could get through in a weekend. The first part of the book describes the five love languages with anecdotes of couples struggling to communicate their love to each other. The second half of the book is more interactive with a quiz to find your love language and deeper advice in a Q & A section on how the languages can apply to you and how you can apply them. And if you’re still not sold, Mr. Chapman has another book called The 5 Love Languages for Singles if you’re unmarried and not in a relationship but would still like to better communicate love with family and friends.

In two recent yoga classes I used the book as an example and compared learning the intricacies of your body through yoga as being similar with learning how to best show love for others. In descriptions of my class I tell prospective students that through yoga they will learn how to read their bodies; in other words, by being mindful in an hour yoga practice and by listening to just how far your body is able to go at that moment, a student will gain knowledge about the abilities of their body one class at a time. As yoga students we build upon that knowledge and can be careful with old injuries or tight muscles all while building strength, balance, and flexibility. Without this acute awareness, an injury could occur as the ego nudges us to go further, to get in the pretzel shape of instagram yoga bodies.

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Tune in and listen to your body.

Likewise, learning how your partner or loved one expresses their love is a practice that requires mindfulness. If you read the book, you’ll learn that the five love languages are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. As an example, say that your partner learned to express love by receiving, and therefore giving gifts, but your family was never big on gifts or spending money on each other so to you gifts are not important. When you fail to give a thoughtful (or expensive) gift at a holiday, or small little gifts throughout the year, your partner will not feel as loved as he or she could. Once you pay notice and realize that your partner’s love language is gift giving, then it is your responsibility to make strong efforts to change your ways. After expressing your love in a way that is thoroughly understood and felt the idea is that your partner will reciprocate. Make the discovery a dialog, go online and take the quiz and work together to best show your love for each other.

Again, this does not have to be solely for romantic partners. I used the example of 13603703_997196337066286_6480232972816819961_oexpressing love to pets in one of the yoga classes as a relationship that isn’t romantic. Say your dog loves walks but you show love with cuddles, that’s nice for you because you get strong positive emotions from the cuddles, and your dog may too, but that dog just wants to walk! And sniff! Make your dog the happiest dog she can be by making time to walk her. Give her a life full of love and walks. And don’t pull her if she lingers on a scent, let her sniff, because she may love walks mostly for the scents and not for physical activity, but the physical activity is a bonus for you both.

This Valentine’s Day season be inspired to learn how to love. To remember that love is a noun and a verb and to realize that the action of expressing love has to be personal for each relationship. Sure it will be more work, but it will pay off. Just like rolling the mat out is often near an impossible task early in the morning of a cold, dark, winter’s day, but the time and dedication will pay off with each effort you make.

 

Thank You for Your Labors

This weekend is a long, holiday weekend in the U.S. Monday marks Labor Day, generally a weekend in which everyone gets together with friends and family to eat, drink, and be merry knowing that they don’t have to go to work on Monday. Labor Day was started in the late 19th century by union workers  and laborers as a way to recognize those that work day by day. It has been an official American holiday since 1894, always falling on the first Monday of September. This year I decided to get back to the roots of the holiday and celebrate some of my favorite activists, commending them for their dedicated work – on top of the typical barbecues and bonfires.


 

Jamie Oliver

You might just think of Jamie Oliver as a chef with a funny accent, but he’s much more than that. Jamie digs into our modern industrialized food system and delivers displeasing knowledge. (Pink slime is a prominent example.) His primary work was with school lunches in both his home U.K. and also here in the U.S. That’s noteworthy, a famous chef who champions for quite literally the little guys.

Food these days has transformed into chemically-laden, pesticide-pumped, GMO, never-rotting, highly processed science of convenience. Now, do I eat processed food now and again? Yes, but I try to keep it out of my kitchen and my body as much as possible and to educate myself on nutrition and health. Do I think that America’s and the world’s children should be protected from being fed it daily in their homes and public school cafeterias? Definitely.

Jamie had a reality show back in 2009 in which he embedded himself in America’s most unhealthy city, Huntington, West Virginia. He investigated what the children were in eating in their schools and it wasn’t appetizing. The rest of the series Jamie worked with schools and the community to educate them about eating fresh and healthy foods as opposed to quick and easy processed food, attempting to alter the way that food was prepared in the schools and homes in the area.

Since then Jamie has spearheaded a Food Revolution, click on the link and read articles about how to be healthy and current write-ups on the food industry.

 

Safia Minney of People Tree

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“slow fashion” fair laobr

Another Brit is my notable hero – Safia Minney, founder & CEO of People TreePeople Tree clothing, a U.K. based, slow fashion company. I first heard of Safia in a great documentary, The True Cost which is about the horrendous industry that is Fast Fashion. In the documentary Safia is not only inspiring because she is a female CEO, but also because she displays her fluent Japanese, which she uses when working with craftsmen and women in Japan who make pieces of art for People Tree’s clothing. Having a second language has always been inspiring to me. If you get a chance to watch the documentary I highly suggest it as it outlines the problems with the fashion industry today while at the same time giving alternatives such as People Tree.

But back to Safia, she is a woman of power who promotes fair trade in an industry that generally treats it’s labor extremely poorly. People Tree not only pays attention to the way that the people creating the clothing is treated, but they also source traditionally made, artisanal materials that help keep traditional crafts alive. The company also uses organic cottons and other sustainable materials that are better for our bodies and the earth.

Leo & Jin of BAPS

BAPS stands for Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary and is a dog rescue organization in Busan, South Korea. Although BAPS has grown in the years with many expat and some Korean volunteers helping the organization, donating time and money, and fostering and adopting furry best friends; the vast majority of the work done for the completely privately run dog rescue organization is done by two people alone. They are Leo and Jin and what they do inspires me completely. Leo and Jin are a married couple, one expat one Korean, who started BAPS in 2008 and have saved the lives of hundreds of Korean street dogs and abandoned pets.

They not only run the shelter, but they also have a dog kenneling business, and have recently started an international pet travel company although they have been assisting with international travel of countless dogs to their new forever homes for years (including my very own Freddie.)

The Day We Fostered Fred

We instantly fell in love with that little face with big ears the first time we walked him and he kept looking back to make sure that we were still with him.

The kindest, most from-the-heart work that these two do is run a related organization called Wendy’s Last Meals. This is heartbreaking work that I am certain I would not be strong enough emotionally to do. As the name suggests, the work involved is providing a final meal to dogs at a pound in Busan whom have not been claimed or adopted and therefore face certain euthanasia. You can read more about the process and how you can help by donating by clicking here. Before the meals are given, Jin takes pics of the dogs in a last hope effort of getting them rescued, so if you’re looking to find your new partner in crime, then have a look at the beauties that are waiting for you.


 

There is great work being done around the globe to help fight for those dis-empowered to do so for themselves such as school children, laborers working in developing nations to produce our clothing, and dogs left on mountain sides by families unwilling to continue raising them.  I am so grateful for all that they do and am motivated to do my own positive work to make a difference in my community.

Who are you tipping your hat to on this Labor Day weekend that works hard and inspires you?

Yoga for Diving & Snorkeling

20151223_132208.jpgIt is a beautiful thing to have the opportunity to delve into the seas and oceans to view and be with the fish, coral, and other beings that live below. On my recent trip to Panglao, a small island off of Bohol which is part of the thousands of islands that make up the Philippines, I packed my fins in my bag and got in the water to see some amazing sights. Blog post on those specific experiences in the future, but for now here are my pre-snorkel/pre-dive yoga tips.

 

Isolate

Because it’s all about those hips, bout those hips… and ankles. Focusing on twisting from side to side at your torso and hips will greatly improve your propulsion through the water with fins on. Here are some yoga asanas that will get your body twisted.

Torso Twists

  • Sukhasana/Easy Seat Twist: Sit cross legged. Feel grounded through the sit bones, tall all the way up the spine and through the crown of the head, knees fall out to the side. Bring awareness to the breath for 30 second, making it long and calm. Then on an exhalation cross your left hand to your right knee and place your right fingertips back behind you. Stay and hold for 5 breaths. Inhale back to center and exhale to the left side. Hold 5 breaths. Continue for 3 rounds.

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  • Anjaneyasana/Low/High Lunge Twist: From Downdog come into a low lunge, right foot forward, right knee directly over ankle. Lower your left knee to the mat, toes tucked. Bring your arms to your heart in prayer position. Inhale, lift your left elbow high to the sky, exhale and cross the left elbow to the right knee. Try not to crunch the left ribs, but instead create space there. Use the left elbow against the right knee for resistance and extension. Option to lift the left knee off the mat and extend the leg straight. Hold for 5 breaths. Switch sides.

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  • Dynamic Standing Twist: Stand with feet hip distance and a slight bend in both knees. Let your arms hang limp by your side, shoulders down your back. Inhale and twist left, swinging the arms with you so that the right arm gently hits the area of the left kidney. Inhale and twist to the right, this time the left arm hits the right back body in the space between the hip and ribs. Continue moving left and right while swinging the arms and gently hitting the back. Keep the bend in the knees the entire time. Focus on the twist coming from the abdominal area. This is the part of your body that you will mostly use when snorkeling. The fins makes it easy to move yourself through the water primarily from the torso twist, and when you have it down well you won’t even need to use the arms, freeing them up for your go-pro!

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Open Ankles

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downdog Variation: Come in to Downdog, feet hip distance. Lift the right foot slightly off the floor, point the toes and cross the foot over the body to place the top of the toes (your toenails) to the left of your left foot. Breathe energy into the top foot and ankle area, where your shoe laces are. Switch sides after 5-10 breaths.

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  • Ardha Hanumanasana/Half Split Variation: Kneel on your knees and swing your right foot out front, don’t let the right hip change position when you do this, make sure that it stays in line with the left hip. Flex the right heel and lower the hands to blocks or the floor. Breathe to stretch the back of the leg. After 3 breaths, extend the right toes to the floor, hold and breathe for 5 breaths. Repeat on the left side. Opening the top of the foot, front ankle area will increase the effectiveness of your fin use while snorkeling or diving.

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Breathwork to Calm the Mind

  • Slow it Down: I often instruct students to lengthen their breath at the very beginning of class and to attempt to keep their breath at the long and steady pace during the entire class, no matter how challenging the poses become. The same technique can improve your diving & snorkeling, because although it’s a beautiful and tranquil world down there, feelings of stress and anxiety can arise by putting yourself in a whole new environment.
    • Slow Breath: Before getting in the water sit, or stand and breathe as slowly as you can. Begin breathing just through the nose like you do for yoga.
    • Diving/Snorkeling Breath: While diving & snorkeling you will breathe only through your mouthpiece for an extended length of time and venturing into the unknown vastness of the deep deep ocean can sometimes cause panic. Practice lengthening the breath, and especially lengthen the exhalation. Make the exhalation longer than the inhalation which lowers the heart rate, calming you down. Do this only through the mouth only for a few breaths to stimulate the mouthpiece, or do it right when you enter the water with the mouthpiece already on. When diving, use the deep breath only as a calming technique and ask your instructor for the appropriate breaths to be taking during the dive as you don’t want to suck up your tank too quickly!

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Have a great time exploring the surface and depths of the beauty below. For tips on how to keep coral safe while snorkeling, read this blog post about eco-packing which includes tips for the harsh sun and against harsh sunscreens that can cause coral bleaching.

 

 

2015 in review, report by wordpress

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this humble little blog.

It’s been just over a year that I’ve been sharing my thoughts, ideas,  and inspirations. Thank you to everyone who clicked and read.

I’m very much looking forward to continue sharing in 2016!

Here’s an excerpt from karabemisyoga’s 2015 report:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,900 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Beginners’ Yoga with Kara – Tuesdays, June & July

My good friend and studio owner, Mindy Sisco, is ditching town for a few months to lead workshops in the United States and get some training in acro a littler further north in Montreal. While she’s away being amazing at what she does, I’ll be subbing at her studio, leading class every Tuesday through July.

The class that I’ll be leading is a Beginners’ Yoga class. All of my classes are designed with beginners in mind, as well as advanced students, but teaching this class gives me an opportunity to really break it down for students (which all levels benefit from.)

During the eight week session, classes will teach students about the basics of standard yoga poses, give great alignment cues to improve studio/home practice, and utilize a lot of props. As the weeks progress students will notice a building of strength, flexibility (of body and mind,) and understanding of yoga. Poses will also progress into more playful and empowering balancing poses and inversions.

Classes begin this Tuesday, June 9th and run every Tuesday through July 28th. Directions and costs can be found on the Facebook page.

Get Outside! Take Your Yoga Practice into Nature

One of the best things about yoga is that you can practice it anywhere. It can be done with or without a yoga mat in nearly any space that is big enough to outstretch your arms, whether that be in your tiny Korean apartment, at an airport during a layover, or at work on a break. If you need a pick-me-up or have some tightness that you want to breathe into, then all you have to do is a few breathing exercises and simple poses. Another way to enjoy yoga is to practice in the great outdoors.

There’s something about feeling the sun on your face and listening to the birds chirp that makes it a much more enjoyable experience.

Here are my recommendations for practicing in the elements.

  • Find an Outdoor Class Most people like to practice yoga outside and as the weather heats up, classes begin to move from the studio to the boardwalk. Check around your community for classes held at beaches, parks, or other outdoor venues. When the weather permits, there are classes held here in Busan on the boardwalk at the beach.
  • Practice Solo If you feel experienced enough to practice without the guidance of a teacher, then take your mat along on a walk and find a nice quiet place to roll it out.
  • Location It will be more peaceful to practice somewhere that isn’t very populated. If your closest park or beach gets really busy then consider making it a priority to get up early and beat the crowds. It might be hard to answer to the alarm clock to go out for a sunrise yoga session, but you might find that it’s worth the serenity. Plus, starting your day with yoga clears your mind and opens your body up for whatever tasks lay ahead.
  • Surface In order to keep your wrists safe during chaturunga, it’s best to practice on a hard, flat, leveled surface. Avoid sand, or thick grassy lawns. Find a flat piece of ground or platform to practice on. A mat is not necessary, but will keep your hands and feet free of dirt, which could be a distraction while you practice. If you’re travelling or heading somewhere afterwards where you don’t want to be taking your mat, then consider purchasing a travel mat, yoga towel, using a beach towel, or some nifty little yoga socks and gloves which have sticky little grippy, circular, textured pads on them. Practicing a sequence of only standing poses means that you won’t even have to remove your sneakers.

    Comfy and useful.

    Comfy and useful.

  • Layer Up Wear layers for wind or clouds. Be sure to apply sunscreen to exposed skin to keep safe from sun burn or unwanted tan lines. Layering allows you to keep warm on the walk to your practice space and shed your top layer after the sun salutations that will warm you up quickly. Once it’s time for Savasana, it’s a good idea to put your layers back on and have something to shield your eyes from the sun, such as an eye pillow or just use the sleeve of your jacket.

An outdoor practice came to the forefront of my mind recently after hearing some shocking statistics on a podcast. The author being interviewed, Dr. Scott Sampson, had recently written a book titled, “How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling In Love With Nature,” and the tagline of the interview was that American children on average spend only a measly FOUR TO SEVEN MINUTES A DAY PLAYING OUTDOORS!!! That finding deserves an all caps delivery; can you believe it?!?!

I have the good fortune of having an extremely handsome dog companion who comes with the responsibility of needing a walk two to three times per day, which means that I have to spend time outdoors rain or shine every day. I also live close enough to my work that I commute by bike, so that’s another 30 minutes per day during the work week that I spend outdoors by necessity. I also have a very active partner and friends that enjoy being out, so a lot of our weekend activities are outside. Even as an adult I spend my play time outside, and it’s much more than seven minutes.

When I was a child, I remember spending hours outdoors playing with my twin sister and our best friend. During the short Western New York summer months we would explore our expansive yards catching fireflies until our mothers called us in. So it’s hard for me to even fathom children of today not having that experience and it’s also really sad. I witness my Korean students live their lives indoors for the majority of the day, shuffling from school, to academy, to home where they might continue their studies well after dark meeting with tutors or doing homework.

During the interview the author made an excellent point, which boils down to this: If today’s children aren’t spending time outdoors, then they are not going to appreciate nature now or in the future, and therefore, who will be tomorrow’s environmentalists; who will fight to protect national parks, wetlands, and the environment in general in the future? Pull the plug on the screen, throw on a jacket, and get out there already, and be sure to bring the little ones along for sure.


Beach yoga classes in Busan and other outdoor seasonal events such as equinox and solstice events can be found via the Busan Yoga & Meditation page on Facebook.

Beach Yoga

Preparing to lead a beach yoga class.

Creative Back Bends

Recently, I had an opportunity to co-host a small event on a warm Sunday afternoon. The event was an art and yoga meet up through the website http://www.meetup.com. Earlier in the year I had attended an art therapy meetup event in Busan which I really enjoyed. The hostess Justina, is a Korean art therapist who lived and worked abroad for many years; she has been offering meetups in which participants create art together in a group setting. Justina and I discussed hosting an event together that involved yoga and art, which materialized just two weeks ago, and I believe that it was a success!

 

When I considered what I was going to teach for the event, I knew right away that I wanted the lesson to have an element of community. The reason being that I knew some group art would be made together by the participants. To create a sense of community, I started class with a chant of Om. I absolutely love the feeling that I get when I close my eyes and make the single syllabic sound with other yogis. Om creates this vibration that encircles everyone and brings the class together. It’s natural to have a sense of nervousness or roll your eyes at a room full of adults chanting together, but it’s something that should be tried. There’s no need to feel shy because all eyes are closed, just follow the lead of the teacher and ride it out.

After the opening chant, I led the six participants through a quick 30 minute yoga session. I designed a class focused on heart opening. Practicing heart opening poses, such as a simple back bend in tadasana, help to open up the upper spine and back and are good to practice to create a sense of general openness in the body. Not only did I want everyone to feel open in their bodies but also in their hearts, open to the experience and to each other, and likewise open-minded.

group art work

Example of some group art work.

After the yoga we reconvened in a small room to start the art which Justina led. We created works individually and together. It was a fun afternoon and good experience for me as a teacher. Below are some poses that you can try before activities involving creativity.

 

 

 

  • Back Bend in Tadasana After warming up with some sun salutes, stand at the top of your mat with feet hip distance. Check your alignment, make sure that your feet are pointing directly forward and that your knees are above your ankles, your hips over your knees, and shoulders over your hips. From there, point your fingers up to the sky behind you and place your hands on your lower back, near the top of your pants. Hug your elbows in towards each other. On an inhalation, lift your chest and press through your hands to move your hips forward. Focus on opening through the chest. Gently release your head back, but if that causes you any discomfort, then tuck your chin to your chest. A slight bend through the knees may increase comfort. Hold for a few breaths. Return to standing on an inhalation.
  • Sphinx Pose Also known as, SalambaBhujangasana in Sanskrit, is one of my favorite back bending postures. It’s a very subtle pose that has great effect. This pose begins on the belly. Align your elbows directly under your shoulders. You should have a 90 degree angle, if you look at your elbow and your bicep is  touching your forearm, creating a long crease, then you probably need to bring your elbows up closer to the front of the mat. Spread your fingers wide and place your palms down directly in front of your elbows. On an inhalation,isometrically pull your arms back towards the back of your mat, whilst simultaneously pulling your sternum through your arms. Your body won’t actually move much, but imagine that you’re performing these actions and you will feel your lower back working to open your chest. If you have any pain in the low back, then decrease the action. Exhale to come out.
Assisting an event participant in sphinx pose.

Assisting an event participant in sphinx pose.

  • Back Bending Tree This is a fun variation of vrksasana or, tree pose that plays with balance. It’s best to try this at a wall for support. Stand with the left side of your body at the wall. Place the sole of your right foot either somewhere on your calf, low on the thigh (just above the knee,) or reach down for your right ankle and place your foot as high as you can on your inner left thigh. Never place the foot directly on the knee to avoid knee pain. Place your hands on your hips. Once you find your balance you can try to bring your hands to prayer at the chest. If that feels good then inhale your arms up over your head, palms face in towards each other. To bring the back bend into the pose, inhale and lift your chest up towards the sky while leaning back carefully. It will be a little bit easier to do this with your hands at prayer at the chest or on the hips as opposed to arms extended, so adjust your hand placement for more stability, or keep them overhead for a challenge. Use the wall to support you if you start to fall out. Just like in tadasana, be mindful of your neck and find a placement of your head that feels comfortable for you. Inhale to bring your torso back over your hips. Exhale and release the lifted leg down. Switch sides.

    Having fun in tree pose.

    Having fun in tree pose.

Have fun trying these poses that open you up both physically and mentally. Maybe they will open you up to feel inspired to create something for yourself, whether you create art, a meal, something with your hands, or simply openness in your body.


The event was an art and yoga meet up through a group called Busan Creative Art Healing : http://www.meetup.com/justina