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.

 

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Autumn Equinox Event – Busan 2015

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be part of another seasonal, community event. Our local Busan community really came together for the Autumn Equinox with organizers working together from the cycle, yoga, and food communities, all for the local foreign involved environmental group – BCA, Busan Climate Action.

An already active community member and activist, Sunny, has been organizing Critical Mass rides in Busan to bring awareness to cycle safety on the road. I know first hand how dangerous it is to cycle here as a commuting cyclist due to inconsistent cycle paths and drivers who don’t always accept or appreciate me being on “their road.” It’s true that Busan has great cycle paths along rivers and the coast, but the city is lacking in areas of the inner city and less touristy neighborhoods. Critical Mass brings together other concerned cyclists whom ride the streets of a certain route, as a big community, to feel safe from drivers and to make those drivers aware that they share the road (whether they like it or not) with bicycles. Critical Mass is held most third Sundays of the months, so it worked out perfectly to combine the yoga equinox event with the cycle ride.

The route ended early in Gwangan so that I could lead an hour-long yoga class. Many regular students joined the cyclists and we practiced a root chakra class, to ground ourselves in the changing times of the seasons. After the yoga class there was some playtime of acro and then we made our way towards a rooftop restaurant for a vegan-family-style dinner.

Donations from the events went towards the upcoming BCA Film Festival. This is the second film festival held by the group and will be on November 6 & 7th at the Busan Community Media Center. The film festival aspires to make the community aware of the dangers of our changing climate, causes of global warming, and changes that can be made to decrease an individuals carbon footprint.

I had a wonderful time being apart of another seasonal event and look forward to participating  again in winter when that comes around. How have you been recognizing the changing of the seasons?

Ride the Wind – Therapeutic Flying

This past weekend I performed with my Kaizen Acro Yoga Crew at a university festival.  We made the five hour bus trip up to Seoul to perform our two, four minute songs which we rehearsed for weeks prior. Indeed it was a lot of work, but it was well worth it.

For this performance we had a little less time to prepare than we did for the first one, maybe three or four weeks to create, choreograph, and rehearse which meant that we practiced a lot. Our high-flying group met 4-5 times a week and practiced for 2-4 hours each time. I was bruised up and my muscles have been achy, but in that way that I love, the rewarding soreness that tells me that I’ve been working hard.

No pain, no gain.

No pain, no gain.

But with everything in yoga a balance needs to be found. My well trained body was yearning for some relaxation and rest, which is why I was allowing myself frequent naps these past few weeks, a luxury that doesn’t usually make it into my schedule. I knew that my body needed to recuperate, so I hit the pillow for 10-20 minutes before training.

Last week on a Wednesday was one of those long training nights, we met at 6:30 to warm up, ran our routines over and over again, tweaking as we went, and then it was class time. From 8-10pm was the Big Birds class at Kaizen, the studio run by my very good friends Mindy and Simon. The class is usually really intense and forces me to push myself to my physical limits. Last week’s class however, was a little more on the chill side which was exactly what my body had been desiring.

In the middle of class Mindy asked us to switch it up a bit, so instead of drilling press ups (her new favorite activity,) she had us partner up and (thank the lord!) do therapeutic flying. You can think of therapeutic flying as receiving a massage in the air by your acro partner. The base is the masseuse and the flyer is the very passive, limp, receiver of the massage. It is the yin to the yang of the high powered washing machines in acro yoga.

At last week’s class we were instructed to focus on the shoulders, so my partner put me in folded leaf and started massaging my traps and neck. Folded LeafIt.was.wonderful! I also played masseuse and based her in folded leaf. Having those 10 minutes of therapeutics was so very welcomed by my tired body; I wasn’t actually sure that I was going to be able to push through an intense traditional acro class, and was pleasantly surprised when class ended up being gentler than normal. Also, I slept so well that night, which isn’t the norm; usually after finishing class at 10 and cycling home from the studio, I am up and wired for a few hours, finding it difficult to quite my body and mind for bed, but last night I had no problem sleeping – maybe partially due to the therapeutics.

If you get the chance to attend a class or workshop which includes therapeutic flying, then I suggest going. It can be done with a stranger or friend, or it can be practiced with a partner to create more intimacy and give you a skill that will keep on giving.


Acro yoga classes can be found here in Busan at Kaizen. Classes are offered for beginners, intermediate, and advanced students. Every Friday there is an acro jam, free for all to attend and play. Check their website for times and pricing.

Acro Yoga – A Performance

Recently I was approached by my friend and studio owner, Mindy Sisco, to represent her studio along with three others in an acro yoga performance. Mindy is away, traveling and training in the US so cannot perform herself, so instead the line up is: her business partner, Simon, two other talented local acro yogis, and myself. An event in Seoul celebrating International Yoga Day on June 21, 2015 is where  we will show off our work.

It is because of this upcoming performance that I have been doing less and less yoga and more and more acro yoga these days.UNWorldYogaDay As mentioned in a previous post, I am fairly new to acro and do not have a solid and disciplined practice like I do with my traditional yoga. Therefore, I must admit that I was hesitant to agree to join the group when first asked. I didn’t feel that I was good enough or well-practiced enough. I also struggled with the idea of “performing” when it comes to yoga. I’m aware that there are such things as yoga asana competitions in which men and women push their bodies’ to the limit in order to demonstrate advanced postures in front of judges who then chose a winner. Odd, right? To me yoga is about the body and mind; it is a personal and mental practice of leaving your ego off of the mat. Competing with others to see who can do a balancing pose the best seems to me to be the antithesis of yoga. Logically then, I should have politely declined the opportunity, of myself performing yoga in front of people at a big event, right? Well, maybe, but there are a few reasons why I went against my beliefs.

First of all, acro yoga and traditional yoga are similar, yet different. Acro is generally done not only for the enjoyment of working with a partner and pushing individual/partner limits, but also to be watched and appreciated by others. Often groups of friends or strangers get together in public spaces to practice and play. I am sure that the majority of acro yogis do not practice in public simply to boost their ego, but more likely it is to share their art and skill.

It would be a sad, sad world if artists and musicians practiced and played mostly behind closed doors; I think it is the same for acro yoga.

Secondly, I knew that pushing myself and having a clear deadline to perfect a performance piece with others would be good for me. There is never an endsight with an asana yoga practice, it always continues, it is unlikely that someone will practice for years on end and then one day – “poof!” cross the finish line and complete their yoga practice. Yes, it is common to use a certain pose as motivation, for example trying to hold headstand (Salambasana) in the middle of the room is a common goal, but once that is achieved there are other variations of it to try and so many other challenging postures to work towards. It is exciting and rewarding to push the limits, which is how I look at this performance.

The final, reason why I am practicing 5-6 days a week, 2-3 hours at a time is because I hope that our final product will act as inspiration to others. I know I am not the only one who searches for images or videos of yoga or acro yoga. I enjoy finding new yoga-eye-candy online to watch in awe and admire the feats of the human body. I am a humble person, but I do hope that the audiance at the event, as well as those who view a video of our practices or performance will take something away from it that tickles their acro or yoga fancy and inspires them to jump back into bird after repeatedly falling on their face.

Lessons from Acro Yoga

Acro yoga was never very appealing to me. I had played around with it here and there in the past with friends, but with no technique or guidance it never went far. I am so deeply in love with my asana yoga practice, that I never considered experimenting with acro, all that much… until I attended Little Birds, a beginners acro yoga series taught right here in Busan. The series is held monthly at Kaizen, and is taught by a good friend and fellow yoga teacher, Mindy Sisco.

It has been about a year since I first dipped my toe in the sea that is acro, and during the past year I have been wading deeper and deeper into the experience. It can be said that acro is both very similar to hatha yoga and at the same time completely different. If you’re coming from a yoga background  and try acro, then you will notice that a lot of the shapes and even the vocabulary are similar, Vishnu’s Couch and Parsarita’s Twist are two pose name examples. Also, strength and flexibility built-in a regular yoga practice will compliment acro immensely. How acro differs from yoga requires a longer description. Here are my personal lessons from acro.

Lessons from Acro

  • Trust – Falling onto someone’s legs, especially a stranger’s, and giving them all of your weight and yourself means that there must be a lot of trust between partners. There are drills to build trust that helped me to trust. In the beginning I was very untrusting, it was hard to give up the control, but with time and practice and learning of technique, I have grown to be open and comfortable to new bases and partners.
  • It’s ok to Fall – Just as it’s ok to fall out of a balancing pose in a hatha class, it is ok to fall out of an acro sequence. Falling is part of the learning process. If you never try you will never succeed. You need to try new poses to test your limits and build the strength and flexibility needed to hold the pose later on down the road. That being said, I don’t recommend trying to mimic an advanced acro video off of youtube if you don’t have the basics down. Know your limits and be realistic.

“Falling is part of the learning process. If you never try you will never succeed. You need to try new poses to test your limits and build the strength and flexibility needed to hold the pose later on down the road.”

  • Importance of  a Spotter – Acro is a two person activity, but should always be considered a three person activity in actuality, when you include a spot. The spotter has a highly important job of trying their best to make sure that neither participants break their noses or crack their teeth. As a yoga teacher, I have found that practicing spotting has mirrored my yoga teaching in that I have to be very aware of others’ bodies and I feel a real sense of responsibility in both.
Spotting during some play time at the beach.

Spotting during some play time at the beach.

  • Communication – I’m fairly certain that ESP has been mostly disproven, which is unfortunate, as it would be really useful in acro, instead we must resort to speech. After working with a partner for a long time and learning the sequences it would be possible to get in a flow and feel it out, but in the beginning you must declare what you’re feeling and what you need, to help each other out.
  • Just Flow With It – Arguably my most important lesson from acro, is to let go of hesitations and worries and just flow with it. My day-to-day yoga practice can be rigid in terms of correct alignment; I sometimes play around with less traditional variations, but in general I tend to be a stickler for tradition. Attention to detail is primary in my practice – every joint must be in the right place, the gaze correct and strong. With that background, it was hard for me to just jump into an acro position, and I mean that quite literally – jump into a position! After some time and a little mental conversation with myself, I realized that it’s ok to do things less rigidly than I am used to. Had I not come to that realization, I never would have amazed myself with my acro abilities (if I do say so myself!) Similar to yoga, acro can be very empowering.

My acro yoga practice has grown leaps and bounds (and flips and turns!) in a matter of months. It took an open mind and willingness to fall into another person, but with each session of practice and play, I began to feel more comfortable in my own skin and with others. I suggest seeking out an acro workshop or jam in your area if you haven’t tried it. It’s a great activiity to do with friends, a partner, or family – heck, it’s even fun to do with strangers. There’s a high likelihood that you will learn a lot, not only about acro, but also about yourself, and an even higher chance that you’ll laugh while learning.


Information about acro sessions, classes, and workshops held at Kaizen in Busan can be found via their website at: http://www.kaizenkorea.com/ or on facebook via their page or the Busan Yoga & Meditation page.

Mindy and Simon of Kaizen, Busan.

Mindy and Simon of Kaizen, Busan.