Busan Beach Yoga

This is my third summer leading yoga on the boardwalk at Busan’s Gwangali beach and each year gets better and better. Sure, our beach may not be a white sandy one with palm trees galore; it’s more of the man-made type with neon lights, but there is still a lot of beauty to be seen during the practice. Here are a few specifics to Busan’s beach yoga scene that I’ve observed in the past three years.

  • Boardwalk vs. Sand – It is my experience that practicing on the boardwalk is more beneficial than on the sand. One reason is pretty obvious – keep those grains of sand off of you. But if you have no problem being one with nature and getting sand in all your nooks’n’crannies, then by all means, give it a go! The second reason, and more importantly, is that the boardwalk provides a flat, even surface that is needed for balancing poses. Actually, in any and all circumstances, I would suggest practicing yoga on a flat and even surface because it allows for the best support for the wrists and ankles. It may seem idyllic to plop down into Downard Facing Dog on the sand, but you’ll be brushing the sand away endlessly and you might even be straining your wrists.

Boardwalk Yoga

  • Accept Your Performance – Practicing yoga in public is not a time for you to feel as if you’re being judged, really at no time should you feel as if you’re being judged, other students are more concerned about their own practice than seeing what’s going on over on your mat. There is no judgement in my classes, but for sure in Busan at beach yoga, there are pedestrian observers. Here is why: There is a different sense (or lack of?) of personal space here than we are used to in many of our home countries, people brush up right next to you, stand uncomfortably close in lines, on buses, and almost everywhere. Practicing yoga is no exception, people will stop and watch, try the poses with you, and many even take out their phones and take pictures. At first I tried to protect my students’ privacy by shooing them away, but I have come to accept it now as a major cultural difference. It’s not harmful, just different. As a student practicing on Gwangan’s boardwalk, I hope that you can remember that by practicing in a public space you may be subject to what we in many other countries consider an invasion of privacy, but try to see it from the eyes of the country that you are in and know that things are just different here. People are curious. And as for taking photos of a group of strangers practicing yoga, well their kakao story has to be updated with something today!

  • Prepare for the Elements – The sun has left it’s mark on me even through a cotton shirt, so I try to wear screen when I practice on the beach. It helps as well to have sunglasses and/or a hat. These days I’ve been wearing a baseball cap to shield my eyes yet still make it possible to look students in the eyes without being weird in my sunglasses. I look a bit like a yoga camp counselor, but it saves me from early-onset-crows feet!

  • Practice with the Sun – The best times to practice are when the rays aren’t so strong. Early morning, around 7AM and sunset, at 6PM are good times here in Busan. My 10:30AM class is also a good time slot and has been much more popular than the sunrise class – understandably, it’s not easy to wake with the sun for most of us! Sunday Sunset classes have been well attended as well, a great way to end the weekend and start the week.

Wherever you are located, I hope that you can seek out a yoga class in the elements. Beach, park, riverside, your own backyard – they’re all great locations. If you are here in Busan and would like to join a class, then please follow below.

Beach yoga classes led by Kara are held most weekends in Busan. Follow the Busan Yoga & Meditation group on Facebook and check out the group’s events to find out more.

Sunset Yoga at Gwangan.

Sunset Yoga at Gwangan.

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.