3rd Busan Clothing Swap

Join me in less than two weeks time, on August 29th from 2-4pm, for the third Busan clothing swap. I am excited to host this event, the past two were hugely successful, not only for those who attended, but in my eyes they were a success because they stopped people from buying fast fashion as well as kept some clothes out of landfills.

Below are the details for the upcoming event. See you at the swap!

Start going through your wardrobes! Coming Saturday, August 29th – Busan’s third clothing swap event. I’m excited to move locations to HQ Gwangan after the sad closing of Table Talk.

What’s a Swap? A clothing swap is a fun gathering of people looking to get rid of their gently used, undesired items in exchange for someone else’s gently used, undesired items. There is no requirement to donate clothes (I understand that some people are new and didn’t come with much,) just come and have a search through and hopefully go home with something new. This is also a good opportunity for those leaving us to get their extra pieces to other expats or Koreans.

What to Bring? **Please Read** This event is all volunteer run almost solely by myself, Kara Bemis, thankfully I have been fortunate enough to have some friends volunteer to help me on the day of the swaps to sort through clothes, with that being said- it is hard work. We must go through all the left over clothes and get them to the correct location: garbage or thrift store. Please be very selective of what to donate.


Use this simple rule, if you wouldn’t re-buy it like new, then it doesn’t pass the test. All seasons permitted, summer to winter. Also, by being selective, please limit the amount that you bring, if you have a suitcase full of high quality items – great! If you have two suitcases full of low quality items that saw better days, then please leave those at home (again, due to the fact that it’s hard work to sort through the left overs.)

Moving from a cafe to a bar, HQ and I are happy to announce that there shall be drink specials! Details to follow.

Make an afternoon of it, bring some friends, grab a drink, and swap till you drop. Just as before, this is a free event with a drink purchase your entrance fee, let’s support HQ who is letting us hold the event at their waterfront spot.

Directions to hq gwangan
  • Take the green subway (Line 2) to Gwangan, stop 209.
  • Take Exit 3.
  • U-turn towards Gwangali Beach, walk straight towards the beach until you reach the main road that runs along the beach. You will be in front of Lotteria/Baskin Robins.
  • Turn left at Lotteria and walk a few yards. HQ is on the fourth floor of the building with a chicken restaurant on the first floor and Cross Fit in the basement.
  • If you reached Starbucks then you went too far.

Korean Templestay – 108 Prostrations

In the past I have been invited to teach for yoga mala’s which are events where participants do 108 Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar.) Teachers guide students through traditional Sun A and/or B, or through variations of both. It is both challenging and rewarding to push yourself to perform all of the sequences and as a teacher it has been fun to be creative and come up with variations. Although I have taught and participated in a few yoga malas, I never really knew what that number 108 was all about.

Recently, I took the opportunity to participate in a Korean Templestay. Templestays are little nightly or weekend getaways to a Korean temple. They are geared towards foreigners visiting or living in the country. During the stay, participants experience a brief monastic 24 hours (give or take.) At my templestay I wore simple cotton pants and a vest (worn over a T-shirt as showing shoulders is a big no-no at Korean temples,) ate and experienced the process of eating a monastic meal, attended two Buddhist ceremonies, made a strand of mala beads, and did 108 prostrations.

The Beads

Making the mala strand of beads felt a little bit like a summer camp activity. The other 20 or so participants and myself gathered in a beautifully painted room, sat upon meditation cushions, and were given little kits which included rough wooden beads, thick string, and a small metal tool that was to be used to push a better hole into the bead if it hadn’t been properly punched out.

While we made the malas our guide asked questions of us about Buddhism, such as what are the six offerings people bring to temple (I remember four of the six – rice, incense, flowers, fruit.) The guide/translator also explained that the beads were made of cedar which gave them a strong scent. According to her the scent is offensive to mosquitos and helps ward them off – bonus!

The number 108 was also explained, but in a mathematical-windy way reminiscent of conspiracy theories that add, subtract, and multiply to find their way to a meaningful number that supports their case. I’m not good with numbers in any sense, so unfortunately those numbers went in one ear and out the other. The following morning after stringing the beads we performed the 108 prostrations in the main hall and that’s where the magic happened.

108 Prostrations

After an opening ceremony of tycho drum, chant, and a few introductory bows, we began the 108. As I mentioned, the event was for foreigners; none of us were Korean speakers and the monks didn’t speak English, so during the bows they played a youtube video that gave a meaning to each bow. At first the video was offputting because the anouncer had a very cultish, deep, monotone voice, but what was being said by him was actually quite moving.

Reasons for bows came in groups. For example, for six or so bows there would be reasons about repenting. This is a rough memory, but a few  that I remember went something like this: “I prostrate in repentance for ever having taken my family for granted.” Then it continued with the same, “I prostrate in repentance for ever having taken my friends/nature/teachers for granted.” Another theme I remember was gratitude for similar topics: “I prostrate in gratitude for all the teachers that have touched my life,” for example. Having the sound of the video going, which visually displayed monks in monk like settings, helped the bows go by more quickly and gave them meaning.

Physically I didn’t find the bowing to be taxing, minus the speed. We bowed to the count of the youtube video which runs around 25 minutes, about 20 of those minutes being the actual bows. Doing 108 bows in 20 minutes is quick. The bows were similar to Sun Salutations and were performed by bending at the knees, hands at prayer at the chest (Namaskar,) lowering the knees down onto a meditation cushion, placing the forehead on the cushion, and then going to standing again. I overheard other participants complaining of the difficulty of it; it might be that my consistent yoga practice made the act easier for me.

Full bow.

Full bow.

Here is the link to the video to listen to while performing 108 bows, or while you do your dishes, give it a listen.  The intro of the video is a child giving a little background to the number 108 and then it gets right into the creepy voice reading of the 108 prostrations. As much as that description is not enticing, I encourage you to listen, it honestly moved me into conscious reflection.

If you ever get the opportunity to attend a Yoga Mala or a Korean Templestay, take the opportunity. Through both you can learn a lot about yourself while participating in events that lie outside of your comfort zone. Coming soon will be a write-up of the monastic meal that was the highlight of the first evening at the temple.

The templestay that I participated in was at a temple named Hongbeopsa. It is north west of Busan and can be reached by shuttle bus or taxi from Nopodong Bus Termanl. Hongbeopsa generally hosts monthly cultural events for foreigners such as lantern making, tea ceremonies, and kimichi making. To find out more about their events follow them on facebook here.

Tropical Storm Brings Trash to Gwangan Beach

Last Sunday, July 12, 2015, was a turbulent day of wind and rain brought to Busan by tropical storm Chan-hom. There had been talk of a typhoon making it’s way to us, but it settled down into a tropical storm. Winds were high and the rain went from heavy to light throughout the day. This article on weather.com, states that winds were recorded as high as 47mph here in Korea.

Although it was not an ideal day for a bike ride, that’s exactly what I did during a period when the rain wasn’t so heavy. We took the boardwalk path on the way back to my apartment and were shocked by how much trash had washed up on the beach from the winds and surf. I snapped a few pictures, but most of the photos in this post are from early Monday morning, the following day. This amount of trash on the beach is extreme; there is always litter, casually dropped by beach walkers (cigarette cellophane, lighters, candy wrappers, straws, coffee cups, etc.) but the storm brought a whole array of trash.

Things that I noticed were shoes, balls, a lot of plastic drain filters, plastic beverage containers (water, soju, makgoli,) styrofoam and so on. There were great big styrofoam buoys, corners and bits from styrofoam coolers, and tiny pieces that had been broken down by the ocean. These little pieces are the ones that threaten the life of birds and fish because they resemble fish eggs so are consumed as food.

I noticed that there were still tourists snapping pictures at Gwangali Monday morning, however they were ignoring the length of beach covered in trash and instead aimed their phones at the bridge. I suppose to most people when they see a sight like that they think about how ugly it is and feel no responsibility to it so simply ignore it, but when I saw it, I wondered where was it coming from, how do we stop it, and how many innocent wildlife will die from our waste?

As I was taking pictures Monday morning, about half of the beach had already been cleaned up. Busan is great about getting crews out there every morning to make the (tourist) beaches look pristine. While the beautifying of the beach seems beneficial to us all, I can’t help but wonder if habits would change if people’s litter and trash stayed on the beach instead of miraculously disappearing every dawn.

Witnessing the debris that was washed up on the shore was depressing but also inspiring for me to question how I can decrease my impact on this finite planet even more. This month there has been a campaign online – Plastic Fee July, take a look at the link of their facebook page where you can get ideas about how to decrease your plastic use. Here’s a previous blog post of mine with tips. We can all do our small bit by carrying reusable bags, refusing bottled water, creating and using DIY cleaning/beauty products and most importantly sharing and inspiring others with our efforts.

How are you having a Plastic Free July and Plastic Free Life?

Better quality photos taken by Ben Lear.

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.

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.

Hosting a Beach Clean Up Event

Hosting a beach clean up event has been spinning in my mind as an idea for a while, but I was never really sure how to materialize it. It’s easy enough though to gather a few friends or a group of people and have them collect as much litter as they can, so that is exactly what I am doing.

Last month contained the American holiday of Earth Day, on April 22nd, unfortunately my event wasn’t planned in advance enough to be around Earth Day, but that really doesn’t matter. Each and every day should be a day in which we consider our constant impact on our fragile planet, and we should change our habits so that we cause less and less harm.

Together with a yoga friend, Jessica Rykert Holt, who has been leading mindful meditation gatherings in Busan, a straightforward beach clean up/yoga event has been organized at Gwangali, one of our local beaches. After a date was set for May 16th, Jessica was told of another beach clean up happening at another coastal location in our city, so we joined up to host coinciding events. The other event is through a local scuba diving group, Busan Scuba. Divers will meet and clean up Taejongdae, an island in the southern part of Busan.

Here’s what our beach clean up event will consist of at Gwangali:

  • Meet Up and Introduction – After learning some new names, I will start the event off by explaining my motivation, which is to create awareness about the harming of the oceans and lands, but more specifically, the oceans, by single use plastics such as to-go cups, straws, packaging and wrappers. Next, Jessica will speak about mindfulness and meditation and teach everyone about what they will be doing as they comb the beach cleaning up.
  • Time to Hit the Sand – After the tools are passed out (gloves and city purchased garbage bags in our case) participants will get to the cleanin’. Busan suffers from a lot of littering, both internally in the city and along the coasts and beaches. Daily I see candy wrappers, cigarette cellophane, straws and the like strewn about the beach when I walk my dog and on the streets. Not knowing the language well enough, it seems to me from observation, that people are simply ignorant of the lasting negative impact of their fluttering plastics that land on the beach and quickly find their way into the water via tides or winds.
  • A Yoga Practice, Of Course! – After all of the hard work and concentration on being mindful, everyone will reconvene at a large area on the boardwalk to lay out their mats and flow. The class will continue with the theme of mindfulness and individual impact, and will last an hour. The class will be designed for a range of students, from beginner to advanced.

It can be intimidating to put yourself out in the community and plan an event, but that should never hold you back from striking the match which lights the fire that is action. Let your little light shine! Planning a beach clean up is a great way to get some friends together and make an impact, or to make it bigger and involve locals.

This event is 5,000 won minimum donation with money going towards garbage collecting gear and the remainder being donated to http://www.projectaware.org/ an organization of divers who work towards cleaning and saving the oceans in their Marine Debris project as well as saving endangered sharks in their Sharks in Peril movement. Below is an infograph produced by Project Aware with facts about the impact of our trash.


Information about meditation events led by Jessica can be found the Busan Yoga & Meditation Group on Facebook.

Update on Beach Clean Up Event

Despite the fact that Saturday, May 16th started out as a dreary, cloudy, and quite frankly sort of miserable day, with temperatures much lower than they had been for a few weeks, a group of dedicated participants met me on the boardwalk for the clean up. After everyone had made their way to our meet up location, Jessica and I got things started. The event went exactly as planned and everyone did a fantastic job of filling up their garbage bags. It was unbelievable how much litter they were capable of collecting in just 40 minutes. Below is a gallery of photos.

Unfortunately, a lot more was left behind that we weren’t able to collect. The problem has to be corrected with people disposing of their waste correctly. An even better solution, in my opinion, is to drastically decrease individual waste production, by changing habits and cutting out all single use items from day to day life.

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

Spring Equinox 108 Sun Salutations – Lesson in Discipline

Yep, you read that correctly, one-hundred-and-eight Sun Salutations. That was the number that a group of us in Busan, South Korea recently performed for the Spring Equinox to mark the arrival of spring. The number has significance, which I will not go into here, what I want to touch upon is the discipline required to perform such a feat.

It might be hard to grasp how big of a number that is in terms of performing a yoga sequence and in case you are not familiar with what a Sun Salutation is, let me first explain that. There are two primary, traditional Sun Salutations, known as Sun A and Sun B, or Surya Namaskara A and B in Sanskrit. They are routines of poses performed in a quick moving pace, one breath one movement. By their name, you may have guessed that they were traditionally performed in the morning at sunrise to salute the sun, giver of all energy. In western yoga classes they are still performed, but usually long after the hours of sunrise. If you’ve attended a yoga class, chances are are that you performed either, or both A and B as a warm up that begins the class. Typically a teacher guides students through 4-6 salutes as a warm up, and boy do they do the trick to warm up the muscles, so imagine how much heat is created performing 108!!


For this event there were six teachers who split the teaching. Each teacher had free reign as to which salute (A and/or B) and whatever modifications they wanted to add on. The first three teachers who taught added a lot of modifications to their sequences, which was a great workout and  a good mental practice. That first section was where the practice of discipline was really honed for me. Thoughts went through my mind such as,

“This is difficult, I wish I could take a rest, but no, keep enduring with everyone else!”

It truly helped to pump through the event with a group. We were all silently working towards the same goal.

You don’t have to be participating in a long event to struggle with endurance in yoga, in any yoga class or in your home practice, you might bump into big walls that try to push you down and defeat you. I have two views on how to react to those overbearing obstacles; first, succumb to the pressure and take a rest; second, kick up some dirt and plow through that bad boy.

To expand, during any physical activity it is good to be reminded and to remind yourself, that it is not necessary to overexert yourself. Not only is it not necessary, but it is generally not safe as injuries can arise. As a teacher, I remind my students to take child’s pose whenever they need to and I enjoy when I see students doing just that because I know that they’re listening to their bodies and giving themselves the rest that they need in the moment.

Saluting the sun.

Saluting the sun.

On the other hand, it’s also good to grit your teeth and go deeper.You have to ask yourself if you really need the break, or if you can push on and complete the pose or sequence (safely.) For if you always slumped into child’s pose instead of giving it one more go, you might never discover that you can accomplish a pose. Also, you wouldn’t be building the strength that comes with those trembling quads in your 42nd warrior pose of the afternoon.

After an intermission of moving entertainment by two fellow yogis, who perfored a stunning acro yoga sequence, we moved on to the last three teachers, I should mention that I was one of the teachers in the last set! At this event I was the final one to lead and for this reason, I switched my lesson plans up a little bit by removing all chaturungs to give achy wrists a break (did anyone just get Achy Breaky Heart in their head? If you didn’t, you do now!) Personally it wasn’t my wrists that needed the break as much as burning triceps! It was very rewarding as a teacher to be able to guide everyone through the final salutes and to give the cue of “Just three more.” and “Last one, you did it!” There were smiles and sighs at the completion of the event. And I’m sure we all learned a little something about ourselves in the push through those 108.


This event was organized by Kaizen yoga studio of Busan. It is the wonderfully talented and ambitios Mindy Sisco who has made the equinox and solstice events possible that I have been so fortunate to be a part of. Mindy and her business partner Simon have regular classes at their gym. Schedule and pricing can be found here.

Mindy and Simon of Kaizen.

Mindy and Simon of Kaizen.


Simon of Kaizen is credited with all photos of the Spring Equinox event used in this post.

Don’t Shop, Swap!

Clothing swaps are great alternatives to shopping, and make for excuses to have a social gathering with old friends or new. They’re very easy to put together and require very little planning. Plus, everyone will hopefully go home with something new (to them) and exciting!

I first attended a clothing swap with my boyfriend’s mom where she lives in the south of France. On a fall afternoon a large group of women gathered in a friend’s home and laid out items that no longer got much use from them, to be shared and swapped with all in attendance. It was a lot of fun and a few years later I found myself hosting a swap in my expat community of Busan, South Korea. Here’s a quick how-to on hosting a clothing swap. Details are specific to an expat community, but a swap can be held anywhere.

Browsing items :)

Browsing items 🙂

  • Invites: Social media makes planning a breeze, with a few clicks and a nice photo you’re done! For my events I made the events public, open all in the community. For your friends you could make it more intimate by inviting them by phone or even send out some nice stationary, but doing things electronically saves paper and time.
  • Choose a Time: I have had a lot of success hosting swaps when the seasons are changing. People tend to pack up their shorts and tanks and pull out the sweaters in the fall, so that’s a great time to host an event, likewise spring is another great time. I encourage people to bring summer and winter clothes as people might be vacationing to warmer places, or can store the items for later.
  • Inform Your Guests:  Some people may not know what a clothing swap is, so let them know that it’s a chance to hand in unwanted clothes for others’ lightly used items. You can have your event be for ladies only, or extend it out to men or even make it a family event for children as well, as I’m sure a lot of families may have clothes that are getting too small and equally would be in need for someone else’s larger sizes! Be sure to plan the event a few weeks in the future to give people time to go through their closets. Decide if you want to include accessories and footwear and let everyone know. Be sure to tell guests that only lightly used items are appreciated.
  • People at Table Talk English Cafe, swapping away!Chose a Venue: As a very casual event you could host a swap in your living room, or on the porch in warmer months. You could make it more fun by incorporating a potluck. For a more public event, seek out a local cafe and encourage your guests to support the cafe by purchasing a drink or food. The chosen location might not even charge you rent if you let them know guests will be buying their fare.
  • Arrange Drop Off Times: Expat communities see people come and go routinely. Plan your swap to coincide with the waves of expats coming in and out. For example, here in Korea the school year begins in March, so people leave in February and newbies arrive in March- a great time to host a swap. In order to collect off of the people who are flying out, ask the cafe if you can collect a few weeks early and store there, if that’s not an option, consider storing and collecting at your place.
  • Donate the Extras: Storing all of the left overs might not be reasonable, so search your local area for a charity shop, orphanage, or women’s shelter to take the clothes that remain. Call ahead to make sure that they’ll accept what you’ll have to bring.

Hosting a swap does not require much at all and can be such a fun event. For my first swap, I held a talk at the beginning for those interested about the sustainable aspect of the swap, which might be a good idea if you want to give your event a deeper meaning.

Here is the Facebook Event link to my upcoming Swap in Busan on March 14th. The swap is open to the public. As the host I encourage anyone to come have a look through the clothes, whether you have anything to contribute or not. The reason for this is that by taking an item off of someone rather than buying it new in the shop, you save the item from the landfill and also don’t contribute to mass consumption… but that’s a whole other blog post!


Update, here a few photos from the Swap that was held in Busan on the 14th of March. It was a success I believe, with people walking away with mounds of clothes. I learned from this event and am hopeful that next season’s will be even more successful and run more smoothly. This past event I happened to become ill during the swap and was running a fever for most of it, thankfully some good friends stepped in and helped me out so much. Thanks ladies!