Tag Archives: yoga

How to Stay Sane Until Spring (Korean Winter, we’re through.)

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I wrote recently about finding a summer-ish oasis hidden on a side street in my Korean city. Writing that post made me ponder a few other remedies that have helped me cope with winter in Korea. Because, like I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of you, winter. I didn’t even really realize I was in a winter funk until a week or so ago when I was walking to work and caught a whiff of that Spring smell. I think it’s made of one part melting snow and two parts bright sunshine. Oh, and there were birds singing, I swear. Although snow did fall a few days later, this morning commute added a bounce to my step and placed not-too-distant and pleasant visions of biking along the Han River and wearing cute skirts in my head. So, if you’re like me and need that final push to blast through the rest of Winter into Spring, here are 10 things I am doing or plan to do asap:

1) YOGA

I wrote about my love of yoga awhile back. Then my membership expired and I neglected to go back to my studio to pay for 3 more months. I told myself I would do yoga at home but I missed the hot studio, the disciplined yet nurturing instructor, the sense of class camaraderie and most importantly the elated and endorphin filled walk home after each class. I plan to return to my studio later this week and get back to improving my Triangle Pose.

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2) EAT HEALTHY

Just like your mom always told you: Winter is all about staying healthy! Go stock up on fresh veggies and fruits at the supermarket. I like to shop at Homeplus in the evening after work because I usually find discounted produce (for smoothies!) at that time of day. Also, if you haven’t already checked out iHerb you should. I like to order my favorite gluten free breakfast bars and coconut water from this website. The prices are reasonable and the products arrive 1 or 2 days later.

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3) SEOUL TOWER

Although it made for a cold afternoon, I recommend checking out Seoul Tower in the winter. With less foliage you can see for miles and the view is amazing.

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photo credit: my awesome friend James

4) GET ACTIVE OUTSIDE

Sometimes you just need to get outside and be active. Bundle up and go for a walk. I promise you will feel better upon your return.

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5) SOCIALIZE

Your apartment may seem tempting for a night-in, but get out and be social with friends. Find a favorite coffee shop or bar and enjoy each other. *bring playing cards*

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6) MUSEUMS

Winter is a great time to check out the many museums Seoul has to offer. In the past month I visited the MOCA, the National War Memorial and Museum and the Anish Kapoor Seoul Exhibition at the Leeum Samsung Museum. 2 of the 3 were free and the exhibits were fabulous.

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 7) COFFEE SHOPS

Spend a cold day in a coffee shop and study up on your Korean.

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8) STUDENTS

The winter months don’t seem to bother my students one bit. They burst into class each day excited to tell me about their time at school. They are always happy and so full of energy. They make me smile and laugh at the smallest things and just that can turn around a day.

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9) PLAN FOR SUMMER

Start planning that awesome summer trip now. Although Mud Fest is a few months away who says you can’t start taking notes for an epic trip. I also love outdoor music festivals, so I can get lost on the Internet searching for the summer line-up of acts coming to Korea.

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10) WINTER FASHION

When all else fails, throw on a cute fluffy animal hat and count how many strangers smile at you as you walk around feeling warm and fashionable.

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photo credit

How do you deal with Winter? Or maybe Winter is your best friend, and in that case, please let him know I’m ready to break-up.

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Filed under cuter in korea, devan teacher, food, seoul, travel, uijeongbu, yoga

I was going to write a ‘Top 10 List’ & then this happened.

I found myself wallowing in a bout of homesickness last week. Rather than sulk in my apartment and dream of lounging dock-side on Martha’s Vineyard sipping a Blue Moon and hogging the guacamole bowl, I sat down and scribbled all the things I am loving at the moment about my present situation. If you’re interested, here it is, feel free to add to my list. Cheers! *shot of soju in hand*

I love…

1) soju.

2) the huge H&M and Forever 21 stores in Seoul.

3) surprising the older Koreans on the subway when I give up my seat for them.

4) bars that never close,  interesting bar snacks and learning how to play darts.

5) being inspired by Korean fashion.

6) when my takeout pizza is presented as a gift.

7) how my students love me.

8) not having to remember a key for my apartment because I have a keypad instead.

9) outdoor restaurant seating that magically appears in good weather.

10) paying bills within seconds at the ATM.

11) cooking my own meat at Korean BBQ. It’s the real deal: hot coals, marinated meat and scrumptious sides.

12) learning about Buddha and Buddhism.

13) public transportation. The subway is English friendly, fast, cheap and clean.

14) the 7 Eleven steps from my apartment.

15) not having to be at work until 1pm.

16) being the token foreigner at my yoga studio.

17) my small apartment, sometimes I complain, but it is cozy and easy to clean.

18) the free exercise stations everywhere.

19) Ssamjang (쌈장 ) sauce at Korean BBQ. Yes, it deserves it’s own spot on this list and it deserves a place in American cuisine. (Ssamjang is a thick, spicy paste used with food wrapped in a leaf in Korean cuisine. The sauce is made of doenjang, gochujang, sesame oil, onion, garlic, green onions, and optionally brown sugar. -Wikipedia)

20) that just about everything is cuter in Korea: coffee cups, bus cards, stationary, trucks, etc. #cuterinkorea

21) the moving ramps for grocery carts at Homeplus.

22) the walking/running/biking path along the river near my apartment.

23) not having to obey an open container law.

24) the service button at restaurants.

25) kimchi, yeah it’s growing on me.

26) cheap underground shopping.

27) receiving mail from friends and family.

28) meeting foreigners and bonding instantly.

29) the adorable coffee shops. I also appreciate being able to visit my first love, Starbucks, when I need a fix.

30) Korean kindness and hospitality.

31) not having to remember to pay rent each month – it’s on my school.

32) bowing instead of shaking hands to say hello – my palms get sweaty.

33) cheap travel to exotic locations. I can’t wait for Taiwan in July!

34) staying in touch with friends & family back home via snail mail, email, Facebook, Skype, Kakao Talk, FourSquare, Pinterest, Spotify and Instagram. Sometimes it feels like I never left.

35) creating a place for myself on Twitter and in the expat and travel blogging community.

36) fantastic conversations with new friends about the future – inspiring!

37) drinks on a necklace. Yup.

38) freebies with every purchase. I have enough travel samples for at least 5 vacations. A free sun hat with a new bottle of perfume – why not?

39) Casablanca in Haebangcheon: Best. Sandwich. Ever.

40) the new Shinsegae department store in Uijeongbu.

41) Temple Stay experiences.

42) kimbap’s deliciousness.

43) my rooftop.

44) the small plastic bag holders for wet umbrellas outside every store when it’s raining. Genius.

45) jjimjibangs.

46) free phone charging stations.

47) street food after a crazy night out.

48) norebang. Can you say ‘Call Me Maybe’?

49) my acupuncture doctor.

50) free festivals. My love began at the Lantern Festival celebrating Buddha’s birthday.

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Filed under cuter in korea, devan teacher, food, seoul, travel, uijeongbu, yoga

back to Bikram or how I will soon be able to calm down an angry Korean

A friend from college who spent two previous years in Korea quickly became my go-to source for random questions and concerns before my final decision to sign, stamp and send my teaching contract back to my recruiter. She planned to return home to the US shortly before my own departure date. I was lucky enough to meet up with her in Boston for a quick drink and a much needed pep talk that reassured me I was making the right decision by moving to Korea (“Korea!?” – all my friends/family at holiday gatherings).

I left our rendezvous slightly terrified but extremely excited – speaking with her made my upcoming move seem very real but her apparent infatuation with Korea was contagious. I madly scribbled notes across pages of my planner that were soon forgotten, but the piece of advice that I most appreciated was something I did not write down but put into practice last week. Her advice was this, or at least this is what I took from her words: Teaching will be your day job, but it should not be the only thing that defines you in Korea. Make sure to do the things you love in your free time, even though it may be a bit challenging at first due to the foreign language and culture.

I kept this advice in mind and slowly settled into my life in Korea. Fresh off a job in marketing, it took some time to adjust to teaching. Soon I found myself comfortable and enjoying my time in the classroom. I spent my free time meeting new people and exploring Korea. I took my friend’s advice and kept up with my (and in many ways increased) blogging and creating a home within the world of social media. I have enjoyed working in social media professionally in the past and I majored in writing in college, so I thought coming to Korea would be a perfect opportunity to expand on these passions. But after countless nights spent staring at my computer screen, I knew I needed to balance my online time with something social, active and mentally rejuvenating (don’t worry – I won’t get too yogi on you). Running does this for some, but it just doesn’t cut it for me. I consider myself lucky to live so close to the river and its carefully manicured path, and I enjoy a long walk or run a few times a week, but my first love will always be yoga, specifically Bikram yoga.

I put my feelers out among foreign and Korean friends and came up with a few different options for yoga. Online searches were a bit disappointing because the only certified Bikram studio appeared to be in Seoul and the rest of the hot yoga websites were in Korean or unsearchable with an English Google search. I found a few hot yoga studios within 20 minutes of my apartment, but I was a bit put-off by their mandatory expensive 3+ month packages and inconvenient locations. A few weeks ago a friend pointed me to a studio that is a two minute walk from my work. S Hot Yoga is located in the corner of the 4th floor of one of many 10+ floor buildings in a business area – I don’t think I would have found it myself. Knowing that it was hot yoga and not Bikram, I was a bit hesitant to commit to the studio. With the help of my Korean co-teacher I found the studio website and was elated to learn that the hot yoga class followed the Bikram postures I know by heart. I bravely visited the studio one evening after work and soon realized no one at the studio spoke English. It was a struggle to acquire a small business card with the schedule and pricing printed in Korean. The woman at the front desk appeared flustered at the sight of a foreigner, I just kept smiling and saying thank you in Korean as I pointed to the stack of cards behind the desk and gestured that I wanted one. I later learned that I was the first foreigner to visit the studio, so I regret surprising the staff and creating a sense of stress in the serene studio entry-way.  It took me a few weeks to muster up the courage to once again face the nervous front desk staff and also part with a significant amount of my paycheck. I finally woke up ready to get my yoga on last week and now I can’t believe I waited this long to do so.

Luckily there was a fellow yogi checking in at the front desk who knew a bit of English when I arrived. I pointed to the three month package price and attempted to hand my credit card to the front desk staff. They were hesitant to take my card, I think because they knew the classes were in Korean and they didn’t think I understood this fact. I tried to explain that I knew the yoga and did not expect an English class and finally the other yogi chimed in explaining that I knew (to some degree) what I was getting myself into. Eventually I was able to pay, fill out a new member form, leave my shoes in the entry-way (1 thing I knew from Bikram!) and get ready for class.

The locker room was easy to maneuver and impressively equipped with individual lockers and locks for each yogi, plenty of space to change and do hair/makeup, hair dryers, floor length mirrors, a handful of showers and free products galore. The actual studio was standard and provided yoga mats and towels free of charge for each student. (Not having to lug a sweaty and disgusting mat and towel home after class – score!)

The class commenced with a slight bow and a “Namaste” from the teacher and I was immediately at home on my mat as she rambled on in Korean. Some of the other yogis couldn’t help but look over at me during the class, and I can’t blame them. It must have been strange to suddenly see a tall American fumbling through the poses in the front mirror. Although the class was entirely in Korean, I was able to follow the movements and poses by remembering the Bikram dialogue and by observing the other students when the poses were altered a bit.

The class was Bikram-like, but differed slightly:

* *The room was not as hot as Bikram. The website states that the room is heated to 38 degrees Celsius, although it seemed a bit cooler. I do miss the extreme heat, but it is still hot enough to sweat and move fluidly in and out of each pose.**

* *We did the two breathing exercises twice, but all other poses were only performed once. I do miss the chance to go deeper into each pose during the second attempt, but now I just have to make sure I don’t slack in the first and only pose. (1 hour class!)**

** The teacher came around and actually touched us! This seldom happens in Bikram. At first it was strange, but after a few fantastic adjustments and deeper stretches I was secretly hoping to be corrected as she scanned the room.**

** The Savasana (Dead Body Pose) was not a leisurely recharge. I only had time for one breath before setting up for the next pose or sit-up.**

** There were a few times I found myself confused by slight class alterations. For example, once after Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose the studio erupted in loud clapping and slapping noises. Instead of gracefully centering oneself on the mat to prepare for the next pose, everyone was hitting their legs with a great amount of force. I quickly recognized this as a method Koreans use to loosen up their muscles after stretching. Small changes in class bring a smile to my face and make for an interesting class. I do love the regimental nature of Bikram, but while abroad I don’t mind if my yoga comes with a Korean twist.**

After a week of classes I found myself understanding a few of the teacher’s corrections and commands. I am in no way flaunting my Korean language skills, but I can now sense when the she wants us to “go deeper” into a stretch or “center our hips”. I have also picked up on a few specific Korean words and hopefully soon I will be able to repeat them and not just recognize them: “inhale”, “exhale” and of course “relax” (after each pose). So, I may not be ready to order at a restaurant or direct the cab home without the help of my smartphone, but I soon could potentially bring an angry Korean down from a state of outrage: “Inhale, exhale and relax.”

Here are two of my most challenging / favorite poses:

pictures/descriptions from http://www.shotyoga.com/hotyoga/info4.html

“Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are”.  Jason Crandell

“The real pleasure, the real peace,  the real enlightenment is to give. The more you give the more you get. If you give 10, you get 100.” Bikram Choudhury

Namaste for now.

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Filed under uijeongbu, yoga