Pros and Cons of Personal Yoga Practice

PROS
• Only do the poses you want to do
• No rush to get to class
• Zero competitive attitude
• Practice as little or as much as you want
• Develop trust in yourself to do the poses without help
• FREE

CONS
• No external motivation
• No feedback or modifications from teachers
• No community feeling
• Potential for injury without a spotter (headstands, for example)
• Tendency to skip more challenging postures

“Roll out your mat every single morning”

When I first started doing yoga, I couldn’t imagine being able to do the poses by myself at home. Unless I had Youtube set up in the living room. But even then, the videos were always too hard or too easy, horrible quality, or something completely un-zen (JILLIAN MICHAELS MELTDOWN YOGA).

Though I’d done yoga on and off for a lot of my teen and college years, it wasn’t until I signed up for Corepower’s Yoga for Trade program that I really got into a practice. In exchange for three hours of studio cleaning a week, I earned a free unlimited membership.

I got addicted immediately.

If you’ve ever been to Corepower, you know you can expect to be swimming in a lake of your own sweat by the end of an hour class. But the heat and humidity, paired with holding difficult poses, produces a clean euphoria that lingers after you leave the studio.

I started going to classes 4-6 times a week, and in a very short amount of time, I started noticing changes in my muscle tone and flexibility. Having been a bookworm my whole life, yoga opened my slouched shoulders and strengthened my back to improve my posture.

After almost a year of this, however, I left for Korea. Sadly, I couldn’t find a single place to match what Corepower offered.

I tried getting up before work and following videos online, but most of them didn’t do much for me. It was always a struggle to get out of bed and practice. My body began to deteriorate to its pre-Corepower condition.

I relayed all this to the yoga instructor at Hariharalaya, slightly frustrated that I hadn’t kept up my personal practice as I’d intended. Then she told me possibly the most valuable piece of yogic advice I’ve heard to date:

“If you ever want to advance in yoga, you have to roll out your mat every single morning.”

And then it dawned on me: A certain amount of yoga practice boils down to self-discipline and being consistent. Wherever life takes me, there won’t always be a Corepower nearby. Or any yoga studio, for that matter.

After practicing for over a year, I know most poses and techniques well enough to do them fluidly. I know how to get from downward dog to eagle to full airplane. I know the correct alignment techniques and how to move with my breath.

So do I really need Corepower anymore?

I’ve been contemplating signing up for the cleaning deal again, but I suspect I’ll start using it as an excuse not to practice on my own.

Though I don’t push myself very hard in my personal practice, doing yoga alone affords me the time to work on the poses I need while foregoing others.

And ever so slowly, I’m beginning to accept the idea that my day will always begin with yoga.

Meal planning

There’s nothing better than coming home after a day at work and cooking an elaborate, gourmet meal for yourself. Unless you’re really tired. Then it’s not that great.

That’s why following these two guidelines is important when it comes to eating well:

1. Make a grocery list for the week. Preferably when you’re not hungry. And then go shopping for that list. Preferably when you’re not hungry. Hunger=writing down and buying all kinds of horrible-for-you packaged goodies. When I lived alone, I generally found that shopping for ingredients for three dinners allowed me plenty of leftovers and opportunity for eating out with friends once or twice a week.

I find new recipes online (PaleOMG and Nom Nom Paleo are two of my favorites), write down the ingredients, and shop away.

2. Set aside one afternoon or evening a week to prepare your meals in large portions. Then you’ll have leftovers you can heat up at a moment’s notice later in the week, when your blood sugar is low and all you want is an entire bag of cookies.

Parking myself in Colorado.

As my travel bug has been more than satiated for a while, this site will be evolving toward more sustainable subject matter over the next few months. In the very near future, you can expect to see posts on:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Healthy recipes you may not have tried
  • Book reviews
  • Poetry and fiction (perhaps some of my own)
  • Outdoor adventures in Colorado
  • Past travels, including my recent road trip around the Southwest

 

Cheers!

The first time I saw the Rocky Mountains (in a year)

I left Korea exactly two months ago today.

Though I spend my days job hunting from my parents’ basement, where I’m living right now, I have hope that I’ll run into something wonderful and unexpected to keep me financially afloat. When I came back from Korea, I had no phone, no car, no apartment, no job. It was a little like being in high school again. Like starting from scratch. I still don’t have the last three things on that list.

Despite these missing components, however, I had things way more valuable than material goods awaiting my return: my boyfriend, whom I hadn’t seen for an entire year, yet stuck with me and supported me the whole time; my family, senders of care packages and initiators of weekly Skype sessions; and my friends, writers of letters and emails, tellers of stories and jokes.

I spent two weeks at a life-changing meditation retreat in Roluos Village, Cambodia, before I came home (read about it here). Still, by week two, I could hardly stand the thought of waiting another seven days to board the plane back to Denver. A fantasy of the airport reunion with my family and boyfriend kept reappearing in my thoughts during meditation, and it was an image I couldn’t shake–the running up the escalator, the dropping of bags, the jumping into arms and tears. I didn’t want to wait for that moment anymore.

But, like all of us stuck in time, I had no choice.

By the time my 32-hour journey from Cambodia ended with the plane passing over the Rockies and lowering to the runway, I could barely stay in my seat. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so antsy in my life. It’s overwhelming and surreal to see your past reappear; I had forgotten about those towering mountains and their intense sunsets. That alone almost brought me to tears.

But it was nothing compared to how perfectly my fantasy matched reality. The reunion was precisely the way I had pictured it would go. My world ended in that moment.

colorado sunset

artemreunion

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How I detoxed, refueled and took a (barefoot) step toward homecoming in Cambodia

My former self knows what it’s doing sometimes.

After reading my friend’s amazing review of Hariharalaya Retreat Centre in Cambodia, I reserved two weeks for my own trip. This was back in February. I already knew that by the end of my teaching contract in August, I would need a serious relax & recharge session before going home.

I was right.

Overall, the year in Korea bogged me down with heavy energy. I was sick or tired most of the time, and three or more cups of coffee over the course of the day became the norm. I ate junk food. Lots of junk food. I lived in a trashy neighborhood where concrete swallowed my view of the sky.

Changwon night

My neighborhood in Changwon–it’s the Reno of Korea!

What a relief it was to see, from the descending plane in Cambodia, a dark landscape, largely untouched by city lights.

Hariharalaya is tucked away in Roluos Village, about 20 km from Siem Reap. The surrounding area is a mix of farmland, jungle and Buddhist temples, but because of the retreat, foreigners are a common sight for the villagers.

Once inside the retreat, it’s easy to stay put. I left the property just three times in my entire two weeks there–twice to explore temples, and once for a bike ride in the sticky heat.

Touring Angkor Wat

Touring Angkor Wat

The other reason I didn’t leave was the retreat’s full schedule and possible activities. A typical day goes something like this:

6:00 – 7:00 a.m. Personal yoga and meditation practice

7:00 – 8:00 a.m. Group yoga class

8:00 – 9:00 a.m. Chanting and meditation

9:00 a.m. Breakfast

10:15 – 11:30 a.m. Karma yoga (volunteer service; usually entails cleaning or gardening)

12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Dharma talk (a lecture on some aspect of Buddhism or meditation)

1:00 p.m. Lunch

6:00 p.m. Evening meditation

7:00 p.m. Dinner

Yoga and meditation hut

Yoga and meditation hut

…plus the dozens of other possibilities, including:

Shiatsu massage by a blind Khmer masseur

Reiki

Workshops on body language, digestion and tantra

Khmer head massage and cupping

Painting or playing music in the creativity hut

Reading a book from the retreat library

Slacklining or lifting coconut shell weights at the outdoor “gym”

Journaling in a hammock

Riding one of the awesome, rusty bikes to the village market

Watching the sunset from the tree house

View of the sunset from the tree house

View of the sunset from the tree house

On top of all this, I did one day of coconut water fasting and three consecutive days of silence.

I know, it seems like a lot to do in a place meant for rest and relaxation. But without a computer in front of my face (the only computer on site had an infuriatingly slow internet connection and was shared between 20-50 people), I found it easy to do all those things that normally take a back seat. I can’t remember the last time I spent four hours painting a picture. Or did yoga and meditated without a video or teacher. Or finished three books in the space of two weeks.

Painting in the creativity hut

Painting in the creativity hut

It felt like I was really living, instead of passing through life lethargic, distracted and unmotivated.

I saw a sky full of stars and the Milky Way for the first time in a long time.

I learned so much at Hariharalaya.

I learned that as long as I’m sitting with my eyes closed and trying to breathe, I’ve already succeeded in meditation.  Granted, there were times that the group meditations seemed unbearably long, but after a while, it became easier to pay attention to my body. It became easier to visualize energy and keep my breathing steady.

I learned that walking around barefoot can do wonders for your mood.

I learned, from my three days of silence, that actively listening to people is preferable to interjecting with my own relevant (or irrelevant) stories.

I learned that advancing in yoga and meditation requires rolling out the mat alone every day, even if I have to talk myself into practicing.

I learned that I was really ready to go home by the second week. I couldn’t stop fantasizing about the Denver Airport.

Hammock and grass hut

I left Hariharalaya feeling like the weight of a year had lifted from my shoulders. And I returned home exactly as I had hoped–with clarity, confidence and direction for myself and my life in Colorado.

Library and eating area

Library and eating area

Reflections on a year abroad

I have five days left in Korea.

I can’t say I’m sad to be going, but I won’t be running out of my apartment screaming with joy as I anticipated I would last August.

I’ve learned a couple things over this year teaching English abroad. First, the harsh realizations:

1. Teaching abroad (especially at a hagwon) is not a vacation.

It’s living and working in another country.

It’s a job with 10 inflexible vacation days, a smattering of national holidays off, zero sick days, and zero opportunity for personal time. I did get the chance to make brief getaways in the Philippines and Bali, but I never even visited Japan–a place so close it’s visible from Korea’s coast on a clear day.

I came here to travel, yet most locations were always slightly out of reach. Ferries, planes and trains are fully booked months in advance, and I simply didn’t get chunks of time off for traveling.

The lack of time off wasn’t a complete surprise–I read the teaching contract carefully before signing–but I guess I thought the hours wouldn’t bother me so much. I still think a public school job would have been worth pursuing for the extra time off.

2. Even with the money I’ve saved here, I won’t be able to pay off my student loans.

Do I even want to use my savings to pay the financial slave driver, anyway?

Should I use the money to do some actual traveling, go back to school, or just live off the capital until I can find a job to support myself?

3. Korea’s not the place for me.

I know lots of people who love it here, but I’m not one of them. I feel perpetually sick and tired. I live in a grimy neighborhood with hideous buildings, artificial light, and draining weather in the summer and winter. I have a job where I waste colossal amounts of time every day doing mundane activities and feeling like I’d rather be anywhere else.

But this whole year would be a complete waste of time if it weren’t for a few positives:

1. I’m more accepting of situations I can’t control.

Sometimes people speak Korean to me and I don’t have the slightest clue what they’re trying to communicate. Whereas at first this was a reason to get frustrated or spiral down the rabbit hole of confusion, I’ve learned to shrug and say “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Korean.” If the person seems friendly, maybe I can smile and nod. If not, I can just walk away. Finishee.

2. I have confirmation that yes, my life in Colorado really was as good as it seemed before I left.

Korea was not an escape plan for me. I just wanted a job that would pay well, and I knew if I didn’t travel at this point in my life, I would regret it. I’ve learned that doing a job I don’t like, even if it pays wonderfully, isn’t worth the money.

This was the push I needed to get on a career path that doesn’t involve working with kids. I don’t care if that means I have to be poor.

3. I love living alone.

This is the first time I’ve lived without roommates or family. No offense to anyone I’ve lived with, but…LIVING ALONE RULES.

I also enjoy not having a car.

4. (This is probably the most important thing) I’ve learned I am capable of persevering and following through with my commitments.

Even if they’re commitments I don’t like.

Even if it means sitting through three hours of teaching, shaking from feverish chills, with my head in my hands.

Even if it means making it through nine more months when I’ve only knocked out three.

I don’t regret coming to Korea. I’ve made some very good friends, seen some unbelievably cool stuff, and had a lot of time to think.

But I’ve never for a moment considered staying another year.

Photo of my class, taken August 24, 2012

Photo of my class, taken August 24, 2012

Photo taken May 30, less than 9 months later--they seem so grown up

Photo taken May 30, less than 9 months later–they seem so grown up

The rice paddies I’d been looking for

Like the first time I walked into a Korean temple, the rice paddies of Bali were another specific image I hoped to see.

Some of the greatest moments in travel come when I find the exact thing I was looking for. I fantasize about this particular thing for a while, and when I finally see it, the perfection of it brings me to tears.

I think that’s about as close as you can get to a dream coming true.

My day started with breakfast overlooking the island’s largest lake, Lake Batur. Two active volcanoes guard the lake–a black smear on the side of Mt. Batur reveals where the last eruption hit.

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And then I hopped on a bike.

I pedaled twenty kilometers through rice paddies like panes of glass, their farmers hunched and patiently striding the endless, verdant rows.

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I passed through compounds where women in vibrant dresses balanced tall baskets on their heads and lit incense offerings among Hindu statues.

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I was almost swallowed in the depths of a banyan tree. I sipped local Arabica coffee and ate banana crepes. I looked into the vacant eyes of a speechless old man and took his picture. I wondered how much more beauty my senses could handle.

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Community and free spirits in Ubud

Before I came to Korea, I never considered the Philippines or Indonesia as realistic vacation destinations. Return flights from Colorado to Bali weigh in at a whopping $2300. That’s out of the question for my (normally) broke ass.

But living in Korea changes things. The only direct flight from Seoul to Bali is still about $1000, but a six-hour flight is much more attractive than thirty hours from Denver.

So for my second solo trip, I chose to stay in Ubud, a town in central Bali where the foreigner culture looks like dreadlocks and smells like green juice. In no way is this a drawback for me. It seemed everyone I met mentioned manifesting a car or had just come from a community dance. I suspected part of Boulder’s population had relocated to Ubud, but alas, they had Australian accents.

I found an amazing community art house in Petulu, northern Ubud’s village famous for its white herons. Neon paint and poetry covered the walls, and residents and visitors alike were some of the most passionate people I’ve met in my travels. A local artist lives there, too–he makes art from recycled materials like tires and toothbrushes.

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I quickly realized that a community house differs significantly from a hostel. Unlike a hostel, everyone contributes in a community house, whether that means chipping in for Wifi or replenishing the dish soap. No one cleans up your mess.

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The reward is a greater sense of belonging and easy friendships with the people around you. There was always someone around for a shared conversation, meal, or motorbike ride into town.

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The first morning I climbed down from my bunk and stumbled into the living room, I met a girl who was headed to a dance at one of Ubud’s many yoga studios, the Yoga Barn. I tagged along, having no idea what kind of dance to expect at 10:00 on a Sunday morning.

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The Yoga Barn has a huge upstairs studio with hardwood floors, a high ceiling, and open sides for fresh air to sweep through. A DJ set up his turntables in the corner and put on some chilled-out music while waiting for everyone to arrive.

For the first time, I experienced music I’d love listening to at a club or lounge, without the substance-assisted environment that usually accompanies it. There were two rules: 1. No talking, and 2. Keep moving.

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By 10:00, the room was packed. People around me, for the most part, couldn’t dance any better or worse than me, but it was impossible not to go totally nuts and lose myself when the energy around me was so high and contagious.

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The dance lasted an hour and a half. Everyone in the room was sweaty and smiley by the time the DJ wound down the music and wrapped it up with a five-minute savasana.

I felt right at home.