Being a dancer, I always thought yoga would be a good fit. But in the US yoga is trendy and thus it’s expensive, so I never wanted to fork over the money to find out whether or not I liked it. But in Korea, where trendy doesn’t equal expensive, it’s a different story. Here, yoga is actually absurdly cheap (as long as it’s not Bikram yoga) despite its popularity. So I figured now was a great time to see if my suspicions about yoga were correct.
Within a few weeks of arriving here, I joined Prana Yoga Studio just two blocks down the street and instantly became an addict. (At $2 a class, it’s hard not to be!) Within a week I was already a regular at the 7:00 class taught daily by Chin, an adorable Korean woman with an endearing personality and English word bank of about 30 words. She also quickly took a liking to me, I think partly because I was one of three foreigners in the class (now one of one) and partly because she mistook my God-given gumbi-ness and dance-endowed body placement for yoga expertise. Even after discovering that I’m no veteran yoga-goer, made clear by my pitiful balance and the fact that I’m hopeless when it comes to deep breathing, she has set the bar high.
From day one Chin has been nothing short of persistent in challenging me to build my yoga prowess. She is unrelenting in her battle to get me to breathe properly, informs me regularly that I need to do lots of sit ups in my spare time (often using the entire class’s English abilities to stage this conversation), and encourages me into all the pretzel-like poses that no one else is willing to attempt, all the while asking “You are ok? You are ok?” We have definitely had moments where she pushed me into some position so bizarre or abnormal that I simply had to laugh, my limbs bent in ways they definitely shouldn’t be. With her help, I have finally conquered the rooster, embryo in womb, supported headstand, and final asanas, all of which my body had stubbornly rejected for the first 2 months or so. All of this has earned me one of the coveted spots in the front of the class.
Yes, the language barrier poses some obstacles, but I’ve memorized the general routine and can pick up most variations from watching. Plus, if I can’t figure out my body placement with the help of my 19 years of dance, Chin will come along and manhandle me into the proper position. I’ve also picked up on some Korean words. Something that sounds like “bashigo” is inhale, while exhale is something close to “daeshigo.” There’re also a handful of other terms that I won’t even try to spell but I at least recognize as cues to do various forms of stretching, breathing, or moving. Of course, there are always times when I am utterly lost in translation, like those times when Chin will give an instruction that makes no sense in the context – “point” and “jump” are very basic instructions but when I’m being told to point my hip or jump when I’m sitting on the floor I’m at a complete loss. I have yet to figure out the translation.
With all of the sweating and pretzeling I wouldn’t say yoga has been as relaxing as it’s cracked up to be. But even with the ratio of time spent relaxing to contorting being about one to three, the last 15 minutes of class are enough to shake off any of the stress and strain still clinging to me after a day with screaming children. I must admit, the defining moment of my whole yoga experience comes in these last 15 minutes when we simply lay on the heated floors under flannel blankets while Chin circulates amongst the class, dotting our noses with eucalyptus oil before commencing a brief but wonderful arm and chest massage.
With all of that, I always leave the studio feeling some combination of unwound, triumphant, exhausted, and content. And as Chin always offers her farewell of “Okaaay. Thank yooou. See you Monday!” (no matter what day it is) I never fail to leave smiling.