Category Archives: Yoga & Fitness

BaliSpirit Festival: A Review of My Favorite Workshops

Earlier this year, I participated in the BaliSpirit Festival (BSF) as a member of the Bali Spirit Team. Founded 10 years ago, BSF is a celebration of yoga, dance, and music which takes place in Bali, Indonesia. As the Spirit Team’s “Goddess of Joy,” I worked with other volunteers behind the scene to make the event a successful one. During the weeklong festival, I had the opportunity to attend a number of workshops, classes, and performances. Below is a synopsis of my five favorite workshops.

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Spirit Team 2017!

1. Daniel “Sonic” Rojas: Embodied Dance
Singapore-based Daniel “Sonic” Rojas shared “Embodied Dance,” his own style of movement with festival attendees. Embodied Dance combines elements of yoga, capoeira, popping, breakdance, parkour, and contemporary dance to give individuals a unique way of expressing themselves. Daniel guided us through a series of exercises to attune us to various muscle groups and musical frequencies, enabling us to connect to our physical and emotional selves. His class was energetic and empowering; it provided us with tools to communicate our feelings through the flow of our bodies and our breath.

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2. Bex Tyrer & Carlos Romero: Flying High into Bali Skies – AcroYoga for All
As an acroyoga teacher, I am aware of how challenging it can be to teach moves that are challenging and achievable to students with diverse backgrounds and skill levels, more so when those students are from all over the world! Given that, I think that Bali-based teachers Bex Tyrer and Carlos Romero did an excellent job. Instead of focusing on standard L-basing moves (when the base is on the ground and the flyer is balanced on the base’s feet and hands) which are the ABCs of acroyoga, they skipped straight to mid-alphabet by introducing standing acrobatics to more than 50 participants. They made standing acro accessible to the group by presenting poses in a fun and participatory way. We stood and fell on top of each other, but we did so with smiles on our faces!

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3. Vincent Bolleta: Hansa Yoga
Vincent Bolleta, a yoga teacher from New Zealand, combines humor with extensive knowledge of biomechanics, yoga therapy, movement therapy, and postural analysis. His workshop initially appealed to me because of his inventive flow. His imaginative sequencing of asana forced me and the other students to exercise our limbs and brains in a manner dissimilar to what we are accustomed to experiencing in traditional yoga classes. Vincent explained that by exercising the muscles in this unusual way, Hansa Yoga practitioners are able to heal and strengthen their bodies. In addition to a physical practice, Vincent’s workshops consisted of talks about how to bring awareness of the breath and bandhas into our daily lives, techniques which I have since absorbed into my personal yoga practice.

4. Nicole Barrote: Yoga Dance Soulful Striptease
When I heard that there was a yoga dance class called “Soulful Striptease,” I was skeptical at first. American instructor Nicole Barrote encouraged us to bring a playful attitude and open mind, however, so I showed up ready to learn and to dance! Nicole showed us JAMA Yoga, also known as Journey Around Movement, a combination of yoga and dance aimed at eliciting students’ confident and energetic sides. Sure enough, the moment the bhangra warm-ups started, I was throwing my hands up in the air and having a ball! Sadly I couldn’t stay for the striptease portion of the class as I had to return to volunteer duty, but I have no doubt that it was a blast.

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5. Eoin Finn: Slow Flow
Canadian Eoin Finn is the founder of Blissology Yoga, a name which made perfect sense the moment I stepped on my mat and felt the bliss and joy emanating from him and his wife, Insiya. Eoin taught a slow Vinyasa flow, encouraging us not to drive our heart rates up but to quiet our minds and enjoy each sensation of the practice. We ended the class by collectively singing the song “Let It Be” by The Beatles, a sincere performance which would melt even the most cynical heart.

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I hope you enjoyed the review and look forward to seeing you at BaliSpirit Festival 2018!

Images courtesy of BaliSpirit Festival and Axel Hebenstreit.

 

 

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Captivated by Cambodia: A Travel Guide

Thailand is known for its spicy curries, the Philippines for its white sand beaches, and Vietnam for its lush landscapes, but there is something about Cambodia that draws one in and compels one to stay. What is it about Cambodia that I find so appealing?

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Cambodia is a country of contrasts: a country of ancient civilization and adolescent citizens, local markets and foreign boutiques, of homegrown circus performers and international film stars, of old line politicians and avant-garde artists. Read on to discover the experiences that await you in Cambodia!

Siem Reap
Siem Reap is the most touristy and my least favorite city in Cambodia, but is worth a visit because it is home to the Angkor ruins, an ancient complex dating back nearly a thousand years. From 900 to 1200 A.D., Khmer kings ordered the construction of thousands of Hindu and Buddhist temples.

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If you have one day, make sure you see sunrise over Angkor Wat, the smiling faces of Bayon, the sandstone carvings of Preah Khan, and The Tomb Raider tree at Ta Prohm. If you have three or more days, you can admire the intricate carvings at Banteay Srei or reenact scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark at Beng Melea. After a long day at the Angkor temples, unwind at ABBA Café’s rooftop lounge, eat a tasty vegetarian meal at Banllé Vegetarian Restaurant or Chamkar Vegetarian Restaurant, or sample the homemade ice cream at The Blue Pumpkin. For more information on the Angkor temples, suggested sightseeing itineraries, and accommodation and restaurant recommendations, read my guide to Siem Reap.

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Phnom Penh
Many travelers will tell you to skip Phnom Penh, but I had a lovely time wandering around town, going on self-guided tours of the city, exercising along the riverside, and unwinding at the cinema.

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Travelers interested in Cambodia’s history can browse the ancient Khmer artefacts at the National Museum of Cambodia or listen to guides’ stories about life under the Khmer Rouge at Choueng Ek (the Killing Fields) and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (formerly the S-21 Prison). Architecture buffs and the spiritually-minded should check out the Royal Palace, Wat Phnom, Wat Botum Vatey, and Wat Ounalom. For those interested in people watching, take a stroll down the historic riverside of Sisowath Quay at dusk or participate in a group exercise class in Royal Palace Park or Wat Bottom Park at night. Travelers looking for more relaxing activities can attend a movie marathon at one of The Flicks Community Movie Houses or experience a 4D movie at Aeon Mall. For more details on the sights, entertainment choices, and international dining options Cambodia’s capital city has to offer, read my guide to Phnom Penh.

Battambang
While the bulk of international tourists’ exposure to Cambodia is limited to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, the country has much more to offer. In my mind, no visit to Cambodia is complete without a visit to Battambang. Cambodia’s second largest city, it feels much more like a small, sleepy town and, as such, is easy to explore on foot. Due to its burgeoning art scene, Battambang is gaining recognition as the creative capital of Cambodia. Attend a performance of Phare the Cambodian Circus or take a self-guided tour of Battambang’s art galleries.

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The attractions around the city can easily be seen by way of a one-day tuk-tuk tour. Don’t worry about booking transportation in advance, as a horde of tuk-tuk drivers offering tours will mob you the moment you step off the bus from Siem Reap. You will start your tour with a fun ride aboard the Bamboo Train before climbing the 360 stairs to the top of Wat Banan Temple. After lunch, your driver will take you the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau, one of the sites of the Khmer Rouge’s mass executions. You will end the day by witnessing the breathtaking phenomenon of thousands of bats flying out of the Bat Cave at sunset. Look at my guide to Battambang to hear about the city’s emerging art scene, read restaurant recommendations, and learn which celebrity was directing a movie during my visit!

Kampot
If you’re looking for rest and relaxation, Kampot is the place for you! Kampot, a charming town famous for its pepper and riverside setting, was my favorite place to visit in Cambodia. My friends and I spent four wonderful days eating terrific food, dining at cute cafés, watching movies at the cinema, chilling by the river, and exploring the 19th century French colonial architecture.

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For great views of the river and terrific food, stay at Samon’s Village. Stop by Wonderland for Belgian ice cream and homemade popsicles or spend a lazy afternoon brunching, snacking, and reading at Epic Arts Café. Enjoy Mediterranean tapas with local, nutritious, and vegetarian ingredients at Deva Café or grab bread and croissants on the go at L’Epi D’or Bakery & Café. If you’re missing watching movies at home, you and your friends can rent a private movie room at Ecran Movie House or buy a day pass to watch the three movies it screens daily. Hungry? You can order hand-pulled noodles and homemade vegetable dumplings from Ecran’s restaurant. For more detailed travel recommendations, read my guide to Kampot.

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Chi Pat
Travelers looking to experience the “real Cambodia,” should arrange a stay with the Community Based Ecotourism (CBET) project in Chi Pat village, located amidst the Cardamom Mountains in Koh Kong Provice. CBET aims to protect the Cardamom rainforest and provide inhabitants income-generating opportunities by transforming former loggers and wildlife poachers into tour guides, guest house owners, and taxi drivers. CBET offers travelers trekking, mountain-biking, kayaking, and camping expeditions through the jungle, as well as opportunities to stay at homestays in Chi Pat village. For detailed information about how to get to Chi Pat, what to do there, and what to expect, read my guide to Chi Pat.

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Sihanoukville
As Cambodia’s top beach destination, Sihanoukville is much more expensive than the rest of Cambodia. While I do not find its beaches as beautiful as those in Thailand or the Philippines, they have white sand, warm water, and calm waves which make them ideal for sunbathing and swimming. Plus, with fewer crowds the only sounds you’ll hear are the breeze blowing, waves lapping against the shore, and the occasional snack seller hawking her wares.

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Travelers wanting to get away from it all can stay on one of the islands off of Cambodia’s coast, such as Koh Rong Samloem (not to be confused with the party island of Koh Rong) and Koh Ta Kiev, but beware as the islands have limited hours of electricity, bucket baths and Asian-style toilets, and no wifi. Personally, my top choice in Sihanoukville for fun in the sun is Otres Beach because of its many shade-providing trees, laid-back environment, beachside restaurants, and Cambodian vacationers. You don’t have to leave the sand to enjoy a brunch of Eggs Florentine or Baked Eggs at Sea Garden or appreciate the homemade pizza, pasta, and cheesecake at Pappa Pippo. Other nice beaches include Sokha Beach and Independence Beach. You can use Holiday Palace Resort’s day beds if you buy a drink from Palais Coffee; Palais makes a yummy Ferrero Rocher Frappe.

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Last but not least, travelers interested in developing or deepening a yoga practice can attend a yoga and meditation retreat at Vagabond Temple. Retreats are open to beginners and advanced practitioners alike. The Temple also offers detoxification programs, Reiki courses, and healing sessions.

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More Guides to Cambodia:
Guide to Siem Reap
Guide to Phnom Penh
Guide to Battambang
Guide to Kampot
Guide to Chi Pat
Vegetarian Guide to Cambodian Cuisine

 

 

Tadasana in Every Asana

In the yoga world, we often say “Tadasana in every asana” because Mountain Pose is the basis of every standing posture, and many seated postures as well. Tadasana is one of my favorite asanas (postures) because it brings the body into correct alignment. During my yoga teacher training, I became keenly aware of the fact that I do not hold my body properly or walk in a straight line. Consequently, I, like many other people I know, have misaligned hips and shoulders. Practicing Tadasana I have the opportunity to balance my ankles, knees, hips, torso, and shoulders, while activating muscles from my head down to my toes. I apply the same movement principles in Tadasana to enter mindfully into other postures like Virabhadrasana (Warrior), Parsva Virabhadrasana (Side Warrior), and Vrksasana (Tree), or while standing at home, at the office, or in a line.

To learn more about the importance of Tadasana, its benefits, and instructions for getting into the pose, read more.

 

Angkor Body Building Association and Café

I discovered ABBA Café on my last trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Located across the river from the Angkor Night Market, ABBA Café is a rooftop lounge and restaurant. With its hanging lanterns, stylish décor, and romantic atmosphere, ABBA would be an ideal spot to go for a date or to relax and enjoy a cool rooftop breeze after a long and hot day touring Angkor Wat.

ABBA’s menu comprises a small number of dishes from Cambodia, Korea, Japan, and Italy. While only four of the dishes are marked as vegetarian, the kitchen is more than willing to modify its other items to accommodate vegans, vegetarians, and other people with dietary restrictions. I appreciated the servers’ consideration in asking if I ate fish sauce and cheese before delivering my order to the cooks.

In honor of International Women’s Day, ABBA was offering a free fresh fruit cocktail to every one of its women diners. Since I don’t drink alcohol, they graciously provided me with a Passion Fruit Shake which arrived frozen, tangy, and sweet.

I ordered the Fried Spring Rolls and Lasagna Vegetable for my appetizer and entrée. The spring rolls were nothing special, but the lasagna was a flavorful fusion of Italian and Asian cuisines which combined vegetables typical of Cambodian food like cucumber, carrot, and Thai eggplant were mixed with Italian staples such as creamy tomato sauce, zucchini, red and green peppers, and Parmesan cheese. Topped with al dente lasagna sheets, the pasta had a satisfying crunch.

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Image of Sam Bonan, Mr. Angkor 2014, via Angkor Bodybuilding Association

I conversed at length with one of the managers and learned that ABBA is not a reference to the Swedish pop band, but is an acronym for the Angkor Bodybuilding Association, which is headed by the café’s owner, Rocky Lee. ABBA’s goal is to promote bodybuilding in Cambodia in order to boost fitness, health care, diet, and discipline among locals (an ideal spot for a fitness blogger to dine!). To this end, ABBA hosts an annual bodybuilding competition. Thirty percent of ABBA Café’s revenues go to support ABBA and charitable undertakings. In the past, the Café has directed funds to Angkor Hospital for Children, Jayavarman  VII Children’s Hospital, water and sanitation projects, rural schools, and healthcare schemes.

Images of ABBA school charity event via Angkor Bodybuilding Association

I had an enchanting evening at ABBA Café. The dishes were very reasonably priced given the fine food, genial waiters, swanky setting, and attention to detail. If you’re in Siem Reap, be sure to stop by and support Angkor Bodybuilding Association and Café.

 

Featured image of ABBA Café via TripAdvisor

 

 

 

Weekly Workout: Public Gym in Phnom Penh

I was walking along the historic riverside of Sisowath Quay on my way from the Royal Palace to the temple of Wat Phnom one Sunday afternoon in Phnom Penh when an unexpected sight caught my eye.

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Free outdoor exercise equipment?! I had to try it!

 

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Doing dips on the parallel bars
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Giving the rickety rowing machine a go!

I spent the next hour playing on the parallel bars, tottering on the balance beams, and fooling around on the various other pieces of equipment. What I loved about the experience was the diversity of equipment users. When I lived in Brazil, I saw mostly very fit young men utilizing the outdoor gyms. In contrast, teenage boys, young children, elderly men, and middle-aged women alike enjoyed the exercise machines.

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A middle-age woman stretches her hamstrings on the  parallel bars

I finally resumed my journey only to come across a group of Cambodians showing off their Sai skills.

Doeurt Sai is the Khmer name for a game in which players form a circle and keep a shuttlecock in the air by kicking and hitting it to each other. I was impressed by the player’s skills, and was thrilled (and mildly embarrassed by my lack of skills) when they let me join in.

After some time, I continued on my way. I stopped when I heard music blaring and saw Cambodian men and women participating in a dance aerobics class. A few meters away stood a cute girl in a yellow dress who couldn’t help but dance along to the beat. Naturally, I had to join in and get my groove on.

I never did make it to the temple that day but I had a lovely afternoon working out with Cambodians up and down the riverside walk.

P.S. I have since learned that Cambodians all over the country enjoy exercising outdoors. I can’t imagine a better place for me to be!

The Yoga of Scuba Diving

Having recently completed my PADI Open Water Diver Certification at Ocean Sound Dive + Yoga in Koh Tao, Thailand, I was amazed by the parallels between scuba diving and yoga. As part of the Open Water course, students must practice flooding and detaching their masks, removing and retrieving their regulators (the mouthpiece through which they breathe), and sharing their air with a buddy. All of these skills seemed like a piece of cake during the classroom portion of the course. It was a completely different story the moment I entered the water.

I panicked when I had to remove my mask and regulator. A voice in my head said, “Water is going to flood your nose! You’re not going to be able to hold your breath long enough! You’re going to drown!!!” At the same time, another voice assured me, “You can still breathe. Inhale through the air source in your mouth and exhale through your nose.” This brings me to the yoga of scuba diving.

During my yoga teacher training, we referred to the second voice as prana, meaning the “life force” and “primal energy.” Prana also signifies “inward moving energy” because it refers to the circulation of air through the body, i.e. the breath. Since prana flows inward, practice of pranayama (breathing techniques to extend the breath) helps one develop inner awareness. For this reason, yoga teachers often encourage their students to focus on their breath. The opposite of prana is apana, “outward moving energy,” or downward-moving airs which eliminate waste products from the body. Apana pulls the energy outside of the body, directing one’s focus on the external world. Apana was the first voice which valued survival of the physical body above all else. One needs both prana and apana to sustain one’s body and function in the world. Through the practice of yoga, pranayama in particular, these energies flow together allowing the practitioner to achieve self-consciousness.

A benefit of taking the Open Water course at a school that teaches both scuba diving and yoga is having dive instructors who are familiar with yoga and pranayama. When I entered the water a second time and felt the terror rising in my chest, my diving instructor reminded me to breathe. “Inhale,” he signaled. “Exhale.” We inhaled and exhaled together for several breaths, in the same way as my students and I practice pranayama together during yoga classes. As I continued to focus on my breathing, the apana subsided and the prana rose. With the increase in prana came the realization that everything would be alright; there would be enough air in my tank and in my lungs as long as I continued to inhale and exhale. During my next four dives, the apana emerged again and again, but each time I took a few deep breaths, re-centered myself, and had fun!

What is the yoga of scuba diving? “Remember to breathe.”

P.S. Since completing the Open Water Diver Certification, I returned to Koh Tao to complete my Advanced Open Water Diver Certification with Ocean Sound Dive & Fitness (see my review of Ocean Sound Dive + Yoga). I still feel afraid every time I enter the ocean, but as I continue to bring my attention to my breath the worries fade and are replaced by excitement and wonder.

Photo credit: Marta Nowak