After a month in Seoul, I have taken one hiphop dance class and one yoga class in Korean (and one yoga class in English). And I have a new appreciation for language. My hiphop teacher didn’t know any English so I was prepared to keep my eyeballs peeled on his body (to study his movement and for nothing else!) only to be pleasantly surprised to hear counts in English followed by instructions in Korean littered with words like “tight-uh!” and “sloooow” and “hard!” I was glad for his efforts and also felt somewhat embarrassed (?) that he was using English especially for me- I was the only foreigner in the class and it was quite obvious because all the other girls (no males in the class) knew each other so I felt a bit self conscious of the privilege I was afforded yet grateful nonetheless. (As an aside – for those of you interested, the hiphop choreo in Korea uses Western music [Usher, Ne-yo] and since many of the teachers don’t understand English, the choreo is primarily done to the beats. Thus, musicality is a bit different and so I had to exert more effort to try to hear the music the way he did and not the way I am used to hearing it. In essence, I had to listen to a song as though I could not understand the words.
At times, it felt like the choreo was half a second off which was a bit distracting for me. I gave it a chance but I definitely prefer the style of the US. Or perhaps I just need to try a different choreographer. Anyway…). Similarly, when I went to hot yoga with a Korean instructor, I had to learn a movement which I’ve known for years in a new way. We spent 15 minutes (“we” being me, the girl working the front, and the instructor) just trying to have a conversation about what the heck I wanted (1 class versus 20), what the fee was (10,000 or 20,000 won), and logistics (when you check-in, you leave your shoes in a locker by the entrance, and put on the studio’s sandals which obediently await you, then proceed to the shower room to change and leave your non-shoe belongings in the second locker. And if you need to use the toilet, you switch to designated “outside” sandals since you need to exit the studio and walk down the hall). I had the fortune of being the only student this particular day and so the instructor was able to focus all her attention on me and help me understand what “Down duku” (down dog) meant, adjust my asanas, demonstrate vinyasa since I didn’t understand what she was saying… We had a grand ol’ time. She was very sweet and helpful, and because I was the only student, I survived the class. (A word on “hot” yoga. It’s the thing in Korea – you see hot yoga everywhere. So the yoga classroom felt heated. The floors, the ceilings, everything felt 5-10 degrees warmer. I don’t sweat much but I was pretty damp by the middle of the class – and doing sun salutations put me in postural hypotension several times [thank you EPPP], which is not normal. I was surprised afterward to find out that I in fact, that had not experienced a form of bikram. Instead, I had simply taken a regular yoga class without AC. So hot yoga doesn’t just mean bikram but any yoga class you take here is going to be hot). All in all, I am glad to have signed up with a yoga studio that is walkable from the apartment and does not cost an arm and a leg (the English class was about $27 for 70 minutes – that’s 50% more than what I paid for yoga in Irvine/Newport Beach area!). Listening to instruction in Korean is going to be challenging because it disrupts the peaceful gushiness (which I live for) that often accompanies yoga – the calming voice of the instructor, the peaceful mind I have when following instructions that I understand with my eyes closed, while synchronizing my breath and movement. Sure, I will have to sacrifice listening to instruction in a language I understand but hey, when in Rome… er, Seoul… needless to say, knowing the language would make my life just that much easier – and the instructors’ lives too.
(P.S. – Many Koreans aren’t interested in the spiritual part of yoga. When the class approaches savasana, girls roll up their mats and exit the room. I, on the other hand, live for and appreciate every delicious second of savasana – it has been some of the best Stage 4 sleep of my life [thanks again EPPP]. I find this interesting… the East Asianization, or rather, the Koreanization of yoga… TBC).