The great outdoors

In January, Katherine, a student of mine, vacationed in Waikiki. Slender and fit, in her 50s, she’s an avid beginner yogi and wanted to find a convenient yoga class. While I’m from Hawaii, I have no firsthand knowledge of Waikiki yoga; she ended up trying Dennis and his Chocolate-Pineapple Sports-Yoga Studio.

According to Katherine, the instructor is fluent in Japanese and targets Japanese tourists for his outdoor classes, on the sand at Waikiki Beach or on the lawn at Kapi‘olani Park. The day she dropped in on his “park yoga” class, the 15 or so other participants were Japanese girls; Katherine was the only non-Japanese and the only English speaker.

Dennis taught the whole class in Japanese (!), but that was the least of the oddities:

  • He started more than a half-hour late, without apology, sauntering leisurely to and from the park restroom after he arrived.
  • During the class, he sent a text message and, when his cell phone rang, he answered it.
  • He taught poses geared to experienced students, although his website states “All levels are welcome” and  “Grandma can do it; she loved it!”
  • He tried to impress the class with his asana skills and all the positions he could do. (This might work with Japanese tourists, for whom yoga is just another tourist attraction. They were taking pictures of one another during the class!)

“I know Hawaii is the ‘hang loose’ state,” Katherine said, “but vacationers often have other things to do with the rest of their day. I think of yoga as a respectful practice—that element was definitely lacking.”

If you read this prior post, you know I’m a big sampler of yoga teachers, classes, and studios. So, despite Katherine’s wasted $20, I encourage dropping in on classes wherever you travel. Just remember: caveat emptor.

Why outdoor yoga?

Outdoor yoga is a selling point. I can see why. Nature’s beauty is incomparable, and being outdoors does viscerally remind of us of the Bigger Picture. But I’m not gaga about outdoor yoga.

First, while I welcome an outdoor view while doing yoga, I also value a level floor, a solid wall, and shade from the sun. Yes, I’ve done vrksasana on powdery Hawaiian sand (balance guaranteed). And I’ve found giant trees to be soothing company for still sitting (see Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke and see the spirit of trees come alive!). But I generally prefer an airy room with lots of windows.

Second, outdoor yoga typically means public outdoor yoga: huge classes at a go-to location, surrounded by onlookers. To me, yoga requires a degree of privacy and solitude. Indoors, even large yoga classes are sans audience. But doing outdoor yoga at public beaches and parks is a spectacle. Passersby can’t help gawking. Maybe it’s part of the practice to ignore spectators, but why create that situation? And, if you welcome the attention (as this Dennis character seems to), why?

In contrast, private outdoor yoga—whether at a secluded retreat or on your own back porch— sounds quite lovely.

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8 thoughts on “The great outdoors

  1. Outdoor yoga can be beautiful, but also messy!! Just like the great outdoors. 🙂

    I am not a huge fan of beach yoga, I have to say – the sand gets everywhere, and it’s impossible to find firm footing because the sand keeps shifting under you! But, it’s great for practicing headstands – nice soft ground eases the pressure right off.

    Another thing is the bugs…

    But I do love being surrounded by clean air and by the energy of nature, and combining that with a practice of yoga. A grassy setting works well, or a little pavilion built into a beautiful garden!

    Sad story about teachers like Dennis though – although it sounds like he and his Japanese tourist/students were one of a kind.

  2. There are a few great yoga shala’s in Hawaii. I have never tried chocolate yoga but do love Purple Yoga (my favorite is Cathy Louise) and Yoga Hawaii has a variety of classes with great teachers as well. Sorry she had a bad experience.

  3. I just got back from a trip to Mexico with a bunch of people from my yoga teacher training class, which just finished last week. We did a spontaneous class on the beach. Learning to engage the muscles differently was intense on the beach, but sharing that space, the spontaneity, the ocean, and the sand, was amazing. Being approached by a woman offering massages while we were in padagusthasana was less than fun, but it was part of that experience and that moment. We were able to hold our space even with onlookers. Normally that would irk me, but that day it just felt right. I am getting more and more excited about bringing yoga to the people and simply doing yoga in public is one way to help the yoga-curious find courage to try it out one day . . . at least I hope that is what happens.

  4. Thanks for commenting, LaG, Ewok, and Rebecca: Just want to add that I, too, know excellent studios in Hawaii. I love my home islands and would never gratuitously malign them! Rather, I wanted to show one example of what’s “out there.”

    Public practice would indeed introduce yoga to people who are hesitant actually to try it. Perhaps what’s key is the mindset of the practitioner: Is one internally directed and humble? Or is one trying to impress others and to put on a show?

    I agree that sand is a quirky yoga surface unless slightly moist, slightly packed!

  5. Aloha!

    I’m Dennis Miller, the instructor for Chocoate-PIneapple Sports-Yoga.
    I love PR, so thank you, but I wish it could have been better. I hope it is okay if I make a reply with a little of my point of view.

    class start time: people meet at 9:00 am at the waikiki trade center, and then walk to Kapiolani Park. There, at the entrance, is a surfer boy statue. That is the 9:30 am meeting place for repeaters. From there, we walk another minute into the park and find a shady spot under a large tree. Also, a very public spot. For the park yoga, we are on the grass, using yoga mats which I provide. Sorry, but I have my doubts about the class starting in the park 30 minutes late. Maybe she thought the class start time would be 9:00 am? If I was 10 minutes late, I rush and apologize.

    I avoid the phone during class. I’m not a person who sends text messages, (ever; i don’t text) but she must have observed me making a phone call. I own and operate a day spa and the massage office where yoga people meet. If the receptionist called me repeatedly over and over, I will answer the phone, assuming there is some sort of ‘important thing.’ That is rare and regrettable.

    Here is a really big issue I take with your friends comments:

    My class is absolutely bilingual. the instruction is 50% in English and 50% in Japanese. If anyone secretly records my class and finds otherwise, I’ll give you a $100 cash on the spot, but if you record my class, you will hear a 50 50 bilingual class. I do make more corrections in the language of the majority. but, I speak english first with each new item.

    A lot of the visitors who take my class say they are and seem to be complete beginners. not all, i get a wide range. If 16 Japanese beginners take my class, and one American with some yoga background takes my class, then it is likely that the amount of corrections will be weighted on the side who needs it.

    However, here is my theory on why, even now, some people still swear I don’t speak English in class; our brains tune out unnecessary ambient noises. my Japanese speaking becomes an unnecessary ambient noise, and soon, the American student just tunes me out. For my beach yoga class, we are next to the surf. Wind, waves, and a foreign language, and yoga material that may not be to a ‘traditional yogi’s’ liking, and discomfort with Japanese people, adds up to tuning me out.

    I have also noticed this: if an American appears at the beginning of class to be uncomfortable with the other non americans present, and if the American speaks up and says something like, “I don’t speak Japanese” then, nearly 100% of those people have had a highly negative experience in my class. If on the other hand, and this is the majority, the American/Australian, UK, Canadian, other person doesn’t begin with negative remarks, then they generally enjoy my class. I have my hard core fans, too.

    About me being a show off, lacking humility, i think this is silly, and such a comment speaks to the lack of thoughtfulness of the complainer. I love my class, and I enthusiastically share it with everyone who comes. Read my yelp reviews, both the negative ones and many filtered ones, which are detailed with honest positiveness.

    My class is not for any one group. It is for each person gifts me with the offering of their time, and their open minded attention.

    About doing yoga outdoors, I used to feel self conscious about it. Now, I just think it is normal. Being unable to be comfortable doing yoga in view of others speaks to being fearful. forget fear, and tune in to nature.

    About doing yoga on the beach, I have a question for people who feel that a firm floor is necessary. If you can relate your body to a firm floor, why can’t you relate your body to a shifting surface? If you can’t, then you are stuck in a kind of insistence on permanence, perhaps.

    Here is why I love love yoga on the sand. Dry sand, please, wet sand is yucky, unless you’re going all the way, and standing in little waves, but that is a whole other topic.

    The sand shifts, and so do I.

    I adjust myself to the sand. my core has to do double work do maintain a safe alignment for the knees and feet. the act of responding to a shifting surfaces is humbling, challenging, and invigorating. not to mention fun!!! to be clear, i’m talking about standing on the sand, not on a mat on the sand.

    you know, pure yoga people are working towards samadhi, right? what part of samadhi excludes innovation and enjoyment of your ‘self?’

    I hope some people who read this will take my class.

    Sincerely,

    Dennis

    1. Dennis:

      Thanks for commenting on my post from April 2010. I’m glad you found it.

      I appreciate your detailed, thoughtful response. My intention was never to malign another yoga teacher, but writing a post based on secondhand information might have done just that. I promise to try your class the next time I’m on O‘ahu. I’m a kama‘aina of Hilo, so I usually bypass O‘ahu and go straight to the Big Island, but I’m due for a Honolulu visit soon.

      Sincere mahalo and aloha,
      YogaSpy

      1. Mahalo!

        if you come, mention that you have a HI ID. Everyone with a HI ID gets first class free.

        I’d love to share with you. and, thanks for not ripping me for daring to reply. replying can sometimes be contentious….as my yelp replies show.

        Have a great day,

        Dennis

  6. there are other beach yoga classes held in Waikiki and they are held on the grass for a flat ground. yoga outdoors is you in your most natural state, connected with all natures elements, challenging your body and mind. inner peace comes with practice. inner peace needs to be there regardless of anything going on around you, especially in times of adversity. practicing outdoors you can see your progress in transcending all other sights or sounds, focusing on your inner core and feeling people in all of life passing by. look up reviews yourself to see what others say. taught well, with a flexible mindset from yourself, it wont be like any indoor yoga you’ve ever done.

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