Yoga in South Central Mindanao

I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again: When it comes to being a tourist destination, REGION 12 IS HIGHLY UNDERRATED. And as to being a Yoga Destination, it is UP and COMING. I mean, come on!

Just take a look at this fine stretch of white beach in Gumasa, Sarangani Province…

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…that you can have ALL TO YOURSELF on some days.

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See what I mean?

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Pay attention… TO ME. SEE?? ONLY. ME…

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…and the person taking the photo. And the group I came with, of course. You didn’t seriously think I would drive to the beach alone, did you? Or would I? Hmmmnn…

How about this super serene lake on top of Mt. Parker, T’boli, South Cotabato?

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Which, I again have all to myself…

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Well, okay I’m never really all by myself…

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But, you get it, right?!

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Also, take a look at this beautiful countryside yoga studio in Alabel, Sarangani Province where you can practice all you want…

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Peacefully…. privately…

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Just tell me when you want to… because I’d be very willing to share this space with you.

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Also, because I need to let security know to let you in. It’s not yet open to the public…

But this yoga studio in General Santos City is!!! Yoga – it’s more fun in GenSan!

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And you can come visit me here anytime!

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I’ll just be here. Hanging out.

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Stretching…

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Floating…

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Literally waiting for you to join my class hahaha…

So if you’re looking for your next yoga destination, please consider my beloved South Central Mindanao. Don’t forget to connect with Bodhi Yoga Center when you come here.

P.S. OUR REGION IS NOT A WAR ZONE. STOP SUBSCRIBING TO THAT IDEA. EDUCATE YOURSELF. Thank you! Namaste. Om shanti, shanti, shanti! 🙂

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Lake Holon: Everything I should have known before going there!

Disclaimer: These are the POV of a FIRST TIME TREKKER. So when I rate the level of discomfort or difficulty, I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m a yoga teacher-cum-entrepreneur, not a mountaineer. What do I know? Anyway, if you’re an experienced trekker, this blog won’t be any help to you. But if you’re someone who’s never been outside for more than 2 hours at a time, you might appreciate the info I put in here. So, read on…

Lake Holon is located on the crater of Mt. Parker, a stratovolcano… blah blah blah. Your tour guide will give you the geography and history lessons when you get there. This isn’t one of those blogs. Moving on, here are some things I wish I knew before I embarked on a journey to Lake Holon:

1. Transportation from T’boli Poblacion to Lake Holon receiving centers

Unless you take your own vehicle with you, the only method of transportation available from the T’boli Municipal Hall to Lake Holon’s receiving centers is the habal-habal. In case you have no idea what that is, it’s a single motorcyle with an extended seat to accommodate 3-4 passengers. The habal-habal ride is at least 1 hour and 30 minutes. And if you’ve never tried it, it’s going to be the most uncomfortable 90 minutes of your life. The moment you step out of T’boli poblacion (first 10 minutes), the concrete road ends and the entire journey winds up on dirt road. Prepare yourself for dust and/or moisture along the way. After the ride, I felt all my energy had been drained. I was told I sat wrong.

Apparently, the ideal way to sit on the habal-habal is to stick your torso as close to the person in front of you as possible and to place your foot directly under your knee. If you’re maarte like me, take the habal-habal. You need this experience in your life.

2. The Receiving Centers

Local Tourism Office in T’boli Municipal Hall – This is where our journey started, and probably yours too. This is the point of origin of the habal-habal ride. If you need to request for assistance such as vehicle and tour guide, coordinate with the local tourism office first, that way you won’t be lost. They will orient you (albeit not extensively) about what you can expect on the hike going to Holon. The tours are almost exclusively operated by the Local Government Unit. They are as helpful as they can be. Or at least they try. They’re working on it. Give them a break okay?!?! Hahahaha. Okay stop na.

From the Poblacion, you will need to drive to one of the receiving centers at the foot of Mt. Parker, either Salacafe or Kule. Which receiving center you choose will depend on how hardcore you’d want your trek to be. Again, may I remind you that my hardcore may not necessarily be your hardcore. And that’s fine. Don’t have any expectations na lang. 😉

Salacafe Receiving Center – If you want the “easier” trail going to Lake Holon, this is where you go. This is where you register and if you haven’t met your tour guide yet, this is probably where the tour guide will orient you. You must try their native coffee before you leave. I’m not sure if this receiving center is open for homestay.

Kule Receiving Center – Tourists can spend the night here in a traditional T’boli hut and experience T’boli hospitality. The locals can prepare their native coffee for you and they can prepare a warm dinner at a reasonable cost.

Kule Reveiving Center

Kule Reveiving Center

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Kule Receiving Center

3. The Trails

Kule Trail – As a trekking virgin, the Kule Trail proved to be a real challenge for me. Of course mountaineers and experienced hikers would tell you otherwise. But I really felt like I risked my life walking this trail. I slipped and fell probably 5-7 times on the freshly watered ground (it had been raining). Once, I nearly fell off a ravine. Good thing we had 2 porters, one walking directly in front of me when I fell on him, and the other one walking right behind me and caught me by my backpack.

Halfway through our descent to Lake Holon, I was already walking barefoot in the jungle because my training shoes were not hiking shoes and my bare feet held a better grip on the muddy surface. Lol. Next time I know better to wear something more moisture- and slip- resistant.

Falling for Holon!

Falling for Holon!

But it wasn’t all that bad. The trail traverses a beautiful rainforest. The amount of flora in the jungle was enough to convince me that we chose wisely when we decided to walk this trail. Halfway through, we passed by quiet streams, hot springs, and plants and trees I’ve never seen before.

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Natural hot springs along the Kule trail

Kule Trail

Kule Trail

Nearly two hours in the hike and we reached the viewdeck where we’re supposed to see all 304 hectares of Lake Holon. But when we got there, the fog made it impossible to see anything downhill. So we sat and waited. Personally, I asked the universe to give us a glimpse of Holon. Lo and behold, as if the universe took pity on my group, the fog was cleared for few beautiful seconds! It was amazing. The lake was as tranquil as it can be. It was love at first sight. I couldn’t wait to descend to see the lake up close.

View deck

View deck

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Maybe next time the fog would clear 100%

Would I recommend the Kule trail? Perhaps, if hiking is not new to you and you know the proper way to walk through mud without slipping. But if you’re a newbie like me, you’d enjoy the trip more if you take the easier route, which is the Salacafe Trail.

Salacafe Trail – This trail starts at Brgy. Salacafe receiving center. 3-4 hour trek going to the lake. The trail is wide and can accommodate an ATV. Fairly easy and suitable for complete beginners. It’s literally and figuratively a walk in the park. You can even do it on flipflops. Most of the trail goes uphill though, so your cardio-respiratory endurance will surely be challenged, especially for those who aren’t used to walking far (again it’s a 3-4 hour hike. Make sure you can last that long). We took this trail going back from the lake. By then I had exhausted all my energy to marvel on the beauty that was right in front of me. I guess it was still beautiful, I just no longer cared. IMG_1256 4. The Camp

Upon reaching Lake Holon, you shall set up camp directly by the lake side (ideally 30 meters from the shoreline but there’s just not that amount of flat land by the lake). Depending on your tour guide, you might have people there ready to catch wild tilapia from the lake and grill them for you. It’s gonna be a cold night. I did not regret taking a woolen blanket and a soft pillow with me.

Lake Holon Campsite

Lake Holon Campsite

My group did not camp in Lake Holon. We slept at the T’boli hut in Kule. It still felt like camping though.

5. The Costs

Be prepared to spend! From the tour guide, to the warm meals, to the porters, and the habal-habal, every experience merits a cost. The costs aren’t that high. But since they haven’t established a fee structure yet, it might seem like you are paying your way through the trip. Remember: WHAT HAS WORTH IS WORTH PAYING FOR!

Let me break down the costs for you (these are rough estimates, not accurate figures). Assuming you’re already in T’boli Poblacion, this will be the expenses you need to cover:

Habal-habal: Php 200 per person (from Poblacion to Sitio Kule one way, same price going back)
Habal-habal: Php 100 per person (from Poblacion to Brgy. Salacafe one way, same price going back)
Tour Guide: Php 500 pesos per day
Porter: Php 25 per Kg (to Holon, one way. Same price going back from Holon)
Meals: Php 50 per person per meal (This is a rough estimate, it really varies on what they serve. For instance, tilapia would be more costly than corn and that’s just how it is).
Native coffee: Php 15 per cup
Kule Receiving Center: Php 30 entrance fee
Kule Receiving Center Homestay: The cost of this hasn’t been established yet, but any donation from your heart to the local T’boli tribe would be of tremendous help.

6. The Yoga – my personal reflections I approached the entire trip like a moving meditation which I aptly gave the theme “Total Non-attachment to Comfort”. From the habal-habal ride to sleeping on bamboo floors, walking barefoot through the jungle, to feeling tired and sore by the time we reached the lake, and then walking back to civilization – every experience was, in a way, an activity so deviated from my comfort zone. IMG_1247 Every time I struggled through the trails (which was practically ALL THE TIME), I had to remind myself that I chose to be there. I also reminded myself that my struggles WEREN’T REAL. I mean sure it was uncomfortable and tiring, but I was in there for an adventure. Unlike so many others who have real battles – people who are battling drugs, depression, anxiety, hunger, thirst, prejudice, war – these are the people with real problems, not me. And so I kept walking. And basically each time I wanted to complain, I chose to shut up. Every time I slipped, I could have complained about how slippery the trail was. But I laughed with the T’boli porters instead.

The way I see it, you can either complain at every single thing life throws at you, or you can laugh about it. You have to gauge which is a more efficient use of your energy. I chose laughter – because complaining can only do so much.

By the time we reached Lake Holon, I was so exhausted that all that was left to do was sit in silence for a few minutes and just let the overwhelming beauty of nature wash over me. I had a meaningful meditation practice by the lake. It was as if I had to be that tired to just feel content in silence and stillness. As I sat there, exhaustion and all, I decided that it won’t be my last time in Lake Holon. I would endure the journey all over again just to be in a place as peaceful and heavenly as Lake Holon.

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Strike a (yoga) pose!

The journey to Holon – or any hidden piece of nature – can be likened to our journey back to the Creator. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. And indeed, since all of us are “rich” – one way or another – we have to really prove our worth if we want to behold something as precious as paradise.

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Peaceful Lake Holon

Cracking Knees

This blog post is long overdue. I was going to write a long, depressing piece on the hassles, struggles and sacrifices of opening your own yoga studio. But I decided to sleep on it and write about my cracking knees instead.

Yes. At age 25, I can feel my knees cracking each time I climb steps or rise up from a squatting position. And while it’s not really painful (yet), I was alarmed at how early I seem to experience *symptoms* of wear and tear. When I first noticed of this *symptom*, I did what any normal 21st century person would do. I consulted with Dr. Google. But every tidbit of information I got points out to one thing: “If it’s not painful, there’s nothing wrong with you.” And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Still I refuse to accept that cracking knees are normal for a person my age. Let alone for someone who does jump-backs for a living.

I stumbled upon a writing by the great guru, B.K.S. Iyengar in his book YOGA: The Path to Holistic Health. In the Iyengar Style of yoga, complete with an array of props, never is the student allowed to bend his knees during a Standing Forward Bend (use a block if it’s impossible to reach the floor, but never bend the knees). I realized I have been guilty of micro-bending my knees when I’m feeling particularly stiff. Apparently, you have to completely engage your hamstrings when in forward fold. That’s kind of the point of the posture. So bending your knees would somehow undermine the the benefits of this posture. Of course, I did not relate my cracking knees to this. At least not right away.

Lately, I have dedicated my afternoons to the practice of Ashtanga Primary Series. Using Iyengar’s alignment in my Sun Salutations has greatly improved the condition of my knees. I no longer feel them cracking whenever I climb the stairs. There’s still some cracking when I rise up from Malasana (yogi’s squat) though. I have to research how to exit the pose safely.

I wish I could spend more time being a student so I can learn about the different styles and methods that work and don’t work for my body. It’s never a one-size-fits-all approach but experiencing these things first hand gives me greater insight on what my students could possibly go through. After all, when it comes to teaching yoga, nothing means more to me than keeping my students safe in their practice.

My Christmas Week Schedule

Monday, December 22
8:00 AM – Marichi Yoga House – Vinyasa

Tuesday, December 23
4:00 PM – MetroLifestyle Fitness Center – Vinyasa

Saturday, December 27
4:00 PM – MetroLifestyle Fitness Center – Vinyasa

Dear Yoga Virgin: An open letter to anyone who’s about to join a yoga class for the first time

Dear Yoga Virgin,

Namaste! First of all, let me congratulate you for finally coming inside the confines of a yoga studio for the first time. You may not realize this today, or not even in your next few days of yoga practice, but you are doing yourself a favor. You see, yoga has long been practiced in Ancient India as a means to reach one’s enlightenment. Sure, that image of yoga has been overshadowed by Western ads featuring bikini yoginis in wildly impossible contortions, but I hope that as you step onto the yoga mat, you keep an open mind and an open heart about the experience that is about to unfold.

Before we continue, please switch your phone to Silent Mode and keep it inside your bag. Most likely, you won’t need it during class. You won’t even get time to check it.

Since this is your first time (and you’re probably in the gym about to take a Flow class, or in a studio waiting for your Ashtanga teacher), let me tell you in a very calm, yoga teacher voice, it will be the worst 60 (or 90) minutes of your life as you know it. Or at least that’s how I felt during my first time (because really, this is just me sharing what it was like for me and I assume it’s going to be the same for everyone). Again I ask you to keep an open mind and an open heart, and if possible, a straight spine during meditation (unless you have kyphosis or some other spinal condition). Exaggeration aside, yoga is probably harder than you initially imagined. It’s not just stretching limbs, you know. In a full yoga asana class, we stretch, we bend, we lift, we balance, we do push-ups and one-handed planks, we stand on our heads, and sometimes we take a fun ride using our arms. It’s a full body workout and you will use muscles you’ve been neglecting for years. You will have to execute some of the most awkward postures you’ve ever done, and there will be strange sensations you’ve never felt before. Suffice it to say that you will feel really sore the next day. Honor your body at all times. If your body is telling you to rest, please do so. If your body is telling you that it has reached a certain limit (of flexibility or stamina perhaps), listen to your body and don’t push beyond that.

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Credits to the owner of this image

Which brings me to my next point: Whatever happens in class (unless it’s an emergency), please, please, please (and I say this as a teacher), stay on the mat until the final Savasana (that little nap time at the end of class). If you have already endured the rigorous Sun Salutations, odds are you’ve endured the hardest, most tiring part of class, and you are well on your way to making peace with the asanas. And if you’re feeling really uneasy, you can always rest on your mat in a seated or lying down position. Don’t get me wrong, if you step out of the class, no one is going to judge you. But it’s distracting for other practitioners to see someone walk out pre-Savasana. It makes your teacher wonder if he/she did something wrong to be walked out on. Don’t worry though. He/she will move on the second you close the door and forget it ever happened. No judging, no explanations required. If you absolutely must leave before class ends, please lie down in Savasana for a minute or two before heading out. I promise you, that exact moment when you open your eyes after Savasana is probably one of the best feelings in the world that it actually offsets any of the initial physical awkwardness that you felt during the class. Of course, the reason why you feel such peace after Savasana was those tiny awkward moments you had to endure, and the relief knowing that you’ve already survived that.

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Credits to the owner of this image

I’m not aware of your intentions in coming to this particular yoga class. If you’re like me, you’re probably here just to try it out, not knowing what to expect, and completely devoid of any intention. You may or may not like your first experience. If you don’t enjoy the first time, I urge you to try at least two more times before you decide whether or not yoga is for you (I’m sure it is).

The yogic journey usually starts with working on the asanas (or postures). But in time, if you give yourself the chance, you will find out that yoga has a deeper purpose than that, and physical fitness is only one of the innumerable benefits of yoga. I’m not gonna dwell on that for now because your class is about to start and I don’t want to overwhelm you.

So just try to have fun and try to see past the perfection of your alignment. You are already beautiful as you are. Embrace yourself fully, for all your strengths and all your weaknesses, and you will breeze through this practice. Don’t pressure yourself if an asana seems too difficult. Just laugh at it and do what your body can handle. 🙂

Until here. Have a safe and meaningful practice.

Hari om,
Leona