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A fusion workout for mind and body

It's Budokon, the latest fitness trend that melds martial arts, yoga and meditation.

October 24, 2005|Merrill Balassone | Times Staff Writer

IN Los Angeles, fitness trends seem to shift as quickly as those in food and fashion. Hip instructors -- just like chefs or designers -- are always mixing it up, looking for a new and exciting combination.

But in this capital of fusion, I was a meat-and-potatoes person. Twice a week, I ran the same four miles, with nary a detour. But the longer I lived here, the more I warmed to the idea of kimchi pizza, or shearling boots worn with miniskirts. So I decided to try a fusion workout.

The offerings were mind-boggling: karaoke spinning, stand-up comedy ab workouts, hip-hop Pilates.

I chose Budokon, a combination of meditation, yoga and martial arts. The grouping seemed strange at first; I imagined chanting my way to a deadly roundhouse kick.

I arrived for my first Budokon conditioning class at Santa Monica's Equinox Fitness Club having no yoga experience and no martial arts training. I pulled out a mat from a shelf in the back of the studio and took my position with six other women.

Maura Barclay, who wore a red karate belt to signify her status as a Budokon instructor, sported some seriously ripped shoulders and biceps. She led us through a few minutes of zazen meditation.

We stood with eyes closed, some with hands by their sides or with palms facing the ceiling, and I tried to quiet my thoughts, which were swirling around the USC football score. The Trojans were down with only minutes left in the game when I went into the Saturday afternoon class.

"I want you to ask yourself what it is that you need today," Barclay said, circling the room. "Is it a workout? Is it a transformation?"

A touchdown would be nice, I thought.

Minds quieter, we began our yoga postures. Budokon combines all forms of hatha, or physical yoga.

Barclay circled the room, offering one-on-one critiques and shifting our bodies into the correct positions. She emphasized slow movement between poses. With my muscles burning, I found it difficult to focus on seamless transitions. It took all my strength to keep my body from plopping artlessly down on the mat.

Sitting back in an imaginary chair, we crossed one ankle over the knee of our anchor leg, folding at the waist. This was the preparation for "flying pigeon," which Barclay demonstrated. Keeping her legs in the pose, she leaned forward, and balanced on her hands so her standing leg left the floor.

My flying pigeon crashed gracelessly on its butt. I wasn't alone.

"Well, that was an adventure," Barclay said to good-natured laughter from the class.

After 30 minutes of consistently difficult yoga poses, my body felt heated completely through. We began the martial arts portion of the class, which combines Brazilian jujitsu, tae kwon do and Okinawa karate do. We focused on Brazilian jujitsu defensive moves for our all-female class that day, prowling across the wood floors on all fours like stalking animals ready to pounce. Barclay said this form of martial art is especially powerful for women because of our low center of gravity.

We then stood to practice tae kwon do corkscrew punches, and we spun our wrists in jabs punctuated by loud whooshes of breath.

After the 75-minute class, I was sweating and completely winded. The class was a mix of Budokon newcomers and some with more experience, whose backgrounds in yoga or dance were evident as they moved with far more elegance than I.

Liana Soll, 31, who has practiced yoga, Arabic dance and ballet and dabbled in martial arts, began attending Budokon classes in April and was hooked by its intensity and variety.

"I was totally winded and exhausted by my first class, but I felt energized," she said. "Though there's a nice flow and mellow energy to the practice, it's still challenging.... I like the diversity of movement and that each class is a little different. My attention wanes when I'm faced with the same routine."

Cameron Shayne, the celebrity personal trainer who developed the Budokon program, said that combining yoga and martial arts is an ancient concept. He considers Budokon not a mere fitness routine, but an art form. "We are the Porsche of fusion fitness," he said. "We want to preserve the integrity of genuine yoga and martial arts, and to make traditional martial arts available to the mainstream audience in a noncompetitive, non-ego-based environment."

Shayne said fitness trends are moving toward a complete workout of mind, body and spirit. Budokon encourages personal introspection through meditation. To end each class, the instructor, or sensei, reads a literary passage from sources as varied as Taoist philosophy and Mark Twain.

I was surprised that I had very little soreness the next day, only tightness in my shoulders and hamstrings. Budokon works on full-body stability, Shayne said, without overworking or isolating individual muscle groups.

It did, however, isolate our individual weaknesses. We were encouraged to push our limits; falling down was expected and praised. I hadn't ventured far outside traditional sports before, and was surprised by how thoroughly my endurance was tested by this yoga fusion. Bring on the chop suey burrito.

For a list of certified Budokon instructors and class locations, go to

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