Sunday, July 13, 2008

Om Gal Has a Ball!

Review: Buddha Camp with Emily Phillips at Equinox, Back Bay

As a kid, I always envied my peers who set off for summer camp in exotic locations outfitted with wood cabins, lakeside activities, and co-ed dances (like, with boys there!). Of course, I had zero weight with which to plead my case to my parents, who, with justifiable reason, thought it was downright ludicrous for a child from a seaside town to venture into the mountains to learn macramé when there were plenty of activities to engage in and boys to torment right at home. So, I stayed on the Cape, happily refining my freestyle stroke, backward dive, and ability to take fireflies hostage in a glass jar. Still, every once in a while, I would feel the familiar tug of experiencing the mystique and merriment of summer camp.

Fast-forward a couple decades and I’m still drawn to activities claiming to be camps of some persuasion, such as yoga bootcamps and a brief foray into the world of “bikini bootcamp” (not quite my cup of tea- too many squats for someone with preternaturally muscular legs- I was destined to look more like a power lifter than a beach babe). The most recent example of my affinity for all things promising the camaraderie of camp, if only through semantics and the genius if marketing, was “Buddha Camp” at Equinox. Immediately I visualized myself delving into a program of undetermined length wherein I would hone my meditation prowess, enhance my knowledge of sacred Buddhist texts, develop an unmistakable glow of inner peace, and nosh on tofu prepared in ways that made me forget my longstanding love of sushi, oysters, and omelets. Said Buddha Camp would require me to leave my urban life behind with all its material trivialities and high-end hair products, in order to venture inward, surrounded by a landscape of unparalleled natural beauty, staffed by a team of earnest monks and experts- and, of course, a kickass chef whose repertoire would include steel cut oats [I’d make them myself, but they take waaaay too long for a city slicker in the morning], lentil loaf [I love it but have botched it too many times to count], and banana ice cream [because it’s a divine and healthful dessert that can steal the thunder from even its most authentic, fat-laden counterparts].

I wasn’t sure that a group fitness class at a swish health club in Boston could meet my lofty expectations. I mean, they have a smoothie bar, but the lentil loaf was probably pushing it, right?


Buddha Camp was nothing like what I imagined (or, truthfully, what the title suggests), but let’s face it, what I imagined was also a New Age illusion. Nevertheless, this class provided a notably fulfilling experience. Taught by laugh-out-load funny Emily Phillips, this class is less Buddha and more fireside fun with the kookiest counselor at Camp Walla-Walla Wahoo. Still, Phillips is not without polished technique and seasoned command of an audience, no matter the size (the class I attended contained a modest handful of students but never felt lacking in energy or enthusiasm). The movements were somewhat yoga inspired but heavily favored the use of a Swiss ball (a la Pilates)- hence the title of this post.

Why you’ll love it: It’s a break from “serious” yoga without sacrificing level of difficulty in the movements or competence of the teacher. I liked it so much that I went out and bought Ellie Herman’s Pilates Workbook on the Ball to maximize my own Swiss ball at home, on which I often sit while writing The World According to Om Gal.

Why you may not: You are a curmudgeon. Or, you don’t like quiver-inducing abdominal work. You wince when yoga errs too far in the direction of fitness (however, one could argue that this class never flat-out presumes to be a yoga class). You dislike music during anything that resembles yoga- or, at least, music with a quotient of hipness that surpasses Enya.

The verdict: Do your gut a favor; laugh it up and work it out at Buddha Camp.*

* Macramé (and lentil loaf) not included.

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