instructor tereza Bonnet-Šenková says Bikram classes are heating up C
health&wellness spring 010
health&wellness spring 010
Photos by WALTER NOVAK/The Prague Post
Students at Bikram Yoga Prague practice one of the 26 poses of Bikram yoga, which is done in a room heated to 105 F (40.5 C).
By Lucy Shackleton
burn Bikram yoga turns up the heat on ancient Indian art
health&wellness spring 2010
For The Post
eeping fit, it seems, has become a competitive sport. From hip-hop street dance to rock-climbing, a spandexclad portion of society is always on the lookout for new, and ever more off-the-wall, ways of sculpting and toning their bods. Bikram yoga, a branch of yoga practiced in a studio heated to 105 F (40.5C), is currently at the height of keep-fit fashion. Devised and trademarked by Indian-born yoga champion-turned-LA-yoga-mogul Bikram Choudhury, Bikram yoga is a branch of Hatha, or physical yoga. It is designed to exercise your body from the inside out, from the bones to the skin. Beginners and experts practice together, performing a series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises (to be repeated twice) in sweltering conditions intended to recreate the Indian climate. Former professional dancer and owner of www.praguepost.com
The heat allows for a deeper, safer stretch while also detoxifying the skin.
Bikram Yoga Prague Tereza Bonnet-Šenková explains that the heat helps create a deeper stretch, detoxifies the skin and protects muscles from sprain and strain. Despite the intensity of the 90-minute sessions, BonnetŠenková says anyone can benefit from classes, regardless of their level of fitness. She adds that Bikram can counteract many of today’s most common health problems, from insomnia to obesity. In particular, it helps with post-surgery rehabilitation, something Bonnet-Šenková learned firsthand. “I was first introduced to Bikram yoga in Paris by my American choreographer,” Bonnet-Šenková explains. “I had recently found out I had broken cartilage in my leg, which would require an operation and threatened my career as a dancer. I began practicing Bikram two months before my operation and started again three weeks after. I was back onstage three months later.” Bikram yoga, Bonnet-Šenková says, changed her attitude toward dance and www.praguepost.com
her body forever, so much so that she was inspired to open her own Bikram studio. In 2006, after completing the grueling nine-week training program with creator Bikram Choudhury necessary to become an instructor, she established Bikram Yoga Prague, the first Bikram studio in the Czech Republic. Since then, it has gained extraordinary popularity, attracting about 120 clients a day. Classes are offered up to five times daily, in English and in Czech, and, for those who book in advance, there is even a babysitting service available on weekday mornings. The majority of people who frequent Bikram Yoga are not expats but Czechs, who Bonnet-Šenková says have incredible selfdiscipline. Czech men, however, remain reticent. “Men here still have the stereotype that yoga is for girls, but then they come and they crawl on their knees out of the studio,” Bonnet-Šenková explains with a smile. With celebrities and sports personalities such as Daniel Craig and Andy Murray espousing the benefits of yoga, the stereotype that it is all patchouli oil, hippy beads and feminine introspection may not last for long. Indeed, Bikram Choudhury and his wife, Rajashree Choudhury, envision one day making yoga an Olympic sport. To this end, they have established the International Yoga Asana championships, which take place yearly in Los Angeles. Participating countries organize national championships and then send their best on to compete internationally. Healthy competition This year, Bikram Yoga Prague sent four of its most flexible to represent the Czech Republic. Ondřej Hartma and Pavel Hakl secured fourth and eighth position, respectively, in the men’s final, and Sandra Žigie and Sandra Bártová came in ninth and 13th in the women’s. For Yoga purists, however, the commercialization and competition coming to dominate the yoga scene represents a break from the practice’s spiritual roots. For this reason, Bikram Choudhury has become a contentious figure, seen to have created a branded branch of yoga that prioritizes body image over introspection and greed over meditation. Health&wellness SPRING 2010
Bonnet-Šenková dismisses such accusations, asserting students must perfect their bodies before they can hope to move on to their minds. “People here believe it is possible for them to practice spiritual yoga, but we here in the West are not ready. Our minds are upside down; we can’t sit still. It is difficult to pretend we are spiritual when we cannot focus.” Wherever you stand on the spirituality debate, if you’re a Bikram virgin, Bikram Yoga Prague is well worth a visit. You might not be guaranteed an epiphany, but you will certainly leave focused, energized and drenched in sweat. Lucy Shackleton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Everyone can benefit from Bikram yoga.
WALTER NOVAK/The Prague Post
Optometrist Paul Fisher welcomes expats to his Prague 6 shop, where he can grind specialty lenses while you wait.
More than meets the eye Optometrist brings wealth of experience, both personal and professional By Emily Thompson STAFF WRITER
ptometrist and entrepreneur Paul Fisher never thought he would be where he is today. Born Pavel Fišer in communist Czechoslovakia, he triumphed in adversity under the stifling regime before making his escape — first to Denmark and then to Canada — only to start with just the clothes on his back in Vancouver, where he would eventually amass five optometry stores and a one-of-akind lens-surfacing lab that functioned via groundbreaking software he programmed himself. He fell in love with his adopted country but has returned to Prague to offer his specialty optometry services to the Czech market, although he admits North Americans still hold a special place in his heart. “All of the Americans and Canadians I take care of personally,” he says. “They are like VIPs for me, and especially for my wife. She is so homesick for Canada.” In addition to the red carpet treatment for clients, especially those from North America, at his shop, Alta Optika, Fisher is able to do what he says very few optometrists in the Czech Republic are capable of — grinding specialty lenses in an onsite surfacing lab within an hour. Because of his extensive stock of lenses, Fisher is able to run a wholesale operation doing surface grinding for other optometrists, which accounts for 90 percent of his business. He explains that most optometrists in the Czech Republic don’t have the facilities, equipment or know-how to do their own surface grinding and are only able to do edging, which fits the lenses into the frame. Fisher developed his surface-grinding process while in Canada after having defected
from Czechoslovakia with his wife and son. Arriving to the country with almost nothing, Fisher found a job as a dispensing optician after eight days and, within three months, had met his future business partner. “I was lucky. And being lucky is better than being good,” says Fisher. Listening to his story, it becomes clear luck and fate have played a big role in his life. Fisher’s father was tormented by the Czechoslovak secrete police and refused to return from his authorized stay in Denmark after the Russian invasion of 1968 and was thereafter classified as a defector. In the meantime, however, Fisher completed university and says he became one of the most educated optometrists in the country, leading the communists to court him. “The commies offered me membership in the party, which knocked my socks off, but I refused to join,” says Fisher. “So they put me in a manufacturing position as a cruel punishment, but it was actually a blessing.” Though relegated by politics to a job beneath his skills at a specialty lens-grinding lab, Fisher made the most of it. He was given a computer and told to program software that could calculate specialty lenses, which he says at the time were all done by trial and error since the math was too complicated to calculate without a computer program. “This was before the PC age when computers were as expensive as a Mercedes Benz and as big as a typewriter,” Fisher says. After a year of work, Fisher succeeded in creating the program, the first of its kind in Czechoslovakia, he says. Though blacklisted by the regime for refusing to join the party, Fisher was granted a travel visa two years later in 1986 and immediately began making plans to defect. “It was summer, and we didn’t want to be conspicuous by health&wellness spring 2010
traveling with our winter clothes, so my mother gave my suitcase to a French pastor who agreed to mail it to me in Denmark.” Once in Vancouver, Fisher was asked by a Canadian optician interested in opening a surfacing lab to write the same software and offered him a 20 percent share in the business for his trouble. It wasn’t so easy, however, as Fisher explains that the Canadian system of surface grinding was completely opposite to the way it was done in Czechoslovakia, meaning he had to completely rework his calculations and write a new program. He says his business partners were hospitable and accommodating, providing him with everything he needed and not even batting an eye when he admitted he didn’t even have a desk to work at. “That was the good thing about Canada; nobody ever looked down on me because I’m from the East,” says Fisher. “So I sat down at my borrowed desk and began to work on my future.” Less than 10 months later, Fisher had completed the program. “When we brought in the equipment to the lab and punched in the numbers and the lenses were ground just fine, that was my moment in the sun,” says Fisher. I was like a master of the universe for them.” Over the next 10 years, Fisher bought out the other partners, eventually running five optometry shops and the surfacing lab himself. But five years ago, when his mother fell sick, he sold it all to move back to Prague with his equipment. Now Fisher runs three shops and the surfacing lab in Prague. He invites expats in need of glasses to visit him at his Alta Optika shop in Prague 6. “I love meeting North Americans and chatting with them because that’s where I lived and where my kids live.” Emily Thompson can be reached at email@example.com www.praguepost.com
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Health&wellness SPRING 2010
Working magic Author J.K. Rowling’s charity helps Czech and Moldovan children in need
The mission of Rowling’s Lumos charity is to help countries transition from institutionalized to community-based care for children. By Jacy Meyer
For The Post
disturbing photo of a 5-year-old Czech child in a caged bed that appeared in the UK newspaper The Sunday Times in 2004 brought the Czech institutional childcare system under intense scrutiny. Author J.K. Rowling saw the photo and was horrified, leading her to embark on a mission to end the institutionalization of children. She co-founded the UK-based charity Lumos to bring attention and assistance to disadvantaged children in Central and Eastern Europe. Currently, they are working in the Czech Republic and Moldova, with plans to expand into other nearby countries. “Lumos’ mission is to help change the system of care from big institutional care toward small community oriented services and
toward increasing the number of professional foster care families,” says Petra Kačírková, country representative of Lumos in the Czech Republic. Lumos operates on two levels: policy and practical. At the policy level, they work with both ministry and regional offices to provide expert advice on deinstitutionalization programs. “We help them see how it is possible for these institutions to be replaced with a child-focused health, education and social protection framework, which means that most children can receive the care they need while remaining together with their families,” Kačírková adds. At the practical level, they run pilot programs to demonstrate how the process can work and how the changes can be sustainable. They work with staff at institutions to explain the procedures required and then stick around health&wellness spring 2010
to assist with follow-up questions and make sure the process of transferring children from institutionalized care to their new home goes smoothly. “We demonstrate the value of family-based care in terms of better outcomes for children, so we can help to change attitudes toward vulnerable children,” Kačírková says. According to a 2009 report complied by UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre, the Czech Republic has the fifth-highest number of children in institutions in Central and Eastern Europe. The report focused on the challenges facing these countries as their transition to democracy continues and how vulnerable children have often been left behind. One of Lumos’ first goals here was to get the government involved. Rowling visited local authorities and NGOs in 2007 to find out how Lumos could help. Kačírková said this was the beginning of their work with the www.praguepost.com
Lumos takes its name from a spell in Rowling’s Harry Potter series that causes a ray of light to emit from a wand. The charity works with NGOs and local authorities to provide a range of services for families and for institutionalized children like these in Moldova. The group also operates in the Czech Republilc.
Czech government, organizations and others involved in the institutionalization of children. “One of our first major actions was to work closely with the government to develop a policy document to reform children’s institutions,” she said. “This policy was approved by the government as the National Action Plan on reforming children’s services. This is a landmark in the process of change in the Czech Republic as it represents a genuine commitment on the part of the government to reform the system and bring an end to institutional care for children.” Adopted in 2009, key goals of the plan include increased quality of care for children and families in need and to decrease the number of children in all types of institutionalized care. Lumos assists with these goals in a number of ways, including providing training and technical assistance at all levels, to senior officials as well as lower-level staff, and facilitating visits for regional councilors and service directors to the United Kingdom
so they can see community-based services in action. They also support the government in developing pilot programs for the deinstitutionalization of special needs children in social care homes. The first program will be carried out in the Pardubice region, who Kačírková says is one of the first regions to commit itself to full reform. “Over the coming months we will be working with local authorities and NGOs to plan the development of foster care, increasing the number of preventive care services and support services for families, and specialist services for children with disabilities,” she explains. “Plus, we will add to the number of small specialized residential units, which will mean the community will no longer need large institutions for children.” Kačírková says the work being done in Pardubice will be closely watched by other regions also interested in reforming their care systems. With just one photograph, the plight of
vulnerable children in the Czech Republic and the state of the country’s institutionalized care system was forced into the public spotlight, but Kačírková is quick to add that, despite the previous lack of meaningful public attention, the people working in the system do care. “I think it is very important to stress that caregivers working in large institutions are trying to provide the best care they can for children. But the system of care in the Czech Republic — which is based on a large institutional system — does not allow caregivers to work effectively,” she says. “You cannot provide intensive, individual, child-oriented care if you have to take care of between six to eight clients at one time.” Lumos got its name from a spell in Rowling’s Harry Potter book series. Saying “lumos” causes a small beam of light to emit from a wand. For vulnerable children in the Czech Republic, a little light will be a most welcome miracle. Jacy Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Calm COMBAT Aikido is a nonaggressive martial art thatâ€™s good for keeping mind and body fit
health&wellness spring 2010
Photos by Philip Heijmans/The Prague Post
Students at Aikido Klub Praha warm up with a round of iaido, a type of swordsmanship on which later aikido techniques are founded. By Alexandra Jordan For The Post
ikido is perhaps one of the lesser wellknown martial arts, lacking the obvious glamour of karate or tae kwon do, but familiar to many people through the films of Stevan Seagal. Watching it is sometimes said to be more like watching a dance than a fight, with no obvious striking, hitting or dramatic chopping movements. If less well known in the West, aikido is still popular and practiced in Japan, and it’s got a solid Czech following as well, according to Václav Teichman, of Aikido Klub Praha. “Aikido developed from much older martial arts, notably training given to Samurai — the elite warriors who ruled Japan before the restoration of the Emperor in 1868,” explains martial arts enthusiast and aikido practitioner John McWilliams. In the 1920s and 1930s, O Sensei Ueshiba began to develop his own form of the martial art aikido, but the more popular modern versions were developed after World War II. Inspired partly by the changing religious landscape and his own developing beliefs, O Sensei began to create a martial art that could be used to defensively but not to attack. Aikido involves sidestepping and deflecting an enemy’s line of attack rather than blocking it using physical strength or answering with aggression. There are various branches, some derived from O Sensei’s early versions and other, later ones developed after the war, sometimes by his followers. “There are four main branches of aikido,” says Teichman, “Aikiai, Yoseikan, Tomiki
and Ki Aikido.” One of the main ideas behind later aikido techniques, especially, is to be able to deflect aggression without hammering your opponent. Vaclav Teichman interprets the ethos of aikido as “true pacifism,” which allows skilled followers to intervene in and deflect aggression without injuring their attacker or using violence themselves. “O Sensei and many of his direct followers were extremely religious,” says McWilliams, explaining that many who developed the art after the war became increasingly pacific in their approach to aikido. To better understand the theory and philosophy behind aikido, I went for a lesson at Aikido Klub Praha. It began with 20 minutes of iaido — a branch of swordsmanship upon which later aikido techniques are based. This was a mildly exhilarating exercise on how to stand from kneeling position and slice through the skulls of two attackers in a handful of smooth steps, including how to shake the blood from your sword before replacing it in its sheath. Then we started aikido proper, in a style called Nishio-ryu. During practice, one person takes the role of attacker and the other the role of defender. To put one typical basic technique very simply, the attacker tries to hit or punch the defender, and the defender deflects the blow, by grabbing and twisting the attacker’s arms, in such a way that, most of the time, the attacker has no choice but to be thrown to the floor. It was energetic and demanded quite a lot of concentration to understand the movements and execute them relative-
Aikido Klub Praha Karlovo nám. 13 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.aikidoklubpraha.cz/
ly quickly. So why would someone try aikido? Many of the reasons are common to most martial arts. Many people hope to be able to defend themselves or intervene if they encounter aggression in real life. It’s certainly a valid reason but not something you’re likely to achieve in your first few years of training. However, martial arts will often give you visible self-confidence and enable you to remain calm if you do encounter aggression, winning you half the battle already, according to Teichman. It’s good exercise, and there is a social element, as well. Aikido’s appeal is broad, and you’re likely to meet people from all kinds of backgrounds. It also has the advantage of being safer than many sports. Injuries tend to be fairly rare and not very serious — so it’s unlikely to render you out of action and unable to enjoy other hobbies. From speaking to followers of various budo (Japanese martial arts), it seems they are very much something you do for their own sake. Whether you practice a few times a month or every day, they give you a chance to relax, exercise and focus on something other than the outside world. Alexandra Jordan can be reached at email@example.com
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Health&wellness SPRING 2010
The marathon will see an important anniversary this year, and Prague is celebrating with a race in May
The 2,500yearold race PALOMA DOMÍNGUEZ/The Prague Post
The Prague International Marathon (PIM) comes to town May 9, when thousands will descend on the city to compete in the race. By Claire Compton Staff Writer
n the heels of the Prague Half Marathon, held March 27, the Prague International Marathon (PIM) is gearing up for the big show, the full marathon, which will be held May 9. The event brings thousands of visitors each year, as half of the roughly 6,000 participants come from abroad. Jiří Nečásek, the marketing and public relations director at PIM, sat down with The Prague Post to talk about the race’s continued growth, their strategy for the future and how they hope to get more women participating in the race.
The Prague Post: The recent Prague Half Marathon was your first “Gold” event after the event was awarded the Road Race Gold Label by the IAAF [International Association of Athletics Federations] last year. How did you earn that? Jiří Nečásek: That was big news last year when we managed to fulfill the criteria for gold for the half-marathon. The requirements include things like quality of race, a certain number of participants, a growing number of participants, and you have to bring in runners with certain times. Only four half-marathons have this label: Prague, Lisbon, Bogota and Delhi. Now, we’ll try for the Gold label for our marathon. Right now, 14 cities have that, the real big ones like 10
Berlin, Boston, New York and others. It’s more of an organizational commitment. We have to make sure from an organizational view everything is perfect: all the services; we invite some of the best runners; we have to provide anti-doping measures and pay equal prize money to men and women.
TPP: What’s the importance in drawing the big names of the running world to participate in the marathon? JN: It’s a way to increase the level of sports quality for us. We want to try to break some new records and, to do that, we’re trying to invite better runners for this year’s marathon. I can’t really confirm who will be able to come this year; usually, they confirm only a few days before the race. We probably can’t afford the really top runners who hold the absolutely best time. We can’t compete with places like Dubai or Abu Dhabi, which invite the big ones. We’re trying to do this step by step. Our marathon course time is already below 2 hours and 8 minutes [run by Patrick Ivuti of Kenya in 2009], which is quite a good time. TPP: Is there a demographic you’d like to see participate more in the race — like local runners? JN: While we’re seeing improved participation for runners from the Czech Republic, there are always more men than women. If you see a health&wellness spring 2010
woman running in Prague, usually it’s a foreigner. We’ve started a marketing strategy aimed at helping women get involved in the sport in the Czech Republic. We found 10 women who were willing to chart their progress and share their stories publicly. It’s not a competition; they’ve all got different goals; for example, losing weight, getting a fast time or just finishing the race. Right now, participation by women in the Prague marathon is at 25 percent. In other countries, like in Scandinavia, that goes up to 50 percent, so there’s some potential there. We’re also talking about what sort of equipment to wear, how to eat and drink when you’re training, and so on. It’s also about the bigger picture of how to live a healthier lifestyle and small changes women can make to do that. The women are filling diaries out on our Web site.
TPP: What is the breakdown of participants by nationality? JN: It depends on the event. For the full marathon, it’s about half foreigners. When you get to the half-marathon that number drops to 30 percent, and for the 10k it’s 10 percent. It’s a very nice mix, and we clearly have a lot of people traveling long distance to participate. TPP: How big is Prague’s marathon compared to the big names like New York and Boston? JN: I would not compare it by size, because www.praguepost.com
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PIM organizers are trying to market Prague, albeit not one of the best-known locations for marathons, as one of the most beautiful cities for a race.
Jan Míšek, sales executive Tel.: 296 334 408 GSM: 728 134 942 E-mail: email@example.com Petr Zatyko, classifieds coordinator Tel.: 296 334 410-1 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org cover image walter Novak/The Prague Post The Prague Post Heath&Wellness section is a supplement of The Prague Post published by Prague Post, spol. s r.o., under license MKČR5971. ISSN 1210-3934 © 2010 Prague Post, spol. s r.o. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited by law.
Nečásek, marketing and public relations director at PIM, says half of all PIM participants are foreign, and some of the world’s best runners will be competing in the race this May. simply by participation we are midsize, and we will always be midsize. We’re limited by the capacity of the streets, and we want to keep people in the center of town as much as possible. Our target is not to grow by sheer size but to differentiate ourselves as something special by virtue of the beautiful course in historic Prague and the services we offer. It’s really quantity versus quality!
TPP: What, if anything, will be different about this year’s marathon? JN: We’ve got a lot of interesting things. First of all, 2010 is the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon between the Persians and the Athenians, the origin of the race. The international marathon community is very excited about this. There is a special logo and events being held. It’s great because it’s increasing interest this year. We’re trying to negotiate to have the Marathon torch brought here. It’s very similar to the Olympic torch. Claire Compton can be reached at email@example.com
The Nečásek file
Age: 41 Nationality: Czech Races participated in: Basketball: Two-time champion of Czechoslovakia (1990 and 1991) with USK Praha, bronze medal from junior European Championship in Yugoslavia in 1988. Hobby participant: finished Prague Marathon in 1999 and 2000, New York City Marathon ni 2000. Bicycle marathon: Kral Šumavy 250 km in 2005. Cross-country skiing twice Krkonošská 70 (70 km), cross-country skiing marathons (50 km) in Moscow, Murmansk, Rybinsk (all Russia) Other hobbies: Tennis, skiing (downhill and cross-country), running, biking (road and mountain), swimming, traveling, reading, languages Favorite runner: Pavel Nedvěd Favorite post-race food: Czech bread and Czech beer Health&wellness SPRING 2010
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