Free Fitness in Brooklyn: Yoga and More!

free yoga in new york

This summer has been one in a million. It came around slow, started off with a heat wave, stayed rainy, and dried out fast. Being in full swing, there is more to do outdoors than at any other time of the year. Aside from free concerts, free movies, free plays and many many more, there are also free fitness options. Such as free Yoga!

Now, yoga has always been popular in this city. Bikram Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga – you name it!
From Yoga studios specializing in only one type of yoga to daily sessions in gyms circulating through the entire array of types – yes, New York is yoga-obsessed. Not surprisingly you can also find instructors who are motivated enough to teach you yoga classes for free in the summer. Outdoors. If weather permits. So here is a list of a few places you can go to if you don’t feel like paying a full gym membership or if you feel like bonding with like-minded people over your cheapness in choice.

1) Free Yoga in the Park (7- 8 PM, Thursday)

Prospect Park is huge. Therefore, it has more than one spot to go to when it comes to free yoga sessions. I ended up close to the Grand Army Plaza 2 weeks ago. About 50 more people joined me. Initially I was rather repulsed in taking part in this large group, but after one hour I thought it was a pretty sweet deal. The main instructor paces back and forth in the middle while barking her instructions. She was too far away from me so sometimes I didn’t catch what she was saying. However, judging by the moves of the people in front of me, I got the gist. Plus there were about 4 more volunteer helpers who went around and corrected people’s postures. Overall, a great lesson for absolutely nothing.
There are more spots at the 15th Street and Parkside entrance. Feel free to try them out and let me know how it goes. Bringing your own mat and towel is a must here.

2) Give-by-donation Yoga in Coney Island (7-8 PM, Mo-Thursday)

Coney Island hosts a ton of great stuff. Every Monday is movie night. And from Monday to Thursday, you can also do free yoga on the promenade at 21st Street. Supposedly, it’s give-by-donation (so you don’t have to give much if you don’t feel like it). If you don’t have a yoga mat, you can borrow one of theirs (free of charge). I haven’t tried this one out yet but perhaps will do so once I get back from my trip.

3) Bryant Park Yoga (6- 7 PM, Tuesday)

Want to get out of Brooklyn and exercise with skyscrapers in the background? Well, you get that chance at Bryant Park Yoga! Every Tuesday from 6-7 PM. I’ve never been here either, but the site says that it provides yoga mats in case you don’t have any. I’m not sure what the crowd looks like but I could imagine it’s busier than in Brooklyn… Hey, you get what you (don’t) pay for!

For more free yoga throughout the summer, check out this article on TimeOut New York.
Have fun!

“How I Like to Risk My Life Every Day” or “Living Without Health Care in New York”

When I was living in Germany, I was fully covered in a state-sponsored health care system and could see practically any doctor I wanted at any time I needed for any cause that concerned me. I don’t think Germany is among the top 10 health care providers on Earth, but its 28th place surely was more than satisfying to me.

I heard horror stories of health care in the US before I got to New York, of course. Untreated patients who were declined a visit because they could not wave their magic card or show a significant bundle of money to the hospital receptionist. “Heck,” I thought, “I am so young, what could possibly happen to me other than a few minor injuries? After all, once you get a job, you should receive health care benefits, right?!”

The job search did not go so well in the first six months I was here. So obtaining benefits through a waitressing job was not really an option. And, contrary to my naïve beliefs, I was sick three times during this six month period: One day I severely cut my foot open when I slipped on a sharp escalator step. I should have been submitted to a hospital directly to prevent infections and to patch the wound together, but instead I called my roommate and limped home, trying to hide my tears as good as possible, and using house hold cures to prevent further infections. I think this was the first time I realised that it really is not that cool to have no other option other than to endure your pain and make it through to the end, hoping nothing more significant will affect your health.

But how easily said in the city that nourishes one bacteria after another. A summer flu and another ailment later I finally entered the “real” working world of New York, just to be thrown to the ground again. The job (I still have now) proved to be a dead end – one of these cases where they only hire you hourly to begin with and then keep you there because you are a cheaper option to them than a full time worker would be and they are too stingy to advance you career- wise. At least that is how I like to see things. No matter what their reason is, it does not change the fact that I remain uninsured in the health care world (not to mention that I am not working towards a pension plan/ rent/ all those other factors that might become important in 50 years from now). After 8 months of New Yorkness I was in dire need of some check-up visits and searched around to see what my options were. A coworker mentioned Medicaid and I looked into this government-issued program. The cut-off rate was $900/month, meaning you would have to be making this amount or less to qualify for the great government health program. I think I wouldn’t even have qualified for it if I had stuck to tending tables. Needless to say that I certainly did not fit the category on an hourly pay, this being crappy by itself.

Somehow I managed to pull up a site to a clinic that was advertised free of cost. Sounds too good to be true in New York, I thought, and I was partially right. The NYC Free clinic does indeed offer free health care service but only for two visits during your entire life. It is connected to the NYU Langone Medical Center. I took my chances (as I was still in the hopeful mindset of finding a new job and thus a benefit package) and scheduled an appointment with a case worker first. You have to do this before they accept you for a visit. A Latina called Roza took on my paychecks and calculated if I was eligible for their program. I was. Then I scheduled my first appointment on a Saturday, the only day of the week you can come in and have yourself checked on for the rate of $0.00. To my surprise I was not greeted by a professional doctor but by two intimidated-looking med students, who were attending NYU. That’s right, they didn’t even give me residents, but STUDENTS in their second and third year of med school. Now I never studied medicine, nor do I have the intent to do so. But I hate to believe that people are misdiagnosed because of seeing absolute greenhorns. At the end of this 2-hour-clown session and after a number of unnecessary questions were asked, a REAL DOCTOR entered the room, who had already been told about the case and practically disregarded every diagnosis made by the students but instead had her own opinion. Somehow I was just not convinced of this clinic and remained skeptic.

According to an article brought up in the New York Mag, I am not a single digit in the club of “Under 20 and uninsured.” And what struck me most is that 60 percent of these uninsured do so because of the high cost of health insurance. The author lists a few options on what can be done for check-ups and emergency situations. Supposedly state-founded hospitals will bill you according to your pay check and you will have a highly discounted rate when you use their ER. Every other hospital might not treat you or if they do, they could charge you a few thousand dollars. Which is very frightening for people like me, who don’t know where else to turn but who don’t want to stand in bad credit and have an endless amount of debt.

This topic concerns me all too recent because I was in dire need of a doctor in the past one and a half weeks. I first redeemed my second visit at the free clinic, this time being checked upon by second-year-students. Then I tried for other options and found a life saver: MedRite in Midtown East. It cost a flat fee of $140 a visit and included every testing that should be done (X-Raying, too). An M.D. (yes, a REAL doctor) examines you and tries to make you feel as comfortable as possible while tending his job. Blood samples that have to be sent to the lab will be discounted by 80 %. When I walked in, I received immediate care and a few numbers of other doctors I could go back to check up on. I hope I don’t have to use these addresses, as a visit to one of these would cost $200 straight here. But we will see. MedRite is a fairly recent phenomenon in New York, as it has opened up only one location six months ago. How very much surprising considering this city needs it more than any other town in the US.

To date, I find it quite astounding how President Obama has required every citizen to have one sort of health care or another but then fails to come up with an affordable means for normal people to get a hold of this golden opportunity. In Germany, no one would be left uninsured, not the poorest, not the people on the verge to poor and certainly not the middle-income class. I guess this is the fine difference between European politics and the Free Country. You are indeed very free: Free to choose if you want to ride yourself in debt because of a visit to an emergency room or free to endure your pain and sickness, hoping it will go away by itself.
Yes, health care in the US remains a problem. And of course it does not affect the rich and wealthy but gets to those who are down already. I sometimes wonder what I pay my taxes for in a country like this….

Surfing at Far Rockaway

Sand, Sun, and Saltwater – I guess that is going to be my general theme throughout this summer. New York gives you many options to enjoy yourself on the beach, though, which makes it really easy to try out new things.

This weekend has been a blast, I’m not going to lie. I did something completely different from the ordinary beach trip and something that hadn’t been on my list of things to do during this summer.

The Roomie had booked an introductory surfing lesson on one of New York beaches a few weeks in advance and I vouched to take a few pictures of her jumping around in the water standing on her board throughout the course. Another friend spontaneously joined into the fun (heck, it’s a lot better to make it through a 2-hour-surfing-lesson if you have something called company, right?), so we, the trio, made our way up to one of the beaches at Far Rockaway. This time we took the A-train all the way through to B67th St and entered the sand around 69th St. This part is destined for surfers and surfboards only, and no one is allowed to simply go for a swim here – for reasons of safety. There is nothing more dangerous than to be accidently hit by a lone surfboard or to be cut by those three hard plastic fins hidden underneath the board.
We arrived there relatively early and were just waiting to see what the day would bring along. The Roomie then joined a group of almost 20 people – so much to her one-on-one lesson she had initially paid a higher fee for. I think I would have at least complained to the instructors about this, but everyone is different. My Australian friend and I watched as the people assembled into a sect-like gathering, swinging their arms around and rolling their heads up and down like crazy. Then one of the teachers pulled out two boards and demonstrated how to use your arms as a paddle when in the water. The first 45 minutes were meant to practice a few moves and let everyone demonstrate their newly-acquired skills in front of a professional. As everyone was waiting for their wetsuit, one of the instructors practically forced a wetsuit top onto me and my Australian friend was handed the same by another teacher. Well, it surely looked like the group was enhanced by two eager surfers after this!

Sect-like movements
The instructor and his movements on a board
Us three ready to take over the sea
Parts of the group grabbing their boards

So, each of us grabbed a board and paddled out into the ocean. Not too far, of course, since no one was meant to be lost, but still far enough to be on top of some significant waves. I think the ratio was one instructor to 4 to 5 learners – actually not that bad. I had enough opportunities to be pushed into a wave by them and tried to find my own luck one or two times.
The Australian was quickly appointed the pro, since he was from Australia (even though he really did not surf over there!) and didn’t receive as much care. Which totally worked out for us. The Roomie got scared of the waves, the board, and about anything else in the ocean because it was out of her control. I managed to stand on my board for 5 seconds maximum, but my main problem was to differentiate a good wave from a bad wave.
The rest of the two-hour-lesson went by in a blink, and everyone seemed to have a great time. I managed to painfully scrub across the sand at one point in time and still wear the proofs of this – an ugly wound on my left foot. I guess this can be called collateral damage to the fun. The Aussie, very blond by nature, caught an evil-looking sunburn, and it turned into an ugly lobster-red by the end of the day. He didn’t really seem to care as much, because he considers himself already prone to skin cancer (great attitude!). I actually happened to have a face in the same distinct red tone up until a few days after this; it just took a while until my sunburn showed. That is probably why the instructors were wearing a white, thickly-applied layer of sun screen on their faces while teaching. I will remember to bring my sun block lotion with me the next time. Yes, the impact of the sun is still highly underestimated over here, because it is far enough up north to think it won’t do too much harm but it becomes very strong and hot during the summer. Never ever forget means of sun protection in New York, folks, just saying!

The Aussie/Pro
Us three after taking over the sea

In the end, I have to admit that all the inflicted wounds and burns were totally worth it. It was one of the best days I’ve had so far during this summer and it inspired me to do some further surfing throughout the season. It is not very hard to find your balance on the board but it might be a more difficult thing to ride right upon a wave. I will keep you updated on my progress.

If you want to share any tips on surfing, please do not hesitate to voice them here.

A fun but maybe posed picture of me trying to surf

Pier 6 – My Quest to See More of Brooklyn

After being here for well over a year, I thought I had seen it all. I thought nothing in Brooklyn could be new to me. I didn’t’ expect to stumble across some exciting places that are so close-by to the ones I know so well. Well, Pier 6 in Brooklyn Heights is one of these spots.

Due to an article assignment I was sent over there last Sunday and I must say that I am very glad it happened to be me who ended up discovering it. If you’ve ever been to New York, you might have gotten the chance to walk the Brooklyn Bridge (Tourists who have only been here for two days don’t count. I understand that it is not your top priority to walk the bridge when you have a limited time in this city). Starting out in Brooklyn or Manhattan, most people explore Dumbo first or end up there when crossing the oldest bridge of the Big Apple.

Dumbo, such a funny name, isn’t it? Whenever I heard this term in the first few months here, it reminded me of the elephant cartoon which used to be popular in our childhood years. This Dumbo has nothing to do with flying circus animals, though, as it stands short for DownUnderManhattanBrooklynbridge. I guess the correct abbreviation Dumb or Dumbb was too self-explanatory or simple for even the most correct New Yorker, so a nice twitch was added with an additional “o”.

Dumbo-food outside in the summer

To get back to the story, Dumbo is fairly common to not only locals but also tourists. They stroll across Pier 1 and the parks in between both bridges. They stand in line for Brooklyn’s “Best Pizza,” which has a sanitary B grade. They buy $7 ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory because their tourist guide tells them to do so. They are simply being ripped off and they enjoy wasting their money on these things. Well, I used to be one of these creatures and I thought Dumbo and the parts of Brooklyn Heights from the High St Station to the water were all that was worth seeing. Wrong!

I should have known better. Occasionally I saw a group of people approaching me from the other end of Brooklyn Heights. “What train station are they coming from?” I wondered, “Am I missing out on something over there?” But yesterday, the day of enlightment, I actually read the signs right because I was on a search and I finally saw the pointer to Pier 6!

So I made my way past all the other piers, wandering around the green areas, always with the Manhattan sky line to my right. One of the most beautiful views you can have when heading off to a new destination, by the way. And eventually, after passing couples who were picnicking on side benches, Orthodox Jews who were posing for family portraits, and boys who were trying out their new skateboards, I made it. I arrived at Pier 6! I had expected another park, some people there, nothing out of the extraordinary. So I got confused when I approached and heard kids’ laughter, joyful screams and other soundtracks indicating a bustling scene. Boy, did I feel stupid! I couldn’t believe I had been missing out on this fun park for so long.

Pier 6 offers beach volley ball courts for sport nerds (doesn’t that exclude each other? Playing sports and being nerd?!), a grand playground for children, a fountain area for the entire family (I’ve seen them jumping into the fun and getting all wet!), a nice park, and a roof terrace with refreshments! No wonder some families choose to spend an entire Sunday afternoon over here! You also have a nice scene because ships enter and leave the port-like area (hence the name “Pier”) – something you will hardly find anywhere else in Dumbo made accessible to the public.


Beach Volleyball

I didn’t have my imaginary kids with me, and I had forgotten to bring my sportswear, therefore, I decided to go for the refreshment part. So I walked up to the roof to see what they had to offer. The walk up was designed in a square-like shape. Remember those circle-like entries that lead you up to a platform? Well, this was about the same, only in squares. I walked up, cornering the walls a few times, until I found myself in a quite exclusive area that was nicely shielded from the rest of the park but still offered an amazing view. A few picnic tables with umbrellas made sure the crowd did not overheat during the hot summer day. And a Bark Hot Dog stand offered … yeah, well, hot dogs (surprise!) with a variety of toppings and prepared in many different ways. Bacon Cheddar Dog anyone? Bark’s also had other types of food, such as sandwiches, fries, onion rings, and sausages. They deserve a huge plus because they offer something called the Veggie Dog: A vegetarian hot dog, unfortunately $2 more than a usual hot dog (why so expensive, there is no meat involved?). Aside from food, they had beer and soft drinks, making the beer garden atmosphere almost ideal. All of this topped with the New York skyline in the background and the proximity to the East River, which might ensure a cool breeze or two during the hot summer months.

Exploring Brooklyn: I am TOTALLY into it!

Ocean, Sand, and Fun

Beach season has kicked off and given New Yorkers the chance to take a cool dip into the Atlantic Ocean without having to travel too far. Aside from Brighton Beach and Coney Island (read the blog here), there are other options in and around New York.

The nearest one would be the ocean view you have on Far Rockaway. The Rockaway beaches are a long stretch of sand in Queens and they go all the way up to Long Island (where they end up to be less populated). To get there, you take the A-Train to Broad Channel, switch to the S-shuttle and step out at any street you want. It starts at 90th St and goes all the way up to 116th St.
This weekend I took it to the 98th St – Playland stop (still didn’t figure out where their “playland” lies – maybe it has a double meaning?) and walked up to 102th Street. The area is residential with a slight ghetto touch and it has a few options for take-out food and even a bar you could sit in if the crowd inside of it doesn’t scare you away (mostly older locals with too much times on their hands). Compared to Coney Island or any other normal beach the stretch of sand is about half of what you get anywhere else. Seeing not too many options to lie down at, I parked my towel around one of the life guard chairs (by the way, the best method to not have your stuff stolen) and took a jump into the water. This is when I noticed a great thing about Far Rockaway: The waves! They are huuuge and aggressive and endless – in short, they are a lot of fun! I haven’t seen waves like these in a long time. I believe this makes this beach great for surfing, too. More about this in a different blog.

The only stretch of sand you'll get on Far Rockaway

Residential Far Rockaway

Another beach I got to check out at Far Rockaway last year was Riis Beach. It is known to the locals as a gay community and many beach cravers run around topless or half-nude. If you are not comfortable with this, don’t go. The stretch of sand is normally sized and it is not as overpopulated as the rest of this stretch of the island. I collected oversized shells over there and use them as decorative storage means nowadays. So, for collectors it is definitely worth to stop by and grab your share of unique oceanic creations.

oversized shell with jewelry

The actual size of the shells as shown in comparison to a (normal-sized) pen

A visit to Long Branch Beach on the Jersey shores was due last year, too. Even though I heard many good and mind-blowing things about the Jersey shores (beautiful sand, great beach and so on), this area did not impressive me enough to come back. It was better than New York beaches, of course, but you can get a similar beach to this in Long Island without making the trip out to another state. When I went, it was a sunny day in August and the waves were quite big on this particular day. They were actually pretty dangerous, because I got knocked under water a few times. Not the normal being washed-away-in-a-wave type but more the struggling-to-get-back-to-the-surface and trying-to-survive kind of type. And yes, I do know how to swim, just in case you were wondering. Aside from this, Long Branch Beach was a bit stony, so watch where you’re stepping. One foot after another, please. I heard other beaches on the Jersey shore don’t have this issue, so feel free to let me know which beaches exactly.

And last, but not least, I got to check out Long Beach in Long Island last Saturday. Until date the loveliest beach around this area. The people are nice, respectful and the normal American crowd and you have enough space to yourself. A great area to relax and then catch food on the promenade. You have a variety of different restaurants to choose from: Spanish, Mexcian, American diner, and French style. Five Guys is close by, too, which they are supposed to have one of the best burgers around here. The only turn-off is not the money it costs you to get there (which by LIRR is about $16 both ways off-peak from Penn Station) but the money you pay to get ON the beach! That’s right, Long Island actually makes you pay for using their sand. Unbelievable, but true. Okay, you might think a couple of bucks are justifiable. Wrong! It’s $12 to get in, no matter at which time you show up. I don’t know how Americans feel about this, but I felt kind of fooled and taken advantage off when I found this out. Nothing justifies this amount of money, to be honest. And the fact that they had an abundance of trash cans and some extra guys in uniform patrolling the beach didn’t change my opinion.

Long Beach

Long Beach Promenade

Long Beach redundant Beach Patrol

Long Beach town

Long Beach's FIVE GUYS

Jones Beach, Fire Island, and the notorious Hamptons are still on my agenda, so I’ll keep you posted what my summer will turn out to be in pursuing these plans.

“Viva la YMCA” or “NYC Gym Search Craziness”

This week I put my membership with my local gym on “freeze.” Because summer has finally cared to show up, I don’t see any need in sweating inside a hot room without any AC on when I can run through Prospect Park or do sports outside. I had the choice to choose between 1 and 3 months of taking a “time-off,” so I decided to go with the maximum amount and took 3 months of “vacation.” This gives me well into mid-September until I will be back for my 3-4 times a week of working out.

Finding a gym in New York was a story by itself. When I first moved here, I lived on the other side of the park in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn. Since I came in March and just missed out on the cold, icy winter months, I went straight from inside weight-lifting to outside jogging. It went well until about September, when I decided to check out my options of joining a serious fitness studio. Albeit I loved to jog in the park, it tended to become really hot during July and August and I had to run either in the early morning or late evening hours.

If you know me a bit better, you are aware that I am not the person to stay persistent with any type of sports. Therefore, I love the gym because it gives me the variety I need and options to choose from. Although running is nice once in a while and Prospect Park is one of the best sceneries I could imagine, I am not the type to jog in the winter (frosty!) and I need my entire body to be challenged. Experimenting around with weights and taking some courses has proven to give me the diversity I need and to keep me motivated in pursuing my fitness goals throughout the year.

So it was off to finding a sports house that could satisfy my deepest desires, wasn’t too far from where I lived, and wouldn’t impoverish me through its fees. Sad to say, this was harder than it sounds. New York has an array of gyms to choose from, of course. There is the (tada!) New York Sports Club (NYSC), one of the most popular ones out there. You can find their branches practically in every part of Manhattan and sometimes even on almost every street corner, depending if you are in a highly populated area or not. They are not as densely represented in Brooklyn, but Park Slope has them, as I have walked past them many times. Crunch is another biggie, but I have only run across them in Manhattan, not so much in Brooklyn.
Other notable fitness centers are Equinox, Bally Sports Club, Citi Fitness, HRC, Cross Fit … the list goes on! What I didn’t like was the high prices of most of these fitness gyms and I thought I misheard or misread the pamphlet at first when I read a regular membership cost around 100 Dollars or more a month! WAAAAY overpriced! David Barton was offering a “special deal” in September 2010, which almost lured me into his fangs, because of its 65 Dollars per month membership. Still too much!

And that is not all: Most gyms don’t get you with their high membership costs but with the registration fee. Another 80 to 200 Dollars (the average is around $130) on top of this, even though it is a one-time fee but you won’t ever see it again.
Quite understandably, I wasn’t in the mood to join any gym after doing a bit of research. On top of this, the Flatbush area does not offer anything close-by at which I would want to stop on a regular basis, which meant I would have to check my odds of traveling to the city a few times a week for my daily workout or at least find something close to work.
And as if everything was following a certain plan, I moved to a nicer area in December of 2010, joined my local YMCA only one month after this and consider myself happy as a bird when it comes to sports!

When I switched locations to Park Slope, my roommate was able to convince me of going to the gym right around the corner and I am still thankful for the circumstances. I, coming from Europe and all, couldn’t connect the YMCA to any sports activity when I first heard the term. To me it was the theme of a well-known song from the 70s, but that’s about it. Well, the YMCA has A LOT more to offer than this: It provides its members with a gym, rooms for classes and courses, and a great inside track, where you can run your rounds and play basketball and pingpong. In short: It is geared towards families with children – low in cost, but high in fun! Sometimes the YMCA even has a pool – just another accessory added to the list. The one I go to, or rather went to, regularly is only 2 minutes walking distance from my apartment.

It costs me $42 Dollars a month and I didn’t pay the $75 registration fee, because they had a special from mid-December to mid-January, during which you could enroll for free. To top this all, I have the choice between 20 very different classes and have already tried out a few. My favorites are yoga, ballet, and zumba (a mix between various different Latin dances, and, depending on the instructor, really great work-out!). I am eager to try out spinning, thai chi, and boot camp, but that will have to wait until the fall.
It is also a matter of cramming your fitness schedule into your normal after- or before-work-schedule. This is partly a reason why I am abandoning the YMCA for the next 3 months: Summer has so much to offer in Brooklyn and the City, that I just know I won’t have the time to go to the gym. Too many free concerts, happy hours at rooftop bars, or other activities going on.

It took me a while to get used to the crowd in Park Slope. I live in an area, that is geared toward young families and homosexuals, but since it is the only acceptable gym nearby, it seems like some people come from the other side of the park, too. This accounts for a very diverse crowd. I had my troubles in the beginning, of course; had thought it partly weird but also amusing to be checked out by 55-year-old Lesbians or 17-year-old teenagers. The weight room is still a male domain, and occasionally the concentrated power of pure testosterone hit me when I walked right into it.
I adjusted to men dancing ballet and not finding themselves silly. I got used to girls sometimes being very mean toward you because they think your body is more attractive or you are more good-looking then they (come on, get over it!). But in the end, I am glad I found this secret treasure so close-by.

Their opening hours are from 6AM to 11PM on the weekdays (way to go!)and from 7AM to 9PM on weekends and holidays. They have a changing room but no showers (which is absolutely no problem when you live only moments away or in walking distance) and the staff is really friendly. Check it out, I am sure you’ll find it an affordable option for your first time in New York and maybe beyond!