Category Archives: Thoughts

Engaged in Distraction

I’ve been trying to write this blog post for over a year now. I have jotted down half thought out ideas but never really sat down to ruminate over them.

Why has it taken me so long to get here?

I am of a generation with little to no attention spans. A generation constantly addicted to the rush of dopamine from every ping and vibration of our cell phones. Sitting down and writing something remotely meaningful requires the arduous task of focus. It requires dedicating myself to a set block of time to translate the garbage in my head into a coherent strings of words. It requires time to format, find photos, research relevant items, etc.

Who has time for that anymore? Who has time to sit down and read a novel? To have deep meaningful conversations with friends? To spend time doing nothing?

People wonder why I “exercise” as much as I do. In all honesty, I probably spend about 1 hour a day doing something. One hour where I leave my cell phone out of sight because it serves no purpose for me in that moment. It is probably the one hour of my day where I am forced to stew with my thoughts or the (weakness/strength) of my body – to focus on how much my core is shaking in megaformer, to focus on my alignment in yoga, and to focus on plummeting to my death in rock climbing.

I’m not even good at paying attention even then – my mind wanders, I have injured myself plenty, and I have fallen many times.

The secret is this: the moment you notice that you are no longer present is the moment that you become present.

Now that you know this, how present will you be?

(Inspired by this article by Mark Manson.)

Photo credit: Fernando took a photo of me taking a photo in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil circa 2014. I had no cell service in Brazil (except for emergency purposes) so we were forced to plan how to get around, and then wing how to survive since we had no idea where we were going or what we were doing. Lack of cell phones meant we were forced to engage in marital small talk and live in the moment.

 

Try, Try Again.

So I’ve fallen off the wagon in the last few months. While traipsing around the world (some for leisure, but some for work) sounds like magical fun, it comes with a lot of side effects. My sleep was disrupted in so many ways, I ate lots of unhealthy things to survive long meetings, and I pretty much reduced my exercise down to nothing.

And it shows.

I don’t meant to say that I got fat (because I didn’t.) But I got cranky, I got moody, I got sullen. The protective barrier that I put around myself after many years of yoga was taken down due to bad lifestyle choices. Most of the mental deterrents were no longer there and I found myself consumed by anxiety.

I started this new year stressed, unhappy and tired. [Someone once told me how you start your new year is pretty much going to set the tone for the rest of the year. Thankfully, I’m Chinese and I still have lunar new years to give it another shot.]

But I know that I am lucky in other ways. I am not complaining about the opportunities that I had during those last 4 months – I did get to see and do a lot of amazing things. I am lucky because I know that I can get back to the way things were. Exercising comes naturally to me. (I know, I know, I’m weird.) I’ve spent my entire life doing some sort of physical movement (mostly dancing and hiking) so it’s never been off for me to do something every day. I know that I have to start somewhere.

The first day back to yoga and I definitely could not stretch as far as I used to. First day back in megaformer and I felt weak. First day back at rock climbing and I was back at 5.9s. But I know what I am fully capable of. In a few months time (or even sooner) I can get back to where I was before. I know I’m lucky because my body will remember.

For those that are starting off, you have to start somewhere. I know some people who started exercising from ground zero, and now (a few years later) it’s so ingrained in who they are that they are (healthily) addicted to some physical movement. It’s a discipline that you build into your body and becomes a habit. Somewhat like brushing your teeth. Sometimes you really want it (especially when your teeth feel grimy or fuzzy). Sometimes it’s just routine. Sometimes you take it for granted… until you spend 1 week in the desert with no running water and can’t brush your teeth.

[Photo credit: Me! This was our second time riding a camel through the Sahara Desert. The first time was in Egypt near the pyramids. This time it was an hour long ride. Things are always different the second time – you’re a little more comfortable and you know what to expect.]

New Year’s Resolution: Cutting Back

At my last job, during one of my performance reviews, my manager said that I needed to learn to push back against people who ask me to do too much. He says I have a habit of trying to take on more than I should. I never thought that it was a bad thing to want to do more, but I’ve come to realize that it’s a fast track to burn out.

I have spent the 2014 saying “yes” to more (yoga) sub requests and social engagements than I probably should have. I was perpetually glued to my phone and overstimulated by social feeds, news and emails. Towards the end, I started to cringe at the thought doing things that I used to look forward to – just doing yoga, rock climbing with friends, talking with students/friends/people.

At the end of the 2014, I took a trip to South America – land of beautiful landscapes and crap Internet. With the lack of Internet, TV and many modern conveniences, I was forced to unplug and just enjoy being. Enjoy being in nature, biking in the moment, laughing at jokes and suffering through some uncomfortable situations (yes, even those are enjoyable.)

I’ve noticed since I’ve been back I have a lot more enthusiasm to do the things I was once dreading. I’m happy to talk to people again and be social.

In lieu of waiting for my future meltdown (insert references to many celebrity meltdowns), I’m going to spend the next year saying “no” a little more liberally.

What do you plan for the new year?

Photo: Playing with perception on the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia. Quite literally blowing things off. Seemed suitable.

Happy Anniversary

Dear Self-From-Five-Years-Ago,

Relationships are hard and require a lot of commitment and dedication. Some times you get frustrated as hell and want to quit. Other days things seem to click. So goes the natural fluctuations in life. Be mindful of your actions and reactions, since you have control of these.

A truly healthy relationship allows both parties to become better. Keep an open mind.

Tell them you love them every day.

Nadia

Photo was taken in Egypt the week that Morsi’s government was overthrown. We were sitting in the Port of Aqaba in Jordan [Y’all should watch “Lawrence of Arabia” if you have not] waiting for our ferry. The ferry was delayed since the political situation in Egypt was tense and our departure was contingent on whether Morsi would step down or not. I won’t go into the political details about this since I’m not knowledgeable enough to talk about it.

While in Egypt, we were given the opportunity to ride camels. I originally said no since they smelled and it cost $10… and I was being cheap. But after seeing him mount a camel, I decided why not? I mean, how often can most people get the opportunity to ride a camel in front of the Great Pyramids? If it were not for his enthusiasm to do EVERYTHING (literally, everything), I wouldn’t have these photos. At the same time, he never would have thought to visit this place if I didn’t throw a dart at a map. (He had his eye on more popular tourist destinations in Europe.)

While we have drastically different travel styles, I think we decided that I was the limiting reagent when it comes to energy. It used to frustrate him that I would get tired all the time and it would frustrate me that he wanted to keep going out until the sun came out. He learned to accept my limits. [I tried to go out at night but after some time, I become a sleep-deprived monster. It’s not pretty.]

Compromises are hard. Rarely is it 50/50. More like 60/40 or 70/30. Once you agree to the terms, agree to them without regret.

What Is/Is Not Yoga?

Every time something comes along, backlash isn’t too far behind.

Yoga is/isn’t a community practice, but a solitary one. Yoga is/isn’t a solitary practice, but a community practice. It isn’t physical asana, it’s all mental. It’s some physical incorporated as mental. Include quote from Rumi, a passage from a book, pop music/no music. Fun, extroverted teacher or quiet, contemplative teacher. Yoga is/isn’t hot women doing yoga half naked posting themselves on Instagram. Ashtanga is the original. Iyengar is the original. Bikram? Vinyasa? Power? “Hatha”?

So much judging happens when you say you practice yoga. Depending on where you go, what style and who you practice under, others seem to judge the authenticity of your yoga or the hipness of your practice.

The greatest aspect of yoga is it’s reach and it’s ability to tailor itself to each individual. If you crave the singalong, heart-pumping community feel, try for a Bhakti class. Want to quiet the mind and stretch the body? Try for Yin or Restorative. Yoga for bonding with your partner/baby/toddler? Done. Solely here for silent contemplation? Meditate. Is what you are doing yoga? It is, if you want it to be.

Photo Credit to my husband, Fernando Cheng. Taken in Bangkok, Thailand from one of many many many temples we visited.

Overtraining + Learning to Relax

I’m not sure exactly when I realized I was overtraining – it does manifest itself differently for different people.

It could have been when my muscles continued to feel sore days on end no matter how much time I took off.
It could have been the weight gain (ok, ok, it wasn’t a ton of weight, but it was definitely the heaviest I have ever been) and the increase in body fat (mostly belly fat.)
It could have been the constant feeling of being unbearably cold at work (admittedly, it is super cold in general at work, but it felt arctic.)

In some ways, even though I knew that I was overtraining, I couldn’t stop pushing myself, lest I become weaker. In some ways, maybe I was addicted to the constant high intensity aspect of my regimen. I wasn’t listening to my body [the complete anti-thesis of what yogis preach.] I did try to cut back, but after a day or two of rest, I was antsy to get back to the yoga studio or the climbing gym.

Relaxing halfway up our hike to Sugarloaf. I guess it was a fairly brutal hike, but we rested lots and I had a lot of fun...
Relaxing halfway up our hike to Sugarloaf. I guess it was a fairly brutal hike, but we rested lots and I had a lot of fun. Stayed active without stressing out my heart and spiking those cortisol levels.

During my last vacation, I was limited to 2 whole yoga classes over a course of 2 weeks and lots of walking and hiking. The minimal high-intensity and large quantity of low-impact exercise reset my system. Coming back from my trip, I noticed that I was no longer freezing at work. I had managed to shed the excess weight that had crept on the previous year. I came back to my physical practice stronger.

Now my exercise routine is a lot less intense than it used to be. I used to teach yoga, take power yoga and then go rock-climbing all in one day. I beat my body with intense forms of yoga 5-6 times, climbed 3+ times and did whatever I could to just keep moving. I’ve cut everything in half and just try to get some simple low impact exercise (walking around a lot more) and it works perfectly for me.

Of course, this will vary from person to person. I have a co-worker who can run marathons without training and be 100% okay. Good for him. I would probably die (possibly, literally.)

This was all a recent occurrence/discovery (~2 months ago) so we’ll see how this sticks. If you don’t see me around the yoga studio, I may just be taking a simple walk around the neighborhood or just playing around with some simple yoga at home. I do encourage daily movement, but it doesn’t always have to push you past your boundaries every day. [I am chuckling now because if you had asked me 3 years ago, I would vouched for daily butt-whooping.] Learn to take care of yourself. For some, it means more exercise. For others (like me), I need to learn to relax.

Not One Of Those Days

In December, somewhere off the shore of Ao Nang, Krabi, Thailand, I was paddling my heart out due to the choppy waters while my husband lounged in the back taking photos.  [He survived.] We had to keep paddling otherwise the current would push us further and further away from shore. At some point, I was fairly certain I was getting sun burn and heat exhaustion, but I kept going.

Thailand BeachAfter what felt like an eternity of paddling and paddling, we rounded the final corner and reached the beach. Fresh fruit and shade awaited us. Powering through some rough waters was ultimately rewarding. Not trying would have resulted in us floating out to see and ending up on primetime news.

Unlike yesterday where the stars were aligned or something other utter pish posh, today was like a constant harry of items large (meetings, deadlines, trying to plan for my co-teaching class) and small (dropping off a DVR at UPS, running to the post office), and social events (rock climbing dates). There are a lot of obligations in life that you have to push yourself through because it’s just a part of life. I don’t mean this in a surrendering sort of way, but in a grit-your-teeth raging (in a good way) through the tough moments sort of way.

Of course, not everything in life comes with rewards. Sometimes you just have to work through it just for the sake of working through it. It’s up to you to decide how you want to see the difficult moments. Do you want to face them knowing you tried your best or face them frazzled and overwhelmed?

[Photo credit to my husband, Fernando Cheng. ]

Community Spirit

This weekend I had the opportunity to go car camping for the first time in my life at Arroyo Seco. (It’s never too late in your life to experience any firsts!) Part of the camping trip involved a 3-4 mile hike through a relatively easy trail, followed by a short descent to the bank of the stream. We blew up our inflatables (which is a lot harder than it looks) and set down the stream.

Due to the drought the stream was nonexistent for large portions and required hiking through moss-covered rocks (super slippery), rock protrusions in the water (which my friends dubbed butt sharks) and rock hills.

Making our way through a narrow slope down to a part of the stream.
Making our way through a narrow slope down to a part of the stream. I’m carrying my dog in her life vest with my left hand.

By the 5th hour of our hike, sun blazing and shade non-existent, the environment started to take a toll on us. Dehydration from poor water rationing, sunburn despite copious amounts of sunblock application, heat exhaustion from the beating sun and headaches set upon us. We had no idea how much further we had to go to reach the end of the stream (where our campground was located.) We plodded on. And on. And on.

There were moments I wanted to give up, but watching my friends be hopeful that the next bend might provide relief from the heat, or a path to the original hiking train, propeled me on. There wasn’t much that could be done to improve the situation, but we shared the remaining rations of granola bars and sunblock.

Eventually, after another hour, we found a trail of sorts, but we weren’t sure where it would take us. At this point our group split. Those of us with dogs trekked up the trail in hopes of finding the main path while the remaining continued down the stream. After a steep climb that involved ropes and ample quadricep strength, we reached the main path. From the main path, it was about 25 minutes before we reached the campground. I shoveled the only available food (since the good stuff was in the car of someone not at the campsite) of guacamole flavored ships, marshmallows, graham crackers and warm cranberry juice.

As for those down the stream? Two hours after my trekking party separated, one of our friends limped back telling us to grab the first aid kit because someone was injured. They were unable to find any trails after we separated and after an hour of wandering, started to climb up the side of a gorge. Loose rocks tumbled down and eventually sliced through the leg of one of our friends (who eventually had to get seven stitches).

So what is the point of this? Sometimes being in the company of others who can encourage us when things don’t look so peachy can inspire us to persevere. Not just in hikes, but in yoga class, at work, or just in life in general.

[All images courtesy of my friend Jeff Wang.]

To Music or Not To Music

I started a draft of this article awhile ago, but never finished. It seems like a good time to bring it up today in light of a story on The Atlantic that claims that people prefer electric shocks to be alone with their thoughts. Aside from the glaringly overstatement (in actuality, “a quarter of the women and two thirds of the men gave themselves a zap when left with their own thoughts…” which means that a majority of men, but not a majority of women), it does bring up a good point on how hard it is to just be with your mind.

For me, yoga asana can be a great precursor towards eventually learning to sit still. At the very least, you are given the opportunity to sit with your own body while adding some stretching and strengthening to it. All the while you can really focus on the extension and compression of muscles and joints and everything in between.

Which brings me to the title of this post: to music or not to music?

I take classes with teachers that play and teachers that do not. I have personally found a preference towards soft music or no music. This doesn’t apply to everyone though. I’ve seen classes with loud Lady Gaga, heart pumping, Zumba-esque musical soundtracks that are packed from one wall to another. To each his own.

I ultimately choose to not play music for a variety of reasons, and not all of them are what you think it is.

1. It takes a long time to create a playlist. Sure, I could slap together a string of zero 7 music with some xx, Ben Leinbach, and nature calls thrown in without much thought. But I have to make sure that the playlist tunes in to what I plan on teaching… and that it won’t push the class in any direction that will become unnatural. A lot of thought needs to go into what I want to play… and I’m not going to lie – somewhere between my full time job, my personal practice, my husband, my dog, traveling, rock climbing, eating, sleeping and everything else, I don’t want to make a half-assed playlist with my remaining time.

2. I’ve play had playlists that were very invigorating, which the class didn’t really appreciate since they were in a worn-out mood. I’ve had playlists that were soothing when the class needed a bit more pep in their practice. I can’t suddenly swap out the music like a maestro DJ so the class had to suffer through some awkward music before plodding through to savasana.

3. In my personal practice, I like to hear myself breathe. I’m not sure if all of my students feel that same sentiment though. Please let me know if you don’t. 🙂

4. I like to hear myself think. I think a lot of garbage and it’s quite fun. In my mind, I lead a life like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Outside of my yoga practice, I work full time at a fast-paced start-up. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and the people in it. But sometimes you need some space from the ones you love. For me, that means going out for a walk with my mind. Sometimes with and sometimes without music. But it’s mostly for me to be alone with my imagination.

I’m not sure if I fully convinced anyone if one way or another is better. The point I’m trying to get at is, I don’t play music because I want to let each student define their own practice. If they want to play music, they are welcome to tune up a soundtrack in their heads. I won’t know and I definitely wouldn’t disallow it.

[Also, I know the featured image is just of my dog running in a field. Bear with me while I test out some features.] [/expand]