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.

Quest for the Press Day 7


Where I was as of last night. Videos taken by my friend AJ “Huggles” at Planet Granite in Sunnyvale.

I was taking class at Yoga Inside Out a few weeks ago and placed my mat next to another person. Didn’t think much of it since it’s we’re always surrounded by anonymous people in class.

However once class started, it became apparent that she had a similar physical practice to mine, save for one major thing: she could press into handstand. Something crossed my mind:
I suck. How come I can’t do that? (Boo for negative thoughts.)
Quickly followed by:
Wait. This means that I have hope! (Yay for turning it around.)

I had always used my plethora of excuses as to why I couldn’t do certain things, until I realized that they weren’t true. My excuse for not trying arm balances? Skinny arms. Completely blown away by watching another girl with even skinnier arms do it. Inversions? Same excuse.

In an effort to learn how to press up, I had asked my (male) friends who gave me useless tips. They meant well, but the tips were still about 5 levels above where I was. So I remained stuck since I couldn’t figure out steps 1-4.

After class, I tapped her on the shoulders and shamelessly asked her for help. With all of her tips, a light turned on in my head. One that reignited a desire to improve myself. To learn more. She wasn’t a glamorous rock star yogi, but she was so much more real to me because she was next to me without the glamorous lululemon/toesox/whatever photoshoot.

[A slightly creepy admission: I googled her later and found out that she was a yoga teacher in Marin, which explains why she was so good on step by step tips.]

I was able to modify a few of her tips to suit where I was in my practice (I had a bit more ways to go than she did, so I started with higher elevation.) In any case, I would highly recommend this page for information. The great thing about her videos is that she doesn’t just show her with her perfect press-ups, but all of the struggles and “failings” that brought her to where she is.

Two things to take out of this:
1. Never be afraid to ask for help. Even though I “teach” yoga, I still have a lot to learn. Knowing that I still have a long way to go makes it more fun. Each step forward sets off a fire of dopamine in my brain.
2. Everything takes time. It took time for me to find the right person to give me guidance on my next steps. You are where you need to be for now. It will take more time for me to figure out how to get to the next step and I am okay with that.

Upavistha Konasana Inverted in Aerial Yoga

 

This actually doesn’t require as much upper body as it might look. This is more like a party trick that *looks* cool and complicated, but it’s actually not bad once you get over the fear of flipping upside down.

Keep your shoulders integrated into the torso. You can either wrap your hands around both sides of the hammock or put you thumb and index finger around one side with the remaining fingers wrapping around the other.
Use your core strength to lift the legs up and over. Try not to kick up (but if you need the booster until you build the strenght, you can.)

In terms of difficulty, this is one of those cool tricks that *looks* cool, but it’s not hard. A large part of it is getting over the fear that you’re going to die. 🙂

To practice lowering down, see if you can keep your legs lift as you unroll the torso and work to straighten the arms. The strength for this builds pretty quickly if you do this even just once a week.

Vinyasa Time!

This is my day zero. I am practicing pressing up into handstands and I will document the process. I am currently only able to get up with some little hops, but I’ll write out what I have been focusing on to get there.

I know yoga isn’t supposed to be all about the asana, but I think setting physical goals demonstrates a few things:
1. Discipline. How able are you to stick to your goals?
2. Your current state of mind. What is your attitude towards working towards your goals? Are you trying 100% every day? Are you just grateful that you even tried? Have you gone on autopilot?
3. How willing are you to ask for help? This has been a big one for me. Will talk about it in my next post.

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]

the miscellaneous thoughts of a daydreamer