Tag Archives: yoga

The History of my Yoga Mats

My mom purchased my first yoga mat at a Marshall’s that came with a free yoga DVD. It was a blue, thin little thing from Bally’s Total Fitness that provided minimal padding – but that’s okay because I didn’t need anything special for Bikram Yoga. This was 12 years ago in 2003 when I decided to invest in my first Bikram class at BYSJ.

My second mat came when I walked to Funky Door Yoga (Berkeley, CA) for a Bikram class and realized I didn’t bring my mat. Since it was a nearly 20 minute walk from my college apartment, I decided to finally upgrade my mat to a pink Wai Lana mat with hibiscus flowers. (I think this was sometime in 2006.)

This mat held over until 2011 when I started vinyasa yoga. I started investing in many many many Manduka eQua towels for the slip and slide that inevitably developed on my sweat drenched mat. I spent too much money on towels and realized that I should actually invest in a good mat.

I then tried out the Jade Yoga mat (on a loan from a friend) and suffered the same slip and slide. Many of my friends lauded it for it’s grippy-ness, but I sweat like a fat pig in a sauna. Others told me to try the Manduka, but mentioned that the towels will still be needed for a slipper practice. I still have a Manduka Pro Light that I use at home for a non-sweaty practice + global travel.

But many of my teacher friends had The Mat from Lululemon. *Cue the angelic choir.*

Photo from Lululemon.
Photo from Lululemon.com

The Mat has been my hot yoga practice savior. I own a few that I use on rotation (except for the one my dog pooped on. I’m not sure when I’m ready to bring that back into the fold.)

Why I like The Mat:

  • For most sweaty betty’s, it’s grippy enough to survive most hot vinyasa classes. [I know a few guys who still sweat more than me and require a towel. Just a few.]
  • There are multiple lengths and thicknesses. “The Big Mat” is available for the taller folk. “The 3 mm Mat” is for those who don’t require so much extra padding.
  • Excellent durability. I alternate mats only because I have to air them out after practice to dry out. I’ve had my pink one for over 3 years and it definitely has a lot more mileage left.

Things to note about The Mat:

  • It smells when you first buy it. Air it out for a long long long time and it will go away.
  • It’s a heavy mat. It doesn’t bother me at all, but just thought you should know.
  • Do not clean with oils (tea tree, lavender)! I scrub with soap and water and sometimes vinegar.
  • Buy a black or very dark mat. My pink one looks extra nasty and it’s hard to scrub the dirt marks out.
  • Air out after a sweaty class.
Fiesta Americana
View from the gym of the Fiesta Americana, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. 2013.

Photo: I almost always bring my Manduka ProLite mat with me on my global travels. My hotel had promised yoga class, but alas, there was none. Did yoga by myself on the balcony overlooking the water instead.

[Nobody endorsed me for this post. This is solely from personal experience. I really do sweat a lot – many of my teacher friends have noted that I sweat on par with many guys.]

Injuries, Illnesses and Setbacks

For Thanksgiving week, I was lucky to be able to work remotely in Taiwan so that I could spend time visiting family. However, I’m not as young as I used to be and jerking myself from one time zone to another extremely disparate one was a bit jarring for me.

Injured my shoulder and neck area and forced to walk around like a robot for a week. Not cool
Injured my shoulder and neck area and forced to walk around like a robot for a week. Not cool

I soldiered on. However, one night at my in-laws place, I slept on one of those contour pillows incorrectly (due to exhaustion, I passed on out it with the large contour digging into my shoulder blade. I woke up with such extreme pain in my neck and shoulder that I wasn’t able to move my head in any direction without tears coming out of my eyes (no joke.) My head felt like a bowling ball and tilting it in any direction made it weigh that much more. (Here’s an article talking about posture and how tilting your head puts nearly 60 pounds of pressure on your neck.)

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, Taipei, Taiwan
The only crow that I was able to do the entire week. Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, Taipei, Taiwan.

Even though I brought my yoga mat abroad, I was unable to use it.

And then came the plane ride. Eleven excruciating hours with an immobile neck. Luckily my father-in-law provided me with some Toricam gel that I slathered on my neck that made things slightly more tolerable.

It took almost a week after I came back from my trip before I felt okay enough to do yoga.

And then I got a cold.

I am still suffering from the repercussions of the cold nearly a week later, which has progressed into a sinus infection. Somewhere between hourly sinus irrigation, pei pa koa, pseudoephedrine and copious amounts of rest, I’m slowly recovering.

What has this taught me? I think it was just a reminder to slow down. I had worn myself out to the point where I sleep in awkward positions and wear down my immune system.

It has been deeply frustrating not doing yoga, flipping around in aerial or even going for a simple walk (without being breathless.) Sunday was the first day I was able to take my dogs out for their usual stroll. Monday was a sorry attempt at yoga, but an attempt nonetheless… and I was happy. Happy to just be doing something even if it didn’t look that great. Happy and grateful that my body was able to recover and I could do some semblance of movement.

So this week I’ve been going along with the theme that sometimes we need to slow down and appreciate where we are. Don’t take for granted the things we are capable of doing until it’s gone (or temporarily absent.)

Photo is of Mount QiXing. No exotic yoga photo this post since I was relegated to no yoga on this trip.

Blind-ish Yoga and Balancing

Last week I slept with my contacts on for a night and gave myself an eye infection. Woe is me. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that I got one. Two years ago I got one for wearing my contacts on a plane after staying up almost all night for a wedding in Chicago.

So now I have to spend 2 weeks wearing my ultra-thick glasses. How thick are they? -750 thick. To put this in perspective, to be considered legally blind, you have to see greater than -1000 with glasses on. I can’t wear glasses during yoga because they constantly slip off and fog during a warm vinyasa class. This means I see -750 in class.

Last time this happened, I spent most of the class flopping and struggling to balance. I spent so much time being self conscious about how unstable I was, not just in balancing poses, but in simple things like knowing where to put my hands and feet in dog dog. I had become so dependent on the visual cues of my physical practice that I hadn’t quite built the intuition to listen to what feels right for me.

This time around however, after a few more years of yoga + teaching students to do yoga with their eyes closed + learning to trust myself more while rock climbing, I find blind-ish yoga strangely awesome.  I can’t look around class at all. I’m fairly certain I was doing something different sometimes because teachers would mis-cue poses or mis-name poses, but it didn’t matter. My balance felt great because I trusted my feet, my core, my stability. Dancer’s pose, handstands, downdog all felt natural.

If you’ve never done this before, put on a blind fold or take out your contacts for class – it will change your perception. Maybe you will doubt yourself at first, but you’ll build on it over time. Fall a few times or fall a lot. Get up, brush yourself off and try. Trust yourself or learn to build the trust.

The Case for Inversions

Towards the end of my power class yesterday, I offered up a select-your-own inversion moment for students. In an effort to motivate them to try something, even if it was just viparita karani, I mentioned this article I read on Quartz about a woman who developed cankles from using her standing desk all day.

[FYI, someone in class asked what cankles were, which caused an outbreak of laughter, toppling over a few students. I apologize for those who may have fallen from laughter.]

I won’t go into a speech about the benefits or contraindications for inversions because I’m not a doctor. Plus you can probably find better articles written online. I just find them fun + it channels my inner kid who wants to run around doing cartwheels. 🙂 Isn’t that a good enough reason?

Throw in concentration and discipline for bonus.

Co-Teaching Workshop w/Wayne Tow

[Sorry for the grainy photo – apparently we don’t like to take photos together. But when we did, he happened to be dressed up like SpiderMan while teaching class.]

When I first started working on my handstands, Wayne offered a lot of (well-meaning) advice to me involving bent elbows and pressing up. Alas, when I bent my elbows, they never straightened back up again.

After I met the lovely Grace Yu, I learned a lot more tips that benefited me because she was more able to relate to the struggles I was having with handstands. I was excited and I decided to share with my friends (including Wayne) what I learned. The tips did not resonate with Wayne (who does not have my open hamstrings.)

The lesson in all this is that we all have very different bodies. Despite being much taller than me (sorry Wayne, I forgot how tall you are, but I know you’re taller than me), I have a longer torso than he does. He has broader shoulders and a narrow waist. I have skinny arms and a very low center of gravity. All of these physical characteristics means that we have found very different methods to approach the same thing.

Thus, Wayne and I have banded together to create an arm balance and inversion workshop to cater to all body types. We will start with a brief anatomy discussion, a warm up class and then we’ll work our way through foundational arm balances (such as bakasana/crow), and foundational inversions (namely sirsasana/headstand.)

Wayne is excellent at breaking down the most complex of poses (except for that handstand fail) in such a way that they are a lot less intimidating. Hopefully I can help bring some inspiration to those who worry that they aren’t strong enough (yet) to get to where they hope to me. It’s all about attitude and patience. 🙂

There will be a foundations workshop “Get Your Wings” on 10/18/2014 from 12:30PM-3:30PM at Y@C’s El Camino location.

Advanced workshop “Let’s Soar” will be the following week 10/25/2014 from 12:30PM-3:30PM at Y@C’s El Camino location.

$45 Pre-registration by 10/18 -OR- $54 Drop in after 10/18 
$70 Pre registration by 10/11 for BOTH “Get Your Wings” AND “Let’s Soar” Workshops

To sign up for the arm balance workshop [click here]!

Congrats To Diane Khuu On Her New Primetime Slot!

It was a short-lived co-teaching summer romance (not unlike my other short-lived co-teaching spring romance with Linh). Why do my co-teachers keep running away?

Co-teaching started when Linh took my class and realized that I wasn’t being myself when I teach. Normally I crack lame jokes (and laugh at myself) and have a goofy-fun time in class and with my friends. At some point I became a robot – stoically teaching each class. I’m not sure why it happened.

I met Linh in yoga class but didn't really talk to her until we did teacher training together. We eventually became good friends and even traveled to Argentina together. She's very blunt and I'm grateful that she's honest with me.
I met Linh in yoga class but didn’t really talk to her until we did teacher training together. We eventually became good friends and even traveled to Argentina together. She’s very blunt and I’m grateful that she’s honest with me.

When Linh joined, I started to open up to my students more (I’m actually a very private person, so this is a big deal) and in the process, I became more comfortable and had more fun.

Diane started off as my very first personal mentee. During her teacher training at Yoga @ Cindy’s, she was given the opportunity to select a teacher who she wanted to shadow and learn from and she picked me! (I had mentored others in the past, but they were assigned to me, so I’m not sure if they really wanted to be with me at all. :P) It was easy to mentor Diane because she always asks questions and is open to constructive advice.

I’m glad to have had a my fun co-teachers – their energy and attitudes made class a lot more fun to teach, and I feel like the students felt like it was a lot more fun to take. I was able to create more of a community with a little help from my friends.

Our last class together will be August 27, 2014. Afterwards… who knows. Maybe I’ll bring them back if I turn into an automaton again.

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.

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.

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]