Life Lessons I Learned from Yoga, or How Yoga Keeps Me Sane

yoga blog post image

Here’s a pretty nature scene photo I took in Taiwan, because it’s kind of weird to take photos in yoga class.

I’ve been doing yoga consistently for about 10 years now. If it were a person, I would marry it.

In the past year or so, I took a hiatus from blogging here, not on purpose but just due to the sheer amount of the priorities I made willingly. I switched jobs twice. Some new faces entered into my life while some left. I continued some hobbies and dropped others. I know everyone goes through changes like these, and for me, yoga has been a trusty companion that helps restore my physical and inner balance through my ups and downs.

Yoga releases the stress caused by my demanding work projects or upsetting situations. It reassured me during my multiple waves of quarterlife crisis by calming my crippling anxiety and panic about uncertainties. I have silently shed a few tears during Child pose and shavasana multiple times. In my opinion and experience, this form of moving meditation is one of the best methods of anger management. When I would enter a studio furious or disappointed, after exerting myself to exhaustion for a while, I leave knowing that I can eventually forgive, let go, and move on. Yoga has provided important positive reminders of my blessings and confirmations of my strengths through all of my breakups and heartbreaks. When friends tell me about certain hardships they’re facing that I cannot help with besides offering emotional support, I pray for them and send positive energy towards their way when I shut my eyes during lotus pose.

There were plenty of triumphs and happy moments to share with my metaphorical old friend too. During the classes I attended right after achieving something important to me, I felt invincible from controlling my body to take actions in just the ways I want. Very often when my mind is cleared from moving from pose to pose, the things I appreciate and those I treasure in my life would randomly pop into my mind, and I would be grateful for their existence. And maybe it’s all the “heart-opening poses,” but when I am happily in love, I would smile and giggle through the movements and my affection for that person would feel intensified somehow afterwards. At the peaks of my self-confidence, I would feel extra powerful and beautiful from being able to move gracefully, making me feel like a badass Peaceful Warrior.

Through doing and the words from instructors over the years, I’ve learned the following from yoga:

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If I Could Live-Tweet A Bikram Yoga Class

6:25 pm: Wow ok it felt like I just hit a brick wall made of hot air when I opened the door and walked in. I can do this! #healthy

6:27 pm: Goddammit why is every available free spot still DAMP with the sweat from the previous person? Gross! Will try to be early from now on! #hot

Image6:30 pm: We’re starting to breathe like crazy people staring at the sky praying for aliens. Feels like I’m inhaling in 50% humidity + my neck hurts!

6:35 pm: So glad to do the Half Moon Pose! I’ve done this 1000+ times before #NBD Ooh look at that drop of sweat gliding down that @HotGuyInFront’s spine

6:38 pm: Um the Awkward Pose is SO awkward. It looks like we’re being forced to hold over a toilet ugh my thighs are burning too

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6:41 pm: I feel you, bro! RT@FellowNewbie: God what did I get myself into!? #BikramYoga

Eagle pose

6:44 pm: …the Eagle Pose looks nothing like an eagle unless an eagle really needs to go to the bathroom but can’t and is vogueing at the same time

6:47 pm: What is this pose called? The Ashamed Flamingo?! Why so many birds, you guys?!

ashamed flamingo

6:50 pm: Oh wow I didn’t know that my knees have the ability to sweat until today. #Interesting

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Stationery Cycling is NOT Stupid: Spin into Shape

Disclaimer: I do know how to ride a real bike that moves, but I also live in San Francisco- the city filled with hills, one-way streets, and cars driving in the same lane as cyclists. I’m so easily startled that I worry about OTHER people on bikes. I just can’t use it as a way of transportation here without potentially having heart attack scares constantly. Just can’t.

This is why I love spin class. Getting roughly the same exercise indoors without the risks of accidents, sun burns, and bug bites anytime regardless of the weather outside? Sign me up.

Definitely a love/hate relationship.

 

My qualifications: About 20 classes in the past 6 months

What it is: You ride on a bike that doesn’t go anywhere, but you can adjust the resistance to simulate going uphill or on a flat road.

What you’ll actually be doing: Cardio. A whole hour or so of non-stop cardio. Strength & endurance training. The instructors will let you know what pace of a certain number of rotations per minute to follow, and when to add or decrease resistance. They also try to make the class less boring by mixing in intervals, riding off the saddle, or “jumps” where you switch your positions while continuously pedaling, etc. Usually there’s a bit of time for you to stretch in the end.

What you’ll be working on: Besides obviously working the leg muscles and building your stamina, cycling actually also uses your core a lot since you have to lift your knees up to do each pedal, which forces you to contract your abs. It also helps with your hips and rear end. Gotta look good in those leggings or skinny jeans!

What to do about the bike machines: I’ve tried spin at three locations and they all had different machines. Some are more customizable than others in that you can adjust the seat and the handlebars both vertically and horizontally to allow you to be in the best posture. If you’re an average height person (unlike me), then the most basic machine should suit you fine. Some bikes are more high-tech than others with sensors to monitor your heart rate, or have a color screen, etc.

Music you are most likely going to hear during class: Songs that gradually build up, or super upbeat music. All genres besides country, pretty much. Personally I think the background sound is crucial here in a spin class. We can’t help but try to move to the beat of the current track, which is why good instructors know the importance of pre-made playlists. There have been many moments where I thought I was too tired, but when a Rihanna song comes on, I revived and pushed my pedals to the rhythm while mentally singing “WHERRRRRRRE HAAAAAVE YOUUUUUU BEEEEEN ALLLLL MYYYY LI-AYEEE-FE!”

Sweaty tank top or performance art inspired by an Rothko painting?

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It’s OK If You Can’t Dance Like Usher in Hip Hop Class

I was not kidding about wanting to be Justin Bieber if I ever perform as a drag king in my last post.

I am not a great dancer, and I just take dance classes for fun and fitness, but I really like doing it because it makes me happy. What also makes me happy is seeing others dance and enjoy themselves, so I am going to try to convince you to try hip hop dance class for selfish reasons.

My qualifications: On-and-off for 5 years at about 8 different locations around the Bay Area. I have never performed, but if you want to hit me up for clubbing, I promise I’ll be a really fun dancing partner. ;)

What it is: Originally a street dance to hip hop music, it has now evolved into a mainstream dance style with various sub-genres like breakdancing, locking, popping, tutting, etc.

What you’ll actually be doing: You start off stretching and warming up, then possibly some across the door moves. Finally your instructor will teach you a short routine for the remaining of the class. Each teacher’s style is different and they can’t help but utilize similar movements, so class should become easier each time if you take it from the same person.

What you’ll be working on: Depending on the routine, hip hop dance class includes cardio and or exercising your core, legs, and arms. The trick to make certain moves look really cool and effortless is often contracting your abs or arm muscles right. If there’s going to be heavy floor work, the instructor often ask you to bring knee pads beforehand. You also really get to work on your musicality in class by matching what your body does to the timing of beats. Mostly routines are measured in 8-counts but occasionally it’s choreographed to the lyrics. And like all dances, the routine often tell a story or convey a mood so you get to use your acting or “character modeling” skills a bit. Maybe this week you’re dancing to Aalijah but the next time is Frank Ocean. Bring out your performance alter ego with facial expressions and some attitude.

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Know Which Kind of Massage You Want and How to Get the Most Out of It

This picture is an accurate portrayal of how I usually feel after a massage: like I’m being cuddled in a warm, peaceful womb-like environment.

Let me start by saying that my father is a certified masseur, and he provided much of the knowledge shared in this blog entry. In fact, I called him earlier to approve this writing.

I’ve definitely been getting a steady amount of free massages from Papa Lu over the years, but I still willingly shell out money to go to other spas and massage therapists often because well, I also enjoy the kind of massages where you strip down naked and lie under sheets. I LOVE MASSAGES, and I want to share that with you.

For those of you concerned about the nudity, please don’t worry. All places that ask you to remove your clothing will let you lie facedown under some sheets in an empty room first, then the masseur will return when you’re ready. And during the session, he or she will position and tuck in the sheets in various ways so that nothing indecent is showing. It’s kind of like a funny dance. Anyway, moving on.

First and foremost, decide what type of massage you’d like. According to my slightly biased father, the ancient Chinese invented massage (and almost everything else) back in the day, and then other countries in Asia came over, learned the techniques, and adapted them to their own liking. The Westerners developed their own styles though but the principles are the same…And that is a very brief generalized history of massage! If someone wants to do a full detailed research, by all means. Below are the most common types of full-body massages:

1. Traditional Chinese Massage: Incorporating the pressure points so important in Traditional Chinese Medicine, “Tui Na” will knead, push, pinch, and stretch you. If it hurts a lot when someone puts pressure on a certain pressure point, that means there’s something really wrong with that part of your body the particular pressure point corresponds to, and the pressure is releasing the pain. If you’re healthy in that area, then the only pressure you’d feel is just the plain force put into it. You usually don’t need to take your clothes off at all for this. Just wear loose clothing. This according to my dad is the best kind of massage because it is the origin of all others.

2. Thai Massage: My dad’s theory is that because Thai people are historically petite and don’t have enough strength, they invented the technique of walking on people’s backs and using elbows on the patient’s body. Usually the ceiling of the room will have special bars for the masseuse to grab on to so they won’t slip. In addition, they will fold and arrange you into various yoga positions to help stretch and release tension. This kind might not bring you much relief during the session, but you’ll feel much better afterwards. My dad does not recommend this style for first-timers.

3. Shiatsu/Japanese Massage: A traditional Japanese home doesn’t have chairs- you just kneel on the cushions laid out on the tatami mat floor. Naturally most Japanese massage places will have you lying on the floor instead of on an elevated surface of some sort. Because of this, the Shiatsu relies much on using the palm and fingers on the pressure points since it’s hard to use force otherwise while sitting on the floor.

4. European/Swedish/Aromatherapy Massage: This type of massage utilizes lotion or fragrant essential oils and you’re most definitely encouraged to get as naked as possible. There are lot of comforting long strokes and less motions that make you yelp out loud.

5. American/Deep-Tissue/Sports Massage: This style focuses on pressure for a sustained amount of time to get to the muscles underneath your skin. The pain is likely to last a whole day after the massage but it’s for the best.

6. Hot Stone Massage: Basically heating up smooth stones of various sizes to put on different pressure points while you lie down. Needless to say, my dad thinks this is a cop-out. It’s good for relaxation and stimulating blood flow, but the benefits are not as much as the other styles. However, this one is good though if you don’t like someone actually touching you. This also might be good if you have never ever received a professional massage before.

Of course sometimes the person may combine several different styles to your needs. Other factors might come into consideration.

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Boxing Class: Punch Out, Real Life Version

My qualifications: Twelve one-hour classes and counting

What it is: A type of martial arts that only allow fists to be the contact points used for attack. Common punches include the jab, the straight punch, the hook, and the upper cut.

What techniques you’ll know: Usually a boxing gym will require you to take 1-3 beginning boxing classes in order to learn how to throw those various punches properly. This is so you don’t want to waste any extra energy or have bad posture that hurts yourself. You also will learn how to dodge and guard yourself from all possible punches.

What you’ll actually be doing: You will not actually fight somebody in boxing class. You will do that in sparring, which is the next level up. In boxing class, you begin with some cardio by jump roping for a long while. Then a series of drills focusing on your stamina and upper body strength, such as push ups, lots of abs exercises, and bear crawls. Some more cardio too to build your endurance and speed. You might use some tools like free weights and heavy exercise balls as well. You’ll get to practice combinations of punches on either a punching bag or a partner who’s blocking. Basically each type of punch is assigned a number. Both parties will know what the sequence will be ahead of time, so the receiver will know how to block properly by anticipating and switching the placements of fists.

Muscles you’ll be working: Um, everything. I used to think that punching involves only your arms. In reality a good punch takes muscles in your arms, shoulders, upper back, core, and more. Basically your entire torso, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to use your lower half as well. Jump roping of course is also great for your legs and many common drills I have encountered are squats and a lot of plyometrics. And don’t think that you get to rest when it’s your turn to block people. Just preventing someone’s fists from driving into yourself takes A LOT of work.

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Tiny Movements With Huge Results- The Dailey Method Exercise

 Official website: http://thedaileymethod.com

 My qualifications: Just got back from my tenth one-hour class! I’ve only been to the downtown and Mission/Castro location in San Francisco, but I’m going to assume it’s pretty much the same anywhere else since the flagship studio is the SF Marina one.

Locations: Studios in 7 states with the majority in California. Complete list of Dailey Method locations here. Bar Method, Pure Barre, Pop Physique, and Core Fusion classes are all supposed to be similar though.

What it is: For a detailed description of a typical Dailey Method class, there’s an article on FitSugar. And for how a real person views it, please read on. So this lady Jill Dailey with a degree in kinesiology started a pilates studio, then she started learning the exercise method of Lotte Berk who is a ballet dancer. Jill then established this routine of working out with various tools. Basically to me it’s pilates with some inspiration from ballet and yoga using props.

What you’ll actually be doing: In a carpeted room, working out with a ballet bar, yoga straps, different size exercise balls, mat, and free weights. Toning of arms, butt, thighs, and core. Some stretching and a little bit of cardio warm up. The dumbbells in there range from 2 to 5 pounds only. Very small movements with high repetitions and a lot of holding of difficult positions. Half of the time I am like “Oh this is a piece of cake” and the other half of time I am like “You’re telling me to just move my thigh up and down by an inch but I JUST CAN’T ANYMORE waaaaaaaaaaah!”

Music you are most likely going to hear during class: Very upbeat pop or house music. Or “workout mixes” of songs.

What the instructors are like and what they’re likely to say or do: Above average looking ladies who are very fit. The instructors are really friendly and like to motivate you from a superficial perspective: “This works out your triceps so your arms will look long and lean in a tank top!” or “Really work your obliques! They’re what create a narrow waist and swimsuit season is approaching!” Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that because that angle totally works on me. Class size is small, and correct alignment is really important in Dailey Method, so they come around to check on you very often to offer you any needed adjustments.

Who are likely going to be in your class: I have never ever seen a man in the studio. EVER. Although there is a men’s bathroom, so…. All the ladies in my class are prettier, fitter, more well-dressed than the average woman. They also look smarter but that’s just my personal judgment.

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Get Your Zen On And Yoga It Up

This may come as a shock to you, but I’ve never had pictures taken during my yoga practice. This picture sums up the feeling you get from yoga pretty well though.

My qualifications: Been doing yoga for the past 7 years, averaging about once a week. Actually just did it yesterday.

What it is: The physical aspect of an ancient practice. It consists of flowing through a series of poses that are balancing, aligning, stretching, twisting, and inverting, all while putting a great emphasis on deep breathing.

What you’ll actually be doing: Flowing through a combination of “active” postures meaning just keeping in positions involve the small muscles in your body. Uncommon stretches that make you think, “We’re doing that? Really?” Maintaining balancing positions that unexpectedly work your core, legs, and arms a lot. Conscious breathing. A bit of meditation.

Good for people who are:  in any level of fitness, really, because usually instructors will tell you different difficult levels for each pose. And you are encouraged to just go into Child Pose or Down Dog whenever you’re too fatigued.

Benefits: Building lean long muscles, increasing flexibility, improving postures, and boost mental health. Seriously.

Music played during class: Lyric-less songs. Think Anya or “mood music.”

The instructors: (I personally think yoga instructors are the closest thing to angels on earth, but that’s just me) Very positive and calm. Usually will demonstrate each pose and come adjust you when needed. Seem to have a very poetic flow too when it comes to their words. Some common practices I’ve noticed over the years are reading philosophical quotes and telling inspiring stories.

The classmates: Surprisingly very diverse. Anyone from athletic muscular dudes, fit and pretty ladies, and people who seem a bit hippie, to cool seniors and pregnant mamas.

Suggested attire: Something form-fitting but not too tight that allows you to move all crazy without showing any of your goodies. I highly recommend going barefoot but if you must wear socks, wear ones with good grip.

What you will feel like right afterwards: Relaxed and peaceful. All limber.

What you might feel like the next day: A bit sore in your core, various tendons, shoulders, and triceps.

Bonus: You’re going to learn some human body terms like scapula and Sanskirt words like chakra.

Extra tips:

  • Bring a towel if you tend to sweat a lot. Or cover your entire mat with a towel of the size if you sweat A LOT.
  • It’s true that yoga is something you can do on your own, but I really suggest going to classes first to learn the proper alignments, and then once you’re familiar with everything, feel free to do it at home to a video or voice recording like podcasts.

Let me know if you have any questions! This is the first one in the series after all (Reason for starting here) and I don’t really know what other people are concerned with before they try a different kind of exercise. Everything is generalized for succinct explanations, too.

Namaste,

Chin

Be Nice To Your Body By Making It Do Difficult Stuff

There is a lot of downtime at high school cross country meets.

It’s not even 9 PM on a Tuesday and I’m already wearing my robe and sniffling in my bed. I had been drinking every night for 6 days straight, and even though my alcohol intake is always moderate, it’s taking a toll on my body. Also incidentally I have not worked out at all during that time period, unless you count intoxicated dancing on stage.

When I was a kid, I used to get sick at least once a month. Or at least that’s how often it felt like. I went to the doctor so much that I had “favorite medicines.” Although my grandma is an excellent cook who makes balanced meals and I was as much of a glutton back then as I am now, I was stick-thin despite all the older folks’ efforts to put more food on my plate.

The Taiwanese educational system does not put much emphasis on physical education at all. At my elementary school, we had PE once a week and the activities seemed to rotate mainly among badminton, ping pong, hacky sack, and dodge ball. The boys sometimes had basketball games while the girls cheered on.

Then I moved to Modesto, California. At Teel Middle School, students were judged on their ability to finish the mile under a certain amount of at the end of each grading period, so I got a D in PE the first semester. I forgot what was the exact passing rate, but I am sure it was around 18 minutes.

Growing up in Taipei, I did not have a lot of opportunities for outdoor activities. We left the city on the weekends sometimes, but it wasn’t enough. I slowly became healthier and stronger in suburban Modesto by simply just playing outside more. Freshman year in high school was when I had the brilliant idea of trying to join a sports team, when the last adjective anyone would use for me was “fit.” I don’t remember why I made that decision but I suspect it has something to do with adding extracurricular activities on my college application. Thank you for that one, overachieving tendencies!

After not making the cut for our high school softball and volleyball teams as predicted, someone told me that our track & field was short on people. I showed up and immediately was told to go to the long distance running and jumping events coach “because he doesn’t have enough people.” Thus began my ongoing habit of exercising.

That first few weeks were absolutely brutal. I was hurting in places of my body that I was not aware could be capable of pain. I visibly limped around and I often sat on the edge of a bathtub to submerge my legs in ice-cold water. Thankfully my dad was studying to be a massage therapist at the same time, so I was his grateful guinea pig almost every day after the two-hour gruesome practice. I eventually got over it and joined cross country running, too, even though I never placed in anything.

I can tell you later more about all the tips I picked up about running during those four years, but my point is that I really believe everyone should exercise in any way they can. I am not athletic at all and I was born that way without any good genes to help me. Very hard to believe, but I am the most “sportsy” person in my family. I try to exercise as much as I can because all the health benefits of fitness were proven true on me. I don’t think I ever even caught a cold in high school since I started running.

A group of our sixth grade classmates have stayed in touch over the years, and I cannot help but notice the drastic physical differences between my old female classmates and me, even though we were all in similar shape when I left.

People tell me all the time, “Oh that’s so cool you do _____. I wish I can do that.” The thing is: YOU CAN. Nothing brand new is ever easy at first. I definitely made a fool of myself countless times but you gotta start somewhere and the pay-off will totally be worth it!

In a few days I’m starting a new series here about each type of exercise and dance classes I’ve tried over the years to hopefully convince you to try them at least once. I’ve taken so many different classes because I am lazy inherently and I want to find the ones that I can stick with. And I’m not very good at self-discipline, either, so I willingly pay someone to encourage/yell at me in a group setting where I feel the peer pressure to not slack off that much.

C’mon, people. Let’s do this so we can all look as good as Rob Lowe or Jennifer Aniston when we’re 45 years old.

 

Best,

Chin