Moving through Bikram

A few days ago I caught up with a friend to try a bikram yoga class at the studio she trains at. I last did bikram about ten years ago when my beloved cousin took me to her studio in Malaysia. I have very fond memories of that day, buying my first pair of exercise shorts before the class and giving it my all as the teacher called out instructions to me in Mandarin.

The class yesterday was just what I hoped it could be, and then so much more. I was determined not to let my ego get the better of me and try and be stronger or more flexible than the people around me, though I had to admit that I would struggle to keep that resolution. Instead, I decided to be honest with myself and do my best to keep within my limits, rest if I needed to, and notice my self-judgements without needing to act on them.

To my great astonishment, my ego barely got in the way at all. I was a little self-conscious warming up, and it took me a little while to get into the swing of things when the class began. After about ten minutes, the heat became uncomfortable and I was courageous enough to take my shirt off even though I was worried my body didn’t look the way I wanted it to. As I glanced around the class from time to time, I realised that everybody had different body shapes and that they were all amazing yogis in their own ways. I finally came to accept (at least for that hour) that there is no ideal body shape, and that my beautiful healthy body is perfect just as it is.

Using the mirrors to correct my postures, I moved and stretched and balanced, and I became so intimately connected with my body and the things I love about it. At times when I looked in the mirror I was captivated by what I saw, a being full of strength, balance and vitality. I loved the glistening sweat that dripped off me, the ways my muscles flexed as I shifted and moved, how my whole body worked together to carry me through time and space. I wasn’t fixated on looking any particular way, I just had an appreciation and an admiration for this incredible body of mine, and it felt incredible.

For the rest of the day, I was super aware of how good it felt to be in my body. Without wanting to sound pretentious, I was incredibly aware of my posture and alignment. I felt really comfortable sitting cross-legged on the floor during a meeting at work, and when I decided to relax my posture, I did so conscientiously. I became aware that it really mattered to me what I put in my body, and when I chose to have a coffee I did so understanding the effects it would have on my system. And I felt so energised all day, like I was quietly buzzing even though I had expended so much energy in the morning. It was a pleasant paradox.

That experience of bikram was a perfect way to start the day, and it was everything I love about exercise and movement. I think I’m still building up my fitness because I hit a wall about forty minutes in and felt like I’d done enough for the day, but I kept going of course, working with my body and exploring its limits (beyond the ones I had self-imposed). Yoga isn’t easy: it’s beautiful and natural and pure in its self-discovery. And I have to say, two days later I’m still incredibly sore (which is a pleasant surprise!). In the words of the teacher, when a mirror was held up before me to show me my response when I encountered challenge, I am proud of what I saw.

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to go again, I just hope it’s soon! Namaste!

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A Guide to Not Complaining

I would like to start by remarking on an observation I have made. Previously when people have asked me the generic opening line “Hi, how are you?”, I made it my goal to give them an honest and unique answer rather than the generic “I’m good thanks”. I would pick some part of how I was feeling and comment on it: “A bit tired”, I would say, or “I’ve been better”, or “Not bad considering I’m at work on a Sunday”. But I’ve recently discovered that these lines, innocent and honest as they may be, are layered with a subtle negativity. I have found that when you talk about things that are going wrong, the people you are talking with will respond in one of two ways: They might start to withdraw from you and avoid getting into a discussion of an unpleasant topic by brushing you off with something like a “Oh, right. That’s too bad”. Alternatively, they might start to feed into your negativity with a well-meaning response such as “Oh, I’m so sorry. What sort of sickness do you have?” While this might initially seem like kindness, it is feeding into the cycle of I believe I feel bad – this person believes I feel bad – I continue to feel bad. When you see that person again, they are likely to open with “Are you feeling any better today?” And you might think to yourself, “I don’t know, am I? Maybe I am still a little under the weather.”

 

That’s not to say that sickness isn’t real, and that you shouldn’t care about people who are unwell. But if every time you talk to someone you bring up how tired you are, how many challenges are in your life, how unpleasant your day has been, they’re going to always see you (consciously or otherwise) as tired and hurt and to be frank, a little whiny. And they’ll either avoid spending energy talking with you, or feed into your cycle of thought that encourages you to feel so negative. Complaining is a subtle thing, and I daresay most of us don’t realise we’re doing it. But it’s so harmful to us and our relationships because it’s so insidious.

 

The bottom line is that people who complain feel that they deserve something better than what they have. They believe that their circumstances (whatever they may be) are unjust, and that they are worthy of special treatment, that they are privileged somehow and that hardship should not happen to them. (Note: I use the word “should” deliberately to point out the flaw in this kind of thinking.) There is a tremendous host of reasons why this kind of thinking has become prevalent in our societies, but ultimately it is a deluded way of living your life. To put it another way, would it be unfair for your neighbour to get hit by a car today? Do you think it would be more unfair if you got hit by the car instead? Most people would say they deserve it less than their neighbour, and please God don’t let it be me. But when you think about it, it’s just as likely to happen to someone else as to you, so what makes you feel like you don’t deserve to get hit?

 

Forgive my pessimism, but it was this kind of thinking that shocked me into the realisation that I’m not more special than you are. That’s not to say you’re not special – please remember that you are a miracle of creation [link to you are not your body], energy and matter synthesised into an autonomous, sentient being with free will and movement. You are an incredibly improbable creature capable of awesome things. But at the end of the day, you are still just matter and energy, and when the sun explodes and the cosmos reveal new secrets, you may come to realise how small and humble you are in the greater scheme of things.

 

The answer to this kind of privileged attitude is to not take anything for granted. To appreciate what you have [link to http://www.tuneinnotout.com/blog/simply-living/], rather than complain about what you don’t have. My friend Dan writes a far better article about this [link to http://dandjurdjevic.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/wanting-more.html] than I, and I strongly encourage you to read it. At the end of the day, we are so blessed by the bounty of miracles that are unfolding all around us, and yet so many of us resolutely ignore them so that we can get sucked into our own self-pity.

 

Indulge me once again in another experiment. For one hour, or one day, or one week, make a conscientious effort not to outwardly express anything negative. When someone asks how you are, tell them how great you feel, even if you don’t. When you feel the aches in your body and the lethargy in your mind, draw your shoulders back and smile from your heart, even if you don’t believe it. I promise you that, if you do this for long enough, you will change the way people see you. And more importantly, you will change the way you see yourself.

 

Leave a comment and let me know how you’re going!

 

All my love,

 

Xin.

My Love Affair with Wii Fit

I started playing Wii Fit U tonight. And to my surprise, it brought up a number of strong emotions. You see, I have a little bit of a history with Wii Fit.

When I first got it a few months after it came out I was so ridiculously into it. Every single day, almost without fail, I would do the daily fitness test. Even if it was 11:57pm, I’d rush home to boot up the Wii and sneak the test in before midnight. I did it obsessively for months, keeping a record of my results for no other reason other than I was proud I could manipulate the game into seeing how amazingly balanced and coordinated I was. I logged dozens of hours doing the exercises. I was a master at the soccer-based balance game, I’d unlocked the advanced shoulder stand in yoga, I completed the 100 jack-knife challenge in the strength section and I was thoroughly smitten with the female trainer. I think I clocked over 50 hours in total, and I have very fond memories of training late into the night, feeling healthier and stronger and more capable than I had otherwise been.

One day in school, I accidentally dropped my journal during home room. I went back to retrieve it after the first period, but someone had already found it, going through it and making notes on pages of interest. On the pages dedicated to my Wii Fitness Test results they had written “LOLOLOLOLOLolololOLOLOLOLOL”. It hurt me deeply, and I realised in a flash that other people thought my passion was dorky. Shortly after that I decided to stop mindlessly and obsessively doing the test every day, and soon after I stopped playing it entirely.

When Wii Fit+ came out a few years ago, I bought it out of nostalgia. I had a pretty good time with it, but I was only interested in seeing what new games and exercises they had introduced. I don’t think I played it more than twice or thrice in all. And when the Wii Fit U was announced, I was willing to give it a good try, and I was especially impressed by the Fit Meter (which acts as a pedometer and more). Once I’d booted it up, I had a really, really good time playing it, and all those fond memories came flooding back along with a peculiar sense of shame. It’s pretty senseless to hold onto the (rather low) opinion of a stranger from 2007, yet I can’t help but feel a modicum of judgement that lingers for enjoying something a little nerdy.

But there is something magical about Wii Fit. Shigeru Miyamoto’s dream of a healthier and happier population inspires me. It’s as if when he came up with the idea and shared it with others, he poured his heart into it, wanting nothing other than the people of the world to try his gamercising and love it as much as he hoped they could. And this vision is reinforced every step of the way as the Wii Fit Board tells me about the importance of good posture, healthy diet and adequate sleep. It’s as if Miyamoto-san, through the persona of the Board, really does want me to be the healthiest and happiest person I can be. And that inspires me to eat better, to exercise more and to be a more vibrant human being. And I am so grateful for that.

So, while this inspiration lasts, I am once more going to delve into the world of Wii Fit. I don’t think I’ll take the daily tests as I find them unhelpful. I know that my balance is excellent, and I’ve found that measuring my weight every day is quite discouraging. I used to score consistently between 58-60kg with the goal of putting on weight, but after my Japan trip I’m weighing in at about 66kg, which is about 4kg more than I was before I left! I’m surprised I haven’t lost the weight, but I’m not going to let it be important to me. It’s just a number, and at the end of the day it doesn’t really impact very much on how healthy I am. I’d like to lose a little more of it, but BMI is such an unreliable indicator of healthiness that I’m just going to ignore it entirely. For all I know, I could have put on stacks of muscle! (Not likely as my shadow of a six-pack has disappointingly faded, but still.)

Here’s to a happier and healthier future. I hope you’re a little inspired to make some lifestyle changes yourself! I might report back in a little while to see how things are going. Ja ne!

 

 

UPDATE: It’s kind of addictive to do the daily fitness test and unlock all the stamps. It still irks me that I’m not losing weight, and I feel myself slipping into a sense of self-criticism. But at the same time, it motivates me to eat healthier and exercise more, and I treasure that. Perhaps my fitness far exceeds the abilities of the Wii Fit board to assess, but I’m nevertheless having fun recording the amount of calories I burn and doing exercises that target different muscle groups. It continues to be a source of joy and motivation in my life, and I am grateful for it.

On beauty and self-love

I’ve spent quite a bit of time deliberating whether or not to write this blog post, and if I did, how much to write. In the end I decided that I wanted to, because ultimately I’d like to live in a society where it’s okay to have these conversations publicly, without judgement. I’d like these ideas to be acceptable, without being subject to discrimination. And I’d like to share an important part of who I am with people who are interested in my life (i.e., you guys). So here goes.

A few days ago, I had just finished one of Trevor’s tremendous Circus Conditioning classes. I had worked really hard that morning, pushing myself until I was glistening with sweat, yet smiling in my heart. I got to Beth’s place and jumped in the (cold) shower, and when I got out to dry myself, I was caught aback by my reflection. In all humility, I had never seen myself look so beautiful in all my life. I stood there for a long moment, amazed at how young and fit and healthy I was.

Let me say that I know very well that the body is just a bag of meat that carries our consciousness around. I know that some day, probably soon, my fitness will start to decline and I will not be so healthy and beautiful. I could get hit by a car today, become horribly mangled, and then watch as all my muscles atrophy during a slow convalescence. So I can say with some degree of honesty that I am not attached to this body.

But that does not stop me from loving it.

 

I don’t know how this entry is going to be received. In truth, I’m scared of being perceived as vain, or that too many people with body-image issues will not understand why I’m writing this. But hell, there isn’t enough acceptance of self-love in the world. Too many people look in the mirror and see faults, their mind full of criticism and rejection. I want more people to realise that it’s okay to love yourself, exactly as you are, regardless of what shape your body happens to be in. Although I consider myself very fit, and even beautiful, I think I would love my body just as much if I were overweight or had characteristics this society deems as unattractive. I might be sad that my body was unhealthy due to my lifestyle choices, but if I was born a certain way beyond my capacity of influence, then I would love and accept myself for being the lovable, deserving person that I am.

I asked Beth to take a photo of me after the shower. Not because I’m especially vain, and not because I’m particularly attached to my body, but because I looked beautiful and I want to remember that. I am also highly conscious that I’m posting a picture of myself mostly naked, but I don’t want to let “fear of rejection or humiliation” stop me from loving myself, and sharing the important message of self-love with others. Plus I’ve always admired people who have the courage to publicly share intimate pictures of themselves. It’s a bloody scary thing being so vulnerable, and it takes great strength of character to not fear the judgements of others. So here’s a picture of me in a towel.

Peace out everyone.

How To Make Every Meal Taste Better

One of the blogs I was privileged enough to write for TINO.

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I recently wrote a blog post on healthy eating but I realised I left out something important. I talked about what to eat, but I didn’t mention anything about how to eat. And that’s probably even more important in terms of having a healthy diet, as well as really enjoying the experience of food.

One of the big problems I have is that if there’s food in front of me, I’ll probably eat it. As my girlfriend can tell you, it doesn’t matter how full I am, I’ll find room for it somewhere. I hate for food to go to waste, so instead I let it go to my waist. (I’m sorry, I know that was terrible, but I just couldn’t resist.) As another friend of mine put it, “My mouth is bigger than my stomach”, meaning if it tastes delicious he’ll just keep eating.

The solution to this is a little self-restraint. In Buddhist philosophy, there is quite a lot of emphasis on moderation and “The Middle Way” (avoiding extremes). One expression of this is casually referred to as the 80% rule. Whenever you eat, eat only until you are 80% full- your stomach actually has to work a lot harder when it’s full to the brim with food. (This causes its own problems, like discomfort, heartburn and indigestion.) To help with this, try using a smaller plate instead of a medium or large one. Or if you only have one size plate available, fill it half or three quarters full. After you finish, wait a little while and see if you’re still hungry before you go for more. I tell you this not to say that dramatic weight loss is the most important reason to watch what you eat, but by positively changing how much you put on your plate and how often you go for seconds, you can make a big difference to the overall health of your body.

Another part of eating well is only eating when you’re hungry. If you’re eating because there’s a scheduled break, snacking because you like the taste of food, or indulging because you’re just plain bored, you might be putting more food into your body than it actually needs. Hunger is your body’s natural response to needing more energy, so eating when you’re not hungry is like sleeping when you’re not tired or sweating when you’re not hot. When you overeat, much of the food isn’t being used for nutrition or energy- it just gets turned into waste, and you know how I feel about wasting food! (I’m just full of bad puns today.) Wait until you build up an appetite before you eat, and try not to fill up on snacks before mealtimes.

Finally, and most importantly is something referred to as “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is essentially the practice of focusing the mind entirely on what you are experiencing in the present moment. So much of the richness of life is overlooked because we’re not fully present when we’re living. As an example, I’ve been to a few classical music concerts in my life, and invariably I find that I spend most of the evening thinking about something else rather than paying attention to how incredible the music is. Buddhists believe that this wandering, “monkey” mind is one of the main reasons people are unable to enjoy life. And it’s not just for Buddhists- there is plenty of research in contemporary psychology as well as ancient philosophy to extol the benefits of mindful living.

As many worthy people have said, food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Imagine eating at a five-star restaurant and not paying attention to the food – what tragedy! To help cultivate a practice of focusing your mind on the experience of eating food, try this the next time you eat:

Take a single spoonful/forkful of food, put it in your mouth, then put the spoon/fork down while you chew. Really focus on the sensations and experiences you’re feeling; the scent and smell, the transitioning textures and the transforming tastes. Only when you’ve finished the first mouthful can you take up the cutlery for a second. Don’t be in a hurry to wolf it all down, really taste and enjoy what you’re tasting!

If you do all that, in conjunction with eating healthy, delicious meals, you’ll notice some incredible changes in your digestion. But perhaps more importantly, you’ll really enjoy eating, no matter what the dish! Mindful eating makes a bland meal taste flavoursome, and a flavoursome meal taste mind-blowing. Give it a try today!

Xin