Friday, January 23, 2015

How I learned to stop scorning yoga and appreciate it's benefits

I never did school sports as a young kid, or any other kind of class for exercise or health, other than the required P.E. class in school. When I was 12 or so I joined a jujitsu school because my mom wanted us kids to be doing something active with our free time. At first I went to a few classes a week, and then I started going every day after school, sometimes doing as many as three classes in one day. These were highly active classes, always beginning with a challenging workout, and often including sparing drills (like kickboxing), as well as other strength-intensive training activities. Toward the end of class we generally had a bit of free grappling or sparing and grappling for the higher ranks. Basically, it was one to two hours with almost no down time. And it was FUN! It was exciting, got my heart pumping, and made me feel great. In comparison, yoga sounded so boring!

I didn’t know much about yoga when I decided that it wasn’t for me. I basically saw it as fancy-pants stretching for people who were too lazy to do real exercise or had too much time on their hands. I know that probably offends a lot of people, but come on, do you really burn that many calories when you’re not even working up a sweat? Plus, I’m not very flexible. I’ve spent most of my life not being able to even come close to touching my toes. So I had no desire to do something that I was probably really bad at, and didn’t seem to have a point to it anyway.

Yoga wasn’t just a passing fad, though. It stuck around and is still really popular. I continued to blow it off, until I realized that a lot of my peers and other people I highly respected, like the singer Amanda Palmer, made yoga an important part of their lives. And these were genuinely healthy, active people, so yoga for them was not just a lazy way to have a false sense of being healthy. What, then, was the appeal?

When I found out that my friend was a yoga instructor, I finally gave in and decided to give it a try. I really just wanted to support her by going to her class, and I was between jobs at the time so I felt like I had plenty of time to waste.

The first class was pretty much as I had expected. I felt awkward with my butt up in the air, uncomfortable with my body twisted all around, and overall just bored. It did not get my heart pumping, I did not work up a sweat, and I felt like I had accomplished nothing. We spent the end of the lesson just lying on the floor with our eyes closed, for god’s sake! I even heard one person snoring. If taking a nap helps you lose weight, I can easily do that for free at home! Despite this initial experience, I continued going occasionally to support my friend.

My new job started and it was initially pretty stressful. There were so many new situations, I was thrown right into everything with minimal training, and I was dealing with the energy of elementary school children! So when Friday rolled around, I was wiped out and really not feeling up to my usual workout at home. I didn’t want to just do nothing, so I had a bite to eat and then hopped on the bus to go to yoga.

This was maybe my third class, so I basically knew the flow and how to do the regular poses. I concentrated on listening to my friend, trying to understand as many Japanese words as I could, and focused on doing the poses really well. I thought about my body, where each arm and leg should be, how to make straight lines, keep my spine aligned, and hold different positions with strength and balance. My mind was empty of everything except what I was doing in each and every moment. I didn’t look at or think about the people around me, but concentrated only on myself. And when we “took a nap” at the end, I didn’t have various thoughts running through my head, but just laid there feeling connected to myself, the ground, and the background music.

At the end of this lesson, I finally got it. I finally understood why people do yoga. I felt so much better! I had let go of my stress and felt like I was now complete. I felt at peace, fulfilled, satisfied, and happy.

I’ve been doing yoga either in that class or at home about once a month since then. I haven’t had such an amazing experience again, but I think that on that particular day I really needed it and was in the right mindset to get the most out of it. I learned that yoga does indeed have benefits, so now I can appreciate it much more. While I may not always get the same fulfillment out of it, I no longer feel like I am wasting my time when I practice yoga.

(In case you were wondering, my friend who is a yoga instructor is Hiroe, and I take her class at Shanti Yoga Studio in Kurashiki, although she teaches in other places as well).

ADDED 1/25 - here's an amusing video about yoga that I think fits nicely with this post.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Genki genki genki \(^o^)/

The past few days I’ve been feeling great! Super genki! I’m not sure why, but I keep waking up feeling happy and energetic. Including Monday morning, even though I was out late for dinner with friends on Sunday (at a pizza restaurant - that was difficult!).

I think I’ve been doing pretty well at getting back into exercising regularly. And I’ve mostly been eating only the types of food I want to eat, although in greater amounts than I probably should.

Since deciding that I’m moving back across the ocean, I’ve been thinking about what to do with all the stuff I’ve acquired over the past five years. One large item I have is a free-standing pull-up bar/dip/push-up station that I got for my birthday last year. Just last week I promised it to a friend, and he’s ready to come take it off my hands anytime. Given how much I’ve used it though, I feel like I haven’t gotten enough value out of it in just one year. So for the next couple of months I’m going to try to focus on doing workout routines that include exercises I wouldn’t be able to do without that type of equipment. Maybe someday I’ll be able to do a pull-up…

What is this even called? Exercise thingy!

So, I noticed once again that if I break one of my food rules, it’s much easier for all the rules to go out the window. For example, last week I had a school lunch that had both bread (gluten) and cream chowder (dairy). I also had been given a few little cakes and cookies. I took them home in order to either give them away somewhere else or just toss them, but I didn’t even manage to resist long enough to do either of those plans, and ended up eating them. Then I ate a huge dinner that was also high in carbs.

Perhaps this happens because I feel like I’ve blown it anyway, so I might as well not bother for the rest of the day. Or perhaps having food that my body doesn’t tolerate well actually increases my food cravings because of whatever chemical things are going on in my gut and brain.

Knowing that this is a problem, I was prepared for bread day this week, and make an extra hard effort to eat well for the rest of that day. A dinner high in fat and protein really helps when you’re limiting carbs, so I had both chicken and pork plus some grilled zucchini, and did quite well! I even resisted adding a bunch of my newly bought local honey to my tea. Hey me, high five! For dinner tonight I had salmon, chicken liver, and this awesome salad I just invented. It's celery, pear, and a dressing made of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and fresh rosemary. I don't really like celery, but I know it's an awesome healthy vegetable, so I'm always trying to find ways I can enjoy eating it. I used to eat it with peanut butter, but since I recently have been trying to cut peanuts, that isn't an option anymore. This salad was a great, though. Hey me, high five again!

Best part? The pear was only ¥50 because the skin was brown,
even though it still tasted great, because Japanese fruit must LOOK PERFECT.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Year's resolution? Each and every year's resolution!

These days many people are talking about their New Year’s resolutions and focusing on self improvement. That’s great, and I wish everyone the best! I want this blog to be a place where people can encourage and motivate each other, so I’d love to see some positive comments about your own resolutions and also comments supporting others in their efforts.

Personally, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. If you’ve read even a couple of my posts, you probably know that I’m constantly working on self-improvement – setting goals for myself, tracking my progress, and adjusting my goals when I get new information or experiences. It’s a continuous work in progress, so if I were to make New Year’s resolutions, they wouldn’t say anything different than what I’ve already been saying all along. So I guess I could say that my resolution for 2015 is to be MORE genki! I will work on eating healthier, discovering more clearly what foods are or are not good for my body, exercising more, spending my free time in enjoyable ways, reducing work stress, and being in a more positive frame of mind.

And on that note, time to get back in the habit of exercising regularly!

Last Friday evening I did a 30-minute workout that focused of abs while getting a maximum calorie burn, and the next morning I went running. I’m still not running as much as I did before getting shin splints last year, so even though I did 5 miles on Saturday morning, 40 minutes of it was running and 27 minutes was walking while doing arm raises with hand weights (alternating every 9-10 minutes).

After those two workouts, I was starting to feel pretty sore, but joined my friend’s martial arts class on Saturday evening anyway. He teaches Kaju Kenbo, which includes elements of various different styles of martial arts. His classes are always intense, leaving everyone exhausted and beat up, but happy. In this lesson we did a lot of striking drills and sparring. We also did this really awful toughening exercise which involved hitting our partner’s shins with our own shins. My shins are now black & blue and feel just like they did during the worst of my shin splints. As much as I loved everything else, I can do without ever doing that exercise again!

At the end of class we're dripping sweat, aching all over, and feeling amazing!

A quick note for anyone that reads this blog but doesn’t see my Facebook posts, I have some news to share. This year will be a year of change for me, as I am moving to California in April. (Read more about it here). It will be a challenge to stay on track with my goals when I am busy getting ready to move overseas in March, but that will also be the most important time to stay on track so that I feel energetic, not too stressed, and free of headaches & stomachaches! Then in April it will be really interesting to see how I adjust to eating a different assortment of food while still sticking to my food rules. I have a feeling it might actually be easier, given the greater variety available to choose from, but there will also be more temptations! So that’s something to look forward to in 2015.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Post Holiday Blues

Having my brother visit for 11 days was a lot of fun, and I am so happy that he enjoyed Japan so much. But it left me exhausted! I am feeling very “blah” today. It’s cold and rainy, and all I want to do it curl up at my kotatsu table, watch TV, and eat a giant bowl of zenzai. Which is basically what I did yesterday, instead of cleaning, cooking and getting ready for my work week. So I had to do some of that this morning, rather than getting back into my jogging routine like I planned. Blah. I want at least two more days of being lazy! But I also want to feel happy and energetic, and get back into a healthy routine. Blah.

Well, the holidays are over. How did you all do? I think I made it through pretty well. The main challenges were Christmas gifts of various treats that I got, and trying to find safe dishes to eat while traveling. A couple times my brother and I spent an hour or more trying to find a safe restaurant, and still ended up being limited to just one option on the menu. Twice I had to eat Japanese curry and rice for lunch, which I’m not really a fan of. And despite being so careful, I still had digestion problems. I suspect the artificial flavorings, colorings, etc. in prepared food could be a problem. Staying at a hostel with a large, nice kitchen helps a lot!

I recommend Khaosan Kyoto Guesthouse for their nice kitchen and other facilities!

I only went jogging a couple times during the winter holidays, and didn’t exercise at home at all. I did a lot of walking, though, and reached 10,000 steps or often much more every day.

I plan on being as strict as possible with what I eat until I start feeling better again. And I need to get back in the habit of regularly exercising! January and February can be a couple of the longest, dreariest, least motivating months of the year, but hopefully I can muster some will-power to do my best and feel awesome.