Monthly Archives: January 2012

Slow your breath down, just take it slow, find your smile now

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I love a song with meaningful lyrics. Especially the kind that is accompanied by an equally wonderful melody. I first heard this song while watching an episode of One Tree Hill. One simple Google search, and some Youtube videos later I am fully acquainted with Future of Forestry

Their song titled ‘Slow your breath down’ reminds me of what I tend to forget to do for most of the time. And that is to breathe. Slowly and deeply.

One of the first things that I learned when I begin to attend Dr. Dhillip’s yoga classes was that the depth of your breath determines the length of your life. The deeper your breathe, the longer you live. That was one lesson that never left me and it is also one of the reason why I have been attending his classes regularly since 2006.

A typical class with him will usually end with about 20 minutes of breathing exercises. And I have to admit, despite the whole idea of longevity tied to the quality of your breath, this final part of the class is always something that I dread. You’re probably thinking, but it’s breathing! How hard can it be right? We all learn how to breathe the minute we were born when that doctor smacked us across the bum to welcome us into the world. Right? Maybe not. Stress, worrying and anxiety often leads many to either forget to breathe for long moments at a time (next time you are stressed, pay attention to your breathing!) or to take quick shallow breaths which leads one to utilize only 1/4 capacity of their lungs.

Yoga consists of a number of breathing exercises (pranayama) all of which are different in lengths of inhalation and/or exhalation. The Kapalbhati Pranayama is something that we practice regularly in our weekly classes that involves quick forceful exhalation followed by natural inhalation. 15 seconds into this, and if like me, you are a shallow breather, everything starts aching. Your back starts aching, your lungs starts to groan a little in pain, your abdomen protesting quietly and sometimes, you feel like you are running out of breath.

But you keep going, gentle in and forceful out, gentle in and forceful out, in quick rapid succession. And eventually the pain falls away and your head starts to lighten and your mind begins to quiet the noisy protests that’s going on in your head. And eventually you achieve a level of relaxation that you have been craving all week. It’s like climbing a hill, get past the hard work of getting up there, and when you eventually reach the summit, all you want to do is kick back and enjoy the view.

A recent article from Food Matters (7 Health Benefits of Meditation) talks about a study which found that deep relaxation can contribute towards an increase of disease fighting genes. Yeap, that’s right, regular meditation that achieves deep relaxation can actually change your genes!

So when that colleague in your office is ruffling your feathers all in the wrong way, or when your day is just not going the way you expect it to, remember the wise words of Eric Owyoung form the Future of Forestry “slow your breath down, just take it slow, find your smile now“.

Be choosy about choosing

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How many choices have you had to make today?

Two nights ago, against my better judgment and what Oprah has said about snacking past 8 at night, I decided that Garrett’s Chicago Mix Popcorn will make a great late night dessert. I know this blog is meant to talk about healthy and organic way of living, and trust me there isn’t anything remotely healthy about shoving those giant oversized popped corn into your mouth so late at night while watching Ice Age with your family.

But early on when I made the conscious decision to eat healthier, I was also quick to realise that in order to ensure my decision remains sustainable, I would have to adopt the 80/20 rule. Conscious, healthy organic choices 80% of the time, whilst giving myself the 20% break in between to allow myself the not-so-healthy choices to take place so that I can be happy (or at least try to be) 100% of the time with what I eventually choose to nourish me.

Needless to say however, my decision to indulge that night left me with a sugar high that kept me wide awake until 1 in the morning. Choices made against your better judgement are almost always the kind that makes you pay for its consequences doesn’t it?

So to pass the time, I decided to watch and learn something on Ted. I am currently hooked on Ted. It’s like a whole library of youtube that actually makes sense and teaches you something new in less than 20 minutes. My inner geek could not be any more happier.

Sheena Iyengar gave a talk recently on making choosing easier. Sheena Iyengar is one of those people whose academic work conjures a deep respect from me. She’s an expert on choices. Someone who studies the human behaviour and what influences them to choose certain things over others. I first encountered her work through her book published last year entitled The Art of Choosing. If there is one book you want to read this year to help you jumpstart conversations with strangers at dreaded networking events and still come out sounding smart, this book will be it.

In her 16 minutes presentation, she reveals some findings and eventually concludes with a simple advice. Be choosy about choosing.

We all encounter numerous choices to make every day. Some consciously, while others unconsciously driven by habit and what we already know over time. If you actually count the number of decision you had to make today, I am sure you can easily come up with a pretty long list of it. Shall I roll out of bed now or shall I lie in a little longer? Shall I get up and do some yoga or just sit here, eat my breakfast and read the newspapers instead? Shall I buy that organic brown rice instead of the washed white rice, which is probably cheaper anyway? Shall I satisfy my need to be healthy or this darn sweet-tooth right now?

A hundred choices, every single day. And you cannot always get them right every single time. According to Sheena, the more choices you are faced with (like if you are faced with 100 different jam flavors in the supermarket aisle), the more unlikely it is for you to make that choice (to buy a jar of jam).

And I totally get this. With the growing organic business in Malaysia, I still feel like a little kid in a candy store every time I walk into a shop that carries everything and anything organic. I will walk through every single aisle, turn over all the jars, touch and smell the soaps and eventually feeling completely overwhelmed, walk out empty handed totally forgetting that I am only there because I needed to buy a pack of organic rice.

Most people whom I’ve talked to always start with a ‘wanting’ to eat and live healthier lifestlye, but they always say they do not know where to start. Sometimes coming up with excuses can be so much easier than trying to choose from the hundreds different line of organic produce at the supermarket. But a no answer is still an answer. Same goes to choices, choosing not to eat healthier is still a choice made about your eating habit.

So here’s my 2 cents on this – start slowly, allow yourself to make ‘unhealthy’ choices 20% of the time when you’re transitioning (but be prepared to ride out the aftermath like I did!), and research about the food, herb and spices that you are interested in. So many health supplements these days claim to do wonders, but not all can actually live up to their own marketing ploy which is why I totally agree with Sheena when it comes to choosing. Be choosy.

 

In with the new, out with the Euro

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Last week, I was invited along for a pre-Chinese New Year lunch. Whilst waiting for our Thai version of Yee Sang (I’m still trying to figure out why we had Yee Sang at a Thai restaurant..)and with Chinese New Year just being days away, naturally the conversation veered to sharing this year’s dos and don’ts with regards to Feng Shui in the Year of the Dragon.

From one end of the table, a woman announced that she went home earlier that week and sieved through her coin box to ‘weed out’ any spare change she may have in Euro currency.

“Feng Shui master says you must keep all your Euro money either in your wallet, or in your drawers where people won’t be able to see it”, she explained while I quietly wondered if her Feng Shui master said anything about passing him the Euro instead to coincide with his Italian trip sometime this year.

I repeated this piece of story to another woman who attends the same yoga class with me on Sunday mornings. Far from being superstitious, I only did this as a conversational piece, something to bemuse over together as I try to understand this growing worldwide disdain over anything monetarily related to the European countries.

Our teacher overheard our conversation and what started out as a small piece of Sunday morning, pre-Sun salutation conversation became a full blown advice. One which I thought would be worthwhile sharing with the rest of the world.

“People would be much better off trusting themselves, and in God/Universe”, he declares, though more so in a gentle fatherly way rather than in a condescending way.

I am in no way shooting down all those Feng Shui masters out there, or any other type of career that bases itself on predicting the future. But just because I personally do not believe in it, does not mean the rest of the world should not. Like I am still wondering how babies born in the Year of the Dragon can be any better off than say babies who were born in the Year of the Ox (or Monkey, or Pig or the rest of the animals that appear in the Chinese calendar), but that does not mean there aren’t millions of hopeful parents and determined newly weds out there who will be making good use of their bedrooms (and everywhere else possible) this year to make sure that does happen.

My yoga teacher did have a very good point though. We are our worst critiques sometimes, and I do not know anyone who is not hard on themselves when it comes to personal and professional achievements. I have been guilty of this way too many times than I care to keep track of. I second-guess, triple-guess, quadruple-guess my decisions. I question over and over what the future may bring, and if I choose this today, will it bring me the things that I desire most tomorrow?

Faith. One simple word that demands a person to believe in something and/or someone without first seeing or having real, tangible proof in front of your eyes. Faith. One of those things that I am constantly finding and losing, and finding it again in places least expected. Faith is definitely one thing I believe the world can do with more. Because faith, leads to trust, and with trust, there is hope.

So nevermind if Nostradamus said that the world will end this year, nevermind if Euro is one currency you won’t want to be showing off to your house guests (if you really don’t know what to do with them, you can mail it to me for my trip in March!). Instead of worrying, let us all have a bit more faith in the goodness of strangers, in the people whom we love the most as well as the unknown future. I’ll end this post today with a Chinese New Year commercial advertisement filmed a little under 3 years ago, by one of the most talented film producer Malaysia has ever seen – the late Yasmin Ahmad who sadly passed away from stroke a few months after this was filmed in 2009.

To those who will be driving out of town this long weekend, stay safe and to those celebrating – Gong Xi Fa Cai!

 

 

Change is immortal

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You’ve heard it before. When you find yourself grumbling about something in your life which is not quite going the way you’d like to someone will always happily chirp in to say “Change is the only constant in life” or “this too, shall pass”. I deliberately choose to leave out a description of what I do for a living in the ‘About’ section – and no, it’s not because I am running some illegal underground trade selling stolen Dior handbags, but for the most part, I’d like to keep those two things, the profession and the personal side of things separate in its own neat little box.

But yesterday I ran across the quote which appears as today’s blog title while researching on the next generation of Change Management. And I just have to have it as the title to my entry, because it rolls so deliciously on my tongue and sounds seriously profound that it makes me want to run to the closest tattoo shop and have it inked in cursive around my wrist. Lest I ever forget that every bit about life right now is bound to change in some form or another.

One of things that I love about yoga is the (no-pun intended) flexibility that enables one to tailor a sequence to suit his/her current need. With the exception of the sun salutation which consist of a fixed series of repetitive movements, all other asanas can be build and weaved together to aid a certain injury you may be experiencing, to provide emotional relief at a difficult period of your life or to specifically target those jelly arms because you have had one too many pineapple tarts during the festive season.

One of my favorite balancing pose: the tree pose helps keep bones strong

As women, we are bound to go through cycles of changes that will affect us both physically and biologically. This is not to say that men are spared from the crazy cycle of change that is called life but pregnancy and hormonal fluctuations put women’s bodies through more stress as it naturally adapts to accommodate these changes.

Recently when I ran across the following article (“A Woman’s Lifeline“) it became clear to me that I need to constantly alter and tweak my (almost) daily practice to suit my current need at that given time. And who knew, certain asanas are best for certain ages because it may address situations that you tend to experience most during that period of time.

Thus, as the German philosopher,  Arthur Schopenhauer once said “Change alone, is eternal, perpetual, immortal”. Everything is bound to change as we grow into ourselves, and continue to paint our own canvas of life. It is only fitting that we too learn to adapt our fitness regime to complement and support these different transitions.

Old Wives Tale (and some cure..)

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A few nights ago, my mum and sister together with our house helper were sitting around the dining table, talking about nothing in particular right after dinner when the topic of food came up (we talk about food right after having some, we just love our food that much).

Mum was telling us about some lady she knows whose husband is obsessed with eating chicken’s butt. Yeap, you read that right. Chicken’s butt. Apparently he loves it so much, he buys it by the kilogram and even gets his young kids hooked onto it too. I’m right with you if you’re thinking “what? they sell chicken’s butt by the kilogram??”

So this story eventually lead to her recalling some of her late grandmother’s advice. And I can never be too sure if this is just a characteristic of the old-world, traditional Malay culture but it is said if a person consumes chicken’s butts (I mean really, what happened to the rest of the chicken that normal people usually eats??), they will become forgetful people. I’d like to think of it more of, you can’t get over the fact that you’ve just consumed a part of the chicken where poop comes out from, that all other short-term memory you have becomes irrelevant as you ponder upon your recent culinary decision.

All together now! My hump, my hump, my hump

Chicken’s butts aside, I do have to admit there are some quite good, tried-and-tested traditional cure that I sometimes find are a better, drug free way of attending to one’s ailments and minor illnesses. When I was younger, I was one of those sickly kid that was always prone to catching someone else’s bad germs. So, out of the 365 days in a year, I would probably spend 1/3 of that time either down with fever, bronchitis, cough, flu or something of those variations. I was in and out of the hospital, and eventually made good friends with this tall, towering cylindrical oxygen vessel that will be known as the ‘nebulizer’.

One of our Indonesian house helpers at that time, figured that she should take matters of my health into her own hands and save me from the drug-saturated approach I have been put through up until then. Off she went and bought some fresh turmeric (curcuma longa), skinned it, and started pounding away with the pestle and mortar we had in the kitchen. And before I knew it, I was presented with half a glass of brilliant, saffron colored liquid that smells absolutely horrendous to my 5 year old nose.

I am not sure if these days, the very act of forcing a child to drink up her herbal medicine which would almost immediately result in violent convulsions of regurgitation to expel all that phlegm (ok, fine I may be exaggerating just a little bit) can be considered as abusive. But I use to dread those times, and its surprising that I haven’t been traumatized completely off herbal medicine from that experience.

These days I much rather prefer to describe that smell of freshly pounded turmeric juice as ‘earthy’. I add a teaspoon of honey into the concoction, and I am not so crazy as to pound away a half glass worth of turmeric. Fresh turmeric always produces a lighter, more pleasant tasting medicine than does its powdered counterpart. But either way, a couple of tablespoon of this mixture is normally enough to stop my coughing spasm. One bonus that I have discovered by accident recently is that, turmeric + honey work wonders for deep uninterrupted sleep. You’ll wake up the next day, fresh and you won’t even remember the horrid turmeric taste that you’ve subjected yourself to the night before.

All information and recommendations on this site and this disclaimer is linked to are not directly meant to diagnose, prescribe, treat, or cure any disease or illness. It is essential for every reader to always check with his or her physician or any qualified health care specialist prior to following any advice

My Sunday Joy

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Most of the people I know, especially those who are in the corporate world will often wish for Friday and the weekend to come by as soon as Monday rolls upon them. And I am guilty of this too. While some others are looking forward to hit the clubs on Fridays and drink to their hearts content, or to sleep in on the weekends, I find myself looking forward to my 90 minutes Sunday yoga classes instead (hey, to each of his/her own!).

Of course all the standard, typical reasons as to why one enjoys yoga and its subsequent benefits are part of it, but lately I have begin to notice other things about my class not related to yoga itself that contribute towards what I shall call my weekly dose of Sunday joy. Every Sunday, from around 9:30 in the morning onwards there will be about 20 of us slowly filing into the studio and spreading our mats, usually in the exact same spot every week. I love the sense of community that seems to establish itself with such ease between the students in the class. I doubt everybody knows everyone else’s name in this class, but the conversation and the greetings that take place every week is never absent of warmth.

There are husbands and wives in the group, singles, young teenagers and elderly people in their golden ages. It’s one big mix of people, from all walks of life, background, religion and culture. In my 6 years that I have attended classes at the studio, 1/2 of the people I see in my Sunday classes are the very people I’ve met on my very first day. There’s this elderly man whom I’ve seen around in one of my first few classes back in 2006, he is still in my class, better than ever with his sun salutations and his wife is even training as a yoga teacher.

His partner-in-crime is another elderly man, possibly around the same age or maybe a few years younger than he is whom our teacher calls his ‘twin brother’. This guy makes me laugh mid-pose when he starts sighing, and grunting in pain, and took it onto himself to start counting down to zero as fast as possible for the class.

About a year ago, Dan Buettner presented his findings on what makes people live longer lives. One of the common threads he found in his study called The Blue Zone was that elderly people who surround themselves with friends, family and who co-exist within a tight sense of community tend to live longer and healthier lives. I watched his presentation on Ted Talks recently:

I don’t certainly wish to live for as long as 100 years old, but as the years roll by and the numbers that define my age gets bigger, I do wish to age gracefully (and if I can have it my way, maybe die in my sleep too like those women from Japan). Knowing that I have a great example to compare against of what the real experience of community can feel like however, gives me a little bit of comfort. And ample amount of joy. And a real hope that we can all co-exist happily irrespective of our creed, skin colour and religious beliefs.

Collect experiences, not things

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At the end of last year, I had set about to plan for 2 major travels to take place this year. The first was to fulfill a childhood promise I made with my best friend when we were 12. And the second, was an opportunity that came out of the blue which oddly enough corresponds to a ‘wanting’ that I have been having for a while now.

When we were 12, Z and I made a promise to travel to Cape Cod, South Africa when we both turn 24. Little did we know then, at 24 you are quite unlikely to make the kind of money that will allow you such extravagant trips halfway across the world.

In March this year, instead of South Africa, she and I will make our way to Italy, spending about 8 days in 5 cities across Italy and celebrating my birthday in Capri, one of the prettiest places I have seen on photos before.

I guess over time, our preferences have since changed and the idea of Italy seems more tempting than South Africa. We will be staying in 4 different hotels, renting a car and driving in Florence for one of those days, and travelling via train and public transportation for the rest of the days. Since we confirmed this trip and bought our tickets, there has been one too many times when either of us can be heard sighing “let’s fast forward to March already”.

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Paulo Coehlo – The Alchemist

A few weeks after our Italy trip, I will be making my way to an island in Thailand to complete a 200-hour yoga teaching certification. For 6 days each week over the course of one month, I will have a set schedule, eat organic locally grown food, practicing and refining my asanas, learning the ropes of teaching and surrounding myself with great teachers and hopefully great like-minded people too.

What has surprised me the most in going about to plan for this second trip was the speed in obtaining the necessary approval. Getting extended time off at work, especially for an entire month is not something you get everyday, but the speed at which I obtained my approval and the smooth progress into finally getting the green lights to place my deposit for the course made me believe more than ever that Paulo Coehlo really knew a thing or two about the universe when he wrote the above quote in his bestselling book.

Collectively, both of these plans have set me back in the monetary department. As I will be fully funding for both of these trips, it is hard not to think about the amount of money that I will be ‘parting’ with in the first half of the year. And to be honest, it has not been particularly easy to revise your normal monthly budget to accommodate these changes and sacrificing those ‘wants’ that parade themselves as ‘needs’ like trying to quiet the voice in your head that goes “but I NEED new clothes for work, and MNG is on sale!” or passing off the next too-good-to-be-true deal on Groupon.

Every time one of these moments pop up, or when Z and I are planning out our Italy trip and realise some of the expenses are just ridicolous, I keep reminding myself that the better way to living is to collect experiences, not things. Experiences are priceless. It is yours and no one else’s. No one else can feel, think and see the same place as you do. And no one else can rob you of the experiences you have had in your life. Travelling is one of the ways to collect experiences, but it is by no means THE only way to do so. But things, such as clothes, and cars and other tangible items are battered over time. They need fixing, and the colour will fade. Eventually all of these things will need to be replaced. But experiences – you carry them to the very last day of your life.