Yoga – three-legged downward-facing dog

Phew, what a mouthful! This pose that I’m going to get Alicia to demonstrate today is called the three-legged downward-facing dog, or three-legged dog in short, or even one-legged dog. Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana is the tongue twister if you want one.

third legged dog

This pose requires flexibility in the hamstrings and hip flexors. Notice how her back foot is grounded into the floor and she is pushing deeply with her hands. Also important is the hips and shoulders must remain square, i.e. one side of the body shouldn’t be lifted higher than the other.

I will now show you what YOU SHOULD NOT DO in three-legged dog.

three legged downward dog

This is my three-legged dog. This is a common mistake made by inflexible people like me who try to lift their leg as high as possible. What happens is that my right hip is twisted and raised higher than my left hip. My body is no longer aligned. My right knee isn’t facing the ground. I should have lowered my leg and concentrate on my hip and back rather than trying to force the height.

Today at yoga class, I told Alicia, “Okay, now take a photo of me. This is the yoga fail version of your pose.”

“Don’t call it yoga fail… Just say it’s the getting-there photo.”

She was being kind but I shall agree with her and say I’m getting there.

I found a good graphic showing how to get into this pose. As you can see, the hips should be of equal height and the knee should face downwards.

1001-down-dog-splitSource: Women’s Health Mag

If you would like to check out more of our yoga antics, click here.

Gymnasts for a day

I went for an adult gymnastics class at Gymkraft yesterday. I have always entertained dreams of running away to join the circus so I wanted to see how I would fare at a gymnastics class.

gymkraft singapore

Adult gymnastics classes tend to cater to dreamers like me. At the ripe old age of 20s, 30s or even 60s (yes, I met a man there in his 60s!), we didn’t have the strength to twirl around the uneven bars or swing our legs around the pommel horse. This means that classes tend to focus on floor work and the trampoline.

I had a great impression of Gymkraft when we stepped in. The space was huge and there was even space to share the arena with a rock climbing site. It was fully decked out with all the gymnastics apparatus.

The session started with some jogging and stretching. I was people-watching. Almost all the girls were incredibly flexible. Some of them had very sculpted arms. This was a good sign. It meant that I may be as toned as them if I kept at it.

The actual class itself was a tad disappointing. We were a big group of 20 people and there were only two coaches. Three of us beginners were taught forward rolls and backward rolls and then left alone for most of the time for our own practice. I had a very bad headache after a while from doing the same things over and over again.

On the bright side, we practised our handstands. I was used to doing this against the wall for yoga and even in my previous gymnastics classes. But this time, we were each assigned a partner and took turns to kick up to a handstand and support each other with our hands. This meant that I couldn’t just rest my weight on the wall and I could feel my stomach working harder than ever to keep my body straight. It was a very good technique to improve on handstands, I thought.

The 1.5 hour class ended with some conditioning. I collapsed on the floor in sheer exhaustion. Overall it was a good class but I needed a smaller class size with more attention from the coach.

The search continues!

List of adult gymnastics classes in Singapore:

  • Jitterbugs (We were here for one term. Very good and attentive teacher, controlled class size and systematic teaching. But lack of equipment, no spring floor) *Edit: Jitterbugs no longer offer these classes.
  • Alpha Gym (We were here for two terms. Had a very good teacher although he moved away, spring floor, air-con, almost fully equipped. But it’s inconvenient, no way to take public transport)
  • Gim Sports (We have not tried this)
  • Prime Gym (We have not tried this)

My football playing years – thinnest and fittest

Yesterday I played football or soccer with my university ex-team mates for the first time in a year. Everything went well for the 15 minutes. I chased after the ball; I defended against players; and I scored the opening goal.

SMU Women Soccer

After 15 minutes, fatigue started setting in. The pace slowed. The defending was more lacklustre. The kicks were weaker. After 30 minutes, most of us were calling for a time-out. I wheezed on the floor. By the 50-minute mark, I had left the playing arena and was bent over with stomach stitches. The game was supposed to go on for an hour but already I was ready to go for supper.

It made me realise what a huge difference in fitness level I am at now, compared to the four years of competitive football in university. We played 11-a-side on a big field and I was on the left wing, which required dashes up and down the flank. Back then, we trained three times a week when it was competition season. Warm-up exercises included sprints and circuit training with the ball.

We didn’t have a school field so we travelled all over Singapore just to get two hours of training. We trained in Sentosa. We chartered a bus all the way into Turf City because it was so deep in that we couldn’t walk the distance from the bus stop. We played on water logged patches of grass because we couldn’t afford to pay to rent a field. It was crazy. But it was also the most fun I’ve had in sports.

I ate anything and everything. I wasn’t bothered about calories or my weight. Sometimes when I was bone tired and had no appetite, I forced myself to eat because I knew I needed strength to play and nutrients to repair my muscles.

I didn’t realise it then but my football-playing time was to be my thinnest and fittest years. The best thing was that it was all accomplished without my knowledge. I was concerned about how far I could kick the ball – and not how I looked. I didn’t think, “Okay, 30 sit-ups for nice defined abs.” I thought, “Okay, 30 sit-ups so that I can play better.”

Unfortunately, exercise nowadays for me is about keeping in shape. Apart from yoga, which I genuinely enjoy, all other exercise classes seem to be exercising for the sake of exercising. I like my body combat class because it makes me sweat. I like my body pump class because lifting weights makes me look more toned. Gone is the sheer joy of movement with a purpose.

That joy returned yesterday at the pitch. I love playing team sports and football will always be my first love.

SMU Women Soccer

We found time to pose and act like clowns.

Women soccer

Juls and Sumei make faces for the camera.

How to save money at the supermarket

I do a lot of grocery shopping because it is difficult to get paleo food at hawker centres in Singapore. I like to buy meat at the rotisserie as well as other snack staples such as avocados, cheese and nuts.

These food are not cheap. It’s not the same as buying a $3 plate of rice at the hawker centre. Adding to that problem is the issue of location – the nearest supermarket to my workplace is Cold Storage, which is more expensive than NTUC Fairprice and Giant.

In order to save some money while shopping for my costly groceries (I am addicted to cheese), I have utilised the strategy of getting instant cash rebates. This is achieved via two cards: the Citibank Dividend card and the PAssion card. The former is just another credit card from Citibank and the latter is a membership card for People’s Association (PA). It can also be used as an EZ-link card for public transport.

This is what I bought today (the brie was excellent, by the way):

save money grocery shopping

If you notice, my initial bill was $20.81. Following the use of the Citibank card and the PAssion card, I paid $19.83, which amounted to a $0.98 discount. It’s not a lot but these cents add up when you buy a lot of (expensive) groceries.

The Citibank card works by giving me a 2% cash rebate. The PAssion card gives me one point for every dollar spent, and 150 points equates to a $1 cash rebate. However, you can still redeem your points even if you have less than 150 points, which was what I did in this case.

If I wanted to save even more money, I should apply for the HSBC Visa Platinum credit card, which gives a 5% rebate at Cold Storage and Giant. The only thing stopping me from switching is the lack of petrol rebates at Esso, where I usually pump petro for the car; the Citibank Dividend card gives a 5% cash rebate.

Do you have any money saving tips to help reduce grocery bills? I would love to hear your thoughts!

P.S. I have the crazy idea of making my own cheese. Will that be cheaper than buying it?

P.P.S. I know it’s quite easy to make your own yoghurt. My friend tried it and she said the taste was good, although it’s more work if you want very thick Fage-like consistency.

Fitness inspiration – motivational or harmful?

Eat clean Source: Get Fit Inspiration

Does looking at this photo above inspire you to go to the gym and work out?

Fitspo – which is short for fitness inspiration – is about posting or viewing photos that inspire people to get fit. An example would be the photo above, which shows fit women doing some form of exercise and tends to be accompanied by motivational words such as “Strong is the new skinny” or “Enjoy your pain. You’ve earned it.”

tumblr_mainrxWunN1rg4bp7o1_500 Source: Get Fit Inspiration

I personally enjoy trawling Tumblr blogs that post these photos. Just looking at this back bend photo makes me feel like hopping into my gym clothes and dashing out for a hot yoga class.

Source: P-ointe Shoes

Look at those lines! If only my legs did this!

However, I’ve come across a couple of dissenting views online about fitspo. The argument is that all these images of fit women present an unrealistic goal for ordinary people, may encourage eating disorders and fuels an unhealthy obsession with how the ideal body should look.

“If you do not have rock hard chiseled abs, the right workout outfit, etc., you are not good enough until you do. These advertisers will make sure you know that, because their profit depends on your wallet and your beliefs about yourself. They’ll make sure you know you must work for “it” every second. Of every day. For the rest of your life.” – Beauty Redefined

First of all, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to look fit. Save for people with medical conditions, anybody can look like that if they work hard. I’m sure these people spend a few hours in the gym or ballet studio daily to get the body they want. It’s just that most of us don’t have time or can’t be bothered. There is nothing wrong with that. I would rather go out with my friends and eat 800 calories worth of yummy food and laugh over dinner than work out for two hours in the gym. Now this is my choice not to work out but it doesn’t mean that I cannot have well-defined abs if I wanted to.

The argument that it encourages eating disorders may be a more relevant argument as different people are react differently to such images. Just because I won’t starve myself doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. That being said, if you starve yourself, you are not going to get a fit body, are you? Furthermore, it’s very rare to come across a fitness blogger who moans about restrictive eating. Most of them believe in clean eating, which is eating fresh produce and avoiding processed food. Some of them are even following the paleo diet. Now if that is not healthy, I don’t know what is.

The third criticism against fitspo – that it encourages an unhealthy body image – is probably the most relevant. If the images inspire you to take a hike in the park, try out a new dance class or sign up for crossfit, then that’s wonderful. But if the images create feelings of inadequacies in you, then clearly it’s better if you don’t look at them.

I believe that the ultimate message of fitspo blogs and photos is that fitness is something we should all work towards. It takes hard work, which includes clean eating and time devoted to exercising, but it is achievable if we want to pursue it. I think this ties in nicely with the paleo lifestyle as well, which aims for peak health by taking an interest in what we put in our bodies and what we do with our bodies.

I leave you here with a picture of US footballer Brandi Chastain celebrating her team’s victory over China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup.

Brandi Chastain

We are made of corn

I like reading books and watching documentaries about health and our food system. The only problem is that it makes me afraid of food I buy from supermarkets. I went to Cold Storage recently and they were having a sale of “jumbo chickens.” Instead of salivating, I looked at them suspiciously. They were all the same jumbo size with the same massive breasts, looking very swollen and brown.

Jumbo roasted chicken

(They looked something like that)

These thoughts raced through my head:

  1. Why is the chicken so big? Has it been pumped full of antibiotics?
  2. Where is the chicken from? Were they caged up with no space to run around and fattened up on corn?
  3. What’s the sauce they use to coat the chicken? Is there sugar in it?
  4. Why do I need to think so much before I buy a piece of poultry?

This makes grocery shopping very stressful.

In one of the documentaries I watched recently, a scientist examines the hair shaft of two Americans to see how percentage of their carbon originated from corn. He found that more than 50% of their diet derive from corn. But this doesn’t mean that the film makers eat corn on the cob half of the time.

Rather, corn is processed, broken down into so many additives and added to so many processed food that it manages to sneak into our diets without us realising it. Some of these industrial products are:

  • High-fructose corn syrup – a sweetener used in Coke and other soft drinks
  • Dextrose – a sugar added to French fries
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – flavour enhancer used extensively in Singapore hawker centres. I have a big problem with MSG. Too much of it and I get a very bad neck and spine ache. They feel numb and start tingling at the same time. The last time this happened I ate a fish cake from a hawker centre, which turned out to contain more MSG than fish.

This is a great resource that lists the ingredients derived from corn.

To read more about the industrial food industry and the impact on our health, check out:

The documentaries are:

  • Food, Inc
  • King Corn

Yoga – front splits

Front splits

After a good body combat workout session last night, I asked Alicia to demonstrate her front splits. The front split, in yoga speak, is also known as monkey pose or Hanumanasana. In one yoga class that I went to, the teacher told us to get into our “monkey pose” and we all returned her instruction with blank stares. Since then, I knew what the monkey pose was, although I beg to disagree how Alicia looks like a monkey here. If you recall, she also demonstrated the Dancer’s pose in another post.

Once this is mastered, there are variations that can be added to the split, including backbends:

Front splits backbend

A more challenging pose would be to grab the toes of the back leg, which pushes the back thigh deeper into the mat:

Monkey pose

In contrast, this is my current progress. I still have a long way more to go. Splits are one of those things that I’ve always wanted to achieve and it takes daily hard work of practising – something I’ve clearly failed at!

CYMERA_20130601_104401

I had a very good yoga teacher called Brenda who has since left Singapore to work in the US. She told me that once I’m down to my maximum split, I should lean forward until my belly touches my front thigh and hold the pose for a while. Then I should lean backwards into a slightly backbend to get a stretch for my back leg. Essentially, it’s shifting my weight back and forth to put pressure on the front and back legs, which would help me get down quicker.

I like this video from Yogi Juls that explains how to get into the splits.

Yoga – dancer’s pose

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Source: Nina Dobrev

Nina Dobrev, one of my favourite actresses, is also apparently an accomplished yogini. Here is a recent photo of her (pictured on the right) holding a Dancer’s pose, also known as the Natarajasan.

Now I’m not sure if being paleo has anything to do with yoga but I really enjoy practising yoga and have been trying to increase my flexibility for the longest time. I’ve been really lazy about it because it’s so painful to train. But for the past two years, I’ve been making new year resolutions to be flexible enough to do a split and have never reached that goal. I’ve gotten more flexible ever since I started yoga, yes, but the progress has been excruciatingly slow.

Dancer's pose

Here’s my Dancer’s pose. Terrible, I know. This pose requires both hamstring and spine flexibility, both of which I lack.

Dancer's pose

This is my good friend Alicia, who is also my yoga inspiration. Her Dancer’s pose is incredible as you can see. Her leg is nearly straight. I suppose she is even more flexible than Nina Dobrev! On a side note, Alicia’s sister Michelle has an interesting blog about travel and life in Singapore if you’re interested to visit.

I’m going to revisit this pose in a couple of months to see if I’ve made any improvements.