black!

On a quiet and peaceful Sunday morning, I woke up at the usual time that I would on weekdays (yes I can imagine all the drop-jaw expressions on your faces) and headed for yoga class. Unsurprisingly, the class at 8am was not empty. It wasn’t packed to the brim like weekday peak hour classes but I would estimate attendance to be more than 50 percent, and that is a conservative estimate. Yogis, or I would think exercise/fitness enthusiasts, can be people who don’t mind foregoing some sleep for an early rush of endorphines.

I had another reason that morning though. That 8am class wasn’t the usual class I went for, but I needed to be there early and leave early, as I had to then shuttle to the airport. My sis-in-law was jetting off for 3 months with my little baby nephew, to visit her sister and as well as to take a break abroad perhaps. I could only wish that I could also take a long break somewhere, but I guess it will happen if I want it to. I just need to stop thinking so much.

It started to pour really heavily while we were at the airport. And it felt a little strange, being there and not being the traveller. My usual routine of stepping into the airport terminal would be to head to the check-in counter, then immediately proceed to the departure gates straight into the passport control area. I don’t hang around outside because there was never a need to and I’d much rather be checking out DFS.

After her check-in was done, the family went to have breakfast/brunch at Toast Box, and this was what I ordered:

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Kopi-O with a cupcake (or also known as 鸡蛋糕). I had wanted to try Kopi-O for the longest time and see if there is any difference between this and black coffee (western-style). I know there shouldn’t be too much differences yet there should be because of the types of beans used and how the beans are prepared. I don’t know too much about the mechanics of bean-roasting in Asian/Chinese-style versus Western-style, but the coffee does taste a little different. The next time I try Kopi-O I will try to remember how it is like, but will request for siew-dai (less sugar) or maybe kosong (no sugar) to really be able to decipher the taste of the coffee. I was worried it’ll be too bitter and acidic so I had just ordered a normal Kopi-O. Even my dad drinks Kopi-O and not kosong. Haha.

But well it was drinkable and in fact not as acidic as I’d imagined! In fact, I’ve had much more black coffee or Americanos elsewhere that turned out to be way more acidic than this. Or maybe the sugar made the difference, because on the other occasions I hadn’t added much sugar, or used brown sugar instead.

On the other hand, the 鸡蛋糕 that I ordered wasn’t that great. It was on Instagram that I saw someone posting a picture of the soft fluffy traditional cupcake that she bought from a confectionery, and she mentioned that Crystal Jade’s cupcakes are good. So when I saw it at Toast Box I decided to order it and it wasn’t fantastic. It’s just like a normal sponge cake that was pretty spongey/airy and it lacked the fragrance that I generally associated with these cupcakes that I also used to enjoy when I was a kid.   20130917-092322.jpg

The good thing about it though, was that it was not really sweet and it went well with the coffee. I think I will drop by Crystal Jade one of these days to buy one of their 鸡蛋糕 to try!

Bikram Yoga, Paris, Grands Boulevards

In April, I checked out Bikram Yoga in Tokyo while I was on vacation. Exercise doesn’t have to take a break while we are on holiday, as I have realised, is not just my personal mindset because one of my two friends whom I travelled with was also hitting the gym almost on a daily basis! I suppose besides that we try to incorporate exercise into my daily lives, much like how we need to eat and sleep each day, it also helps us to burn off excess calories from all that good food that we enjoy when we are on holiday.

Maybe the fact that I am trying to maintain a regular exercise regime also affected how I think about what my job requires. Last year, I had crazy travelling schedules, by my measure; it wasn’t entirely hectic, but having to be out of the country each month, for either a week or two each time, could seriously disrupt this routine, besides screwing up my body clock and causing some health problems. Jetting across timezones can take its toll on my physical as well as mental health and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It might also be due to age, where somehow the body is not reacting well to the physical stresses of travelling, coupled with other forms of stress that this endeavour creates. Finally, I have probably also felt the desire to spend more time with my family now. Although I am still not what some would describe as being very close-knitted with my family, time does change people to a certain extent.

Anyway, on this last business trip to France, I decided to find out before I went if they had a Bikram studio too. Well, most big cities have some form of Bikram yoga, and I found two studios located in Paris, which I thought to check out during the weekend. I couldn’t go on weekdays because the office, as well as the hotel where I was putting up at, isn’t located within the city, and it easily takes about an hour to get to the heart of the city. On the first day that I arrived that was Sunday, I made a trip downtown but was too tired physically to want to drag myself to the class. From the website, I saw that they conducted lessons in English, once a day, at each of the two studios. As I could only make it for the 4pm class, I wasn’t able to last that long outside and still pull through, so I left Bikram for the coming weekend.

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On Saturday, I was out shopping on my own downtown, and after not having much success there, I found my way to the studio at Grands Boulevards. It is about 10 minutes’ stroll from Galeries Lafayette (on Boulevard Hausmann), and very near to the Grands Boulevards metro station. I spent a lot of time walking that day, and since the weather was rather good, I just walked around the city the entire time. The studio is pretty small, and it only opens its doors 30 minutes before class starts, so I was standing outside this door for quite some time since I reached way before 4pm.20130627-092623.jpg

They have a small changing room with lockers that you can operate with a one-euro coin, refundable when you open it, and 4 shower cubicles. It isn’t a large place, smaller than Bikram Shinjuku in Tokyo but it wasn’t crowded. The first time I went, the studio was only about half-full, which numbers probably about 10-12 practitioners, I couldn’t remember. The studio could supposedly accommodate up to 25 persons but perhaps being a fine Saturday afternoon, most people are out enjoying the weather in town. It was much warmer on Sunday, and so the studio was also more unbearably hot and humid, especially when the fans were not switched on at all. Sunday was also a day when most shops are not open, so that probably explained the higher turnout for the same 4pm class.

Perhaps the studio being small, the instructors could really focus on the students, and they even knew them by name. Also since I was a guest (of sorts), and obviously being very different in how I look as compared to the others, they would also call me out on the postures if I wasn’t doing something correctly. It was rather stressful at some point, but it’s a great way to improve! I had fun during the two days of practice at Bikram Yoga Paris, and I’m not sure if I will ever return because France is just too far away (and expensive to travel to too), but the instructors were great and I think the price is pretty ok, cheaper than Tokyo! I got myself a promotional offer, which was a 10-day pass at 35 euros. Considering that even though I only went for 2 classes in 2 days, it was already worth it cos a single class is priced at 25 euros (without adding on the costs of towels and mat).     20130627-092632.jpg

I wonder where will be the next city where I will get to practice Bikram Yoga at. It helps heaps that they had English classes in Paris, because although the 26 poses are always the same and the routine is the same, Bikram Yoga is still a dialogue-based class where we try to follow the instructions when to go into the pose and so on. When I was in Tokyo, the classes I went for were in Japanese (they also had limited English classes too) and I just went through the routine without knowing if the instructor would have been trying to correct me.

goodness of greens

The very first time I came to know about what “Thunder Tea Rice” is was probably years back when I was working in the Suntec/Millenia area. Oh how I miss those days…

Back then when Food Republic was still at the convention area (until recently that is) there was a stall that sells this and I was quite a fan of the stall but I never ordered this dish, because simply put it’s just a bowl of vegetables and rice, which comes with a bowl of mint green concoction that I was told wasn’t too nice. So obviously, it never entered into my realm of consideration when I was choosing what to eat for lunch. Instead, what always ends up on my tray is a bowl of brown rice, topped with dark soy sauce basil chicken and a fried egg. Supposedly, this stall sells healthy stuff, as in this Thunder Tea Rice is touted as a healthy food option, but with the basil chicken rice that I always order, seemingly coated with a glistening sheen of oil, I am not too sure about that.

20130305-112633.jpgIt was only recently, maybe in the last couple of years, that I started to appreciate the goodness of Thunder Tea Rice. No doubt I always knew how it is generally healthy, but the taste and texture of all the greens mixed together, plus the peanuts and anchovies and my additional option of the fried egg, these have begun to grow on me. Now instead of Basil Chicken, I only order this. Even the mint green-coloured soup that is served together with it doesn’t really taste that bad. You have to try it to know it, and although I won’t say I love the soup, it is pretty much ok; I just worry if greenish fibre-like objects stick to my teeth after drinking it that will cause a whole lot of embarrassment.

Honestly, I do not know if this is entirely a healthy lunch choice, but I just tell myself it is, and the best part is that I like it. Healthy food is generally never good or tasty but in this case, I would think otherwise, or perhaps it is an acquired taste. Some people think I am health-conscious and eat really healthily; I will admit to the extent that I am conscious of some of the things that I put into digestive system, but not so because I am always concerned about my health and well-being but because I try to compensate for my unhealthy eating habits. As compared to the average adult, I snack way more than most; even if I have a proper full meal my mind invariably wanders to the type of snacks that I can have. And we all know how most types of snacking are very unhealthy, which also happen to the types that I indulge in.

lure of the hot studio

Since I was first introduced to yoga more than six or seven years ago (I think I first stepped into a yoga studio in the end of 2005), I have gradually fallen in love with it. I won’t say that it’s a sport or an activity, it is supposed to be a way of life although I can’t really say that yoga is my lifestyle. I am still too far off from making such a lofty declaration, it takes much more to be a true yogi (or yogini, whichever), to be one who lives and breathe yoga. I would like to aspire towards such a lifestyle but right now it is still just a thought, an ambition, a dream if I would call it, for me.

The very first time I attended a hot yoga class, I vaguely remember feeling immense discomfort. Even though the class was a 60-minute class, I felt constricted in my breathing from the heat and perhaps humidity, which coupled with the breathing in and out of everyone else in the room, it seemed like I could not breathe properly and with all the perspiration dripping off my forehead, I escaped into the cool comfort of air-conditioning perhaps with the class having another 20 minutes left. Dehydration in hot yoga classes is common, for first-timers, and even for seasoned practitioners who are properly rested or hydrated. At least that was what I experienced. After that first encounter, I had slowly conditioned my body to the heat and as time went by, I could easily go through a 60-minute class without feeling uncomfortable. The vast amounts of sweat that I had in that hour was liberating and it made me feel like my body was flushing out all toxins I had inside. It got to the point where I attended hot yoga everyday, and after which I will have a second class at normal temperatures to either cool my body down or to further stretch my already-warmed-up muscles and ligaments.

I don’t know what happened thereafter. Somewhere along the way, work got in the way because I had to travel for an extended period of time, and with that the time I had in Singapore was greatly reduced, and as well time for yoga and hot yoga in particular, dropped drastically. When I finally had time to go back to the studio, I returned to hot yoga and my body seemed to have become more resistant to the heat than when I first started. Halfway through the class, I felt faint and nauseous, and I laid down and forced myself to rest and breathe hard. When I thought I felt better, I continued, but the feelings returned, and after 60 minutes as I walked out of the heated room, I blacked out, just as I collapsed my body onto the bench outside.

That was quite a harrowing experience for me because I had been through black outs when I was younger and I hated that. I was also worried about the dehydration part so the fear deterred me from going back to hot yoga.

I don’t know how long I stayed away. It was only until late last year that I finally mustered up the courage to put myself in the heated room again. I tried to prepare myself well, to try to have enough sleep and rest the night before, keep myself adequately hydrated throughout the day, and most importantly, turn up early for class to choose for myself an optimal spot in the room where I know will not be too hot. The first class went well, and I welcomed that familiar sensation of detoxification. It had been so long, and it felt so amazing. This, in preparation for my maiden Bikram yoga class.

Bikram yoga is another form of hot yoga; in fact, it is supposed to be THE original form of hot yoga, a series of 26 yoga asanas performed twice, in a room heated to about 41 degrees celsius or more, that takes 90 minutes to complete. It is different from the other hot classes I have attended so far, which were 60 minutes in duration, in a room with temperatures that ranged between 35-40 degrees, and where we practise hatha yoga with various asanas, depending on what the instructor prefers. Bikram yoga is structured, because regardless of where it is practised and with whom as the instructor, the practice is always the same. Maybe that is why some people liked it so much that they can practice it twice a day, or even two back-to-back classes. For me, it is a chance to build my endurance and tolerance, and to use it as an opportunity to improve on the 26 asanas, as another step towards deepening my yoga practice.

I can’t just practise Bikram because it is not all inclusive, there are some parts of yoga that are not touched on by the Bikram discipline, so I always need to augment the various practices of yoga in order to have a more holistic yoga practice. Sounds like Greek? Maybe. But it has made me a little lazy where other exercises are concerned. Just last year, I was rather motivated in hitting the gym to run on the treadmill, but I hated running due to my poor stamina and because treadmills are boring. I don’t like running outside even if that offers better scenery and running is just not my thing. As an excuse, I tell myself that running counters my yoga practice, because it makes my hip joints and flexes stiffer than they already are, which is what I have been trying to work on in yoga, to open up these joints and flexes more. It isn’t like I can’t run totally, I will just need to stretch for an even longer period of time if I were to want to continue running, but I am that lazy. So maybe that is something else I need to work on, and spend time on.

For now, let me just acclimatise myself further with the Bikram studio, and work on those asanas. Perfection is still too far off for me.