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!

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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.

letting go

The more we want our lives to be simpler, the harder it is to attain that state of simplicity. In our society today, the relentless pursuit of anything and everything culminates in unhappy brooding people. I always lament that all I want is a simple life doing the things that I enjoy, yet it is this very want that makes it tough. How can a life be simple if it is about me doing what I want? At the end of the day, we can’t be divorced from the reality of a material world where costs of living rises exponentially from year to year, and despite our claims of the want for simplicity, it never really is.

Let me take a deep breath and focus on deepening the standing bow pose. 

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Honestly, I don’t know if I can say I have a passion for yoga. Yes, as compared to the normal person on the street some may say I have an obsession with yoga. How else can someone be so motivated to head to the yoga studio on such a regular basis that some of the counter staff knows me by name and face? But yet it is something that has become something of a habit, and perhaps a reliance, or addiction. It is a good time-filler that has given me a little bit of purpose in life, possibly redirecting the focus away from splurging on other material items that I used to spend on. Notice how I have cut down on my extravagant shopping habits, where these days even when I think about buying another IT bag (whatever that connotes now anyway), I don’t get as hyped or excited anymore. Have I lost my direction? Or have I just awakened to a new phase of my life? Of course, even with the reduction in expenditure in that area of shopping, the monetary resources have been guided elsewhere, and that’s where the yoga membership comes in. Maybe because I have invested such a large amount of money in it, it only makes sense to utilise it more regularly to make my money’s worth and get the full return on investment, so to speak, right?

I did some mental sums and on my basis of attending classes, I think the money I put in can probably break even within 2 years, or even less. I am 5 months into this new lease of membership so it shouldn’t take long.

Unhappiness seem to fester on some days and it’s a vicious cycle that just feeds on itself and makes it worse. I know I just need to focus my thoughts on one thing but being as human as I am, it is just me to start whining and wallowing. I need to learn to let go of my unhappiness, because only then will I have space in me to start experiencing the good. Is it possible though, that this can be done if I didn’t have my current job that brings in a decent monthly salary that pays for these things that I supposedly enjoy? Money is said to be a good servant but poor master, and it makes me wonder if I am now enslavering myself to money instead of the other way round as it is meant to be. In my current situation, I have to always think about money, money and still money, that pays for yoga, that pays for my holidays because I need to getaway from what stifles me here, that pays for my language classes that I sign up for to distract me from the mundaneness of daily routine life yet somehow wrestles energy away from my body… and of course, eventually that will pay for the apartment that I will have to myself!

In the meantime, it is also paying for these that recently I have started to indulge in. 20130528-111407.jpg

Tuesday. Mid-week will be upon us soon.

Bikram Yoga Japan, Shinjuku

This post is not so directly related to the holiday but it took place in Tokyo anyhow. I believe most people who read this are gonna go “What? Are you crazy or just pure obsessed?” I know that most people, when it comes to vacations, means taking a break from everything about daily normal routine life, which includes work, maybe family or commitments, and as well exercise. We often decide that when we want to rest we go all out, enjoy whatever we can of the place we visit, sights, shopping and of course, the food, and exercise takes a back seat. I do that too, but Tokyo is some place where I have visited often in the last few years. In fact, I think I have not really gone a year without visiting Tokyo, or at least some city in Japan. There are many places yet unexplored in Tokyo, and definitely the rest of Japan (like Hokkaido that I really want to visit soon one day), but I just like Tokyo a lot to keep going back, even if it means I am not having any planned itinerary of what my holiday is. To me, going on holiday means relaxing myself in a place other than Singapore (or rather going to some place that I really love and enjoy), and it doesn’t have to come power-packed with activities like sight-seeing or the likes.

Since it was a trip that I took at a leisurely pace, I thought it would be a great idea to check out Bikram Yoga in Tokyo since I picked this up recently. There isn’t a gym in the hotel otherwise I might have been tempted to just head to the gym and pound on the treadmill, but I have been experiencing some pain in my left hip so I had decided to keep my trainers for the time being. It would definitely be more convenient if it’s just going to the gym because going to yoga means I have to bring along with me shower stuff and all the rest of the works, outside of the hotel to the studio, which frequently means a huge bag of toiletries. Fortunately, the Bikram Yoga studio in Shinjuku was located fairly near my hotel, about 10 minutes’ walk away. 20130424-095806.jpg

I first went to look for it one morning before I met my friends R and G for breakfast, but they weren’t open yet (the Shinjuku branch opens from 10:00am), so I went back in the evening and got their schedule, which is also available on their website. Within Tokyo, there are six outlets but this location worked the best for me although in terms of timings it isn’t. Nevertheless since I am on holiday, I could work the Bikram classes around my activities.   20130424-095825.jpg

I dropped in for a class on a weekday morning, and it costs 3,000 yen per class (includes towel mat), which works out to be about S$40. It is not cheap I would agree, but in Singapore that is perhaps also the kind of rates we are talking about for a one-time class I think, or at least from what I recalled what a friend told me in the past, several years ago. I paid an additional 150 yen for rental of a set of bath and face towels, but you could bring them yourself (maybe from the hotel) if you want. I didn’t want the hassle of bringing additional weight of towels so I paid the 150 yen. This is one row of the lockers, where the lock and key are provided.20130424-095851.jpg

And this is how the locker looks like. Pretty compact but I was surprised I could fit everything in, my huge bag plus the carry-all I brought along for the gear and my toiletries, the bath towel, coat and the layers of clothing I had.20130424-095904.jpg

The dresser; I like that they are so thoughtful to provide cotton squares with make-up remover for us! Wished they would do this in Singapore but I’m pretty sure us Singaporeans will just abuse and maybe bring such things home. Besides, in terms of the membership base, as this is a one-studio place, at any one time there are not as many yogis so the place doesn’t become packed and crowded. 20130424-095916.jpg

And the shower cubicles. Again as you can see, everything is neat and compact, and this is about 10 shower stalls we see. The shower cubicle isn’t big or roomy but it sufficed for me. What I really am impressed with is that the cubicles are all very clean, and the flooring used in the stall is of some material that dries really fast because after I showered and towel-dried myself, the floor is almost already dry.20130424-095928.jpg

The Shinjuku studio is relatively new, from what I read from the website so that probably also explains its cleanliness and maintenance. When I compare it with the state of (dis)repair of the studio that I go to in Singapore, the latter really pales in comparison. Of course, our facilities are all heavily used and abused, so it is tough to maintain it well and also many members are not civic-minded and considerate enough to help upkeep the place. I really enjoyed the experience I had despite the price I had to pay for the three sessions I attended. Maybe in future when I return to Tokyo I will check out the other outlets to see if they also offer the same kind of good experience and facilities, or if they will also suffer from the same problems once the studios entertain high numbers of practitioners. Even when I went for a 8:45pm class one night, as the 7pm class was emptying out, it wasn’t that packed, not like we are used to seeing in our own Bikram yoga studios.

I didn’t manage to take any photos of the studio itself as there was a class going-on and on another occasion the lights were already off. Besides, I don’t know if photos are allowed since I didn’t ask… so if the above pictures are not allowed and someone from Bikram Japan wants me to take them down, please let me know! I took care to snap the photos only when everyone left the locker room in order not to risk snapping anyone in the buff.

ethics of a different type

 

I have practiced yoga for quite a number of years, and occasionally I would look back fondly on those days where the yoga studio I went to was the picture of serenity. Even though the yogis/yoginis, probably mostly the latter since yoga then was still pretty much a female-dominated activity, rushed around before and after the classes, the entire place still exuded a peaceful feel. The decoration of the studio, with its use of dark drapes and ambient lighting, probably help add to this. The studio then shifted to a new location, and with the shift it lost part of the tranquility that I used to derive from it. Despite that the new premises offered a wonderful view beyond the windows of the studio, it became more brightly-lit and noisy. Perhaps it was also due to the inevitable commercialisation and expansion of the studio; which business doesn’t want to keep expanding its customer base and reap higher returns? The key is balance, but unfortunately in this case, the balance was tipped, and it never returned.

The studio had a second shift in recent years, and I hadn’t stepped foot into this third premise, because over time, due to my own change of jobs and therefore locations, I decided instead to visit another branch of the studio, which had been occupying its current premises since its inception. The only difference was that it used to occupy two different spots within the same building, but that has now been consolidated into one place, with new facilities offered with a new type of yoga practice introduced, i.e. Bikram Yoga.

As the member base grew, more and more varied customers joined the yoga studio and they brought along certain actions that really get on my nerve. To be fair, it isn’t just new members who cause all this annoyance, some of these are regular members who have just gotten complacent and think that their consumer dollar is greater than anyone else’s that  gives them the right to behave in a selfish way with a total lack of civic-mindedness. Just to point to a few items, there are some general rules and etiquette that could be observed, with this that I got from the website of the studio.

yogaethics

It isn’t uncommon that members come late to class, and sometimes even I do that, because I have two classes that are back-to-back of each other and the earlier class runs a little late. But the point is to be quiet and observe silence. If you really need to go into a class late, do it quietly without disturbing others, and forget about joining the class if you are already late for more than 5 minutes. What is the point of cutting in when everyone is already past the warm-up stage and into practice, then when they suffer injuries later on, they blame the studio for it? The class is just an hour, and on a typical day there are several classes to choose from, so if you have missed one class, just go for the next. Then there are those who will choose to leave the class early, because they want to beat the locker room crowd, because they need to go for some appointments, or because they want to make it for another class… whatever the reasons, it is rude to just leave the class when it is still in-progress, not to mention the disturbance to the rest of the class, particularly if everyone is already in the final resting phase of savasanna.

Many members these days also seem to be such busy people that they cannot bear to be apart from their mobile phones even for just an hour. We are not allowed to use mobile phones in class, and if it’s for pre-class use, then they should switch it to silent (not even vibrate mode) or off totally. It is so annoying to have someone’s phone ring shrilly in the midst of the class, or some persistent caller refuses to hang up and the vibration of the phone resonates throughout the class, breaking the silence or interrupting the instructor. If they are indeed so busy that they need to have the phone on standby 24/7, perhaps they should consider not attending class at all.

And of course, we have members who just step on people’s mats like it is part of the floor. Someone is going to lay on the mat for yoga practice, so it is just basic courtesy to side-step the mat isn’t it? Probably it doesn’t rile me as much if I don’t see it, but there were occasions when I was sitting on a mat and someone just blatantly stepped onto my mat while trying to get around the studio. Seriously?

My peeves just keeps growing, and it is ironic because yoga was supposed to help me find my inner peace. Days at work and outside in this world, many things and people annoy me, be it colleagues in the office or fellow commuters on the train, as I grow older I find that my tolerance hasn’t grown, in fact it has become narrower and I need to start to breathe and not sweat the small stuff of things that do not matter to me.

Having said that, the world is just too small for us to live recklessly and without heed to people within the same circle or society. Someday, things will just return to haunt us, so it is always better to be safe than sorry later.

Happy Lunar New Year!

Happy new year to everyone! This has apparently become the year of the water snake, as many have touted it, due to the daily rain that we are getting these days. I always do not enjoy Chinese New Year much because all I can remember of such periods each year is the humid weather that leaves me feeling uncomfortable while I spend many restless hours at my relatives’ homes. I have not been in Singapore much over the last few years since I have always travelled to Japan for holidays during this time, but this year, since I have just returned from Tokyo, I thought perhaps I should just stay in Singapore. As much as I love Japan, I think it’s extravagant, to say the least, to go there for a vacation so soon after returning.

So anyway, I have been missing in action for the last few days, not because I was busy soaking in the festivities that is Chinese New Year, but honestly, I was just tired and most nights I couldn’t really be bothered to switch on the computer. Even if I do, I’d be playing games online without using my brain much. So what’s happened in this space, if you actually do wonder about it in the first place. Haha. Last Friday, the company let us off a little early, and it was pouring cats and dogs during lunch when we had our CNY luncheon at this Japanese place. By the time I got around to leaving the office, the rain has thankfully stopped and I could go on to meet my friend for some drinks.

Saturday was a fairly busy day, starting with Korean class and followed by the whole afternoon at the yoga studio. Fortunately, I got home in time to catch my dad’s ride to my brother’s place where this year’s reunion dinner was held. This was the spread that we had, which we couldn’t polish off even with 6 adults.20130213-165403.jpgProbably steamboat with the family is something that I enjoy the most, because I really like the ngoh hiang that my mum makes even if it tends to be a little oily. I don’t like that sometimes people force me to eat things I do not want to eat, and my family knows to not force me if say I do not eat prawns or liver, etc. Just eat what you want and if you don’t want it, others may not want it too!

20130213-165414.jpgI was so stuffed by the end of the dinner that I was in a state of food coma. It was a nice, cool night, but my collar bone became the object of play for my nephew whom I was carrying and I realised afterwards that he scratched me so badly it stings when I showered. Ouch.

This new year, I have not joined my family in visiting because I didn’t feel like it and also because I have not been visiting in the last few years. I prefer to control my own time and I don’t like that when we go visiting I have to sit idly for countless hours watching reruns of HK movies on TV, coupled with the endless snacking of CNY goodies due to the TV-watching. So this holiday period has just come and gone like that. It is a longer holiday for me this year because my company made us take forced leave (again); I could have used this period to go on vacation, like many people did, but destinations are pretty limited for me since Japan is out and the other nearby countries, either I am not interested in going, or air tickets have already been fully redeemed long ago. Besides, although I am going green seeing everyone heading somewhere for holiday, I already decided that this year I will take it slow and spend my week at a more leisurely pace, and of course yoga features as the main part of this leisure week, and meeting up with some friends.

Time always zips by so quickly when you are enjoying yourself, but then time is just passing so fast now. It’s already mid-week and we are already at the halfway point of February!

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.