Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Planning for Easter But No Bunnies, Only Tortoises

It's a manic day at work, 9.35pm and still going. But I just have to say: I LOVE LIVING IN EUROPE!!

Just yesterday, my brother and his wife decided that they were gonna stay in London for this upcoming Easter holiday after all (they were planning to go away initially). So they asked if I wanted to fly up and go hang out with them.

So in one afternoon, I booked a cheap ticket to London (it's PEAK Easter travel rates, but even peak rates on crappy EasyJet are very affordable). So I'll be there this weekend! :)

On the yoga front - I finally got my ass into gear and practised early in the morning. It was the first time in Beige Heaven that I got a dawn practice in. It's interesting comparing the evening versus morning practice sessions... Sure, my body was a lot less flexible in the morning, but there's something extremely soothing about practicing yoga in the dark, with a few candles burning... and gradually having your body wake up and connecting with the rest of yourself, just as the sun comes up too.

The mental focus is also on a completely different level. It's much easier coming to that quiet space inside. I'd pulled my mat back to where the coffee table was - so it was on all kinds of funny inclined levels. Something that irritated me to no end before... but somehow I didn't seem to take notice of it this morning.

The one thing that irritated me is: SUPTA KURMASANA. Just when I thought "I have mastered you" some months ago... just coz I could get my hands to bind on my own... this asana turns around and says to me "See ya, SUCKER!"

At the shala, I always bound my hands first, then Teacher would pull my legs behind my back and help me bind my legs. So... of course that was easy. DUH. Now that I've gotta bind the legs on my own now too, I can't for the life of me figure out how to get BOTH hands and legs bound. At the same time. On my own.

Trying to get into it the Intermediate way (with Dwi pada) where you come up from Kurmasana and put left leg behind head, then right leg behind head and cross your ankles... is beyond me. I can get the left leg behind my head, but the moment I pick my right leg up, I just start rolling around the floor. IT'S IMPOSSIBLE!!

So then I get back into Kurmasana on the floor, and try and get the left leg behind the head from down on the floor. It doesn't quite work. I kinda sorta hook my ankles together (barely), but no way are the legs over my shoulders, behind my back. My arms can't seem to bind either when I try to hook the ankles together first.

So... I'm back to square one with Supta Kurmasana. Pffffft! Just when I thought I'd got it with the hand bind.

How the heck do you home practitioners bind into this on your own? I was sure Mel posted a great video on her site but I can't find it there now. It's this one of Maria V.

My one terrorizing thought: If and when I get to Mysore, I'm gonna be stopped at Supta K coz I can't bind BOTH arms and legs at the same time on my own! ARGGGGHHHHHHHH!!! (Hello Ego, so what's wrong with that again?)

Anyways, I've been on another youtubing blitz and this dude is another good example (is that just a hint of a moustache? HAHA!) Right at about the 0:33 mark is where I end up rolling backwards. Um... I'm guessing I need to engage bandhas more? ...and then? I'm back to huffing and puffing and swearing at this asana while I'm struggling to figure it out. Believe you me, now that I'm practicing at home, there are more grunts and cusses of frustration. Bad lady.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bookworm Weekend

This weekend was the first weekend since being here that I've actually had a chilled weekend. I was going to go on a day tour of the Dutch countryside, but then I figured "NO. I need to rest." (in today's horrible word-combo world, that would be "chillax")

So I went to the book store and picked up 3 books:
Michael Pollan's "In defense of food"
Jonah Lehrer's "How we decide"
Elizabeth Gilbert's "Committed"

Michael Pollan is my hero. What can I say... his "The Omnivore's Dilemma", discovered through reading Sharon Gannon's Yoga & Vegetarianism made me re-think the way I eat. So of course I have to read his follow-up book.

Jonah Lehrer is someone I just discovered over the weekend - Karen had linked to an article he had written on insomnia, and during one of my insomniac bouts I dug around for more info on the dude and thought this looked like a good read. HA.

And yeah... well y'know, "Committed" is Gilbert's follow-up book to "Eat Pray Love". HAHAHA! I like my chick-lit. Shut up!

I finished "Committed" in a day. Er... I have to say I didn't enjoy it as much as the first book. I found myself rolling my eyes a lot and going "blahblahblah... it's getting a bit self-absorbed now". But well, that's what a memoir is, innit? What she did get me interested in though, is an author she referenced a lot - Stephanie Coontz. I'd like to check out her book "Marriage, a history". Yeah, a book on... er, the history of marriage.

Gilbert herself mentioned some historical bits that were pretty eye-opening... and the institution of marriage today really didn't start out the way it did (the Church initially opposed marriage?!)

I figured if this insomnia continues, at least I'll have some books to read in the middle of the night. See, I'm learning to "joyfully surrender" to insomnia. HAHAHA. :)

On Saturday, I decided I needed to practice some yoga. Sure it was a Saturday and an official "no practice" day, but I'd skipped a few days before that coz of long days at work. It was probably one of the hardest ever practice sessions I've had. I had every intention of finishing up to Laghuvajrasana, but I kept wanting to jump off the mat.

I didn't start the practice wanting to jump off, but the more I got into it, the heavier I felt, and the less connected to my physical body I felt. Because I had such a hard time gelling the practice, everything in my mind said "BLECHHHHHHHH! STOP! STOP! STOP!" ...but I soldiered on. At the end of Setu Bandhasana I thought "F&£^ this shit, I've had enough".

Well... Not a proud moment (swearing on the mat?!) But... at least I finished Primary, I suppose?

Yesterday, after a whole day of procrastinating, I decided to get back on the mat in the late afternoon. I think I was afraid of having the same hard time I'd had on the mat the day before, so was trying to make excuses not to do it. So much of this practice is a mindgame, innit? ESPECIALLY WHEN IT'S SELF-PRACTICE!!!

I'm glad I did it. I kinda breezed through it and felt a lot lighter and stronger than the day before. And seriously, I think Laghuvajrasana is really starting to become mine. Well, at least the pose is starting to feel less like a mission, and more like a huge expansion. YAY! (I'm even squeezing those thighs together as I'm going down and sure, they're still burning, but it seems a lot more manageable now)

So... here's the next obvious question: if you're practising on your own, how do you know when you're ready to move onto the next pose? (I feel like I'm opening Pandora's Box here..) Heh.

Since I'm a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, thought I'd leave off with the trailer of "Eat Pray Love", coming in August. (Julia Roberts plays her? ...and Javier Bardem plays Felipe?! WTF?!)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mirror Mirror On the Wall

I counted that I've got 5 mirrors in Beige Heaven. But none of them are full-length mirrors.

This means that trying to check if what I've thrown on before leaving the house looks marginally presentable from top-to-toe is a bee-atch. It's kind of funny what I end up doing, so I thought I'd show you.

This is the hallway mirror (the one that should really be a full-length mirror).

Then there's the mirror by the dresser in the bedroom.

Then there's the bathroom mirror.

Then there's the mirror in the kitchen. I was a tad perplexed when I first saw this random mirror in the kitchen (behind the sink)... but then I soon realized since the kitchen sink is the only sink in the house, this is probably why the landlord placed this mirror there (y'know, for when you brush your teeth or something. I wouldn't know... I've become a brush-teeth-in-the-shower kind of girl. I still find it weird doing this. But it would be weirder to brush my teeth in the kitchen sink!)

This is the mirror in the living room.

As you can see... With these 5 mirrors, it's fine for me to check everything from head to waist.

So what happens when I wanna check how I look all the way down to my shoes?

I end up having to stand on the couch (the one in the picture above), to get a better view. This is what it ends up looking like:

(Yes, that's my black mat in the corner. I just leave it there instead of rolling it up and putting the coffee table back where it should be).

...I still can't see what the outfit looks like with shoes on! HAHAHA.

I was checking out what my new blazer looks like. It was pay-day this week so I thought I'd treat myself. Also coz I'm living on a suitcase's worth of clothes, I'm getting a bit bored of my super-small wardrobe selection.

I took an extra close-up shot especially for Liz, coz I know how much she likes buttons of all kinds. :)

Sleepless in Amsterdam

...that doesn't quite have the same ring to it as "Sleepless in Seattle" does.

Anyways. I have a problem.

In the past week, I have been waking up around 3am every single night and then not being able to get back to bed until between 6 - 7am (when it starts to get light).

It's not so much a problem today since... well, tomorrow is Saturday. It's just starting to become an issue on weekdays, as you can imagine. (Which has also been explaining the evening yoga practices, since I can't wake up early in the morning... because I've pretty much been up most of the night!)

The Bach flowers homeopathic remedy, Rescue Sleep, used to do wonders whenever I ran into insomniac bouts. Recently, not so much.

I'm not a fan of medicating with anything non-natural. So... I'm open to suggestions of WHAT THE EFF DO I DO NOW?!????

At the moment I've decided to just roll with it and get outta bed... which is why I'm writing this post now. But it's been about a week with broken sleep so far and I'm getting kinda fed up. Maybe I should change my yoga practice to the middle of the night. That would be really practicing Mysore-style in India. Haha.

Maybe I'll try some Pranayama. Sometimes that works. I'm just too tired to bother now.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Pull Through"

Kaivalya, aka The Reluctant Ashtangi, has just posted a video on chakrasana/ setu bandhasana.

As I liked the way this teacher explained the steps, I snooped around the other videos on this same workshop and found one on "Learning the pull through" - her instruction for jumpbacks. (I've never heard it called that before!)

I'm at the part where I'm at "take it up" as Sharath says, and clearing my feet through, but still tapping the top of my feet on the floor before jumping back. So it's nice to think about how to take it to the next step - rounding the shoulders and back.

But too bad the video stops there!!!

I was starting to do this before I left Sydney - rocking back and forth before jumping back, which kind of helps with the rounded action, but somehow I've forgotten to keep experimenting with this. This is a nice reminder.

The other thing is, I really like her explanation of keeping the energy/ prana/ chi pulled inwards. It adds another dimension to working the bandhas... Y'know, not just "engaging them" by contracting your muscles, but with the intention of keeping your energy focus pulled inwards so you're not all over the place energetically.

Who is she? She rocks!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Of Sinking Foundations, Provincial Dutch Transport & Wonder Woman

At first I thought this lopsided floor was tilted to the right. However, I think it's more on a diagonal incline than it is sinking to the right. Through a series of trial and error, wobbly balancing poses, how flat and straight I can get in Savasana... and also checking out the direction of the water level in my aromatherapy oil burner, I've figured out that rather than placing my mat in this position:

I'm on a much more "even" incline if I placed it in this position:

This way, all I have to worry about is tilting forwards or backwards in one direction ONLY, and not having to also deal with tilting to the right or left at the same time.


The living room is still the best place to practice coz of the openness I feel in it, so I'm trying to work with this tilted floor and not get all irritated and distracted by it. This helps! And I got another full practice in this evening, up to Laghu too. I finally got my dropbacks and standing-up-from-backbends back. 3 very nice ones today. Woohoo! (Oh man, I'm becoming an Amsterdammer now, with evening practice sessions instead of mornings).

Enough yoga talk for today. I've noticed here that there are modes of transport, and then there are modes of transport.

Over here, I've spotted some quaint, almost provincial kinds of modes of transport.

Of course there are cops on horse-back:

(This is through a small back alley, not a main road, so it was kind of weird.)

And you remember how everyone bicycles everywhere? Well, this is how parents transport children... It's like a giant basket in front of the bike. When I saw the first one, I thought it must've just been that special one. But... they're ALL OVER the place! I've seen up to 3 small children in one of these little buggies.

What happens when it rains? Here's a souped up version:

And right outside my apartment today, I saw the funniest sight. Of course this is how one transports a giant discoball to different places. Mr. Bean would be proud.

And speaking of provincial, check out Wonder Woman's transformation into her swimsuit! I like how when she dives into the "ocean", you can see the bottom of the swimming pool floor. Oh, I like her last *BOING* out of the water too. :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Intermediate Self-Practice vs. Me: Round 1

I did it! My first home self-practice of the Intermediate series. Up until the last pose my Sydney teacher gave me - that dreaded Laghuvajrasana. This was the first time I practiced Intermediate PROPERLY on my own. *Curtsy*

I dunno why it was such a big deal or why I had such a mental block with it. Today I decided: Enough is enough. No more excuses, just do it. No more just stopping after Primary, or even shortcutting Primary just to get to Salabhasana (skipping so many poses in between!)

And breaking it down the simplest, most fuss-free way to do it... I figured I might as well practice just as my teacher had told me to - with that weird split, cutting out UHP up till Dandasana. I figured for now at least, it might just make it less of a mental block for me, making it a little "easier" to handle. Heh.

It worked. I had a Pavlovian dog response. At this point, I'll try anything to try and get into a home-practice groove.

And even Laghuvajrasana today actually felt open. *GASP*

I still don't like the pose of course, and my head is still far away from the floor. But as I was hanging just at that point where I couldn't handle it anymore - any further and I would've crashed my head onto the floor... I actually felt like "Hey, everything in my body is exploding but I'm feeling a lovely chest expansion".

It was weird, but a nice feeling. :)

And by the fifth breath, as I was pressing my shins into the floor like there was no tomorrow, both calves suddenly cramped up. What the eff?! Is that supposed to happen?

So I stopped, did a vinyasa, and decided to do Laghuvajrasana again (Yes I did it again. Damn you Laghu, I'm gonna nail you.) And AGAIN, on the fifth breath, both calves cramped up. Maybe I'm just trying too hard or pushing the shins into the floor too hard.

It was a practice that was 12 hours late (7pm instead of 7am), but better late than never, right? I'll try and see if I can finally kick myself out of bed earlier to practice tomorrow morning.

Oh, the other thing is - this lopsided, slanting floor is starting to really annoy me. I already have a crooked pelvis I'm trying to straighten, so trying to determine if laying flat on the floor doesn't actually feel "flat" is coz of the pelvis or coz of the floor is starting to do my head in.

I might start laying my mat in different places to see if maybe practicing in the bedroom or the kitchen might be better. Bahaha! That would be a sight. Kitchen practice would probably be too distracting, with those stroopwafels within reach.

Sigh. This Beige Heaven apartment will be fine. We will get into some kind of self-practice groove. I'm just not sure if these will be better alternative practice spaces!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tram Rides, Albert Cuyp Market & City Walking Tour

By now, you already know that weekends are when I become "The Amsterdam Tourist". I don't think I'm gonna do another museum for a while. I've still got a few on my list I'd like to hit - The Hermitage, Rembrandt House, Amsterdam Historic Museum, Anne Frank's House, Cannabis Museum (like seriously? Worth going to just because it's probably the only one in the world!) ...But I think I've still got museum fatigue from last week, so I'll give museums a break for now. HAHA.

I took the tram for the first time in the last week - I had to go to The Expat Centre and register myself formally. It's much further out from the city centre, at the World Trade Center. I decided I might as well bite the bullet and try and figure out the tram system coz... well... you've gotta at some point, right? My HR Manager was super proud of me. She reckons I'm probably the first person in the entire company to have taken the tram to the World Trade Center! HAHAHA! She says every other international person has been too scared to take the tram "so far away" for some reason. So they've paid shitloads to cab it there. I am probably just too cheap to pay for a cab. I'm still in the habit of converting the currency from Euros and thinking that everything's just soooooo expensive! HAHAHAHAHAHA!

Anyways, after that virgin tram ride, I am now Queen of the Trams, complete with my own stored-value tram card. Thanks to the internet - Google Maps marks out all the tram stops - so I mark out my routes beforehand and pick them up on my Blackberry... and away we go. It's just like a bus - when in doubt, ask the driver (but I suppose asking for directions is more of a female trait). :)

(Exterior tram shot credit from here)

So on Saturday, I took the tram to the Albert Cuyp Market. It's like Paddy's Market in Sydney, except it's all outdoors. And it goes on forever down this one street (like a very plebian version of London's Notting Hill market).

There was a stall that sold the fuzzy Dutch clog slippers I got a few weeks ago in town. Except they were all HALF THE PRICE!!

Of course this being Holland, there were lots of stinky cheese shops. There was also an entire stall of pickled food. Like seriously - jars of pickled gherkins, pickled herring, pickled onions... it was such a STINKY pickle that I couldn't stand in front of it to take a photo. YUCKS!

Today, I decided to do a walking tour of the city centre. I've seen most of it already just by walking around, but there's nothing like being told stories of the place and its history by a local. I found a company that does FREE 3-hour walking tours (every other place charges 20 Euros!) The guides work for tips of course, and Lee deserved every penny of the 20 Euros I ended up paying her. HAHA. I figured she did such a great job, she deserved the market rate. :p

This is Lee.

She took us through the red light district first. Y'know, the famous streets where the hookers actually stand in front of store windows in their lingerie? We were warned not to take photos as the ladies don't appreciate it. They've been known to run outside in broad daylight and attack tourists, smashing their cameras... or throw a bottle of piss (yes, urine) onto people who take photos of them. CLASSY.

It was middle of the day, like 1.30pm, and many store window curtains were open, with ladies posing. It was pretty scary - as in, some of them looked like they were men! In S&M gear! There were skinny chicks, fat chicks, in all kinds of skimpy gear (My poor eyes!) I was too chicken-shit to even take surreptitious photos coz we were warned beforehand. All the action happens down streets that look like this one:

To give you an idea, these are photos I fished from the internet:

In BROAD DAYLIGHT! Interestingly, the red light district is right next to the "Old Church"... yes, Amsterdam's oldest church. They both popped up at the same time coz apparently back in the day, the sailors would all come in droves to see the ladies and then pop in next door to repent for their sins. HAHAHA. How convenient.

Right on the pavement next to the Old Church, an anonymous artist lay this sculpture of a hand on a boob in the middle of the night. Apparently when the city council was re-paving the streets, they decided to take the sculpture away. The locals protested, and the city council put it back. Power to the People!

View from a bridge in one of the oldest streets in Amsterdam (still in the red light district). Apparently here's where a lot of the buildings are sinking or are crooked, coz of the rotting wooden foundations.

Here are the only pictures I dared to take of the naughty places - sans women in windows.

This same company (amongst others) does evening walking tours of the red light district and I'm considering going on it. The thing is, because I'm travelling as a solo female now, I'm a bit afraid of venturing there on my own especially at night. As "safe" as it's supposed to be coz it's full of tourists and all... well, I dunno, maybe I'm just a paranoid Singaporean.

I'm glad to find these enterprising companies have organized evening walking tours of the area. HAHAHAHA! (If I were a prostitute there, I'd be pretty pissed off... like... "What do you think this is? A freaking ZOO?!")

Well, yes, as a matter of fact. Not quite a petting zoo for me (maybe for others), but I wanna see what goes on! Here's what the online brochure for this tour says:
"The excursion starts at a prostitute information centre, where we will offer you a drink. A former prostitute will explain the system and you will be able to ask any questions you may have. The visit to the "Wallen" the Red Light District- is perhaps the most interesting part of this tour. There you can see for yourselves the oldest profession in the world. The tour continues passing old monuments and through old streets, one of which is the well-know "Zeedijk", which was, in the past, one of the most dangerous streets of Amsterdam, where seamen could be found looking for local amusement. Nowadays, because of the disappearance of the harbour, you can find lively Dutch pubs and restaurants (certainly it is not dangerous anymore), instead of the shady bars of yester-year.. We guarantee your safety during this excursion as a reliable and trustworthy guide will be accompanying you."

And the "Itinerary" says:
- walk to red light district

- visit prostitute information centre including free drink

- tour of red light district

I'm sorry if it's rude to laugh, but this is absolutely BIZARRE!!!! The fact that this place has a Prostitute Information Centre, for one, makes my eyes pop (and a free drink! WOO!) And then that there are people offering tours of the red light district too... Well, who am I talk... I wanna go on this tour! HAHAHA!

We then cut through Chinatown (Woohoo! I know where to go now if I'm craving Chinese!) This is the oldest Buddhist temple in town. It's all of... 10 years old.

Here's the Weigh House in the middle of some other square. It used to be the medieval gates into Amsterdam with a moat around it - where boats would bring wheat in to be weighed. The land has been so reclaimed now that it's hard to imagine there being a moat around this place. After it stopped being a Weigh House, it was here that the various Guilds of Amsterdam used to convene for meetings. The Doctors Guild performed public autopsies in one of these towers, and it was here that Rembrandt used to hang out a lot. One of his famous paintings about an autopsy was based on the stuff that was going on here:

This one:

And then of course, right in the heart of the Red Light District are 2 even more fascinating places: The Cannabis College and Museum of Marijuana & Hemp. Ha.

(Er, yeah... look harder - the Cannabis College is to the right of that live porno show place!)

We took a break back in the Dam Square, and here are these talent-less people who dress up in costumes and get paid money just for people to pose for pictures with them. I guess there's a job for everyone. I liked Darth Vader, though.

Remember the Begijnhof? That place for religious women I found on the first week I was here? We traipsed through it again. Apparently it's now open to religious women of any faith. You just have to jump through loads of hoops to prove to the council how pious you are and why you deserve to live there... RENT-FREE! As Lee the tour guide put it "The trade-off is a lifetime of celibacy in order to live in the middle of Amsterdam rent-free. Take your pick!" Haha. It's the first day of Spring and it was a gorgeous day, so look how different this place looks now! (Yes, that's a kitty-cat hanging out in the garden).

Contrast this with photos from about a month ago:

There's a "secret chapel" in the middle of the Begijnhof. A chapel in the middle of a religious commune? Noooooooo! You don't say! How would anyone keep that a secret?

One of the houses in here (the black one) is completely made out of wood from back in the 1400s.

Lee then took us round the corner to a famous "Coffee Shop". (You know Dutch coffee shops are where you buy weed, right?) The Dampkring. This place was where they shot one of the scenes in Oceans 13. She explained which one, but I forget now. The resident coffee shop cat apparently is the most chilled-out cat (!) and loves sitting in the corner of the shop window.

We ended off with heading into the back of a comedy theater club for a "traditional" Dutch meal. It turned out to be suspiciously like Bangers & Mash (sausages and mashed potatoes for the non-English folks). It was kinda cool eating in a theatre:

And of course I got a vegetarian option.

Another weekend well-spent. :)
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