Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

pop goes the world: muscles and peace through yoga

NO COLUMN 5 Dec, Thursday

 POP GOES THE WORLD, by Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  9 December 2012, Sunday

Muscles and Peace Through Yoga

There are many studies proving that work-related stress is linked to many physical and mental health problems. The word “stress” comes from “distress”, which means “extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain.” The term comes from a Latin term that means “to draw or pull apart.”

Certainly this is what many feel when laboring under the tension that modern life brings. We are pulled in many directions by work and home obligations, often feeling unable to cope and looking for a way to ease the strain.

Coping mechanisms can be destructive – alcohol, late nights, smoking, unhealthy lifestyles and habits – and positive – exercise, healthy eating, creative hobbies and sports, an interest in spiritual pursuits.

Increasingly popular nowadays is yoga. The word comes from the Sanskrit that means “to yoke, to connect” and its emphasis is on the mind-body connection, the interrelation between physical and mental fitness.

Yoga studios have burgeoned in the metropolis since the early part of the last decade, although yoga has been around since at least the ‘70s. I recall my father and his contemporaries in media attending yoga and meditation classes at Ananda Marga (still around in Quezon City) at that time.

Today, yoga studios offer a wide range of classes, from vinyasa to hot flow to anti-gravity yoga. Some emphasize physical fitness, others infuse a spiritual component into the practice with chanting of sutras and mantras.

In search of a sustainable activity suitable for an unfit, sedentary, middle-age person, I happened upon Bliss Yoga Manila in Jupiter Street, Makati, and have attended several classes there.

The front of the Bliss Yoga Manila studio in Makati. One wall is hung with three banners depicting the seven chakras.

Gentle Flow with instructor Jill Kobza is, as described by the Bliss Yoga Manila website, “a slightly-slower paced practice, with focus on the foundation and alignment of poses…emphasis is on awareness, control, and effective use of the breath, as well as on building strength and flexibility.” The class is good for those new to yoga.

The poses mentioned are called “asanas”, and look effortless in photos of advanced yogis and yoginis (male and female practitioners, respectively), but they are in truth difficult to do for the newbie. Merely stretching like a triangle in the “downward dog” position or in “plank” (full pushup) or chaturanga (half-pushup) makes you use muscles you probably haven’t felt since high school calisthenics.

Yoga, however, also ensures that each person practice at their own pace and perform comfortable variants of the poses until they get stronger.

Jill Kobza’s Gentle Flow class is perfect for beginners. She is gentle and patient and guides everyone through the surya namaskar – Sun Salutation sequence -  and other poses in a soothing voice.

Buddha has abs! This statue sits in a back corner.

Nancy Siy’s Jivamukti class may also be attended by people at all levels of physical fitness. It is a form of yoga developed by a Western teacher, and incorporates chanting from the Patanjali sutras; Nancy chooses one sentence that conveys a lesson on a trait, such as aparigraha or non-possessiveness. There is nothing religious here, only philosophical and moral.

Jivamukti is more challenging in terms of asanas, and Nancy goes around the studio to correct each student’s pose and help those who need to reach a bit farther or hike their hips up higher. In the latter part of each class, she puts students in the savasana (corpse) pose – lying flat on their backs in repose, with eye pillows for relaxation and to enhance meditation. A lecture tape may be played or silent meditation encouraged. Students are asked to listen to their bodies, to deliberately release any tension, to “let go” with each exhale.

Basic yoga gear: cotton strap (to help stretch the legs and arms), cork block (for elevation during certain poses, until the body gets stronger and more flexible), towel (to absorb sweat and prevent slipperiness), and mat.

Jivamukti, Nancy says, helped her “…calm (her) mind and deal with the external clutter of daily life…” At the time she started, in 2009, she was “irritable, angry, empty,” and “felt that there must be something more than the repetitive cycle of everyday life. Yoga paved the way for my healing and emotional growth.”

Nancy was “awakened to the reality of animal suffering” and has also adopted veganism as a way of life. She was drawn to Jivamukti and its emphasis on ahimsa (non-violence) and “compassion for all beings.”

Jill and Nancy end their classes with a chant of om, giving thanks to their students, and the valediction “Namaste” –  “the spirit in me greets the spirit in you.”

This door handle at the Makati studio is in the shape of a hand lifted in the abhaya mudra (seal/gesture of no fear, protection, benevolence, assurance).  

Yoga is beyond the current popularity it is experiencing as some sort of trendy fitness program. It is an ancient discipline, one of the “six “orthodox” schools of Hindu philosophy,” dating back to before the Common Era and given formal shape in the early centuries CE.

For us today in modern times, it can become a way of life, one that incorporates physical wellness and philosophy into an integrated whole. ***

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

Follow: Facebook (Bliss Yoga Manila), Twitter (@BlissYogaManila), and Instagram (@blissyogamnl).

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cuisinart coffee

Galaw-galaw, Neni,” said Doc Nonoy. “Move it, move it.”

Walk fast and live long,” said Doc Amer.

Both physicians were my classmates from elementary to high school. Sometimes we see each other now that we’re older, and I’m struck by how they still look like teenagers. I, on the other hand, also still look like a teenager, but weigh twice as much as one.

Both of them have been into running since back then.

I have been into avoiding running since back then (like, what? where’s the fire?) but I can manage to put one foot in front of another to walk.

The new year having rolled around again, as it does every year, I trotted out that hoary old resolution of getting more exercise, and walking it is because it doesn’t require highly-developed motor coordination skills.

So today I went to the mall and bought a Cuisinart four-cup coffeemaker with steel carafe, endorsed on the box by chef Paul Bocuse. I’ve used a French press for eons and felt it was time for a change.

What does this coffeemaker have to do with exercise? We’ll get there, I promise.

This brand of coffeemaker advises the use of paper filters, and comes with two free ones. I do not like my coffee tasting of paper and I do not want trees chopped down just for me to get my caffeine on.

Well, what do you know, the Starbucks across the street from the appliance store had this lovely mesh permanent filter.

I went home and made coffee using ground arabica I bought in Baguio last July, since all my fresh coffee was at the office. The old Baguio arabica was stale and tasted horrible.

I refused to give up on brewing coffee en hora mismo in that smart Cuisinart. So I walked about a kilometer from my house to the nearest Starbucks, where I got this bag of Caffe Verona in the sweetest scarlet Valentine’s Day packaging. (I always was a sucker for cute packaging.)

I walked another kilometer back home and settled down to brew myself some strong, bold coffee for a night of writing.

And that’s how my love for coffee motivated me to get some exercise today and obey my physicians’ instructions.

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pop goes the world: sinful and sweet

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 30 December 2010, Thursday

Sinful and Sweet

I was at work yesterday afternoon when someone dropped by with a luscious chocolate mousse cake. It was a three-layer concoction composed of a sinfully rich chocolate cake base, chocolate mousse center, and whipped cream rosette topping. Like all desserts are made to do, it beckoned, tempting me – “Eat me. You know you want to.” I knew it would melt in my mouth and coat my tongue with pleasure.

Yet I hesitated – it was a calorie- and fat-laden time bomb that would further expand my waistline and elevate my glucose and cholesterol levels. Should I taste it – or not?

The matter was taken out of my hands when an officemate cut a slice, plated it, and handed it to me along with a fork. Now, I couldn’t very well be rude and refuse it, could I? It would have hurt her feelings. So I sank the fork in that three-tiered treat and dissolved into a puddle of sugar-fueled ecstasy when the chocolatey goodness hit my tastebuds.

I was dumped from my cloud of baked bliss when a voice spoke. “Jenny, don’t finish that cake.” It was a visitor, one of my former bosses. “Give the rest to someone else to finish.”

I stared at the cake with different eyes. Yes, Attorney Mon was right. That cake would have gone from my lips straight to my hips. Already carrying excess poundage and having trouble losing it, any extra avoirdupois was just an added health liability I could ill afford.

Which brings me to the point of this article. The holidays are a traditionally a time for feasting, when abundance and the pleasures of the table are an essential part of the celebration. Almost every household has its Christmas and New Year recipes for ham, pasta, salad, whatever. It is a ritual, this preparation of the holiday food that is often not made at any other time of the year. And when the special dishes are served, it marks another cycle in the circle of cultural observances.

But many traditions we observe, while fulfilling psychological needs, are not always good for us. The overconsumption of sugar, fat, salt, protein, carbohydrates, and alcohol wreak havoc on our health, which we pay for in the future, if not right away in the form of, let’s say, indigestion, hypertension, and diarrhea.

After the holiday feasting, we step on a bathroom scale and watch the needle swing much farther to the right than we’d like. Some panic and look for quick fixes. Diet pills, for one. Through the years, there have been many, some with evil side effects.

Some 20 years ago, fen-phen – a combination of two drugs, fenfluramine and phentermine – caused a global sensation for resulting in very rapid weight loss.Fenfluramine was later shown to cause heart problems and other internal damage. It was withdrawn from the market and “led to legal damages of over $13 billion.” This is one case where the “cure” proved to be more harmful than the cause. (“Phentermine was not shown to cause harmful effects.”)

Undergoing scrutiny now by the American Food and Drug Administration is bupropion/naltrexone (trade name Contrave), “designed to affect the hypothalamus to decrease food intake over extended period of time…On 7 December 2010 an FDA Advisory Committee voted 13-7 for the approval of Contrave, and voted 11-8 for the conduct of a post-marketing cardiovascular outcomes study.”

The current popularly marketed medication, available over-the-counter here, is orlistat, “a drug designed to treat obesity… [by] preventing the absorption of fats…thereby reducing caloric intake.” (All citations from Wikipedia.)

Succumbing to the ease of taking a drug panders to our desire for convenience and immediate gratification. For some, under a physician’s care, such medications could even be necessary. But the best results come from the old-school way to weight loss – healthy eating that is predominantly vegetarian combined with sweaty exercise (both aerobic and strength training), adequate sleep, and less stress.

I’ve done it both ways, and only the natural method really worked and made me feel better. So this is one of my resolutions for the coming Year of the Rabbit – to regain wellness.

I will lay off the White Rabbit candy, and lace on my walking shoes once more. Because of my hypertension, I will reduce my caffeine intake. My 12-year-old daughter is helping me get healthy by giving frequent reminders. “Mama, you have to stop drinking too much coffee, eating sweets and chicharon, and sleeping late. Those are bad habits. I’m just glad they’re not illegal.” Thanks, Ik.

I must harness my willpower and discipline to achieve the goals I’ve set because it’s the only way I will get well. And only I can do this for myself – no one else. And because I have loved ones to take care of, I have to stay healthy as long as I can.

It’s a resolution I think we all need to make – and stick with. Happy new year, everyone.

My thoughts return to the chocolate mousse cake that got away. Bereft and forlorn without the other half, I console myself with a chunk of banana loaf someone else left behind. That should be healthier, I figure, because it’s got fruit in it.

Right?   ***

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the happy feet tales: baby steps

Once upon a time, in a big city on one of the big islands of a tropical archipelago close to the equatorial belt where the best coffee in the world grows, there lived a pair of feet.

They were happy feet.

The happy feet loved to walk. Oh, how they could walk! The right happy foot and the left happy foot would take turns being in front, one after the other, walking around the city, getting from one place to another, doing what they were made to do.

But the happy feet were attached to the ankles of a lazy writer who stayed indoors for weeks on end, her bottom growing roots into her armchair as she typed boring articles and surfed the Intarwebz for hours and hours.

The happy feet didn’t get to go out much. That made them sad.

One day the lazy writer’s doctor-classmate-from-school said: You must exercise. I recommend walking. Everyday.

But how, the lazy writer asked.

Baby steps, he said. Take baby steps.

One day, the lazy writer put on a pair of wooden sandals. They were also called “Happy Feet“. The lazy writer’s happy feet loved them because they were light, which meant they could move faster.

They were cool, so the happy feet would not feel hot even on a blazing summer day.

They were open, and the happy feet loved that best of all! Because that meant the happy feet’s toes could wiggle and jiggle and wriggle like toes love to do.

The lazy writer took a cab to work because she was late for a meeting, as she usually was. On her way back home, she remembered her doctor-classmate-from-school’s advice. Baby steps, she told herself. I will walk home.

The happy feet were so excited!

The right happy foot and the left happy foot took turns taking baby steps, one in front of the other, walking towards home, as their toes wiggled and jiggled and wriggled with joy.

They walked dusty gray pavements, but they didn’t mind; there were many things to see along the way.

The happy feet met a plant that grew close to the ground. Its stalk and leaves were very green and they reached out to passing feet. Clip-clop, clip-clop, went the happy feet in the wooden sandals past the plant-in-the-pavement.

Along the way there was a sign for the lazy writer’s favorite energy drink on the facade of a sari-sari store in an old house. Beside the store was an old church. It had red-painted walls. Clip-clop, clip-clop went the happy feet past the store-in-a-house.

When the happy feet first set out, the sun was hidden behind gray clouds. After a while, the sun came out. It shone on the lazy writer’s head. A tall tree’s leaves glowed bright green against the sun, making the lazy writer squint and blink. Clip-clop, went the happy feet past the tree-in-sunlight.

They passed the site of an old racetrack. Once there were loud fans cheering race horses on. Now there were no more fans, no more horses, and no more track. Big noisy construction machines had leveled the place into the ground. Clip-clop, went the happy feet past the once-a-racetrack.

The happy feet met another plant. It was growing in a large metal can that once held infant formula, but now had holes punched with nails all over its bottom while inside it was soil from the old racetrack. The plant was healthy. Its leaves were pretty. Clip-clop, went the happy feet past the plant-in-a-can.

They rounded a corner and saw a big concrete horse’s head. It once sat on the gate in front of the old racetrack. Folks had taken the head down, cleaned it, and put it on a pedestal covered with tiles. This was so that people would always remember the old racetrack. The happy feet knew they were near home. Clip-clop, they went, taking baby steps a little bit faster, past the horse’s-head-marker.

Before them was a long stretch of road. Green tricycles lined up under big old mango trees wrapped in a rainbow, waiting to take passengers where they wanted to go. The drivers asked the lazy writer if she wanted to take a ride. No, thank you, she said. I’ll keep on walking. Clip-clop, went the happy feet past the tricycles-in-rainbow.

At last they came to their street. Close to the corner were two fighting-cock farms. Inside the red gate and the blue gate were many scratch pens of wood, like triangles set into the ground. There were also tall fly pens of wood and plastic mesh. There were many fighting cocks, crowing tik-ti-laok. The happy feet knew they were very near home. Clip-clop they went past the cockpits-in-city.

At last the happy feet were home! The lazy writer was happy too. She had taken baby steps to exercise and it wasn’t bad. It felt very good. And she saw a lot of interesting things along the way. She decided to take a walk more often. The happy feet were glad they got to do what they were made to do. And the toes wiggled and jiggled and wriggled for joy.

~ The End ~

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