Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tracking my state of mind - part 2

2 months ago, I wrote about tracking my state of mind with a Reporter phone app. Basically the phone prompts me at random times of the day to answer simple questions like how do I feel and what am I doing, etc. Here are the results so far:

- I think about negative thoughts roughly half of the time I'm awake.

- I'm mostly grateful about my job, sunny days, and being with my boyfriend (so yeah, I ended up panicking and apologizing to him for going crazy, so now we're back to square one ).

- About a month ago I was workign about 30% of the time, but now it has gone up to 38% (working til late in the evening and on weekends).

- I spend most of my time working on my paper and commuting to and from work.

- I'm mostly alone or with my colleagues.

- My top three moods are "Ruminating", "Bleh", and "Content".

None of these results are terribly surprising to me. The biggest surprise from this exercise that I did not realize before, is how quickly I change my opinions and mood about a topic that runs continuously in my head. In the morning on my subway ride to work, I would, say, feel very anxious about my relationship with my boyfriend. Right after lunch, even though nothing has changed in reality, I would feel that maybe my relationship is going fine after all, that I have nothing to worry about. And in the evening again I would come up with some scenario or nick-pick on problems and decide that this relationship sucks and I deserve better. Same with my opinions about work. One moment I would feel extremely grateful about this super interesting and flexible job, and the next moment I would think my job sucks and I want to move to another country.

That's just how my mind works I guess. It makes up story after story, anticipating before anything new in real life changes, trying to protect my feelings and my dignity. It is extremely difficult for me to focus on "now". I am constantly worried about the future and wish I made fewer mistakes in my past.

I would love to go on a meditation retreat, but since I don't have the time right now, this moment tracking thing is the next best thing I can do. One thing I really need to change about my current life: find some friends or even strangers to hang out with, since my colleagues aren't interested in being friends outside of work.

It's how life works I guess. My life is pretty fabulous and lacks a million things at the same time. There are things I'm doing that are kinda fun but I'd rather be doing something even more exciting, so I don't appreciate the good moments every day. The second question I ask myself, after "Am I having negative thoughts", is: "What am I grateful about?" Usually it helps made me step back from my shitty mood and examine what's good in life, even if it's as simple as a shining sun.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Communication gone completely awry

I've been unhappy with the lack of communication I had with the bf. We barely interacted besides funny cat pictures he occasionally sent me, so last week I decided to tell him that either we see each other more often, or he calls more often, or I wouldn't see him this weekend.

Worst. strategy. ever. He got furious, started listing everything that I have ever done wrong, how I stress him out, and now it's zero communication.

I realized we probably already interact more than he's comfortable with, which is ridiculously little by any normal standards (we might as well be in a long-distance relationship even though we live in the same city). I started browsing through a thousand articles about men and why they stonewall women and how to get them to communicate more and stuff. I already tried to mentally prepare myself for the worst case scenario - our break up, but it was still very painful.

My dad also has  a style of rarely talking or discussing things, but it suited my mom because she likes to have complete control over the family and he lets her shove him. She treats him like a small child: she tells him when he needs to put on more clothes; she decided that he should retire early and we should move to North America; she signed me up for all sorts of extracurricular activities without ever discussing with me or even informing me beforehand and made him drive me to these classes while I was young. He put up with all this and never complained much.

As I said in a previous post, I recently asked my dad what would he want to do if he were 30 years old today, and he said he would want to "get married". My mother says I should marry someone like my dad. First of all, nobody plus or minus 10 years my age behave like my dad any more. Secondly, I have been around my dad for 30+ years. I am 120% certain I don't want a silent yet compliant life partner. I'm not the type who enjoys ordering people around and having them obey my every little demand.

So now I am at a loss of how normal guys are supposed to be like and how much I should put up with things. I really enjoy spending weekends with him, but I don't like my partner to feel resentful just because I would like to be outside for walks/hikes/some sort of activity on the weekends.

Couldn't have picked a worse timing. The weather is now super nice but I don't have a companion to do stuff with on the weekend any more. Woe is me for daring to ask to interact more than on weekends.

Frees up more time for me to do work on weekends I guess. How lovely.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Trying to understand taichi

A reader made a comment in my previous post about taichi/taiji chuan, asking how much of it is legit. I have to say I know extremely little about taichi to be qualified to answer fully. Historically, it is one of the Chinese martial arts styles. With the wish to spread the art to more people, some of the lineages started downplaying the martial arts aspects and started emphasizing developing the "chi" and the health aspects, and now the art is known as an activity for seniors and for non-fit people, or at least that was how I saw taichi before I started it :)

So the lineages of taichi are much easier to trace than yoga, since yoga was developed by a lot of lone swamis and cave yogis (the most systematized lineage would be from Sri. T. Krishnamacharya). Taichi started with the chen family, and then developed into several main styles: Chen style, Yang style, Wu (Hao) style, Wu style, Sun style, and combo styles. Some styles emphasized the martial arts (eg. Chen), some became more focused on the meditative and health aspects (eg. Wu style).

I thought it would be really complicated to research taichi, but I got what I was looking for after only a bit of googling. It's interesting that after typing in "Tai chi is" I get an autocomplete of "tai chi is bullshit". Here's an interview with a martial arts masters, who studied taiji chuan along with a ton of other Chinese martial art styles. From a martial arts aspect, I think studying taiji helps, but one needs to practice it a ton and drill the principles as well as the actual movements into one's body until one can perform those martial arts techniques with minimal thinking.

From a health aspect, what I get so far (from very few classes, mind you, so don't take my word as an expert's explanation) is that this long form of movements works many parts of the body, emphasizes the grounding of the body weight and changing of balance/center of gravity, moves the body in a way that maximizes chi flow (I still don't know exactly what chi is but I'm going to guess it has something to do with minimizing blockage in the body. My guess is that the forms place the body parts in ergonomic angles to optimize smooth flowing of air into the lungs, as well as for blood, lymphatic and other fluids to circulate more comprehensively, and perhaps even improve the nerve signaling in some way).

Here's one explanation of taichi, where the teacher found a focus on a muscle in the inner thigh which seems to trigger the whole body. Here's a list of 10 essentials of taiji chuan, which to me sounds like learning to relax, find your center of gravity, connect your upper and lower body to allow the delivery of synchronized signals from your pelvic region (power center) to the rest of the body to maximize power. I think most people move their bodies in an inefficient way. We are tense in the neck and shoulder region; we carry heavy stuff using our arms + lower back too much and not enough legs, pelvis, and the whole back. If some of our muscles are already partially contracted, it probably traps some waste materials from the cells, dead tissues, stagnant blood flow, etc. If we can learn to fully relax and then contract our muscles, we can improve fluid and cellular renewal in our bodies and also to improve muscle power generation. There are few other activities that emphasize so much on relaxation.

By comparison, yoga achieves relaxation through holding a pose for a relatively long period of time (5-20 breaths). When you contract your muscles for that long (most yang yoga poses require isotonic contraction of muscles), once you come out of the pose, your muscles inevitably relax, because they are exhausted :) Same goal achieved through different means.

There's undoubtedly more to taichi than what I've mentioned in this post. Please do not leave me angry comments saying how I explained it all wrong and how the chi is more than just bodily fluids. We yogis have a word for chi too -- it's called prana in Sanskrit. Yoga practice also has the purpose of increasing prana and improve its flow in the body. The purpose of this post is to try to demystify taichi. Whether or not the elusive "chi" exists, if the body is properly grounded, the joints and organs are in non-compromising positions, and the muscles relaxed (or not more tense than needed to hold the body upright), this is generally good for the body because it reduces unnecessary tension and improves circulation. For me, I just think the moves look cool and wanted to learn them. If you check out the wikipedia pages for the different taichi styles, you'll see the ages of various taichi masters. You'll notice that many of them didn't live that long (there are people who barely exercised and have lived longer). So I would say that taichi isn't something totally mystical. It does have its benefits (relaxation feels good). You should learn it because you just want to learn it, not because it gives you magical powers or will add 10 years to your life.

I sound like a horrible spokesperson. Nobody will ever ask me to sell anything for them now, LOL.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cheating on yoga with taichi classes

I started taking taichi classes. I've always wanted to learn it so finally brought myself to sign up for a class. This is supposed to be a yoga blog and I'm supposed to be a yoga fanatic. However, it really difficult to be excited about a hobby on my own, with no one else around me caring about the topic at all. I've tried attending classes at yoga studios (both Bikram and Ashtanga, but not at the same time :P ). The enthusiasm of the students here can freeze the whole room. I guess it's the Scandinavian culture.

I've only taken very few classes so far, but happy to report that I really enjoy it. I can see why it's an art that's nowhere nearly as popular as yoga: the traditional way of teaching it is to be so strict about the placement of every body part that it makes traditional Iyengar yoga class seem like free-style classes. I'm exaggerating, but my point is that without a revolution/upgrade in the teaching style, this activity will never become popular in the world. I should note that I accidentally signed up for one of the less popular styles of taichi (because I didn't know anything about the different lineages before I started), but it's kind of like ashtanga, one of the "original" styles, which is harder to learn but "more aesthetically pleasing and more popular for younger students", so hey, works out for me :)

So the reason why I am practicing yoga less now is that my ligaments are so lax that I have a bad tendency to over-stretch, even when I'm practicing alone rather than in a class settings. This means that unless I become more mindful immediately, too much yoga practice is actually bad for my health. I think if I have a good yoga teacher who can check my alignment during chaturanga or something it would be really helpful, but right now I don't have any, so I'm switching to a milder activity in a small class setting, to learn something new, especially about this elusive "chi".

It's good to start a traditional course after being armed with yoga teachings from teachers with all sorts of backgrounds. One of the most surprising corrections I get is that apparently my shoulders still pop up a lot during a lot of my arm raising movements. I thought that got corrected out of my yoga classes, but I guess hearing the teacher verbally say "lower your shoulders" 1000 times doesn't mean I've actually achieved it. However, the taichi teacher is incorrect in saying the solution to my shoulder raising problem is just to "relax more" to lower the shoulders. It's actually a muscle pattern built in and I actually need to actively employ my lats to pull my shoulders back down. So until the new pattern becomes built in, the correct instruction should be "actively engage the lat muscles" rather than "relax".

For the past few weeks I've been trying to read up on information of taichi, and there's a ton of woo-woo, bullshit, and purposeful mystification filling up the internet about this activity (not much different from yoga I guess). I was lucky I had a lot of great yoga teachers with scientific knowledge who could demystify various aspects of yoga and show the benefits in the physical, spiritual, social aspects of yoga for what they are.  I think taichi teachings could a revolution like yoga, with dance teachers, kinesiologists,  massage therapists, athletes, scholars, modern martial artists, physiotherapists,  medical doctors, osteopaths, personal trainers all learning the activity and then provide their personal expertise and interpretations of the 'sport'. Then we can cut through the BS and identify why it is such a great activity. I must say that the scientific way of studying yoga and taichi (eg. patients with rheumatoid arthritis who did taichi 3 times a week, 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks showed better improvements than patients who took 30 minute walks 3 times a week for 8 weeks), while practical, is a very naïve way of studying such sophisticated arts. I would much prefer a dancer's (or 100 dancers, to be less biased) take on how he or she feels after 1 year of yoga vs. 1 year of taichi in terms of flow and other feelings/thoughts.

But until taichi becomes half as popular as yoga, we have Doug Swenson as one of the few people who do both I guess. However he positions himself as a yoga teacher. I wonder if anyone would position themselves as primarily a taichi practitioner with some level of proficiency in Ashtanga or Iyengar yoga. That would be pretty awesome.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Relationship kerfuffle

I was chatting with a friend today online and I was complaining about my bf's bad behaviors recently. I was expecting some consolations or advice on how to deal with it, but instead she said, "He's not treating you very well. Why do you put up with this?"

I was quite shocked when I heard this (or saw the words on my screen). Coming from a family of aunts, female cousins and mom, who sometimes act like total bitches towards their significant others, I went from naïvely thinking that's how women are supposed to/entitled to act, to vowing not to act like them when I'm in a relationship. Now it's becoming really difficult to judge myself if I've gone too far in the other direction or if my friend is over-exaggerating (She has a very strong personality).

I know I have a general tendency to rant about the problems rather than the positive aspects of my relationships and my work life with my friends and family. So, knowing that they get a biased picture of my life, I cannot totally trust their advice. On the other hand, I also know that the bf has serious commitment phobia, complain directly to me about the smallest bad habits that I have, and cannot seem to make future plans with me more than 1 month ahead (hello vacations?)

If I were a super charming, popular girl with a flock of pursuers, I wouldn't think twice about instantly dumping any guy who dares to show a single sign of inattentiveness towards me. However, the reality is that I'm a neurotic, somewhat emotionally unstable, disagreeable, eccentric nerd who's spent more time living in her own head and burying her face in books/scientific papers than interacting with people her entire life.  99.9% of my male friends (and I had a lot of male acquaintances) over the years have expressed mostly sympathy towards me rather than romantic admirations. I don't feel like I can afford to be super choosy. Even though I know he won't relocate with me should I get a job in another country, I enjoy the times that we do spend together, however long (or short) remaining time that would be.

However, my friend's words kind of shook my thinking quite a bit. Perhaps I can afford to stand up for myself a bit more and then see what happens. I can't really worsen a relationship that has no long term potential anyways.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A world ruled by money

I watched the Olympic Gold medal men's hockey game on Sunday -- Sweden vs. Canada (Canada won the gold). I cheered for Canada but the way Sweden played it really seemed like they gave up half way through the game. As my Canadian friends all cheered all over Facebook at 5:30am Pacific time, and the Swedes sulked in disappointment (not a single bad word or criticism mind you), I couldn't help but feel something was off.

The broadcast of this hockey game in Sweden would be equivalent to the Superbowl in the US... 70% of the entire nation probably had their eyes glued to the TV.  I was therefore interested in the types of commercials they would play. I was expecting usual brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, maybe something Swedish like Volvo or IKEA or H&M commercials? Nope. Instead, there were endless commercials from online betting websites.. I counted at least four of them in total, shown repeatedly at almost every commercial break. I think it says something about today's sports.

Next, I found out one of Sweden's major players was disallowed from playing the gold medal game a few hours before the game started because he was tested positive for pseudoephedrine usage. Um, that's what I used when I have a stuffy nose. I think losing a key player right before a game can certainly significantly affect morale. I was chatting with a friend about it and she said the IOC, FIFA and all the major sports organization committees have always been corrupt, so what else is new?

I think what's new is how much MORE money is involved in the sports games compared to before. With online gambling, new riches in Russia, China and Latin America, there are even more cash at stake associated with the outcome of each game.

I guess many people just accept the fact that the big players in the world shove money around and control almost all aspects of our lives -- our food choice availabilities, our entertainment options, the news shown to us (and the biased angles), our shopping habits, our relationships. I guess most of my life I've been kind of avoiding the entertainment giants.  I barely purchase any music; I rarely watch Hollywood blockbuster movies (I prefer artsy indies); I don't often watch much sports, nor do I play video games (an industry that is surpassing movie industry in terms of size and amount of money to be made as I've been told).  In other words, I've been a total loner for most of my life. With my new relationships (friendship and romance), I learned that most people demand entertainment to be as available as tap water, heating system and electricity. They want it cheap, they want lots and lots of it, they want high quality, and no-hassle total convenience. These as-a-matter-of-fact desires fill the pockets of corporations with billions and billions of dollars, at the expense and negligence of so many other things in the world that I think are more important.

People think rich is rich, doesn't matter if you are a millionaire or a billionaire, since most people cannot imagine themselves ever to be in that position, having so much cash lying around. I've even heard people say that they wish they could become a millionaire so they can give most of the money away, because being a philanthropist makes them feel good. Um, if you give most of your money away, you can do it once and then you're back to where you started, ie. not rich any more. As to the difference between a millionaire and a billionaire, well, if you are a millionaire, you can live comfortably and have nice things around in your house (or, if you live in Vancouver, you can't even afford a house, LOL). If you are a billionaire, you can start influencing the stock market, business deals, the media, and politicians. So there IS a huge difference in terms of how much money you have at the super rich level. Money = Power  = Influence when you have enough of it.

Sometimes I think I was born into the wrong time period or I just don't belong in this world. I'm sure there are similar minded people out there but they sure are hard to find since they are such minorities. If they weren't, then this world would look very different from what it is right now.

I act like such a mouse most of the time because most people dismiss my opinions so easily, which makes me think I'm always wrong, or at least my opinions do not matter. It's tough to have the whole world against you every single day. My mother would say I should just stop having opinions and agree with everyone else all the time. That should make people like me better. But it's the worst advice to give to your child. Then people say you're a push-over and have no personality. The only way to survive being the oddball is to be quirky and charismatic I guess, so that at least you're somewhat entertaining and fun to have around even if people never agree with you.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Bachelor's degree = marriage material?

The other day I read on Facebook a problem statement from a relative, describing her friend who asked her for advice: Given her daughter has failed grades in almost every course, with the lowest scores in English and math, which university she should attend. The friend mentioned that her daughter wants to study management.  Given the current education system in Taiwan, many crappy universities in Taiwan will still accept her daughter. The obvious thing is that the daughter will probably have trouble finding anything but minimum wage jobs after getting her degree.

Another relative commented that instead of going to university, this girl should probably learn a trade instead. However, if she wants a university degree for the purpose of increasing her chance of finding a suitable husband, then the problem of career prospect does not exist and she should just attend any university that she thinks is suitable for her.

I can't begin to describe how many problems I see with the above statement. It is precisely because of the above mentality (University degree = a better person/more suitable marriage), that the Taiwan government approved the conversion of hundreds of trade schools into universities. I can't blame them though as Canada does the same thing with many of its colleges, NOT for the reason of producing more marriageable people though, but for being able to claim that Canada has more college grads than any other countries in the world. Is that a better reason for creating more universities? Probably not, but at least the reasoning is less convoluted. How the hell does a B.A. make you better marriage material anyways, unless the school offers cooking courses and relationship guidance? (which are probably good ideas by the way)

The above conversation helped me understand something about my mom's logic. Because I didn't pursue a medical degree, then my education was garbage in terms of career building. The main function of a Bachelors degree, as far as she was concerned, was to signal to other Chinese parents with sons that I am a piece of suitable marriage material. This explains a lot of the strange actions that she performed over the past decade that were extremely puzzling to me for the longest time.

As for that girl and her parents, somehow I would say that at that age, "management" just sounds like a good career. Who knows what it actually involves? I can only say that before asking around, they really should have an honest conversation with her daughter first, gently informing her that people in management positions often have to outcompete other people in some way, either in terms of grades at school, performance at the work place, work/life experience, or exceptional skills at convincing the boss they are somehow the best candidate for management. I mean, I think she can pursue the path if she really wants to, but maybe, she should pay more attention in classes, and start working summer jobs to observe how managers do their jobs. But I am not surprised or upbeat about her situation, because my parents also prefer to discuss with anybody and everybody in the world except with me about my personal future. Go figure.