Sunday, April 28, 2013

Yoga for strength for hypermobile people

Practiced Jason Crandall's Yoga for Strength class on YogaGlo. It was only 60 minutes long but I left a puddle of sweat on my yoga mat. I like how the postures are not super "advanced" (ie. no crazy arm balances, no pretzel moves, no handstands, no headstands), but all my major muscles got a good work out. I need strength and support in my muscles more than flexibility now so I am happy to practice yoga sequences that do not require me to twist into a pretzel. Even for this class I realized afterwards I need to further reduce the amount of hip openers than what was offered in this class (3 legged dog with the lifted knee bent and opening chest to the sky).

Yah, so for the hyper mobile me: minimal hip openers, lots of chair poses, lots of planks/side planks/push ups, lots of lunges; less twists, crazy forward folds, pigeon pose. I still love backbends but gotta be careful of neck and low back. Have to be so careful about hyper flexible joints. I'm not injured, but my body doesn't like me if I take one of those free style vinyasa classes with a million hip openers and too many fast vinyasas (low back crunch in upward facing dogs).

I also really really need to do more cardio. Spring hiking every weekend for me!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

My blogging process

An anonymous reader asked me awhile ago to keep my posts short so that it's easier for readers to absorb the information, and may increase reader interests.

I have to apologize because that's not how the posts happen on this blog. What actually happens is that some ambiguous idea comes up in my head that I feel the need to sort out; I start brainstorming it in an electric Notepad. Very often I only make it half way through and my steam runs out. Often those half-written items never appears on this blog site. Occasionally, my brain transfers enough commands to my fingers such that a full blog entry appears (usually too long.. sorry). I try to do some editing, but I'm aware errors may still exist. As soon as I think the entry is somewhat coherent, I hit "publish", and enjoy the sense of accomplishment that I've released some emotional daemons from my body :D This blog is almost like an exorcism site.

The hope was that I would go back to my old entries, re-read through them, and some day organize my thoughts better so that they are more presentable. So far I notice that I seem to dwell on a few topics for quite awhile. I don't seem to be able to steadily move on to the next Yyogini -- improved version. I don't seem to cover topics as broadly as I would like to. For some topics, I just cannot seem to write a full blog entry without having to spend a ton of time doing some research. The creative juice in my head runs out after two paragraphs, just as I start getting into the details.

I know I started out writing this blog just to practice spitting out somewhat coherent sentences, since I was having so much trouble generating text for my research proposals, progress reports, scholarship applications, PhD thesis and boring crap like that. I think this blog helped me improve my writing flow quite a bit, at the expense of boring the hell out of poor readers who happened to have stumbled upon this site.

Also, as I have dramatically cut down on yoga practice time, it's been next to impossible to blog about yoga. But maybe it's a good thing not to be so obsessed about it. I do miss my yoga community badly though. It makes me wonder why I moved to another country when I was living only 5 minutes away from Fancy Yoga Studio that pampers me and boosts my mood tremendously every time I enter the facility. Before yoga I was a career-above-anything-else gal, but in the last couple years, I started to think that I could have justs gotten one of those mundane routine jobs and focus my attention on my yoga practice. Now I can't do that any more... too many other challenges in life.

It'll take me another while to sort out what I really want in life. I know now that I don't want work to be  my absolute top priority in life, but I am not satisfied with a life of only yoga obsession either. As my career path pushes me to work on a whole bunch of "professional" skills, I need to somehow decide for myself if I am okay to be pushed around by the system to do whatever it wants from me (Fill out this and that paper work, write this grant and that fellowship application, sign up for stuff just because they would make my CV look good, network with people I may or may not like, collaborate with these big name people in the field just because it might  help me advance in my career, etc.), or should I jump off the bullet train at some point and live a much more leisurely and perhaps a more fulfilling life.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Getting to the bottom of discontentment

A friend just came back from visiting southern Europe and the first thing she tells me is how much Sweden sucks compared to where she went. Stockholm is too cold in April; the grasses are not green yet; the beer here sucks (she doesn't even drink beer normally); this is crap; that is sh*t. It actually made me quite upset and I really wanted to tell her that she can leave this country right this minute if she wants to. Nobody is forcing her to remain here. 

It made me think why I am so upset about this.. I also think it's kind of cold for April. I guess when I stand in the gorgeous sun, seeing how it illuminates this breathtakingly beautiful city, it feels tough to stomach someone complaining non-stop about it. If one can complain being among this much beauty, then everywhere on earth is hell for her. She may like how the southern European city looks, but I'm sure she'll easily find something to complain about there if she lives there for more than 1 week. 

But why else was I so upset? The complaints were annoying but not outrageously offensive. I guess it's because I couldn't pull myself out of this situation soon enough. There are plenty of Debbie Downers in the world. One can easily walk away from them and go towards to more pleasant, grateful people. But I couldn't seem to just walk away. I just stayed at the breakfast table and listened until I couldn't stand it any more. The real reason I was so upset was my own lack of competence to handle uncomfortable situations like this. It's an old habitual pattern that I acquired as a kid, and I can't seem to kick it.

I haven't been practicing yoga lately but I am glad I am noticing these samskaras (habitual patterns) in my every day life. It's so built-in that even though I've noticed what's wrong, I am aware of what I *could* do in the situation, my behavior, still on auto-pilot mode, follows how I've always handled this kind of situation in the past rather than my logic. It's like I have 2 selves: the acting self and the (sometimes) wiser observing self. The reasoning brain also has two parts: the fast acting part says, "Your friend is the reason you're upset", but the slow acting part takes awhile to kick in and say, "You could have done something about it but you didn't. You are upset because you gave up the control of the situation when it was really under your control". 

A big struggle for happiness/unhappiness is to figure out what type of events/situations are under our control and what are not. I cannot control the weather, or other people's words and actions. I can however choose where to live, how I interpret other people's word, and how I act during uncomfortable situations. The old me still passively wishes the weather could be better, that my boss would be a better boss, that my dream job would fall from the sky into my lap, that my co-workers could be more understanding and more fun to be with, and that my friend would stop complaining and start appreciating all the nice things around her. None of these external people/issues are under my control, yet the strong desire to want to control the uncontrollable makes me (and my friend) unhappy. I need to instead work towards mastering actions that I could take to improve my situations and my well being.  The rest of the world may or may not change due to my actions, but at least I will feel better if I have done my best to serve myself.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The world is against me... or is it?

Things have not gone well this week. Nothing's going right... I got nothing accomplished at work. I don't get the Swedish jokes. The boss, the roommate, the colleagues, my family, the bus driver... everybody gets on my nerves. The weather's gray and gloomy. The air is difficult to breath.  Life sucks. I hate where I am in life right now.

Wait a minute.... Back track... Rewind, and replay. Does my life really suck that bad? Or.... Perhaps it's because I've been so anxious and stressing myself out lately, that I've been walking around looking grumpy and giving off a vibe that it's likely not safe to interact with me? Am I the one who's been avoiding eye contact with others, and not greeting people when I see them first thing in the morning? Have I been wearing a frown on my face, looking all depressed and mad? Could it be me who's been pushing everyone away, rather than people treating me in cold ways?

Either way, I don't like how this is going. I could complain forever about a million things. I could try to come up with things to be grateful for each day, which is useful but only up to a point, and/or I could think about ways to actively improve my life situations.

- I need to go to bed earlier

- I need to cut down the amount of time I stare at a screen (blogging feels therapeutic. Browsing psychology sites obsessively does not)

- I need to take more walks

- I need to do more pranayama and meditation

- I need to try to spend more time with people who cheer me up ( they are few but thank goodness they exist!) 

- I need to actively work on relieving my anxiety. It's good for myself and for the poor souls who have to be around me

- I need to be more aware of my needs.. Do I need to socialize? Do I need to eat better food? Do I need more: Fresh air? Friends? Kindness? Exercise? Pampering? Hugs? Time to myself? Nature? 

- Do I need to be less hard on myself? Less stress? Less workload? Less complaints? Less criticisms? Less negativity? Less stimuli? Less judgements? Less comparisons with others? 

- I need to distinguish my desires from everyone else's desires. Just because others crave a house, a nice car, and two beautiful kids, does not mean I should stress out about not owning these myself, since they were never big on my list of priorities in life anyways.

- Same goes with career advices. I get anxious reading about how all there are not enough jobs for PhDs; how all these PhDs stay as postdocs forever and never get any further in life. These guys want to become professors. I don't. Stop  worrying about my career outlook when I have less ambitious goals than other overly-anxious people. 

- Declutter, Declutter, Declutter.

- Cannot re-emphasize enough: do not be anxious over other people's expections of me or of how they think life should be. Everyone wants different things in life. Some are more ambitious than others. Some handle stress better than others. Some can multitask at a higher level; some are natural born leaders. Stop comparing myself to every single successful person my age. Keep my goals framed within my means and abilities.

- Be happy with what I have and what I've achieved so far. As long as the boss isn't anxious to kick me out the door ASAP, so stop beating myself up.

This list will probably just keep getting longer. But it feels good to be able to do something about the crappiness rather than just feel crappy every day. 

What little things can YOU do for yourself to lessen your crappy feelings about life?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Life recently

Last week I experienced improvements in moods, due to meeting good people, hanging out with good friends, having friends visiting Stockholm, etc. My moods predictably crashes every Monday, when I have to meet with a Debbie Downer colleague at this other office. I really wish I were more immune to the influence of others people's moods. Can you imagine becoming depressed yourself every time you bump into someone who happens to exhibit depression traits? It doesn't seem like the boss or other people in the building are affected by it as much as I do. I don't like to be this sensitive, but pretending I am not affected doesn't seem to actually improve my mood. I notice that prolonged gloomy weather also has this effect on me. Maybe I should count my lucky stars that I don't catch a cold or some other infectious disease any time I come in proximity to somebody who is sick. If you have any tips on how I would very much appreciate it.

I try to savor the moments when I am surrounded by positive, caring people. It seems like when I hang out with certain people, they make me feel welcome and that I belong with the group. At work I feel like an outsider, not really fitting in with the colleagues for various reasons (language, different sense of humour, cultural differences, scientific interests, etc). The expat friends I've met recently all seem to have developed their own strategies for surviving in a foreign country where the locals don't exactly understand why they bother to move to another country. Everyone's strategies are quite different, and catered to themselves. I need to develop my own strategies as well.

Yoga practice has been tough. Seems like I haven't been engaging my abs enough and have been dumping into my low back. Also, because of friends visiting, I haven't been able to go to that many morning practices. I am horrible at managing my sleep schedule so I don't know if I should keep going or if I should take a break and re-assess my daily waking hour allocations.

I do wonder why the heck did I get myself in this situation. I think I'm not assertive enough in asking for what I want. If I did I could have done better with my studies and careers in my own country and not have to move to another continent. Feels like working in a foreign country is something I should have done in my mid-20s rather than my 30s. Younger people are just more tolerant of foreigners I think. I don't feel that life will be better if I move back to my home city right now. The science community is the same as before I moved. I miss my yoga community dearly, but yoga is a hobby not a career for me.

Feels like the strategy now is to try to be more efficient at work. I will feel better about myself if I become more productive. I should also take up any opportunity of socializing and recreation events that will cheer me up. I need all the positivity and cheering up I could get.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Parent /child pairing

In my previous post, I made it sound as if I had the most dysfunctional upbringing which rendered me psychologically traumatized today. That is not completely true. If my personality were more agreeable, less ambitious, slightly more extroverted, more optimistic, less curious, less neurotic, more practical, less idealistic, less of an obsessive information processing machine, I would be 1000 times more appreciative of my parents. I know plenty of people who don't really know what to do with their lives. They just want to secure some income source, find a partner and build a family. They would be happy to have parents like mine who plan out their entire lives for them. I also know people who won't have problem saying, "Yes, Mother!" and then go off to do what they want for themselves instead. Instead, I am the difficult child who keeps getting angry at my mom, demanding her to explain why she wants me to do something, yet hesitant to disobey her even if she provides the crappiest reasons ever (eg. "because I am your mom"; "because I say so"). My personality makes both myself and my parents really unhappy.

Traditional Asian culture encourages people to fit in with societal roles, to be average, to obey ancestors' teachings, to obey those who are older/more senior than you, to strive to be the perfect traditional husband (work hard and brining home the money to raise a family) or wife (cook good food, clean the house, raise children). Seems to me that to be Chinese means to spend your childhood as a studying machine and a child-rearing, salary-earning work slave as an adult. To me that means to be Chinese is to have no life of my own... Until one becomes a senior; then they can boss people around and make other people's lives miserable.

As you know I have been pouring over popular psych theories trying to figure out what's wrong with me. I have a "highly sensitive personality (HSP)". I am an "orchid child" who demands more than the average amount of sensitive caring and support in order to thrive in the society, or else I wither under stress more than the average "dandelion child" (grow up as normal individuals regardless of positive or negative upbringing; does not require extra delicate parenting).

So it sucks for my parents that I have more ambitions and (gasp!) independent thinking than they anticipated. They wanted to raise the perfect daughter that turns into a classical perfect wife and mother, but with a medical degree. They are very confused that i think so differently than they do. It sucks for me that I was under the impression that my parents knew better for many years, until not too long ago when I realized they have an incredibly distorted picture of the world. Or, the world progressed but their view of the world got stuck in a time frame that's 50 years out of date. There are young people out there who would be better suited to be their children (ie. make them very happy every day). Sadly, my sister and I are not it. I of course would be free of most of the present psychological trauma, if I had more liberal parents who trusted me better, who were more supportive, who worried less about all the possible horror events that could potentially happen to a daughter, who didn't raise me with the goal of fitting into some pre-planned mold of the safest, most stable and secure life they can imagine.

Viewed in way, I am here at this world in order to work out my karma. Perhaps I did something to my mother in the previous life that made me deserve to go through this life being manipulated. Viewed in another way, I'm just unfortunate in being brought up by a narcissistic mother. Either way, it'll be a life-long challenge to work through the problems I have right now. The psychological problems are no less trivial than issues I have to solve at work. It will be interesting to look back at this blog 5 years from now. Hopefully I will have made some improvements by then.

Extended reading: Daughters of Unloving Mothers: 7 Common wounds

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Someone to show the way

Spent the Easter weekend in Paris. Yes I know.  How awesome is that? I am very lucky indeed.

After spending 3 months with a roommate who is disorganized and had a tormented upbringing just like myself, it was hugely refreshing to spend a few days with a girl who is totally put-together, in control of her life, and totally cheerful, despite the fact that she has also been through quite a few traumatic life events. She's the sort of woman I had aspired to become during childhood. We're actually the same age, but compared to her, I behave like totally immature, disorganized, irresponsible brat who doesn't know her manners. 

I know people usually go to Paris to experience the glamour and beauty of the city. But since my recent  trip destinations have been developing countries, and Sweden is a pretty minimalistic country with every shop selling similar nordic style items/clothing, Paris seemed exorbitantly luxurious to me. The palaces are ridiculously massive; there are intricate details everywhere, including balcony fences and cafe chairs; the trees look like someone trimmed them with a massive ruler; the number of luxury-priced shops for things ranging from chocolate and pastries to Louis Vuitton bags to silverware to baby clothes probably outnumber such kind of stores in all of Scandinavia + Eastern Europe combined. At the same time there were so many homeless people on the streets; I had to watch out for pick pockets and scammers. As a place to visit, the city is totally lovely. But if I want to try to move there it'll be a total nightmare, and I'm not sure if I'm ready to feel lonely in such a lively city, as I know it would be hard to meet people, even for French people from other parts of France.

I have learned a lot over the weekend hanging out with my totally put-together friend.  Although she's from Asia, my friend has quite quickly adopted the French life style and way of thinking. She knows the city like the back of her palm despite being there for only a couple of years. She values good food and good pastries over brand name bags and other expensive luxury items. She doesn't buy expensive clothes, but is always nicely dressed in cute little dresses. She hosts friends over at her place almost weekly despite the tight space in her apartment. 

It's hard for people to understand, on the  surface it looks like I am living on my own now, in a foreign country, managing myself in a cognitively-demanding job that requires a PhD degree. But psychologically I am still in shambles. If anyone uses a harsher tone to speak with me, I either get totally defensive or break into tears, thinking I did something totally wrong or I'm a totally inadequate person. When I dare to voice an opinion, if anyone disagrees with me, I start completely doubting myself, questioning something might be wrong with my reasoning. I get so scared I may be behaving wrong in various situations. For example, on this trip, I kept worrying if I should offer to pay for meals more often, not allow them to pay for me, if I woke up too late, if I showered too slowly, etc. These may or may not have been true, but in my mind I could hear my mother's voice criticizing me about every single point: "Why are you such a bother for your friend?" "You are too slow!" "You should have fought to do the dishes!" "You should have fought to pay!" 

This is from years of hearing these actual criticisms and I don't know if I will ever make peace with these voices.

Also, I realized making compromises with my parents' wishes didn't satisfy either myself or them. It just  made me really unhappy. I wanted to come to Europe to do my studies 10 years ago, but because they didn't want me to be so far away from them, I delayed it until now. Because for many years during my teenage years they constantly expressed their mistrust that I was capable of choosing a suitable life partner on my own, so I just never dated, for fear that the imaginary boy friend would not meet the parents' standards. In reality I could have just ignored my parents as pursued these two aspects of my life on my own, since many European countries offered a stipend for PhD students anyways. I wasn't financially or physically constrained, but psychologically I was under the impression that I was not allowed to stray too far from what my parents wished for me. I didn't even feel like I was in full control of the way I'm supposed to dress, when to get a hair cut, if I'm allowed to switch careers or try something with a high risk of failure, or the possibility of volunteering in a third-world country. I got completely confused in what rights I have as an adult, because it was never made clear to me.  

Seeing this friend fabulously organizing her life according to her wishes despite having financial and citizenship restraints was an eye-opening learning experience for me. She showed me that as a salary earning adult, she can spend 30 euros weekly on pastries if she wants to and not feel guilty about not behaving "adult-like". She can leave her job field and pursue something different if she chooses. She can dress however she likes as long as it's within her budget. This kind of psychological freedom allows her mind to do so much more, like being an amazing host (she practically planned my whole itinerary, takin into account of my interests, with detailed descriptions of how to go where and which places have the best x,y and z). The way she deals with her in-laws is totally impressive (figuring out their likes and needs and always having them in mind when she goes shopping). No wonder her relationship is so successful. One really needs a healthy psyche to be able to accomplish so well in all areas including work, leisure, romance, social situations, and family issues. 

So far, about 50% of my cognitive brain power has been used to obsess about my studies, and the other 50% of the brain has been obsessing over how I've wasted my life doing nothing but studying, thanks to the false impression that my parents have wrongly conveyed to me all these years. I should probably obsess less about my work and about how I've been wronged all these years. Free up some brain CPUs on enjoying life, like more traveling, better food, give myself permission to do nothing, more self-compassion, more self care, and to feel okay about being the way I am right now. I need to stop feeling that I am not good enough. I need to stop with all the fear and blame. Only then I might have a chance to become free of the burden and restraints I've placed on myself all these years. Maybe I'll even become a slightly more likable person. You never know!