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.

Sunday, March 23, 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.