Straight Out of My Comfort Zone

On a whim, I decided to do something I’ve never done before!

I was debating on whether or not to announce it or tell anyone about a fitness competition I was coaxed to join. I felt silly just thinking about it and imagining myself on stage with the other competitors. I have always been athletic and active, but I never once fancied myself fitness competition-worthy.

I was at the gym on Monday this week–just another ordinary morning workout session, when I saw an old friend who happens to be a trainer at the same gym but in a different branch. He hadn’t seen me in 9 years. He was pleasantly surprised to see what shape I was in and said that I should compete in the Gemmalyn Crosby Sports Festival–physique category. I let out a loud, nervous laugh. “I have absolutely no right to join those things. I don’t have the body for it at all!”

Hil flexing

He walked me from the weight section to the dance studio where the walls were mirrored and taught me a few poses and pointed out that I had a very good foundation when it came to muscle definition. I was speechless at what I saw because I had no idea that I actually DID have the body for it. Looks like the hard work over the past two and a half weeks are paying off quite well (Yes, two and a half weeks. I was killing it with all the sudden free time I had!). We only have 17 days until the competition proper; I know it’s crazy to do this on such short notice. Pretty much on a whim, really. But what the heck. I haven’t done something so insanely out of my comfort zone in years, and this is starting to feel really exhilarating, the more I think about it. Especially since the team of trainers at at the gym are all so supportive and so encouraging.

I’m crazy nervous about the bikini I’ll be wearing, the spray tan (I really don’t want to end up looking like an Oompa Loompa straight out of Jersey), the stripper heels, and the poses. And then there’s the prep which involves ‘draining’ (when they start to reduce water intake so you get more muscle definition) and the strict diet a week before judging day. I’m really, really nervous about the poses and the catwalk. I hope I don’t trip. >_<

Well, since I’m leaving the country very soon for a long vacation, I figure I might as well go out with a bang, right? 🙂

Baby Steps to A Stronger You

If you’ve found yourself saying “I promise I’ll start working out tomorrow” every so often without any follow-through, don’t feel too bad. Getting started or getting back on the fitness track isn’t easy for everyone. It certainly wasn’t for me. Maybe you know your way around the gym or maybe you’re a non-committal exerciser. Whatever category you fall under, the following exercises should be useful to you. They’re easy enough to do on your own own, but challenging enough that you’ll see results in due time.


The above video is a basic push up with your feet propped up on a fitness ball or on a step bench. The video on the lower half of the box is me doing knee tucks.

This is a good exercise routine if you want to get stronger and more toned arms and shoulders, as well as a stronger core. I would suggest 10 reps for beginners (and 15-20 for the more advanced) in sets of 3. Make sure to keep a good form and don’t let your tummy or back sag. You want to keep your back straight during the push-ups so you don’t strain or injure yourself.


This one focuses more on your obliques and tummy. Above is a side plank with twist which targets your tummy and your obliques helping tone and strengthen. Below you’ll see me raising my butt high while keeping my knees as straight as possible and my toes on the fitness ball. This one is a little more challenging so if you’re only getting started on abdominal drills, I would suggest skipping this for now.

For beginners do 10 reps of the side planks with twist, and five of the butt raise. 3 sets. If you want more challenge, you can do 15-20 reps.

Don’t forget to stretch properly before you start these exercises!

Get Fit

It’s been a crazy and über eventful past few months since my last blogpost. I’ve been thinking about what direction I’m really headed in so far as my blog goes. It’s frustrating to me to see my other blogger friends just update daily with so much ease! Meanwhile I have no clue what to post. If you know me well, you’d know that I’m a person who hardly runs out of things to talk about. Blogging, however, is an entirely different thing. There’s something more permanent about the published form of the written word. 

I may have stumbled onto an idea though. Lately I’ve been on a mad fitness rampage and as I’ve been posting them on my social profiles I’ve been getting a modest amount of positive feedback from people–even perfect strangers from across the globe! So I figured I could start sharing my fitness routines, what I like to eat, and join the positive global movement to a healthier, fitter, and stronger body and mind. 

  

Remember to Breathe

Sounds kind of a dumb thing to say isn’t it? “Remember to breathe.” Who forgets a basic involuntary bodily function like breathing? It turns out, I do.

Lately I’ve noticed that I hold my breath every now and then and really only noticed it because my chest started to feel tight and my head got all funny and woozy. I caught myself holding my breath frequently whenever I was under certain circumstances: switching lanes on the road while driving, when I’m about to read a text message from someone who has significant impact and power over me, and when I think about the unknown near future. I’ve found that when I am in high-stress situations like when I’m in a room or in close proximity to two people who have an obvious animosity towards each other and I feel like I have to be some sort of pacifistic bridge between them, I tend to hold my breath until I’m no longer around them. When someone I don’t particularly like or feel comfortable being around (or someone I distrust) enters a room and sits next to me or near me, I find my chest tightening and I hold my  breath.

Obviously I can never really forget to breathe because my brain automatically sends signals for my lungs to take in air. But there is such a thing as proper breathing. Proper breathing helps efficiently distribute nutrients throughout our body and helps the body deal with stress. Carol Krucoff wrote an article on The Seattle Times about how proper breathing helps us deal with tension and stress:

Slow, deep breathing is a powerful anti-stress technique. When you bring air down into the lower portion of the lungs, where the oxygen exchange is most efficient, heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax, anxiety eases and the mind calms.

I was surprised at how much I take such a mundane yet important task for granted. I tend to take shallow breaths that don’t really fill my lungs to its capacity and so I don’t load up my blood with oxygen that my brain so badly needs in order to function well. And I wonder why I feel so brain-dead on some days. Now I won’t be so quick to cure my migraine with an ibuprofen. Yogis believe that oxygen purifies the blood and is more responsible for meeting and supplying our body’s energy requirements more than the food we eat is.

image from springdaleclinic.com
image from springdaleclinic.com

According to holisticonline.com scientists have discovered that the chemical basis for energy production in the body, which is ATP (adenosine triphosphate), is highly dependent on oxygen. O2 is vital to the ATP’s production. This is why proper breathing is central to the Yoga practice. (I personally don’t do yoga, but am inclined to give it a go if only to learn and master proper breathing.)

In case you’re curious about how breathing works to help the body be at its optimal condition, Livestrong breaks it down simply for us:

Fresh oxygen is exchanged in the lungs for poisonous carbon dioxide. This function is vital to sustain life. Breathing oxygenates every cell in the body, from the vital organs to the brain. Sometimes during pain, anxiety, or during deep thought, people can begin to breathe in a more shallow manner. This allows less oxygen to be exchanged for carbon dioxide, making less oxygen available to vital tissues and organs of the body. According to healthdiscovery.com, without enough oxygen, the body becomes susceptible to health problems.

image from kevinneeld.com
image from kevinneeld.com

I’m facing a lot of challenges in the coming months and it’s causing me a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights. I can understand how being unconscious of the way I breathe can affect the kind of sleep I get (if at all) and the way I respond to situations. Lately I’ve been trying to take deep deliberate breaths right as I wake up, and I think of positive things I’m grateful for so that my mindset is bright and cheery. Maybe it’s the reason Lindsay Lohan got “breathe” tattooed on her wrist but got the tattoo a little too late because she’s clearly made a lot of bad choices that she didn’t take her time breathing deeply and pondering about. Haha.

If you want to start being more conscious and deliberate about the breaths you take, check out the Springdale Clinic‘s 3 breathing exercises to combat anxiety (and sneezing).

Here’s to more deliberate, fresh breaths of air!

It is

Salty Healing

Do you ever find yourself in a tangled web of thoughts and pondering and sometimes feel yourself getting crushed under the weight of it all? How do you cope with those moments? I remember being 21, enjoying my college life and living each day with vigour. My academic load got pretty heavy during my junior year but Fridays always brought me salvation.

I would jump in the car with a backpack of clothes and my favourite swimsuits and drive with friends to our favourite surf spot. Something–everything about the ocean soothes me, calms me, heals me. What was it they say about saltwater?

The cure for anything is saltwater–sweat, tears, or the sea. -Isak Dinesen

12 years on, today, I don’t have too  many free days to just drive to the beach for surf and week-long camping trips. But if I don’t resort to ugly-crying to make myself feel better after a tough day or week, I make sure to get myself to the gym. I fight against my “weak body” and get my “willing spirit” to run, stretch, lift weights, and push myself against my limits–especially on days I want to just veg out in bed and feel sorry for myself. I have NEVER regretted going to the gym whether it’s an intense workout or an easy circuit session. My favourite part is sitting in the hot sauna room just sweating away the day’s stresses.

Not only do I sweat out the toxins from my body but I also give myself some quiet and allow myself to think despite the heat. My pores open and so does my mind. My skin starts to turn pink and my pulse slows down. I can hear myself breathing and finally–can hear myself think as well. The choices and the voices that get muddled in the deafening noise of the daily grind finally come to me clearer and with more definition. I am able to sort out my thoughts, compartmentalise my feelings, choose my battles, and strategise my moves.

Whether I’m nursing a broken heart over a failed relationship or friendship, a lost loved one, or some career downturns, I at least get to go through the emotional process in a healthy way. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer this quiet mediation after some physical exertion over retail therapy. It’s more economically-sound and yields more benefits. Ha!

Maybe you’re not a fan of crowded gyms? A brisk walk through the city or an easy jog through the park can do more for your soul than sitting in your room and wallowing in sadness. Give it a try and see if you don’t come out feeling better.

saltwater

Maybe that’s why God created tears and invented crying. Maybe that’s the reason one of His first creations was the ocean. Maybe that’s why human beings can sweat in ways that animals do not–because it is linked to the way our emotions are processed. Whatever scientific or theological meaning you can find or think up, the bottom line for me is that Isak Dinesen spoke the truth in this quote. There is definitely some healing to be found in saltwater.

Life in Seasons

Winter can be dreadful and depressing. Trees naked from leaves that have fallen and long forgotten the meaning of attachment. Snow covers every square inch of the ground and  deceives you with such a pristine beauty that brings a deathly cold. But the trees aren’t dead. The snow blankets the soil in months of cold and wet–perhaps to help it drink in as much nutrient-rich water before Spring unleashes a flurry of life and colors after the next few months.

winter

Spring is colourful, vibrant, and brings a fresh vivacity with each new sunrise. You feel inspired and awed at the same time and an urge to start something new wells up inside you–an excitement for a brand new adventure. The long wait in the grey cold of Winter is over. Now you can prance in the sunshine while you harvest the fruits of your months-long toiling prior.

spring

Summer brings a different pace to each person. Some enjoy it as a school-free season, while the working masses keep on hitting their 9-5 daily grind. Nonetheless, Summer brings an ease to the atmosphere. You feel no need to come up with an excuse to stop and sit on a bench and enjoy a lick or two of an ice cream cone. You feel young again. Parties here and there, beach trips, nights out. It’s the best time to meet new people or maybe even reinvent yourself.

summer starfish

Fall sweeps in romantically. As you sink into the weariness of non-stop Summer fun, Fall understands your need for a little bit of quiet. The bright colors of Spring and the festive carnival canvases of Summer are slowly and ever-so-subtly replaced by more yellows, ambers, and deep hues of oranges. Some specks of gold and bronze here and there. Work doesn’t stop. Life goes on. And soon, Winter comes once again to cover the grass in white.

fall

Life also works this way. It has its seasons. There are times when you’re inundated with projects–work offers that you had been hoping to get seem to be dropping on your lap. Life is good and you couldn’t ask for more. But then there are also lean times, times of lack and drought. When you feel you’ve lost your stride and you are neither yielding optimal results nor feeling fulfilled. You realise you’ve come into the Winter of your life.

It’s important to have an awareness about the kind of season you find yourself in. It will help you to understand how best to live out and live through it. I’ve hit rock bottom several times in my life and each time I did, it felt like an eternity. I was in between jobs except the next job took forever to come along. Or rather, the offers I was getting wasn’t what I was hoping for, while the ones I campaigned diligently for didn’t seem to come my way. But it didn’t stay like that forever. Things changed, opportunities came, changes came and went. Nothing is constant in life except change and the sooner we come to terms with that, the sooner we can have peace and a sense of joy about living.

4 seasons

Sometimes the seasons are more visible in our personal lives and relationships. A blossoming romance can make every day feel like Spring and Summer. But a thwarted love affair can make even the sunniest days seem as dreary as the darkest Winter. Although, Winter can also bring as much promise as the sheets of white snow bring beauty and calm. Times of quiet and lack sometimes can bring things into perspective for us. We learn to appreciate relationships and opportunities better when we’ve lost them. Hopefully when Spring comes around again, we’ll have wisdom, we’ll know better.

Perhaps this is the reason why the adage “Carpe diem” brings so much truth to it–because each day is fleeting; tomorrow is never promised to anyone. Even the most painful moments in our lives bring healing over time and if we’re fortunate and if we let it, it can make us stronger.

imPOSSIBLE.

There are days when I’m raring to get started–to hit the ground running. Get in the car, drive happily to work, do my job, clock out, then hit the gym. if you had met me 6 years ago, you would probably have called me a gym rat because I was there every day for at least 4 hours. If I’m not running and working on my core, I’m probably in the boxing ring and then doing some weight training after. I was at the peak of my health then, having just enrolled in Muay Thai along with a twice-weekly 10k run. And then I found out I was 15 weeks pregnant. Eventually I had to stop martial arts and I had to take it easy on the gym sessions because my belly was getting too heavy (I can thank my half-British baby for that–he was born a little under 8 pounds!). I was 118lbs and 5’1″ tall.  The 8 pounds was all baby! Motherhood took front and centre in my life and nothing else was as urgent or as important as my new calling. I missed the tough workout sessions, I missed my gym buddies. I missed the feeling of being exhausted beyond words but proud of myself for pushing on with a  killer workout. But then the bliss of being a breastfeeding, full-time, hands-on mama washed over me and soon enough I had stopped working out entirely.

baby bump

For three years.

Starting from scratch is daunting. I somewhat have the benefit of muscle memory (being really fit when I became pregnant was such a tremendous help because I stayed strong during my pregnancy and bounced back right away after delivering), but it’s still a lot of work. A LOT OF WORK. I’m back to my pre-baby weight but I wasn’t as strong or as toned as I used to be, so I started working out again. I realise that I’m one of those people who just feel so much better when I’m exercising (I guess anyone who exercises and produces endorphins will agree that a good workout makes an entirely huge difference in your mood!) and when I don’t work out, I start to feel ill and weak. The challenge now though is that as a full-time mommy who also works (and is a solo parent), I don’t have the 4 hours I used to have. I needed to strategise better.

Here are some key things I had to establish if I wanted to have a committed fitness regime.

  • Be determined to see this commitment through.

It’s easy to start and stop and start again, but that kind of pace doesn’t build good momentum and hardly yields results. When it comes to weight loss and muscle toning, it takes about 12 weeks of consistent working out for people to see the difference in your body. I had to write down a promise to myself that I would wake up and hit the gym no matter how lazy or yucky I felt (except of course when I’m sick! It’s not ideal to workout when you’re under the weather because you immune system is down. You’d also be risking getting other people at the gym getting sick).

  • Carve out a definite schedule for the gym.

I only have so much time in a day and being a solo parent is a 24/7 job. Any free time I get is spent with my son and somewhere in there I need to steal away some Me Time as well. I decided to devote an hour each day, three days a week in the gym. It would have to be a solid hour though, no wasting time on chatting with friends at the gym, or walking slowly on the treadmill on my smartphone checking out social media. It has to be a dedicated 60 minutes of exercise. I like to spend 15 minutes in the sauna or steam room after I work out because it helps relax me. I spend it massaging my muscles like my calves or arms and it gives me some quiet before I head into the outside world again. barbell

  • Inspire yourself.

Some women motivate themselves into working out by buying new workout clothes and shoes. That’s a little too capricious for me since my gym clothes from before the baby came all still fit, so I have to find other ways to motivate me. Music has always been such an integral part of my life (after all, I was a radio DJ for 6 and a half years) and so I created playlists containing songs that pump me up as well as songs that bring back happy and fun memories so as to make my workouts more enjoyable. I also look at photos of fit women in my computer so I can look at it on days I’m feeling slothful–it reminds me of my goal and really gives me the push I need. I also like to take some progress photos of my fitness so that I can remind myself that the slow but sure process is yielding results. I get to check how my arms and shoulders are looking, I can see if my squats are proving effective, and I can see the difference between my Before and After photos. It’s so thrilling to see yourself finally manifesting results of your workouts by way of a fitter body and a sounder mind.

b:w great arms girl

  • Inspire others.

This is a tricky one because you don’t want to come across as the douchey gym freak who makes everyone else feel less because they don’t work out in the same pace as you. By inspire I don’t just mean try to influence them to work out. When you exercise, you start to take on a much happier mood because you have a great outlet for your energies and stresses of the day. People will see the difference in your countenance and the spring in your step (or some may not) and that will just add to the great mood you’re already in any way. Eventually people will take notice of you physical appearance and when they do ask, you can share to them your passion for health and fitness–maybe even give some friendly (read:non-condescending) tips on how they, too, can get on the road to fitness.

Try befriending someone in your office or neighbourhood who maybe doesn’t have anyone to work out with and take them along with you, or accompany them to whatever their preferred activity is. It’s a wonderful way of bonding and building new friendships and relationships. Plus, working out with a buddy is always much more fun.

It is quite difficult to start a journey into fitness if you’ve never had an inclination to it before. But if you get started today and you stick to it (even when it’s just small 15-minute exercises in the morning before you hit the shower), your consistency will bring you great rewards. Give it two weeks and you’ll gain traction and hopefully you’ll find that your body is stronger and healthier, your mind is more refreshed, and you feel a lot better about yourself. Lazy days will come, but don’t let them win over you. The hardest part is getting to the gym; once you’re there, you might as well work out anyway. Nothing is impossible. You can do it, just take it one day at a time. imPOSSIBLE

What’s your fitness regime? Do you like working out? If you’ve never done it before, would you like to get started on it soon?