Friday, 29 August 2014

Dear Readers, Your Opinions, Please!

So, I've noticed that this blog has accumulated some readers - cool! Since I'd really like you all to stick around - it's so much nicer to write these posts when I know there are people out there who are going to read them - I'm going to ask you what it is you'd like to read about here. Since I know by the scarcity of comments around here that I'd probably end up with 0 replies if I asked you to comment on this post to tell me your preferences (that's okay, by the way, I'm not exactly the world's most active comment-leaver myself), I have created a poll for you and embedded it below. I make no promises to abide by the results, but I sure am curious to find out what all of you think! So please take the time to answer the poll and check all the boxes that apply! The poll is open until the start of Sunday, September 7 (GMT+3). Thank you for letting me know your preferences, I'm really looking forward to seeing the results!

What would you like to read about in this blog?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

What it Takes to Be Happy

Success. Wealth. A perfect body. A perfect love life. A dream house. A dream job. The perfect life. I see and hear these linked to happiness every day. Somehow, happiness has been confused with perfection and a life where nothing is wrong or lacking. People spend a lot of time and effort pursuing this elusive fantasy, thinking once they achieve it, it will make them happy. Yet from time to time, we encounter people who have achieved this state of perfection and still are not happy. Because happiness doesn't come from the outside, it comes from within you. It's not a trophy you get once you achieve perfection in every aspect of your life - it's a skill, a state of mind, an attitude you need to learn and consciously practice and cultivate. External things can make it easier or harder to be happy, but ultimately, happiness comes from within. The only one that can make you happy is you.

I have been unemployed for a few years now. The state of my bank account is such that any small disaster - an accident leading to medical bills or property damage, an expensive household appliance breaking - would land me in financial trouble. I have no financial security whatsoever. The relationship I'm in is not the kind I dream of. I don't have enough money to decorate my home the way I'd like to, buy the kinds of clothes I'd like to wear or eat the kinds of foods and snacks I'd like to eat. My body is pretty far from perfect, and thanks to years and years of total neglect, I'm overweight and nowhere near the shape I'd like to be in. There's no way I could possibly be happy, right? I used to think so, too. I, too, used to think that happiness was perfection and that the closer I got to perfection, the closer I'd get to happiness. Turns out I was wrong.

One day, I thought "Wouldn't it be nicer to focus on the positive instead of the negative?" and that's where it began. I started to notice things - just little, everyday things - that were beautiful and enjoyable to me. The smells of baking and cooking, of opening the door to the cupboard where I keep my selection of flavoured teas, of scented candles and aromatic oils. The taste of my favourite foods, of chocolate (especially when enjoyed with one of my favourite flavoured teas), of the fruity bread I bake myself, of hot chocolate enjoyed on a chilly evening. The wonderful peace and quiet enjoyment cross stitching gives me. The comfort of my sofa, perfect for napping or enjoying a movie on. The exhilaration of zumba and the healing power of yoga, the joy of movement. Music. Books. Movies. The peace and calm of my home. My ability to go on all kinds of mental journeys with my inner self - into memories, dreams, hopes, fears, inspirations, meditations and analyses just to name a few. I could go on, but I think you get the point already. There is so much good here, in this imperfect life I have, and being conscious of it, appreciating and enjoying it, I am happy. How could I not be?

Success, wealth, the perfect guy and the perfect relationship, the dream job and all that other stuff would be nice to have, of course, but I don't need them in order to be happy. I just need to be mindful of all the good things in my life, right here and right now. That's all it takes. Seriously. It may not be an easy skill to learn and external circumstances can sometimes make it quite hard to practice, but if I could do it, you can too. Whatever your situation, right here, right now, being happy is an option - it is up to you to choose it.

By this, I do not mean to say that if something is really wrong in your life you should just accept it and settle for what you have. No. Being happy in a less-than-perfect life does not mean abandoning your dreams and aspirations or letting other people walk all over you without doing anything to defend yourself and fix the situation. Notice the negative, and if you can, do something to make things better, but generally, focus on the positive and notice the good things as well, no matter how small they are, and appreciate and enjoy them. You can still go for your dreams, but this way, you'll be able to enjoy the journey. Plan and dream for the future, but, at the same time, be present in the present and mindful of the good things you have right here and now. Because that's what sustainable everyday happiness is all about.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Yoga, My New Friend for Life

For some time now, I have been aware that I need to do more stretching. Zumba, cross trainer workouts and circuit training are all well and good, but my body also needs me to pay attention to its flexibility and the health of my joints, and to release the tensions that tend to build up in the neck, shoulders, back and calves. For this purpose, I decided to try yoga.

My first experiences with yoga came from the 25-minute yoga class in Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012. It was perfectly adequate for my purposes and not too difficult, but as there is only the one yoga class in the game, it wasn't long before I started to get bored with it. That's when I went to to get myself some yoga exercise DVDs. I browsed for hours, carefully reading through reviews for each product, and finally decided on the three DVDs / packs I wanted to get. Here are the three products I got, along with my experiences with them so far:

Great for total beginners. A slow pace and a lot of explaining. I used this DVD three times before I got the urge to move on to something with a little quicker pace and a little less explaining. I would recommend this for total beginners.

This is what I moved on to after I'd had enough of Yoga for Beginners. I started with Earth, did it three times a week for two weeks. Nothing too difficult there, I could do all the poses on first try, though of course not as deeply as the instructors. Afterwards, I felt very light, peaceful and tension-free. I could have easily stayed with the Earth class after the two weeks, working towards deepening the poses, but I was curious about the other classes in the series, so I moved on to Water. I did it today for the first time, and found it a lot more challenging than Earth, there were even two poses there that I couldn't do because my muscles lacked the required strength. I will keep at it, though, two more times this week and three times next week, before rotating on to another DVD after this two-week period with Water is up. After I get really familiar with these classes and more proficient with the poses, I might do three different classes a week, but for now, I find spending two weeks with one class is just right for me - it gives me time to familiarise myself with the class a little and practice the poses, but not enough time for me to get bored with the class.

So far, I really like this DVD set. The classes are well paced, not too fast but not too slow either, and I like that each class is of a different difficulty / intensity, making the set accessible for beginners as well as more advanced practitioners. The instruction is clear and concise, very easy to follow and not boring or annoying in any way. And the whole set only cost me £7,50!

I haven't done the class yet, but the Pose Study Guide is amazing! You can choose the pose you want to study, and there is a 3D image of the instructor in the pose that you can rotate with your mouse to view it from any angle you want to in order to study how to put your legs, arms, head and torso to do the pose right, and there is also a "live in class" video of each pose on which the instructor tells a student to do the pose, showing step by step how to do it right, and then uses the student to show common mistakes people make when doing the pose. This set of 2 DVDs cost me £4,99, and I'd say the pose study guide alone is worth that, it's so well made and totally indispensable for a beginner like me! I keep returning to it time and time again to check that I'm doing all the poses right.

Now that I look at this set on today, I see that they, too, have realised it may be worth more than £4,99, as they've increased the price to £18,69! I'm really glad I bought this set when I did, as its price has almost quadrupled since then! At £4,99, it was a total, complete, absolute bargain!

I think I've got to a solid start with my yoga with these DVDs, and, with the exception of Yoga for Beginners which already has a new home waiting for it with one of my friends, I will continue to use all of them in the future. I will also be adding to my collection of yoga DVDs over time so that I can keep discovering new things and vary my practice to keep enjoying it and avoid getting bored. Yoga and I are going to be friends for life, and I look forward to getting to know it better and discovering new sides of it. This friendship has already given me some tangible benefits, and it's only just beginning!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Fitness Games and Me

Fitness games are the main reason why I got myself an Xbox 360 game console during autumn 2012. I wanted to get into shape and lose weight, but have always dreaded exercising with other people around (why, hello, traumatic experiences from primary, secondary and high school PE classes) and so was more than reluctant to go to a fitness class or the gym. When I randomly stumbled upon a Zumba Fitness game video, I knew that instant that I had found the perfect way to get my fitness level up: unlike ordinary fitness exercise DVDs, these fitness games would be interactive and give me feedback based on my performance to keep me motivated to keep doing my very best through the entire workout. I did some research and found that new Zumba Fitness games still appeared at a rate of one per year for Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. Out of these two consoles, I chose the Xbox 360 as it didn't require the player to hold or wear a controller when playing fitness games and therefore felt like a more comfortable and natural choice than Nintendo Wii which does require the player to hold or wear a controller.

I didn't get to fully enjoy the fitness games on my Xbox 360 until spring 2013, when my boyfriend and I moved into a more comfortable-sized apartment (the place we still lived in during autumn 2012 was tiny!) as playing the fitness games does require some room (I should have thought about that before, but luckily we had been planning to move to a bigger place anyway, and found a nice one we could afford during spring 2013). It was worth the wait, though, as I found exactly what I had been looking for, and more! My favourites are the Zumba Fitness series (duh, it's what I bought the whole console for in the first place) and the Your Shape: Fitness Evolved series. I will now introduce to you the latest Xbox 360 installments in both series.

Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012

This is a full-on, professional, all-encompassing fitness game with a personal trainer who encourages you to do your best with every exercise, corrects you when you do something wrong, and praises you for your progress. There are different kinds of fun minigames to warm up with, an impressive number of workouts of varying lengths and intensities grouped together based on which muscles they are designed to exercise, fitness classes (such as cardio boxing and yoga) of varying lengths and intensities, different kinds of dance classes... Let's just say it's a package full of fitnessy goodness for the whole body and leave it at that! When I list "circuit training" among my exercise in my weekly reports, it means the different workouts in this game.

Here's a trailer so you can have some video to accompany my words:

Zumba Fitness: World Party

A dance game with an emphasis on fitness. This particular one in the series is themed as a dance fitness trip around the world. It's a lot of fun, effective and very addictive!

Here's a trailer:

And three of my favourite songs from this game:

I love my Xbox 360 and its fitness games, and honestly think that buying this game console and these fitness games were some of the best decisions I've ever made. I never knew I could have so much fun while getting fit in my own living room!

Friday, 1 August 2014

A new favourite!

Tofu, Chicken, Vegetables and Ginger Fried Rice

I was browsing through the recipes on Noom Weight Loss Coach - the mobile app I use to help me with my weight loss and fitness project - and noticed a recipe for fried rice there. I love the fried rice at my local Chinese restaurant, so of course I had to try it. I made some adjustments to better fit the recipe to my tastes, made a trip to the grocery store, spent some time cooking, and have now added the recipe to my favourites. It's even better than the fried rice at my local Chinese restaurant!