Flying crow: the journey of arm balances and trust

I struggled with crow pose for years.

When I first started my yoga journey with a haphazard smattering of classes, I had no expectations of myself coming into the pose. I was aware that I had little strength in my arms and core. 

In 2016, I started circuit training: pushups on knees, wonky commandos, planks. In 2017, I was convinced that I needed to work on my core and triceps. In early 2018 I became obsessed with building strength in my biceps, and then shoulders. Teachers looked at my planks and chaturangas and expected me to be able to lift. But why was it so impossible? Every time I tried to bring my feet off the ground, I felt like I was pitching forward and my wrists were a second away from snapping.

I became terrified of crow. 

Often perceived as the 'easiest' arm balance, crow does not get a lot of air time, unlike more advanced arm balances like EPK. Few yoga teachers dedicate time to breaking down the pose even in basic classes. Generic cues like "squeeze your elbows in, chaturanga arms", "keep leaning forward" or props such as squatting on blocks seemed to work for everyone else but me. 

And then in one of my classes, where we were working on tripod headstand and one legged crow, my teacher Erica said: Squeeze, lift, lean forward and hope for the best. You have to be willing fall in order to fly. Arm balances can be incredibly humbling. 

I realised it was my unwillingness to fall, my fear of smashing my face into the ground, my refusal to try and be humble over and over again meant I was at a stalemate. No amount of strength work was going to help me at this stage. This is why I loved yoga - there is no escaping. Something is missing if you do not get the sum when you've seemingly mastered all the parts. 

A few weeks later, another teacher Aishyn was teaching crow in her 7am basics class. For the first time, I spoke up and asked for help instead of avoiding it. Alignment corrections, modifications, props. Plaintive whining: "I don't want to break my nose in the ground." 5 minutes later, I was tentatively lifting both feet, barely an inch off the ground - but there it was that lightness. 

Did I get crow instantly after that first time? No. I practised at home with blocks a few minutes each day, my partner cheering me on endlessly, always ending the session with a 'successful' attempt where I felt that lightness. Over the next few weeks, I requested crow time and again in her classes. With her encouragement and progression cues, I started feeling confident in my crow and the attempts that saw me trembling or falling to the side simply became flukes in my head. In my last week of classes with her, I amazed myself by demonstrating a passable crow to the class. Such pride, when she said: A few weeks ago she was still struggling to fly. 

Sometimes we need someone we trust to believe in us. Watching us, looking over us, giving us their full attention and energy. If they think we can, then perhaps we actually can. And if we fall, they're there to catch us. And then we believe in ourselves. And then the times we fail become flukes, and so we don't even hesitate to try again. And that's how we succeed. 

Last week I lifted into 8-angle watching a video breakdown, and this morning I found a second of hang time in EPK, which felt so head-scratchingly impossible just a couple of months ago.

Aishyn: Many people call crow an easy arm balance. But it is not. It is just the basis of the other arm balances. 

I believe the basics are the hardest. 

It is tempting to think my journey into arm balances started just last month with crow. But it really started years ago, from every plank, every bicep curl, every time I feared and fell, every teacher whose words touched me in some way, every teacher whose cues I felt were completely useless and is now starting to make sense, everything is coming together. Practise and all is coming. 

Crow cues that worked for me:

1. Keep wrists parallel to ground. Place blocks behind wrists and keep your wrists touching them lightly to keep this alignment. You do not need to lean forward so much that your wrists are at a strange angle! In fact, I was afraid to lean forward because my wrists already felt like they were gonna break. 
2. You barely need to bend your elbows, even one inch will do. Your elbows do not need to be 90 degrees! Your face does not need to go close to the ground! Sometimes you need to take a step back and recenter. I had a huge fear of falling flat on my face ironically because I was already leaning forward so much - my elbows were bent so much that my face was only inches away from the ground. 
3. Have your knees on the outside of your triceps squeezing in if that works better than knees on triceps or into armpits. Whatever makes you feel safer. 
4. Work to get the feeling of lightness - you don't need perfect alignment, fly a little first and work on deepening the pose later. 

Five habits that make my every day life better

1. 4:30am start
This is a relatively new habit; I am only on week 4 of this. I used to crawl out of bed at 8.30 or even 9am after having hit snooze a dozen times. After coming back from Portugal, my partner and I took advantage of jet lag and finally implemented this routine of waking up at what I like to think is a pretty hardcore 4:30am.

Benefits: so.much.time. And with that, the sense of being in control of your day. I get my workout done and have cleared my inbox by the time people start trickling into the office. I've always struggled with falling asleep and that too got better with this routine.

2. A glass of water every morning
I down a glass of water within minutes of waking up. At the beginning, forcing down water first thing in the morning was an exercise in endurance. I started off with a big mouthful, then half a glass and by about two weeks moved to a full glass. Now, I sometimes drink a good 500ml and it feels like my morning hasn't started right until I've hydrated myself. This habit is especially important for those with a caffeine habit.

Benefits: all the benefits of being well hydrated. For me, in the morning, this translates to less sluggishness, a clearer throat and more radiant skin, especially if I've had a rough night. 

3. Daily inspiration
You must find your reason for the daily grind and remind yourself of it every day. For me, having role models help so much. Some of the people I look up to: Kayla Itsines, Valentina Lequeux, Hannah GypsyOn. I admire their dedication to fitness and their relationships, their attitudes toward food and happiness. And of course, my partner, who inspires me through action every day. Imagine a man who gives all at work for the majority of his day, then heads home and cooks his own dinner and at 10pm, after all of that, goes under the squat bar. There is no excuse to choose the lazy way out when you witness that. 

Benefits: Let the strength, discipline and actions of others uplift you, so you don't feel so alone or even crazy in your journey, so you don't forget the reason you started something

4. Daily training toward your goal
Every day, I strive to do something that contributes to my ultimate goal: the freedom to a long and fulfilling life with my partner. To me, this means a balance of being strong, agile and fit. Over the years, I've played around with bodybuilding (strength), yoga (flexibility and balance) and circuit training (cardiovascular endurance). Recovery is equally important and I try to get 1-2 rest days in a week, whether that's a yin yoga session or taking a nap. Your goals may be different, but the same theory applies.

Benefits: Better mood, higher energy level, being able to lift heavy grocery bags, walk loads on vacations and still feel like you're having an easy day, clothes fit better, appetite is great, you can do so much more, you are unconstrained by the excuse of passage of time. You appreciate sitting on the couch or taking a nap so infinitely much more.

5. A work uniform
Men get by with wearing a white shirt and dark pants every day. Many successful people wear an iteration of the same outfit to work. Over a year ago, I purchased four identical black knee length dresses, but only implemented the practice 5 months ago. My work uniform looks more corporate than my workplace demands, and I definitely received a fair share of blighted comments, which I do not mind, because for me, the office for me is simply not a place for fashion forays. Since I've started this, I've never been under dressed for any client meeting and I love how this frees up my mind for things that matter more to me. 

Benefits: saves you precious time every single morning, never have to worry about looking out of place for any professional situation, now when I decide to dress up, I enjoy it so much more

I am not a disciplined organised person by nature. But I find that prioritising is the key to owning your life, and these habits have helped me greatly in my journey toward that.

The fresh, simple, enduring foods of Portugal

Here's what Portuguese cuisine is not: Instagrammable, fancy, molecular, trendy, plated with care, artistic, modern.

Here's what Portuguese cuisine is: simple, fresh, well-salted, traditional, tasty, grows on you, and most importantly of all, prepared with pride. Portugal feeds you foods that have endured thousands of years. Forget all the drama about label reading - go into a Portugese restaurant and the food on your plate came straight from the earth or the seas.

With each trip to Portugal, my partner and I return to his old haunts and try out new places (that are new to us, but really, have been around for ages). I am incredibly lucky to have tasted Portugal through a local, for the most famous food, bacalhau or salted cod fish, is an acquired taste. If that was the first and only thing I'd tried I would cringe, but if you know what to eat, the food creeps up on you. Today I find myself craving Portugese cuisine and a good hearty dish of bacalhau a bras.

Where and what to eat:

Portugalia 

Many outlets but head to the original one. Don't expect fancy service - there's usually a futebol game on the TVs there. 
Order:
Salada de Polvo - chopped octopus in olive oil and herbs, soak up the olive oil that's infused with the taste of fresh herbs with bread after 
Croquette -croquettes can be found at every corner and they're all tasty, but here they serve the best croquettes ever, warm and lightly crispy and soft inside
Ameijoas - light and salty, again use your bread to mop up the juices
Recheio da Sapateira -crab meat minced and served in a special sauce served in a half shell - don't expect the usual texture of crab meat but god this is tasty
Bacalhau a bras -very comfy, homey food. Salted cod mixed with potatoes and egg, the salted cod flavor is more muted and I find this a better dish for first-time bacalhau-eaters
Bacalhau - grilled salted cod! I recommend you share this with a friend if it's the first time you're eating this. Eat with boiled batatas- yum!
Any of their bife or frango steaks in their signature sauce and wobbly egg
Portugalia makes amazing fragrant rice - not the prettiest but so comforting especially for asians like me!

Senhor Peixe

"Mr Fish" this restaurant is just minutes away from the Oriente station and SANA hotel.
Old-man waiters, under-stated decor, catch of the day laid out across ice - so fresh
Order:
Salada de Polvo - if you haven't tried it at Portugalia or loved it and want more
Ameijoas - the clams here are cooked in a really buttery sauce. They are tasty but heavier, depending on their preferences
Green beans - they don't look the tastiest, limp beans boiled until soft, but they're so comforting and go perfectly with salted mains!
Boiled batatas - potatoes boiled and served with olive oil - somehow the way the Portuguese boil their batatas retain a sweetness 
Tiger prawns - grilled with salt only - my personal fave and what I order almost every time there
Squids - grilled with salt only
Fish - ask for recommendations if you're a fish lover! - grilled with salt
(Essentially, any of their fresh catches grilled with salt over charcoal)

Faraleiro

About an hour's drive from Lisbon city, in Cascais
This place is slightly fancier - but still expect old-man waiters
I would order all the same things as at Senhor Peixe and then take a walk around the coast. This place has fantastic views.

I don't think I've ever had a bad meal in Portugal. Once I had salmon that was slightly off and the owner was SO apologetic he did not want to charge for the entire meal! Salmon is not commonly eaten there, and so common in all other parts of the world, so I would go for something else. For breakfast, you need to try a 'papo seco' (pronounced pop-sic) which is a special airy bread with ham and cheese. Pasteis de nata needs no introduction and it is worth it making a day trip to Belem for the most famous one of all. Portuguese food is so simple and so fresh. I am crazy about the sardine paste restaurants serve as starters (slather them onto your bread!). Arroz de polvo is a hearty rice and octopus stew. Perfect for winter time. Caldo Verde - veggie soup that is easy on the tummy.

Portugese cuisine is not exotic or pretty. If you're looking to brag about the food you've eaten Portugal isn't the place. But if you're looking to experience the heart of Portugal, the humble, dependable, fresh, enduring fare is the perfect reflection of the country and its people.


Understanding Hemingway

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” - Hemingway

I never enjoyed Hemingway, never even gave him a chance, but somehow I know it's time to revisit his works.

---

My time at the newspapers trained me to write straight to the point. KISS. Keep it short and sweet. It was a skillset I learned.

But still, in the dark of the night, on my own, my mind favoured convoluted sentences. In conversations, with others, my words were a maze, bewildering to the one who was really trying to listen.

I've since realised that someone hides behind words when they don’t know who they are, when they don’t know what they truly want to say, when they cannot even admit all of this to themselves.

Today, I think a clear thought and I write it down. One word after the other. Each word owns the space it takes. 

Write what you know, they say. 

I no longer believe a writer has to experience everything to write about it well. 

Now, I know all a writer needs to do is find their voice. 

When you know what you have to say, everything you write is what you know.

The courage to find and release old trigger points

Recently I saw a physio for lower back pain. I was hoping her release work meant I would be free from pain the very next day. I was happy for her to go as hard as needed, and told her I would deal with the pain of the moment and the ensuing soreness on the same night, please just fix me asap.

She told me it would take a week for my muscles to relax and only if I did some exercises on my own.

I left disappointed, my lower back as stiff as before the session. I was despondent over the days as the pain persisted. Still I continued the prescribed exercised and within a week, as she predicted, the pain was gone.

I am still doing the exercises that target the immediate issue and source cause.

---

When we develop a trigger point, the surrounding connective tissue is affected.

Developing a single trigger point and not getting rid of it fast accelerates the formation of the second and third and so on. And then you find your entire leg is a series of trigger points and the pain has spread to your back and hips. 

As anyone who had the courage to go on a foam roller knows, this process is one of pain and maybe you're only motivated to do what's needed for now. You just need to manage the most pressing symptoms of pain. You roll and stretch and the immediate area is released. You can breathe again.

But if the original trigger point still exists, this whole process of tightening up will start again. The secondary knots will return sooner than you think or manifest in other ways.

Because the biggest knots won't dissolve on their own. They will impede you from achieving perfect form. Years of habits, patterns and beliefs have led to their formation and you need consistent, targeted corrective treatment to undo them.

Recovery is a two-step process. First you must stop whatever unwanted pattern, then you must undo the damage it had already caused. For example, if you want to lose weight, first you need to stop consuming new extra calories, then you need to burn off the pre-existing extra calories. You cannot simply say I've stopped over-eating and expect the extra weight to disappear.

---

As individuals, we all have a history of emotional trigger points. 

Pain will continue to turn up until we strip away every single thing inside your body that doesn't have a place. 

So get on that foam roller, release what you can today and every day. Undo the debt. Clear the yard. This is your body, your life.