July 13, 2016

Yoga made simple

Yoga practice can often be intimidating to someone who has never tried a class before, with pictures of acrobatic handstands and gurus with their feet behind their head floating in your mind.   In reality, yoga is much more grounded and personal than a beginner might realize and can bring many positive physical and mental changes to your life.

Yoga in the western world often only practices one 'limb' of the ancient practice of yoga, called 'asana'. There are 8 limbs of yoga laid out by the ancient sage Pantanjali with practices like meditation and 'no-harm' being just as important as the physical part of yoga. The asanas or poses begin to train the yogi to be more present in their body and mind for the other aspects to become easier and more clear. (But that is a lot of information to process so just knowing that going to your first yoga class can open up a whole world of peace and serenity is enough for now. )

Below are some details about how to move into a few of the most fundamental asanas that you will see in most yoga classes.  The most important goal of yoga is to feel your own body, move with your breath and do things that feel good for YOU! Your teachers are there to help guide you through the practice and make sure your alignment is safe but the goal of yoga is to move in and through your unique self while respecting your body.

Marjaiasana/ Bitilasana Cat/Cow pose
Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position, the spine is long and straight. Make sure your knees are stacked directly below your hips and your wrists, elbows and shoulders are in one line and perpendicular to the floor. As you inhale, lift your sitting bones and chest toward the ceiling, allowing your belly to sink toward the floor, moving into cow pose. Lift your head to bring the gaze or 'drishti' forward.
Flowing into cat pose a s you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling, making sure to keep your shoulders and knees in position, pushing the floor away from you with the hands. Release your head toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest.

Tadasana : Mountain pose

Tadasana is a fundamental pose for all standing asanas, it can look passive but is actually very active. There are several things to think about in mountain pose. 

  • Stand with the bases of your big toes touching, heels slightly apart, lift and spread your toes while rooting the three pads of the foot firmly into the mat and placing the toes intentionally on the mat. 
  • Firm your thigh muscles and lift the knee caps.  Turn the upper thighs slightly inward.  
  • Lift the inner ankles to strengthen the inner arches, then imagine a line of energy all the way up along your inner thighs to your groin, and from there through the core of your torso, neck, and head, and out through the crown of your head.
  • Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor and lift the pubis toward the navel. 
  • Press your shoulder blades into your back, then widen them across and release them down your back. 
  • Without pushing your lower front ribs forward, lift the top of your sternum straight toward the ceiling. 
  • Extend your arms beside the torso all the way through the fingertips. Chin is parallel to the ground and gaze is forward and soft.

Utthita caturanga dandasana:   High plank 

Catarunga dandasana: 4 limb staff pose 
Draw your chest forward until the arms are perpendicular to the floor and the shoulders directly over the wrists, torso parallel to the floor in high plank Press your outer arms inward and firm the bases of your index fingers into the floor. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then spread them away from the spine.  Press your front thighs up toward the ceiling, but resist your tailbone toward the floor as you lengthen it toward the heels. 

With an exhalation slowly lower your torso and legs to a few inches above and parallel to the floor through chatarunga dandasana.  Throughout your stay in this position, keep the tailbone firmly in place and the legs very active and turned slightly inward. Draw the pubis toward the navel.  Keep the space between the shoulder blades broad. Don’t let the elbows splay out to the sides; hold them in by the sides of the torso and push them back toward the heels. Press the bases of the index fingers firmly to the floor.

Adho Mukha Svanasana : Downward facing dog
{BKS Iyengar , one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world, asserts that downward facing dog stretches the shoulders, legs,  spine  and whole body; builds strength throughout the body, particularly the arms, legs, and feet; relieves fatigue and rejuvenates the body; improves the  immune system , digestion and  blood flow  to the  sinuses , and calms the mind and lifts the spirits. }

From upward facing dog or childs pose, exhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and press it lightly toward the pubis. Against this resistance, lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling, and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up into the groins. Straighten the legs and press the heels towards the floor.
Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders turning the inner elbows towards each other. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone.

Bhujangasana and  Urdhva mukha svanasana 
Cobra and Upward facing dog
For cobra, on an inhalation begin to straighten the arms to lift the chest off the floor, going only to the height at which you can maintain a connection through your pubis to your legs. Firm but don’t harden the buttocks.  Firm the shoulder blades against the back, puffing the side ribs forward. Lift through the top of the sternum but avoid pushing the front ribs forward, which only hardens the lower back. Distribute the backbend evenly throughout the entire spine.

For a deeper backbend in upward facing dog, inhale and press your inner hands firmly into the floor and slightly back, as if you were trying to push yourself forward along the floor. Then straighten your arms and simultaneously lift your torso up and your legs a few inches off the floor on an inhalation. Keep the shoulders over the wrists and the shoulders away from the ears. Keep the thighs firm and slightly turned inward, the arms firm and turned out so the elbow creases face forward.

Alanasana* : High Lunge
*This sanskrit term is not agreed upon by all, just go with high lunge 
Standing in mountain pose, step your left foot back, with the right knee bent engage the legs to ground down through the feet and make sure the right knee is directly over the right ankle. Keep the knee and heel lifted off the ground, square the hips and the shoulders to the front of the mat.  Engage the back leg by extending out through the back heel and rotate the thighs inward. 
Relax the shoulders down and draw the shoulder blades towards the spine to open the chest. Inhale the arms over the head next to the ears with the palms facing each other. Keep the shoulders relaxed and the chest lifted.  

Virabhandrasana II  - Warrior 2
From warrior 1 place the the left heel on the ground toes a 45 degree angle outward, opening the hips towards the side of the mat. The chest and hips are opening to the side and the torso is stacked over the pelvis.  Press into the feet and roll the thighs towards the midline of the body keeping the legs strong. Sink the hips down towards the floor, and reach the crown of the head up to lengthen the spine. 
Relax the shoulders down the back, pressing the chest forward. Extend the right arm forward and reach  through the finger tips bringing your gaze towards the front middle finger. 

Savasana: Corpse pose
Said to be the hardest asana, savasana is a pose of total relaxation.  
Lying on your back, let the arms and legs drop open, with the arms about 45 degrees from the side of your body. Make sure you are warm and comfortable, if you need to place blankets under or over your body. Close the eyes, and take slow deep breaths through the nose. Allow your whole body to become soft and heavy, letting it relax into the floor. As the body relaxes, feel the whole body rising and falling with each breath.   Scan the body from the toes to the fingers to the crown of the head, looking for tension, tightness and contracted muscles. Consciously release and relax any areas that you find. If you need to, rock or wiggle parts of your body from side to side to encourage further release.  
Release all control of the breath, the mind, and the body. Let your body move deeper and deeper into a state of total relaxation. Stay in savasana for 5 to 15 minutes. To release, slowly deepen the breath, wiggle the fingers and toes, reach the arms over your head and stretch the whole body, exhale bend the knees into the chest and roll over to one side coming into a fetal position. When you are ready, slowly inhale up to a seated position.

{ A few tips for your first yoga class }

  • Always tell your instructor if you have any health issues they should be aware of, this is to keep you safe during your practice. 
  • Listen carefully to the cues the instructor gives during each pose, essential movements that might be difficult to see are often said many times during a class. 
  • Yoga should not be painful, if at anytime you are in pain slowly back out of the pose and come to your breath in child's pose. Yoga might be difficult at times but should not cause sharp pain. 
  • This is YOUR practice, do not worry about what your neighbors are doing or if you are not as flexible as the instructor. Honor your body and love it for what it can do.
  • Never compare yourself in yoga class and don't take it too seriously! Have fun with it and go with the flooooowwww :) 

Check out one of great instructors at The Sweat Shop Studio as they guide you through the calming and rejuvenating practice of yoga. With classes daily and great packages, this boutique style studio is the perfect place to begin or continue your yoga journey. Find schedules online and follow us on facebook for recipes, events and more!

October 26, 2015

debt free and living the good life: a how to

So many people ask me how I have lived abroad for so long and managed to take control of my finances from across the world.  For the first time in my adult life I have no student loan or credit card debt. I had almost 20K when I left 5 years ago. I have traveled to 14 countries in the meantime and live a more lavish lifestyle than ever before. Let me tell you how....

Oh, But you Can! If you think you can!

I am sick of hearing people complain that you cannot do anything when you have student loans and debt and I just had to write about my experience with it because I am just a normal person, that has done amazing things with plenty of strings holding me back. I had an epic journey while still paying off student loans every month and anyone else can too.  You are CHOOSING this path of crippling debt, I know this because I also chose that for a while too. Just like I chose to go to school and get into that debt (even though I was only 18 and had no idea what I was doing, but that is another post entirely!) I would never say it is easy, nor that I haven't had to work hard. I do, however, honestly believe (in my healthy, young and supported situation) it was much easier to live as an expat in Thailand and pay my loans off than it would have been if I had stayed living in the US. There is no way I would have them all paid off by now if I had made different decisions. I would go as far to say it would have been impossible to save 1000 USD a month while still having a great life and traveling. But I did just that.

 Teaching English in Asia (you can read how I feel about teaching here, but for the record I am not a teacher and do not have plans to teach forever, though I do very much enjoy working in schools and with students) is a great way to live a life you never thought possible.  I am not getting paid to write this, I am not involved in any 'quit your job and travel the world' scheme. I am writing this because I am a success story of this lifestyle choice and I think every person should do the same to make our world a better place.

Some weeks I worked 60 hours teaching but this feeling of satisfaction now is worth every minute.  Here is how I paid off almost 20,000 US dollars in 5 years (but mostly 3) while living and traveling very well. 

1. I don't have a lot of things. I do not own a car, have a nice big house with a washer/dryer or even a dog. I am human, I kinda want all of these things. But the important thing is I realize these are all unnecessary things for life and are very much luxuries afforded mostly by people in the West. Most of the world gets along just fine without a lot of 'stuff' and we are happier overall I think. No car = no gas money and insurance. Small house = small bills and more for your travel fund! If you find those material things are more important to you, then that is your decision that you must live with and know they are the reason for your situation... and that is okay if you are happy! That is what we are all seeking, right? For me, that is not what truly makes me happy, but we must all find our own bliss. Though I really want that dog...  

2. I have a pretty strict budget. Every month I set a very big part of my salary aside to send home to pay off my debt. Like almost all of it, leaving only enough for rent and bills. This means that number 3 is necessary to eat and have extra money but is the biggest reason I paid it all off so quickly. I crunched the numbers and made sure every pay day I set the correct amounts aside and off to where they go. This means I had no way to 'dip' into my savings if I needed to and when I ran out of cash I was out and had to eat 40 baht street meals, which is not even an option in most western countries. (I also don't depend on my family to give me money if you are over there thinking, 'rich, spoiled b*$&#...' my mom sends me a care package from home once in a while but I am proud to say I have been financially independent this whole time. Well, I do have a sweet husband that helps me out with dinner if I need it once in a while, thanks babe!) 

3. I have extra tutoring hours after my full time job.  I work a decently paid job in Bangkok and if you are smart and hard working, it is easier than you might think to land a job like this overseas.  Even though I get paid enough to live off of, I also tutor twice a week after school for my spending cash and it is a great system. At one point I was tutoring 3 days a week after school and on Saturdays. It was okay for a while and I took big chunks out of my debt with that but it was not sustainable. It is important you work just enough to make it worth it but don't lose your sanity. It is usually much better money with private tutoring, so you work at the good International school for the paid time off, work visa and resume booster, but extra hours for the $$$$. This is a necessary evil unfortunately. Work hard, play hard!

4. I have different priorities. Travel is my priority and I have to shift my thinking sometimes to make this stay true. Sometimes I want my nails done or to go shopping and even though I have done those things while I have lived in Thailand, I do my budget first and only once in a while indulge. I have had to say no to some nights out and dinners so I could stay within my budget and that can be tough. I have stayed in some questionable hotels along the way (those are a fantastic experience in itself) and I have also stayed in amazing ocean view villas. It is all about balance. 

5. Time and patience. One of the most important things living and working abroad is patience, in all things. No one expects to pay off all their student loans overnight, and you won't living abroad either. It can be difficult at times figuring out how to send you money home, exchange rates can make you crazy and you always encounter problems you didn't expect. Really, my first 2 years abroad I was shopping and spending money like crazy and paying only the minimum payments every month. Only as I became a bit wiser about my financial situation (HOLY SHIT, how much is going just to interest!?) did I start saving and sending big amounts of money every month. It might take a while, you might not get to do everything you have your heart set on, you will have to make some compromises, but it will happen. 

Now, more than 5 years later, I am heading home debt free much older and wiser. Though sometimes I get crazy thoughts like, "I'm gonna take out a mortgage to buy a house!" or "I don't care if I have a car payment!" I know in the end I will probably fly back into the unknown sooner than later, but this time I will be financially sound and with a much more worldly head on my shoulders. 

August 13, 2015

pai love // part 2

After spending a week living on an organic permaculture farm in Northern Thailand, I went a little Eat, Pray Love and spent the next week at a yoga retreat in another area outside of the small town of Pai. It was a wonderful week learning more about yoga and myself as well as meeting some great new friends! Xhale yoga retreat was an easy choice when looking for a yoga retreat in Pai. There aren't many and on tripadvisor it is a top rated attraction in the area with only the best reviews, all singing the praises of Bhud, the energetic and mindful owner and teacher that makes this place so special. With a very reasonable price too, this is easily the best week I have spent in 3 years in Thailand, doing good things for my body, mind and soul!

The retreat is 5 nights, 6 days of healthy vegan eating, 2 yoga classes per day, meditation and yoga theory classes as well as a different nightly activities like soaking in hot springs and energy chanting and dancing in the moonlight. The meals were all picture perfect and deliciously nutritious with Thai and international foods as well as fresh fruit and tea all day. Everything here was healing. The lovely bungalows are comfortable and welcoming after an exhausting day and I fell asleep every night with a smile on my face.

Bhud is an amazing teacher who is very passionate about what she does and has a wonderful positive and healing energy to her. Her smile is infectious and she really tries to get to know you, listens to your story and makes you feel loved and important. This retreat is great for people who have never tried yoga and many of the other participants really impressed me with their openness to learn and try new things. Bhud is really great at making everyone feel comfortable. It was also wonderful for people like me who have practiced yoga for many years and want to have a deeper understanding and grow in their yoga practice. She really inspired me to continue practicing and learning about this ancient art form. I even did a day of complete silence which was challenging, trans formative and relaxing all at once. Bhud encourages and guides you the whole time during this week of detox and life changing experiences.

I highly recommend anyone going to Pai to spend a week at Xhale Yoga Retreat with Bhud and her wonderful group. It was the perfect way to decompress, cleanse your body while getting closer to nature and yourself.

August 11, 2015


Tickets have been purchased, final visa arrangements made, resignations put in and leases ending. Now for the final push of getting rid of 4 years of memories and deciding what to keep and let go. The time has finally come, I am leaving Asia. 

Now it all feels so final, these tasks checked off and the words actually said. I have felt at home in this country for a long time now and have even stopped writing on this blog for lack of finding new things to say and fear of becoming that blogger that writes about how they went to movies and ate good sushi on the weekend.  Though the adventures haven't stopped, they are so much a part of me now I cannot seem to put into words all the people and places I have met lately. I also felt like I was just bragging about how my life is amazing.... all these exotic lands, foods and people, it is a bit overwhelming even to me and I have learned a great deal about humbleness being an expat here. But here I am again, trying to let out my feelings on this big change as I don't know another way to organize these thoughts and anxieties I am having. I don't think any of us know where we will end up but right now I am so excited to go home! It has been a long time and I am practically like the rest of the world now and have this picture perfect idea of what America is going to be like! Big skies and mountains, lots of healthy food options, normal sized clothes and shoes and affordable health care! I'm trying not to play it up too big as to not be disappointed when it of course does not meet my expectations but it sounds heavenly. 

I have spent the last good portion of my life traveling to places I never knew existed and meeting extraordinary individuals on the way. Teaching students English and becoming a role model all while trying to balance my finances back home, beginning and maintaining a marriage, while trying to become a better person and simultaneously remember where I came from. This year alone I have traveled to Laos, Japan and Bali and Malaysia with an epic trip planned to India (and a bit more Thailand) before heading back to the States for my first 'western' Christmas in 5 years. (Do people use the term 'western' when talking about Europe and North America back home? I have no idea anymore.) I have just gotten used to this life of wonder and am more nervous about going back to my 'real life' than I thought possible. It will be an adjustment, just please don't make fun of me when I get back, I have weird, slow English now I know, just let me be. 

I have so many plans for the future yet I have no fucking clue what I am doing. Sometimes I think I just want to find an easy job with not a lot of responsibility and chill for a bit, get a dog and 5 cats, grow a garden and live the simple life. Other days I am planning to move to Munich and get a (practically free) masters degree. Most days though, I am sure I am ready to move on from this place. Four years is a long time (5 years living in Asia!) and I have grown and changed in immeasurable ways. I know that I am not a big city girl and I need more space the 30 square meters to live and a mode a transportation that is not stuffed with literally thousands of other people at once. I know that I love working with kids and I am kinda good at it. I know that I love curry and coconuts. I do not know what I am doing with my life and am even further from figuring it out than I was before. Finally, at least for now, I am okay with that. I am not letting it stress me out. I am living in the the moment, enjoying it all while I still can and I KNOW it will all work out. It always does. The biggest lesson I have learned in my short time here on this Earth is that life goes on, all you can do is deal with it as it comes and everything depends on your outlook no matter the circumstance. 

The one true thing I have found about myself as I age , the one constant in my life since I was 18 has been yoga and my breath. This past year I have explored and learned even more about this ancient way of life and I am so excited to go to India for my 29th birthday to dedicate more than a month studying to become a yoga teacher, learning more about this passion in it's birthplace with free spirits and true yogis, living, breathing, practicing all day. So before I end this love affair turned long term relationship I have with Asia, I will be heading to the subcontinent to..... well I don't really know how to finish that sentence. Going in with an open heart and mind, ready for whatever life has next for me. All I know is that it is about that time to fly away again. Yet this time it is with intention, love and a content feeling like never before. 

Bangkok Bucket List
1. Floating Market
2. One more island escape
3. Khao San night out
4. Camping trip in national park
5. Buy as many Thai pants as possible
6. Sit at my pool every weekend
7. Eat as much curry, SomTom, mangos, and coconuts as possible. 
8. Laugh as much as possible. 
9. Get lots of student cuddles 
10. One last trip to immigration!!

January 9, 2015

new year, new you.

Whoever said, "I feel sorry for people who don't drink, when they wake up in the morning that's as good as they are going to feel!" has obviously never had one of my infamous 2 day hangovers or a green smoothie and yoga in the morning. I feel 1000 times better during one of those morning situations and it no longer includes tequila shots and 3 am french fries. 

Like most other 20-something women, I am in a constant struggle of balancing a fun and enjoyable life with a healthy and productive lifestyle often times failing miserably. I love to binge watch Netflix and eat chocolate during ALL times of the month, I love to eat greasy fat burgers and drink yummy beer on hot days. Things I know I shouldn't do yet have no self control and let myself get sucked into the vortex of deep fried, not moving for 12 hours with an empty bottle of wine laying discarded next to my bra. We've all been there, right?  Every year I feel the effects of my early adult life taking their toll as I take days to recover from nights out when I always end up smoking more cigarettes than I ever plan (I always plan on zero obviously, once again fuck you 16 year old self for thinking smoking was fun) and when the shitty food I eat directly corresponds with spots on my face. I am sure as hell not 23 anymore, and while I have slowed down the direct abuse on my body considerably since my crazy college days, I am not ready to turn 30 years old (not quite yet, but sooner than I would like to admit!) being a lazy and squishy garbage eating hypochondriac with no follow through.

This year I have BIG health plans. I have been practicing yoga for about 10 years now, off and on, the past few months of 2014 making big steps at a yoga retreat and joining a studio. I always make excuses that it costs too much, I am too tired, its too far. Whatever. I am DONE making excuses.  I have slowly been changing my eating and exercise habits but take two steps back as soon as I get busy at school or starting traveling, making another excuse that I should eat as many greasy baguettes as I can while I am here, be in the moment, right? I am not saying I will never eat bread again, because I fucking love bread but this balance I am searching for starts with not feeling like I am going to die from heart failure because my sad little body can't handle the amount of cheese and wine consumption I like to call Wednesday night.  I feel like I have finally hit that tipping point and at this point its all down hill until I die. But I am saying NO MORE. I am done treating my body like I hate it when really I am so shocked and thankful I wake up every morning. I should not being feeling like this at my age and at the risk of sounding a bit too Lena Dunham and though I say this every New Year, I am done living like this, shit has got to change. 

This year I am going to become a yoga teacher. I am finally making moves and doing what I love. I am practicing my ass off, going to do yoga in Bali and then heading to India to spend a month in the mountains learning and discovering myself and the world beyond being wasted. It has been a dream of mine for some time now and with no more debt following me like plague I am in the perfect position to make more out of my experience of life. I am truly passionate about yoga, its the first form of exercise that makes me actually happy and even goes beyond exercise making me feel whole. I have joined a 30-day challenge at my amazing yoga studio for the month of January where I will be giving up alcohol, processed foods and practicing yoga and meditation everyday. It will be difficult juggling it all with my full time and part time jobs (and husband!) but coming home, ordering take out and collapsing into bed with the latest show I am obsessed with hasn't been working out either. 

I have started a new instagram account that is has been very beneficial to me, as my favorite form of social networking, I can spend hours looking at the beautiful and inspirational yogi's in the yoga community. I am even practicing more during my day and learning from some wonderful, strong women and having fun taking my own yoga pictures to see progress and growth. 

I'll be doing my yoga teacher training in fall of this year after I complete my contract and time living in Thailand but have a lot of work (and travel) to do before then! I am very excited for what 2015 will bring, with a healthy body and mind I might get closer to being content enjoying each moment, each smoke-free deep inhale and happy loving exhale. 

{Recently I was contact by a fashion website here in Thailand that is looking for warrior women to inspire a new healthy lifestyle, combining some of my favorite things (writing and shopping) in a blogger contest. Though I am kind of sick of these kind of emails that make me feel special and important (but really just want me to put in a bunch of effort for free advertising for them) this one was really different being local and about something I am actually passionate about right now. I was asked to pick my ideal workout outfit (which really consists of a pair of Dharma Bums and comfy sports bra these days) from this online Thai company, Zalora so as an awesome yogini I have picked some bright Nike pro fit pants and black Funfit racerback tankini sports bra perfect for a hot sweaty yoga class in Thailand. Because I don't generally like to walk to class, past soi cowboy, partially naked I would throw on this lightweight, loose Nike tee and rock these Nike sneakers. This post was inspired by the contest but motivated by my personal goal to feel alive again!}

November 17, 2014

an ideal weekend in Bangkok

I have lived in Bangkok for 3 years now, in different places all over the city and it's weird how this crazy place actually feels like home now. I know which areas to go for the best shopping, the best street food, the best nightlife, I almost live like a local these days! My ideal weekend in Bangkok is a bit more off the beaten track in this well explored metropolis and there will be no khao san road or mega malls on this itinerary. I like to do as the locals do when I travel and with that in mind I have planned a spectacular weekend in this city I call home.

October 20, 2014

pai love // part 1

I have been back in the mega city of Bangkok for a while now, after almost a month out of the hustle of things for summer holidays and I am still having a hard time readjusting back into the real world. I did something I have never done before and did a bit of solo traveling and life searching in a small town in northern thailand, close to the Burmese border, quite a famous place these days, a town called Pai, in Mae Hong Son province. Three hours by bus from Chiang Mai, this place is no secret any longer and it was a far cry from the hippy village it was once known as (and had been told for years I would absolutely love), and while I was disheartened by the surge of capitalism in this quaint rural countryside, there is still something magical about the air in Pai.