Posted in bloggers, fitness, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Self-Discovery, Travel

Life Lessons From Hiking

After a hectic four-day trip to Vegas, my aunt took my sister and I to a 15 kilometre hike around Silver Falls State Park in Oregon.

I’ve always considered myself a city girl, and I will probably never live more than commutable distance away from a major city, like London. If I have it my way I will be renting my flat in Soho (for the same price!) until I die.

But for some reason I’ve developed a strange fascination for hiking around nature this year. I’ve discovered how much I love to just walk with no particular destination in mind, to soak in the views around me and allow it to soothe my often anxious and high-strung city soul.

You learn a lot when you’re somewhere with no mobile phone coverage or Wifi, especially when you’re running low on battery and can’t even listen to music on your Spotify. In that instant, its just you and nature and whoever happens to be hiking with you (my family, in this case).

I’d like to share some of those lessons in the hopes that, like me, you find the time to get away from it all for a while and have the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures (and lessons!) of hiking.

Be prepared.

I’m very vain, and my instagram is filled to the brim with photos of me in various outfits. But there’s no room for vanity around nature. You have to be prepared for rain, sunshine, mud, water and whatever elements Mother Nature decides to throw your way.

For me, this really is a metaphor for life, and its something that I should really be sorting out now that I’m in my 30s. No one wants to think too hard about things like insurance and savings when life’s a party, but you can sure as hell guarantee they’ll be thinking about it when the challenges start pouring in like rain.

Disconnect and Unplug.

I’ve already blogged once about my increasing disillusion with social media, and yet I find myself still posting on Facebook and Instagram time after time after time. Its like I’ve been conditioned to think that anything I do in life is not worthwhile unless its validated by my “followers” in the form of likes.

Be honest. How often do you look around when you’re on holiday to find that you and your friends are all on your phones, racing to be the first to upload photos or post an Instagram story? Or wasting time trying to get the perfect shot that you fail to soak in the beautiful piece of the world that you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in?

Yesterday I had a phone that was dying and was without a Power-bank for a change. I also didn’t have mobile data or Wifi coverage. And I think it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me on this trip. To just be able to enjoy the experience without feeling the need to update the rest of the world about what I was doing, to really BE in the moment, was a gift.

I think for the rest of this trip I will try to be on airplane mode more often.

Put one foot in front of the other

I think of myself as a reasonably fit individual but I have to say I had reservations about the 15km hike, especially when I realised that a) there won’t be a toilet for miles and b) the trail will naturally have uphill, downhill and (did I mention?) uphill portions.

It requires stamina and good breath control, sure. But one should never underestimate the power of the mind. If you psych yourself out by thinking of all the ways it could go wrong, or decide that you’ll never make it before you even try, you’ll miss out on an incredible experience.

There were times during the hike that I thought a particularly challenging trail would never end, but eventually it evens out, and before I knew it I’ve made it to the finish line. It’s a lot like life, you really just need to keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other until you make it.

Breathe

I live in a city where life is so fast-paced that you wake up on Friday not knowing where the rest of the week had gone. I’ve built a career and most days I find that I actually love my job, but it does account for at least 30% of my overall stress and anxiety.

I attended a talk once where the speaker said that stress is really just a series of tasks that you need to do. You’re stressed because you’ve either procrastinated so much that tasks have piled up, or you’ve set unrealistic goals in the first place.

I’ll add to that and say you get stressed because you forget to sit still and just breathe. This hike was extremely taxing, but there were periods when we stopped to catch our breath, relax, enjoy the scenery and work up to getting our second wind.

Life should be like that. You should be able to press pause and look out for your physical and mental health. I think one of the things I could definitely do when I get back to London is to work less extra shifts and have more time for me. Since getting back from Australia I feel like the energiser bunny that just keeps going and going and going. I feel like I never have enough time to breathe, to just BE.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Nothing’s so important that you lose your health and yourself over it.

The journey is the destination

Finally, and I know this is such a cliche, but cliches exist for a reason. Winnie the Pooh once said:

We didn’t realise we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.

We spend so much time worrying about where we’re going and what we’re going to do when we get there that we don’t stop to appreciate the journey.

I didn’t even realise we were nearing the end of the trail until my aunt pointed it out to me. I was having so much fun exploring the beauty of one of Oregon’s most beautiful state parks that I didn’t realise we’d walked 15 kilometres.

Whatever you do in this life, enjoy it. Make memories, make friends, try new things, push yourself. At the end of the day, where you go and when you get there won’t be as important as HOW you get there.

Posted in bloggers, fitness, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Self-Discovery

Confessions of a Body Shaming Victim

Last week, in the middle of a stressful theatre list where I was worried about having sets and instruments for the surgical procedures we were about to do, one of my male colleagues told me that he thought I was looking “a little chubby“.

Now normally, I would be able to brush off a comment like that. But last week I was especially vulnerable because I had spent the entire week before that binge-eating as a result of the combined effects of hormones and the natural stress of having made some big career changes.

I won’t deny that my self-esteem has always been inversely proportional to my body weight. I come from a country where a UK size 4 is considered the norm and a UK size 12 is almost bordering on fat (if not outright obese). Growing up, I’ve always accepted that this is the standard of beauty against which I will be measured and I am painfully aware that in that regard I have always fallen hopelessly short.

Anyway, this one thoughtless but probably  innocent comment sent me on a downward spiral throughout the day, to the point where I couldn’t even look at food without feeling sick. That day, I saw food as the enemy rather than something that will fuel and nourish me.

My sister and I finished late that day and she asked me whether I wanted to order takeaway rather than go through the hassle of having to cook dinner. I had to tell her that I can’t even think about what to eat for dinner until I’ve stepped on a weighing scale and confirmed whether I have indeed gained weight or not.

I know, I know. Berate me all you want about how stupid and illogical this was, you’re not telling me anything I haven’t already told myself. Rationally, I know that beauty is skin deep, and there’s more to me than just my physical attributes, everyone is lovely in their own way yada yada yada

Rationally, I know that it is INCREDIBLY UNREALISTIC AND DELUSIONAL to think that I will ever be, say, a Victoria’s Secret model. To start with, I just don’t think I have the genes for it. But how do you deal with that irrational part of you that just wants to fit in? How do you deal with that part of you who just wants, FOR ONCE, to not worry every time you want to eat a brownie?

I always say to myself that I exercise and workout for my health and because its fun, not because I’m chasing this picture in my head of what a “sexy” body should like. Someone once told me that confidence is the new sexy anyway and most of the time I have confidence in spades.

I’m not one to deprive myself of food, nor do I usually stop myself from wearing certain clothes because I think I’m too “fat” to pull it off. My favourite outfit is a cropped top for goodness sake. I think there’s nothing you can’t wear as long as you choose the right size for you. Don’t stuff yourself into a size 8 when you’ll look and feel so much better in a size 12.

I guess what I’m saying is that even though I’m a well-adjusted person most of the time and I’ve developed a healthy relationship with (and a healthy acceptance of) my body over the years, my weight will continue to be the one aspect of my life that I will always be incredibly sensitive about. There’s nothing I can do to change that.

Blame it on a childhood full of teasing and being called a member of the “Spice Pigs“, a nickname my friend’s brother called my circle of girl friends because we were all “healthy“. Blame it on a culture that glorifies being skinny. Blame it on the media. But it is what it is, I will always be sensitive about it.

Not even 24 hours after the incident with my colleague, I was at a Bruno Mars concert and, as is expected in these things, people turned up in their summer outfits. Which means to say there was a bare minimum of clothing present. We saw a girl wearing a really tight stringy top that looked three sizes too small for her. Honest-to-god, she looked like a burst sausage.

But you see, what does that say about me that I have those kind of thoughts? What does it say about me that I joke and laugh at someone else’s expense when I know how much it hurts to have the same thing done to me? It doesn’t matter that I didn’t say it to her face, the mere act of mocking her behind her back makes me the worst kind of hypocrite there is

And that is the true confession. We are all of us simultaneously victims and perpetrators of body-shaming.

One of my friends once tweeted that you should change the world by example and not with your opinions. Writing this blog is my way of admitting that I also have my faults, and a way of promising that I’m going to try to be better.

I just think we should all be kinder to ourselves and to others. Believe me, whatever criticisms you make of someone does not match the amount of self-criticism that that person has already given herself. No one judges us more harshly than we ourselves do. Having other people say what we’re already thinking just adds insult to a self-inflicted injury.

I hope that this story makes other people think twice the next time they feel the need to tell other people something potentially hurtful about themselves. Try a compliment the next time. No matter how a person looks I believe you will always find something good to say about them, and it will make them feel better as well as making you feel better about yourself.

You know what I want? For once, I want someone to come up to me and say “You look chubby and its awesome”. Full-figured doesn’t have to be a bad thing. People need to know that as long as they’re happy and healthy, its okay to look the way they do. 

SAY NO TO BODY SHAMING. Focus on the positive rather than the negative and do the world a bit of good.

Posted in Feminism, fighting, fitness

Things I Learned From My First Sparring Class

Yesterday, I decided to attend the mixed muay thai class at London Fight Factory for the first time since my friend and trainer Aaron took over teaching the class. I’ve been thinking about where I want to go with muay thai and I got this worm of an idea in my head that I just can’t get rid of. I somehow got it into my head that I might eventually (like, next year) want to fight. For real.

I know, I know. Its a crazy idea. My sister gave me the most incredulous, horrified look when I told her. I think she was already having visions of my broken nose, among other parts of my body that could potentially be damaged in a real muay thai match. Why, why, WHY would I want to do something so crazy?

But. I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve never really pushed myself to do something so far out of my comfort zone. I’ve always been afraid to try anything that’s not academic or intellectual because that’s how I always saw myself. I’ve placed my abilities in a box with very defined limits and everything I’ve done has been based on that. In one of my previous posts, I’ve already talked about how muay thai has changed the way I see myself. And now, for the first time, I’m thinking that if I commit myself to training and if I work hard enough, maybe MAYBE I can get to a level where I can at least put up a good fight. If nothing else, it will give me a goal to works toward and that’s always a good thing.

So, Aaron thought it would be a good idea for me to attend the mixed class and start sparring so that we can see how I do against other people in a controlled environment. I bought a mouth guard to protect myself while sparring, although I ended up not being able to use it because it was too tight (I must have set it wrong, lol). I was so excited and nervous going into the class. Honestly, I’ve seen what these guys do whenever I’m a little early for personal training and Aaron’s still finishing up a class, and its incredibly intimidating.

But you know what? I’m glad I came because it was a real eye-opener, not to mention a shitload of fun! Halfway through I found myself too busy and too focused to be nervous. I didn’t even realise we were already getting to the end of the 90-minute class.  Time flies when you’re making sure you’re able to dodge those kicks and punches. There’s a few things I’ve learned in that session that applies to both my training  that I’d like to share with you guys.

Think about where you can do the most damage

When you first train with muay thai, you start out by hitting pads. I think I somehow got so used to pad-work that I never really thought about the real goal here, which is to aim for actual body parts to either set up your next move or to do the most damage. Because again, its a fight, not an exercise. You’re not hitting pads anymore when you fight, you’re hitting another person.

In our last one-to-one, my trainer gave me an impromptu anatomy lesson so that I would know what I’m hitting when I aim for certain body parts. Like if I do a right body punch, I’m hitting the liver which – if you punch hard enough- is apparently the equivalent of a man getting kicked in the nuts. I’ll take his word for it as I will never have the opportunity to know.

With the first few rounds of sparring, I think I was aiming for the other person’s glove because I was still in a pad-work state of mind. Its only when my partner, Helene, started saying ‘aim for my face’ that I realised that the training wheels are off. I am now punching and kicking a moving, reacting target and I have to punch THEM because for sure they will punch ME. Its something to think about when I attend the next class.

 

Get them before they get you

When I do personal training, we do these drills so that I’m quicker with my punches, especially the jab. See video below.

I never fully understood the point of this exercise until yesterday. You really have to be quicker with the punches and get your hits in so that you’re in control of the situation. That left jab sets up so many of your next moves so if you’re lightning quick with its, the other person literally won’t know what hit them.

Also, I really have to stop apologising whenever my punches actually land. I found myself doing this A LOT yesterday. Like one of my fakes (see next item) would actually work and I’d get a punch in only to ruin it by stopping to say ‘oh sorry, I’m so sorry’. That’s good, I guess, because hurting people does not come naturally to me and goes against my Disney Princess instincts. But this is a fight. Hurting people so they can’t hurt you is kind of the point.

 

The art of misdirection

This was, by far, my most favourite lesson. On our last one-to-one, Aaron taught me how fighters used ‘faking’ to either open up a target or lure their opponent into a trap so they can strike where it hurts. I tried to apply this to sparring yesterday and I think it helped me land a few shots. However, I think I was giving myself away far too much (amateur!). Despite my intense concentration on the opponent before me, I could hear Aaron’s voice in the periphery saying ‘Eyes front Angela, you give yourself away each time because you’re looking at your next target’.

I know I keep talking about how I’m doing muay thai to prove to myself that I am more than just my brain but the truth is, it is way more mental than people give it credit for. You really have to have a strategy and think about what you can do, or how to do something your opponent won’t expect or won’t see coming (and therefore, won’t be able to block against).

A good defence is a good offence, and vice versa

So I’ve talked about being lightning quick with those jabs, but really there will be times when you WILL be on the receiving end of said jabs and you have to put up a good defense. I think this is the area that I have to work on the most. I could have done better with blocking some of those punches and kicks that I received (and maybe avoid getting hit in the b***bs so much). I let my guard down a lot of times and got my fair share of jabs, and they really hurt. So when Aaron was giving me those anatomy lessons and saying how a punch straight in the nose will disorientate your opponent? Oh boy, he wasn’t kidding. Getting punched in the nose, even in class, is not an experience I particularly want to repeat.

Nor do you want to put yourself in a position where you’re just defending and blocking all the time. You somehow have to find a way to extricate yourself from that situation, or back yourself out of that corner, so that you’re in the offensive – and in control – once again. I’ll have to work on this. I think I have good reflexes and really, its only natural to move out of the way when something comes at you but I have to channel those natural instincts into a skill.

 

Kill the boy, and let the man be born.

Line sounds familiar? Its from Game of Thrones for those of you living under a rock. Maester Aemon gave this advice to Jon Snow when he first got elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and it just came to me when I was thinking about the class I’d just attended, and from the watching the other women in class. Its amazing: they ask for and give no quarter. They pair up with other men and get treated and respected as an equal.

I came to class thinking I’d tell my teacher and whoever I ended up being paired with to go easy on me because I’ve not sparred before but actually, I realise that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to FIGHT. I wanted to take the hits and know that the world didn’t end because I got punched in the nose a few times. I can only learn from it (BLOCK, ANGELA, BLOCK) and be better from it. I think if you do muay thai you have to be strong mentally as well as physically.

By the time I got to my third partner for the day, I was actually saying ‘its my first time but don’t hold back on me’ (I mean, don’t hurt me or anything, but don’t hold back. haha). I wanted to learn and believe me, I did. Kill the girl, and let the fighter be born. 

 

If anyone’s interested in attending these classes, you can find the London Fight Factory Timetable here. Its really great and people are really supportive, I’d really recommend it!

Posted in fitness, Lifestyle, london

5 Life Lessons That I Learned From Muay Thai 

We’ve come to the end of the week and despite my busy schedule I managed to squeeze in two muay thai training sessions this week, and I am damn proud of myself *pats myself on the back* 

I really feel the difference between a week where I’ve not trained at all and a week where I’ve trained at least once. You would think I’d be less stressed and less tired when I’m not training but I’ve actually been more tired. Its also interesting to note that I’m also more irritable, less patient and more likely to respond negatively to stress when I don’t workout for the week. I’ve come to realise that the things I learn during muay thai training also translates into life lessons that I can apply in daily life, and its what keeps me balanced and centered. Here are some of the things I’ve learned this week.

1. If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to get it.

Training sessions, especially one-to-one sessions, are not cheap. But as my coach says, you’re investing in your health and body. All that money you’re spending on wine and beer and I don’t know, Chinese takeaway could all be put to better use if you save it to invest in training. And honestly, it cost me maybe two or three extra shifts, and maybe a weekend shift. But its so worth it. Its like with anything else in life, you will find a way to achieve the things that are important to you. If you’re not motivated to work hard for something,  you might want to ask whether you really want it and if its something that you should be doing. 

2.The best fighters are also the most intelligent 
I’ve come to a point in my training where I don’t just practice the technique but we also sometimes do touch sparring and drills where I have to find my shots and really think about how I can do the most damage to my opponent. I also have to have the presence of mind to remember to defend against my opponent and to use everything I have to block the other person’s shots. I’m surprised about how much mental activity is involved; it makes training more challenging but also more fun. Its like at work: doing something that mentally stimulates me, such as learning a new procedure or teaching a new starter, are the things that are most rewarding.

3. Anything worth doing is worth doing right

Its not enough to just go through the motions of punching or kicking, you have to do the proper technique and you have to commit to it and give it everything you’ve got. I used to just punch to hit the pad. But my coach said I have to imagine that the pad is an apple, and I want to punch through it to get to the core. I think my punches have really been connecting more ever since we did that little exercise.

So if I’m doing something in life, I’m going to do it the way I punch. I will commit to what I’m doing: ‘just okay’ is not good enough. It has to be right and I have to know that I gave it my best shot.

4. Its what you do when it starts to hurt that matters 
I’ve paraphrased what is apparently a quote from Mohammed Ali when he was asked about how many sit-ups he can do in one sitting. He answered that he doesn’t know because he only starts counting when it starts to hurt. At the end of my training session on Thursday, just when I thought it was over and I was home-free my coach asked me to do 30 sit-ups. And when I’ve finished that after nearly dying, he quoted Mohammed Ali and asked if I had it in me to do 10 more. How in the world do you say no after that?! So I did it. I managed to reach deep into myself and found my last bit of strength to do 10 more, and I was more proud of those 10 sit-ups than anything else I did that day. 

Its like everything else in life. You will get tested, you will face challenges and some of them will seem insurmountable. But that’s when it starts to count. What you do when the going gets rough is the true measure of your strength. So dig deep, and find the will to do just a little bit more.

And finally…

5. Always remember to breathe

Its such a small thing but it makes all the difference. We are encouraged to make sounds during training, and I’ve always felt really self-conscious about it. But I’ve come to realise just how much it helps my breathing. When I’m doing rounds I sometimes forget to breathe, and that’s when I get tired. I have to remember to breathe, slowly, in through the nose and out through the mouth. I’ll be okay if I just remember to breathe and be centered.

When my life is in chaos, both personally and professionally, I sometimes do so much and get so stressed out that I forget to breathe. Its when I stop to calm myself that I’m able to see through the problem to a possible solution. Breathe. It makes all the difference.

Posted in Feminism, fitness, Lifestyle, london, Stress Relief

This Girl Can

After work today, I went to my muay thai training session at London Fight Factory. I’ve been going to that gym on and off for about 3 years now. At one point when I was experiencing probably the lowest point of my life, I think it probably saved me from giving up or going insane. My friend Aaron first introduced me to it. At the time, I was significantly less confident about my physical abilities. I thought I’d better stick to what I knew best (Zumba) and save myself the embarassment. But he was so passionate about it that I decided to give it a go. And while I may not have been as consistent about it as I would have liked, it has remained one of the most enduring parts of my fitness routine.

It just makes me think about how quick we are to judge ourselves and say ‘I could never do that’. When did we develop this mindset that there are things beyond our reach? When we were kids, we used to be dreamers. We used to believe in magic and in the impossible. More importantly, we used to believe in ourselves. I sometimes envy the innocence (and blissful ignorance) of children. They haven’t yet learned to put themselves in a box nor to place limitations in their abilities. They still believe they can be the next prime minister or president, or be an actress, a ballerina or martial arts fighter. Check out these kids doing warm up for a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training today at LFF. IMG_5476

This stopped me in my tracks first of all because it was so darn cute, but also because it just inspired me. I mean, not all of these kids will be fighters. Some of them are probably going to be awkward executing all those moves. But they will always remember the fact that they tried, and they had fun with it. I will think about this the next time I need inspiration. Because you know what? The fact that I’m out there and trying already makes me better than half the population who are spending the afternoon watching the telly.

 

There were a lot of adverts on the tube and other places a couple of years ago celebrating the active woman called This Girl Can, and it really stuck with me. This one in particular:

TGClap

Sometimes I forget that the only limitations I have are the ones I place on myself. If I want something and I work hard enough for it, there is nothing I can’t achieve. This girl can. And if I can’t just yet, I will never stop trying.

So here’s my own rough muay thai training session. Cheers, blabbaholics. x