The Bikram Challenge

This morning I completed my Bikram Yoga challenge! I reached my goal of 10 consecutive days of 90 minute Bikram Yoga classes. To some, it might not seem that impressive. But anyone who’s ever practiced hot yoga will for sure know what I’ve been going through for the last week and a half.

Some bodies are easily bent. Like Tora in the video above that I shot earlier in the year at Altitude Meetings Black Box. But after 10 days here at Kata Hot Yoga, I’ve made surprisingly huge strides. Which in turn has translated into less aches and better overal posture.

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Speaking of Greek food, which I appreciate as much as I do Thai and Spanish cuisine, here’s a photo of a classic crispy Greek salad on a gorgeous blue plate that I took during an assignment trip to the breathtakingly beautiful island of Santorini.

When I was living in Göteborg/Gothenburg back in the 1980s and 90s, during the period when I was painting, I’d venture from my apartment at least one a week to “Saluhallen” – an old classic food hall and market where I’d buy Greek Kalamata olives, feta cheese and a loaf of Hungarian sourdough bread at a small shop called Alexandras – owned by a fellow that went by the nickname of Elvis. Adjacent to the food hall was a warehouse where a company sold vegetables at wholesale prices. I’d return to my kitchenette where oil paints and unfinished canvases waited, with all the ingredients I needed to make myself a nice big Greek salad and a bowl of hummus. It was a simple life.

Back to Santorini.

I believe I’ve posted something about this before, but when we we’re there in 2016, we shared much of the sights and attractions with hundreds of Chinese tourists. Curious as to what so many folks from China were doing on Santorini in October, we asked around a little.

The explanation from a waiter at one of the restaurants we ate at a few times was nothing less than extraordinary. According to him, the island had for about a year or so been enjoying a tremendous boom which had in fact extended the tourist season with three months. The boom, the waiter continued, was thanks to an extremely popular romantic movie in China that ended with a young couple getting engaged or married on Santorini.

Personally, I’d never seen so many variations of selfie sticks or, gleefully smiling Chinese tourists, for that matter, as during our four days in Greece. More images from that trip here.

A collection of my work related food and drink photos can be enjoyed once you click here.

Bikram Yoga Film

Bikram Yoga Film

Slept well last night, despite having had a few too many Greek dishes at »Odysseus« a few blocks from here. Saran, Saam and their cute daughter Asia had never tried Greek food before, but genuinely enjoyed all of what Dimitri presented to us.

As I filmed during most of this morning’s class for an editorial video about hot yoga, I’ll be getting my 9th session done during this evening’s 7:00pm class. I’m still a little bewildered by how fast the instructions are delivered in Bikram Yoga. The total opposite of every other kind of yoga I’ve tried. In some of the standing poses – like the Eagle and the Tree – poses I am now after a week of practice able to hold with some dignity – the rapidness of instructions creates turbulence in my concentration which in turn nudges me off-balance from time to time.

However counter intuitive it may seem, I suppose it’s the combination of 26 poses, the intense heat, soaking humidity and verbal firestorm that will all work together to help me eventually summon the required laser focus I need to improve my postures.

Filming in a hot yoga studio was, as one might imagine, sweaty. I was there for about an hour using three different cameras (two stationary, two movable) and audio via a Zoom H6 recording unit. But it wasn’t the heat that presented the greatest challenge today. It was the mirrors. Trying to find angles and perspectives that didn’t reflect my image in the background somewhere, was not easy. But then again, who wants easy, anyway?


Kung Fu Pizza

When I was a kid growing up in the US, there was this tremendously popular western series called, »Kung Fu« that had a huge following among me and my friends. The show’s gauntly character, Kwai Chang Caine, was a wandering apostle of Chinese philosophy with a black belt in Kung Fu. He was portrayed by a the actor David Carradine.

The soft-spoken Caine used proverbs and aphorisms to solve conflicts that arose along his lonesome journey across the American Old West to find his half-brother. But where his fortune-cookie wisdoms didn’t persuade the antagonists, his lightning fast fists and feet certainly could – and some butt would be kicked in each episode.

Second only to reruns of “The Wild Wild West“, “Kung Fu” was a favoite I’d watch almost daily. I particularly enjoyed the flashbacks of when Caine was a young boy in rural China. Each episode would have at least one of those flashback scenes – seemingly shot with a soft lens or one that had been covered with a thin layer of vaseline – where a mentor at the Shaolin Monastery in Hunan Province where he was raised, would instruct the young Caine, referred to as »Grasshopper« in martial arts. More importantly, at least from my point of view, the mentor would emphasize that it was crucial the young apprentice be mindful of everything going on in his life; socially, emotionally, spiritually and, yes, culinarily.

For some reason, “Kung Fu” popped into my head while twisting and turning and bending my body to get to the correct configuration during one of today’s more gruelling poses.

It was my eighth consecutive Bikram Yoga class today and I suppose I momentarily lost my ability to concentrate at a 100% level. A while later, as I was regaining consciousness from Savasana (the dead body pose), I started to feel really hungry. I’d not eaten anything prior to the class and it was now almost 10:45. A wide range of food ideas started flowing over me. One of the first was pizza. I figured I could be generous and perhaps treat myself to a few slices of freshly baked pizza pie. If for no other reason, than to commentate my weeklong accomplishments on the yoga mat.

Like the next guy, I love pizza. Most people do. Pizzas smell good and if you’re lucky, they taste great, too. And a pizza is still a relatively inexpensive option when dining out.

Finding a really good pizzeria, you know, where the crust is thin, the dough chewy and the sauce zesty, can, however, be a big challenge. Quite frankly, I’ve not eaten many really good pizzas in my life and very few in Sweden. Pizzas do the job, fit the bill and fill you up…but it’s sort of the old emperor’s new clothes syndrome. Nobody seems to acknowledge (or, worse, care!) that generally speaking, pizzas are flavorless and made half-assed. Not even the most reputable pizzeria in Malmö makes a pizza worth an honorable mention – despite the wood-fired oven the owners claim makes their pizzas so fantastico. Honestly, they suck. A pizza is only as good as when there’s been some mindfulness poured into the dough, sauce, seasoning and toppings. Sadly, that’s rarely the case. People that run pizzerias, wherever in the world, seem only to be in it for the money. There is no passion. No mindfulness.

As I was slowly walking out of the yoga studio, sweaty as can be and still not sure what to eat (or, where), I came to the realization and conclusion that it would be extremely counter-productive to eat a pizza for lunch after a 90 minute workout. It would be like eating a half a loaf of bread.

On my up the stairs to my apartment and shower to cool off, I reasoned that if I’m going to be seriously mindful about what I eat, I need to look at the face value of my choices. And when it comes down to it, what is pizza if not baked bread covered with tomato paste, fermented milk (cheese) and whatever toppings. And as fulfilling as that may be, there’s actually very little nourishment in a pizza. It’s comfort food. Plain and simple. Sure, a pizza is usually easily accessible, you stuff your mouth with it, feel full and content (at times, painfully so) – and then a few hours later, whatever’s left of the pizza leaves your body without having done much for it.

Long story short (too late, I know), I ended up going back to the same place I’ve been eating at for the past week. A corner restaurant where I am served by the same sweet waiter (an older guy with a super-high pitched, Mickey Mouse voice), order the same exact dish (stir fried vegetables with tofu and steamed rice) and leave the same tip (10 baht).

Tonight, together with an old friend and his family, I’ll splurge a little and celebrate my culinary mindfulness – at Dimitris organic Greek restaurant.

The pizza above comes from a shoot I had for Smarta Kök earlier this year.

fruit family

Fruitful conversation

Today at 11:35 by the corner fruit stand. Not verbatim. But close.

– Hello there, my friend!

– Hello! How are you today?

– Good, good. And yourself?

– Feeling very perky after my yoga class. How’s business?

– Oh, it’s slow. Low season, you know. The monsun doesn’t help much, either. Time again for some fruit?

– Absolutely. How are them mangos lookin’ today?

– You’ll not get a sweeter or juicer batch than what we have in stock right now. I kid you not. Would you like for me to slice you up a couple of really nice plump ones?

– Yes, m’am!

– What else are you looking for today, my friend?

– Well, I’m a little tired of peeling mangosteen and angel fruit doesn’t really grab me anymore. So, let’s go with a half kilo rambutan today.

– Ok. No watermelon?

– Oh, yeah, a watermelon, too.

– Anything else?

– I think I’ve run out of bananas, so add a batch, please.

– Ok, come back in 10 minutes and I’ll have sliced up your mangos and watermelon.

– Thank you.

11:36

– Everything’s ready to go, my friend.

– Thanks! How much do I owe you?

– That’ll be 165 baht, please.

– Ok, here you are. Oh, and by the way, can I take a few photos of you and the family here by your wonderful fruit shop?

– Sure, my pleasure!

Click, click, click.

– Thanks!

– See you tomorrow, my friend!

– See you tomorrow and good luck!

beach walk

Clearing the Clouds

From yesterday afternoon’s long beach walk. Remarkable skies right now as we’re edging into monsun season here. I’ll never cease to be amazed by the spectacular formations created by cumulus clouds. Infinite variations of fleeting beauty. A healthy reminder of how ephemeral everything really is and how important it is to take the time to experience life in real-time – not just screen time.

Checked off Bikram Yoga session number six this morning. Might of been the best class yet for me. Woke up a little earlier today to offset some lower back pain (which I’ve had for about 24 hours) with 20 minutes of Qigong, before class began. Not sure what or where the pain stems from. Could be my slightly rigid bed – or, that I’ve pinched a nerve during one of the spine postures or  snapping situps. Could also come from jumping prematurely off a surfboard the other day. Regardless, I think doing Qigong before Yoga is the way to go until the pain subsides.

Each class has about 10-12 participants and the demographic is a really mixed bag. About half are Thai and the rest are westerners from all over Europe. Most are in the 30s or 40s with 1 or 2 being closer to my age. There’s one lanky Italian guy (his name is Lorenzo and his shorts are minimal, so I’m only assuming he’s from Italy) and a couple of pasty Russians or Ukrainians in their mid 20s.

Sometime during pose number 15 or 16 (of a total of 26) I started speculating about what motivated the others in the studio to train Bikram Yoga. What was the driving force? Weight loss? Increased stamina? Improve elasticity? Prolong life?

Like many kinds of self-generating exercises, but especially when originating from the Far East, there are usually several self-proclaimed, yet widely contested and feverishly debated benefits that are given top billing by the protagonists. But reliability is often undermined when these advantages get too much exposure. They tend to reach an almost mythological status and that’s when my alarm clock goes off.

As per usual, I’m an optimistic sceptic who prefers to take a holistic approach in favor of bombastic and unsubstantiated statements. After all, I’ve worked most of my adult life within the dubious advertising industry. So I know a thing or two about creative writing and crafting powerful, bullshit reeking headlines.

What I can tell you with half a dozen Bikram Yoga classes under my belt, is that the training has definitely increased my body’s flexibility, my ability to decrease my heart rate through breathing, and, of course, my heat tolerability. For sure I’m feeling stronger, more physically balanced and mentally focused than when I started my hot yoga challenge, about one week ago. But like I mentioned above, with a wide-angle lens on, those benefits can just as well be ascribed to my current vegan diet and extremely puritanical lifestyle.

pistachios

Spiced up Pistachios

To some, looking at pistachios up close like the tidy batch above, might not be so appetizing. But believe me, they were absolutely scrumptiously divine and worth documenting (with Moment’s new wide-angle iPhone lens).

Whoever came up with the idea of spicing up pistachios with chili and black peppar needs to be recognized and commemorated as a formidable culinary genius. By the way, did you know that pistachios are technically a fruit? I sure didn’t. Live and learn.

As I’m more or less on a vegan diet right now – disallowing myself from much of the usual indulgences – eating a batch of nuts a day not only allows me to quench my life-long snacking addiction, today’s spicy pistachios will also provide me with some extra protein and antioxidants. And you know what? Shelled pistachios are kinda fun to eat! You have to work a little before you get gratification.

There’s a common misconception, mostly among meat-eaters (duh), that living off a plant-based diet will inherently cause protein deficiency. Those same folks don’t know that protein is found in just about every living organism on the planet. Especially in plants!

Proteins are in essence a combination of amino acids. Each of these amino acids have a designated role or purpose in our bodies. While some are configured to help our metabolism, others assist in the repair and development our muscles. Nine of the different amino acids are absolutely essential to our basic functions. And since we can’t create them in our bodies, they’re kinda of indispensable and thus need to be part of our diet. The good news is that vegetarians (even vegans!) can easily get enough of these crucial amino acids by eating a balanced plant-based diet. Anybody trying to tell you differently is just ignorant (or, is a lobbyist for the meat/poultry industry).

Here’s a resource for how to stop worrying about vegetarianism/veganism and protein deficiency (with great recipes, too).

As a former meat-eater,I totally get why the vast majority of the world’s population (but not most folks in India) would enjoy sinking their teeth into a juicy, barbecued beef or pork steak, chewing off a mouthful of double-dipped, deep fried chicken or chomping on a perfectly grilled hotdog with mustard, ketchup and relish.

Up until a bit more than three years ago, I did all those things regularly with great vigor and noticeable intensity. And to be totally honest, there are times when I miss those orgastic, multiple sensory kicks I’d get when eating at places like, Baby Blues BBQ in Los Angeles or at Nathan’s Famous on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Heck, I even miss our own back patio and countryside »barbies« we hosted in the summertime.

But the more mindful about how beneficial it is to stay clear of poultry, meat and all processed foods I become – and if you don’t think most meat is processed, please click here – the easier it is to shrug at times gone by and keep chomping on carrots, gnawing fresh mango and munching on spicy pistachios.

Fifth hot yoga class today. Different teacher, same drill and metaphors. Tough stuff. But, man, do I feel invigorated afterwards! Five more days to go. Gonna try to get in some surfing, too. Maybe even a long jog.

Taxi dude

Switching Off

Met this guy last night as I was heading out for dinner. I was curious to know if he’d ever heard of Über or Lyft, but the language barrier was just too wide for us to communicate about such matters. Still I wondered if the dude, who couldn’t have been much more than 10 years my senior, was familiar with the concept of ride sharing. For all I could tell, he could very well have been a heavy Twitter user or, even made sure to update his Facebook status on an hourly basis. But I doubt it.

Aside from my posts here on the blog side of the moon, I’ve disengaged myself from all social media channels and platforms. I joined Instagram earlier this year and I’ve enjoyed posting my photos and videos there on an almost daily basis. But now, after almost a week without any uploads or checking my Like-status, I can’t say I miss it. I certainly don’t miss the incessant flow of notifications. And since I don’t even log on or check in – which I know might lure me into a mindset where the fear of missing out (FOMO), of not participating in the »conversation«, would likely have had a negative effect on my ability to focus on stuff that’s really important. Which is what I want to do more of. Much more.

Right now I don’t even think about what’s going on in the abstract, online universe where the hypnotic gravity pull of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have gazillions of people – myself included, at least periodically – orbiting their worlds as if no other realities exist. Honestly, I’ve always been socially awkward. So why wouldn’t I feel torn about socializing online?

For the first time in a long while, I feel tuned out, and it’s liberating, to say the least – and part of a long-term, multi-faceted strategy that will hopefully lead to a myriad of new, creative adventures.

Today was my fourth day of Bikram yoga and though progress is incremental, I’m definitely pushing forward. Above all, my body’s ability to recuperate between poses is improving dramatically. Due to a nagging-old knee wound, there are three leg-focused, stretching poses that I’ll probably never be able to fully pull off. Still, 23 out of 26 isn’t bad for a guy my age. Rigid as I may be, thankfully, a few of the other (younger) participants aren’t nearly as relatively nimble or elastic as I am. I know, that’s a totally reprehensible way to think in the yoga world. But I have to admit to feeling some genuine solace when I see them struggle, shake and ultimately fall to the mat. Yeah, I’m shameless.

the perfect combo

The Perfect Combo

Third day of my Bikram yoga challenge. Starting to get the hang of it now – insofar that I can actually manage to bend my body and shift my limbs correctly according how the postures are supposed to be executed. Today was harder than yesterday – possibly because I didn’t get a full night of undisturbed sleep. Woke up a few times after two really strange, vivid dreams. Must be the detoxification process. The effects just from caffeine withdrawal ought to be at least a little bewildering to my body.

One thing that really takes time getting used to with Bikram yoga is how fast and intense instructions, corrections and affirmations are delivered. It’s like being at an auction where the auctioneer is never quiet and a steady stream of utterances fly through the ever-so hot and humid studio air. Which is pretty much the diametrical opposite of the mostly soft-spoken, mild-mannered instructors that have previously guided me through yoga classes. But just like the class’ tropical climate, I’m slowly getting used to the verbal intensity as well. Still flabbergasted by how much I’m sweating, though. That alone must be fantastic for the pores and skin.

As opposed to yoga, surfing is a lonesome, relatively quiet sport – which I think makes it the perfect complimentary activity. Went surfing yesterday afternoon for about an hour. The low tide brought some small although rideable waves with it and I had a blast catching them with a wobbly 8.2ft board I’d rented from Swiss Mike.

vegetarian food

Food for thought

I’m on a quest. A mission of sort. A gnarly adventure, even.

See, one of several objectives with this trip is to take a breather from a few habits that have been an integral part of my life for eons. Nothing life-threatening, at least not short term. Rid myself of those habits a long time ago.

Like most folks, I live a fairly habitual life when it comes to what I eat and drink. And though I try to be picky and choosy, at the end of the day, I suspect my total calorie intake is far greater than it need be. Which means my digestive system is constantly working overtime to manage all of the more or less healthy stuff I devour in a day.

Admittedly, most of my meals as well as drink choices are predominately made – more or less consciously – on a whim. I suspect it’s my memories of tastes, textures and smells that steer my decisions on what to make for dinner or what to order when eating out. Not to intellectualize too much, but I feel so ready to eat less with my tastebuds and be more mindful of what my body actually needs to function. This isn’t revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination. But if it was more of a commonplace way to shape our eating habits, I am sure the planet would benefit greatly.

It’s near the tail end of day three here and food-wise, I’ve been doing pretty good so far. In addition to attending morning yoga classes in a sauna temperatured room and subsequently drinking several liters of water per day, I’m restricting my diet to fresh mangosteen, mango, rambutan, bananas and various types of nuts.

For lunch, as pictured above, I’ve been enjoying a bowl of steamed rice with fried vegetables and a tall glass of sparkling water. I’m sure the calorie count is still a bit high, but I’ve eliminated so much other stuff – including bread, coffee, pasta, beer – that I literally feel less bloated and, if not trimmer, than at least a little flatter around the old gut. Looking forward to seeing where this quest takes me.