Conquering the gym demons

I hated sports at school. School taught me that there are sporty people and not sporty people and that I was firmly in the latter camp! Sports at school was about being good at team sports or being athletic - as the gawky uncoordinated asthmatic I was neither.

It wasn't until my late 20s I discovered that not only did I need to be active for my physical and emotional well being, but I also discovered sports I love. Climbing and yoga are my passions and I even learned to love the gym - the feeling of slowly improving session by session and the warm ache of muscles after a good work out.

However in all that time I have been gymming there was one machine I avoided - the running machine. The very thought of it took me back to the compulsory twice yearly cross country at school. On cross country days, it always seemed to be raining and muddy underfoot. I'd trail back to school half an hour after the front runners wheezing, legs aching; cold, wet and miserable. So in all my time of gymming I have embraced the other cardio machines with a vigour, EXCEPT the running machine.

This year I set one of my personal goals to overcome my hatred of the running machine. I have done a couple of 5 minutes warm up on it, but today I decided to make an effort to conquer it properly. So after doing 20 minutes on a crosstrainer, my usual series of weight machines and free weights I plucked up my courage and jumped aboard.

Running for 5 minutes and then slowing it down to a fast walk for a minute and then run for another 5 minutes. I did 1.5 km in 15 minutes.

Its safe to say that Paula Radcliffe is not going to feel threatened anytime soon, but not bad for a kid whose highest place in cross country at school was third from last!

I have taken that step and no doubt I can now improve it - run for longer, run quicker, improve my pace. And its nice to feel I have begun to conquer that demon!
Edinburgh Catt

Crazy experimental theatre

To my list of things that mean I enjoy a play / theatre production I now need to add:

3) That it provides an interesting experience

Saturday evening David and I went to see a play. You know its not going to be standard production when the ticket arrives without a location for the production, but instead with instructions to meet on a random intersection in the Northern Quarter!
The Library Theatre are using the time while their official theatre is under renovation to do some more unusual theatre productions in all kinds of crazy places. I have been highly enjoying these productions for the opportunity to nosy around places I would not otherwise have access to, as much as the productions themselves. The production we were seeing was Manchester Sound : The Massacre and it did not disappoint.
We met on the random street corner and were surrounded by other bemused theatre patrons (I even recognised Maxine Peake as one of our fellow theatre goers, though was obviously too polite to go bug her and do the whole "OMG I am such a fan of your work" thing). Shortly after it seemed we were back in 1989 as a gaggle of appropriately dressed rave goers arrived, blasting out the dance hits of 1989 on their boombox! They led us on a meander around the Northern Quarter looking for the "Rave" (and some interplay between the characters to provide us with some information about them and character development) before we found ourselves at a warehouse building which was clearly under renovation into offices, but had been turned into the "Rave venue" for the performance, over 4 different floors. Having never been to a Rave back in 1989 I can't guarantee its authenticity, but it seemed they had done a good job. The DJ pumped up the tunes, the actors danced, the theatre go-ers looked a tad uncomfortable. The DJ handed out "E" to the gathering (actually skittles) and the madness began!
At first the 1989 Rave actors and performance was separate from the 1819 Peterloo Massacre actors and performance, but as the productions went on (and presumably as our skittles kicked in) the action became more merged with the two sets of actors interacting, talking and drawing out the parallels and differences between the two time periods. Tension mounted, and the performance culminated with the massacre / raid of the Rave by the police as we were attacked by 19th Century cavalry officers in full uniform, bearing sabres and 1980s style riot shields.
It was a strange, exciting and interesting experience and if you get a chance to see it before it ends on the 6th July I would recommend it.
Edinburgh Catt

The Theatre-Nerd commits heresy!

Last night I went to see the production of Harold Pinter's Birthday Party at the Royal Exchange Theatre. And I didn't enjoy it.
Its a scandalous thing for me to say, but there it is!
It wasn't to do with the acting, which was brilliant.
It wasn't to do with the staging or the set.
My issue was with the play itself.
That is in itself probably heresy coming from a theatre-nerd such as myself as the play is supposedly a "modern classic" by the great man of modern playwriting Harold Printer himself.

I have been pondering this and come up with a theory. What I need to enjoy a play is one of two things:
1) I have to be intrigued enough by at least one of the characters so as to care what happens to them. I was going to say "like at least one of the characters", but that wouldn't be true. Theatre (and TV and film and literature) frequently has the concept of the "anti-hero", someone we don't necessarily like but are still rooting for (eg Mr Horner in the Restoration Comedy The Country Wife, or Dexter in the TV series).
2) An engrossing story / plot so that even if I don't give a damn about the characters I want to know what happens

The Birthday Party has neither of these things! The characters are all varying degrees of annoying or slimy and the plot is non existent. We leave the theatre with no more idea of who Stanley Webber is than when we entered, and even less of a clue as to why Goldberg and McCann have come to find him.

I guess its safe to say I am not a fan of the play, and probably not, it would seem, a fan of Pinter either!

23 days later!

On Saturday I did my last day of Wayne Leal's 20:21 exercise regime. Felt very proud of myself and ordered myself a pizza to celebrate!
That evening my ankle was a little tight, but nothing I was particularly worried about.
I woke up the following morning, went to get out of bed, stood up and promptly sat back down on the bed with a very loud "OW!".
There was a pain in the centre of my right heel when I put pressure on my foot.
A click consult of Dr. Internet suggests that I have strained the plantar fascia - the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot. A common complaint in yoga, especially for those with tight calf muscles. As my calf muscles are my least flexible area this rang very true. 20:21 involves a lot of the downward dog pose which does stretch your calf muscles and in that pose I had been pushing myself to try and get my heels down to the floor.
The fix? Well in the short term, rest the foot until the pain goes away. In the longer term, work on the flexibility of the calf muscles.
So I spent Sunday taking it easy. The Gym session and yoga session I had planned were not to be. I lay in bed for a lot of the day, occasionally limped up and down the stairs.
This morning I woke up and the pain is a lot better - still there, but not as bad. I seemed odd to be getting up and NOT doing yoga, as thats what I have done every morning I have been on this shift pattern since I started the 20:21 regime. I actually really missed it (which bodes well for me keeping up the routine of morning yoga). I am not going to push things so I plan to lay off the exercise (other than walking limping around at work) until the weekend and see how I am then.
Edinburgh Catt

20:21 day 17

For the past 17 days I have been doing Wayne Leal's 20:21 exercise regime.
The premise is that you do the same (yoga based) 20 minute exercise regime every day for 21 days (following it on a DVD). He has settled on 20 minutes, because 20 minutes has been shown to be the average length of time you can concentrate and because the first 20 minutes of exercise has been shown to be the most effective.
20 minutes a day seemed a reasonable amount of time and as I do regular Bikram yoga, which is a 90 minute session 20 minutes seemed like it would be easy. It isn't!
The DVD comes with a book, which mostly is the sort of pseudo-psychological stuff these exercise plans are keen on, but along with all that comes with pictures of each of the postures and also alternative postures for some of them if you find the full posture too difficult. This proved to be an invaluable resource!
I would definitely say I would recommend it. Its "only" 20 minutes, but even so it pushes you and you find yourself sweating. For about the first ten sessions my muscles would ache afterwards. Though as I found I have gone on my flexibility has increased and I ache less and I find I am getting better at the postures I struggled with at first. I actually got my toes down over my head in the plough pose today (at which point I was so shocked I promptly fell out of the pose again).
My one complaint is that its quite basic, the DVD is the same 20 minutes exercise regime and an interview. It seems it would have been good to have some more breakdown of the poses on the DVD and / or some demonstration of the alternative poses. However I think its been deliberately kept "basic" as its been designed to try and sell yoga to the stereotypical man - the kind who thinks Yoga is for gggirrrlllsss only and that "real" men do weight lifting.
I have been combining the 20:21 with my usual exercise regime, but would recommend it by itself or in combination to anyone looking to increase their strength and flexibility.
Edinburgh Catt

A tale of two afternoon teas

sleep_er and I consider ourselves as Afternoon Tea aficionados and as such we had two different afternoon teas this weekend in two different venues.

The first was at Tea Hive in Chorlton (though their webpage may make you cry) on Saturday. This was mostly an excuse to see my adorable niece Lucy Elizabeth (and her parents) which meant in order to keep her entertained I ended up singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" while gesticulating with a plethora of finger puppets - much to Lucy (and probably the rest of the cafe)'s amusement!
It ticked all my "afternoon Tea" wish list:

  • Choice of sandwiches rather than a standard selection

  • Choice of tea rather than whatever they think you want

  • Amazing selection of cake (homemade)

  • Polite and friendly service (including admiring Lucy)

  • A willingness to let you take away anything you couldn't eat

Their beetroot hummous with spicy carrot sandwich requires some sort of special mention as it was delicious. The jams provided with the scones section of the afternoon tea were also homemade and rather than your standard jams we got rhubarb curd and fig jam - both delectable. The range of teas was vast and we had the japanese cherry which was a good choice - the cherry taking the bitter edge off the green tea. The cake allocation was so generous that even we ended up taking half of them home. I is definitely in our top 3 afternoon teas and may even win the number 1 spot!

By contrast yesterday we went to City Cafe at the Double Tree Hilton for afternoon Tea. City Cafe is somewhere we have dined at relatively often (since before it was taken over by Hilton in fact, back when it was the Mint Hotel, and before that when it was the City Inn) as the food there is good. We had never before had an afternoon tea there, but knowing the quality of the food we had high hopes.
We were to be disappointed.
They did give us a choice of teas, which was nice. And the Jasmine tea we had was delicious. BUT everything else was standard, which no choices or options. This meant that half of our sandwiches were left as David doesn't like ham and mustard and neither of us like cucumber. The cakes were nice, but nothing special. Its not somewhere we would have afternoon tea at again.
Space 1

Tea for two and two for tea

I frequently use Livingsocial, Groupon and similar sites as a way of trying experiences that I might not otherwise try. As a result of one of these deals last Wednesday David and I headed to the back streets of Stockport for a Tea Tasting session at Mount Himalayas Tea.
I had been to wine tastings before and even beer tastings, but tea tasting was new to me. It turned out to be a fun and informative evening.
The ladies who ran the tea shop (Mariam and Noosh) were from Azerbaijan and had settled in Stockport by way of various European countries and London. Mariam declared herself to be "from an old tea family" and that she had been blending teas since she was 10 years old. All the teas in the shop were blended on site so were unattainable elsewhere and they had more than 100 blends.
We tasted 11 types of tea on the day (plus a green tea milkshake). The teas we tasted varied from a chamomile tea (the nicest chamomile I have ever tasted, but still chamomile of which I am not a fan) through a variety of red tea based blends, green tea based blends, black tea based blends and then a fruit only "tea" blend. They talked us through each of the blends and we needed the evening with a very tasty home made lasagne.
Needless to say we purchased some tea to take away with us!
They create different blends each month and run a tea tasting to sample them. You can also, if you were so inclined, join their tea club and be sent two samples of tea a month.
I certainly think that David and I will be back there at some point.
Girl Graffiti

Ice Skating

Every year they have an ice rink in Manchester at Spinningfields and we have been pretty much every year since I moved back upto Manchester.
We took our yearly skate on Friday evening (4th January). As I am not the most co-ordinated person I was very pleased that I (or at least my body) had remembered how this balancing on blades on a slippery surface thing works! It seems the yoga has helped my balance and I didn't fall over once! I even accidentally managed a very elegant pirouette in the process of trying not to fall over that I could never have achieved deliberately.
I am never going to be graceful on ice (that career as a figure skater is never going to happen!) and I can't woosh around the ice and skate backwards like David can. But I can push and glide and stay upright and the exilharation of not falling over on one's butt certainly adds to the enjoyment!

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Art Deco Katchoo

Being Slightly scared of heights

I am, as I think I have mentioned before slightly scared of heights. Not enough that I can't deal with tall buildings / flying etc, but enough that these things make me uncomfortable (dizzy and a tad sick).
I can cope with climbing top roped as long as I trust the person at the other end of the rope (though even so some of the tall walls at Awesome Walls leave me a tad shaken (at 23.5 metres high who can blame me!)).
Tall buildings make me uncomfortable - and by tall I mean more than about 6 stories. Some of the offices I support are in tall buildings with open plan atrium areas with nothing but a two bar metal barrier between you and a 6 story drop - this makes me uncomfortable. I especially bemoan the modern passion for floor to ceiling windows.
Considering this it seems crazy that we booked in to have afternoon tea on New Year's Day at Cloud 23, the fancy-pants bar on the 23rd floor of the Manchester Hilton. When we arrived and they put us at a windowseat next to full length glass windows, worse they sat us in the area on the overhang. Knowledge that there was not a lot of building between me and 22 stories of falling made me feel a little dizzy and sick. Fear of heights is a strange thing, I know that rationally the glass is toughened glass and the building is not about to collapse or break, but instinctually it feels wrong to be at that height and with nothing impeding my view.
I enjoyed the afternoon tea even if I had to eat with one hand gripping my chair. I even managed to take a few pictures of the view:

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The afternoon tea was nice though the adrenalin rush of fear may have heightened my enjoyment. I would happily go back again, though at the same time I was very glad to get back to ground level.
Edinburgh Catt

Personal Yoga Challenge

To celebrate a year after my first Bikram Yoga class I set myself a personal challenge of doing 7 classes in 7 days.

Bikram Choudhury says "Practise yoga every day for 30 days and I promise you a new life" so the Bikram yoga studios recommend trying 30 day challenges and if you achieve it they give you a prize (at our studio its a glass trophy). The theory is that it takes at least 21 days for a person’s body and mind to break free of existing habits so Bikram decided he would leave nothing to chance by making the challenge last 30 days. I don't yet think I am upto a 30 day challenge as it would not just be a matter of coping with doing the yoga for 30 days in a row (which would be hard enough) but also fitting it in around my work and other commitments. But figured I could try 7 days in a row and see how it went.

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I did it though. 7 yoga classes in 7 days. I am very pleased with having achieved this seeing as recently as June / July my auto-immune issues meant that my joints were often so bad I would be taking ibuprofin for days on end to get through the working day. I am so grateful that I discovered that if I go to Bikram yoga regularly I don't have as many issues with my joints.
The benefits are not just physical, the more I go to Bikram Yoga the happier I am which I guess is thanks to the meditative aspects of the practice.
I am not sure what goals I can set myself in my Bikram Yoga though 2013, I guess watch this space!