Handmade Candy Canes at Hammond’s Candies

After TBEX2012, I made the most of my remaining time in Denver by visiting Hammond’s Candies.  This place has been making candy since 1920.  What’s truly remarkable is that the hard candy — candy canes, candy ribbons, lollipops, pillows, and sticks — are still  largely made by hand.  See how they make candy canes in my short video below!

Hammond’s Candies
5735 N. Washington Street
Denver, CO 80216
(888) 226-3999
Free factory tours are available.  See website for details.

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Laughing Buddha and the Number Eight

Today, I am attending a wedding. This ritual of joining two people together in marriage is full of rich symbolism.

Several months ago, I attended a wedding where the groom was of Chinese descent and the bride was of Filipino descent. They incorporated important symbols from each of their cultures into their special day. As I entered the dining room at the reception, I was greeted by an army of laughing Buddhas all arranged neatly in lines. Each Buddha had its arms raised, holding up a small piece of paper. On these slips of paper were the names of each guest and the table number they were assigned to sit in. How lucky of me to be assigned to table 8!

Buddhists believe that Buddha achieved enlightment and his image came to embody this state of being. In turn, the Chinese culture projected ideas of health, happiness, prosperity, and longevity on to the Buddha. Rubbing the Buddha’s belly is considered to be lucky.

In Cantonese and regional dialects, the pronunciation of the word “eight” is similar to the pronunciation of the words “wealth” and “prosperity”. Because of these similarities, the number eight has become synonymous with these words.

Years ago, we worked with a Chinese-American realtor when my husband and I looked to buy a house in a neighborhood with a significant Asian population. We learned that a house on the market with a price tag of multiple 8s or ending in an 8 meant the seller was Chinese. When our realtor put a bid to purchase her own house, her figure included three 8s at the end.

As the Summer Olympics in London approach, I think back to four years ago when China hosted the Summer Olympics. The Opening Ceremony was held on August 8, 2008 or 8/8/08 as close to 8:08:08 pm, Beijing time. How fortunate for the Chinese to work these logistics in their favor! It all makes sense.

Reflections on Bikram Yoga Teacher Training: Top 5 Things I Learned About Indian Culture from Watching Bollywood Movies

3 a.m.
LaLa and I squeezed ourselves into the cramped elevator.  I no longer had the patience to wait another 5 minutes.  We stood like statues shoulder to shoulder in the tiny confined space, silent because of exhaustion but grateful for sleep to come soon.  We exited and slowly dragged our bodies back to our room as if moving through molasses.  It took every ounce of strength to stay up the additional few minutes to brush my teeth when all I wanted to do was collapse on top of the bed.

Bikram’s evening lecture ended at midnight and when staff readjusted his chair to face a screen lowering from the ceiling we knew it was going to be a Bollywood night.  I shoved earplugs into my ears as fellow trainees settled into their uncomfortable chairs.

Prior to teacher training, I never watched a Bollywood movie even though I grew up with many South Asian friends.  The first thing I learned about these films?  They are never short.  Averaging 3 hours in length, the plot usually revolves around three interrelated themes:  falling in love, class and caste struggles, and family drama.  Actors also break out into elaborate duets and choreographed dancing, stretching out the movie even longer.  Sometimes, the dance sequence is so over the top that it involves several costume and location changes.  Think of Bollywood movies as two-thirds Spanish telenovela and one-third Broadway musical. Here is a great example from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham where Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol go from India to the Egyptian pyramids to a lake area to a private residence.

The curriculum includes memorizing dialogue, studying anatomy, and learning the philosophy of yoga.  Fundamental to understanding the history of yoga is understanding the culture that created it.  The culture of India may be very foreign for the majority of trainees who were raised in the West and movies may serve as the fastest and easiest introduction to a culture.  I think of my father who grew up in the Philippines and watched American movies such as:  Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, The Seven Year Itch, Rebel without a Cause, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Godfather I and II.   Movies visually dramatize important cultural values and traditions.  They give us an impression about a place, or a group of people.  In Bollywood, Hindu concepts of karma and reincarnation, for example, play out in the plot.

Bikram introduced our first film Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai by saying, “In the West, people think they can get away with things especially when they think no one is watching.  In India, people know that God is always watching.  If they cheat others and cheat themselves, they will eventually have to settle the debt one day.  When that day comes, they will pay that debt back with interest.”

In Jodhaa Akbhar, when the Muslim emperor offers the Hindu princess he just married the Islamic custom of khulla, the dissolution of the marriage bond, in response to her coldness on their wedding night, she denies his offer by saying, “For us, marriage binds us for seven lifetimes.”  Whaaaaat?!  SEVEN?!

We also watched episodes of the Indian television series, Mahabharat, based on the Mahabharata, an epic Sanskrit tale of ancient India.  Filmed in the late 1980s, the series of 94 episodes educates viewers on Hindu philosophy.  If you can get past the awful special effects, the message is useful.

After watching 20 hours of Bollywood,
here are my top 5 impressions of Indian culture:

  1. Modesty is held in high esteem.  You will never rarely see a man and woman kiss on the lips.  They’ll lean very closely into each other with lips inches apart, chests heaving, and eyes furtively seeking. But never will they kiss.  Instead, they passionately hug or the man will kiss the woman on the neck.  Sometimes, you’ll hear a frustrated Western trainee hiss loudly, “Kiss already! Kiss. KISS!”  And forget about watchig a sex scene.  There are no boobs and no butts; it is a G-rated film.
  2. Receiving favor is important.  Children wish to receive their parents’ blessing on all matters ranging from educational decisions, business deals, and most importantly, future spouses.  The major conflict of Bollywood usually involves falling in love with the “wrong” person.
  3. Deference is valued.  As a sign of respect, a person would reach down and touch another person’s foot considered to be the dirtiest part of the body since it is closest to the ground.  Young people observe this tradition with their elders and even wives with their husbands.
  4. The Divine exists not just in deities but also in humans.  A person holds a circular tray containing flowers, ghee or clarified butter, food, and a small lit lamp and waves it in a circuluar motion in front of another human being or a statue of a god.  This physical act recognizes and pays respect to the divine.
  5. Hrithik Roshan is simply the hottest person on earth.  No disrespect to my husband who I love dearly but seriously, what did Roshan do in his past lifetimes to be blessed with beautiful genes?  Tall and lean with an athletic body, his caramel skin and green eyes made many female andmale trainees…swoon at the sight of him on screen.  He could read the phonebook in Hindi for all I care.  He’s just that gorgeous.

    Photo Courtesy of BollyCurry.com

Photo courtesy of Katty Chaichian Bateman who owns a Jodhaa Akbar pillow!

My favorite Bollywood film that we watched at training is Jodha Akbhar starring Roshan and Aishwarya Rai.  The film has a compelling storyline without the gratuitous musical sequences as well as beautiful cinematography.  It dramatizes the story of the Mughal emperor seeking to unite the various kingdoms of Rajasthan in the 16th century.   The entire film is available on YouTube in 10 minute intervals; below is the first installment.  If you have three hours, sit back and enjoy the movie.  I promise you won’t be sorry.Even though I enjoyed watching Bollywood movies during teacher training, these three-hour films contributed to our sleep deprivation.  There were definitely times when I wished for sleep instead of a film.  Only once did I get my wish.

Photo Courtesy of Axry Bernal

I recognize that Bollywood movies reflect a certain section of culture in India.  In fact, the country has regional differences evident in the local dialect, food, and religious faiths.  However, I am thrilled that I’ve been exposed to the country’s largest producer of films.  As I walk around the “Little India” section of Jackson Heights, Queens, I can at least now recognize Bollywood actors such as Shah Rukh Khan who is considered to be the “King of Bollywood”.

The House that Ben Built: American Philosophical Society

Benjamin Franklin’s name is scattered all throughout the city of Philadelphia, from a major thoroughfare to a science museum. Indeed, it is difficult to forget that this man — writer, inventor, diplomat, and so much more — contributed so much to the city he called home and to the newly formed nation of thirteen former British colonies. Franklin, popularly known for discovering electricity with a key and a kite, was a prolific thinker who cared deeply about the development of learned thought in the colonies and later, the new nation. In 1743, he created the American Philosophical Society [APS] to cultivate such knowledge among men.  Today, the APS remains an active learned society whose members range from astronaut Neil Armstrong to writer David McCullough. I took a private tour, which allowed me to view rare items from the Society’s private collection.

Standing in a brightly lit room surrounded by library card catalog cabinets of the past, the oldest artifact presented to me was in a large frame.  It held the only known copy of the US Declaration of Independence printed on vellum. Seeing this simple object in front of me yet remembering what this document symbolizes, I imagined myself reading this manifesto nailed to a wall in a public square during the colonial period. What would it have felt like–either as a colonizer or a colonized–to read this blatant act of political defiance?

The next artifact was embedded within a series of boxes, like the inner-most doll of a matryoshka set.  The protective boxes revealed a red leather book bound at the top with the following label:

Lewis and Clark Codices
Codex J. – Clark.
January 1, 1806 – March 20, 1806

I laid eyes on William Lewis’s daily journal, one of the greatest and oldest travelogues of the United States.  President Thomas Jefferson, an APS member, commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the land west of the colonies and the Mississippi River.  His diary was neatly written, covering every inch of paper in his legible penmanship and sketches.  Looking at this object easily made me imagine the various circumstances Lewis wrote in his journal.  Even after long and tiring days of exploration, perhaps sitting outdoors by a fire, he still diligently wrote his daily observations with a steady hand.

The final paper object moved from handwritten words to typewritten words; it was a transcript of the words uttered by the first man on the moon. I discovered that Neil Armstrong’s now popular evocation, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.“ was captured incorrectly. Garbled through the radio transmission, what he actually said was, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Below, you can see Armstrong’s revision to the text (look for a lightly written “L” symbol between “for” and “man” in the 3rd line and look to the right margin where it says “L a”).

Thanks to support from its members and major philanthropic foundations, the APS today continues its commitment to scholarly advancement and knowledge production. One project is the organization and digitization of its collection on Native American culture. Photographs, diaries, and audio captured on old formats (like the wire recording in the picture below) need to be upgraded so as to preserve and make them accessible not only to the scholarly community but also to the Native American tribes whose cultures these items capture.  Native American tribal elders or experts serve as consultants to the APS.  Some artifacts in the collection offer previous knowledge or information that no longer exists.  For example, some Native American languages are no longer spoken today but the APS has late 19th or early 20th century recordings of these languages.

The APS recognizes its role in educating the public. Its museum allows visitors to see revolving exhibits that highlight items from its collection.  While the APS library is only available to scholars, the public can see a few small exhibits in the library foyer such as copies of Lewis and Clark’s diaries during their US northwest expedition and a copy of Ben Franklin’s editorial mark-ups of the Declaration of Independence.

A visit to Philadelphia should definitely include a visit to the APS. After you wait on the long line to visit the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall, be sure to cross the street and check out the Society’s museum to learn unique aspects of American history.

American Philosophical Society Museum
104 South Fifth Street
Philadelphia, PA  19106-3387
$1 Donation Requested

Sunday Signs and Symbols: Sun

In honor of the recent Summer Solstice and my practicing Bikram Yoga in Times Square that day, I think it appropriate to dedicate a Sunday Signs & Symbols post to the sun. The image above depicting a circle with a heavy dot in the middle is an ancient symbol of the sun that is often used in astronomy and astrology.

The sun is such an integral factor to life on earth and it only makes sense that various cultures, disciplines, and religions have various representations for it. Throughout history, you will find groups of people worshiping the sun to varying degrees, in either the literal, metaphorical, or metaphysical sense.

The ancient Egyptians worshiped Ra, the sun god, while the Incans believed that their sun god Inti, was birthed out of a rock on Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) in Lake Titicaca, a mountain lake that inhabits both Bolivia and Peru.

"isla del sol", "lake titicaca". bolivia, peruHiking along the top of Isla del Sol with Lake Titicaca in the background.
"isla del sol", "lake titicaca", bolivia, peruThe sacred rock believed to be where Inti, the sun god, was born.

In hatha yoga, students practice sun salutations, a series of postures done in a flow sequence. In fact, the Sanskrit word “ha” means sun and “tha” means moon and put together, “hatha” represents the cosmological balance found in the universe. In Sanskrit, “ha” represents energy, masculinity, and the right side of the body while “tha” represents serenity, femininity, and the left side of the body.

Today’s modern day sun worshipers can be found mainly in Westerners who love to soak in the sun and get a tan. In NYC, locals and tourists alike, flock annually to the streets for several days in the year to watch Manhattanhenge. I actually discovered a lesser known but equally interesting solar event in NYC that I coined Queenshenge.

Sunday, derived from “the sun’s day”, can stir up debate as to whether it is the last or the first day of the week. Nevertheless, it is a testament to our deference to the sun and the word itself embodies how we understand and measure time.

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic. Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Yoga in Times Square

The Times Square Alliance held its annual Solstice in Times Square on June 20th, the day of the Summer Solstice.  Thousands of people descended onto the crossroads of NYC to participate in free yoga classes throughout the day.  One of the classes offered during the day was a Bikram class and this year, Bikram yogis got a special treat:  Rajashree Choudhury, the wife of Bikram Choudhury (creator of the series) taught the class.

A preliminary count of 3,260 people participated in last Wednesday’s class, arguably making it the largest Bikram class ever assembled. And I was there in attendance!  I ended up practicing in the fifth row from the stage with a clear view of Rajashree and the backdrop of Times Square behind her.

Practicing yoga in the heart of Times Square with thousands of yogis was a unique and exhilarating experience.  The sea of yogis stretched from 42nd to 48th Streets.  The added challenge was to find stillness in the total chaos. Cars honked, sirens roared, large TV screens flashed, the subway rumbled underground, and passerbys took pictures with their phones.  For more than 3 years, I have practiced concentration and focus in the serenity of a yoga room.  I was pleased to discover that after several “Oh-my-God-I’m-on-TV-Do-I-Look-Cute?” moments, I set aside the distractions and found my focus.

Lying in Savasana, Dead Body Pose, on Broadway in Times Square

View of the Sky from Savasana, Dead Body Pose

Stillness of the mind starts with stillness of the body. The most effective way to still the body is to still the eyes.  As Bikram teachers, we like to say “Where the eyes go, the body follows.”  When my students struggle to find physical balance, I encourage them to pick one spot with their eyes and focus on it.

In Times Square, the best focal point in my line of vision was ironically a billboard sign of a Corona bottle.  I stared at it and found my balance. I successfully managed to tap into my inner stillness amidst the chaos.  If I can find peace in the middle of Times Square, I can do it anywhere especially in the midst of the chaos of life.

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Philippine Nationalism

Philipppine Independence Day is celebrated on June 12. The symbols that evoke great Filipino pride are the country’s flag and its national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.

Taken at the Philippine Consulate in NYC

Flags are designed to have symbolic meaning.  According to World Flags 101, the Philippine flag means the following:  

The blue stripe symbolizes patriotism and justice. The red represents valor and the blood spilt for freedom and independence and the white stands for peace and purity. The white triangle represents equality and the Katipunan nationalist organization. The three stars represent the three main geographical regions of the Philippines: Luzon, Mindanao and Visayas. The sun represents independence and its eight rays represent the eight provinces that led the Philippine uprising against Spanish rule.

When I first visited my family in the Philippines as a child, my aunt (an elementary school teacher) taught me that the flag can be flipped so that during war time, the red stripe flies on top.  Fortunately, this turning of the flag has never been purposefully done.  Recently, it was wrongly displayed to the embarrassment of the US government.

Dr. Jose Rizal is considered to be the Philippine national hero.  Trained as an ophthalmologist, Rizal was multifaceted and seemingly a genius.  He apparently spoke over 20+ languages, wrote poetry, essays, and books, drew, and had many more interests.  Every Filipino child learns about Rizal in school.  His books Noli Me Tangere and its sequel El Filibusterismo are required high school reading.  These books describe life in the Philippines under Spanish colonial rule in the late 19th century.  Eventually, the Spanish imprisoned and executed him as a revolutionary instigator.  His death made him a martyr and fueled the movement to fight for independence from Spain.  Today, the Rizal Memorial located within Rizal Park, or Luneta, stands near the site of his execution in Manila.  The memorial has a statue of Rizal along with his remains; it is guarded at all times by two soldiers.  Below, an excerpt from “Mi Ultimo Adios” a poem written by Rizal, on the eve of his execution.

“My Last Farewell”
Farewell, my adored Land, region of the sun caressed,
Pearl of the Orient Sea, our Eden lost,
With gladness I give you my Life, sad and repressed;
And were it more brilliant, more fresh and at its best,
I would still give it to you for your welfare at most.

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic.  Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Reflections on Bikram Yoga Teacher Training: Dialogue

The “Dialogue” is the scripted verbal instruction for the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises taught by every Bikram teacher around the world. In Bikram yoga, the teacher does not practice yoga with the class nor does the teacher demonstrate postures. Instead, it is 90 minutes of precise, step-by-step directions on how to enter the pose, how to do the pose, why you do it, and how to exit the pose. As a teacher in training, you must learn it. Verbatim. Period.

A copy of the dialogue becomes a trainee’s Bible for the next 9 weeks and the two rarely separate. Trainees walk with it in their hands, study it and mutter under their breaths in an effort to be discreet as they memorize the words. At least, that’s how the learning starts. As the days and weeks progress at training, all shame evaporates and trainees speak the dialogue out load without a care. You hear it in the elevator, the bathroom stalls, the hallways, and in the supermarket aisles. A cacophony of voices reciting dialogue is like hundreds of broken records on repeat.

People learn dialogue differently. Some are visual learners and draw the body parts in the text. Others listen to a recorded version of themselves reciting a pose. Some write out the words of dialogue from memory. Using flash cards and a mnemonic device, I took the first letter of every sentence of each paragraph and created an acronym. No matter how the information gets into your brain, it must also come out of your mouth.

Late Night Studying of Locust Pose Led to Silliness

It helps to find study partners so that your study buddies do the yoga posture as you direct them. At this point, there is no correcting. You are just trying to get the words out. When people gather by the pool, in the lobby, or in the parking lot to do this, it looks like the different groups are playing bizarre games of “Simon Says”. Staff reminds us not to practice our yoga poses in front of other hotel guests. Normal human beings freak out when they suddenly see trainees break out into a yoga pose in public. Below, fellow trainee and New Yorker, Dionne Presinal is taking her chances. She is practicing standing head to knee pose in what appears to be the Target parking lot (photo taken by Melodie Yoshida).

Trainees who still insist on studying alone do so with inanimate object(s). They simply look at it and talk to it: a plant, a line of shampoo bottles, or a wall. One Saturday afternoon, I studied at the beach and I yelled out instructions for a backward bend at the ocean. A school of dolphins swam by. One of my trainee friends said, “You were so commanding, I swear I saw a dolphin backbend for you.”

Renata Schánělcová (l) & my roommate LaLa (r) talking to a wall. Photo by Alzbeta Peskova.

Dialogue memorization and recitation are monotonous but these ways are the most efficient way to learn all the postures in such a short period of time. Trainees are tested in posture clinic where the group of 400 gets divided into 10 groups 40. Each trainee must stand up in front of this smaller group and recite one posture as 3 other trainees follow while 2-3 teachers listen. When all 40 trainees finish reciting one posture, they move on to the next posture in the series until 24 postures are covered (2 postures are skipped since those two are repeated often with short instructions). Posture clinics serve as class simulations so that trainees have the opportunity to recite each posture and receive feedback from teachers.

The most important teacher you do this for is Bikram himself. Every single trainee must deliver the dialogue of the first posture, half moon pose, to Bikram in front of all the trainees. He gives feedback to each individual. It generally takes two weeks to get through everybody. Some trainees deliver flawless dialogue, others forget words, phrases, even sections, others speak monotonously, while other talk like an auctioneer spitting out words in rapid fire without breathing so that the experience could be over as quickly as possible. We are all nervous as hell regardless of how prepared you are. I have great admiration for the non-native English speakers who must learn dialogue in English and after training, go back to their countries and re-learn it in their native tongues. Often, these folks fare better than the native English speakers since they have to work twice as hard.

Chilean Guillermo Allende delivers Half Moon Pose to Bikram as (L to R): Ivan Silva (Spain), Tereza Kopkova (Czech Republic), Jonathan Martin (Spain) demonstrate. Photo by Yael Graff.

After the first two weeks, the pace quickens. Trainees must prepare to recite one posture per day in posture clinic. If a posture is short, it is conceivable to go through all 40 people and deliver dialogue for the next posture…thereby getting to two postures in one day.

I hated posture clinic…every single minute of it. I never loved it or even grew to like it. I felt sick every time; my stomach churned. I felt I needed to be perfect. I felt like I was being judged. I felt I had to be first all the time. All my issues came tumbling out and there were some really emotional days. It is easy to have breakdowns when one is tired, stressed, and sleep deprived. Looking back, I wish I wasn’t so hard on myself.

Posture clinics are just simulations. The real teaching happens when you are in that hot room, giving verbal instructions to your students. As a trainee, you learn the dialogue verbatim since it is your main teaching arsenal. As a new teacher, you learn to communicate with your students. You speak and they listen. They move their bodies and you watch and respond appropriately, sometimes giving an individual correction. It this kind of dialogue you want to have with your students.

Nevertheless, when you live in a yoga bubble for 9 weeks, it easy to forget the big picture and focus on the task at hand. Fellow trainee Melodie Yoshida from Hawaii captures it perfectly in this photo as she studied dialogue for a posture.

We Heart Astoria Celebrates its Two Year Anniversary!

We Heart Astoria launched in March 2010 to promote the neighborhood’s restaurants, art and culture scene, shopping, plus news and events.  To celebrate its two-year anniversary, We Heart Astoria teamed up with BEAR Restaurant on May 2nd to host a fabulous party.

The founders of We Heart Astoria (l-r) are: Judith Klein Rich (@Fooditka), Mackenzi Farquer (@SITEnews), and Meg Cotner (@harmoniousbelly).  Each woman brings her own strength to the project, making the site robust and full of information.  Meg is a classical musician with an interest in organic and local food, Mackenzi is an interior designer and storefront owner, and Judith loves food and enjoys sharing her gastronomic adventures with the world.

Siblings Alex and Natasha Pogrebinsky opened Bear Restaurant and Bar approximately 5 months ago.  The food can be described as Russian cuisine with a progressive twist.  Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to meet Chef Natasha but Alex (below in the red tie) warmly welcomed us to the restaurant.

We sampled selected items from the restaurant’s menu including hot passed hor d’oeuvres.

Bear’s mixologists even created a unique cocktail for the night, appropriately named “We Heart Astoria” and made up of orange juice, vodka, simple syrup, sparkling shiraz, and garnished with a blackberry and cherry.

Many Queens-centric bloggers were there that night.  Several members of the Queens Love posse came to represent (clockwise starting with me):  Rachel Antonio (@Roxwriting), Stella Dacuma Schour (@Stellaaa), Bradley Hawks (@BradleyHawks), and Jeff Orlick (@JeffreyTastes)!  I am honored to be a contributor to this online project that visually highlights the many reasons why Queens is so awesome.

The best thing about attending these events is finally being able to meet people I’ve followed for so long on Twitter.  What joy to finally meet Sue of @tastoriaqueens who writes about her many food meals in Astoria!  We talked about our lives, jobs, food, and our mutual admiration of each other’s work.

Anne Noyes Saini represents one-half of @CitySpoonful with Clare Trapasso.  City Spoonful focuses on New York City’s food and culture, particularly the outer boroughs.  Anne is another person I finally got to meet in person!  For several months, we have been trying to coordinate on Twitter to meet over an Indonesian meal but could never find a mutual time.  Below, Stella sneaks into the shot of me and Anne.

Kicking off its inaugural event last April 10th, QNSalon is the newest kid on the e-block.  Created by Sarah Burningham (@sarahburningham) and Chrissy Festa (@chrissylf), QNSalon seeks to create networking opportunities for professional women in the borough; the next event is being planned for the summer.  So great to see you again ladies!

Finally, these two women — Madeline Leung (@restaurantbaby) on the left and Rachel Antonio (@Roxwriting) on the right — have been incredibly supportive of me and ActionJoJo.  Together, we meet twice a month for our women’s writing workshop.  Many of the blog posts that you have read these last few months have been drafted in the presence of these women during our two-hour workshop.  We meet not only to write but more importantly, to support each other in a writing process that can often be solitary and daunting.  At the end of the night, attendees received fantastic swag that included discounts and items from various merchants throughout the neighborhood.  My favorite gift was this one on the left, a wallet likened to a NYC icon:  the Greek diner to-go, paper coffee cup.  This wallet is compliments of SITE, a home decor store owned by Mackenzi.

Congratulations to We Heart Astoria for its 2 year online presence!  May you continue to be a strong voice in the Queens online community in the years ahead.  It is thrilling to be a part of an active group of people so committed to promoting Queens.


12-14 31st Avenue
Astoria, NY 11106
(917) 396-4939

35-11 34th Avenue
Astoria, NY  11106
(718) 626-6030

Reflections on Bikram Yoga Teacher Training: Top 5 Obsessions of a Trainee


Eleven classes a week means you go through a lot of wet yoga clothes.  Keeping track of dirty clothes, wet clothes, half-dry clothes, and clean dry clothes is a juggling act.  You learn to soak, rinse, squeeze, hand wash, and hang clothes quickly.  If your turnaround time is slow then you’ll have a pile of wet/dirty/soaking clothes and nothing to wear.  This may be hot yoga not naked yoga.


A balanced and healthy diet is important yet every BODY is different.  In the first week, trainees experience sudden loss or increase of appetite.  Palates change because bodies change in this process.  Some long-time vegetarians and vegans start craving the flesh of a carcass while others are repulsed by their favorite foods.  Some eat comfort food while others maintain the status quo.  Practicing 180 minutes of hot yoga almost daily burns a tremendous amount of calories.  The body craves what it needs. It is not uncommon to find ramen noodles, soda, potato chips, candy, and chocolate co-existing with coconut water, leafy green vegetables, fruits, and roasted seaweed snacks in the shopping carts of trainees.  Personally, I was addicted to Doritos, Cheetos, BBQ potato chips, and little sausage wieners.  By the end, I succumbed to drinking a can of Coca-Cola almost daily.

Nutrition is not only a matter of what to eat but also when to ­shove eat your meals.  Free time is extremely limited so finding the balance between eating what your body needs versus preparing a convenient meal is a challenge…especially when 400 trainees share only 2 microwaves at virtually the same time.  Now you see why I had to do this to prevent me from pulling my hair and scratching my eyeballs out?


After class, you ride the hotel elevator back to your room.  If a hotel guest not attending training (tell-tale signs include:  wears everyday, non-yoga clothes that contain little to no lycra or spandex; wears perfume; has well-coifed hair and makeup) has the misfortune of riding with your stinky, dripping, red-faced self, 8 times out of 10 they will look at you and ask, “Oh, how was the pool?”  What else would they think?  Your drenched mat and clothes are dripping sweat on the elevator floor and you look like a wet dog.

Important body minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium are lost in sweat.  Bodies need the right amount of these minerals for numerous reasons that include proper nerve and muscle functions.  Trainees turn to Gatorade, coconut water, or manufactured electrolyte powders or tablets to replenish these minerals.  An inexpensive method is to simply squeeze lemon and add a pinch of sea salt into your water.  Sea salt contains many of the minerals that your body needs yet loses in sweat.

In severe cases of mineral loss, there is Pedialyte.  Yep, it’s the same stuff given to dehydrated babies and young children because its main ingredients are sodium, potassium, chloride, and zinc.  If you are administered Pedialyte by staff, you have been relegated to that of a baby.  At this point, your body has started to shut down and most likely cannot move.  If this is the case, then it is served by being held up to your mouth by another person.  This experience can be frightening and equally humbling.


Electrolyte imbalance has a direct correlation to dehydration.  Symptoms include:  headaches, prolonged tingling sensations that lead to cramping, claw hands (fingers and hands turn inward to resemble a claw), and perhaps even delirium, unconsciousness, or collapse.  In the first two weeks, it was not uncommon to see dehydrated trainees lifted up and carried out of the room by staff.

Incredible amounts of water get lost through sweat so drinking five to six liters of water daily is recommended.  Many trainees succumb to buying a “Tower of Shame” aptly named because we would never ever use a monstrous 2-liter cooler filled with ice water at home.  But the rules of the game change and what may be normal at home no longer holds any water (heh, pun intended) here at teacher training.  During very hot and humid killer classes, trainees skip the miniscule drinking spout of the Tower of Shame and instead, rip the lid off to gulp down ice water until the throat and esophagus are numb from the cold while the rest of the body feels like its on fire.

Here, Aussie trainee Kathryn Gregory of A Sweaty Adventure, proudly displays her Tower of Shame.  Note its size is bigger than her head!

Other trainees opt for the “cocktail bar” method, where they bring in a combination of the following:  water, Gatorade, coconut water, Vitamin water, electrolyte packets, a container of ice.  It is easy to identify these trainees because the bottles/containers are lined up near their mats.

And the #1 obsession of a bikram teacher trainee?????

((drum roll please))












WHAT?!?!  Did you think it’s just yoga all day?


We have homework.

We study.

We get tested.

It’s overwhelming…and stressful.

It’s the number one cause of sleep deprivation, anxiety, breakdowns, and breakthroughs.  Read next week’s blog post to find out more.

A special thank you and credit to:  Kathryn Gregory for all hydration, electrolyte, and homework pictures and LaLa P for all laundry and nutrition pictures.