Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why YOU Should Try Yoga

Maybe you're one of those people who absolutely abhors the idea of spending an hour trying to touch your toes. But, that isn't what yoga is about. It's not about how flexible you are or how often you work out; it's about finding a peace and inner strength within yourself. Yoga is truly an activity from which anyone can benefit.

I began my journey with yoga about a year ago, though I had taken a few classes previously at my college gym. As a seriously inflexible person (not kidding, I can barely get my bad knees to straighten out completely), I assumed that I would be horrible at yoga. What I found out, however, is that it's not something you can really be “bad” at. Sure, you may not be able to do a pose or stay in a pose as long as anyone else at first, but if you keep going back, you'll find length and flexibility in your body you never knew you had. For example, today I did my first Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) in class. It's essentially a back-bend and looks like this: (http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/473) Like every yoga pose, it has a wealth of benefits when performed properly, such as increasing energy, decreasing depression, and aiding those with backaches. (By the way, mine is definitely not that high yet!)

So, what benefits can you expect to see from yoga, exactly? There are those you might expect, such as strength and flexibility, and there are those you may not expect, such as a sunnier disposition, reduced anxiety, reduced pain, better sleep, more confidence, and a general sense of calm.

Some yoga tips for beginners:

  1. Never stretch yourself too far beyond your limits. When something starts to get uncomfortable, it's not beneficial. Your poses should be challenging, but not painful.
  2. Don't judge yourself too harshly. No one can hit all the poses the first time he/she tries. In fact, it often takes years to perfect one's practice. Instead, focus on your breath and how you move in sync with it. In other words, let your breath lead your movement.
  3. Try a few different classes/styles of yoga and see which one best fits your lifestyle/ helps you meet your goals. I prefer a fast-flowing vinyasa yoga class to keep my heart rate up, while at the same time completing similar poses/ a similar routine each time. You may like a slower-paced restorative yoga class or a super hot Bikram Yoga class.
  4. Listen to your instructor. If you're a beginner like I am, good instructors will likely adjust your body both verbally and psychically throughout the class. This is especially true if you take a beginner’s yoga class. On the same vein, you'll want to try out different instructors and see which one you best gel with. This will improve your overall class experience.
  5. Go to “Child's Pose” any time you need a rest during your practice. Seen here (http://yoga.about.com/od/yogaposes/a/childspose.htm), this pose will help bring awareness to your body and all the hard work you've been doing, while also allowing you to rest.
I can personally attest to a decrease in anxiety and general increase in well-being from my yoga practice. I currently take yoga classes at least 1-2 times per week. If I skip a week, I notice that my body is more tense, and I simply feel a bit “out of sorts.” So, I hit the mat again and reap the benefits.

If you haven't yet given yoga a go, try a few classes. Whether your body needs a good stretch from the hardcore workouts you do on a regular basis, or you simply want to add a bit more balance and clarity to your life, yoga could be exactly what you've been searching for!

 Where Yoga Takes Me

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tips for Traveling Abroad

With my trip to Cancun in two days (yay!) adding to my numerous trips abroad, I came to the conclusion that I could probably share quite a few tips  for those adventurers traveling out of the U.S. Whether you're prepping for your first overseas journey or simply zipping up to Canada for the day, here are ten fifteen tips for a pleasant journey:

15 Tips for Traveling Abroad 

1. Take Advantage of the ATMs. This is the one tip I'm always adamant about sharing. It's much easier to get local currency from an ATM and pay a minor bank fee than use your debit/credit card everywhere and (likely) be charged an additional foreign currency fee for all of these transactions. It's also helpful to have local cash on hand for transportation, vendors, etc. Your card won't work everywhere-especially in more remote locations.
2. Let Your Bank/ Credit Card Company Know Where You're Going and How Long You'll be There. I can't stress this enough. I've seen several friends/ travel  companions lose all access to their money due to the fact that their bank/credit card company found their overseas travel purchases suspicious. These rules are in place to protect consumers, but you should have no problems using your cards if you call your bank/credit card company before you leave. (The number is likely on the back of your card.) You should know the dates and places you are traveling (including layovers, etc.). ALSO, check your statements when you return. Identity theft does happen abroad. It's also important to know that your transactions may take quite some time to process, so it's a good idea to keep track of exactly what you spent while overseas.
3.  Pack Light, Shop There. This is especially important for those shopaholics like me. I literally went to London with one suitcase packed lightly for summer weather. Little did I know, summer didn't actually kick in until the middle of July. With the necessary jackets I purchased and the other clothing and souvenirs I bought for fun, I ended up getting a second suitcase for the trip home. Taking that much through customs was difficult enough. I can't imagine what it would have been like to pack heavily both ways. Also, let's face it. It's much easier to move around the country with less baggage.
4. Bring a Power Adapter. If you've never traveled abroad, you may not know that many countries have different power adapters than we do. If you have plans to charge a cell phone, computer, or even hair dryer, you'll likely need a power adapter like this one (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000YN01X4/ref=wms_ohs_product_img?ie=UTF8&psc=1). If you're planning to stay abroad for quite a while, it could be easier to purchase hair-styling devices there. 
5. Ditch the Cell, or Research International Plans. It's no secret that traveling abroad can rack up some serious charges on your cell phone. There are several ways you can avoid this. If you don't want to leave your phone at home, you can call your carrier and request a short-term International package, or go to the provider's website and add the package there. I currently use AT&T, and I was able to add a data plan for the week I was in Ireland for less than $40. That's far less than I would have ended up paying otherwise. In this case, you will also need to turn on your International data. Your provider can give you more details. If you're staying abroad for more than two weeks or so, you may want to consider buying the equivalent of the U.S. Tracfone. When I was in London, I loaded up one of these puppies for about $100 (including the phone) for text messaging and calls during my month stay.
6. Bring Snacks. For people on super strict diets like me, this is incredibly important. Sometimes it's hard to find things I can eat in the airport, and you can forget me actually eating anything they serve on the plane. Snacks are crucial in this situation. Even if you don't have food issues, you can save a lot of effort and cash by bringing your own snacks in your carry-on bag. Just make sure they aren't in liquid form, or you'll be forced to throw them away. Chips, nuts, dried fruit, etc. are always great options.
7. Pack Your Carry-On Like an Overnight Bag. I remember my mom telling me this when I first started traveling, and she definitely had the right idea. Whether you're taking a short flight in the U.S. or a long flight abroad, checked luggage does get lost. And, when that luggage is lost, you're sort of screwed if all you packed in your carry-on bag was a pillow, headphones, and a book. Pack a day's worth of clothing and hygiene supplies just in case (heaven forbid) you're stuck at an airport for three days like I was this past Christmas. ( I brought two carry-ons on that trip, thank goodness!)
8. Do a Little Research, but Not Too Much. I used to be a big planner. Now though, I just can't be that strict about my itinerary without getting completely stressed out. Though it's certainly based on personal preference,  unless you have tons of specific sites you're intent upon hitting, why not leave a little up to fate? Trust me, it's a lot more relaxing to have a few places you'd like to visit in mind and the freedom to visit them whenever you'd like than to try to hit every place on an extensive itinerary.
9. Bring Copies of Your Passport. Sometimes people lose things. Sometimes people are mugged. Bring extra copies of your passport so you aren't stuck in a different country.
10. Check in With Your Doctor/ Pharmacist/ Insurance Provider.Are you up-to-date on all of your vaccines? You should be- especially if you're traveling abroad! You should also make sure you know exactly what kind of health insurance benefits you'll experience while abroad and bring your card with you in case of emergencies. Last, don't forget to make sure you're current with your prescriptions and have enough to last you through your trip. This also includes extra pairs of eyeglasses/contacts, etc. You won't want to be without them!
11. Tips for Ladies' Handbags: I've always preferred to bring a bag with a strap that goes across my body and is turned away from major walking paths/roadways. I'm not trying to get mugged, y'all. I do know several people who have, and though nothing can really prevent it, having a handbag that's harder to access can make it more difficult.
12. Leave Your Valuables Behind. No, not in the hotel; leave them at home! If your bag is lost, thieves get greedy, or you simply leave your family heirloom on a cruise ship somewhere, it's not going to be pretty. Leave them at home in a safe place, and have a trusted friend/ neighbor keep an eye on your place while you're gone.
13. Learn the Local Customs/ Basic Phrases. I always research the local dress code in the countries I'm planning on visiting to avoid trouble. For example, did you know that European women hardly ever wear shorts? It's true. One day I stepped outside of my dorm to go next door for laundry (in shorts) and I'm pretty sure drivers thought I was a hooker. No kidding. After that, I had no desire to wear shorts in London. If you're traveling somewhere women cover themselves up quite a bit, you may want to do this also so you can avoid any "admirers." In short, try to blend in with the locals as much as possible. It's also smart to learn a few phrases of the local language in case you're stuck in a situation where there isn't an English-speaker nearby.
14. Project Confidence. What do all locals seem to have when they move about their city? Confidence! They know where they're going, how to get there, and they project the sense of being comfortable in their surroundings. If you're having trouble finding your way, keep your cool. Walk in a confident manner. It's sad to say that there are those people who prey on the weak. Remember, you're not one of them.
15. Take Advantage of Public Transportation.I never take taxis if I can avoid it. I would much rather pay a few "dollars" for a day pass in the subway system or to take the bus route than throw away cash every time I'm going somewhere- especially if I have a lot of places to go! It's usually fairly easy to navigate these systems, and it will certainly save you some cash in the long run if you cut down on your taxi usage.

Do you have any travel tips to add to the list? I know I've left a few out, so leave a comment and share your knowledge! :)

Outside Dublin, Ireland- October 2012