Educate Yo'self!

What I’ve been reading: Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell

Before we go any further let me start by saying that this book broke me a little, in a great and terrible way. Because there are kids like Eleanor, and families like hers, living quietly and desperately all around us, and most of the time we don’t even know or we try not to see. Because the climax of Eleanor’s family story is sickening and made me cry long after I’d turned the final page. Because there are families like Park’s who aren’t perfect but are good and are trying, and these two family stories overlapping is wonderful in its sadness.

https://i0.wp.com/rainbowrowell.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/EleanorPark_cover2.jpeg I wanted to start by saying that because I’m now going to go on to say that I don’t think Eleanor and Park is a great love story, so I wanted to get those good bits out of the way before you couldn’t hear me over the roar of tweens with pitchforks.

Eleanor and Park isn’t a great love story, but I don’t know if it was necessarily meant to be. Without giving too much away, Eleanor and Park, by author Rainbow Rowell, is told from the perspectives of two main characters, Eleanor and Park (surprise!), and follows their relationship as it develops over a school year. Eleanor is the weird new kid, Park is a socially accepted misfit. They wind up sitting together on the bus to and from school, and build a pretty cute relationship that bounces along with all the highs and lows and pace that you’d expect of any realistic teen romance.

The way Rowell uses language to describe how both characters feel emotionally and physically as their relationship develops is pretty brilliant. There are so many quotable one liners that I expected the writing to start to feel contrived, but it didn’t. The book is written with a strong and really readable narrative voice that saves any moments that could otherwise seem overblown or corny. E&P really is worth reading just to experience Rowell’s masterful written craft.

Eleanor and Park

Teen romance in dire or dramatic situations has been well established as the new cool in YA literature and Eleanor and Park plays this genre superbly. But the thing that Rowell gets really right in E&P is that the book isn’t all taken up with the love story, and instead really hones in on the external situations affecting both characters. The family stories of both Eleanor and Park are extremely important to the narrative and are really well developed. The pacing of the reveals of information, particularly about Eleanor’s family and background, is spot on, and makes the reading experience as tense as it is giddy.

I think that Eleanor and Park is a good love story, and a fun love story, but more than that I think that it’s a great story of family, of exploring and establishing identity and of growing up. It hits on some really dark themes (everything from domestic and sexual abuse to class systems and racism), elements which don’t seem to come up in a lot of reviews, but which I think are important to mention and important to see this book’s intended age group grappling with.

It’s not a light or airy book and it’s not all a happy read. It is, however, highly recommended by me.

What do you think, have you read Eleanor and Park and agree/disagree with me? I love to discuss books, so add your thoughts below.

**There’s so much talk of this book being made into a movie. This kind of horrifies me in the way that the idea of The Lovely Bones movie did, because while the love story and the characters were delightful, the darkest elements of this story haunt my mind enough without seeing them in technicolour. But it’s important that these kinds of stories get told and we live in a world where everything is a franchise, so it’s no wonder that earlier this year Dreamworks announced that they’d purchased the E&P film rights. Are you excited? I’m half stoked to see these characters come alive and half scared they’ll tone some of the seriousness which I loved down for the film.

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Gestating

It’s been nearly nine months since I posted at That Crash Test Girl.

A lot of things can happen in nine months. I could have grown most of a baby in that time, or eaten 274 cheeseburgers if I’d had one per day, or gotten a graduate diploma of something. I’m kind of glad I didn’t do any of these things, though at another time or in another place I think they all sound pretty grand.

The things I did do, when listed, look big. I moved house three times. I left my job of three and half years, and a company I’d worked with for five, and started a new and big exciting role. I wrote and directed an entirely new play. I made new friends and I lost old ones. I travelled all around my state, kissed backpacker boys, swam at sunny beaches, tried many different ice cream flavours (panacotta, mars bar, blood orange, pineapple, doughnut, salted caramel, lime supreme, coconut) and rode on rollercoasters in the rain. And not one week went by when I didn’t think about blogging.

You see, I love blogging. I have a lot of friends who use their blog as a way to build their presence and support their business, which is awesome, but a bit of a drag on their time. They blog because they have to, because it’s a necessity of the online world we live in. My blog doesn’t really feed into my career like that, there’s no linear connection between blogging about health and lifestyle and playwriting. And that’s ok, because it means it can be something I enjoy on the side. But I do want to get it right, and that’s what I’ve been thinking about while I’ve been spending time not procreating or re-enacting Supersize Me.

So stay tuned for new Crash Test updates soon. I promise you, it’s going to be fun, and there’s probably going to be a whole lotta ice cream.

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Crash Tests

Crash Test: Bikram Yoga 30 Day Challenge (Part 3) – The Results cont.

What I Felt

In My Spine/Back/Nerves

I’ve had issues with sciatica since my last two years of gymnastics training, in fact my back and leg pain was the main reason I gave gymnastics away. Years of strategically strengthening some muscle groups while over-stretching others, plus multiple crash landings in every possible position (including a nasty fall right on the top of my head…can you say crunch?) had left my back tight and twisted. There were days at the beginning of my practice that simply lying flat on my back in savasana was a painful achievement and the first day that I lay down before class and felt the back of my legs and the small of my back touch the ground at the same time was one of great excitement.

I was determined to soothe, and not encourage, my sciatica during the challenge. I was going to lift from my lower and mid spine, especially in each standing posture, and each backbend was concentrated on stretching upwards and not just falling backwards. I also thought constantly about relaxing my tailbone down and long – I have a wonderful habit of standing with “gymnast posture” or what I like to call “duck butt”, again from years of sticking out my booty and standing with a slouch during gym training. (You’ve seen duck-butt during the Olympics, particularly exaggerated when a gymnast stands and presents to signal the completion of a routine or skill. But duck-butt now equals cripple later and is definitely not an advised posture).

Happily, my back felt better and better during the challenge. I could visualise my lower vertebrae separating and stretching back into a straight line and in rabbit I could even hear the popping of that happening (don’t worry, it felt great). I could see my matt and towel, then sometimes even my heels in back bends. Camel was, at last, my friend.

With all the stuff it's responsible for, looking after your spine is very important!

With all the stuff it’s responsible for, looking after your spine is very important!

And after the challenge? Well, I took a well-earned two days off and went home to visit my family. Then I came back to the studio for my first 6pm class and I couldn’t lie down. Pain radiated from my lower back, around my hips and down my legs. It was like I had jumped right back to the beginning again. But that sciatica pain was pain I was used to. It was the feeling in my upper middle back, like my vertebrae were bruised, and badly, that had me concerned. I looked after class but nope, there was no visible bruising. The area was painful to touch, and while it didn’t necessarily hurt during postures, savasana became unbearable. I was concerned.

So, I consulted Dr. Google – a bad, bad idea. If it wasn’t a herniated disc, it was a nerve attacking virus or cancer. I hastily left Dr. Google behind.

I asked my teacher – a much better idea! The answer? Congratulations, you’re opening something new in your body. And, dude, you just did a month in a row – take a break!

So, I decided to trust that everything was ok, and then I went on holidays to Sydney and got busy doing cool stuff and took nearly a fortnight off. When I came back to yoga I felt great. Three months on and my back feels awesomer than awesome. Sciatica is a distant memory, or at least a distant memory that only very rarely, on cold days or days when I’ve slept on someone else’s couch (always a mistake), comes to visit.

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Flexibility

Flexibility was my improvement marker for the challenge, the thing, apart from getting through the thirty days, which I really wanted to work on. Well, there’s nothing like a hot room and ninety minutes of concentrated stretching to improve flexibility, and as expected I became gradually more bendy as the month wore on.

 I’m not always good at using my strength to help me stretch; during class I’m constantly realising that I’m using the wrong muscles to pull or twist. It’s comical, really, the number of times I’ll hear a teacher say to pull with my biceps only to realise I have to concentrate hard on relaxing my bunched up shoulders and telling my pesky arms to do the job instead. Coming to class every day allowed me to remember the little things more easily, reminding myself each consecutive class what I had learnt in the class before and becoming more aware of what I was supposed to do versus what I had a habit of doing. This awareness has been a far bigger benefit to my practice than the overall improvement in my flexibility, and was probably the leading contributor to my gains in stretchiness as well.

Which posture do you have?

Which posture are you? I’m number two for sure (ergh) but I’m working on it!

Mind

Despite spending far more time at the yoga studio, I was super productive during June. The time spent focusing in the studio helped me focus at work and at home and all that back bending gave me a huge boost in creative energy. I also saved a lot of time that I previously devoted to deciding if I would go to class by knowing that I had no choice but to go to class.

Normally, not during the Challenge, I would wake up in the morning reconsidering my decision to go or not to go to yoga. I would think about whether my clothes were dry, what I’d eaten, what else I needed to do during the day, whether or not I wanted to wash my hair, what the weather was like…I’d let almost any factor sway my decision to practice. Usually I’d still end up going, but not after wasting fifteen minutes at the start of the day thinking about it. During the Challenge, I didn’t do any of this thinking because I had to go to yoga, regardless of the state of my hair or the weather. You guys, I saved so much time.

This change, while small and seemingly insignificant, had a great effect on my day and my approach to class. Yoga wasn’t something I was trying to get out of anymore. Sure, class was and will always be hard, but that’s the point. And I still had to go. I began to enjoy class a lot more during the Challenge; not just the good classes but the really hard ones as well; the ones when my legs felt like lead and my stomach churned and I saw stars. Every day I moved closer to the achievement of completing the challenge which meant that every class, no matter how it felt, was good.

Heading into class with this new attitude has been the biggest change to my practice since the Challenge, and each week I now plan which classes I will attend in advance and then don’t give them a second thought until I’m there. Bikram yoga is much more enjoyable when you’ve decided to enjoy it and you’re not looking for loopholes.

And that’s it. Thirty classes, thirty days. Forty-five hours of yoga in a month. Simple, difficult, sweaty and, in the end, enjoyable. Would I do it again? Yes. Would I recommend trying a challenge? Absolutely.

If you have any questions about the Challenge, do feel free to ask. If you’re at all interested in Bikram yoga I highly suggest you try it. And if you want to do a challenge, I hope I’ve encouraged you and not put you off! Do it, do it with a friend, or with a whole studio, or by yourself.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I entered our Queensland Regional Asana Championship this year. For me, getting up in front of my friends and family to show them the yoga that I’d been working so hard at for the past year and a half was super rewarding, and definitely something I was inspired to do after completing the Challenge. Below is a video of my routine from the Championship in October, you might not be able to tell because I’m wearing my concentration face, but I had so much fun!

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Crash Tests

Crash Test: 30 Day Bikram Yoga Challenge (Part 2) – The Results

Each month at That Crash Test Girl, I conduct a quasi-scientific, “real life experiment” wherein I Crash Test one of the legends, myths or modern day rumours that purport to help me live a better, a more healthy and fulfilling, a more awesome life. I post the results, always honest and often unexpected, here so you can make up your own mind about these self-help and self-health techniques.

This month’s Crash Test is Bikram yoga, for which I completed a 30 Day Bikram Yoga Challenge. Read part one detailing the aims, hypotheses and methods to the madness here.

Observations and Results

What I Did:

Yoga

And yoga and yoga and yoga. And then some yoga. After that, I went back for more yoga. I also sweat, slept and washed a whole lot of towels.

Eat

I had one of those great, you’re-gonna-regret-this-conversation-and-try-to-pretend-it-never-ever-happened, moments at the studio in the first week of the Challenge when I was talking to one of my teachers about what to eat while completing the thirty days. See, a lot of people took the opportunity of doing the month of yoga to also clean up their diet, stop eating meat, slow down on the wine and cut out cigarettes. Smart people. I, on the other hand, figured that just completing the Challenge was enough of a good effort for the month. I clearly remember on that evening the moment that I said to my teacher, “No, no, no, not me. I’m going to listen to my body and I’m going to eat whatever I want, whenever I want and it’s going to be great!”

And, you know, it could have been. If I really had been able to tune in to my body and listen to the signs it was sending me about food, it could have been a great month for me and my body. Instead, I found myself deep in a dialogue with my sneaky mind, playing partners in a lot of conversations that went something like this:

MIND CAKEI’m not a weight-watching fiend, but it’s possible that I actually gained weight during the first part of the Challenge. I ate far more unhealthily than normal, using the Challenge as an excuse to really eat whatever and whenever I wanted. It’s fair to say that this is not exactly how you’re supposed to do it.

After the first week and a half I garnered a little self-control, possibly learnt in all my yoga classes, and went back to my normal healthy eating habits. Funnily enough, classes became easier and I was able to go to sleep at night. The rest of the Challenge flew by and my mind was put into conversation time-out.

Drink

I’m not a big nut for all the rehydrating drinks, powders and potions you can buy, purely because for the most part they’re really expensive. Plus I’m never quite sure what’s in them, especially the powdered ones, and the last thing I want to do is add a whole bunch of sugar and chemicals to my water. Usually I’ll hydrate and rehydrate pre and post Bikram with some water with added lemon juice and the odd crack of Himalayan sea salt, a combination which has always worked just fine for me.

I figured that the Challenge was going to be a whole other world of hydration needs, though, and I was correct. Without a special focus on rehydrating between daily classes I felt weak, tired and grumpy. So I bit the bullet and bought a couple of the big litre cartons of coconut water to be my liquid ally during the Challenge.

To put it frankly, plain coconut water disgusts me. While a lot of people love the stuff, the mix of salty and sweet tastes is just not for me. And that’s ok, I’m a renowned picky eater and coconut water was probably always going to test my limits. So, I did what I do best and devised a recipe which made the coconut water bearable and, dare I say it, even tasty. After a few days on the stuff my body would crave a drink after class, letting me know that all the natural electrolytes in the coconut water were appreciated.

That Crash Test Girl - Rehydrating Drink Recipe

Soda water is a big favourite of mine because somehow carbonation seems to make everything taste better. I have a soda stream at home, so I can easily carbonate bottles of my own water and I’d always have one bottle bubbly and ready to go in the fridge each day.

Lime juice was my favourite flavour with the coconut, but you could really go to town with different juices. A pot of iced tea, pre-brewed and chilled, would also make a nice additive to the coconut + soda water, an idea I saw used in this drink over at Wellness Mama.

Doubles

It took all my strength plus a few extra savasanas to get through the two doubles that I did during the Challenge.

Doubles are what we yogis call doing two classes in one day in order to make up for a missed day during the challenge, and what the rest of the world would probably rightly call pure crazy. During the Challenge I missed two days, one when I had to attend a day of auditions for a festival show I was directing and another on the second last day of the challenge when I decided to go to a birthday party instead of class.

There are people at my studio who will happily and voluntarily do doubles just because, even when they have no Challenge commitments to meet. I greatly admire these people. During my doubles I became familiar with a sensation I like to call insta-regret, a gnawing feeling that no birthday party will ever be worth three hours of Bikram in one day. By my eighth (yes, eighth!) triangle of the day my thighs were ready to give in and my head spinning. Perhaps my rehydrating techniques weren’t as great as I thought they were, or perhaps I just needed to stop being a baby about it (because I really like going to birthday parties and who ever gave me the impression that this Challenge was going to be easy?) but doubles were definitely one of the most challenging part of the Challenge and I’ve been glad to wave them goodbye!

Here’s a video of Bikram himself teaching the correct way to do triangle, or as I liked to call it on double days, posture of death.

Part 3 in the 30 Day Challenge Crash Test coming soon, including the results of completing the Challenge for both my mind and body.

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Educate Yo'self!

The Blogcademy – a triple treat of awesome

If knowledge is power and power is accompanied by responsibility, then attending the Brisbane Blogcademy workshop was a triple-decker in acquiring new playthings.

Group From Above

Hard at work on morning one, ready to take in all the blogging goodness!

To say it simply, The Blogcademy was probably the single most educational, empowering and growing weekend of my 2013. Taught by blogging megastars Kat Williams, Gala Darling and Shauna Haider, the two-day course covered everything from creating standout images and having brilliant and consistent branding to how to write stellar content and then use social media to promote it. Along with the knowledge imparted by the trio, a lot of which was also included in the take home workbook (a must for a learner like me who needs to re-enforce and revisit for things to properly sink in!), there was a good deal of cold hard blogging truths delivered, along with raucous personal accounts of blogging gone badly and inspirational tales of blogging success.

Reading my workbook, so much to learn!

While the blogging know-how will prove invaluable as I continue to develop That Crash Test Girl, spending the weekend in the presence of the three Blogcademy Headmistresses and the extraordinary group of Brisbane Blogcadettes, or Brisbabes as we like to be called, was far and away the highlight of the experience. I had originally decided I wouldn’t attend the Brisbane leg of the tour because, while having Gala Darling, one of my biggest inspirations in the blog world, actually visit my city was crazy exciting I just couldn’t afford it. There is a scholarship generously offered for each workshop, but without a blog to call my own at the entry cut-off date I definitely couldn’t count on winning!

Winner

Scholarhsip winner Gabrielle getting some tips from Gala, this girl is an absolute blogging powerhouse!

After visiting the to-be venue Bleeding Heart a few months before The Blogcademy to teach a writing workshop of my own, though, I pictured the room filled with inspirational and excited bloggers and I knew that whatever the cost I had to be part it. So I buckled down, invested in myself and my career and then excitedly ticked of the days until The Blogcademy!

Headmistresses

Just a few Headmistresses filling the room with pizzazz!

I have been reading Gala Darling’s blog for many years and have been inspired by her hard work and creativity time and again. Being taught by her was a true pleasure and really rounded out my belief that I, too, could forge my own career path as a strong and individual creative woman. Shauna and Kat’s blogs were both introduced to me through reading Gala Darling, and I was no less excited to be spending the weekend in their presence. Kat’s bubbly and bright personality and her ability to learn “the facts” and then still do things in totally her own way are infectious. Her commitment to bringing both the fun and the facts to The Blogcademy class made each of the sessions she took totally interesting and worthwhile. Shauna Haider is probably one of the classiest and most stylish women I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and her branding segments are already proving infinitely useful. To be honest, I could spend an entire weekend hearing this thoughtful and thought-provoking woman speak about branding, a subject I didn’t know I could be so interested in!

Notes!

So many notes were taken during The Blogcademy, our to-do lists got a WORKOUT.

Since The Blogcademy I have spent a lot of time mulling over the goals and aspirations I have for That Crash Test Girl. There have been days as I’ve been busy moving house, completing freelance writing projects and working at my job, that I have forlornly looked at my seemingly endless post-Blogcademy to-do list and wondered just how I would ever get it all done. But then I’ve thought to myself WWGSaKD? (“What Would Gala, Shauna and Kat Do?” of course!) and seen the list as an inspiration and not a judgement on my blog or an eternal work sentence. It’s this shift attitude that has been best outcome of attending The Blogcademy. I can’t wait to make all the changes there are to make to That Crash Test Girl…it’s going to be great!

Working hard, but feeling like we're hardly working!

Working hard, but feeling like we’re hardly working!

I’ve always secretly wanted a posse and I just couldn’t write this post without giving a huge shout out to the rest of the Brisbane Blogbabes who have made the whole Blogcademy experience so delightful. Since The Blogcademy we’ve chatted daily on the special Brisbane Blogcademy forum as well as on the facebook page we created to keep the group in touch. We encourage each other to set and reach goals and help where we can with each others’ problems. We’ve banded together to beat the post-Blogcademy blues (in particular not letting each other get daunted by those epic to-do lists!) and there are already meet-ups in the works and group photo shoots being planned. Having a group of likeminded women to chat to about blogging is indescribably awesome, so very helpful and supportive for those of us who spend a lot of time working at home alone. So thanks, Brisbabes, for making The Blogcademy weekend the absolute best!

The Blogcademy Group Shot

Group shot in our fuzzy koala ears, made by Crown and Glory just for us Aussies!

Would I recommend anyone and everyone attend The Blogcademy? Absolutely. As a blog devoted to finding out the ways we can improve our lives, this is one method that I am only too excited and happy to endorse!

All photos generously taken and provided by the supremely talented Janneke Storm!

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Crash Tests

Crash Test: 30 Day Challenge – Bikram Yoga

In June, I completed my first official Crash Test – a Thirty Day Challenge at my Bikram yoga studio. Thirty classes of Bikram yoga in thirty days – a terrifying and exhilarating thought. I like yoga, a lot, but thirty consecutive classes is a lot of bending and sweating without a break when the most you’ve previously managed was five in a row, and even that was only because you forgot to take a day off one week…

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The Thirty Day Challenge (or Sixty Days, if you’re feeling like a real challenge!) isn’t a concept I made up. Bikram Choudhury, the man who started it all for Bikram yoga, suggests that everyone starting their yoga practice should begin with sixty days of consecutive classes to really introduce their body to the new form of exercise and all the benefits that come along with it. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, though, and I personally admire all beginners who turn up for a second class after their first one, let alone fifty-nine more!

“Give me 30 days, I’ll change your body.  Give me 60 days, I’ll change your life.”                  Bikram Choudhury

I’d been practicing regularly for eighteen months when my studio announced they were having their first studio wide Thirty Day Challenge and I was ready to try something new with my practice. I was going to class every four or five days and thinking about entering in the Regional Championships in October (wait to hear more about this very soon!) and I was excited about what I might achieve by attending every day for the month. I knew that some things were going to have to change; 6am classes were going to have to become part of my routine so I didn’t lose any work time, I would have to amp up my hydration techniques and I was going to have to have a pretty clean month – no night out is worth a hungover Bikram class! – but I was hoping that the challenge would be something I could ease into and maybe even enjoy, a pleasant achievement rather than a hard, month-long, sweaty slog.

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Yours truly on the very first day of the 30 Day Challenge modelling my brand new one piece bought from Red Tiger

Well, the challenges were many and the results were interesting and varied. Without any further ado, I give you the

Thirty Day Challenge Bikram Yoga Crash Test 

(due to the sheer amount of stuff that happened during the month, this Crash Test will be presented over the following week, so keep checking back for more updates and results! Don’t know what Bikram yoga is? You’re in for a treat! Read up on it here, have a look at the studio where I practise here, find one near you and have a go!)

Aim

To complete thirty classes of Bikram yoga in thirty days. Doubles can be done (two classes, one day) if a day needs to be missed or made up.

Hypothesis

At the start of the challenge, I was hoping I could work a bit deeper into my flexibility during the month. My hips and knees are a particular sticking point for my body after twelve years of gymnastics and always feel better after a good stretch. I’d had a big start to the year after writing and directing a play and starting some new freelance writing gigs, so I was also hoping to detox some of the bad stuff I’d eaten and drunk over the past few months.

Method

As my teachers always say, the best and only thing you need to do for yoga is turn up. Come to class, stay in the room, and the rest will take care of itself. And that makes the method of this Crash Test very simple indeed – all that’s needed to do is show up every day, day after day, do class and go home.

“Follow my words, keep your eyes open, keep concentration in your body—and you will come naturally to peace in your mind.”                             Bikram Choudhury

Oh, and wash. Wash and wash and wash. This challenge involved a phenomenal and unexpected amount of washing.

Stay tuned tomorrow for observations and results!

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