5 First Impressions Scandinavia
Culture, Norway, Scandinavia, Scandinavian Culture, Sweden

5 First Impressions about Scandinavia

While climates in the Scandic countries (Norway, Sweden, and Denmark) can be harsh, it’s proven to have some of the happiest people in the world. As an American, there have been a few notable things that have struck me about Scandinavia upon my first few visits. It’s hard to recall now, as four years have passed since I first came to Sweden. Many things are becoming a more regular part of my life, but looking back, these were five first impressions about Scandinavia that struck me the most.

5 First Impressions Scandinavia

Frogner Park, Oslo, Norway

Keep the Sabbath holy. Sundays in Norway mean everything is closed. Traditionally, Sunday has been a day recognized in the Christian tradition as the Sabbath, or a day of rest, meant as a day for “God.” Yet, a majority of Norwegians and arguably most of the its Nordic counterparts, are agnostic, if not atheist. Therefore, in Norway, this day is really meant for outdoor activities. Since most of these countries spend the majority of the year wearing thick jackets, it is important to take advantage of nice weather when it happens. Norway hardly lacks in beautiful landscapes or clean air and Norwegians are quite active with their year-round sports.

If you want to attempt some shopping on Sunday in Norway, try petrol stations, flower shops or grocery stores that are smaller than 100m2.  Keep in mind, hours are limited, selection is poor, and prices tend to be higher.

This is actually quite common in many other places in Europe still today. A girl from Germany told me she grew up accustomed to everything being closed on Sundays as well.

5 First Impressions Scandinavia

December in Malmö, Sweden. Gustav Adolphs Torg.

Red Days, Christianity, and Scandinavia. Sweden and the Nordic countries as a whole, take many Christian red days (public holidays). However, it is a safe bet that Christian holidays here are not ever about Christ. Easter isn’t about mourning Jesus’ death, rather it’s about painting eggs and eating candy. Christmas isn’t about celebrating the birth of Jesus, it’s about drinking schnapps and watching Kalle Anka (Donald Duck) on TV. Sweden also celebrates the evening or day before the actual holiday, like Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. Thus, I was a bit disappointed when I found that nothing happening on December 25th.

There are other Christian holidays like, trettondedag jul (Epiphany), which is the thirteen days after Christmas where people get a day to take down the decorations. Though I don’t understand the significance, I’m always grateful for another day off. Coming up soon is Ascension Day, which originally was to acknowledge the day Christ went back to Heaven…and still has yet to return.

5 First Impressions Scandinavia

17th of May, Oslo Norway in 2011

Cohabitation and Sex Before Marriage.  I was raised in what I would consider a conservative, Christian, American home. My parents have always valued purity before marriage and having children after being wed. Despite my departure from their religious beliefs, I grew up amongst many whom avoided mixing their dating and relationship escapades with their personal/family lives. I felt a really awkward upon my first visit to Sweden when I was allowed to knowingly share a room with my then boyfriend.

While people do move-in (cohabitate) in the states, many will wait to have children until after marriage. This article shares, “Young unmarried parents are statistically more likely to be poor, have emotional or behavioral problems and are less likely to do well in school.”  This type of media casts a dark shadow to those who are unwed with children in the states.

When religious reasons failed, my parents started to mention the marriage failure rate for couples that move-in together before marriage. I grew up honestly believing a woman would get a successful career and good husband only if, she waited. My parents were as surprised as I’d been when they found out that my boyfriend’s parents had waited two kids and 15 years before finally tying the knot.

This is rather unheard of where I’m from. For those of you wondering, I am not from some small town in the Midwest either. Having lived in Sweden for a while now, I believe that sex and cohabitation do not ruin marriage.

However, when I came back in 2011, I remember wondering how all the young mothers managed to support their children and still maintain a job? 

Now enters, the social system.

5 First Impressions Scandinavia

Midsommar bord 2014. Midsummer in Skåne, Sweden.

Everyone is included. The Swedish social system. In American culture, mothers are allowed to take time off during the months before and after childbirth, but they will not normally receive any paid compensation. My sister worked up until the days before she was due and returned promptly 90 days after birth. This is normal in the states, but in Sweden, it’s an entirely different ballgame.

Everyone is taken care of with the social system. Prenatal care and giving birth is basically free. This sort of makes me feel reluctant to have a child anywhere else, even if I am not in love with Scandinavia. Sweden also provides maternity and paternity leave, with a total of 480 paid leave days per child. It is rather discouraging to read this about the high costs in America.

In early April, I sliced off the tip of my ring finger cutting a sweet potato. I had to go to ER and have gone back twice a week to have my bandages changed. 4 hours, a few shots, and some antibiotics later, the bill I received a month later was in the sum of 450 SEK (54 USD).

5 First Impressions Scandinavia

Courtesy of Domestic Geek Girl

There will never be a potato famine in Scandinavia.  A stark feature to every holiday bord (table) is the potato.  While I have seen the potato mashed, boiled, smashed, baked and fried, in Sweden it is most popularly featured: boiled with the skin.

With at least 11 varieties of potato at the market, one can easily get lost.

On a visit to Norway, I found a bag of potatoes buried in the back of the vegetable bin.  Upon opening the bag, I saw that they’d started sprouting.  It immediately became clear.  With the cold, dry, long winters and days with lengthy or short amounts of daylight, it is not easy cultivating a variety of produce in this country.  But, potatoes will probably never be scarce because it seems they can grow for themselves in the harshest of conditions and the weather here is not warm. I’ll just wait until conditions get bad before I resort to eating them.

All in all, every country I have visited (and keep in mind, I still feel there have been too few) have always been an anthropological experience. Despite the horrible weather, that I just cannot get used to, people do seem be able to achieve a real work-life balance. With higher salaries and high taxes to match, I feel too much goes to the social system, but no one is left out of healthcare. I do question if Scandinavians are really that happy (many people spend their long holidays in warmer, southern parts of the world or just generally dreaming of warmer days), but it seems Scandinavian countries still rank among the happiest countries in the world.

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Why Sex and Cohabitation Don't Ruin Marriage
cohabitation, commitment, Love, marriage, Point of view, social perspective, Yoga

Why Sex and Cohabitation Don’t Ruin Marriage

My previously written post on marriage, cohabitation and commitment was based on various opinions regarding living together prior to marriage. Many of the opinions strongly opposed to cohabitation or in support of marriage without living together first predominantly stemmed from religious perspectives. Personally, I had often heard that premarital sex would cheapen marriage later. I did feel this once as well. There was a moment of sadness the first time met someone I felt deep love for. I had a sense of remorse, almost wishing I could have been pure for that special moment for that one special person. But then, he turned out to not be a charming prince and it actually became a learning experience on bad choices and NOT placing all my eggs (no pun intended) in one basket.

As I am now married, and have given it a bit of thought, I’d like to share why sex and cohabitation do not ruin marriage.

First, I’d like to counter my opinion by looking at some non-religious reasons why some think you should not live together prior. This post, written for a Catholic site, gives “secular” reasons, two being that cohabitation makes drifting into marriage too easy (as if that were a problem?!) and the proposal anti-climactic. 

We had discussed marriage for awhile and it wasn’t a decision we came to quickly. The reason my proposal was ‘anti-climactic’ was because it was a topic that had been brought up multiple times over the 2 1/2 years of long distance. Yet, do not confuse my lack of surprise for dullness. I was still very elated when I became engaged. Finally, I didn’t have a bachelorette party and why would I have needed one? I had already had enough single nights with girlfriends and frivolous partying. If it still meant that much to me, I could do it with my partner, by my side.

https://yoginisquest.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/marriage-cohabitation-and-sweden/

Why does sex and living together not ruin marriage?

First, I’d like to address this idea that marriage is ruined if there was sex previously. I feel that when you are with one person for long enough and pass through enough trials, such as distance, time or other obstacles, any other person you maybe thought you once loved (or cheaply threw yourself at) will no longer matter. With love and acceptance, you will let go of the past. What matters most is that if you have taken the necessary time to mature and ripen as an adult and individual.

For me, marriage hasn’t been cheapened by cohabitation or sex, nor do I feel, it dictates a relationships ability to stand the test of time. What ruins marriage are bad choices, poor communication, giving up,  or as this person says, “before they (the individuals) have the maturity and experience to choose compatible partners and to conduct themselves in ways that can sustain a long-term relationship.” Bad choices are often not taking responsibility or not having had the foresight, or wisdom, to see that the person you were so madly in love with will change (and perhaps you won’t have the fortitude to accept this change). Or perhaps you just realize that you fell in love with someone that you knew very little about. Some people split because they grow in different directions and a severing of ties actually serves both parties better.

Why Sex and Cohabitation Don't Ruin Marriage

Either way, having lived together prior did not destroy the special bond we already had. In fact, I feel it only strengthened our relationship. The stories we shared from before make us closer than had we not lived or traveled together and this is something no one can take from us. Marriage wouldn’t have helped me overcome cultural barriers in Asia, having the support of my *now husband* did.

I don’t really think that someone can argue that cohabitation or premarital sex ruins marriage, unless you’ve experienced it personally. Indeed, a similar thing could be said if I was discouraging someone from marrying without first having sex or living with them. Ultimately, if I ever felt guilty for having sex before, it was because I had done it thinking it would make me feel better about myself. Yoga and Buddhism have helped me to see that self absorption, sex, drugs, and stuff, won’t bring me peace and contentment. Sex and cohabitation haven’t ruined my marriage at all, instead cohabitation enabled us to understand how we flow and function first before we made that leap into something that might not have worked. Finally, it is good communication, acting out of love and serving each other that will bring us closer together in our marriage.

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Marriage, Cohabitation and Sweden
cohabitation, commitment, Love, marriage, Relationships, Scandinavia, Scandinavian Culture

Marriage, Cohabitation and Sweden

An engaging topic always involves controversial ones. One in particular for me has been in regards to marriage, cohabitation and Sweden. This post is a bit of a repost/revision from another I had written when I was interning for Pine Tribe, including some new info.

My fiancé and I had been cohabitating for the past year and a half and had maintained a long distance relationship for 2 1/2 years prior to that. The subject of relationships varies largely from culture to culture, but I have found that Europe, western Europe, has a rather liberal viewpoint on it.

Official applications in Sweden give individuals the option to list their status as unmarried, married, and sambo. Sambo refers to cohabitation, or an unmarried couple living together. Sambo partnerships are basically being given the same rights as a married couple, which caused me to wonder what would motivate a sambo couple to marry?

I come from a more traditional Christian American upbringing. Marriage was to come before sex and cohabitation was a no-no. Some believe living together before marriage is a wise decision. I remember being surprised when the mother of one of my closest friends advised, “‘You’d test drive your future car, why wouldn’t you your future husband?’”

Upon announcing my engagement to my American friends and family last year, two questions followed, ‘How did he propose?’ and ‘When is the date?’ The proposal was casual. Since we had a long distance relationship, we had openly discussed all options. As far as a calendar date, after having been engaged for over a year, we hadn’t set a “date.” I had after just moved to a new country and we had been focusing our efforts on getting an apartment and job. I’d argue that it is quite typical in America, that after one gets engaged, the next year or so is spent on stressful and whimsical wedding planning.

But does commitment mean any less if you cohabitated prior to marriage?

Marriage, Cohabitation and Sweden

In Denmark, Sweden and Norway cohabitation is a normal part of life. Gay marriage and visas for partnership are common and a good number of children are born into families of unmarried couples. Many married couples I have met in Sweden have done it the “Swedish way”. This means they were sambo couples who lived together for many years before deciding to marry. My boyfriend’s parents lived together for 15 years and had two kids before they decided to wed. His mom told me they decided to finally marry because they wanted a celebration, as well as to secure a future for their kids. For them, nothing changed in love or commitment before or after marriage. Another couple I know did the same and got married because it would be easier for her to come live in the states on her husbands temporary working visa.

Another concern I grew up hearing was staying married for the children. Regardless of marriage or not, I would argue that children are happier when the parent’s relationship is stable. The stability of a union is not defined by paperwork and a document will not define the love, compromise, and hard work for a successful relationship. Commitment in relationships is about honesty, effort, and not walking away when the going gets tough.

I had nothing against marriage,we just didn’t have a deadline nor did I want it to be about societal or religious pressure. This all being said, we have made a promise to each other and we were and are committed.

Marriage, Cohabitation and Sweden

On this note, I’d like to announce that when we went back to the states in November, we got married in a small civil ceremony in San Diego. After I had written an article on cohabitation in Scandinavia and it got me thinking about what exactly it meant to be married. Living in a culture where cohabitation is normal and accepted, I didn’t feel the need to rush nor did I want my decision to marry to be about religion or guilt. But, as you can see, we decided to just do it because the more we thought about not doing it, the more we wanted to just officialize it.

So, I’m officially a wife now, which is still really weird for me to say. We have also decided to move back to California. Therein, a new visa process shall begin!

Happy New Year! God Fortsättning!

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Why Kayla Itsines BBG Did Not Work
BikiniBodyGuide, hiit, kaylaitsines, training, yoga challenge

Why Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide 1.0 Did Not Work

I am going out on a huge limb posting this. So, I was interested in Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide for two reasons: results and as a yoga experiment to see the affects hiit (high intensity interval training) would have on my physical yoga practice and mind. Having spent more than the last decade being dissatisfied in my skin, I was sick of feeling sorry for myself. Yoga no longer seemed enough, nor did I want it to be my go-to for exercise. After seeing some of the amazing 4, 6, 12 week transformations on Kayla’s Instagram account, I found myself pulling out my credit card and saying, ‘why not?’ Summer was nearly in full swing and I was not anywhere ready to wear a bikini.

Not that there is not much of a bikini season in Sweden, rather I just wanted to feel good about myself. This does not mean to say that even if I did have an amazing body, I would feel good about myself either. The mind plays a large role in ones happiness and peace in life, but sometimes we need an extra bit of help along the way.

So what are my results? As a yoga practitioner, has Kayla Itsines BBG 1.0 affected my yoga practice and flexibility?

What has worked:

Something about pushing myself, increasing my heart rate and jumping around doing hiit interval training makes me feel amazing! I feel energized after and my body aches in places I had forgotten about (quadriceps, gluttes, biceps). My jeans fit better, I feel stronger, and I have more energy throughout the day. The best news: it takes 30 min.

What hasn’t worked:

I don’t have a 6 or even a 4 pack. My progress pictures hardly look as if anything has changed. I still have stomach rolls. Despite feeling so great, in a way, I feel frustrated that I look quite similar to when I started.

Why Kayla Itsines BBG Did Not Work

Before & After BBG 1.0

Why it hasn’t worked:

I did not follow Kayla’s nutrition plan. I don’t eat gluten or meat and consider myself to be quite a whole food foodie, thus, I didn’t think I needed to purchase it. However, it probably would’ve provided some structure. My biggest weakness: portion control, rice, and dark chocolate. In our home, we love food and making great food. So, while I stay away from junk, wheat, most dairy and sugar, we eat lots of what we do make.

I also do not have any weights. It seems stupid that someone would buy a program and not do it 100%. I don’t blame the BBG at all, it’s amazing actually. We moved apartments during the summer, so I did not want to accumulate extra stuff. Instead, I’ve been using empty ceramic pots, stairs, tables, boxes and other things in the meantime. I have been using a jump rope a lot though. I also haven’t been following the “conventional” LISS recommendation, where you’re supposed to walk for 45 min on off-hiit days. I have a 90 min-almost 2 hour yoga practice that I value, which is plenty of stretching and hard work. And yes, I have still been doing my yoga practice the days I have HIIT training.

Why Kayla Itsines BBG Did Not Work

Lack of accessibility to weights, forced me to get creative and squat a watermelon

Yoga and HIIT training?

I was so sore when I first started doing Kayla’s BBG 1.0, so it made my regular yoga practice hard. I slacked off because my arms or legs were so painfully sore. Surprisingly, putting my legs behind my head was not really affected, but my lower back and IT band have been. My shoulders are probably a bit tighter as I was noticing difficulty binding in the posture below, but it seems to be okay again.

Why Kayla Itsines BBG Did Not Work

While I said that Kayla’s BBG did not work, it was not because of a faulty plan, more of a faulty participant (me). I also should note that it took me longer than 12 weeks to complete the BBG. I repeated the first two weeks two times through, because it was so hard, and then I got the flu midway through. 

All in all, I have thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I feel stronger and more toned, despite feeling as if I look the same. It has been a fun journey and I will definitely continue integrating hiit workouts in my life to keep things fun and fresh.

Am I better person because I train? No, but I am probably more tolerable of the world after I have pushed myself.

I also don’t want to take away from the value of the yoga practice. Yoga could very well be enough and I love that yoga helps address a lot of the mental and emotional wellness factors, but sometimes a little loud music and some high intensity helps shut the mind off.

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When Yoga Is Not Enough
Ashtanga Yoga, bbg1.0, BikiniBodyGuide, hiit, kaylaitsines, training, yoga challenge

When Yoga Is Not Enough

I think there are many benefits of yoga, things I would never challenge or deny. However, I have fought the superficiality of the yoga practice. The obsession with the bodies ability to do a certain pose and then publicize it has bewildered me. I suppose I can see it as art, but I thought it was supposed to be something more. So it goes, that sometimes we have to go outward to go inward and therein, perhaps the physical practice (asana) of yoga is not enough?

When Yoga Is Not Enough

My ashtanga yoga practice has had its ups and downs, but overall, I have gained many benefits from the physical practice. I know of many who have developed amazing bodies from ashtanga. Unfortunately, the whole battle with food has led me to be quite out of sync with my body and food choices. Thankfully, I finally reached a point this past year where I found a way to put it all behind me and develop a diet that made me happy and balanced. I have been mostly staying away from grains and I am legume free, dairy free and pescatarian.

I happened to stumble across a fitness site when reading about the Paleo diet. The truth is no matter how much my diet has changed and or how much yoga I have done, there are still things about my body that make me uncomfortable. Not wanting to rely on yoga for only its physical benefits, I started thinking about alternatives. I do not want to go about abusing my body or avoiding food either. I love food, it is a huge part of my life and relationship. Despite wanting to avoid premature aging from the sun, I have avoided wearing a bikini at all costs over the past two years because of my body.

I have always wanted a toned stomach with lines (not from skin rolls) and I have never been comfortable bearing my midriff, not in the last 8 years at least. My butt is not perky (‘yoga butt’ as a friend aptly termed) and my thighs are not toned. I am sick of feeling as if the only thing on my body that has any mass are my shoulders, no thanks to all the chaturangas. High waisted, skinny jeans or skirts have been the bane of my existence.

When Yoga Is Not Enough

Been using since 2012 and they are falling apart! I need better shoes!

I love ashtanga and I love teaching it.  However, this past year I have had to scale back a lot because of an injury. Without the finances to get help, I started exploring alternative methods as it became clear that yoga was not enough. In fact, it was actually making my pain worse.

At one time in my life, I was a big cardio junkie. I started avoiding high intensity activities though because I was afraid that it would make me too stiff for yoga.  But at 31, I wanted to attempt the exercise thing again as it had been clear that to get rid of my bulimia weight or just be at peace with my body, that yoga was not enough. The thing is I needed structure and inspiration. Curiosity directed me to Kayla Itsines. Kayla has been proving that you can get that amazing bikini body, without being bulky. So I though, great!

But, can I get a bikini body through training and still be able to put my legs behind my head? Will training make me stiff?

When Yoga Is Not Enough

Her program is 12 weeks long. I have forgotten how it feels to really be sore. Nonetheless, Kayla’s one day of basic stretching just does not cut it for this yoga practitioner.

I meant to post weekly, but I can only do two belated posts instead. It is scary sharing photos. I actually have taken longer than 12 weeks to do the guide, which I will explain in my next post. I also did not do one of the things you are supposed to do: take progress shots, weight and measurements weekly. It is recommended to do this because emotions lie, but I am quite afraid of numbers defining me – and my jeans do fit better, or at least I feel that way. Be kind. I don’t actually remember if this was week 6 or 7, but here it is:

Progress shots of BBG 1.0

Left to right: Week 7, Week 1, Week 1, Week 7. Bad ordering and was too lazy to fix it.

And for the record, I have been very shy about letting anyone about this, because so many of my friends believe yoga is enough – and for many it is! Results aren’t as obvious as others I have seen.

My next post: why Kayla Itsines BBG 1.0 did not work for me – and did the Bikini Body Guide make me stiff?

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Why Yoga Daily
asana, Ashtanga Yoga, Tiffany Lee, Yoga

Why Yoga Is A Daily Practice

Since I have started doing reception at a yoga studio, I have met all sorts of interesting people. There’s a guy who was disappointed that the 10-class card only lasted 3 months. I asked him why. He told me he felt “pressured” to come once a week. I looked at him and said, “the point is to come daily.”

Then, came an influx of reasons as to why he could not do this or why his other activities were also “yoga.”

I get it. People like to do a bunch of different things, have variety, and take days off, but there is a reason behind having a daily yoga practice. I advise exploring some of that discomfort and discovering the meaning behind why one might not want to do yoga every day.

Here are some reasons why yoga should be a daily practice:

When the going gets tough…

My first teacher, who I owe a lot, used to often say many silly catchy lines during class. I always thought of it as his loving way to direct someone’s attention toward something or lighten up the sometimes intense mood. Despite having lost contact with him, when the going got tough, one of the phrases he would say was “avoidance is not the answer.”
Ashtanga is an especially challenging yoga practice. It demands a lot of discipline, even more since I practice alone. I do not have a teacher standing over me or a community in the room, challenging or supporting me. In fact, it is quite the opposite as, it is usually just my partner and I. Yet, I find that getting on my mat and practicing is necessary. As most people have probably learned once in their life, when the going gets tough, that is the time to persist! Tough times and challenges teach us something about ourselves, our abilities and our minds.
Why Yoga Daily

Doing something daily allows you to hone, refine and shift what was once challenging into something that is comforting.

Practice compassion

When one does the same practice regularly, you obviously start to encounter your ego in a variety of ways. When your ego doesn’t work to your benefit or liking, it is the perfect time for compassion. Personally I have gotten so frustrated and agitated at my physical inability to do something. Maybe I am giving the asana practice more credit than it is worth, but I would like to think the whole point of all of this is acceptance. Acceptance of you, of where you are, and of the perhaps incredibly flexible or smelly person next to you.

Not judging yourself also could mean being comfortable with where you are, no matter the circumstances.

Why Yoga Daily

Learning compassion towards yourself and others is an aspect of the yoga practice.

Yoga is not only a physical exercise.

By a “daily” practice, I do not mean to say that you need to be doing physical yoga 7 days a week. I do not recommend this. I understand that life happens, people are too tired, work is too much, you are hungry, you are lazy, whatever…but if you start to make a habit out of your excuses for not practicing, you’re only harming yourself.
Yoga comes a variety of forms and most people are only really familiar with the asana (physical) form. Be it karma (service), bhakti (devotional), or meditation, it doesn’t and shouldn’t be dependent on going to a class with other people, bending and twisting your body. It is supposed to be about bending and twisting your mind! It is learning the ability to step away from your present mindset that has probably left you in cycles of suffering at one point. In fact, the whole goal behind yoga, as I understand it, is that all these insanely contorted postures will take you less outside, and more inside. You’ll hopefully feel less attached to the outer form and your ability or inability to do something will transform into acceptance and being still.
Obviously, if you don’t have a set yoga sequence you are accustomed, it is not easy to start from nothing. It is important to have a teacher and it is important that you are not just making up postures or jumping into poses because you saw someone doing it on Instagram and it looked “cool.” This is a great way to get injured.
Why Yoga Daily

Yoga is so much more than a physical practice. Photo courtesy of Epic Photojournalism.

Practice makes perfect.

Ever wonder why you still can’t do a headstand? Try doing it every day for a month and you’ll probably be doing it. Of course, I don’t mean only doing headstand alone, there is a whole process that accompanies the success of an asana. So, your pose might never be perfect, but whoever said good things came easy. In order to improve at something, we must face it fearlessly and persistently daily, in possibly every moment, on and off the mat.

I should add that it is fun to switch up yoga classes and do different routines or activities, but the reason behind repetition is that it forces you to confront yourself in a new light. Your body is changing everyday! As you develop your yoga practice or whatever other training, you will come up against the same things, be them mentally or physically. Facing and overcoming these confrontations are essential for growth.

Thus, the next time you are trying to talk yourself out of practicing (and this does take a person who is willing to be honest with themselves), investigate this aversion. Instead of avoiding it, face it.

See you on the mat.
Why Yoga Daily

No matter what, make time for your yoga practice, every day!

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Pilgrimage for Healing
Ashtanga Yoga, Bucket List, Buddha, Buddhism, Goals, India, Pema Chodron, Recovery, Tiffany Lee, Travel, Yoga, Yoga N' Spice

Pilgrimage for Healing

I must admit that I feel a little bashful posting this. I have thought that perhaps it seems selfish, crazy, or just unbelievable. I have written for quite sometime now that I wished I would post more frequently, but now I have more of a motivation. This is a lengthy post, but I wanted to explain my reasoning thoroughly. Please help us, if you can, whatever you can offer, get to India/Nepal. Here’s my detailed story behind it:

Pilgrimage for Healing

Pilgrimage in India. Photo courtesy of Seth Lagner and Sati Shannon Rose Chmelar

Why:

For anyone who has ever suffered from an addiction, a loss of direction, or just felt like you couldn’t get out of bed; you have experienced the nature of suffering. At one point, we have all experienced heavy emotions and for many, it passes or we press on. Some find taking up a new hobby, experience, or relationship can fill that space. For others, we may attempt to fill that void with self-destructive afflictions. Regardless of the direction hard times have taken you, no one is unscathed from pain, sadness, frustration or fear. All of us carry suffering deep within our tissues and memories. Our body and mind does not forget and forever more, our choices and words are often dictated by things that have pained us or that we have not learned how to let go or accept.

In this way, we can all relate. Through this, we all share a very common and vulnerable bond. Many of us hide behind our fear of repeating mistakes, failure, inadequacy, money, and so on. Yet, if we were able to tap into the nature of this suffering and find the freedom within that vulnerability, I imagine we might feel a great sense of relief and peace with the way things are.

Pilgrimage for Healing

India pilgrimage. Photo courtesy of Seth Lagner and Sati Shannon Rose Chmelar

About me and this, in a nutshell:
During my adolescent years, my emotional awareness of myself and others led me to believe I wasn’t good enough. Like many of my peers, I started to experiement with alcohol. Going to parties provided a false notion that I belonged in a community, which quickly developed into sexual involvment with many other adolescent boys. None of us obviously bore the knowledge of the detrimental effects that having multiple sex partners can do to a person, especially a teenager. When I was 18, I found peace in God and returned to Christiantiy for refuge from my confusion.

Once in University,“God” no longer was enough. The seed of inadequacy had already grown, and I was looking for wholeness. I wanted to belong and suffered for not feeling like I did. It was there I discovered the treachery of bulimia, which would become a hidden source of painful comfort that would torment me for the next ten years.

Unfortunately, therapists, doctors, a short-lived cocaine addiction, and a revisit to the Christian faith brought me no solace. Searching, I stumbled into my first yoga class and the journey of seeing myself in a new light started to slowly unravel. Yoga did not initially bring me peace, but something about the practice and the community intrigued me. People looked amazing at various ages and cared for themselves. I even found myself free of my eating issues for nearly 2 years.

Sadly, it all came apart my first time abroad. My yoga journey to India was supposed to have been the place where I would find “God” and myself. I was at a loss. I had traveled so far to realize that I had gone nowhere.

Pilgrimage for Healing

Teaching yoga in South Korea in 2011 at Wall Street English.

Feeling an urge to escape, I believed a change of scenery would make me whole again. With the longing to be open to new things, I landed in South Korea. Accordingly, my eating disorder followed. There I managed to connect with the yoga community and start teaching my first ashtanga yoga classes. But, my bulimia still ailed me. It saddens me the way my suffering prevented me from just living. My secret caused me to alienate myself whenever possible. It was when I happened to listen to some of Pema Chodron’s buddhist talks that things began to shift.

She spoke of working with the nature of the mind, instead of fearing it. It is when you come to know your own suffering, you can relate better with the world. It was the first time I had heard that I could use my suffering as a vehicle for compassion and connection with others. I had never considered attempting to understand the nature of suffering. The entire time, I had been doing everything to avoid it.

Pilgrimage for Healing

Photo courtesy of Christian Bernert and Sati Shannon Chmelar

So where am I today and what do I want to do?

As for yoga, the physical practice has tested my willpower in many ways. After having had to practice alone for so many years, yoga has been a testament to discipline and faith that I clung to hope for peace within. Perhaps self indulgent to be so consumed by a physical discipline, the yoga posture works towards the ability for us to be one with who we are, instead of a disconnected bystander. It also teaches us that the impossible is possible.

Love has brought me wholeness too. Outside my family, who suffered greatly when I was in the midst of my personal angst, my best friend and fiance has been life’s greatest instrument of unconditional love and compassion. He has never tried to change or fix me, rather has only accepted me for where I was and helped to find a way to direct me in a healthier path.

Even so, to be a good partner, lover, friend and caretaker of myself, I have needed to learn the tools to nourish me. It is beyond advanced yoga postures and it far surpasses inspirational quotes, self-help books, therapy and drugs. The greatest gift brought to me from my near 10 years of bulimia was understanding the nature of suffering and the mind.

Pilgrimage for Healing

Love, acceptance and non judgment has been the greatest healing on my life.

Some never journey this far with their suffering, but we have all experienced it to different degrees. Shoving aside or pressing through has never been a solution for me though. I have been seeking an understanding and a reconciliation with my mind.

I am not a therapist nor do I posses the proper education or credentials to equip someone else on their journey through suffering. However, it is my wish to have the ability to give back by directing others through wisdom and helping discover the right direction for their journey to peace. Religion or not, I think the principles of the yoga practice and Buddhist philosophy offer useful, life saving techniques towards finding tranquility and contentment during difficult times.

From the other perspective, my partner has been witness to my suffering. He has held space for me all these years, expressing his desire to understand and love me unconditionally. He is an example for those who do have a healthy relationship with themselves. However, none of us are untouched and if we do not experience suffering to such a deep extent, we probably know someone very close to us who does.

Pilgrimage for Healing

Help us go to India! Photo courtesy of Christian Bernert and Sati Shannon Chmelar.

What/Where/When:
In February of 2015, a pilgrimage to the heart of dharma in Nepal and India will be led by the Vasudhaiva Institute. The journey will take us to the 8 major sites of the Buddha along with a focus of the lineage, comparative study and cultural immersion. Additionally, we’ll also be exploring our own ashtanga yoga practices in more depth under the guidance of Sati.

Yoga is the vehicle for healing the body, both inside and out. Meditation, or finding peace with the mind, is the avenue for healing of the mind. This is a journey of self study that will enable us to share it externally through our own teachings, both yoga instruction and food.

Additionally, we plan on wedding summer of 2015! We look to this pilgrimage for healing as a way to set up a solid framework and prepare ourselves for a life of love and marriage.

How your support would help:

Your contribution would help us better equip ourselves so we can share our experience, which will hopefully have a healing affect others. After this trip, our goal is also to integrate food into our work and bring joy with all the senses to every meal. The last component for my healing has been making peace with food. After battling food for so long, I have come to realize that I have a great love of it. So, it is a great gift to be able to use what I so long feared to serve and nourish others. I will use my writing to document the journey, write and blog, as well as apply the learned knowledge to developing Yoga n’ Spice and help others find balance and healing.

We’re attempting to raise $6,000. When I think about how many friends we both have on Facebook, if everyone gave $5, we’d be set, but not everyone cares or has the ability so I’m reaching out to cyberspace!

Yes, it is expensive, but this is the real deal and a very comprehensive journey. It is demanding of us (we will have to do a lot of self study prior) and will give back to us in an even richer way. Sati is an amazing teacher and friend, so I sincerely hope we’re able to make this a reality.

Thank you for taking the time to read this through…and a thousand thank you’s if you feel so compelled to support. For more questions, please write me.

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Tips for Immigrants in Sweden
Expat, Pine Tribe, Scandinavia, Scandinavian Culture, Sweden, Tiffany Lee

Tips for Immigrants in Sweden

Yes, once again I have changed the format of my blog. Shortly, I will be moving my blog soon over to our new site, but I’ll let you know when that happens (if anyone is even still reading).

I can’t believe it is August already. I love summer. Many Swedes think summer here is so beautiful, but it many ways, it only makes me long for summer in San Diego. The weather in southern Sweden, although mild in temperature, is irregular. One day of bright sunshine and blue skies could be followed by torrential rainfall and wind. People often ask me if I like living in Sweden, and other then because of love and we thought it would be easier to get a visa, it has proven to be a difficult transition.

Tips for Immigrants in Sweden

However, I am now in a balancing act with everything that is happening. My days are filled. School, my internship and job are equally absorbing my time and energy, leaving little time for my yoga practice and/or fun with my boyfriend. However, we manage to do the best we can with the time we have each day. (If you are interested in what I’m doing for my internship, go to this link and scroll for the articles with my name, I have been writing there on a weekly basis since April).

One of the greatest things this summer is that I finally got a job. Being an ashtanga practitioner, we often don’t often intermingle with other yoga forms. However, in a moment of desperation, I contacted yoga studios within the city to see if there was any need for a receptionist. Low and behold, I am doing reception work at a hot yoga studio. I have taken a few classes so far and I have actually really enjoyed it. Reception work is not my dream job, but it is something for now.

One thing I have to say is that the life of an immigrant is not easy in Sweden. If you didn’t move to Sweden to be a student, moving here for love or asylum makes life challenging. Most SAMBO’s (cohabitation with partner) who are foreigners struggle to find their niche.

Here are some tips I have learned as an immigrant in Sweden:

1. Learn the Language

Unfortunately, there is a waiting time for SFI, Swedish for Immigrants, but once you are able to start taking classes, the pace of life will become more interesting. Since most people find it difficult to secure a job immediately (or within the first year) after arriving, attending language classes is a great way to meet other people in similar situations and begin integration. While I haven’t studied for so long, just learning a little has helped tremendously for simple things when I’m out and about. Additionally, the language is NOT easy. The grammar is all a big mess to me, but I am hoping that things will start to smoothen out soon enough.

If you can’t take classes or master the language, just learning a little of the local language, will make your transition into Swedish culture much easier!

Tips for Immigrants in Sweden

2. Speak English

When all else fails, if you can, speak in English! Unfortunately, English is a big reason why I probably have it loads easier than a lot of immigrants from non-English speaking countries. My internship is in English and my job does not require Swedish. Depending on the country, going around speaking in English might be a disservice. However, in most of the major European cities, English is helpful though. Keep in mind, some of the older Swedes are afraid to speak in English. This is not always the case though, but do not be surprised if some seem unwilling to help or respond to you in Swedish. Just look for someone else to ask if necessary.

3. Put yourself out there

This is something I would recommend anywhere. I know it is so scary, but you have to be friendly. Similarly, be sensitive. Swedes are not typically outwardly, friendly people. If you see a Swede on the street, do not be surprised or disappointed by the lack of warmth you may receive. However, if you can manage to break the ice, I have found a great majority of them to be really kind. A good way to break the ice is to host a get together with people you have met that you’re interested in cultivating a friendship. Swedes stick together with friends they have known since childhood, so you will find that once you’re apart of a group, some of them have known each other for a long time.

Tips for Immigrants in Sweden

4. Apply, Apply, Apply

Other students I have met from all over (albeit, a mass majority from the Middle East) often ask me how I got a job here, especially so quickly. While, I do not think it was that quick, I realize that I secured an internship 1 1/2 months after getting my residency and a paying job within 4 1/2 months. I did this by relentlessly applying. I have no tricks up my sleeve and quite frankly, very little experience with what I was applying for, but I persevered. Send out your resume and CV to everyone! Look to LinkedIn for companies within the area that might be of interest to you and just send them a mail. You might not get a response, most likely not, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

5. The system

There is a tricky thing about moving to a new country and that is that you have to abide by the laws. In Sweden they have something called the personal number *personnumer* which is similar to the U.S. social security number. You must get this number if you ever expect to get a job, a bank account, go to school, or just be apart of life.

6. The bank account

You cannot open a bank account without a personal number. You cannot get online banking, which basically means, you won’t have access to an ATM card or online banking, until you have a salary. Handelsbanken apparently does not have this requirement though and I have heard they have remarkable customer service. I made the mistake of opening an account with Swedbank. Swedbank, perhaps all the others as well, will charge you for using their online banking and getting a bank card. I have been frustrated by their lack of customer support and general timeliness. Farewell, free easy banking and amazing customer service, I have been spoiled in the states.

7. Be patient, but not stagnant!

Don’t sit at home waiting for something to happen. Well, if you sit at home, do something! If you’re lonely, accept this is the way things are for now. Find something to occupy your time, create ways to not sink into despair. It is not easy moving to a new place. Even if you have a Swedish partner, they probably will have to go to work at a certain point. Friends will come, but it takes time! Join a gym, pick up a new hobby, or just start reading!

8. Intermingle

If at all costs, do not only stick within your own. You’re no longer in your home country, stop trying to recreate everything that you once had there. Perhaps, it will make you feel less homesick, but to a new home, you have to immerse yourself in the culture. Sometimes this might only mean going for a walk in the neighborhood or visiting a new restaurant every so often, you will eventually have to meet some of the locals.

Tips for Immigrants in Sweden

Hopefully these tips for new immigrants to Sweden, or anywhere else will come in handy. I find that the mass majority of them could have been applied when I lived in South Korea.

Images from herehere, herehere

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Noma Copenhagen
Food, Gastronomy, Michelin Restaurant, Pine Tribe, Scandinavia, Scandinavian Culture, Tiffany Lee

Return of the World’s Best Restaurant: Noma

One of my favorite travel foodies, Anthony Bourdain, visited the best restaurant in the world, Noma. Noma is actually nearby where I work at Pine Tribe in Copenhagen. Unfortunately, I haven’t been fortunate enough to eat here.

I don’t know how to plug my full post here, so I’ll share an excerpt:

Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown: Copenhagen episode features Noma’s, René Redzepi, and the man behind the world-class restaurant. If you are unfamiliar, Bourdain is an American chef, author, and television personality. He’s gained a culinary bad boy image by openly expressing his opinion and visiting places that most culinary celebrities wouldn’t dare. Bourdain constantly goes against the grain as he supports many chefs around the world who are taking a non-traditional approach. Bourdain gave a cultural glimpse into the world of Scandinavia when Redzepi, who seemed quite normal and humble in nature, highlighted the preliminary lack of support he felt from the Danish community.


To see the complete article, learn about the restaurant, and learn about jantelagen (an age-old Scandinavian mindset), go here.

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