Oct 022010

In this case, silence means I’ve been frantically busy with work, trying to complete a big PHP and MySQL coding project. It’s done (well, ready to ship; there’s always more work I can do!) but mom is coming later this week so I will probably be quiet for a while again. Sorry :)

In good news, I’ve been riding the exercise bike again. 27 minutes today so far, and I hope to get back to an hour a day as time and energy permit.

Sep 222010

I recently had the good luck to exchange some e-mail with that rare beast, The Polite and Pleasant Gay Man. In this case, the gentleman in question is a member of a local massage exchange Web board. He came across an old post of mine seeking therapeutic massage services to help deal with my repetitive stress injuries and general physical creakiness and wrote to ask if I’d had any luck.

We got to exchanging e-mail about the subject and he invited me to give isolated stretching a try. I’ve had a similar form of therapy in the past, where the practitioner focuses on specific areas of the body and uses manipulation and stretching to help deal with stress and pain. I agreed to give it a try and my first appointment was last night.

It was an interesting experience! First, this form of stretching is definitely different from the other—in that case, I was much more of a passive participant and the practitioner also combined aspects of traditional massage with the stretching. The type I had last night was more a mix of active and passive. Various specific parts of the body are focused on (last night we worked on my shoulders, neck, arms, and hands) and multiple individual stretches are performed. In each case I started by actively stretching, with the practitioner passively guiding me and helping keep the rest of my body in good form. Once I reached my limit of motion, he actively assisted to extend and complete the stretch while I relaxed (or tried to!) my efforts. Each stretch is combined with deliberate breathing to oxygenate the muscles and repeated twice for five to ten repetitions depending on the part of the body being stretched.

It sounds pretty simple, right? Fairly easy, right? Well, no, and no :) Despite all the movements being very deliberate (each stretch is held for two seconds at peak), there’s a lot of exertion involved! I wore a loose t-shirt and trousers to enhance mobility and quickly discovered just how much heat they both retain. I wasn’t dripping with sweat by the time the three and a half hour session was over, but I really felt like I had had quite the workout. It’s amazing to realize how parts of the body are connected, too: stretching one part helps another relax; while stretching one area, another that you might never think about reacts to the movement and—with luck and time—you become more limber and stronger. Yes, stronger: while you’re not exactly building muscle in the same way as, say, weight lifting, you are toning the muscle you do have and reinforcing its strength through deliberate use.

This is a big part of why I am enthusiastic about the therapy, because my repetitive stress and strain in my arms and hands is threatening to get worse. These movements will help open up the carpal tunnel and strengthen my body so that the activity I have to engage in (as an I.T. person, I can’t not type, for example) won’t damage me so much. “Opening up” the body helps it deliver oxygen to the tissues, too, which keeps them flexible and working efficiently.

Another aspect of the therapy that is beneficial to me is that it involves human touch. Unlike most working out, where you are focused on your own body, these stretching exercises involve passive and active assistant from a practitioner. This means their hands are on you—your bodies are in contact in various ways during the stretches—and while it is all very professional, you’re still getting the benefit of caring touch from another human being. It’s amazing how relaxing and comforting that can be. While I don’t hold to any traditions of faith or mysticism, I think there is truth to exchanging energy between people. Touch via stretching is a gentle, constructive, relaxing way of sharing the human connection.

I am looking forward to my next session, this coming Monday, and expanding my range of motion!

Sep 142010

The Corn Refiners Association applied Tuesday to the federal government for permission to use the name on food labels. The group hopes a new name will ease confusion about the sweetener, which is used in soft drinks, bread, cereal and other products.

via Huffington PostGoodbye High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hello Corn Sugar (Signed, Corn Industry). This isn’t surprising—Americans are increasingly hesitant to use the plethora of products made with the cheap, imitation sugar. The corn industry, which stands to profit from everyone consuming as much “sugar” from their product as possible, naturally wants us all to quietly stop complaining and ingest more.

“Sugar is sugar,” they cry—and some scientific research agrees, while others prefer to hold off until there’s further research. For me, it seems pretty simple: we don’t need sugar in an ever-increasing array of foods. Sugar is a great energy source, but we’ve become as addicted to it as we’re addicted to cheap crude oil. HFCS is an even cheaper way of introducing sugar (fructose and sucrose) than other “normal” sugars, which is devastating for all consumers: we need less, not more, in our diet!

It’s not easy to avoid sugar in the American diet, and it’s increasingly difficult to avoid HFCS. For your (and my) own good, though, it’s worth pursuing. Call it HFCS or call it “corn sugar,” the net effect is the same: bad.

Sep 012010

The authors of the new paper are careful to note that even if drinking is associated with longer life, it can be dangerous: it can impair your memory severely and it can lead to nonlethal falls and other mishaps (like, say, cheating on your spouse in a drunken haze) that can screw up your life. There’s also the dependency issue: if you become addicted to alcohol, you may spend a long time trying to get off the bottle.

via Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers, Study Finds – Yahoo! News.

It seems hard to believe, and one should not leap to conclusions based on a single study (how thorough and rigorous was the methodology of research? Was it properly and carefully controlled for other influences?), but it’s an interesting conclusion nonetheless. Alcohol is a potent drug—its inhibition inhibiting powers are certainly behind many a personal mishap and even death—but it seems that a little poison really can do some good over time.

I suspect that we’ll see something to the contrary in a few years, though; medical studies tend to bounce back and forth all the time (coffee is bad for you; coffee is good for you! Butter is bad for you; butter is a lot better than margarine! And so on).

Jun 222010

Total riding time: 40 minutes in two shifts.
Approximate kCal burned: 640, per LoseIt.com
Total recovery time: approximately seven minutes.

I slightly increased the resistance for today’s ride. It meant I got drenched in sweat quickly, but I cooled down in between and after each riding session (of 15 and 25 minutes, respectively). All in all, I think it was a pretty good ride and hope to repeat or improve it tomorrow!

Jun 212010

Total riding time: 25 minutes

Approximate kCal burned: 401, according to LoseIt.com

Recovery time: approximately three minutes

Not my best time again, but when the stomach calls a work stoppage for food, you gotta do what you gotta do. Since my company is about to switch us away from crappy health insurance to abysmal health insurance, I need to call my doctor to get my July appointment shifted into June. I’ll get weighed then, and one hopes I’ll see a nice drop from last time.

Jun 212010

I recently took the plunge (as it were) and decided to try something totally new for me: try a day spa. Spas have always seemed sort of mysterious to me—this is probably because I was raised in the midwest, where anything that pampers the body is looked on with greater-than-usual Puritan disdain. (Pleasure is evil, after all!) Spas are represented in the popular media as places of luxury and indulgence for the rich and indolent; places that only rich women and leather-skinned old perverted men go to.

Well, let me tell you straight off the bat that it’s all a bunch of bunkum!

After chatting with my fabulous friends at Craft Night last Thursday, I decided that a visit to a Korean day spa that is conveniently located near my home would be a neat new experience for my boyfriend and I. The place is called Spa World and is located in a large shopping center in no-frills Centreville, VA, near where I live. If you’re curious, there are a boatload of reviews of the place on Yelp—check them out!

The first time I saw Spa World, I foolishly assumed they were a vendor of spa equipment, like hot tubs and other such things. Boy, was I wrong! The front of the place is pretty unassuming. If I hadn’t heard about it from friends, I would never have thought to venture inside.

After passing through two sets of thick glass doors, you enter the foyer, where you pay your entry fee and store your shoes. Entrance to the spa is $35.00 for twenty-four hours. You store your shoes in the lobby lockers as insurance against fleeing without paying for further services, I guess. It also helps prevent outside muck from entering the facilities, which is good—and part of the sanitary theme that is carried throughout the facility. Once you pay your money, you get a little electronic key on a bracelet that provides access to your lockers and is used to track any additional purchases you make while inside the facility. The attendant on duty hands over a set of inside garb (a short-sleeved top and shorts). My first (and really only) complaint here is that the inside garb only comes in an extremely limited range of sizes. While the shorts fit me (tightly), the top was extremely tight and somewhat uncomfortable. Men are given ochre yellow clothes while women and children get orange.

Now you’re off to the gender-separated area of the spa and the start of your experience.

Two things should be noted at this point:

  1. If you are uncomfortable about the idea of being naked around other people of the same gender, do not come here.
  2. If you are uncomfortable about the idea of seeing children, old people, and less-than-perfect bodies naked around you, do not come here.

I’ve been told that Korean culture is very different from American in that people are pretty laid-back, touchy-feely, friendly, and comfortable in their skin. I can say without a doubt that the description holds true for my experience at Spa World! We arrived at about 18:00 on a Friday. The place was far from packed. I’d say that over the roughly six and a half hours we spent there, maybe half the male patrons were Asian (all Korean, I’m guessing) and the rest were a mix of Europeans and Americans. There were children from fairly young (I’d guess about six) to early teens; a few men in their 20s (mostly Asian); a few men in their 30s (mostly American); and adult men from 30 to 70 or so.

Now, I’ve only been once so far, so I can’t say that all the comments from men on Yelp about nudity are wrong, but: there was definitely a lot of ‘checking out’ going on from the non-Asian population in the male pool/locker area. It wasn’t as gross and judgmental as in a gay facility, but people were definitely curious about what other bodies looked like (and yes, I looked, too). I thought it was amusing that with one exception, the only men who tried to cover their fronts up were of African heritage; the other was a young Asian guy in fairly great shape who seemed to be extremely nervous about anyone checking out his ‘package.’ As someone of homely-at-best appearance and body-by-cream puff, even I felt comfortable enough to walk around the pool area in the nude. Most of the men there were slightly plump and a few were larger than me; once you’ve seen a few dozen crotches, you get used to the fact and basically only notice who gives into the tyranny of manscaping or has gotten unfortunate ‘tramp stamp’ tattoos.

Anyway, enough of the nude bits :)

The spa is divided into three basic areas: a men’s pool/locker/sauna, a women’s pool/locker/sauna, and a common area. The pool/locker/sauna areas are gender-separated and you’re nude in them other than to change into/out of your street clothes or the inside outfit. The locker room, like every other space in this sauna, is spotless and clean. Staff on hand are friendly (if not always conversant in English) and every area is checked regularly for cleanliness and safety. I don’t know how they manage to keep the place so clean, given the amount of water and the 24-hour access, but they do—and I’m really glad for it.

The focus of my stay was the men’s pool area. The pool area consists of a series of standing and sitting showers (all open to sight), which you’re expected to use before entering the pools; a large “Bade” pool, several smaller hot tub-like pools, a scrub/massage area, a wet sauna, a dry sauna, and an infrared-heated resting area. The sauna rooms are closed off, but with glass so you can see inside. The scrub/massage area has a low wall around it but nothing is closed off or hidden from view—it’s a spacious, comfortable feeling.

The main pool is heated to 95–96 ºF, just about body temperature, and has a variety of stations with amazing water jets and fountains. I can’t adequately describe them other than to wish there were more and to recommend you try them all over and over again. Each jet is on a five minute rotation with little contact-sensitive switches to turn them back on when they run out (and you’ll basically keep them going all the time). Outside the main pool are three heated pools, at around 101 ºF, 104 ºF, and 106 ºF. You’ll be amazed at how even a degree or two of temperature makes a difference! There’s also a cold pool, chilled to 62 ºF, for European-style sauna experiences. The two sauna rooms are hot: the wet one averages 120 ºF and the dry, 190 ºF. I couldn’t stand the dry one for more than a few seconds, and the wet for more than a minute, but they were exhilarating nevertheless.

You can purchase extra services inside the spa, one of which is a body scrub (they also offer massages). For $50, you’ll have an exfoliating loofa scrub that is quite intense and invigorating. I don’t recommend it if you have sensitive skin, because it is VERY intense, but I tried it and really enjoyed the experience. You get scrubbed all over (and I mean all over—guys, expect to have the attendant move your genitals aside to rub down your crotch; trust me, it’s not erotic), rinsed with warm water, washed, and then a light shiatsu massage. The massage was a little intense for me, but it helped release some of the tension I carry in my shoulders. Note that the attendants are clothed in shorts for the work over, since they move your body parts around for the scrub, but they approached and left the area nude (which I thought was kind of amusing).

You could spend all day in the pool area, and we nearly did. Eventually hunger drove us out, though, and after donning the uncomfortable inside garb, we entered the common area. It features a few TVs, numerous mats on which you can relax, several “poultice” rooms (hot dry spas with various minerals in the walls that supposedly impart health benefits—each room was too hot for me), a drinks bar (non-alcoholic only), and a cafeteria with Asian/Korean food. There are gym facilities, sleeping areas (monitored by camera), a massage salon, and a smoking room upstairs. Note that this is NOT a handicapped-access area, sadly, and getting Piotr to the smoking room was a bit of a trial. There’s free WiFi access, couches, chairs, at mats to relax on and people were definitely using them. Since you’re clothed in this area, this is where families and mixed-gender friends hang out (and yes, families and mixed-gender friends were in plenty of evidence on a Friday evening). The café was a little sparse but $12.00 got me a filling meal of steamed dumplings, miso soup (which I normally don’t like but this wasn’t bad), and Korean side dishes.

As I mentioned, we spent nearly seven hours here and were it not for the fact that we were exhausted, we could have stayed longer. The clientele was interesting, the staff were polite and friendly, and the place is spacious and spotless. If you have not tried a spa before, I strongly encourage giving this one a try. Unless you are really uptight about your body, you should have a fabulously relaxing time!

Jun 162010

Total riding time: 25 minutes

Approximate kCal burned: 400 (per LoseIt.com)

Approximate recovery time: seven minutes

I’d planned to put in time yesterday but stress that nearly led to a panic attack kept me off the bike. Today I didn’t manage to put in quite as much time as I had hoped, but I’m still pleased with 25 minutes. It’s a good, solid amount of time and had my bladder and stomach not both been fairly insistent for attention, I would probably have gone longer. So tomorrow’s goal is to get back to my original goal of thirty minutes a day; Friday’s is to aim for 35, and we’ll go from there…