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Monday, 1 September 2014

September: Shaolin Warrior Workout

   I'm returning to the more unusual workouts this month. I can't remember what made me think of it, but I've always loved martial arts, I find them so impressive, particularly Kung Fu, which is a form of martial arts based on the form of animals. That's enchanting, to me. I've wanted to learn it for so long but I've never been brave enough so I've never even tried to find a class even out of curiosity. I was interested in Karate too, but there was a girl in my high school who I didn't really like who did it and it put me off. She was so pretentious about it, and she actually used it, mind you, or at least the strength she gained from it. If you went to tease her by nudging her pencil case a little (yes, I know, it's extremely childish, but we were all good friends at the time and it was never meant in a mean way and I'm certain we all knew that) she would kind of chop at your arm, and it wasn't a playful, jokey chop either, there was force behind it and it hurt every time.
   Ahem. Yes, so she sort of put me off of that. I also admit, though, that I don't think I'd know karate if I saw it, there are so many different kinds of martial arts. Kung Fu, however, I think I would know a move or two if I saw it.

   Well, I was curious one day, so I went on amazon, not expecting to find anything remotely close to what I wanted in the DVDs section, so imagine my surprise when I came across a small range of workout DVDs called 'Shaolin Workout'.
   They're expensive, yes, but they all have pretty good reviews, and after a little bit of deeper research, my single concerned was alleviated: the instructor is a true Shaolin monk from China, Shifu Yan Lei. The reason this was a concern was because I didn't think it would be quite as accurate or authentic from someone from the West. Call me racist, but I don't mean it in any bad kind of way, like I said, with a true monk as a trainer the workout would be more accurate.

   Now, I know what you're thinking: this isn't going to be easy. Well, good. I don't want it to be. You're probably now thinking: no, seriously Kim, it really isn't going to be easy. I say bring it on.
   My new year's resolution was to find new workouts every month to stave off plateaus and to try new things, keeping working out from becoming a chore, and it's by embracing these kinds of interests that keeps it fun.

   I bought Shaolin Warrior Workout, Volume One: Beginner. It claims that you need no previous experience in martial arts, and the DVD is 60 minutes long, complete with warm up and cool down. Like I've suggested, I know it's going to be hard, I honestly do, but I want the challenge and the experience, I really want to give it a go, and this it the best there is without taking actual classes - though I think if it goes well I might consider that.
   There are two other Shaolin Warrior Workout DVDs - Intermediate and Advanced - and there are about 6 other DVDs from the same Shifu and production company, including Qigong - the slow form that helps to slow the mind - and DVDs specialising in punches and kicks. I'm hoping that I'll get on well enough with this DVD to try one of the other two levels at some point, but I'm not going to let myself race ahead with that yet. This is possibly going to be one of the hardest workouts I've chosen, so I'm going to be patient with it, too. Fortunately I've done enough yoga and strength training to make this a tiny bit easier for myself, and I'm hoping that some of the kickboxing from last month will help me out, too. But only time will tell.

   As always, I'll update in 2 weeks with my impressions and progress, and two weeks after that again.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Teapigs: Super Power Green

   I reviewed Teapigs not long ago, but I actually wanted to revisit them and look at one of the products in particular: Super Power Green.
    I've already said how good matcha is for you, but Teapig's super power green matcha powder has a few points I think are worth repeating here:

1) Tea powder uses the entire leaf. When using a teabag, the majority of the leaf gets thrown away. The powder is more concentrated and contains more good things than a teabag does, and is a better option than ordinary green tea, too - one number I can't get my head around is that matcha powder has 137 times more antioxidants than ordinary green tea!
2) The energy boost. I used to drink those sugar- and caffine-filled energy drinks when I was younger but they never did anything. I never felt more energised, even when I tried to be (mind over matter) and all I did was gain weight. What annoys me about these energy drinks more is that they're so easily available, and all these 12 year olds run around with them and think they 'need' them. Ahem. Matcha can give you an energy boost for 4-6 hours, but while giving you an energy boost, is also calms your mind so that you can stay focused. Keep in mind the fact that Buddhist monks have been drinking powdered matcha tea for centuries, and that's a fact that certainly strikes a tune with me and my interest in Ancient China and Feudal Japan.
3) Teapigs' Super Power Green was voted the best slimming and fitness product for 2011 - that might have been 3 years ago, but it's just as valid now as it was then, as it helps to speed up your metabolism, and a 'shot' of matcha (half a teaspoon is all you need a day) before a workout can help to improve your fat burn.
4) Tea powder can be easily added to other things. Some people don't like the taste of green tea - it took a little while to adjust to it myself when I started drinking it, but I quickly fell in love with it. But for those who don't like it, the powder can be mixed into smoothies, fruit juice, porridge, yoghurt and so on without even noticing.

   Teapigs sell a wonderful modern matcha kit which I got my hands on, that includes 30g of the powder, a shot glass, a spoon with a half-teaspoon/1g capacity, and a frother for proper mixing. That's all you need a day, a single cup of 1g of powder, for its effects.
   The reason I'm revisiting this product today is for its health benefits, and that because in January 2012, 710 people tried the product for two weeks and 99% would buy again, 80% found increased energy levels, and 60% had improved skin, hair and nails (this sort of thing depends on the other things you consume - for example too much sugar or oily foods is only going to counter the effects on your skin).
   I'm going to give the product a 2-week go as well, and see what sort of results I get. I'm going to begin it tomorrow, September 1st, along with my new and very appropriate workout. Combining the two could well help my motivation for the workout. I know how silly that sounds, but things like this help my frame of mind big time.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Kickbox Fusion: 4 Weeks Later

   For a workout I got off of the internet, with no instructor for the routine to help me keep my pace, I actually found Kickbox Fusion to be one of the best workouts I've done! I had trouble with some of the moves, and I admit that I actually ended up cutting the kapow kick out of my routine because I was evidently doing it wrong and it really started to hurt my knees - with a consistant DVD instructor that may not have happened, as instructors that go through it with you tend to mention things you should avoid and check, like your form, while doing so.
   It got my heartrate up massively, and with the modifications I gave it - 1 minute of each move instead of 45 seconds, with a 1 minute active rest between each set (15 seconds shuffle, 30 second butt kicks, 15 seconds shuffle) - I managed to last longer and do more, and once I'd finished the routine I wasn't so exhausted that I had to stop, so I was able to add another half hour of dance cardio at the end every day, which is a big win.

  Yes, it's difficult, but it gets results. I've said it time and time again: if a workout is easy, it's useless, and just because a workout was difficult for you once upon a time, doesn't mean it's still effective, either. I've got dance DVDs that I adore, but I've used them so much that the movements are second nature to me and my attention to what I'm doing wanes, which means my intensity wanes because I don't have to focus on doing it right - which leads to me doing it wrong sometimes, too. You really ought to adjust your workout every month - try new machines at the gym, new classes, move onto a new level of/buy a new DVD, try something completely different. This helps to avoid plateaus and lets you continue to challenge yourself and your body as well as keeping working out fun. And that is the exact reason that I made this new year's resolution back in January - easily my most successful new year's resolution, too.

   In short, I really do recommend this workout. It's simple as there are only 8 moves you have to learn and perfect, and while they're admittedly tough, you do see your own improvement as you go along as they stop being quite so difficult when you get better at them. Duck-a-punch really pulled at my lower back, but now it's no problem. I can still feel it there, but it doesn't hurt or ache while I'm doing it because doing the movement so much has strengthened and toned my back enough.
   My body feels tighter and more toned, especially around the waist, which is insane because I never get that strong a feeling of a workout having been so effective, and to top it off it was great fun to do. I used my usual dubstep mix, but I built it up with more epic orchestral dubstep and let my imagination go. It was awesome. Easily one of the best workouts of the year.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Ask Me Anything

Sir Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2007. What would you do if you found out that you, too, suffered 'The Embuggerance'?

   I actually only found out that Terry Pratchett had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's about 3 or 4 years ago. I've never read his works, but I do hold a great respect for him, and I've seen the TV adaptations of The Colour of Magic and The Hogfather and enjoyed them very much. He has a unique style and he's doubtlessly contributed a lot to the fantasy literature scene.
   Since I found out he'd been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I've been unable to view it in another other than a creative perspective, and it's actually been because of that that I work harder and longer on my own writing now. You don't know what will happen to you in the future, you have no way of knowing at all, and that's scary, but it spurs me on. On lazy days where my brain won't work, instead of writing perfectly I write my book in note form to make sure I get some work done, and it usually comes out quite well and is often what I need to turn my brain on, at which point I go back and rewrite the notes properly with narrative. Funnily enough, it's when I work that way that I feel I work best.

   But, if I found out...I really don't know what I'd do. I support euthenasia, I always have, especially because of my mother's condition - no one has the right to tell us what we can and cannot do with our lives like that - and I respect his position on it, too. But to be put in that situation myself...
   Seeg's grandmother has Alzheimer's. I met her once. She doesn't speak any English, and I don't really speak Dutch, so I sat quietly and politely, answering questions translated by his parents and otherwise hanging back so that Seeg could see his grandmother. We were with her for about two hours and we lost count of how many times she asked who everyone was. I didn't really find the situation too awkward because of my experience with my mum - she often forgets who she is - but I did find it sad.

   Alzheimer's would take a massive toll on anyone, most certainly, your mind just slips away, and as a writer - an activity that requires attention, great thought and memory - it would destroy your career. Terry Pratchett has done well despite it over recent years, as he said it's a slow moving disease, but it does move, and it seems that it's only started to affect him recently, especially with his need to cancel his appearance at the International Discworld Convention.

   ...In short, I don't know what I'd do. I hope I never suffer in such a way, but there's little you can do to prevent it. Keeping fit and healthy can reduce the likeliness of certain things, but I don't believe that Alzheimer's is one of them.
   "...rather than let Alzheimer's take me, I would take it. I would live my life as ever to the full and die, before the disease mounted its last attack, in my own home, in a chair on the lawn, with a brandy in my hand to wash down whatever modern version of the 'Brompton cocktail' some helpful medic could supply. And with Thomas Tallis on my iPod, I would shake hands with Death."

   One could hope.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Teapigs Review + Giveaway [closed]

   You know how obsessed I am with tea - green tea, especially, though lately I've been going for fruit as well. I found Teapigs not too long ago, I saw mention of them on twitter and had a browse. The first thing I thought was that I loved their branding - the colours, the POW!, the little cup mascot. Then it was the packaging of their products. I love packaging - perhaps that's because I have my own small business and I've grown to appreciate nice packaging more than I would otherwise. I don't really know.
   Well, I got my hands on a nice big bundle of goodies - seriously exciting goodies, as far as I'm concerned - and I desperately wanted to share it with you, because I'm bowled over by its deliciousness!

   Teapigs specialises in tea, but they put a lot of their passion into matcha. Matcha green tea is possibly the healthiest tea you can have, and Teapig's is grown in Japan, as it should be. It's 100% natural and 100% awesome, packed with antioxidants for a great health boost.

Matcha Super Power ready-to-drink. I was a bit dubious about trying this, mostly because I was concerned about the flavouring. A lot of the time things like these don't work, either you can't taste the fruit and only the tea, or you only taste the fruit and not the tea, or, more worryingly, it might be bitter. Well, I'm happily wrong. I might sound cheesy, but it really is a fresh, clean drink. Seriously. I felt all clean inside. I often do when drinking green tea, which is why I drink more of it when I've had an indulging few days (if you're offered biscuits in the UK, it's illegal to say 'no'), but perhaps it was because this was also a cold drink that added to its freshness.
The apple one was definitely apple-y, the grapefruit was grapefruit-y and the elderflower was elderflower-y...whatever an elderflower is.

Super Power Green matcha powder. This is a matcha powder. Tea powder uses the entire leaf, while with a teabag you'd throw most of the leaf out. This means, with powder, the leaves go a lot further, the tea is stronger, and more of the nutrients are received. You don't need much of it, either, just half a teaspoon a day will increase your focus and your energy, and a 'shot' before a workout can increase your fat burn. Teapigs' 'modern matcha kit' includes a 30g jar of tea powder, a shot glass, a 1/2 teaspoon capacity spoon, and a mini mixer for a proper mix. It's a pretty good bundle, in fact, giving you everything you need! The drink, made in that manner, is quite thick and strong, but it's quite satisfying, but if you don't like the taste of green tea, another beauty of the powder is that it can be mixed into yoghurt, porridge, smoothies, juice and so on - as long as you get 1g a day, it doesn't matter how you take it, and I think that's pretty awesome.

Teabags - Amazing. The teabags themselves are nice and silky rather than papery, and the mao feng green tea is actually green. I know, shocking, right? But I've had a lot of green tea, and there's only been two green teas in bag form that come out undeniably green - not yellowish-green, not brownish-green, green - and this is one of them. The super fruit tea is wonderful, too, and smells amazing, and the lemon and ginger tea is as fresh and spicy as you'd expect - certainly a tea to wake you up in the morning! I love how the tea expands, too, it grows in the bag. I saw the fruit tea do it, but when I was looking at the mao feng in the tea bag I thought the leaves were too small to grow. I was wrong, and it made a very good cuppa!

   I've blathered enough - now I have something else for you. How about a giveaway? For all of the above? Teapigs have been gracious enough to supply me with a duplicate of every product I've received to give to one lucky winner! That's an amazing bundle worth £50! And, what's more, I - like them - am prepared to ship worldwide! So if you've read this review and something has jumped out at you, enter below for your chance to win it all - teabags, matcha powder, shot glass, mixer, pre-made tea; all of it!
   The giveaway is open for 10 days, worldwide. Tweet, share, like, follow, comment, recite a rhyme - all of the available entries are below, and you can tweet every day for increased chances.

   And how about one more? Teapigs also have a special discount for you, valid until September 30th - just use the code blackbird at checkout for 10% off of your order; and there's free shipping on all orders of £35 or more, too! They have a lovely selection of teaware as well as the tea itself; lovely latte glasses, teapots and so on. They're gorgeous!

This review is based entirely on my own views of the products. My opinion has not been influenced by anyone at all, and the responsibility of sending the giveaway prize is mine and mine alone. Due to the value of the prize, the winner will be contacted directly rather than publicly announced for privacy's sake due to personal experiences, but when a winner has been chosen and has confirmed their acceptance and given their address, the fact that a winner has been chosen will be mentioned right here. Please ensure you enter using a valid email address to ensure that you don't miss your chance; the winner will have 72 hours to respond to the original message, and if they fail to do so in that time then a new winner will be chosen and they will have 72 hours to respond. All decisions are final, and all decisions are my own.

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