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The joy of giving

The joy of giving


The other day, I was reading acclaimed writer Maya Angelou’s take on philanthropy in her first collection of personal essays, “Letter to My Daughter,” a book dedicated to the daughter she never had, but has won the hearts of women of all ages worldwide through her captivating voice. She revisited an episode of her childhood, where she described her self as her grandmother’s shadow, a figure she so highly respects that she “imitated” her. “She was the picture of dignity. She spoke softly and walked slowly, with her hands behind her back, fingers laced together.”

As I was reading the chapter, I recognized the little soul of a quiet girl who had never known the hidden powers of her smile, and that it can mean the world to someone else. Reading her exposee has brought me delight, knowing that long ago, in another time and another place of the world, someone I never knew shared the same silent spirit as I do. Now, she is widely respected for that enigmatic smile on her face.

Being the mother figure that she is, I consulted her chapter once again after the realization of our increasingly secular yet selfless generation, upon pondering Scott Brown’s message in his article, “How Twitter + Dopamine = Better Humans.

We be, therefore we are. Deep down, our be-ings are built as lovers of humanity. Yes, you might say that we are designed out of the idea of humanity, from which we call our-selves “human beings”. Our mere existence is a living proof that each one of us is a lover of mankind – not necessarily are we labelled as philanthropists, but we are all charitable by nature, at least, on a neurochemical level.

Evolutionary science has proven that our brains are wired to feel good once we’ve performed an altruistic behavior. Infants who have not yet learned even the most basic social skills are readily there to pick up our clothes for us if they fall off the hanger. Once tapped, this ingrained cooperative spirit in all of us huddle into one powerful energy to fend off imminent dangers. The 9/11 attack elicited an unstoppable heroism toward the victims, demanding the donation of bloods and other acts of compassion or an expression of grief, as selfless as the 300 Spartans who died for the welfare of their state against the Persian invasion, expecting no reward of any kind in return.

Actually, we kind of do. Whenever we act out a selfless deed, the brain’s reward system is flooded with the feel-good hormones better known as dopamine. It’s the same kind of feeling when you receive a hug, eat chocolate, have good sex, and gets a promotion at work. You reap what you sow. I suppose that is why when someone thanks you for what you’ve done for them, you say, with a smile, “My pleasure.”

In the words of Angelou, being charitable is as if to say, “I seem to have more than I need and you seem to have less than you need. I would like to share my excess with you.” My generation, the Millennials, practically grew up with technology. We are better informed, better equipped, and better connected to the world than any other generation before us to reach out and help those in need. With our multitasking skills and spurts of creativity, we are capable to drive any social, environmental, and political cause with the least amount of time, considering a tweet and a Facebook like is as easy as clicking a button.

I had numerous impulses to give in excess to various charities I feel passionate about. After all, I memorized my credit card information by heart, thanks to my humongous hippocampus (through regular exercise) and overflowing dopamine (through brain stimulation that comes along with regular exercise). Yet, my conscience will always strike back at every impulse, especially when distance and time can still be a factor despite technological advances.

I remember those exact words my mother, my most enduring role model, once said to me when I decided to give up life: If you want to give so much, might as well give to the people closest to you. “You’ve got a lot to give, so give those you care about in abundance. You don’t have to go so far as to donating huge amounts of money for people you never know. There are people at your arm’s length – sick grandparents, elderly neighbors, wounded beggars and starving children in Indonesia – who need more of your help than the needy in Africa.”

I still live off my parents’ income and am presently living with them. I’m jobless too.Yet I’ve also recently done something that has made them extremely proud: I am a college graduate. That alone has brought the all smiles and made them kissed me on each cheek. With the addition of my job offers, upcoming activities, and future opportunities, I have succeeded in making my self a joyful gift for them.

With every individual who focuses on the people closest to them to be happy, the less amount of time it takes for the joy of gift-giving to come back in return. Even fewer the hungry and the sickly have to wait for someone across the planet to give them clean water to drink, replenish their souls with medicine.

Looking ahead, despite the occasional hurdles to test our faith, humanity remains promising. I am promising my parents, two people who have given me life, to continue making them proud, for I have never failed them (but have been close to) in my 22 years of existence as a human being.


By this, I, too, am happy to describe my self as charitable.



– Image courtesy of Serendipity; life itself via Tumblr

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Fitness Journal: Drugging on E

1.23 mi run in 13:17 min (pace: 10’47″ / mi)

Music Playlist:

  • Wonder Girls – “Nobody”
  • Wonder Girls – “Like this”
  • Wonder Girls – “Be My Baby”
  • Wonder Girls – “Tell Me”
  • SNSD – “Genie”
  • SNSD – “Gee”
  • T-ara – “Roly Poly”
  • T-ara – “Why Are You Being Like This”
  • T-ara – “Lovey Dovey”


It was supposed to be a 24-min workout!!! I pressed pause and due to my being careless I clicked twice and ended the whole workout :( So I’m waking up early tomorrow to lace up my shoes again! 

Today, surprisingly, my run felt almost as easy as I used to feel when I could still run a sub-8:00 for 1 mile. Actually, I suspect that I’ve gone beyond that threshold of pain in my brain. That feeling of “I want to give up now” became “just 3 more minutes… just 3 more minutes…

To tell you the truth, I didn’t feel an iota of quitting throughout those 13 minutes – I was actually enjoying that familiar rush in my mind and spirit, and I wasn’t huffing and puffing at all like I did in my previous runs, although I’m aware I’m still at the same pace. Yet, this morning, the run felt almost effortless! For some reason it’s easier to keep my shoulders back, chin tall and comfortable, and just continue to look ahead while feeling the morning San Francisco breeze blowing my whole body ever so lightly, slowly fighting gravity from one stride to the other. I was aware that I had perfect posture, and it felt easier for me to smile at passersby because I had my breaths under control.

There are 2 possible reasons behind this absolute rush of feel-good hormones (i.e. dopamine):





1) I was wearing this tee (above), or



2) I was running on empty.


I didn’t eat breakfast at 7am like I do every morning. Last night I slept later than usual to do a touch-up on my homework. I woke up at 9am and immediately put on my workout clothes, my running shoes, grabbed my nano, and go.

Okay, I did put some things into my mouth – a cup of earl grey green tea and a capsule of vitamin B complex. And then I walked around the block briskly before I began my workout.

If you’ve never done a fasted run before, I’m a strong advocate of it now – just because it makes running feel easier for you, physically and emotionally, as your mind will prevent you from going any faster than your body can handle. The whole purpose of this morning’s run was to ease my current stress levels, but if you’re training for race, there are some proven benefits to incorporate fasted runs in your schedule.

The main benefit from running “on E”? “It teaches your body how to efficiently burn carbs for fuel.

To prepare themselves for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon last fall, Canadian runners Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis worked together with physiologistTrent Stellingwerff, Ph.D., of the Canadian Sport Centre-Pacific, in terms of how to match their unconventional approach to fasted training with how they refuel their carb-depleted tanks. They ended up running their personal bests during the race.

At any given time of the day, our bodies naturally store carbs in the form of glycogen in the liver, and some in the muscles. These are readily available whenever our bodies demand for it. However, truthfully, my 12-minute workout does close to nothing to train my body to burn fat. It takes more than 30 minutes until the body starts to burn fat, says Stellingwerff to Runner’s World.

Still, I personally feel better running on an empty stomach than when I have it filled before a run. I think this morning’s run was just a baby step that I intend to build as I keep putting the effort to make running as a routine again. I’ve never done fasted runs before – normally I always eat at least 1 to 2 hours before a workout, and that has been so for the last 3 years.

However, I don’t intend to do each and every workout a fasted one – especially when I know I’ll be dealing with weights once I signed up for my gym membership later. Because your stomach is empty, you can’t run as fast as you can, so it’s not an ideal workout for speed training. Even more so, I don’t intend to faint if I was lifting heavier weights if my stomach is empty!













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To get high


July 2012





It’s July! OMG! One more month and I’m going home!!! It feels exhilarating, you know, getting out of college and jump in to the unlimited possibilities of an open future. But what’s most important is that I’ll be closer to the place I know so well, the place I’ve been all my life, surrounded by the people I love most :)

So. On Fifty Shades. On Mr. Grey. On sex. Perhaps the general public has already  had their inner voices screaming “Shut up already!!!” about the Christian Grey hype. But I’m not going to shut up as of the moment. Because, like I said, I’m a real-life Ana Steele with a protective and loving boyfriend 6 years my senior who has a habit of showering me with gifts and caring words.

Speaking of fiction, let me interrupt your attention for a while. Christian Louboutin has finally announced that his version of Cinderella’s glass slippers, embedded with his signature red soles, will be out in stores later this year. The pair of glasses look like this:




The first thought that came to mind was… ‘Whoaaa… Christian Grey would probably pre-order this directly from the designer himself for Ana.’ I think my thoughts are getting dangerous. Christian Grey is not real. Christian Grey is not real. Christian Grey is not real.



Source: The Telegraph



In other news, I’m planning to wake up really early, then go for a long run, on this Sunday. Say that again? Yes, I’m finally going for a long run after years of stopping (a softer word for ‘quitting’). How does that relate to Fifty Shades?

Well, basically, my goal is the runner’s high. Most people, especially the physically inactive, would think that this is a myth. Unsurprisingly, the most times I experience the runner’s high was during my regular runs (almost everyday of the week) way back in 2009. That was the year I began my diet to lose my American pounds, so I was really crazy about running to lose weight, and then after I did lose them, I began a completely submissive affair with running (which explains why I didn’t have a boyfriend at that time ;D). At the same time, I was really just enjoying my runs – I didn’t have a heart rate monitor, I didn’t own a timer, I didn’t wear a watch – I just run as long as I can for as far as I can go. Which is why, in my running resume, I only have a vague record of my times before October 2010.

The shocking revelation of my fitness was when I saw that this is my time for running a 5k: 18:35 (5’58″).

Which, at my current state, seems close to impossible.

During that year, I can say that I experience the runner’s high at least once every week. How does it feel, you may ask. Well, my pelvic bones and muscles seem more flexible, I feel the release of something coming out of my lower area, a big, happy feeling overwhelming me while my painful strides gets swifter as time goes by, a clearer sight and a straighter head looking toward every passing stranger with a genuine smile (despite all my sweating), and a tremendous, relentless amount of energy even when I don’t eat anything right after the long run. Amazing, right? Especially in the morning San Francisco winds, when pink skies surround you and Above & Beyond is rocking your world.

Then, as I started to become more familiar with how the professionals train, with their gadgets and gears to monitor their stats, I started to do the same. Bad decision.

Of course it’s different for them since they’re “professionals”. They want to make record times on real races. I just want to have fun, but also knowing how much I did so that I can feel happy about my fitness level.

So that’s what I did; I didn’t enjoy my music anymore, I run a couple of blocks, looking my time on the clock, feeling I had to speed up, and I couldn’t catch up to my ideals. Big letdown, big self-loathe, big meals coming back, hates running. That’s kind of the short, depressed version of my story.

So… I stayed within the confinements of the gym. Run on the treadmills. Never go out again. The roadside pavements are painful for my knees. The winds are too harsh. Rain is falling. Yada yada, and many other excuses.

I never felt the runner’s high again. I suspect that’s the main cause behind the disappearance of my menstrual cycle for over one year (2010 to mid-2011).

The journey back to a more stable mental wellbeing would take a lot more word in this post. Let’s just fast forward till today. I have a loving boyfriend, continued menstrual cycle, and a dangerous lust for some fictional character.

Runner’s high feels a lot similar to a turnon.




Ask any athletes and they’ll smile. And I’m not talking about the shy, fidgety turnon when you see a beautiful creature passing you by. But the confident kind of turnon when all you want to do is just prolong the flirting.

Back in 2009, my main motivation to run in the first place was to feel comfortable in my skin, lose weight, and be and feel sexy (that’s what you get after a spending a steamy night with your partner, right?) Well, my intention for this Sunday is to get that back again – which logically sounds easier because now I have a clearer motivation in my head – picturing my boyfriend’s face while I run :D

P.S. I’m a celibate, so I’m not qualified to talk about subjects concerning sex. However…

I’ve taken a basic psychology class for my liberal arts requirements at my university. What I know about basic human motivation is that there are 2 biggest primary motivators every human being naturally experience:





Source: Glorious Treats on Flickr



2. SEX

Source: Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis for ELLE



We all know that reducing our food intake is the easiest way to lose weight. But it deprives us of the other human motivator, which is also a part of our motivation to lose weight in the first place – sex. Aren’t women supposed to be a symbol of fertility, that 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio? Plus, what about women who love food (I’m raising my hand)?

That’s basically why I love making my own food, so that I don’t have to suspect the hidden fattening ingredients in what I eat. However, if I tell myself the mantra “I want to feel sexy, I want to feel sexy, I want to feel sexy” as I take each stride, I don’t think I’ll ever feel sexy (tried and true).

What makes me feel sexy, right now, and every other woman all across America (possibly around the English-speaking world), is reading into all the sweet things Christian Grey wants to do to Anastasia Steele.

“Ana is so you,” my boyfriend kept saying. No, it’s the other way round. Part of why I’m so obsessed with the trilogy is that a lot of things Christian said to Ana are exact things my boyfriend have said to me before, and that we’ll never forget. We thought E. L. James secretly spied our lives or something, to write the book. I’m kidding.

And all these things are such a turnon :D It makes me giddy every time I read a text either from Mr. Grey himself to Ana and from my real-life boyfriend, who claimed himself an unromantic person, and has had many firsts since we’re together :D

In short, I want to do a long-distance run while picturing my long-distance lover’s face, which I’ll come face-to-face with in the not-so-distant in the future.

Now, before you judge me, and I know I sound crazy by connecting all these unrelated dots into one super long post, I’m telling you now that there’s actually scientific evidence about how physical movement affects your entire wellbeing, specifically the runner’s high.

We all know that physical exercise floods the brain with endorphins, drug-like chemicals that make you feel that giddiness when your beautiful creature reciprocates your feelings. These endorphins are the body’s response when it’s heavily stressed. Both the logic and reality says that the greater the endorphins released, the greater the “feelin’ high” effect the runner experiences. Why can these high runners think clearer while they’re in such state of euphoria simultaneously (unlike drug-induced “feelin’ high)? Because these endorphins attach themselves to parts of the brain that has to do with emotions, specifically the limbic brain (that means your hormones and nervous system) and the higher-thinking prefrontal area.



Source: The Brainwaves Center




Dr. Henning Boecker of the University of Bonn told The New York Times that these are the areas of the brain that are activated when people are engaged in romantic love and when you hear your favorite music being played in the radio. “Some people have these really extreme experiences with very long or intensive training,” said Dr. Boecker, a runner and cyclist himself. Imagine that feeling what you inhale a deep breath and slowly release it – calm and collected. Imagine that feeling when you’re dancing alone in your room to your favorite song while nobody’s watching. Imagine both feelings at once. “You could really see the difference after two hours of running. You could see it in their faces.”

That just seems fit – I remember my glowing face and content mood after those runs, and I remember my cheeks flushing whenever he has an indescribable way of staring at me in a small smile.

OK, I’m blushing as those memories rushing through my mind.

Anyway, I don’t plan to go as hard as I used to, since I’ve only done occasional jogs recently and none of the hardcore stuff I used to do. Like it used to before, I don’t plan to wear a timer to monitor my speed. I just want to know how long I can run until I feel good, no matter how fast or slow I run.

See: wikiHow: How to Get a Runner’s High

It’ll be fun.









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Bring it on, woman


January 2012




Mental health experts are beginning to understand that anxiety does not necessarily mean a warning for more worries to come. They discovered that how anxiety affects us depends on how we perceive the stresses in our lives: Do you take it as a “challenge” or break it down as a “threat”? “Anxiety itself is neither helpful nor hurtful,” says Sally Winston, co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland. “It’s your response to your anxiety that is helpful or hurtful.” Scholars suggests that simply not feeling anxious isn’t the answer. In fact, people who have too little stress suffers as much physiological damage as those who experienced too much psychological stress.

Common sense suggests that the quieter your life gets, the happier you’ll become. However, in modern-day lifestyles, stress is inevitable. Stress is an integral part of our lives, and women, who are more prone to illnesses as they age compared to men, should accept that challenge and manage their anxieties better to prevent, or, at least delay those fatal diseases caused by their inability to cope with stress, which is learned helplessness in disguise. In a sense, stress itself has a sweet spot. Through proper diet, consistent exercise, and adequate rest, a woman enhances her overall well-being alongside the passion for her work. But first, let’s examine the emerging theory behind the symptoms of clinical depression.

Learned helplessness is a formal term to indicate “the perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation”, as defined by positive psychology pioneer Martin Seligman in his book “Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death”. A widely respected finding among his peers, psychologists have now understood that the more people perceive outside events are unpredictable and uncontrollable, the more stress they will experience, and the less hope they feel to making changes in their lives. Recently the National Institute of Mental Health researchers have published a study in Nature that may link chronic stress, now an everyday experience for most of us, as a lead to depression. The area of the brain that’s responsible for healthy stress response can be damaged if the woman is experiencing chronic stress. The hippocampus, where new brain cells can grow, is inhibited when a person responds slower to triggers of stress over time.

“One way to think about neurogenesis is that it’s a process in the brain that allows you to adapt to changing environments,” said Rene Hen, a researcher at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. “In stressful environments where you have lower neurogenesis, this may be adapting to the fact that when you are in a stressful situation, it’s better to stay put.”

In such harsh economic times and stressful working life today, it’s better to develop resilience rather than staying put and backing out of all the things life has been throwing at you. That is, accepting life’s biggest challenges but knowing when to stop when things are too big for you to handle, especially alone.

Nearly half of the American population, about 100 million people, are unmarried, according to the Census Bureau. “But a huge proportion of the population is unmarried, and the single population is only going to grow,” said Naomi Gerstel, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. “At the same time, all the movement nationally is to offer benefits to those who are married, and that leaves single people dry.”

As women, we feel a stronger pressure to marry at a certain age. Although research shows that unmarried people are the ones who contribute more to their society, studies repeatedly show that these singletons tend to die younger than married ones. A new study published on the American Journal of Epidemiology concluded that compared to married women, single ones face a 23% higher mortality risk across their lifetime, and 32% for the single men compared to the married men. Aside from that, marriage actually alters your hormones so that you, by default, experience reduced stress in the long run.

Naturally, two heads are better than one. As both a homemaker and passionate worker, poor health can get in the way of living our highest potential. Not only does finding meaning outside the home and being engaged with the community challenge a woman to be psychologically more resilient, but long-term commitment with a man provides women support too, and in return, taking good personal care becomes more meaningful, especially when children comes in to the picture.

Working mothers are reportedly happier and healthier than stay-at-home moms, concluded a study in December 2011 issue of Journal of Family Psychology. Cheryl Buehler, professor of human development and family studies at University of North Carolina at Greensboro studied how work impacts the well-being of mothers and their parenting based on three areas: sensitivity toward their children, involvement in their kids’ schools, and learning opportunities that these mothers provide their kids (books, enrichment courses, library and museum visits).

Her results matched previous researches that part-time working moms reported less work-family conflict than full-time working moms. Full-timers did not report more depression or worse health than moms who works one hour a week, so this does not suggest full-timers have lower well-being and poorer health than the part-timers. Apparently 32-hour workweek mothers are able to cope with stress as they are juggling with family life. One theory for the function of employment is to increase social skills and gain awareness of their community and the surroundings. “Maybe that translates to the experience they bring to their children,” says Buehler.

However, this is not to say that supermoms are better off than stay-at-home moms. The key is to keep the amount of stress manageable without compromising too much, as low to moderate amount of stress is necessary for healthy growth. After all, stress within control develops the person’s abilities to cope over time, providing a more established support to deal with stress and makes future adversity less worrisome. Way back in the hunter-gatherer days when a woman’s role is child-rearing and to perform “easy” tasks such as gather plants and other small foods, the deserts were an unsafe and most likely a threatening environment. It was far better to stay put than for a pregnant lady to hunt for food out there in the jungle. However, times have changed. Anxiety is within control, and most of us working behind the computer screens and sitting comfortably on our chairs are within safe grounds, while others choose to accept juggling everything at once – tackling deadlines, picking up phone calls, and eating junk food in between tasks. These challenges take a huge toll for the brain and the body, especially for these supermoms, who are better of spending those extra hours to nap or do light aerobics instead.

Laura Vanderkam, author of “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think”, is a happy, healthy mom who has a flexible working time and therefore the hours to prioritize her kids. Before having children, she thought the start of it would ruin her career, and she would have no time to exercise and enjoy sex. “Yes, life often takes more planning when kids are involved, but planning ahead is a great way to make sure things get done,” she then suggested. “If you don’t have good time management skills before having kids, life will definitely be chaotic afterwards, but that’s not really the kids’ fault.” She did not give up her job to be a full-time mom, nor did she overthink the difficulty to raise children. Neither are a threat, as she perceived them as her personal challenge. In fact, she’s ran a marathon and had a vacation in India after she became a mom.

“I never would have written my book if I hadn’t had my son, and now my book is opening doors for me, professionally,” Vanderkam told The Happiest Mom. “Which means, by the transitive property, that my baby opened doors for me, professionally. That makes me a happy mom!”

Indeed, the sweet spot of stress enables us to handle our work, children, and sex life into perfect balance, women. There’s nothing threatening about finding meaning outside closed doors.










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Hair, exercise, and personality


December 2011


First of all, happy holidays, peeps. I uploaded a link to my animated illustration on Christmas eve. Check it out. Have fun and play with it.

In my last blog post, I promised you on this day I’ll fill you in with my hair length update. Well, it’s so far growing fast, but not as fast as the first two weeks when I’ve taken the pills.

My shortest layer at the back is as long as the bottom of my neck by now, which barely touches my shoulders before I begin taking these pills 4 weeks ago. So, I really recommend the pills to anyone who’s looking to grow their hair faster. On a side note, though, I naturally eat a lot of protein in my diet. And seaweed. And aloe vera. And those things the media keep saying grows you longer hair in days (they’re not scientifically proven). I don’t purposely have them just because I want longer hair – I just eat them as part of my diet ever since I was little. So, I guess that accounts for the drastic growth too, if it really does.

On the other hand, I barely exercise anymore. I’m not sedentary per se. For the last few weeks of school, for that matter throughout my fall semester, I carry super heavy stuff around so I don’t feel like I need any strength training with real weights, just the usual body weight exercises occasionally. But I don’t do real cardio anymore, at least not for more than 20 minutes or so.

What I know for sure is that physical exercise promotes better circulation of your blood throughout your system, including those that circulates your head and your hair strands.

Which is why, now that I have all the time in the world during my holidays, I begin doing cardio again at home. My mother has a retro cycling machine. I’ve cycled a couple of times during the first week I got back here in Jakarta (a little more than a week ago). Let’s see what happens with my hair 2 weeks later with consistent exercise, along with GNC’s Ultra-Nourish Hair pills.

Anyway, a good workout does other benefits too, as you may all know already. I’ve just had a workout session on the cycling machine for 30 minutes, without music. These days I like to workout for thinking – it’s a time to put the pieces of my thoughts together so that I get to function better after that. It doesn’t feel like 30 minutes when you think about stuff.

Well, that’s not actually my point here. While I was cycling I was having a facial mask. I slathered extra-virgin olive oil on my skin. Right after I got off from the machine, I realized not only does physical exercise gives you that natural blush and glow, but olive oil does wonders for moisturizing your skin. It feels like a baby’s skin. I guess with better circulation, the oil seeps better into the inner layers of your skin.

For those of you who knew me well, I used to be an exercise aficionado. I can’t go a day without running. Moving your body makes you feel that anything is possible if you work for it, as long as you don’t die (sarcasm). No matter what your reason for moving your body, you always feel good out of doing it. At least physically, as in, on the surface. I used to do it to get thin, and then I got thin, and then I got thinner, and thinner, and thinner. I looked kind of scary two years ago.

I was enjoying it so much that I never found the real meaning of moving my body in the first place. Sure, it’s a healthy way to burn calories, think positive, throw tantrum, and so much more. But if you think about moving your body at its simplest, starting from waking up in the morning from your bed and get excited for the day, there must be something that energizes you from the inside. It’s not just to look good – but, God I know I’m cheesy – to feel good too.

So I grew to have a love/hate relationship with running, especially after I bought the fancy stuff like my heart rate monitor, my mile counts, and all that running uniform and caps. I grew obsessed with my speed and my distance, that I don’t really feel like my heart’s leading the way anymore as opposed to my eyes constantly checking how far or how fast I should be going.

But I keep exercising anyway. I still do. I still am. All those miles and visits to the gym for cross-training completely changes my brain and in a lot of ways my personality too.


How you perceive yourself is how you become. Whatever you believe, you are.


If you look at my primary school profile pictures, I used to be that skinny and tall kid who’s quiet, obedient, and really, really emotional. Rarely does the loud, outspoken, opinionated and adventurous girl expresses herself and makes people laugh. Ever since my regular exercise regimen, I noticed a permanent change in this person living in this body – the latter version becomes a dominant part of me, and that shy girl gets emotional only once in a while. Thank God for that. It is really because of this brave girl stepping up that I now really became a published writer, and still trying to be a better writer (especially a more economical one, i.e. using less words).

Also, another confession I want to make is – the whole reason I embarked upon the exercise regimen I adopted few years ago is to lose weight. I gained about 10 kilos after I moved to the States, I looked super hideous. I’ve never been that large before in my entire life. I was so shocked when I was shopping for jeans – my size has increased a lot larger, I don’t want to tell you how many I’ve grown. And so I lost tons of weight, and I regained it all in the last couple of years, but physically, I looked totally different. And perhaps it’s all because of the permanent changes going on in the brain.

This is what I believe: How you perceive yourself is how you become. Whatever you believe, you are.

Plus, I got to grow 2 centimeters taller too.

So, I just want to conclude to all these that physical exercise is the cheapest and the natural kind of plastic surgery. You get pretty from the inside out, not the other way round. You get smart out of it, you get excited about it, and really, you’re a much happier person.

And, perhaps, you’re going to get longer hair faster too. We’ll see in about 2 weeks from today.



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Notes on consciousness


Spring 2011




According to psychologist and philosopher William James, consciousness has the following properties:

1. It is a process, and it involves awareness.
2. It’s what you lose when you fall into a deep, dreamless slumber and what you regain when you wake up.
3. It is continuous and changing.



Neuroscientist Gerald Edelman proposed that there are two different states of consciousness.

– Primary consciousness is what animals have. It’s the experience of a unitary scene in a period of seconds, at most. Yet there’s no consciousness of consciousness, nor any narrative history of the past or projected future plans.

– The second state is what human shave. Our memories, our consciousness of being conscious, strung together into past and future narratives. By using semantics and syntax, a true language, we have this higher-order consciousness in its greatest form.



“The brain is a vastly parallel distributed system. The consciousness trick is that any particular mental state you might be in is enabled by neural circuits specific to that state. All of these circuits that are distributed throughout the brain allow for what we call conscious experience.

I like to think of it as being like a pipe organ. When one note is playing, that’s what you’re conscious about. Then the next note starts playing, and that’s what you’re conscious about. These things come on and off constantly, and there’s this appearance of unity to it all, but in fact it’s each of these separate circuit systems being enabled and being expressed in a particular moment in time.

Consciousness is not a thing in the brain that information gets poured into and you’re aware of it. It’s the constant struggle of all these circuits to come up to the top and hold the stage for that second.”

– Michael S. Gazzaniga, cognitive neuroscientist


“The great sheet of the mass, that where hardly a light had twinkled or moved, becomes now a sparkling field of rhythmic flashing points with trains of traveling sparks hurrying hither and thither. THe brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. it is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the head mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern.”

– Sir Charles Sherrington, Man On His Nature (1940)


“Waking consciousness is dreaming – but dreaming constrained by external reality.”

– Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist On Marks (1995)



“Maybe philosophical problems are hard not because they are divine or irreducible or meaningless or workaday science, but because the mind of Homo sapiens lacks the cognitive equipment to solve them. We are organisms, not angels, and our minds are organs, not piplines to the truth. Our minds evolve by natural selection to solve problems that were life-and-death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness or to answer any question we are capable of asking. We cannot hold 10,000 words in short-term memory. We cannot see in ultraviolet light. We cannot mentally rotate an object in fourth dimension. And perhaps we cannot solve conundrums like free will and sentience.”

– Steven Pinker, How The Mind Works (1997)


“The drama of the human condition comes solely from consciousness. Of course, consciousness and its revelations allow us to create a better life for self and others, but the price we pay for that better life is high. It is not just the price of risk and danger and pain. It is the price of knowing risk, danger, and pain. Worse even: It is the price of knowing what pleasure is and knowing when it is missing or unattainable.

The drama of the human condition thus comes from consciousness because it concerns knowledge obtained in a bargain that none of us struck: The cost of a better existence is the loss of innocence about that very existence. The feeling of what happens is the answer to a uestion never asked, and it is also the coin in a Faustian bargain that we could never have negotiated: Nature did it for us.”

– Antonio Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens (1999)



“Everybody knows what consciousness is:

It is what vanishes every night when we fall into dreamless sleep and reappears when we wake up or when we dream. It is also all we are and all we have: Lose consciousness and, as far as you are concerned, your own self and the entire world dissolve into nothingness . . . . Neurobiological facts constitute both challenging paradoxes and precious clues to the enigma of consciousness. This state of affairs is not unlike the once faced by biologists when, knowing a great deal about similarities and differences between species, fossil remains, and breeding practices, they still lacked a theory of how evolution might occur. What was needed, then as now, were not just more facts but a theoretical framework that could make sense of them.”

– Giului Tononi, Biological Bulletin (2008)

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Androgyny: What I did to overcome insecurities.


Freja Beha Erichsen, the perfect example of one of the leading ladies embracing the definition of androgyny.

I AM feeling sexy.

I’m reading up the psychology behind human intelligence, that is, by definition, the ability to learn from experience, solve problems, and use knowledge to adapt to new situations. I just have some musings on a particular subject matter: Sexual expression.

According to results from personality tests, I score high in showing behaviors that allow a lot of room for creativity and, to a lot of degree, sexual expression.

grew up with a very nurturing mother who shaped me in the traditional way Asian parents shape their daughters in order to be “marriagable” – that is, to be ultra feminine. Soft-spoken, multi-talented, light and gentle, and all the other feminine traits you can think of.

However, I am raised with two older brothers, who taught me a lot of things, boyish things. Me and my brothers have very intimate relationships. We love to engage in novelty-seeking experiences – we talk nonsense, often we talk just to make noise, but we also love to talk about big ideas. Huge ideas. Absurd ideas. So, anyway, we’re really close. But, something to note here: They’re not even close to those overprotective brothers who set rules and regulations for treating their baby sister for all the men they meet. My brothers are so flexible that for most of my life I wonder how they think of me and the idea of losing me to another man (as in, whenever I’m in relationships).

I’m aware that they’ve taught me a lot of masculine traits as I grow up, and that has become my own protective shell to safeguard the fragile, feminine traits inside my self. Since it’s a long, developmental process, adopting androgyny and all, these masculine traits have endured enough to become a permanent part of me. As I’m coming of age into adulthood, my hormones and I are going up and down like roller coasters, and there are some thought-provoking questions I tend to ask myself concerning how masculine or how feminine I should act, especially in recent years (I’m presently 21 years old).

I think that was part of the many psychological (and consequently physiological) reasons why I’ve stopped menstruating for such a long period of time.

We all know that the human hormones and the rhythms go up and down in our body, and they not only shape our body – they also deliberately construct our temperaments. Our patterns of thinking shapes the pattern of how our genes adapt to new experiences and situations. Hormones really determine a lot about how we operate our life on a day-to-day basis. In my case, I’m highly functional when I run by dopamine and oestrogen, plus oxytocin, whenever I’m out for a run. So I satisfy my personal (to be specific: biological) needs, as driven by these hormones, through physical exercise and dance movements.

Since biologically I am female, naturally, I express a lot of feminine traits. It’s an inherent thing. There’s no need to consciously learn these aspects of my feminine psyche. On the other hand, I’ve been struggling with a stable self-concept that I can always uphold in all kinds of situations, across all contexts, so that I don’t have to act in a certain way and act another way in another situation. It’s tiresome to juggle multiple identities. Ironically, isn’t that the way our modern lives has conditioned this identity-shifting pattern of thinking as a daily necessity?

Of course, there are defense mechanisms we can always use to cope with the instability of our sense of self – but it takes a lot of time to develop that mature attitude, to transmute a particular emotion to a positive perception beneficial for both our ego and for others. For win-win situations. Takes a lot of trials and errors. Any entrepreneur would agree with that statement when starting out a business.

However, I’m willing to keep on learning how to take advantage of my androgyny, channel them in functional ways that work best for me.

It’s still difficult for me to act the way I would really act when some guy on the street whistled just because I have long hair, or to accept that a guy is attracted to me because of the outer appearance I naturally express, which is the most natural thing in the world for us to do as we are – animalistic human beings (who are also intelligent).

In the past year, I’ve really learned a bad behavior. To counter that whistle, I adopted these really unfeminine, aggressive, and self-destructive behaviors that actually kills my femininity. Because that little whistle, or that look, or that touch a stranger makes you feel – you instantly feel vulnerable. As a result, I don’t feel good at all whenever I am consciously or unconsciously expressing my sexuality and having the opposite sex ogling like a hungry animal (unless it’s someone I’m also attracted to. I mean, all this is just in the language of scientific literature. I’m won’t normally talk to people like this).

So I’ve come to transmute that behavior and direct that to a different focus – Human nature is amazing.

Which is why I always turn to science whenever these basic, self-destructive behaviors start to overwhelm me. Science tells us the similarities between both genders, across all races and cultures, societies all around the world.

With science, I’m glad that I can always remember how we can always take control of our thoughts, remember that we’re Homo sapiens, that is, intelligent animals, who can think in our own creative ways and adapt to all sorts of situations.

And just by directing those thoughts to this new, optimistic direction in mind, I’m already solving a personal problem.

So, yeah.

At the end of last year, I finally chopped off my hair, mainly because of those feelings. I feel insecure about the very basic fact that men are attracted to visually-stimulating women and their most obvious beauty feature: Long mane. I am blessed to have naturally thick dark hair, which is slightly brown by nature. I was single. I was alone. I felt that I only have myself to rely on, and I can’t be this fragile. And so I cut my hair so I can act like a boy.

Now, though, I learn that I can manipulate how I behave. Last week, I’ve bought my clip-on fake hair that I can set myself up with before I get out of the door and seize the day, feel my best – feel my most confident. Before I clip that thing on, I ask myself: Do I want to be mainly a female throughout my day, or a man?

What matters is a win-win situation for all.

In conclusion, I think that a lot of problems within our societies come from personal sufferings like these, little or big, that which we keep struggling to fight within ourselves and therefore foster our larger environments the same behaviors we are struggling within. To make peace outside we must first use our limbic brain to direct our egoistic, animalistic, reptilian brains.

We’re Homo sapiens after all, and to love is to be a human being after all.


I saw my gynecologist the other day, and she said I’m fine. I just need to balance my hormones… by coping with stress well, by changing my lifestyle. In a world of power dominance, battle of the sexes, and money-driven society, I’m deciding to taking advantage of my androgyny to rule my world. Females live longer after all; females had the last laugh after all.

On a side note, men and women are not that different. In I suggest reading up on the latest studies on neuroscience. You’ll discover that there are more similarities between the male and female brains than there are differences. Except for the obvious fact that men’s brains are bigger than women. But bigger doesn’t mean better. Although we should always remember that women comes after men, according to the Genesis.

Cheers to human nature and the marvelous, artful, ingenious activity we now call great sex, and the sexuality we manifest in our everyday self-expression.



SALUNA is signing off.

Saluna and her stories: View all / Diary entries

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Never get plastic surgery. Instead, get some exercise to change your plasticity.


February 2011



I’ve just started reading up my first chapter readings for the week for my Psychology class. The next class is all about the brain, its cells, its functions, and the magical mysteries of the mind. But we’ll get into that next week, I guess.

Yesterday, I posted about the increased size of your hippocampus and an improved overall health and well-being. I edited it quite a bit earlier, so that you can understand better about building an aerobic base on a consistent basis and what it can do to your brain.

I’m fascinated about the way we can learn to control our minds for positive changes to our internal and external environments.

Okay, just call me a geek.

I read magazines for breakfast, read novels for lunch, and textbooks for dinner. In-between meals, I surf the net reading articles from my iPad. I know. It’s crazy, but you can’t help imagining the things you read all day long. Indeed, it sparks my imaginations. That’s what I love about digesting the written word one letter at a time.

You see, since regular aerobic activity has been repeatedly proven to increase the size of your hippocampus, I’ve found even more findings about it.

If you’re old, between ages 55 and 80, and your memory is deteriorating, you cannot blame your nonexercise habits during your middle age, because those times are gone, and time is the only thing you cannot reverse. You can only change your biological clock through aging.

This research shows that any type of exercise, and I mean any, not just aerobic or just anaerobic, shows an increase in the size of hippocampus over time. In this case, it’s about a year. So if you think about it, if you start building your aerobic base as early as in your 20s, you’ll delay memory loss even longer.

In theory, you can slow down the inevitable cost of aging: Hippocampal volume loss, which translates to loss of short and long-term memory functions – which is why it’s never too late to start exercising.

If you’re reading this, you can start moving right at this very second, no matter how old you are. “Starting an exercise regimen later in life is not futile for either enhancing cognition or augmenting brain volume,” wrote the researchers of the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Illinois, Rice University, and the Ohio State University on the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Since my last post wasn’t as clear as it should be, let’s go into further detail, with reference to HealthGuidance for the obvious benefits of regular exercise.


Hormonal activities

As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, as soon as you move, your glands immediately releases a number of hormones that control your physiological needs and functions.

Now I finally learned that whenever I’m having my ‘high’, like as if I’m having my state of trance, a euphoric mind and reaching my runner;s high, or thinking that I’m having orgasm on the spot – it’s the endorphins that are responsible for how I felt. It’s amazing how I can go in to such a manic state without any dose of drugs, such as marijuana and ecstasy.

I guess higher BPM, melodic and vocal dance music, plus unlimited liters of water, are my drugs.

Cognitive abilities

Other than feeling super good, you can alsoincrease your ‘fluid intelligence’, and, with regularity, exercise can increase your IQ. HealthGuidance defined ‘fluid intelligence’ as intelligence that doesn’t require previous knowledge. So it’s basically your short-term memory, like whenever you’re trying to remember the name of the girl you saw across the bar or calculating your bills in your head. This not only saves time, but also helps you little boys in skirt-chasing.

And all the hype about bulking up your hippocampal volume, it all deals with exercising control of the brain, just like controlling the movements of your muscles. They say that if you don’t lose it, you lose it. This principle also applies for training your brain. With regular exercise, you are not only inducing cell growth in your body, but also new neurons in your brain. “By repeatedly training a movement you increase the neuronal networks involved and so grow that area of the brain,” explains HealthGuidance.

This new phenomenon in neuroscience, of the ways you can literally change your brain psychologically and physiologically, is called brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity.

We’ll get more into that once my Psychology class explores the topic more in-depth.

But until then, I learned that you can literally brainwash yourself the natural way through exercise, which is, of course, the positive kind.






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Bigger brain, smaller frame


February 2011




I’m doing an experiment focusing on consistency – 20 x 7 = 180-minute a week of exercise. Meaning distributing those minutes in smaller, manageable, bite-sized 20-minute pieces throughout the week.



Breaking it Down

He told me that the simple act of doing aerobic exercise, which is all about repeated movements of both the small and big muscles, is a major antidepressant, a natural way to cure anxiety and stress. Other than that, it can also create new neural pathways in your brain if you do it so regularly, letting your brain cells go between the process of positive stress (exercise) and intervals of resting in-between the rest of the each day after you exercise. With consistent stress and rest intervals, you may permanently change the structures of your brain.

Rather than a massive amount of time spent on long exercise and going a longer time-interval until the next time you exercise, this regularity supports the growth of more blood capillaries to help let your improved blood circulation (through regular exercise) flow throughout your body properly.



No Sick Days

When your blood circulation improves, so does your body’s immune system. Your mitochondria, the superhuman minute organelle inside each and every one of your little, innumerable cells, starts to enlarge and protect your body once you’ve got your aerobic exercise. This protects your body from being invaded by external viruses, therefore preventing you to diseases and all that bad stuff.

If you didn’t pay attention during your biology class back in high school, here‘s a good read about how aerobic exercise, literally meaning the type of exercise that uses oxygen for your body to convert energy (as opposed to anaerobic exercise), can help increase the number and size of mitochondria in your body. If you, say, run long distances every week for a year, by next year, you’re this sexy fat-burning machine who never gets sick.

Not only are you going to avoid getting problems if you do exercise during your academic semester, you also get to, literally, bulk up your brain, just by having regular cardio.

There’s been a research about this.



You: Big-Brained, Lean, Mean, Lovin’ Machine

Turning up my stock of Women’s Health magazine last night, I found the cutting-edge science behind cardiovascular exercise and the brain from the article,Gain The Cardio Edge on the March 2010 issue. You can take your time and read through the five benefits cardio can do for you.

The article focuses on the BDNF, or the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which plays an essential role in brain cell growth, mood regulation, and cognition (thinking, therefore learning).

“BDNF is like fertiziler for the brain. Without it, our brains can’t take in new information or make bew cells,” says Harvard Medical School associate professor John J. Ratey, Ph.D. Studies show regular cardio boosts BDNF in the brain more rapidly when participants workout everyday than every other day.

Here’s more: Cardio is the single thing you can do to elevate the neurotransmitters in the brain, which improves communication between the cells, not just in the brain, in your body (Because all that involves better communication throughout your body’s endocrine system. Read my page:Water Cycle 101). “Cardiovascular health is more important than any other single factor in preserving and improving learning and memory,” says clinical psychologist memory research Thomas Crook, Ph.D. Here’s why: Your glands pump out these major hormones responsible for maintaining homeostasis:


  • Serotonin: Mood booster
  • Dopamine: Affects learning and attention
  • Norepinephrine: Influences attention, perception, motivation, and arousal





When these hormones interplay, in general, all of your basic physiological needs are met.

You won’t get depressed, your mood will elevate, your brain will always be alert, and the most important finding is …. Your hippocampus, which is the part of your brain that controls memory and learning, will literally increase in size. Isn’t that cool?

You get a huge brain, and you have a little body.

That’s what I call economy.

The good kind.