Let me introduce you to a good friend of mine. Her name is Qi Gong. She’s Yoga and Meditation’s less-sexy, easy-to-underestimate cousin — and she’s AMAZING. She’s less flashy than her cousin Yoga. But don’t overlook her — those still waters run deep.

Here are 10 reasons why you’ll love getting to know Qi Gong:

  1. She’s an incredible healer.  She can reduce arthritis, chronic pain, heart disease, fatigue, diabetes, and inflammation, while boosting your immunity, energy, bone density, sleep, focus, and balance. She’s even got the studies to prove it.
  2. She’s over 3000 years old and still looks great. She’s got gorgeous curves. Unlike the straight lines of her angular cousin Yoga, Qi Gong moves in circles and spirals: she flows.
  3. She’s unpretentious. There’s nothing showy about her.  Her movements are slow, mindful, graceful, and powerful.  While she’s great at building strength and balance, her moves aren’t particularly difficult, and you probably won’t see her on the cover of a glossy magazine sporting lululemon. No stretchy pants are required to hang with her.
  4. She’s energizing.  Spend just 20 minutes with her and you’ll feel revitalized, more positive, and more mobile throughout your day.
  5. She’s easy to be with. Unlike her cousin Meditation (who’s awesome, but let’s face it, can be kinda uptight sometimes), Qi Gong doesn’t ask you to sit there and try to not pay attention to your thoughts. Instead, she helps the mind and nervous system to settle down by giving you lots to pay attention to, like your breath, and simple movements that repeat.
  6. She’ll help you relax. She can help tame anxiety and stress. You might even sleep better.
  7. She’ll help you get out of your head better than Yoga. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll love Yoga forever, but a lot of what she does is so challenging that it often feels like a “mind-over-body” practice rather than one of mind-body unity. It can be hard to get in touch with your body while at the same time trying to dominate it. With Qi Gong, the struggle to do it “right” or make it look like someone else’s practice goes away. The simplicity of the movements make it easy to feel the qi flowing in your body and between your hands.
  8. She’ll make you feel good. She’ll love you no matter how strong or how flexible you are, and you’ll love her back.
  9. She’ll help you love your body. Rather than seeing the body as something you need to ignore or transcend (like Meditation sometimes says), Qi Gong encourages you to tune into the body as a focal point for concentration. Your body becomes a portal for tuning into the more subtle layers. (So she’s kind of a feminist — none of that “body is dirty and mundane” baggage here.)
  10. She’s sophisticated. She’s got different routines designed to support each system of the body. She’ll even teach you some points that acupuncturists use to get qi to move properly.

Want to meet her? She’s available. And I’d be delighted to introduce you.

My new home-study course, 12 Treasures Qi Gong: Your Movement Multvitamin is now available.

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Did you happen to catch Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk that’s been making the rounds on Facebook recently? I loved it. In her talk, Monica asks who among us hasn’t done something regretful at the age of 22? She calls for us all to have greater empathy and compassion for people whose missteps or out-of-context statements become fodder for viral videos and internet memes. She says this with the authority of someone who was humiliated nearly to the point of suicide. I couldn’t agree more on this call to create a more compassionate culture.

While I have not (yet) been publicly shamed on a global scale, I do know what it’s like to face relentless criticism at every turn, to be torn down and bullied 24/7, as I used to do this to myself. You may not know this about me, as it’s not exactly a point of pride, but I (used to) have a raging inner critic. I have been trying to get her off my back for years, and slowly but surely, it’s working. She used to be really loud and obnoxious, tearing me down even in front of other people. (Now she speaks in whispers.)

One night a few years ago still stands out in my memory: I was doing my best to make two dinners at the same time: one bland for the kids, one with actual flavors for my husband and me. Food bubbled on all four burners of the stove while veggies sizzled in the oven. The timer for the roasting veggies beeped just as a pot threatened to boil over, so I quickly quieted the timer, turned the heat down on the stove and gave the pot a stir. Then somebody asked a question, which I answered while adding the cilantro and lime juice to the curry. The veggies in the oven, completely forgotten, charred beyond the point of edible.

“Seriously???” I demanded of myself, loudly. “I can’t believe I let this happen. I even set a timer. How hard is it to take something out of the oven?”

Sensing my distress, my step-son Jack sprang up, threw his arms around me and reassured me, “It’s OK, Brodie. You’re still an amazingly awesome person!”

At that moment it sunk in: now that I’m a parent, I need to do something about this inner critic bullshit, because I now have witnesses. I definitely don’t want my new 9-year-old feeling like he needs to take care of his step-mom.

The irony is that compassion is one of my super-powers. Empathy for others is incredibly natural for me, and I would never dream of inflicting such a harsh tone or shaming questions on anyone else. Clearly, I had (and sometimes still have) a different set of standards for myself than I do for anyone else on the planet.

I have been doing this work on self-compassion for years. The work has taken many forms: breathing, meditation practices, self-compassion rituals, heart-opening qi gong, applying essential oils to acupoints, in addition to acupuncture and herbs. And I have made remarkable progress. My inner critic is no longer the loudest voice in my head.

In moments of shame when I am tempted to self-flagellate, I am able to meet myself with compassion. I know that perfection is not the metric. I can see when I’m putting WAY too much pressure on myself, and scale it back. I can even laugh about it. And I am a way better parent now that I can role model self-compassion.

After many years of walking this path myself, I’m ready to share with you the practices that have helped me in my journey. This summer at Breitenbush Hot Springs, we’ll cultivate the qi of self-compassion. We’ll also practice being super sweet to ourselves, laugh, get curious, and explore a whole toolbox of strategies.

What do I mean by self-compassion? Self-compassion isn’t merely the absence of an inner critic; it’s embracing who you are. It involves knowing yourself, respecting yourself, recognizing your humanity, and getting the ego out of the way. It’s also about self-care, knowing and respecting your energy and its limits, and knowing what you need to do to show up as the best version of yourself. Getting good at self-compassion is the opposite of self-indulgent; it helps everyone around you.

Join me for a self-compassion retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, August 23rd – 26th.

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Warrior 2Do difficult conversations make you nervous? Speaking what’s true for you, while staying connected to your heart and being open to the other person can be really tough — especially as stress hormones take over. Paying attention to your body can help a lot.

Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy‘s research shows that putting the body into a “power posture” for two minutes raised confidence-boosting testosterone levels  and decreased the stress hormone cortisol. (If you haven’t watched her TED talk, it’s well worth seeing.) Looking at Cuddy’s research through the lens of Chinese Medicine, we see that High Power postures are the yang ones: big,  expansive poses that take up space. Low power poses are more yin: people making themselves small, collapsing their chests, crossing their legs, guarding their necks.

So here’s how we can apply this scienctifically verified bodymind technique:

Before the nerve-wracking conversation, find some privacy — even a bathroom stall could work. (You could do these poses during the conversation too, but it’s unlikely to create the kind of connection you want.) So take 2 minutes alone and put yourself in any of  the following postures, or a combination:

  •  Wonder woman pose: hands on hips, chest out, chin slightly elevated.
  •  Warrior 1 (a lunge with your arms up overhead)
  • Warrior 2 ( a side lunge with arms out to the sides)
  • Goddess pose (feet wide, knees bent and angled in line with the feet, arms out to the sides and bent, palms up)

Now that your cortisol levels are dropping and your confidence is rising, you’re ready for The Talk, and for some invisible qi gong.  During the interaction, remember these 3 tips:

1)    Ground yourself. Put your feet flat on the floor. Feel the bottoms of your feet connecting with your shoes. And below that, the floor, the foundation of the building, and to the Earth itself. Let its solidness — groundedness – root you to the earth like a tree.  Imagine energy  from the Earth flowing into the bottom of your feet and up your inner legs to your low belly.

2)    Root your breath deep in your belly. This takes you into your center of gravity, or your lower dan tian in qi gong terms.  If you’re nervous, the breath will likely retreat to the  upper chest, which will reinforce to the body that you’re stressed. You can help to break that biofeedback loop by consciously allowing your breath to sink and lengthen.

3)   Keep your heart lifted and arms uncrossed. The heart lift will make it more likely that your communication will be open and compassionate. (The tongue is the sprout of the heart according to Chinese Medicine.)  Arms crossed in front of the chest are low-power poses and can signify defiance and opposition, making it less likely that your conversation will be harmonious.

Want to learn more about what you can do to feel calm and confident no matter what life throws at you? I’m super-excited to be developing my first e-course on self-care practices for anxiety.  Join my email list and you’ll be the first to know about it!  If you learned something here, please share this post with a friend.  Sharing is caring.

Recently, one of my patients recommended I read Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D (Viking, New York, NY, 2009). I am very grateful for her recommendation, as it seems like the number of people I know, both personally and professionally who are dealing with this brutal disease — and the harsh treatment it so often necessitates — is way too high. And yet, there are many things we can do to make our bodies far less hospitable to cancer.

Written by an M.D. who was diagnosed with a brain tumor 15 years ago and was dissatisfied with his oncologist’s assessment that what he did wouldn’t have any affect on his health, this book is highly readable, peppered with interesting scientific studies, and very practical advice. He considers what makes the ecosystem that is each human body conducive to cancer’s growth? Turns out, food, chronic helplessness and other emotions, and toxins in the environment have a lot to do with it.

Some points I found particularly interesting:
The role of inflammation
Cancer can’t grow without supply lines: blood vessels to get it resources. Blood vessels don’t multiply for no reason — only when the body is in need of tissue repair. Cancer hijacks the body’s inflammation process to create the bloods vessel infrastructure it needs to support its rapid growth. Foods that increase inflammation (like sugar, fried stuff, and pretty much everything else in the Standard American Diet) act as cancer fertilizer, and foods that are anti-inflammatory cut off the supply lines.

The power of synergy

Turmeric, a the bright yellow-orange spice common in Indian cooking that adds color and flavor to curries, has long-been recognized by both Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda as an anti-inflammatory herb. It has been shown not only to prevent tumor growth, but to force cancer cells to kill themselves. But when combined with black pepper or ginger, it becomes 2,000 percent more effective.

2-3 cups of green tea per day provides enough EGCG in the blood to settle on the surface of cells and prevents them from being invaded by cancers. It has been shown to even more effective when combined with soy in food form like tofu or miso (and not from concentrated soy isoflavones).

Studies where 2, 3, and 4 anti-cancer foods were combined together showed greater efficacy than administering only one of the anti-cancer foods. In Chinese Medicine, we combine herbs together for the same reason: the blend is more powerful than the individual parts.

Food as medicine

In Chinese Medicine, every time we eat is an opportunity to promote health, simply survive, or to contribute to a disease process. Servan-Schriber makes this point in the his chapter on “the anticancer foods,” as he outlines the healthful properties of berries, citrus, stone fruits, mushrooms, olive oil, leafy greens, colorful veggies, cruciferous vegetables, the mint family, garlic, dark chocolate, red wine, soy and many other wonderful foods. This chapter could easily be called the “anti-arthritis foods” or the “anti-heart disease foods,” as the recommendations are very similar with an edible cast of characters seen again and again as helpful for different diseases.

Breathing, meditation, yoga, qigong and other active relaxation practices produce coherent rhythms in the body, indicating adaptability and thus resistance to cancer and heart disease, increase the body’s ability to handle stress, and boost the immune system.

Connections

Women with breast cancer who could name 10 friends (location unimportant) had survival rates 4x higher than those who couldn’t, in a large-scale study of US nurses.

Empowerment
What I appreciated most about this book is its practicality in empowering people to take action: specifically, to eat a variety of whole foods, vegetables, fruits, and spices; reduce sugar and refined flour, animal fats, vegetable oils and other foods high in Omega-6s; deal with old emotions, stay connected to loved ones, and avoid toxins in everyday life whenever possible. This is completely in line with Chinese Medical theory that we are connected to our environment, that what we do and consume every day can move us towards or away from health, and that chronic emotions like loneliness and helplessness are just as much of risk factors for disease as cigarette smoking. I also love that someone else has compiled such excellent and digestible research that confirms what Chinese Medicine has known for thousands of years, with such great charts and graphs.

There’s lots of stuff I’m leaving out. I highly recommend reading the book. Or at the very least, eating a little turmeric with black pepper every day.

I spent five days last week on a qi gong retreat with Masters Liu Dong and Liu He.  As preparation for learning a new form, we practiced a walking meditation and a standing posture in an attempt to get grounded. The walk was very simple, but stylized walk, where every step is put down carefully, deliberately, and yet with a solid connection to the earth.  As I attempted the walking meditation, I could feel my mind wandering. Actually, “wandering” is putting it mildly.  The first day, my mind was racing, top-speed, considering the loose ends of my impending move and potential week or two of homelessness. “Just walk!” I told myself, in an attempt to call my mind back.  I heard my mind’s insistence that this transitional time means that I’m fully entitled to worry, to spend this time going through the motions of walking, instead of feeling my feet connecting with the earth.

“Feel your feet connect with the earth”  another inner voice encouraged. I tried again.   And again.  It’s astounding how many thoughts can arise in the time it takes to pick one foot off the ground, touch it to the standing leg, and connect it to the ground again. “Walk on the Earth.  Just walk – -nothing else.”  It took two days of practicing qi gong upwards of six hours a day, but finally, I felt the thoughts downshift from fifth gear to maybe second.  That’s the magic of qigong: moving the body with breath and intention changes the mind.  I could actually pay attention to walking, and moving the qi, more than anything else.  I got out of my head and into my body, out of the thousand possible futures and into the present.  (At least for a little while!)