Summer is here – hopefully you have a get-away or two coming up.  While I absolutely adore going new places and visiting friends and family, traveling itself can be stressful. Plus, trips tend to disrupt the healthy routines I have in place at home.

Recently I flew to Dallas for a 3-day conference. Between airplanes, changing time zones, hotel beds, a packed schedule, and Texas’s reputation as not-exactly-a-hotbed of organic, plant-based eating, I was a little concerned about how I was going to take care of myself.

Here’s what I took with me to help feel my best while traveling:

  • My neti pot and some sea salt. When I arrive at my room, among the first things I do is take a shower and rinse my sinuses to rid myself of the skeevy airplane air.
  • Lavender and peppermint essential oils. I anoint points on my wrists and neck to give myself my own bubble of germ-killing air on the plane. A drop of peppermint on my neck and shoulders also helps me stay alert, relaxes muscles, benefits digestion, and treats headaches. A few drops of lavender on my pillow or inner wrist comes in handy for relaxation and sleep.
  • My breakfast-in-a-bag: Before I leave, I assemble the following  in a ziplock bag: 3 TB rolled oats, 2 TB chia seeds (protein), a sprinkling of shredded coconut (good fat), a handful of raisins or goji berries (antioxidants), ½ tsp. cinnamon (balance blood sugar, enhance digestion), pinch of salt, 1 tsp. hemp seeds or sesame seeds (protein and essential fatty acids, plus they’re intestinal moisteners that prevent constipation), a pinch of ground ginger or cardamom (or both) to kindle digestion. I actually multiplied this recipe by 4, one for each morning of my trip. Use the in-room coffee maker to heat water, and it cooks itself in 10 minutes.
  • A spoon and pyrex with which to eat my breakfast. They’re smaller and lighter than my Vitamix!
  • Some fresh food: A gallon-sized bag of cut up carrots, celery, and cucumber ensures I’ll have the vegetables my body’s used to getting while I travel.  A couple of apples and a small bag of almonds make easy, packable snacks.
  • Favorite Chinese herbs: I bring Free and Easy Wanderer to help adapt to the changes in routine, Suan Zao Ren Tang for sleep, and some emergency Gan Mao Ling in case I feel a cold coming on.
  • A few tea bags of tulsi tea for its stress-relieving and immune-booting properties
  • Good walking shoes so I could make sure to take a 15-minute walk during every break in the action. If you’ve ever spent a weekend in a conference room cave, you know how important it is to get outside and move.
  • Workout clothes – and I made sure to hit the workout room early each day.
  • My meditation and qi gong practices: no packing required, and  yet so essential for me to feel grounded and connected to myself

What helps you stay healthy when you travel?

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Part 2 in the Self-Care for Emotional Healing series (read part 1 here)

Guilt is heavy. Ever get a sinking feeling in your abdomen when you feel like you didn’t live up to your own standards? Or experience a sensation of something weighing on the conscience, like you were carrying something heavy? The weight of guilt has even been shown to make physically demanding tasks seem more difficult [1]. And letting go of it can be tough.

In Chinese Medicine, the mind, emotions, and the body are intertwined, and we can use the points on the body to help resolve emotional issues. Some of the most powerful points for dealing with guilt are found along the Belt Vessel, the only major acupuncture channel that runs horizontally. As its name implies, the Belt Vessel encircles the waist, but drops lower in front as though weighted down. This channel is like a basement: a place to stash things we haven’t quite figured out what to do with, or that we’re not entirely proud of. We don’t go there very often, and it tends to get stagnant and damp. (“Dampness” is the Chinese Medicine term for energy that’s turbid, heavy, cumulative, and difficult to get rid of – yucky stuff.)

To lighten up that damp basement and clean out the stuck emotional energy from the Belt Vessel, first, conjure up what you want to let go of and extend a feeling of forgiveness towards yourself. Then, bring your fingertips and thumb together, and with firm pressure, massage the following points:

  • GaGB 41ll Bladder 41: on the foot, just outside the tendon that leads to the little toe, on the right side for women, on the left for men. This point opens the Belt Vessel.
  • Liver 13: on the side of your torso, Dai Mai Pointsat the tip of the 11th rib
  • Gall Bladder 26: just below Liver 13, at the level of the belly button
  • Gall Bladder 27 or 28: On the low belly, just inside the hip bones

To enhance the treatment, apply a drop of essential oil to these points. Neroli, cardamom, sandalwood, or bergamot help the body resolve dampness and guilt while fostering a sense of peace. Since guilt tends to linger, you’ll want to work with these points for a few days in a row, then take a break. Repeat that cycle until you feel a sense of lightness and liberation.

 

[1] Day MV, Bobocel DR (2013) The Weight of a Guilty Conscience: Subjective Body Weight as an Embodiment of Guilt. PLoS ONE 8(7): e69546. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069546

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One of the saddest things I hear in my practice is, “I must be getting old.” I hear this from patients as young as 29, and I know the feeling: nothing makes me feel like I’m 85 quite like back pain that I’ve had since I was a teenager.

Maybe you don’t have the energy you’d like. You feel stiff. Maybe your back hurts (or your hips, knees, neck, or shoulders). The world feels like it’s moving too fast.  But it’s not true that you have to fall apart before you die (If you have pain in one shoulder, why not the other? – it’s the same age!). You also don’t have to live on ibuprofen and caffeine, or outsource your wellness to your doctor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, or chiropractor. It’s possible to feel younger, even as the days go by.

Little things add up. Ever notice how you get an immediate surge of energy when you get an unexpected visit or email from a dear friend you haven’t seen in years? Notice how a couple days of eating processed food while visiting family makes you feel bloated and toxic? Or how about how not getting up from your desk for 15 hours when you’re under deadline can lead you to conclude that your shoulders are now cemented to your back? These all add up. It’s the things we do every day that most determine how old we feel.

 

6 things I wish everyone did every day to feel great:

 

  1. Get 7-9 hours of sleep a night
  2. Move your body in a way that feels good
  3. A body-mind practice to calm your nervous system and reconnect to yourself
  4. Drink water (half your body weight in ounces)
  5. Eat whole foods (mostly plants)
  6. Connect with love

Looking for a way to do 3 or 4 of these things at once? Keep Reading…

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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I’ve always been a planner. When I was about 9 or 10, my sister Casey and sister-equivalent Nicole would plot out weekend days together, diligently recording our mutually negotiated schedule onto notebook paper thusly: From 10-11, we’ll draw pictures. From 11-12: play kickball. 12:00-1:30 we’ll play Hearts, followed by a quick round of Boggle. And at 1:30 we’ll be spontaneous and do whatever we feel like in the moment. (That’s right, we wrote “be spontaneous” on our weekend agendas as fifth graders. Imagine our wild popularity.)

I still value efficiency, and love to get things done. But I also love sucking the marrow out of life, and this is the part that too often gets crowded out by the things I have to do — or think I have to do.

A couple of weeks ago, myJumping for joy on the beach husband Jeremy and I went to Hawaii with a couple of dear friends. We jumped off a cliff into the ocean, got pummeled by waves, heard whales singing under our feet, and played on the beach at sunset.

But joy doesn’t have to look like it does in this photo: boisterous, exuberant, outward, very yang. It’s not necessarily exciting. In everyday life, the quieter, more yin version of joy often looks more like this:

Content catContentment. Peaceful. Luxuriating. Savoring. In Chinese Medicine, cultivating this relaxed, peaceful version of joy allows energy to flow freely. This free flow of qi is fundamental for the health of every system in the body. In the Yoga Sutras, contentment (santosha) is number 2 on the ethical code of conduct list (the niyamas): something to be practiced daily right after keeping yourself clean. Both of these traditions see contentment as an essential piece of health, well-being, and spiritual growth. It’s not something that necessarily just happens; it’s cultivated.

We cultivate contentment when we accept whatever is going on right now, and then take it a step further: not only grudgingly accept, but find something to deeply appreciate and embrace about what’s going on right now, even if external circumstances aren’t what you’d like them to be. It can be a tall order.

So your work schedule is laid out on your calendar. You know when you plan to hit the gym, and when your acupuncture appointment is. You make time to prepare healthy meals. Maybe you even carve out time for a daily practice of yoga, meditation, or qi gong.

But what about joy and contentment? Do you make time to savor a juicy stretch? To let a moment of eye contact with your partner open your heart? To taste a sip of tea? To soften judgement around whatever you think you need to be doing better? To accept yourself and What Is exactly as it is right now? Or is contentment the most important thing you’re leaving out of your healthy routine?

If you can take a few minutes and sink into letting everything be okay just as it is, it might even free up your schedule; it can make everything you think you “need to do” seem a little less urgent. This is way more important than drinking a green smoothie.

In addition to practicing contentment in the little moments throughout my day, I like to make sure my calendar has something on it that helps me tap into joy/contentment — as well as some time on Friday from 7-9 to “be spontaneous.” :)

Handstand on the beach

 

 (Handstands are part of my practice of joy.)

Running on empty(True story, but significant details have been altered to protect confidentiality.)

Last week I treated a woman who was exhibiting an all-too-common combo of stress and tiredness. And she was wondering “Am I doing enough?” Let’s see: full -time job? Check. Full-time husband? Check. Elderly parents and in-laws in need of care? Double check. Volunteer responsibilities? Checkety check. What got her questioning whether or not she’s doing enough was a phone call from her son, who wanted to know if she could help take care of the kids for the weekend. She said no, but was troubled by the thought of not doing enough to help. “I’d love to help,” she said, as the tears welled up, “but I’m just so exhausted. And I just feel so guilty for not doing more. ”

I could relate. It’s tough to feel like there’s not enough of you to go around – and easy to feel like you’re doing something wrong in saying no to someone you love.

I asked her if she had been getting enough sleep. Only on the weekends. Is she exercising 3-5 times a week like she’d like to? Not really. More like once or twice. Is she cooking healthy meals for herself regularly – a key part of our treatment strategy? Not so much. Is she making time for her spiritual practice? Yes, but she feels like she’s phoning it in. How about relaxing or connecting with friends? Ha.

So the absolute basic things she needs to be doing for her are barely happening. Should she be doing more? I’m going to go with “no.” How about slathering a thick layer guilt on top of that? No, and no.

Am I suggesting that everyone needs to get 100% of our own needs met 100% of the time before we can help other people? Of course not (otherwise no kid would ever make it to adulthood!). Part of love is service. It feels good to help out, and what that does for your spirit can often make up for deficiency of physical energy. But (for me, at least) those delicious feelings dry up under the harshness of overextending out of obligation. Then it’s not only unsustainable, it’s also likely to backfire, as the cry of unmet needs get externalized as resentment.

I would love to cure ebola. I would love to give away a billion dollars to help get this disease under control. But much as I’d love to write a check for a billion, I simply don’t have it to give away. I do have $50, which I can and will donate to the cause. It’s sustainable, in a way that taking out a payday loan in order to do my part in the global effort would not be.

Here’s the paradox: when we dedicate time to taking care of ourselves, we have more energy reserves to give to others. I know I’m a better practitioner (and friend, and wife, step-mom, course creator, and whatever else I am) when I’ve had enough sleep, when I’ve meditated and when I am moving from a place of presence than when I’m running myself into the ground.

I know this, yet I still feel guilty when I’m taking care of myself, if I know it will disappoint someone else (including my Work Self – she’s demanding!). There are two gauges to check. First, the fuel gauge: how’s my energy? Am I tired? The second is my intention. A quick check question I use is “what is my motivation?” If the answer involves a “should” or “ought to,” I let the answer be no: otherwise it’s a social expectation overriding inner wisdom. So how do you know whether you’re doing enough? If you’ve got a good amount of fuel (energy), and if you can say yes with love in your heart, go ahead and take the detour to help someone out. But if you barely have enough gas to make it to your destination, it’s probably not wise to take the detour. No one is served when you sputter to a halt.

 

Photo by ReubenGBrewer (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

RunningRecently one of my patients -a beautiful, strong, and conscious, woman- told me that her qi gong practice has taught her to examine the difference between health and fitness in her life. She went on to explain how some of the things she had been doing to “stay fit” were actually compromising her health. Too much running and biking were causing back pain, knee pain, and fatigue. But in moderation, these same exercises helped her feel great. Listening to her body’s wisdom, she was able to keep herself feeling pain-free and energetic through doing less of what her mind was telling her she needed in order to be fit. Some days that meant a gentle walk rather than a vigorous run.

I could relate. My own internal “should” voice can be very strong. And loud. At times shrill. And I have definite ideas about what I need to be doing in order to be healthy, which don’t always line up with what my body needs. Is it better to force myself to get up and meditate, or get an extra hour of sleep? Green smoothies can be wonderfully healthy, but is my digestive qi up to the challenge of digesting them in the cold, damp, winter? Maybe oatmeal would be a better choice. My intellectual mind doesn’t always know the answers, but my bodymind does. That information is always there when I bother to tune in and ask, rather than let my mind run the show.

Qigong is a practice of turning into the bodymind. But the benefits of the practice are not confined to the half hour of going through the qigong routine: there’s a spillover effect. Tuning into what’s going on inside moment by moment, day by day, we allow the what the Taoists call “right action” to arise by itself, which is the secret to living in harmony with nature, and with one’s own heart. And that’s where the joy lives. Interestingly enough, the 2011 study by Massachusetts General Hospital showed increased grey matter density in brain in areas associated with self-awareness, introspection, compassion, empathy, memory and learning, decision-making (plus decreased size of the region associated with stress) when participants practiced meditation for 30-minutes a day for 8 weeks.

Could you benefit from a practice of tuning in? A new qigong session begins January 4, and another on Feb. 1. I invite you to sign up.

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My practice.  The love in my life.  Eating ripe cherries off a tree. The internet.  Being able to walk without pain.  Air travel. The roof over my head.  My amazing patients.  Tea. Music.  Sight.  Hot, running water inside my house. That the Earth continues to orbit around the sun without my help. These are just a few things I’m feeling grateful for right now.

In Chinese Medicine, our qi is said to follow our intention or mental energy.  And different mental and emotional patterns do different things to our energy: over-thinking  and worry knot the qi; anger makes it rise up , fear sinks it, sadness dissolves it, and so on. In addition to having directionality, mental/emotional activity also affects the internal organs.  For example, habitual worry tends to affect the Spleen, like a knot in the gut, resulting in digestive problems. Habitual anger tends to affect the Liver, resulting in high blood pressure, tight neck and shoulder muscles in its partner channel, the Gall Bladder.

I have not come across references in the Chinese Medical classics as to what gratitude does to the qi, but in the laboratory of my body, it provides a kind of gentle buoyancy and softening. I have used it to shift out of many less desirable mental/ emotional states. Of course, the so-called “negative emotions”  are part of life, and they are to be fully felt, digested, and integrated. But when any mental or emotional state becomes habitual or excessive, or when it limits our ability to experience anything else, it’s time for an intervention. And gratitude is great one.

  • Gratitude turns scarcity into wealth, whether the scarce resource is time, money, or energy. I remember my father in horrible physical condition after a particularly brutal week of chemo and radiation, tuning into the feeling of the sun on his face and saying “I’m a happy man.” It has turned me from completely broke to among the wealthiest people on the planet without altering my bank account one penny.
  • Gratitude can stuff a sock into the mouth of the shrill inner “to-do” list reciter.  When I tune into what I’m grateful for in my life, I realize that not accomplishing all the stuff on the list usually does not jeopardize any of it. When there is a potential consequence, that becomes the priority, and the rest can be let go.  Clarifying.
  • Gratitude can silence the inner critic.  Is it possible to be critical and grateful at the same time?  I don’t think so.
  • Gratitude makes loss bearable. In coping with loss of loved ones from my life due to deaths or break-ups, I have found that gratitude doesn’t wipe out grief or loss, but coexists with it, walking with it arm-in-arm in a way that allows moving forward.  Celebrating the life of the loved one who has died or the relationship that has ended helps the sadness to recede.
  • Gratitude ends worry. Worry is too much thinking about things that may or may not happen in the future or things beyond our control.  Gratitude reflects the present moment, which is the only moment that counts, or even exists. If I can find something  happening right here, right now that I can truly appreciate, that trumps any hypothetical future that may or may not ever transpire.

I love gratitude and have a few practices that I employ daily.  Before I eat a meal, I take a short moment to tune into gratitude for the plants, sunshine, earth, water, farmers, and cooks that went into creating the food, as well as the people with whom I might be sharing it. I try to thank each patient and student for coming in to see me, thus allowing me to do work I love, and to learn and to grow.  When I stretch out after a workout, I send mental thank-yous to the parts of my body that I am feeling:  the muscles, bones,  my heart pumping my blood, my lungs giving me oxygen.  I do these things because living in gratitude feels great, and that’s how I want to feel.

A Note on the Misuse of Gratitude:  I sometimes hear from patients  “I should just be grateful, because so-and-so has it worse than me” or because “people are starving in other parts of the world.”  These people are often extremely burned-out caregivers, castigating themselves for not being able to feel gratitude, but more significantly, for having any needs at all when they perceive that someone they love has it worse.  Note the use of the word “should” and the implied “I should just shut up.” This person is denying her own needs. What is called for here is acknowledgment  and honoring of the unmet needs, followed by self-compassion. (and perhaps strategizing as to how those needs could be met). Then gratitude can follow.

How does gratitude feel in your body? What does it do for you? I’d appreciate your thoughts.

 

*A photo I took at Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley, CA. That day, I was grateful for being with my sisters, and for  delicious raw vegan strawberry cheesecake.

 

 

 

 

 

I said this to a patient today, and her mouth literally dropped open: so radical, apparently, was the concept that we slow down BEFORE our bodies force us to, out of sheer exhaustion.

This is winter — nature is hibernating, and so too should we be. I find that the same schedule that felt fine to me a few months ago now feels draining. I need more sleep, I’m craving time alone. I want to curl up and read with my cat. And I have been hearing a similar refrain from almost every person who has passed through my office in the past few weeks. Hence this blog post: you are not alone if you feel exhausted. Especially if instead of doing less, you are packing more into your schedule to prepare for the holidays.

So here’s my radical proposition: what would it be like to feel rested and peaceful for the next two weeks? Conjure that up internally. Now, what could you do to get there? Is it going to bed an hour earlier? Lowering your expectations of how your house has to look? Taking a half an hour to walk outside to give yourself a break from the houseful of people you love? How could you stop the yang (activity) madness and be truly rejuvenated by yin (rest)?

I’d love to hear your intentions.

I’d edit this post, but it’s past my bedtime.

Wishing you and your loved ones the happiest and most peaceful of holidays.
Brodie