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?
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:
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep a night
- Move your body in a way that feels good
- A body-mind practice to calm your nervous system and reconnect to yourself
- Drink water (half your body weight in ounces)
- Eat whole foods (mostly plants)
- Connect with love
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- She’s energizing. Spend just 20 minutes with her and you’ll feel revitalized, more positive, and more mobile throughout your day.
- 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.
- She’ll help you relax. She can help tame anxiety and stress. You might even sleep better.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
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.
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, my 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:
Contentment. 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.” :)
(Handstands are part of my practice of joy.)
Grab my free ebook: 5 Biohacks to Relieve Stress and start letting it go. You’ll also get other self-care tips and inspiration, just a few times a month.