Tag Archive for: balance

Summer heatDoes the heat make you cranky? Or wipe you out? Heat can do that.

We’re a part of nature, and the heat of the summer can flare our internal heat as well, exacerbating any inflammation, redness, irritability, anxiousness, sharp or burning pain, skin rashes, insomnia, constipation, acid reflux, small intestine issues, UTIs, and heavy periods. Not fun. But there are things we can do in our daily lives that will make the hot weather more (or less!) bearable.

First, here’s how to increase the heat (or what NOT to do.) I’m including this list because if you think about it, you might realize that your intuition is steering you away from these things already, and your own inner wisdom deserves some credit.

  • Exercise vigorously, especially during the hottest part of the day.
  • Eat the heaviest, greasiest foods you can. Fry everything and skip the fruits and veggies.
  • Drink lots of coffee and alcohol, especially hard liquor and red wine.
  • Lie in the hot sun and avoid water like the plague.
  • Use heating spices like cinnamon, dried ginger, chili powder, cayenne, and chipotle with every meal. Go nuts with garlic and onions too.
  • Schedule every minute of these super-long days. Move even faster than you usually do, and don’t give yourself any downtime at all. If possible, put even more pressure on yourself and hold yourself to ridiculously high standards.

And here’s what to do instead:

  • Exercise during the coolest parts of the day: early morning and late evening.
  • Enjoy lots of seasonal vegetables (at least 50% at every meal), especially the watery ones like zucchini, cucumbers, romaine lettuce, kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, daikon radish, and seaweeds.
  • Eat more raw food, and spend less time cooking (longer cooking times increase the heat).
  • Season your food with cooling herbs like mint, parsley, cilantro, basil, cumin, and coriander.
  • Stay hydrated with plenty of water. Spice it up with a mint leaf or a splash of lime juice. Or if you want to really get crazy, allow yourself fizzy water. Or coconut water. Or watermelon juice. Or this smoothie.
  • Spritz yourself with rosewater.
  • Annoint yourself with peppermint essential oil. Put it on a fire point like PC 8, located in the center of your palm, where your middle finger lands when you make a loose fist.
  • Allow space in your day for spontaneity and time to take it easy. Practice self-compassion.



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?


I excel at hiding pain. It’s pretty easy as an active, fit, thirty-something who tries to rock a positive outlook on life – I don’t fit the profile of a person in chronic pain. But for nearly 20 years, I suffered intensely with intermittent, undiagnosed abdominal pain. It would come to visit for five days at a time, making its presence known as a tight fist under my rib cage, at times breathtakingly intense. But most of the time, it was merely a persistent, exquisite distraction – a wincing seven on a scale of one to ten, making it impossible to be fully present with other people, or even to think.

Every time I saw a doctor, I’d be sent for an ultrasound, and every time, I was told that “everything’s fine.” That was as far as any physician was willing to go. I was left with no diagnosis, no treatment, and no advice as to what to do.

Over the years, I tried cutting out all sorts of different foods and tried every treatment modality I could think of. Making the rounds to different health care providers became an expensive and not-at-all-fun hobby. So I quit trying to figure it out.

Meanwhile, here’s how I made my suffering worse:

I would try to ignore it and carry on as normally as possible — an exhausting and at times impossible strategy.

I isolated myself. I would retreat behind a closed door, not wanting to burden anyone else with my pain. Plus, it didn’t fit the image of strength I was trying to project. So I cut myself off from love, empathy, and caring just when I needed it most.

I felt victimized, wondered “why me?” and felt desperate to learn whatever lesson I needed to in order to make it stop.

I resented the pain for getting in the way of my ability to be fully present for daily life, as well as the highlights: yoga teacher training, my honeymoon, a trip to Italy, visits to my family back East.

I shamed myself for not knowing what to do, for not doing enough to figure it out. I raked myself over the coals for any dietary sins: “If only you hadn’t had that cup of coffee this morning or that piece of chocolate last night, you might not be in this mess.”

I let the pain undermine my confidence as a clinician. After all, if I can’t figure myself out, what kind of a healer could I possibly be?

When I finally got decent health insurance (and a few expensive tests not previously suggested), I found out that my gall bladder didn’t work. Like, at all. (It scored an impressive zero on the HIDA scan.) I had it removed last year and have been free of this pain ever since.

I don’t miss the pain. But I am grateful for the following lessons:

1) Pain is an invitation to learn about yourself. You honor it by listening. Stay curious and keep investigating. Trust your own experience, and find health care practitioners who will trust you as well. Just because conventional medicine doesn’t have an answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Try different modalities, as well as different practitioners within those modalities — everyone looks through a different lens depending on his/her background and training, and everyone has their biases and blind spots. Advocate for yourself. It could save you decades of suffering.

2) You’re not alone. Pain sucks. So does feeling like you’re missing out on fully participating in life. But trust me on this: you’re so not the only one. As a clinician, I hear people describing various ailments and feeling lonely and victimized because everyone else can eat whatever they want, stay up as late as they want, overwork as much as they want, and feel fine. But here’s the secret truth: they don’t. Most people suffer unpleasant consequences for such behaviors – they just don’t talk about it. In the US, more people suffer from chronic pain than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined.

3) Allow the experience. Pretending it isn’t there is trying to argue with reality. It’s exhausting, isolating, and increases suffering many times over. I’m not suggesting you embrace it, love, it, or build a shrine to it; just be willing to acknowledge its existence. Give it a nod. As your resistance softens, you may even feel a bit more ease.

4) Stop blaming yourself. It’s hard enough to deal with pain without slathering on a layer of guilt. You can be doing everything “right” and still be in pain. It doesn’t mean you’re flawed; it means you’re human. It’s an inescapable part of the human experience – one that every person on the planet will experience from time to time.

5) Practice self-compassion. When someone else is in pain, what are the first feelings that come up? Empathy? A desire to help? You are just as worthy of that; give it to yourself, then do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

6) Own it. Admitting to a good friend or a partner “this sucks. I wish I could be connecting with you right now, but I can’t focus through this blinding pain,” and having them say “wow, yeah, that does suck. I get it. It’s okay.” Letting people in on what’s going on can take the pressure off of needing to feel “normal.” And it’s so much more honest and intimate than “I’m fine.”


When we are willing to acknowledge our experience of pain, we give others permission to do the same. In doing so, we poke holes in the cultural illusion that “everything’s fine,” reducing that social pressure to pretend that nothing is ever wrong or difficult. Pain then becomes a less lonely experience and induces far less guilt and shame, which makes it easier to bear. In showing up with our whole selves, even the vulnerable parts that we’d prefer were different, we allow for deeper intimacy with those around us and help create a more compassionate culture.



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.)

Rope knotWorry. It’s the force behind that knot in your stomach, the clenching of your jaw, your trouble falling asleep and the furrow in your brow. You know it’s not accomplishing anything, but your mind resists getting off the hamster wheel.

How can you change the channel? Turns out, there are points for that. The Stomach and Spleen are responsible for digesting not only our food, but our lives: absorbing what’s useful, letting that nourish us, and passing on the not-so-useful stuff to the Large Intestine so we can let it go. Worry is the mental equivalent of sluggish digestion, or chewing on the same thing over and over again without swallowing. Just as there are points to aid digestion, there are points to help dissolve the mental knots. Here are three:

SP 5

Spleen 5

Spleen 5 is the point to use when your compassionate heart leads to a worried mind and you can’t stop thinking about the problems your friend (or your kid, or co-worker) is facing, even though you know there’s nothing you can do to change their situation. This is empathy gone astray. First, summon some compassion for yourself – it’s tough to watch someone you love go through something hard. Then, find the point on the inner foot, just below and in front of the bony bump on the ankle. Press this point firmly with your thumb, and massage in circles for a minute while thinking to yourself “I let go.”

Lung 7

Lung 7 is the go-to point to help clear your mind of worry. Like the breath itself, this point helps anchor us to the present moment rather than projecting into a future that may never come to pass. Take a long, slow breath and massage Lung 7 – Make a “thumbs up”, and HT 5 and LU 7locate the point about an inch towards your elbow from the thumb/wrist crease.

Heart 5

Tap Heart 5 when you’re worried about what you’re going to say. This point helps you express what’s in your heart, so it’s especially useful for speaking your truth, confronting someone, or having to say “no.” Located on the inner wrist, one thumb-width up from the inner crease, just inside the tendon that leads to the pinky. Tap this point gently for 30-60 seconds, visualizing raindrops striking and bouncing up from a puddle at the point.

Changing your relationship with stress is the most powerful thing you can do for your health. If you’re ready to revamp your nervous system for more ease and confidence, check out your bodymind toolkit:

 Calm Yourself: Self-Care Strategies for Stress and Anxiety





Meditating on a rockWhat do you want to do differently in 2015? Lose weight? Exercise more? Learn to meditate? Write your novel? Resolving to change a behavior requires overcoming the inertia of habit. And even with determination and motivation, the Force of Will is pathetically weak compared to the Force of Habit. Here are 8 ways to leverage your willpower and turn your resolutions into lasting lifestyle changes.


1) Commit to the journey, not the destination

Rather than focusing on an outcome that may or may not be within your control, focus on the path you’ll take to get there. Replace “I want to lose 10 pounds by March 1st” with “I will do five 30-minute workouts a week, cut out white flour, and eat only at mealtimes.” Commit to specific behaviors and put them on your calendar so you know how they fit into your day.


2) Make it small — then scale up

When you set a goal and meet it, you’re proving to yourself that you’re capable of change. That’s motivating! So start with something you know you can do, such as one minute on the treadmill, one minute of conscious breathing, or rolling out your yoga mat. When that seems easy, add another simple step, then another.


3) Do it in the morning

Stress is like kryptonite for good intentions. After a long, hard day, it’s going to be much harder to stick to your plan of working out, painting, writing, meditating, or whatever. Unless your life is utterly serene, you may want to schedule your new thing for early in the day before the stress has a chance to deplete your willpower.


4) Prepare to succeed 

Make it as easy as possible to stick to your goal. Pack your gym bag or lay out your workout clothes the night before. Have the veggies in the fridge and chopped ahead of time so they’re the easy option at the end of a long day at work, when you’re tempted to eat whatever is there. Take time on the weekend to stock your fridge with fresh vegetables or make a big pot of soup for the week ahead.


5) Put it on autopilot

Willpower is puny compared to the force of habit. Hooking your new habit onto something you’re already doing can help transform a new behavior into a routine. Consider what routines are already happening automatically, such as brushing your teeth, eating, making tea, getting up to use the bathroom.  Any of these can serve as cues for things like doing five push-ups; taking 10 deep, mindful breaths; or practicing gratitude. Leveraging your brain’s strategy of taking small routines and turning them into bigger ones can help you fast-track a new habit onto autopilot.


6) Understand your triggers

If you’re trying to break a bad habit, like smoking or consuming too much sugar or alcohol, understanding what’s motivating the behavior will get you farther than simply trying to stop. When you feel tempted to engage in the bad habit, practice pausing and getting curious about what’s happening. When you’re tempted to overeat, are you really needing rest? Or support? Or empathy? Close your eyes and turn your awareness inward. Notice your breath, whatever sensations are happening in your body, your emotions, and what’s going on in your mind. When you’ve identified what’s triggering the habit, substitute a healthier behavior that will give you a similar payoff. Watching your breath for ten cycles can be an excellent way of relaxing your nervous system and enabling you to substitute a more satisfying behavior.


7) Hold yourself accountable

Tell your friends, partner, and colleagues about your goal. Tweet it, take photos of yourself doing it, and post them to Facebook and Instagram. Or if that’s not for you, identify who can hold you accountable (it could be a friend, a coach, or health care provider). Email this person once a week and tell them of your progress. Having even one person who believes in what you’re doing improves your odds of success.


8) Meet slip-ups with curiosity and self-compassion

Nobody’s perfect. When you miss the mark, give yourself compassion for being human. Talk to yourself as you would console a friend who was trying to do something hard.  Self-compassion will actually get you back on track faster than guilt and shame, and it feels way better. Next, get curious as to what derailed you, so you can plan to avoid it next time. Then double down on your goal.


I’ll be cheering you on.



The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg, (Random House Publishing, USA, 2012).

The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., (Avery, New York, 2012).


Self-Compassion: the Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Kristen Neff, Ph.D., (William Morrow, USA, 2011).


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

A colleague showed up at my office yesterday and asked “what are you doing tonight at 7:30?”  For the first time in weeks, the answer was “I don’t have any plans, actually.” She smiled, presented me with a free ticket to the Aviv String Quartet’s performance that her husband wasn’t able to use, and left.

As I sat in the concert hall, listening, the music worked its magic.  It felt as though the sound waves were massaging my brain into a dreamy, peaceful, yet creative and inspiring state.  I came out of it feeling deeply rejuvenated, like an especially deep meditation or trip to “acu-land.”  While feeling deeply grateful that I was there having this experience,  I was reminded of this passage from the Tao Te Ching:

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

Tao Te Ching interpreted by Stephen Mitchell

If there’s no space, nothing happens. We need yin to engender yang.

It’s so easy for me to see space as simply something that needs to be filled up.  This keeps me very busy (usually with things I love!)  but doesn’t allow for a whole lot of spontaneity. What would happen if I left a little more space ?