Tag Archive for: breathing

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.


The two primary sources of the qi that we use every day are our food and our breath.  (I’ll talk about food in another post.) Eating and breathing are ways in which we take in energy from the outside world and make it our own. Breathing happens automatically, thankfully. It would be very hard to get anything done if we needed to interrupt ourselves every seconds to tell our bodies to breathe. Because it is one of those functions relegated to the background for us by our autonomic nervous system, we tend to overlook its importance.

Have you ever become so engrossed in working something on your computer that you fail to notice that your shoulders are tensing up around your ears, your back is rounded with your head craned forward?  This is not a comfortable position, but you find your way there because your attention is on your work, not your posture.  An hour later, you notice that your shoulder is kind of sore, and only then do you realize what an unnaturally uncomfortable position you somehow adopted.

An equivalent thing happens with breathing.  The breath gets rapid and shallow as part of the stress response.  Sometimes the breath gets held as the body tries to hold it all together.   By tuning into what’s happening, you shine your light of consciousness on what’s been going on behind the scenes.  Once you become aware of what’s happening, you can change it.  The first step, therefore, is to practice tuning into your breathing several times a day.  Starting now:

Take a moment for a 60-second inventory.  What parts of your body are breathing freely right now?  What parts are not?  If you close your eyes and visualize your body, what parts can you feel or see your energy flowing easily, and what parts are harder to sense?  Can you breathe into your lower belly? Your back?  Your brain? This is excellent information to mine.  Lack of free flow of energy is what leads to pain and other problem.  We call this “qi stagnation” in Chinese Medicine.  This right here is a simple qi gong exercise: practice of cultivating awareness of how your energy is moving within.  The simple act of bringing your awareness to that which is usually handled unconsciously can by itself lead to profound insights and changes.

I invite you to take breathing breaks at least three times a day. Most of us make at least a little time each day to eat — a primary souce of qi.  Why not take three minutes to breathe with awarenss, to mine this other overlooked source of vital energy? Try it and let me know how it goes.