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.
Every fall I wonder if I’m depressed. I have suffered from depression off and on throughout my life, and know all too well what it feels like. Here’s what happens: I don’t want to go anywhere. Time alone seems far more precious than connecting with friends. I want to sleep more. Sometimes I feel sad for no particular reason. Sitting on the couch with a steaming mug of tea and a cat feels better than going for a hike. I want every meal to involve sweet potatoes. Knowing the signs, I inquire within: should I be worried?
Then I remember that it’s totally natural to feel this way. In Chinese Medicine, our bodies and minds are connected to the cycles of nature. Autumn is the transition season from the yang of summer to the yin of winter. To clarify the terms: Yang means active, hot, moving, and external: in the summer, it’s hot, the days are long and many of us are busy, active, and non-stop social. Then the season shifts to autumn, and the world gets colder and darker, bringing with it a natural shift towards yin: a drawing inward, wanting rest and stillness. And chai. And the aforementioned sweet potatoes.
If you don’t follow the cycles of the seasons, you set yourself up for disease. So here are 5 tips for fall.
- Let yourself rest more than you think you “should.” You might well need more rest to fight off the colds and flus which start flying around this time of year. Greet your need for rest with compassion rather than judgment.
- Switch up your diet to include more cooked vegetables, soups, stews, proteiny grains like quinoa and millet, and meat if you’re so inclined. This time of year we want to build the body’s yin: that which moistens and nourishes to prevent things like dry skin, dry lips and throat, dry cough, dry stools, — pretty obvious forms of dryness, but also those less obvious — muscle and joint stiffness, insomnia, hot flashes, the ability to feel calm. Protein tends to be warming and helps to build the body and fortify it for winter. Root vegetables like winter squashes and sweet potatoes can be especially helpful for nourishing yin, feeling grounded, and ready for winter. Use gentle warming, pungent spices like fresh ginger, cardamom, leeks, and garlic to take the chill off. Eat fewer salads and more sautéed veggies: white mushrooms, bok choy , cabbage, radishes, leeks and cauliflower, are especially appropriate. Apples and pears (and dairy products if you’re good at digesting them) can help moisten the Lungs. You’ll notice many of these fruits and veggies are white, the color that corresponds with the organs of the Lungs and Large Intestine.
- Don’t freak out if you’re feeling melancholy – the dying of the harvest, the waning of the vibrant fullness of summer involves a sense of loss, an emotional pulling downward and inward, which can feel like sadness. Feel it and let it flow through you. It’ll pass. And if it doesn’t, consider if there’s anything you haven’t let yourself grieve. If there is, allow it to flow through you so it can go on its way. Unresolved grief can inhibit the immune system – it pulls the lung qi inward, and we need the lung qi to power the protective qi on the surface of the body to keep pathogens at bay.
- Get exercise. Those days when I just find myself tearful, exercise never fails to shift me out of it.
- Do some qi gong for the Lungs. Stand with your feet a comfortable shoulder distance apart. Inhale, and float your arms up and out to the sides, shoulder height. Exhale and bring them forward, crossing your arms in front of your chest. Inhale and expand the chest, opening the arms to either side as in the picture below as though you’re shooting a bow and arrow: left hand extends the index finger and thumb to lengthen the Lung and Large Intestine meridians, right hand makes a fist at shoulder height. Hold the breath. Then exhale and bring your arms in front of your chest. Repeat three times per side. This exercise can help with immunity, any breathing issues, and letting go of grief.
I was inspired to write this post because a lot of folks I’ve been seeing in clinic are judging the heck out of themselves for wanting to slow down, or for suddenly finding themselves grieving over the loss of loved one. Not only are you not alone, it’s perfectly natural. Not only is it natural, it is wise.
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.