Tag Archive for: sustainable

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?


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…

In the largest study of the effects of acupuncture for lower back pain in the US (published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, now JAMA, in 2009), it’s demonstrated that acupuncture is a more effective way of treating chronic low back pain than the standard conventional treatments of medication and physical therapy.  Clearly, this finding is noteworthy in and of itself. Its findings are similar to those of the largest study on acupuncture for lower back pain conducted for insurance companies in Germany in 2008. It concluded that acupuncture helped improve lower back pain for at least 6 months, an effectiveness rate “almost twice that of conventional therapy.” [1]

If acupuncture has been shown to work staggeringly better than the current standard plan of care, why hasn’t it become THE treatment of choice, rather than seen as a “complementary and alternative treatment?”

The problem is that in both of these studies, patients in a control group who were given sham acupuncture treatments also experienced meaningful improvements, though not as significant as those who received real acupuncture. Critics drew the erroneous conclusion that because the sham treatments yielded positive results, the placebo effect must be the most important factor. It’s understandable that acupuncturists may shy away from bringing up research that may attribute part of our medicine’s success rate to the placebo effect: people are still largely naïve about the power of Chinese medicine, and we don’t want our very legit medicine to be perceived as something one needs to believe in. But the placebo effect is a factor in all forms of medicine whether it’s pills or receiving an acupuncture treatment. And the fact that acupuncture works on dogs and cats (who presumably don’t “believe in” acupuncture) demonstrates that there is clearly something beyond the placebo effect at work.

Returning to the lower back pain studies: let’s not overlook the fact that people got better. And that the patients who received real acupuncture got better results than they would have through conventional means. 60-80% of the public will experience lower back pain in the course of their lives (http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/low-back-pain). People should know that acupuncture is an outstanding treatment strategy, outperforming the standard of care for lower back pain. Share this, tweet it, post it on your blog, shout it from the rooftops and help those you care about make an informed choice.


[1] Haake M, MüLler H, Schade-Brittinger C, et al. German Acupuncture Trials (Gerac) For Chronic Low Back Pain: Randomized, Multicenter, Blinded, Parallel-Group Trial With 3 Groups. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(17):1892-1898. doi:10.1001/Archinte.167.17.1892.



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