Well-Being

Body Clocks + Biorhythms: Immunity, Mood, and Well-Being

A few weeks ago, I did a post on Seasonal Affective Disorder that advised exposure to light early in the day (within two hours of waking) and recommended other practices. That post lacked context, and prompted the apology post you’ll see after it. At the time, I promised to provide that context. Here it is. Almost all species have internal rhythms and a sense of time, which are the focus of a field now known as chronobiology. We have internal circadian (24-hour) clocks that generate and shape daily cycles in our physiology, emotion, and behavior.  Most organisms inherit the ability to track time on this 24-hour scale. For example, bees use their clocks to visit flowers at the appropriate time of day so they can feed when flowers are open. Birds use their biological clocks during migration to compensate for the changing position of the sun throughout the day. Other …

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The Art of Inquiry: How to Create and Undo + Create Ourselves:

    You know those rare moments when an idea, person, or experience moves you from a static place to a place of disorganization and discomfort, but ultimately, transformation? One of those occurred for me in March of 2017. I was in the middle of a strength training session in the gym, casually listening to an On Being podcast episode which featured the poet, theologian, and social healer Padraig O’Tuama. His words hit me mid-pullup, echoing in the special way that signals things will never be the same. The passage: “There’s a Buddhist concept,” says O’Tuama, “where if you’re asking a poor question—if a question is being asked, “Are you this or that?” Robert Pirsig says that you can answer, according to his telling of the Zen tradition, you can answer with the word mu, m-u, which means, “Un-ask the question, because there’s a better question to be asked.” The …

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Neuroplasticity is a Social Construct

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s capacity to change with experience—plastic meaning mutable. If we play the piano once, we briefly stimulate the piano-playing centers of the brain, and not much changes. Play every day for a year, however, and the brain transforms in several ways. It can grow new cells. It can enhance cell size or cell activity. It can prune away pathways that are no longer used, a process known as neural sculpting. And it can forge new relations between entire networks of cells; this is called connectivity. These cellular changes occur in service to getting better at what we practice—in this case, playing the piano. We practice other things, too, some of them not so harmless. Neuroplasticity is also a social construct. It evokes the way communities shape themselves through practice. We change or stay the same because of and in relation to one another. Think of the …

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Why yoga + the body are social and political

  In response to a recent email, I received several notes saying, “I didn’t sign up for your newsletter to hear about your political views.” I get that. Yet to separate integrative, mind-body approaches from politics sets up a false division between them. I’d like to explain why that is—and how it has a negative impact on well-being. Let’s start with the body.   Why Integrative Therapies are Inherently Social (and Political) From personal feelings like anger or sadness to social emotions like shame or trust, emotions have their origin as sensations in the body. As this origin story begins, receptors in your skin and internal organs collect information. These receptors specialize in distinct sensations: the speed of your heart, the pace and depth of your breath, hunger or fullness, warmth or coolness, activity or soreness in your muscles, emptiness or fullness in your abdomen (and bladder and rectum), and …

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Will the Real Mind-Body Connection Please Stand Up? (Your key to well-being.)

We often speak of a mind-body connection, as though under the right conditions, the mind can talk to the body, and the body can talk back. (This calls to mind the old-fashioned screech of a dial-up modem connection as we try to go online.) But the breaking story in well-being concerns the relationship between the mind and body (and in addition, the brain). One of the most significant relationships we’ll ever have, it determines our physical, emotional, and social well-being. For over a decade, I’ve taught what I call the Mind, Brain, and Body Network. If you’ve studied with me in person or online, you’ll notice that the elements have changed over time as emerging research highlights new areas of study. Here’s an up-to-the-moment picture of how I conceptualize this extraordinary communications network and why it holds the key to well-being. The Mind, Brain, and Body Network. The Autonomic Nervous …

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I Feel Your Pain: An Empath’s Guide to Staying Balanced

Do you often wonder which emotions are yours, and which belong to someone else? When people you care about are hurting, do you feel their pain so deeply that it’s hard to separate—even after they’re out of crisis mode? In relationships, do you donate so much of your own natural resources that you suffer from a chronic energy shortage? And with those you’re close to, is it hard to figure out what your own needs are—or even what you want for dinner? If the answer is yes, it’s highly likely that you’re an empath. What does it mean to be an empath, and why is it fraught with these basic life challenges? Derived from the Greek “em” (in) and “pathos” (feeling), the term empathic means you’re able to “feel into” others’ feelings. But for empaths, this sensitivity is magnified to the nth degree. An empath is more tuned in, more …

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When Advance Requires a Retreat

At the close of 2016, I embarked on a 10-day silent retreat in western Massachusetts. It was necessary: chronic overwork, multi-tasking, and the political events of the year had fractured my attention and taxed my nervous system. Ten days might be hard, I thought to myself, but it was also necessary—like “attentional rehab.” It was hard. It was also nourishing. And it was full-on, life-changing extraordinary. Most of us have heard alluring tales of mystical experiences that arise during a retreat: unity with the Divine, a direct encounter with emptiness, and other such happenings. It’s tempting to think that mystical experiences are “the payoff” of a retreat. Yet most of us, myself included, have close encounters of a more pedestrian kind: intense, searing pain, for instance. Sleepiness (I much prefer the Buddhist terms “sloth” and “torpor,” which sound more dramatic and justified). Alien forms of thought that invade our mind: …

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The Beauty of Broken

I sit quietly, breathing, and gaze out over the Hudson River. The winter sun explodes: fingers of clouds extend as though in supplication, stained pink by the sun’s last vermillion flare. An I.V. tube protrudes from my arm, and I wear a light blue patterned hospital gown. I am in Pre-Op, awaiting my fourth hip surgery in eight years due to one hospital and two doctor errors. I have logged nearly ten years on this journey. Much of it has involved prepping for surgery, rehabbing from surgery, planning my teaching and travel schedule to allow time off for surgery, and intermittent discomfort between surgeries, all with little respite. My body has long been the instrument of my creativity, my work and joy and pain. The people I entrusted with its care have violated it. They have broken and re-broken my heart. Despite this, my heart is full. It knows its …

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Passport to Relaxation: Eye Pillows and Juicy Restorative Rest

Have you ever wondered why even when you’re tired, your mind can resemble a light switch, permanently set to the “on” button and preventing you from falling or staying asleep? And have you ever rested for simply five minutes with an eye pillow over your eyes or browbone and found that it was just like hitting the “reset” button? There’s a reason why it’s hard to access your off switch—and it has a lot to do with eye pillows, your passport to relaxation. Eye pillows have an undeserved reputation for being the new age version of snake oil: a little bit of flax, and a whole lot of money. Yet they may be one of your most powerful healing tools, especially when it comes to your nervous system. Let’s get into the science for a moment. Your vagus nerve is one of twelve cranial nerves. It originates in the brain …

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Asana Lab: Trapezius Release

Asana Lab: Trapezius Release As we approach the end of winter and begin to rewire our well-earned “Snowmaggedon Posture,” we’re targeting the Trapezius Muscles. Try this fascial release pose to create happy tissue in a tight neck, shoulder, and back. Time 5–10 minutes Props •   1 Manduka recycled (extra firm) block •   1 mat •   1-2 tennis balls or Yoga Therapy Balls Introduction The trapezius muscle is a “hotspot” located between the neck and outer shoulder, and the back and front of the body. We’ll begin on the part of the trap where you see the ball placed, above. Before entering each part of the body, take a moment to connect. You can place your palm on the area you’re about to enter, or simply direct your breath there. This helps “prime” the tissue, and also promotes the ability to listen to the tissue and dial in just the right amount of …

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