As we slowly emerge from the safe cocoons of our homes and into what can be a scary new world, how can we channel our fear and create happiness in the face of the steep uphill climb that is sure to be our recovery from the impact of COVID-19 on every aspect of our lives?
I mean, we all like challenges that help us grow, but this has been ridiculous, right?
For me, it all starts before I jump out of bed and hit the ground running. We are trying to manage our small business as best we can and it’s a handful, from working our web store to virtual classes to applying for business relief to keep going. And there’s my online cookie bakery that has been bangin’ since this pandemic began. (Thank you all so much.)
I have found that it’s how I begin my day that allows me to manage it all without losing my focus or my cool.
I have a back issue caused by a lifelong commitment to tough fitness workouts. It’s my own fault and my mature (shall we say…) body finally rebelled against my choices about 5 years ago. Managing pain when so much of your life is movement, exercise or standing became my focus. I resorted to getting shots in my back from a most amazing, compassionate, funny and completely genius doctor who has become a close personal friend. I wanted a more permanent solution to coping and maybe even overcoming pain, since my damage is structural (long, boring story).
I turned to a dear friend who is a qigong master Sifu and asked for her guidance. She agreed to teach me the practice of qigong when we are all on holiday in Italy and once home, to continue to counsel me via weekly face time calls. Her conditions were simple. Practice every day, twice a day; no exceptions. I readily agreed. I would have agreed to anything that could lead to pain relief. I have only missed practices when I am on an overnight flight to Europe. It took 3 years of consistent practice to be mostly pain-free. I still see my pain genius when things are particularly sticky for me, but qigong has changed everything.
My back pain was only the beginning. Qigong has altered my view of life…again. Just when I think I have it all figured out, I grow again. I get tired of growing sometimes, but there it is.
I can’t imagine my life without this moving meditation. It has become part of my DNA. It allows me put my day in perspective, no matter how challenging it might have the potential to become. And the back pain? It comes and goes but I cope with it differently. It has lost its hold on me.
Each morning, before I begin my day, I practice qigong, sometimes for only 10 minutes, wherever the chi takes me. And before bed, I practice qigong again. I have never slept better.
I tell you this because how you start your day determines how that day will go, in my view. Not everyone has 30 minutes to an hour for meditation, but everyone can spare 10 minutes before the day hits you between the eyes and before you fall into bed each night to re-focus yourself. And if you have no time to spare for meditation, try this: before you begin your day and before sleep, sit on the edge of your bed, legs dangling over the side. Relax, sitting with a straight spine. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, deep belly breaths. Do this for 5 minutes; setting a time if need be. It will rock your world.
Starting your day stressed out over what might happen or even what you know will happen doesn’t help you to manage it. Just the opposite, I have discovered. Chaos breeds chaos. Before noon, you may have argued with a loved one over something silly; you’ve grown even more anxious about the day’s news; you’ve said, texted or emailed something you know you will regret.
I’ve had those days when I was outwardly calm for everyone in my public world, but privately, not always so much. Even with my philosophy that I don’t waste a moment since I have nearly died twice couldn’t save me on bad days. But the pandemic has laid us all bare; all our insecurities and flaws for everyone to see.
Since qigong, I start my day in a completely different way. I practice before anything else. It takes precedence over everything except a dire emergency. It has changed how I show up in the world. It’s made me see that how I begin my day emotionally, is as important as the food I choose to eat.
Grounding your day in a powerful and positive way allows you to feel happier, more energetic and productive without leaving a trail of destruction in your wake.
The more I let myself go within the flow of chi, the better I feel about my days and the more easily I move through them.
It’s up to each of us to find the small practice that centers you for the day ahead. For some, it’s journaling; for others it’s a morning walk or run. Whatever it takes to ground yourself in peace will serve you as your day becomes your day, good or bad, chaotic or smooth. You’ll manage it if you set yourself up for it.
As always with me, how we feel, act, react and move through the world is driven by what we choose to consume. And while I understand that issues may run deeper for us than what we had for dinner the night before, how our chi moves through our bodies is deeply reliant on foods that support the flow of energy within us.
Waking Up on the Right Side of the Bed
I’m not super touchy-feely about things. I’m compassionate and kind but I also deeply believe that we have to hike up our skirts and do the right thing by our bodies in order to feel well in the morning when we wake and to have the strength our life requires of us. We have to be grownups.
When you love your life, your work, your reason for getting out of bed each day, you’re excited to get going. Assessing how you feel first thing in the morning can make you a much better leader, partner, friend, parent…whatever. Tap into your heart when you wake with a feeling of gratitude for your many blessings.
Look, not everyone has a job they love or a mission that drives them. That makes life harder.
But even then, you can…and should be able to wake up recharged for your life. I mean, you woke up, right? My grandfather used to say that any day that you were above ground was a good one.
It begins with when you stop eating. What? Yup. How you wake in the morning is entirely dependent on when you stop eating the night before. Those midnight snacks you love so much are the reason you feel less enthusiastic about the day ahead when you wake.
Our overworked and underpaid livers work super hard doing so many things, but one of the most important jobs of this gland is to metabolize our macro-nutrients (fat, protein carbs). Like the rest of our body, our liver needs to rest at night to be enlivened and active in the morning.
And what does this have to do with your mood?
Well, my darlings, your liver governs the emotions of irritability and anger, impatience and rage. When your liver is functioning well, you’re patient and calm. When your liver is tired and overworked…oh, let’s say, from digesting those peanut butter cups you just had to have before bed, you wake up feeling cranky…or worse.
The solution is simple. Stop eating 2-3 hours before bed. Not a grape, not a bite or a morsel. Nothing, nada, niente. You won’t starve in the 8-10-12 hours until breakfast. If you simply can…not…stand the hunger, have a cup of herbal tea. But that’s it. You have to be a grown up. Yes, life is hard and yes you feel entitled to indulge, but as Bob Newhart said in a very funny skit where he gave advice for destructive behavior…”just stop it.”
You’ll be a happier camper for it. And so will everyone around you.
Gratitude Is Everything
These are hard times and everyone is fighting for their lives. Some are literally fighting, on ventilators or in isolation. Some are struggling in business. Some have lost their livelihood, some their loved ones. This time of life has stamped society with trauma and tragedy that most of us will never see again. We hope.
We have seen the best and the worst of humanity now.
But I can still look around my world with the deepest gratitude. I am grateful for my health and that of my family. I am grateful that all my beloved friends in the world are ok. I am grateful for my glorious husband and the life we have crafted for ourselves. I am grateful that we have a home and food on the table.
Times like these challenge us to our very cores. Now more than ever, you must take the time each day to look around; lift your head from the sadness and be grateful for something, anything. From the flowers in the yard across the street to the simple meal on the table, to your family and friends, to your job, if you have one; to the expert doctors and scientists who help us fight this virus and advise us as to the best path forward.
Gratitude is everything. It helps us cherish and recognize what is good in life.
Counting our blessings has never been more important.
The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions
And finally, intentions. The power of intentions is undoubtable. Whether we are aware of them or not, we create every single thing about our lives, intentionally or not (see what I did there?). There are no accidents or coincidences. We may not know we are doing it or creating it, but that’s what becoming self-aware shows us. My great teacher, Michio Kushi once said to me that if I took responsibility for my illness and how I created it, I would recover. I was livid when he said that, thinking I didn’t ask for this. But did I? I surely did, with my actions, lack of actions, choices, indulgences, excesses; you name it; I tried it. I burned the candle at both ends and in the middle. I worked hard and played harder. I was young, talented in my field, energetic and ambitious. I was invincible or at least that’s how I lived.
No one is invincible, as I so painfully learned.
Intentions are powerful energy that can move us along or derail us if we don’t honor their power. And intentions are different than “I intend...” like “I intend to go to the gym again.” That’s excuse-making. A true intention carries you forward in your journey.
We humans are powerful creatures; we can manifest what we imagine and intend. Let’s use that power to heal, to lift each other up and move into the new future strong, healthy, compassionate and kind.