Did your life completely change on January 1? How are you doing on New Year’s resolutions? Rather than re-inventing yourself in 2019, why not simply upgrade or change your path? I’ve written extensively about how Chinese medicine has brought amazing upgrades to my life, both physically and mentally, throughout the journey of DAO Labs, and as a company we’re constantly trying to demystify this powerful practice. As you embark upon the year ahead, here are three things for consideration that incorporate this powerful yet simple practice into my life - the benefits, as I’ve experienced before, is to make me a better husband, father, colleague and person. I guarantee they could be for you as well.
Here are the there are three components of my New Years’ “adjustments” that embrace a Chinese medicine lifestyle:
- The application of Chinese philosophy, which on the surface can be very confusing, into my everyday life. When practicing some of its core tenets, it can change your life.
- Active meditation combined with an aggressive (and low impact) fitness goal for mental and physical results.
- A radical change in my diet, allowing “food to by thy medicine, and medicine thy food,” through a ancient but culinary practice that keeps digestion strong (and your body balanced). In Chinese medicine, health starts with digestion.
Below is a deeper dive into each of these core adjustments. Like with all things at DAO Labs, the goal is to both demystify and simplify this ancient practice for a modern life.
1. A Simple Way to Understanding Chinese Philosophy: It Can Change Your 2019, and Your Life
Do the names Confucius, Mencius or Laozi ring a bell? Perhaps they might, but they might also be intimidating and esoteric to get your arms around. Nonetheless, their teachings and insights can be life altering. Start with Confucius, whose teachings ask the reader to ponder the following question:
“How Are You Living Your Life on a Daily Basis?”
To help answer this question (and many more), I highly recommend beginning the year by reading The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life by Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh.
The book, in a very concise and approachable way, answers many questions, among them, “Why is a course on ancient Chinese philosophers one of the most popular at Harvard [taught by Puett]?....it’s because the course challenges all our modern assumptions about what it takes to flourish”. By embracing these lessons, “you can open yourself up to possibilities you never imagined were even possible.”
In 2018 I watched my father-in-law pass away. It was deeply emotional, but highly peaceful and beautiful in the process. Attempting to answer such a question as the one posed above (“how am I living my life daily?”), in light of this experience, becomes even more relevant. As Steve Jobs famously stated during his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”
But Chinese philosophy teaches us that it’s not just the “big choices” that matter - it’s the small ones that add-up to big ones that matter just as much. As summarized in Puett’sx The Path, “Change doesn’t happen until people alter their behavior, and they don’t alter their behavior unless they start with the small.”
From a practical standpoint, you can hear more about how these Harvard students’ lives have been radically impacted, in some cases radically altering their career paths, in this excellent article.
Take a deep dive into Chinese philosophy and start making small changes, right now. You’ll be shocked at where these small changes lead you by the end of the day, month and year.
2. Combine A Mindfulness Practice with Your Workout Routine
I have a hard time sitting still and an even more challenging time turning off my mind (Chinese herbs have helped me immensely in this regard - here’s how). I’ve practiced yoga intermittently since 2000, but many times I struggle to turn off my mind when it’s supposed to be quiet (often racing to my office to get back to work or write down things that I’ve thought about). Rather than fight it, I’m on a goal this year to walk (speedwalk, no less, as my running days are over) 1,200 miles. The goal itself is arbitrary (I walked over 1,000 miles in 2016), but the journey is life changing.
The word “DAO” literally translates to “way”, “path” or “road”, so it’s not only fitting that we used it in the name of our company, but for my health and mindful goal in 2019. I’m blessed to live close to a lake, which I’ve now walked around over 200 times. Regardless of the day I’ve had, or the day I aspire to have, the mental (and physical) benefits of a long walk around a lake are incredible (plus the physical benefits are on par with a long run).
Here are the ways in which I use this time to benefit my mental health:
- I use a timer to block time chunks into certain “mental categories”. For example, I’ll block 20 minutes to focus only on my breathing or the sounds around me. It’s a simple way to absolutely clear my brain. In other time blocks, I’ll listen to a book on tape, a podcast, or other mindful exercises to quiet the mind.
- Intentional focus on my surroundings (an extension of “being present”). What better way to be present than to simply observe my natural surroundings? It can be challenging at times, particularly when I walk the same route, but if I’m intentional about it (again, using a timer to keep me focussed), it can be a great transition for my mind.
- I travel quite a bit, and the beauty of this practice is that it goes with me. But regardless if I’m just walking around my “go-to lake” in Minneapolis, or walking through Los Angeles when meeting with our acupuncture partners, I only need a pair of comfortable shoes and as little as 30 minutes to fulfill this obligation.
- I use this time to rekindle relationships. I’ll invite friends to walk with me (just yesterday I walked five miles with an old colleague) and also reconnect with friends on the phone. I recognize that speaking on the phone can be counter to some of the points above, but by the same token, I’m quite busy, have two kids, and don’t have a lot of personal time. I use this time to keep in touch.
Here are three connections between my time walking and Chinese philosophy, summarized by Confucius:
- “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Life is a journey, be it 1,200 miles, building a business, writing a book, or fostering a relationship. Keep moving forward in 2019.
- “Wherever you go, go with all your heart”. Passion can be infectious. Go all-in in 2019.
- “If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.” I like to say that I have two eyes, two ears and one mouth (and one heart). Use them proportionally and don’t stop learning.
I can’t stress enough how great a workout walking can be. Time consuming yes, but relative to the benefits above and the extent to which I use the time to be better mentally and physically, my family and colleagues would say it’s worth it.
3. I’m not going to diet in 2019, but rather focus on my digestive health - that’s the key to everything in Chinese medicine.
Rather than embarking on a diet fad in the year ahead, I’m going to radically focus my eating and cooking habits on my “digestive health” - the key to health in Chinese medicine. More specifically, I’m going to embrace a culinary practice that’s been widely practiced and promoted by doctors of Chinese medicine for thousands of years (and many acupuncturists, still to this day) - the protection of one’s “middle burner”, which leads to superior digestion, better overall health, and increased energy. Middle burner?
The “Middle Burner” Concept - Bypass Cold and Raw Foods
There are several concepts within Chinese medicine dietary theory, from eating to one’s constitution, to maintaining foods of the appropriate “dampness”. But a central theme throughout is keeping your digestion “warm”, specifically your spleen and stomach, which aids one’s overall digestive system, increases energy, and reduces the future temptation to eat less than healthy foods. To accomplish this (rather simplistically), one needs to avoid consuming overly raw vegetables (so long, cold salads), maintain the appropriate balance between proteins and vegetables (again, with the latter appropriately cooked), and adding the right amount of “heat” through spices and other flavor combinations. Ask any acupuncturist and they will tell you that the impact on your overall health, energy levels and mental fitness will be felt within days.
This is not to suggest that I won’t augment from time to time, but like all things in Chinese medicine, balance is key - straying one direction or the other with an overly aggressive diet can leave one’s body (and Qi) overly depleted.
Look for more information on this “diet” to follow in the weeks ahead from my colleagues at DAO, or talk to any acupuncturist about Chinese dietary therapy. It’s incredible.
Final Thoughts: Acupuncture, Herbs and Let’s Connect
Other aspects of Chinese medicine will remain key to my overall mental and physical health plan for the year. As of this writing, I’ve already seen an acupuncturist to help with some of the above, and I continue with a regimen of herbs on a daily basis. We’ll be launching a handful of new formulas this year, all of which we’ve thoroughly tested (oftentimes on ourselves!) and we couldn’t be more excited - so stay tuned.
If there are questions you have about any of my New Year’s plans, are inspired to join me on a walk, or need additional perspective on Chinese philosophy or Chinese medicine, reach out. And a final thought for the year ahead, from perhaps the greatest Chinese philospher of them all: