It’s Really Not That Hard to be Vegan in Japan

I am vegan. Before I came to Japan a lot of people told me that they thought it was impossible to be vegan in Japan. After I got here, a lot of people told me that they thought it was impossible to be vegan in Japan.

This is preferable to the reaction I got when I told people that I was vegetarian in Wisconsin in 1995. Back then, they mostly cocked their heads and squinted at me as if they were trying to make out the outline of “vegetarian” in my blurry image. What did it all mean?

When I moved to Philadelphia in 2002 and told people the same thing, they reacted less severely, but they were still skeptical. Cheesesteaks¹ have been mentioned to me a lot, and I have often countered with scrapple.

Anyway, it’s really not that hard to be a vegan in Japan. Similarly, it really wasn’t that hard to be a vegetarian in Wisconsin in 1995 or a vegan in Philadelphia whatever year it was that I became vegan (sorry, I can’t remember).²

The only hard part is how skeptical people are that it’s really not that hard.

So, I’m starting a series called, “It’s really not that hard to be vegan in Japan.” I don’t know how many entries it will be or what it will contain.

In this post, I will start with three new posts on vegan-friendly restaurants I have gone so far in Japan.  FYI, I live just outside of Tokyo, so I have a little more access to special restaurants than most of Japan.

shanaimThis is my post on Shamaim.  Shamaim is not a vegan restaurant, but it’s vegan friendly.  We found this on Happy Cow.

 

 

 

KIMG0126Lima Cafe is a vegan cafe with a store attached.  I still don’t know if they are referring to the bean or the city.  Also found on Happy Cow.

 

 

KIMG0123We tried to go to Milkland or ミルクランド, but it ended up being closed, so my entry is incomplete.  I will update as soon as we eat there.

 

 

 

¹By the way, there are many different vegan cheesesteak vendors in Philadelphia. They are made with seitan.

²These days, Philadelphia is so vegan friendly that it’s possible to have an entirely vegan potluck and not have one person panic or get confused. Vegan friendly restaurants are so easy to find that it’s barely worth mentioning anymore.

Things Are About to Change Around Here

bonsai_treeOk, folks, I’m going to try to update more often. If I am going to update more often, entries will be a lot less polished, a lot less to the point, and contain a lot fewer links.

The reason for this is because my life has taken a 90 degree turn, and I am now living in Japan.

When I decided to move, it wasn’t so much that I desperately wanted to be in Japan, it was more that it was time for me to leave Philadelphia. My feelings about that have changed, but that’s because I’ve been in Japan for about six weeks now. My feelings about a lot of things have changed.

However, my feelings about Philadelphia haven’t changed. (It was a wonderful place for me for a long time, but I was getting the sense that it was time to move on. I’ll get to the wonderfulness of my time in Philadelphia in another entry.)

The contrast between Japan and Philadelphia was exactly what I’ve been craving.

Firstly, Japan is quiet. Even with a train stacked body-to-body with people during rush hour (rush hour in Japan is no joke, by the way), it is dead silent.

Unlike Philadelphia, train rides in Japan are sans the kid playing a game on his phone with the volume turned up, the couple arguing in the corner, and the three people talking loudly on their cellphones while sitting directly underneath the “this is a quiet car” sign. And, I only wished that the cacophony in Philadelphia ended with the train rides. Construction, mini-bikes, barking dogs, ancient heating/cooling systems grinding along, and people just generally being loud is the wallpaper in Philadelphia. I don’t miss it.

Japan moves.  While it’s crowded in Japan (much more so than Philadelphia), it’s an orderly crowd. Things may move slowly here, but they keep moving. People line up for the escalator without pushing, shoving, cursing, and jockeying for the best position.  Bureaucracy may keep things at a snail pace around here, but it’s a pace.

So much gets stalled in Philadelphia because something happened. Maybe it was a fight, maybe it was an accident, maybe it’s emergency construction on a crumbling bridge, but stuff in Philadelphia stops dead when something happens. That something was usually caused by someone who got impatient and made a bad judgment call.  In Philadelphia, you never know when that’s going to happen.

Japan has civility. For example, I observed four junior high boys share two seats on the train by simply trading when they were halfway through their journey. There was no pushing, shoving, or name calling, it was simply, “you sit for a while, and then we’ll sit for a while.”

I’m not even going to bother offering the Philadelphian contrast to this.  I think you know.

Japan has organization. I’ve heard of other foreigners coming to Japan and being irritated at the inconvenience of constantly dotting I’s and crossing T’s, but you know what? That organization is there to save your ass, as it did mine after I lost my train pass.

When I bought my train pass, I had to type my name and birth date into the machine before it would issue me a pass. That felt outrageously tedious and silly. This only matters because I now live in a civil society. When my train pass went missing, someone picked it up and returned it to the lost and found (instead of using it to go on a train riding spree until all of the credit was used up, which would obviously happen in the US). And, of course, when I went to the lost and found (while scoffing at the idea that someone would pick it up and take it to the lost and found), they ran my pass through the machine, looked at my ID, and said, “Yep, this is your lost train pass. Here you go.”

I’m sure you already know that there is nothing in Philadelphia that’s designed to save your ass.

So yes, while the grit of balls-out Philly has its charm, I’m ready for less. I’m ready to not feel like I’m taking my life into my hands every time I get on I-95. Heck, I’m ready to not feel like I’m taking my life into my hands while standing in line at the ATM. I’m not referring to muggers here. I’m talking about that no-nonsense native Philadelphian granny who thinks I just cut the line in front of her. Actually, she doesn’t care if I really did or not, but she’s going to give me the business, anyway, because it’s Philadelphia, and that’s what people do.

Like I said, Philadelphia was wonderful in many ways. I’ve been missing a lot of those things, lately, but that’s a natural part of transition. Obviously, I will have to redesign the website, but that will come in time. On top of moving countries, I have also moved jobs. Changes will come in time.

My Wounded Voice

Can we talk about my fear of using my voice?  I have been learning about it, lately.

My lesson began while I was working on an essay that talked my ability to speak up.  I had trouble because I hadn’t explored the issue enough myself.

As I contemplated this, I was given the push that I needed.

I watched a youtube video on a controversial subject—racism against Japanese-Americans.  As a Japanese-American, I thought I had some insight to add to the discussion, and I added it.

This terrified me.  I didn’t want to offend the video makers, whose channel I like and watch regularly.  I didn’t want to get dragged into some online flame-war.  Most of all, I didn’t want to be targeted as being a subversive person who goes against mainstream (i.e. white) opinions.

I rarely ever comment on videos, at all, and never on controversial subjects.  For the first time in a long time, I didn’t act like my voice wasn’t worth the battle.

My ego rattled its cage doors for a day or so, and this made me miserable.  Then, I saw it.  If I wanted to understand my relationship with my voice better, this was my opportunity.

Instead of worrying about that particular situation, I turned my attention to my limiting beliefs about my voice.  The two main ones were:

  1. If I can’t communicate a perfect message, then I shouldn’t communicate, at all.
  2. If my perspective will cause conflict, then it isn’t worth saying.

I’m sure you can imagine the number of times I’ve tortured myself over the first one, considering how often human beings communicates imperfect messages.  I do it constantly, and beat myself up about it constantly.

Ironically, I have also spent a lot of time wondering why I’m so frustrated that I rarely feel heard.

To illustrate how insidious limiting beliefs can be, I will also mention that the only reason I noticed these patterns because I broke them.  The fear and anxiety that I felt from doing something different showed me that I had been stuck in a pattern.

To heal these limiting beliefs, I tried to go back to the first time I started feeling fear and anxiety about offering my perspective.  This goes back to my childhood (where most of our wounds originate).

We moved to a new state the summer before my sixth grade year.  That move landed me closer to my extended family and a whole bunch of cousins that were around my age.  Before the move, I lived in an urban area, I went to a huge school with big classes, and I was often lost in the crowd.

The new place was rural with a small population.  My extended family was a clan that accounted for everyone.  We had safety in numbers, and I was being acknowledged as a person.

But, then I had to go to school.  My new school was small.  It took me a long time to wrap my head around the knowledge that there were twenty kids in my entire grade.  I did not get lost in the crowd, I was the crowd.

My voice box erupted.  I was enthusiastic about my cousins and my new environment.  I needed to express that.  I felt more comfortable in a smaller class, so I expressed it constantly.  I chatted the ear off of the wrong person, and she criticized me to the other girls.  That’s how sixth graders handle it, you know.

Pretty soon I was ostracized for being an annoying person who talks too much.  This is when I learned the danger of a small class.  In my old, big school, if something went wrong with one group of kids, a kid could simply find another group.  In a small school, that wasn’t the case.

My alienation probably only lasted a week or so, but, for me, the lesson stuck.  As quickly as I had opened up, I closed down again.  After that, I only spoke when absolutely necessary, especially around my classmates.

This is only one of many wounds surrounding my voice, but when I asked myself about the first time I felt fear and anxiety for using my voice, this event stepped forward.

To work on it further, I did Reiki on my Throat Chakra—the chakra associated with self-expression.  In doing this, I was struck with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the voice that I’ve had so far in this world.  It has expressed my needs when I’ve really needed them.  It’s helped me express my feelings.  It’s spoken up to protect me.  It has done all of this despite its wounds—pushing forward through the pain and trauma.

It was a powerfully healing experience, but I’m still working on it.  I’ve started commenting more online as part of my therapy.

This is not uncommon.  I have observed trauma around their voices of many.  Some people can’t express their opinions, even more often, they can’t express their feelings, or they feel creatively blocked.

What about you?  How do you feel about using your voice?  What are your limitations?

If you enjoyed this blog post, please like, share, or comment.  It really helps me out!

Ruminations on Gratitude

You may have noticed that there was a pretty large gap in my blog posts this past year.

A year ago I got engaged. We decided that we didn’t want to wait too long to get married. We’d been living together for six years at that point and were completely done with our foot dragging.  So, I took four months to plan a wedding, while simultaneously working on my MA thesis, and finishing up my Reiki Mastership.  All three of those things culminated this past Fall.

So, my only explanation for my absence is that I got busy.  After the busy time had passed, I collapsed for a couple of months, and by the time I regained consciousness, I was out of the habit of blogging.

The reason I’m bringing up the wedding, at all, is because part of our wedding experience inspired this post on gratitude.

The very last thing we did for our wedding was an exercise in gratitude—we wrote our thank you cards. We wanted to make sure that every guest got something written to them personally, even if it was something small, expressing our gratitude for their presence on our wedding day.

I insisted on it, and my husband ran with it. At first it looked a lot like a very long chore, but in the end, we’d stumbled onto an exercise that enriched our experience much more than we had expected. We experienced gratitude in a deep, all-encompassing way that we don’t have in our regular daily lives.

Gratitude has gotten enough press, lately, that most of us believe that it is an important ingredient for a satisfied life, or at least, that’s what we’ve heard. We hear it so often now in yoga classes, meditation retreats, and “spiritual” teachings—the word “gratitude” has become almost fetishized.

One 2013 article summarizes, “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting positive effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness and well-being, and spur acts of helpfulness, generosity, and cooperation.”¹

That sounds pretty good, right? But, how do you get there?

To answer this question, I went to Robert A. Emmons, PhD, who is not only one of the authors of the article quoted above, but the person behind a good number of the gratitude studies that have been coming out these days.

Emmons tells us gratitude is a conscious choice and practice. His first suggestion is have a daily gratitude practice, and the easiest way to do that is to keep a gratitude journal.

I read somewhere (perhaps another article based on Emmons’ work) that gratitude journals work better when you choose to write several sentences about a few things, rather than make a long list of one sentence thoughts on gratitude. I’ve searched, but I have not been able to find that particular article or study.

Perhaps the longer ruminations work better because a list makes us start writing down a bunch of things that we think “should” make us feel grateful, rather than focus on the few things that actually make us feel grateful.

Trying to feel grateful for something that doesn’t make us feel grateful is a good way to make ourselves feel guilty about not being good enough. Haven’t we had enough of that, by now?

Even if the list is short, work with what actually makes you feel grateful. Write about it.

I think Dr. Emmons sums it up pretty well as he discusses one of his case studies in a paper of his:

“Her gratitude was not a selective, positive thinking facade, but rather a deep and steadfast trust where goodness ultimately dwells even in the face of uncertainty. This thanksgiving was grounded in the actuality that true gratitude is a force that arises from the realities of the world, which all too often include heartbreak, sometimes overpowering heartbreak.”¹

¹Emmons, R. A., & Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 846–855. http://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22020

I Was Taken by the Latest Scam Targeting Yoga Teachers

I was writing a different entry after my long break from blogging when something else came up, so I’m putting off that blog entry for this one.

An email scammer sent me an email and I fell for it.  I didn’t fall for it for long enough for him[1] to complete the scam, but long enough to be mightily disappointed when I realized that it was a scam.  Here’s a link to a detailed description of this particular scam.

At first, I’d wanted to punish him in some way.  I had heard about vigilantes that spent time dangling the hope of a big pay-off in front of fake Nigerian princes making them jump through hoops for weeks, only to disappoint and frustrate them.

Woman angry annoyed at computer

This image perfectly captures how I felt at the time.

I ran through several counter-scams in my head, many involving long hours of paperwork (for him).  I was still in that mindset when he emailed me again.  Would I agree to do him the teensy favor of sending his other fake identity several thousand dollars by Western Union?[2]

I said I would.  As soon as I hit “send” on that email, I got a strange tingling sensation throughout my entire body.  I felt weak, and I started shaking.  I realized that I had ventured into new territory.

I don’t have a poker face.  I have what Elizabeth Gilbert calls, “a miniature golf face.”  This means that every thought that crosses my mind shows up on my face.  In high school, my friends used to make fun of me because I was so easy to read.  My husband thinks it’s hilarious that he knows what I’m thinking at all times.

Because of this, I don’t even bother trying to bluff—ever.  If I were playing poker, my version of bluffing would be to say, “Excuse me, I have a terrible hand, but I was wondering if you could pretend that I have a really good hand just this one time?”

So, the second I sent off that email my first instinct was, “He’s going to know.  It’s going to be so obvious that I’m lying that he’ll drop me the minute he opens that email.”  Because seriously, who does these kinds of favors without asking any questions?!

It wasn’t long after that email was sent that I decided that I would come clean with him, but I was still pretty angry.  So, I took time mentally crafting my “coming clean” email.

It included a lecture about how we should strive to see each other as human beings, not as stereotypes or commodities, and how not all Americans are rich (I assumed he was not in the US).  I even threw in some statistics about the number of Americans living in poverty (over 45 million), and how there are homeless people on our streets and hungry children who don’t have access to a decent education.

I even got all holier than thou about how we (meaning: me and my friends) would never try to rob him.

But, of course, I don’t know that to be true.

I don’t know his circumstances.  I do believe that most people would choose to survive without harming others when given the choice, but what’s a choice?  You can’t have a choice unless you see yourself as having a choice.  Given a bleak enough situation, most people would do just about anything to survive.

So, I started mentally crafting a new email.

I was getting close to sending that new email when he emailed me again.  He wanted to email me his credit card number.  This would be the stolen credit card from which he’d take funds to make it seem like I was paid temporarily.

So, I postponed my farewell email again thinking that if I got that credit card number that I could at least report it as stolen.

Well, I waffled on this.  It probably wouldn’t mean that he’d get caught, and he probably has a dozen stolen credit card numbers, so what would it matter?  It would barely slow him down.  But, I also thought, “It surely matters to the person who owns that credit card.”

By this time, I was completely done with my initial anger and disappointment.  Rather than spending my time thinking about how I could punish him or change him, I started worrying about his well-being.  I started sending him long-distance Reiki.  It started feeling strangely surreal that the two of us were linked in this way, probably across the globe, because we’re both desperate for positive outcomes with our businesses (if you can call what he does a business)—both of us anxious and sad about our relationship.

The next day, I received another email.  He wanted to wait several days before sending me his credit card number.  I decided that I would not let this drag on any longer, and I wrote him this email:

Dear [scam-artist],

This is a very difficult email for me to write.  I have discovered that it is very likely that you are not a legitimate customer and that you are trying to pull a scam.

 At first, I was hurt, disappointed, and angry, but I’ve realized that you probably wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t need the money.  Unfortunately, I have no money to give you, which is the reason I was so eager to get your business in the first place.  I am a Reiki healer, and I sent you some healing energy in hopes that it will help you in some way.

 I won’t pretend to know anything about you, but I want you to know that I am very truly sorry for any of the hardships that you have endured throughout the course of your life.  I have no ill will towards you, and I wish no harm to come to you.

 I hope you understand that I can’t continue to correspond with you.  I hope you find success in a way that is true to whatever place you call home, whether it be an actual place, or a cherished place inside of yourself.

 Best Wishes

In the movie My Fair Lady, one of my favorite exchanges goes like this:

 Higgins: Do you mean to say that you’d sell your daughter for fifty pounds?

 Pickering: Have you no morals, man?

 Doolittle: No, I can’t afford ’em, Governor. Neither could you if you was as poor as me…

 As silly as My Fair Lady can be, I’ve always found this to be a compelling perspective—morals are a luxury that are afforded to non-desperate people.  It’s a lot easier to refrain from stealing bread if you have enough to eat.

Personally, I’ve been struggling in my business because I am terrible at advocating for myself.  I know lots of successful Reiki practitioners and Yoga teachers who have plenty of clients, so my struggle is my own, and I’ve been working on it.

I was desperate for business, and when we’re desperate, we often making poor decisions.  This is the reason I was an easy target.  However, while I am not good at advocating for myself, I am really good at learning from my mistakes.

During the time I believed my scam-artist, I finally felt the empowerment I’d been seeking for a long time.  I finally felt valuable enough to move forward in my business.  In the moment of that feeling, I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t need this to believe in myself.”  Shortly after I had that realization, the scam revealed itself to me.

I haven’t heard back from him, which suggests that he cared a whole lot less about our exchange than I did.  I know that he deals in volume (sending out hundreds of emails, hoping something will hit), so I guess the lesson here was entirely my own.

The next time I pause to thank my teachers, he will be on my list.

Have you had a similar experience?  Have you ever learned good lessons the hard way?  Let me know below!

[1] He identified himself as male, so I’ll continue to call him a him, but in actuality, I have no idea whether or not this person was a man or a woman.

[2] WHY Western Union does not ask for ID in this day and age is beyond me.

Get Warm and Heal with Turmeric

Since spring seems to be taking its sweet time getting here, I thought I’d share something that’s been keeping me warm this winter.  It’s warming, it’s tasty, and it’s healing.

I’m sipping it as I type this.

Raw Turmeric over white background

Turmeric

 

Sometime mid-winter, Sarah from Holistic Habits posted a video (posted below) on how to make a turmeric-ginger elixir.  At the time, I was ready to try anything that would get me through until spring, and it’s been a life-saver.  The spicy sweetness of this drink makes my guts feel like they’re getting a warm hug (is that gross?).

In her video, she tells us that turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, but honestly, I would drink this even if it had no health benefits because I love the taste of it (although it did cure one of my headaches).

After watching her video, I did some research into turmeric to learn more.  I found one study that was done by James A. Duke that compared the effectiveness of turmeric to the effectiveness of various pharmaceuticals.  The study concluded: “…safe and inexpensive turmeric is a viable contender with pharmaceutical drugs for preventing and/or treating Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cancer, scabies, and a range of other ailments.”

That made me wonder some more about turmeric.  Surely, if it could do all of that, it must be exceptionally powerful.  Could it be safe in all forms, for all people, and in all doses?

So, I found another resource, from Dr. Greger, he runs a website called nutritionfacts.org.  He made a video on turmeric (posted below).  He starts off giving us fair warning that not all pill-form supplements that are labelled “turmeric” necessarily contain turmeric (nutritional supplements are not regulated).  About three minutes in, he tells us exactly who should avoid turmeric, even though that, for the most part, he agrees that turmeric is generally safe and can be very healing.

I will issue my own warning, though, especially because this elixir also contains a lot of ginger: If you’re not used to eating raw ginger or raw turmeric, then start slow.  These roots not only have a really potent flavor, but they can potentially upset your stomach at first.  Our bodies often react negatively when we suddenly dump something new into them.  Give yourself time to adjust (this is true for anything new).

James A. (Jim) Duke. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. October 2007, 13(5): 229-234. doi:10.1089/act.2007.13503.

My Most Powerful Tool for Transformation

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t believe that transformation is a lightning bolt, but something that is earned with consistent effort.  But consistent effort isn’t easy.  It can feel like a long uphill slog.

Your desired change might be making a dietary change, exercising more (or at all), daily meditation, or maybe you’re trying to write a book!

If it’s hard to do, there will come a day when you say to yourself, “I’ll just skip this once.”  Once turns into twice, then three times, and the next thing you know, you haven’t done your new practice in about two months.

Because it feels so hard, we assume that the solution must be incredibly complicated.  Part of the reason it feels complicated is because our brains complicate it for us.

Whenever we’re trying to create a new habit, we’re asking ourselves to go outside of our comfort zone.  On top of that, we were gifted with brains that are powerful problem solving devices.  So, when we’re faced with going outside of our comfort zone, our brains say, “Ok, I’ll do you a favor, I’ll find a way for you to not have to do this,” and then it’ll come up with a lot of reasonable sounding justifications that allow us to stay within our comfort zones.

For example:

“I don’t have time today.”

“I don’t have the energy.”

“I’ll feel better tomorrow and I’ll put in twice the effort.”

“I’m too tired to even think about it.”

“I’m not sure this even works.”

“I’m a lazy/anxious/depressed person, and it’s just too hard for someone like me.”

…and lots of other solutions that your very smart brain finds for you.  We’ll even put more effort into finding a reason to not do something than it takes to do the thing we’re avoiding.  This is how passionately our brains want to keep us comfortable.

The way to get around this mechanism is to bypass it altogether.  Don’t listen to any judgment that your brain makes about the activity.

As soon as you start judging the practice, you will find reasons to not do it.  Once you have decided on your desired change, and have created a reasonable plan for achieving that change, then simply do the practice.

Is it that easy?

Practically speaking, we know it’s not.  Despite telling yourself not to make judgments, your brain is designed to jump in with solutions whether you want it to or not.  You have no choice—the judgments are going to appear before you’ve even thought about whether or not you want to make them.

Chances are those judgments will be reasonable explanations as to why you shouldn’t have to do the thing that makes you uncomfortable that day.

However, when this happens, you do have the option to disregard it, and instead, mindfully approach the practice.  This means that you put all of your focus on what you’re doing in the present moment, and nothing else.  Keep crowding out the judgment with mindfulness and get through the practice.

If you end up with poor results, such as a bad workout, bad meditation, or even a resentful meal, this does not mean that you failed.  You succeeded by staying consistent and that consistency will lead to better results in the future.

Of course, none of this can be done unless you trust your practice.

You can’t trust your practice until you know that its right for you.  So, before you start a new habit, take the time to figure out what change will truly work for you.

woman-tourist_FB_version

This should be something that will sustain you if you sustain it.  For example, a mildly challenging exercise routine or a dietary change that is not too strict (usually focusing on adding something good, at first, before eliminating something bad)—practices that you know will improve your well-being and make you feel better.  Once the practice starts making you feel better, you will find motivation in that.

What about you?  In what ways have you maintained consistent practices in your life?

“I’m really stressed out, should I try Reiki or Yoga?”

stressed

Both!  But, they are very different experiences.

During a Reiki session you can feel free to zone out, day-dream, fall-asleep, or just relax and enjoy the session.  Reiki can release you from the stress of everyday life in a completely effortless way.  This does not mean that the benefits end with that session.  You may have conscious realizations during or after the session that gift you with a powerful shift in perspective or you may notice subconscious changes have occurred later.

Yoga requires your active participation, but you will not be asked to force and grunt your way through the session—this only creates more stress—you will be challenged to train your mind to approach stress differently.  This allows you to immediately apply what you’ve learned in the session to your every day life.  The training I offer is Asana based (you will be asked to take Yoga poses), but the real training is mental.

These practices approach healing and transformation in very different ways, they both have a similar end-goal: to bring you to a place of ease, rather than anxiety.  This happens by changing your relationship with the stress, so you don’t feel every single bump along the road.

For both practices, consistency is the key.  Whether you find a practitioner or find a way to practice on your own, every day ease requires regular practice.  Similarly to physical training, changes don’t happen instantaneously, they happen over time.

Further reading:

Reiki

Bowden, D., Goddard, L., & Gruzelier, J. (2011). A Randomised Controlled Single-Blind Trial of the Efficacy of Reiki at Benefitting Mood and Well-Being. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2011. doi:10.1155/2011/381862

Kundu, A., Dolan-Oves, R., Dimmers, M. A., Towle, C. B., & Doorenbos, A. Z. (2013). Reiki training for caregivers of hospitalized pediatric patients: a pilot program. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 19(1), 50–54. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2012.08.001

Vandergrift, A. (2013). Use of complementary therapies in hospice and palliative care. Omega, 67(1-2), 227–232.

Yoga

Gard, T., Brach, N., Holzel, B. K., Noggle, J. J., Conboy, L. A., Lazar, S. W. (2012). Effects of a yoga-based intervention for young adults on quality of life and perceived stress: The potential mediating roles of mindfulness and self-compassion. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7, 165-175.

Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2010).  Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Christian, L., Preston, H., Houts, C. R., Malarkey, W. B., Emery, C. F., & Glaser, R. (2010). Stress, inflammation, and yoga practice. Psychosomatic Medicine, 72, 113-121.

Michalsen, A., Grossman, P., Acil, A., Langhorst, J., Ludtke, R., Esch, T., Stefano, G. B., & Dobos, G. J. (2005). Rapid stress reduction and anxiolysis among distressed women as a consequence of a three-month intensive yoga program. Medical Science Monitor, 11, 555-561.

Real Habit Formation and Lifestyle Change

I’ve noticed the sudden proliferation of 21-day, 28-day, and-30 day challenges that are being advertised now that it’s spring.

We’ve all heard that old sage advice (or perhaps urban legend) that doing anything for 21 days creates a habit.  As a result, we’re now constantly inundated with challenges that last about that amount of time.

How many of us here have done one of these challenges and then fallen off the wagon the day after the challenge ended?

You can’t see me, right now, but if you could, you’d see that my hand is up.  If it only takes 21 days to create a habit, then why haven’t all of our habits been perfected after a series of well-designed 21-day blocks?

I think it has to do with this dialogue from the movie Before Sunrise.  If you aren’t old enough to remember this movie, then go watch it.¹

Here’s the conversation:

Jesse: You know, it’s like…nothing much that happens to us changes our disposition.

Céline: Really, you believe that?

Jesse: I think so. I read this study where they followed people who had won the lottery, and people who had become paraplegics, right. I mean you’d think that…you know, one extreme is gonna make you…euphoric, and the other suicidal. But the study shows that after about 6 months…

Céline: Uhum?

Jesse: Right…as soon as people got used to their new situation, they were more or less the same.

Céline: The same?

Jesse: Well, yeah…Like if they were basically an optimistic, jovial person, they’re now an optimistic, jovial person, in a wheelchair. If they’re a petty miserable asshole, OK, they’re a petty miserable asshole with a new Cadillac, a house and a boat.

Yes, of course I looked up the study that Jesse is talking about!  It’s called:  “Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?”²

Unlike Jesse, this study doesn’t cause me to conclude that we can’t ever change our dispositions, but that it takes about six months for a major lifestyle change to feel normal.

Once it feels normal, it has become habitual.

Most 21-day challenges aren’t about making a small, uneventful change.  They’re about getting immediate and dramatic results.

The problem is that immediate and dramatic usually don’t go with long-lasting.  The study Jesse cited suggests that if you want an extreme change to start feeling normal, then you’re probably going to have to wait for the six month mark, not the 21 day mark.  I’ve found this to be true in my own life.

I’ve also found it to be true that 21-day “challenges” are awesome for baby-steps, in which case, it’s not really a 21-day challenge, but more like a tiny change that seamlessly integrates itself into your life.

In order to set up a decent 21-day habit change, the key is to make the change small enough that you don’t notice when Day 21 has passed.  This is going to be different for everyone.  Something that is massively hard for one person can be barely a blip on the radar for someone else.

If you’re counting down the days until the challenge is over, then chances are you’re going to majorly fall off the wagon on Day 22.  You haven’t really changed anything.

For example, you can diet so much that you’ll lose a bunch of weight immediately, but eventually, you will fall off the wagon because your dietary change was so extreme that it became unsustainable.  Statistically speaking, the weight will come back—and then some.

If we’re thinking about making lifestyle changes, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves, “How do I want to live for the rest of my life?”  Rather than, “How do I want to live until I reach some short term goal?”  Given that perspective, how does your goal planning change?

In other words, would you rather spend years yo-yo dieting (where you see extreme losses but also extreme gains) and end up worse off after it’s over, or would you rather make slow and steady—but permanent—changes that will last the rest of your life?

¹If you’re watching it for the first time today, be very, very grateful that you don’t have to wait nine years to find out what happens after this movie ends and then wait another nine years to find out what happens after that movie ends, like those of us who watched the series when it first came out.
²Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(8), 917–927.

What Happens After We Die?

A few weeks ago, I went with a friend to pick up a Buddhist nun at the airport so we could take her to make a short visit at a Buddhist monastery before we put her on a train to continue her travels.

I’ve been to Buddhist monasteries before, but those visits had been in the context of a retreat. This was a different type of visit and I figured that there had to be something interesting about the experience that I could bring back to my blog.

Surprisingly, other than a few minor details—for example, when it reaches a certain temperature, even monastics will complain about the cold—the visit itself was mostly unprofound.

golden_monks

One thing did come up, though.

Before we reached the airport my friend asked me what I thought of the concept of rebirth.¹

I said, “Well, I could give you the typical answer that all dharma teachers give when faced with such metaphysical questions.”

He said, “What’s that?”

I said, “’What does that have to do with your life, right now?’ or ‘how does that affect the present moment?’ Along with a mysterious smile.” My boyfriend and I call answers like this as doing the “Zen shuffle.”

He said, “Let’s ask [our nun] when we see her and see if she answers the same way.”

So, we did, and we explained to her our reason for asking. She responded with, “Wow, now I’m nervous.”

Then she proceeded to talk about rebirth in a concrete and informed way that I’ve never heard from any other monastic. When she was done, I told her that it was the best answer that I’d heard so far, and then she accused me of being a suck-up (another detail—monastics have a sense of humor).

Her answer was this:

She knows that it is popular these days for Buddhists, especially Western Buddhists, to try to explain away rebirth by claiming that the Buddha only mentions it because it was his cultural inheritance at the time (growing up in ancient India). However, from her perspective, rebirth can’t be separated from Buddhism because the whole point of practice is to escape from the Samsara (which is the cycle of continuous rebirth).

However, this is not the final word on the dharma. No one has the final word on the dharma and that’s because Buddhism is an incredibly diverse and ever-evolving religion.

Some of the various traditions are so different from one another that they are barely recognizable as the same religion. For example, some traditions believe in multiple Gods and some believe in none.

For me, I’m pretty happy to hear someone practices meditation, at all, let alone a specific kind. If they identify themselves as Buddhist, that’s even better. I’m definitely not going to nit-pick about their specific beliefs.

Ever since we had that brief conversation I knew that I wanted to blog about it, but I’ve also been spending a lot of time figuring out my reason for wanting to blog about it.

I’ve realized that it was very refreshing to me that she gave full disclosure. In my experience, many Buddhist practice teachers are afraid to have any conviction about metaphysical claims. Perhaps it’s the cultural climate and perhaps they don’t want to influence the beliefs of others.

However, even if some interpret Buddhism as a religion that doesn’t focus too much on metaphysics, that doesn’t mean that the question, “What happens after we die?” is not an important question to others.

I’ve seen this question asked several times in the context of dharma talks and seen several people get disappointing answers—the Zen shuffle.

This one was very simple: Samsara is real.

I’m putting this out there for anyone who wants a straight answer.

How important is it to you to have metaphysical beliefs? Do you think they’re important or merely a distraction from your present life?

¹This is a concept that is similar to reincarnation, but the definition of “rebirth” depends on your religion.  Several religions contain a similar concept with varying ideas of what exactly goes on between lives.