Healthy Habits – Week 7: Make Your Diet Personal

I’m a scientist at heart. Way back I studied physics and got my masters in it. The scientific thinking stayed with me as did the urge to explain things with data, observations and principles instead of beliefs. But science (and scientific history) has also taught me to be careful with what we ‘know to be true’. It turned out after all that the earth is neither flat nor the center of the universe. Bummer.

There is a new diet every year, that claims to finally have found the right way to eat. It’s always proven through scientific studies and better than anything we had before. Funny enough the next year it will be proven wrong. It’s also interesting to note, that humans survived just right for aeons before we had scientific diets.

I would urge you to take ownership of your nutrition instead of just following the latest craze. Watch what you’re eating and then listen to your body. What gives you energy without a feeling of fullness or being bloated. What gets you going instead of making you tired after eating.

Diet is universal for the most part, but in the details also personal to your body, lifestyle and goals. Learn what YOU need. Learn what helps YOUR body. No one else can give you the magic recipe, not even the scientists.

Take some clues from our ancestors though. They thrived and put us into this world after all. Don’t go for extreme one-sided diets (I could name a bunch but I won’t). Look for balance and variety. Don’t be a one-trick pony. Avoid processed food whenever you can, there’s little food left in there.

Many of the most long-living populations follow the same pattern: a variety of different foods, freshly cooked and seasonally adjusted. You can take clues from mediterranean, japanese or chinese 5 elements nutrition (sorry, the Chinese restaurant’s menu doesn’t count).

Take a balanced, fresh selection as a basis and then learn what works for you.

For example I observed that

  • A lite and healthy lunch (soup or salad) works well for me since I won’t get tired afterwards but have energy for the day
  • Rather than having one big meal I add nuts and apples in between when I get hungry
  • I also learned that I need to catch myself and have a snack before I get really hungry or I will lose all self-control (sad but true, I’m a weak person)
  • I reduced milk as it gave me a slimy feeling, although I loved my latte – no more lattes
  • I plan to reduce vinegar and spices as I noticed that I get heartburn from it (still working on that habit change)
  • I like to go with the chinese recommendation to follow seasons; in the winter I have more warm soups, in the summer I have more cold salads

Learn to listen to your body instead of listening to other people’s advice (including mine)! Only you can truly find out what’s right for you.

There is no one size fits all, there is only what works for you. Take ownership of your nutrition.

A little excursion and food for thought

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) there are two sources of energy: the one that you are given at birth (pre-natal) and the one that you get from nutrition (post-natal). If your energy source from nutrition is not good, you will draw from your pre-natal energy and that depot depletes without a way to refill it (pre-natal energy cannot be replenished according to TCM).

Don’t risk your precious pre-natal energy, have good food. Go for home-made instead of produced and know whats going into your food.

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto


Healthy Habits – Week 6: Cut Down on Sugar and Salt

We all eat too much sugar. Way too much.

And the scary part is that most times we don’t even notice or know. Sugar is in sweets (naturally), in candy (of course), but also in soda (easy to forget) and pretty much all other processed foods.

There is so much sugar in everything that our taste buds got used to it and don’t even notice it anymore. When we moved over from Germany more than 10 years ago, we first couldn’t eat any sweets or cookies because everything was appallingly sweet. We still skip most store cookies, but it’s scary how quickly you can get used to too much sugar and won’t even notice it anymore. We just have to look at our kids to see living examples of a whole different sugar perception.

Sugar gives you a quick rush and then a big and deep crash. And longterm it harms your health in many ways.

Try to stay away from things that have lots of sugar added. Once you do it, your sensibility for tastes will come back again and you will sense sweetness even without crazy amounts of sugar. Drink your coffee without sugar and if you don’t like it that way, maybe you actually don’t like coffee in the first place.

Rather than ‘sweetening’ your life with sugar (or artificial sweeteners which are even worse) go for things that provide you with slow burning glucose to give you energy for the day and keep up your willpower (we’ll talk about that in a few weeks).

And while we’re at it – cut down dramatically on salt. Again, almost all processed food has way too much salt in it. Sugar, salt and fat make for great (i.e. strong) taste. They don’t help you at all to get consistent energy or have a healthy nutrition.

Skip sugar, sweetener and soda. Go for nuts, veggies, fruit and infused water or tea instead. Ditch the salt and add some pepper to your life.

Uli always uses only half of the sugar (sometimes less) that is called out in recipes. We don’t drink any soft drinks (they are way too sugary, I cannot even stand the taste). We replace most of the salt with pepper. It may be a big step initially, but you will get used to it in just a few weeks and a whole universe of new, more natural and subtle tastes will open up for you.


Healthy Habits – Week 5: Skip Alcohol

I love my glass of wine in the evening after a long, often exhausting but hopefully successful day. I really do. However I will cut back on it and skip any alcohol on workdays.

There is a lot of debate as to whether a single glass of wine in the evening is helping or harming your health. As with any nutrition advice, the science data and recommendations change about twice a year.

What I do think it does, is to negatively impact the quality of your sleep. Moderate amounts of alcohol help us to fall asleep, but they don’t really lead to a good and deep sleep throughout the night.

More than a glass is bad for your health and brain anyway, there is little debate on that.

Skip the evening drink for better sleep and better health.

Limit drinking alcohol to one glass of wine on Fridays and Saturdays only. As tempting as drinks might be after a long day, go for green tea instead. Sleep better, be sharper the next day.


Healthy Habits – Week 4: Go to Bed Early

Feeling tired and low in energy? How long did you sleep last night? How long the nights before?

There was a time when we bragged about how little sleep we need and how little time we can afford for it because we are so busy.

We are past that. Science has proven that good and consistent sleep is critical for physical and mental health. Not having time to sleep is more a sign of bad prioritization than anything else (ok, if you have a newborn you get a pass on this rule).

Find a routine to go to bed the same time every single day. Get up in the morning the same time every day. Find out how many hours of sleep you need per night and then plan your day around that. Make it a habit.

Go to bed early. Get up early the next morning. Establish a routine around the times when you go to bed and wake up and then stick to it.

Energized days are better days. You will get more done which will give you more opportunity to establish free times.

On the flip side, if you don’t sleep enough, you will have low energy throughout the day. Coffee cannot truly fix that. Your mind will be slow. You will be cranky and have short fuses. In one word, your day will not be effective and you will need more time to get things done. That will cut in your remaining regeneration and sleep time – you see the vicious cycle.

You should also avoid things that get you too excited: blue lights trigger awakeness, TV gets you excited and aroused, computer games are designed to trigger your excitement and attention, checking your email one last time will almost certainly make you think about work the whole night.

Get a good (maybe slightly boring) book to read and put it away the same time every night.

For most people 8 hours sleep a night is the right duration. It seems to work for me. Find out how much sleep makes you most effective.

Lets us know how it works for you in the comments.


Healthy Habits – Week 3: Don’t Waste Time in the Morning

Don’t start your day on the wrong foot. Stop procrastinating before tackling the day ahead. Get up and get into the right mode.

When we have a slow start we often get frustrated with ourselves which sends us off into a downward spiral for the rest of the day.

On the other hand, on days where we have an early and successful running start, we usually carry over that energy through the day. On those evenings we tend to look back at successful and fulfilled days.

Don’t waste time in the morning. There are many ways to waste time in the morning – Facebook, news, gossip, snoozing the alarm clock. None of them is helpful. Before you snooze the alarm, rather sleep longer. Instead of wasting time on Facebook, get started with your day, end earlier and have some time left for your family.

The same applies in the evening. Rather than dozing off in front of the TV, rather spend time with your family, read a good book or just go to bed.

The same applies to games. When did you ever truly feel better after having spend 30 mins with a video game?

Don’t waste time in the morning. Sleep or get up but don’t procrastinate in bed or on the sofa.

Ditch Facebook, news and games. Rather do some Tai Chi, exercise or just a quiet reflection of the day to come.

Get up and get going!

Lets us know how it works for you in the comments.


Healthy Habits – Week 2: A Strong Core for a Confident Life

Aerobics is great. Tai Chi is great. Mindfulness is great. We love practicing it all regularly. But you also need a strong core and it makes sense to add some focused workout to develop your core strength.

A stronger core will make many activities in daily life easier for you. A stronger core is the root for any force we need to excert. A stronger core will lead to a leaner body.

A stronger core will make you more confident.

More is better, but let’s start short and simple and actually do it every day (you can always do more if you have more time). Let’s do these every day:

  • 10 push-ups
  • 20 sit-ups
  • 30 secs plank

Strengthen your core. Then take it from there.

Lets us know how it works for you in the comments.


Healthy Habits – Week 1: Stay Hydrated

Want to join us adding one healthy habit to our routines every week in 2019? We don’t have a plan yet but will just add as we’re going. Be flexible, go with the flow.

Our habits will be a collection of healthy habits (e.g. sleep 8 hours a day), mindful focus (e.g. 10 mins meditation every day) and some productivity hacks (e.g. read a book instead of Facebook). We might also focus on dropping a few bad habits (e.g. no alcohol on weekdays).

Let’s start building up bottom to top. In Chinese medicine earth and water are first, then fire and air.

Drink lots of water, stay hydrated. Keep your energy at high levels with the right fuel. Stave off colds.

It is recommended to drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, every day. Food and other fluids contribute to the daily total. How about we shoot for 3 bottles of water a day?

Drink at least 3 bottles of water a day!

Our body consists to 60% of water. If we don’t drink we die. Water is the first step.

Lets us know how it works for you in the comments.


How Would Your Spirit Animal Do The Form?

Do you have a spirit animal? Do you have a favorite animal? Is there an animal always meeting you throughout your life and just showing up whenever you least expect it?

In a lot of spiritual communities animals have a very influential role.

The same can be said for Tai Chi. Tai Chi has roots in Kung Fu and even the names of the moves often refer to animals, for example “stroke the mane of the horse”, “stroke the sparrows tail” or “spread your wings” and more. Feel the movement and try to embrace the animal being mentioned in the move.

Now think about the animal forms of Tai Chi and feel their specific spirit.

Do you think about the lumbering bear? The careful and light-footed deer or rather the tiger or the snake?

How do you feel just now? Can you breathe in the specific spirit of this animal and then do the form with this animal in mind?

Each one of the animals has their specific traits and we can show it in our forms. Each animal is connected to different principles of Tai Chi.

Crane – Breath

Crane, Bird, Wings, Water, Swamp, Nature

Flying, opening your wings and spreading your fingers. Open your Lao Gong points. Feel the contrast between spreading your fingers and cupping them. Think about your fingers as the feathers on the wings and feel the wind flowing through them. Hands in clouds let’s you soar through the clouds. Feel the lightness of leaving the earth and feeling the sky. Open up and breathe the air and energy surrounding you.

Bear – Roots

Bear Sitting Wildlife Nature Brooks River

The lumbering heavy bear has you grounded and connects you back to the earth. Feel your balance and your stance on the ground. Be connected through your 16 points. Feel heavy, but strong. Think about your breath, going steady and smooth through your moves. Be aware of your surroundings, but also steady knowing your power.

Deer – Mindfulness

Roe Deer, Capreolus Capreolus, Doe

Like the bear be aware of your surroundings, but more careful. Be light on your feet and able to change quickly and lightly into different positions. Feel the focus, but continue breathing evenly and lightly.

Snake – Spirals

Snake Grass Snake Reptile Nature Water Sna

Slithering over the ground. Twisting your body and your mind and connect it to your movements. Embody the snake while twisting your joints, opening and closing your body and spine. Think about spiraling in every move.  At the same time be aware of your surroundings. Maybe hiss a little to change your breathing.

Tiger – Energy

Tiger, Sumatran Tiger, Big Cat

A force to be reckoned with. Silently and with focus wandering through the jungle. Embracing its strength and still being aware of its surroundings. There is not a lot they have to be afraid of, but tigers still are careful. Feel the strength and the focus in each move. Think about possible martial art applications or the flow of energy providing the support and strength of the movement. No unneccessary movements there. Everything is focused and simplified.

Monkey – Movement

Squirrel Monkey Monkey Climb Feeding Zoo N

Have fun! Be light on your feet and quick. Transition easily from one move to the other, bu still stay focused and light on your feet. Never forget to play and have fun and don’t take everything too serious. Breath lightly in and out and try to feel like a monkey picking the fruit of the tree. Switch up the routine and try something new.

Spirit animal

Now come back to your spirit animal, if you have one, and try to think about their specific and unique traits and try to infuse them into your movements.

I like to mix up the forms every now and then and show the specific trait of the animal. Don’t be afraid to be playful like the monkey or twist and spiral like a snake. Maybe lumber like the bear or show the Tigers power. And last but not least be the crane, being rooted on the ground but also opening up to breath and spreading your wings!

And sometimes be like the little mouse – my spirit animal – and be quick and curious and careful at the same time. Switch between deep breath and light breath, move and twist and just be playful.


Let’s Go Flying

Great Blue Heron Flying Bird Wild Beak Nec

No, I am not talking about levitation. Let your imagination soar and go fly!

Kung Fu, Karate, other martial arts and yes, also Tai Chi Ch’uan have origins showing the spirit of different animals. Think about the Form of 24: Stroke the horse’s mane, spread your wings, repulse the monkey, stroke the sparrows tail, etc. You get the idea.

To go fly, let’s choose the crane.

Imagine a great blue heron standing in our wetlands, stalking the fish, patiently waiting and then suddenly picking one out of the water. Or standing there balancing on one leg, maybe sleeping or just being and breathing.

The best example for this is the crane form, Hakutsuru, which is admittedly not Yang style. It originates from Okinawa Karate and before that Kung Fu. Check out the Komatsu-Ha style for it!

But you can find the same feeling in a Yang style form. Open your arms wide, open your fingers like the tips of your wing feathers and play with the opening and closing of your fingers while doing the form. Imagine being a crane, moving through your practice.

Our inner emotions and anxieties often show on our outside. But the opposite is also true. How we present ourselves on the outside can also reflect on our inner well-being. Someone said to me:

“Fake it until you make it!”

One perfect way to feel this is to play with our soaring. Open up your wings and soar in the sky! You could even play with the opposites. Walk through one form rather subdued and then follow it up with a crane flying form. How do you feel?

Let’s fly!