Are you one of those people who believes that a big muscle is always a strong one? If this were true, two people of the same age, weight, and body type would lift more or less the same number of pounds, which isn’t a given. In fact, an experienced weightlifter may be able to lift three times as much weight as a beginner. What makes the experienced lifter stronger is that he has more fast-twitch muscles and a brain that communicates with them faster and with more intensity. If we were to look inside the bodies of these two weightlifters, we would see that the stronger one has more white, fast-twitch muscle, whereas the weaker one has more red, slow-twitch muscle. Also, because tendons and ligaments are composed of white, fast-twitch tissue, the stronger one has strengthened her joints, while the other hasn’t.
If you wanted to do just one exercise a day that would be the safest while providing the greatest benefit, the best choice would be The Overhead Squat Press (Sequence 3, exercise 5, “Power Tower,” in The Happy Body: The Simple Science of Nutrition, Exercise, and Relaxation.) This is an exercise that challenges every inch of the body without requiring skill; it’s also the gateway exercise to fitness and Olympic weightlifting.
How to do Power Tower
By practicing this exercise, you will not only improve your strength but also your coordination and your flexibility. Indeed, this exercise cannot be performed with strength or flexibility or coordination alone. To achieve it, you must have all three. The Overhead Squat Press assures that all the joints work together simultaneously and the muscles develop proportionately, improving the posture and preventing postural aging. By practicing the Overhead Squat Press, you will not only improve your strength but also your coordination and your flexibility.
The exercise aligns the two parts of the body that are most important for movement—the shoulders and the hips. If either one is weak relative to the other, it will be prone to injury. When these two parts are in alignment, all the other body parts become aligned accordingly in position, strength, and size. The Overhead Squat Press has become the most valuable exercise in enabling our clients to recover their youthful bodies. It is our Standard of Strength. Like every other exercise in The Happy Body program, the Overhead Squat Press can be performed in a minimal space with limited equipment—namely, two dumbbells.
What would you consider to be your most intimate relationship in life? Most of us have an answer ready to blurt out quickly, but it’s not as easy as it seems at first. When I started exploring this question with friends, most mentioned their relationship with their mother. I understood the choice immediately—she was the one who carried them in her womb, fed them with the resources of her body, wiped their bottoms, and bathed them. We all depended on our mothers for survival.
What about a wife or husband, since we choose to go through life with this one very special person? We have decided to make an emotional investment in a total stranger who becomes our closest companion for life. The marital relationship is based on commitment and trust, no matter what happens. That person will know the territory of our body like no other, see us elevated and also brought low by emotions—sometimes almost on the verge of madness—and they will still love us. We will be vulnerable and dependent on them when ill (“in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part”), but we’ll also be there to share in and celebrate their great successes.
Many of us consider having a long-term friend an intimate relationship. Someone close to us who knows us “the best.” This is usually someone we grew up with, who was with us through good times as well as bad times and witnessed all the ups and downs. Someone we’ve told our secrets to, confiding in them and revealing our deepest or most ridiculous ideas and dreams. Things we wouldn’t tell our parents or spouses. We’ve shared good laughs with them as well as serious cries.
Therapists become an intimate figure for many people, since they help us understand ourselves better and how we get stuck emotionally in patterns from the past. If we experience trauma, we open ourselves to them to help us heal. We use them as professionals who will never judge or betray our trust when we reveal our most uncomfortable truths. A few carefully chosen words from them can keep us rational and sane.
Throughout our lives we’ll experience many relationships, but the most intimate of all is with our own body. Why did no one mention this, when it’s literally the closest relationship we’ll ever have? I see how many people abandon their body to have a primary relationship with someone else, molding their form into something that’s pleasing and accepted by others. This is unsustainable. If you cannot have a good relationship with your own body you cannot have a good relationship with anyone. What kind of relationship do you have?
Why would a seventy-year-old ever need to be fast? First, you have to examine the six qualities of youthfulness: flexibility, strength, speed, leanness, ideal body weight, good posture. These are qualities that all athletes have, and they all work in synch.
Snatch: You have to be fast to stand strong.
You’ll never find an athlete who wants to be slower. However, speed cannot exist without flexibility and strength. If you are inflexible or weak, you will certainly be slow and more prone to injuries. As we age, our responses become slower and slower, so focusing on being faster trains your brain to respond more quickly in all actions. So if you trip, you can catch yourself before you fall and fracture a hip.
In the Happy Body, we treat the brain as another organ that has to be taken care of and trained in conjunction with the rest of the body. And if you have the other qualities of youthfulness, you’ll always bounce back. Happy Bodies are more like rubber balls than glass sculptures: what can be a break for someone less fit ends up being just a strain for a Happy Body.
So speeding up when everyone else is slowing down is a very good idea.
Last year my husband and I started the Happy Body Program. Together we lost over 30 kilograms. We’ve been keeping our ideal weight ever since. But the transition was far from easy for us both, especially when it came to food choices.
Stefan and Mariya Heinbockel
The following are true stories that mark our journey into the Happy Body weight.
Spinning the wheels
One morning I woke up exhausted. “Push up, one more, just one more!” my fitness instructor repeated in my head. And now I couldn’t lift my left arm at all.
I need to go and see the doctor went through my head. But I’m so tired that I can’t even get up! A mug of coffee with milk and two white bread buns with a thick layer of Alpine butter and strawberry jam should solve the problem. The German bread is so good that I can eat it all day long which makes breakfast my most favorite meal of the day.
Still feeling heavy and tired, I went to see the doctor. My knee and elbow joints ached – a familiar pain after drinking a latte.
I stepped into the doctor’s office. After checking on my arm, she said:
“It’s the sinew that gives you pain. It’s going to take some time to heal.”
I rolled my eyes. Again! Sit and stretch for just one more minute, and my hamstring was torn. Run for five more minutes, and my Achilles got swollen.
The doctor handed me over my prescription and said:
“You don’t run anymore, do you?”
“No, absolutely not.”
“Very good. Running is not for you, remember that.”
I said goodbye and went to buy the medicine. I felt absolutely miserable. My joints still ached. I just couldn’t understand why I had so many health problems. I ate organic most of the time and I exercised almost every day. It seemed like I was spinning my wheels harder and harder but was getting nowhere.
I thought: “Maybe I should stop thinking and get myself a nice all-you-can-eat Indian lunch instead. The spices will definitely calm my nerves.”
The new “muscles”
A week later I watched my husband putting on a shirt. I said:
“Stefan, I think that you’ve built up some muscles! Wow!”
“Of course! That’s why my shirts feel so tight,” he answered.
“Let’s get you some new ones!” I suggested immediately.
So we went to the biggest European men’s fashion store, located in the center of Munich.
I said to the shopping assistant:
“We need new shirts for my husband. You see, he’s got very muscular.”
The woman put on her reading glasses and gave Stefan a long gaze. Her glasses rolled to the tip of her nose, as she said: “The muscles, I see. Let’s get you classic shirts to match those blue eyes.”
She returned with two shirts for Stefan to try on.
“My size is two numbers bigger now!” Stefan exclaimed, his eyes filled with worry.
“Take it easy. You are a tall guy with long arms. And you’ve been working out much and grew some muscles. Don’t worry, you look great!”
“OK,” He seemed to lighten up, “Let’s celebrate the new shirts! How about going to the Italian restaurant? And maybe we can check out that new café for desserts?”
“Sure! Let’s go!”
Room for the cake!
On Saturday we went to our favorite café for brunch, followed by cakes, coffee and hot chocolate.
Stefan tasted his cheesecake and said:
“Fantastic! And this hot chocolate is exquisite! I love this place! The cakes are delicious, and there’s always new desserts to try every time we come here. Wait a minute, did I just say something funny? Why are you laughing?”
“Well,” I said, “I just unzipped my jeans and you didn’t even notice! Normally you would say ‘Hey! What are you doing?’ But now you didn’t even notice!”
I kept giggling.
“So what? Who cares? We must make room for those.” Stefan pointed at cakes with his dessert fork.
Under his sweater, Stefan, too, secretly unbuttoned his jeans.
“But you are thin!”
Stefan and I were sitting at a café directly at Brandenburger Tor in Berlin.
“This will be the last one,” I said biting a chocolate eclair.
“What are you talking about?” Stefan frowned.
“I must lose weight.”
“No, you don’t. You are thin!”
“I’m 71 kilogram.”
“So what? You look great!”
“I must lose 16 kilogram,” I said, taking another bite.
“Are you crazy? Who said that?”
“That Happy Body book. It gives you standards, like weight, leanness, flexibility, speed, strength, and posture. I did the tests, and failed through most of them. I hate failing, you know.”
I sipped at my cappuccino.
Stefan stared at Brandenburger Tor, as if figuring something out. Then he said:
“But it means that you should weigh 55 kg?!”
“No, no, this is crazy! It’s absolutely unhealthy.”
“But it’s necessary. So I’m doing it. And this,” I pulled out an organic granola bar from my bag,”This is going to be our next snack. I’ll take one. And you can have two.”
Stefan didn’t look at the bar and gave his full attention to hot chocolate. Suddenly, I felt an impulse to take immediate action toward my new weight goal. So I said:
“You know what? I already don’t want it.”
And I put the rest of the chocolate eclair on Stefan’s plate.
Pancakes against Bars
A week later my scale showed 69 kilogram. It meant that I lost 3 kilograms. I was elated. “It works! It works!”
Now I had to learn how to make the health bars of my own. Meanwhile, my mind was going crazy trying to figure out what kind of bars to make. Were those the same as granola bars? Or maybe low carb bars? I wanted a recipe and I wanted precise caloric calculations. But there was no recipe, only a recommendation from the Happy Body website about how to produce the bars.
“Who cares what kind of bars I’m making: low carb, slow carb, no carb. I just have to hit the 120 calories per bar, that’s it”, I coached myself, my mind still spinning.
After spending an hour on calculating calories and another hour processing nuts and dried fruit in a smoothie mixer, I ended up with a total of 20 bars.
They looked dry and almost fell apart. And I forgot the dark chocolate. Why did I always have to do it all wrong?
I was totally exhausted and felt like a failure. I forgot to process the chocolate. My calories per bar were all messed up.
With sticky palms and nuts still under my nails, I took a knife, cut a chocolate bar into small squares and put them on the top of my creations.
“That’s OK”, I said to myself, “In my home country Ukraine people say: “First pancake never turns out the best.”
“But that’s pretty good!” Stefan exclaimed, putting a bar into his mouth, “There’s a piece of chocolate on the top, and I love it! May I have one more?” Stefan stretched his arm for a second bar.
“Of course. You may have two for snack every three hours.”
Stefan beamed at me.
“I love the idea of eating every three hours. Can I take those to work?”
“Sure. I’ll wrap them up for you for tomorrow.”
“But you aren’t stopping making cakes and pancakes, are you?
I kept silent. To cross baking from my to-do list had been a secret ambition of mine for a long time.
“I love pancakes, cakes, and of course the ice cream!” Stefan continued.
“You can eat that kind of stuff in a café,” I said.
Stefan frowned. So I said:
“Ok. I’ll make pancakes for you once a week.”
At least it was a compromise.
Next Sunday I made new bars, with chocolate on the top, and Stefan discovered that he lost 2 kilograms. He looked puzzled.
I asked him:
“What snacks do you want to take for work?”
“I want those”, he pointed at the fresh batch of our home-made Happy Body bars.
“It’s our snack time, and I’m going to keep my promise and make pancakes with chocolate for you.”
Stefan hugged me and smiled.
“You know what?”
“I love the bars. Don’t you worry about pancakes. Ever.”
The hardest choice
Stefan was dropping 2 kilograms per week, but the scale seemed to freeze at 93, just 3 kilograms away from his ideal body weight. My weight loss pace was 500 grams per week, and my scale circled around 65 kilograms.
We kept craving foods that we loved, and our heads were constantly on fire.
So once a week Stefan and I would go to our favorite Italian café where he ate chocolate ice cream, and I drank a big creamy cappuccino.
After another round I said:
“My stomach hurts. I think I might be intolerant to lactose.”
“I don’t feel very well myself. I read that most adults can’t digest dairy.”
“So what do we do? Dairy is everywhere! I tried to switch to goat milk, sheep milk, lactose-free milk, but I still feel sick after consuming any kind of milk. Even products with traces of milk make my stomach ache. And maybe that’s why you don’t drop those last 3 kilograms. You eat too much ice cream!”
Stefan scrambled the last drops of melted ice cream and said, looking down at the labyrinths that his ice cream was forming in the bowl.
“In the past we dropped weight several times and gained it back. We tried different diets and different sports. We didn’t eat meat for two years, and you went coffee-free for 15 months. We had good results, but then we always ended up in the same spot again,” He raised his hands, “Right here. The same table, the same ice cream, the same cappuccino, the same weight. I’m afraid that what we are doing now will be just as good as what we did back then. I think this is why I can’t lose those 3 kilograms. I’m afraid to go back to where I was.”
My joints ached, and my heart raced, as always after drinking a big cappuccino.
And I was scared, too. I was afraid to eat sweet desserts to compensate for sour feelings. I was afraid to consume creamy drinks in order to soothe the harsh truth. The truth that I was a failure at losing weight and that someday I’d drown in milk foam, and Stefan would be lost in labyrinths of ice cream forever.
But failure was not an option for me anymore. The only loser I was going to be was the loser of kilograms of fat.
So I said:
“We will make adjustments. We will substitute. I can do banana cream with unsweetened cocoa for you, and I can stop drinking coffee with milk and be happy with a cup of plain black coffee.”
Stefan gave me a skeptical look.
“You aren’t going to stop, are you?”.
I shook my head.
“Not this time.”
Back at home I removed all dairy products from our fridge.
A week later Stefan has achieved his happy body weight of 90 kilograms.
Ten days later I forgot all about joint pain. Slowly but surely, my weight was moving in the right direction again.
Two months later Stefan did the blood test. The doctor was surprised:
“Your cholesterol is ideal. What did you do?”
“I lost 17 kilograms”, Stefan said proudly.
“Very good”, she smiled. “Keep that weight!”
A month later we went to visit Stefan’s family.
“Who wants some chocolate ice cream for dessert?” Stefan’s mom asked.
“Not me.” I said. It was easy for me to refuse the ice cream because I don’t like cold desserts anyway.
But Stefan held the box with the chocolate ice cream longer than he was supposed to, his eyes sparking.
“No ice cream today?” mom asked.
Stefan silently passed the ice cream on to his brother.
Back in our room Stefan said to me:
“The banana cream tastes so much better than ice cream. Why should I eat something I don’t even want because everybody’s eating it?”
It was the first time I heard Stefan say “No” to chocolate ice cream.
The happy emigrants
Just in time before the first advent I achieved my Happy Body weight.
Stefan and I went out for shopping in the Munich city center. We knew that it could be quite a challenge to keep our weight during advent time. Hot wine punch, cookies, and roasted almonds coated with caramel were sold everywhere. Christmas markets were filled with smells of cinnamon, baked apples, and pancakes, inviting us to eat and drink and be cheerful.
“You know, it’s not that difficult this time.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s quite easy for me to resist the smells and the foods from the Christmas market.”
“Well, they sell good stuff here but frankly I don’t need it. I’m good with our Christmas Happy Body bars.”
He pulled out his bar with a touch of orange zest and ginger and said:
We bought a plain coffee for me and a green tea for Stefan. And for the first time in our lives we could resist the Christmas market because we knew what was enough for us.
“I’m determined to stay at my weight,” I said.
“You are an immigrant to the Happy Body weight now,” Stefan smiled.
An immigrant… The word triggered so many memories. I came to Germany as a student, and had stayed there ever since. But in order to stay in Germany I had to give up my Ukrainian citizenship.
“It would be so nice to keep a double citizenship, for Germany and for Ukraine”, I sighed.
“Forget it!” Stefan said “I’m so glad to avoid double bureaucracy, not to mention extra paper work and visa costs for you to travel. Our life is so much easier now.”
I sipped at my black coffee and said:
“Hard choices, easy life, as Jerzy Gregorek says. But wait a minute, if we immigrated into the Happy Body weight, does it mean that we must get away…” I looked around “…from here?”
“And from too much dairy,” he added, “It makes me sick and causes your joint pain.”
“And from cakes,” I sighed.
“And from eating out so much. Do you feel bad about that?”
“Not at all. I think that we can now even save enough money to travel to the USA. And now I don’t require a visa for the USA!”
Stefan and I danced for a moment.
Then I stopped dancing and said:
“But let’s not loosen up. There are still five more Happy Body standards for us to achieve.”
“Five more? Are you kidding me? I thought we were perfect already!”
I laughed, and Stefan laughed with me.
At the very heart of eating and drinking we both felt like foreigners, realizing that our happy body journey had just begun.
You must begin
Why look for more
You’re already rich
Ideas knock on the door
You just need to reach
Just let them in
You must begin
To plant and to grow
Prosper right here
Moments like beads
Don’t ask the mere
Where it all leads?
Drop the big “I”
In these dimensions
You’re meant to fly
Don’t look for more
Cut your flow-in
From loving core
You must begin.
Mariya Heinbockel is a writer and a Happy Body practitioner from Munich, Germany.
The question I pose is very obvious when it comes to a broken ankle, for instance, when you need to take pressure off the area to avoid creating more damage. Crutches ultimately help you return to a healthy state so that you no longer need them. But there are other crutches that we use often, sometimes without real need, and with no understanding that we need to give them up. So why do we use them? Because we are compensating in some way. And it’s easy.
A good example is coffee. At every retreat, people ask us about it, and if it’s good for us. (It is, in small amounts, like a small espresso or Americano.) Our rule is to not have coffee when tired; instead, we take a nap to restore our energy. And we don’t feel guilty about it, we enjoy it because we really see the difference in our attitude and energy level afterwards. Even our clients in busy work environments are able to do this: Instead of going to lunch, they eat a bar and take a nap in their office or car. Other clients nap the minute they return home from work instead of heading to the fridge.
Bella is very comfortable taking a snooze as needed
People often use wine or alcohol for stress-release or relaxation when it would be much better for them to meditate, take a nice walk, or again, take a short nap. It’s a crutch when you “need” it and can’t live without it as part of your lifestyle.
Using supplements and excess vitamins is another unnecessary, ineffective practice that people adopt. If we eat nutrient-poor foods that are fried, overcooked, and processed, we are certainly depleted, but supplements are not the answer. They’re costly, lack micronutrients, and are often poorly absorbed. The key is to change your eating habits, incorporating more fresh fruit and vegetables, preparing simple dishes yourself that will provide you with all the vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that you need to have energy and healthy organs.
Cleanses are a compensatory crutch for poor eating habits as well. Thirty days of juicing or “detoxifying” and “flushing” teas, colon cleansing, etc., are all short-term “solutions,” usually embraced the moment you’re conscious that you’re doing something wrong to your body. You never change your poor eating habits.
Even exercise can even be a crutch when you overdo your workout to compensate for excess calories instead of controlling your food intake. And then when your knees and back ache from over-exercising, you rely on Advil or other painkillers to mask the symptoms of damage instead of listening to your body.
Instead of numbing, masking, cleansing, and artificially boosting your energy, why not investigate your unhappy body lifestyle and make changes that will provide you with long-lasting, positive outcomes?
Are you aware of using crutches in your own life? Where and when do you use them? Is there a positive use for some of them?
Was there ever a time when a helpful crutch turned into a problem?
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
— Viktor Frankl
Many of our most vivid holiday memories are centered around food. When I was growing up in Communist Poland, we had feasts twice a year, on Christmas and Easter. But otherwise we ate very plainly, with no extravagance and indulgence. We looked forward to exotic holiday foods like oranges, figs, walnuts and hazelnuts—treats that are all so readily available today.
What I remember the most is the anticipation and the excitement in the atmosphere. We would make our own holiday ornaments and garlands from paper, hanging chocolates and apples with tin foil, innovating with our creativity to make the tree that my brothers would buy special. (My baby brothers would slyly steal treats from inside the foil, plumping it up again afterwards to give the illusion that nothing had been taken.) There were special dishes we only had for feasts: holiday borscht, steamed carp with almonds and raisins, dumplings filled with sauerkraut and wild mushrooms, poppy seed cake, with stories to accompany the long cooking process that scented the whole house.
Our challenge now, in these times, is to avoid feasting every day. The holidays are really about the ambiance we create—the warmth of being with family who’ve come from far away, taking time to tell stories and share old memories, joking with one another and feeling the joy of connection. We still love to shower our loved ones with gifts and special treats. It can also be a time of reconciliation, an occasion to make peace and forgive old wounds. The holiday spirit makes us softer.
With all the nostalgia and emotion that comes with the holidays, it’s easy to turn into a lunatic, overindulging in shopping, eating, and consuming. The New York Post recently wrote that Americans throw away 16 billion worth of Christmas presents every year. It’s sickening. How can we avoid getting caught up in the madness? I like to focus on giving practical and inspirational presents, something that people can use or draw sustenance from—socks, gloves, scarves, books, a small piece of special jewelry, a carefully chosen scented candle or perfume.
We also need to be mindful of the danger of rampant holiday eating when food is literally on offer everywhere. If you strategize that you won’t stray from the food plan, you’ll see that you don’t really need extra snacks to enjoy the holidays. You can choose your indulgence—like one very good chocolate with a cup of coffee, for instance. We need to remember that eating isn’t really an activity, not like solving puzzles, playing board games, going for walks with grateful pets or just taking time to enjoy catching up with old friends and family. Eating too many Christmas cookies is never as wonderful as venturing out ice skating or bowling or going to a museum to have lunch and spend the day. Even if you’re not active in a religion you can attend a holiday service or choral concert. Holiday cooking can be joyful, as long as it’s mindful—a creative expression to nurture others, instead of just an excuse to overindulge.
The holidays can also be a little lonely at times, especially for those going through tough times or separated from the ones they love. Instead of falling into a dark place of isolation, it’s important in these instances to reach out and stay engaged. There are many ways to volunteer, help others, or invite someone over who might be feeling lonely too. The holiday spirit is fed by being mindful of others and acknowledging and cherishing that we’re all having the human experience together.
What holiday activities and traditions do you treasure? Do you do different things over the holidays than you used to? How do you anchor yourself and stay mindful and spirited without falling into overindulgence?
“Passion creates, addiction consumes.”
― Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
Obsession, passion, compassion – they’re powerful emotions, and I’ve seen people whose drive is so high they can become whatever they put that energy into: the best heart or brain surgeons, Olympians, or…..the best criminals or alcoholics. The choice is theirs.
Some of our clients who come to us possess extraordinary intensity, but they’re also obese and unhealthy. Their mismanaged passion and drive has manifested physically, in their bodies. When we talk to them we often discover that they love what they call “freedom,” which is, in their understanding, the freedom to eat whatever they want, whenever they want, and however much they want. They can also work compulsively, exhausting themselves after days and days without a break. But they’re in a state that gives them less freedom in their day-to-day lives, because they’re limited and unhealthy. After a while they see that their freedom is more compulsion and addiction, the soaring and the crashing. And then their system of belief shifts.
They begin to understand that freedom is the power to choose and exercise control of the outcome. They’ve suffered because they were controlled by need for something outside themselves to feel “alive” and energized. Can the exaggeration of needs and wants that brought them to this negative place be turned into something positive? Is there such a thing as a positive addiction?
It seems that many athletes, artists, and activists are possessed by a similar drive, yet their force is one of creativity and achievement—changing the human condition—as opposed to destructiveness. John Keating, the teacher in the film Dead Poets Society, is a good example of passionate engagement, full commitment that seemed unorthodox and extreme to those on the outside, but was, at its heart, both generative and nurturing. Another beautiful example is Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, a compassionate human being who lived to 105 and continued to see patients and work up to eighteen hours a day just a few months before his death.
Make your lives extraordinary
Where is the fine line between a deep passion for life and an obsession that can ruin it? We want to have a fire burning within, something that encourages us to strive and change the world. But we also need structure and accountability, and a sense of responsibility and care, for ourselves as well as the world at large. Serving others is a vital component of channeling passion in a positive direction.
It’s easy to get lost in the vastness of what life “supposed to be like.” There will always be opportunities for comparisons, judgments, jealousy and envy, but your life and passion for it shapes what a good, creative life is for you. Embracing the creative force can generate an amplified, multi-layered life that is singular and uniquely yours. You may also learn how little you really need to have a fulfilling life.
And that goodness spreads to others.
Our Happy Body Living Room
Have you ever had an addiction that flipped into something more positive? Or have you witnessed that kind of transformation in others? What did you observe about the process of change—was it gradual or was there a certain catalyst that triggered it? Do you recognize any positive additions in yourself?
The alarm goes off at 5:30 in the morning. You look out the window and it still seems like nighttime. You do your exercises, then your five-minute relaxation with music and lavender, shower, dress, and head to the subway in the dark. By the time the sun rises you’re already in seated in your office, sipping your coffee and reviewing your schedule for the day. You work until your lunchbreak at 12:30, and then you have a choice: You can “catch up” on work, staying at your desk while you eat, or you can consciously make the next 30 minutes enjoyable by going outside and exposing yourself to natural light.
Watching Sunrise in Rzeszow, Poland
If you choose the latter, your mind has just helped your brain stay healthy, seeking out light therapy to feel better. The brain is only an organ but the mind is the intellect, the entity that can make the right decisions to keep your body and emotions healthy. If you decided to stay at your desk, perhaps compromising your needs to please someone else, you’re “depressing” your health and possibly your mind as well. Exercise, relaxation, and going outside are all small habits, but these habits have a cumulative effect over time—they disrupt deterioration and aging—so why not look into your personal rituals?
We chose music as an element of our program because we understood the power of sound to elevate you, depress you, or pacify you. The human voice can function the same way—it can be soothing or irritating, depending on who’s speaking and what range they’re using. In the process of building our program, we studied music therapy and finally selected our piece after testing many on THB practitioners. Although New Age music was popular at the time, we experienced it as numbing, and it lacked the complexity and texture of classical, which was much better at grounding people in their bodies.
A field of lavender
By using scent we can awaken another sense to help ground ourselves, so we studied aromatherapy too. At first, we were overwhelmed by the various options, but we settled on a choice that was the most universal in its positive effects on the body. Used by humans for over 2500 years, lavender calms the nervous system, eases fatigue, depression, stress and anxiety, improves sleep, lessens headaches, and has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. The relaxation response it engenders helps lower cortisol.
There are other small practices and “therapies” that we can add to our daily routine that nurture our senses—smell, touch, sound, taste, and vision. These include water therapy, like warm or cold showers or baths; touch, including scrubs or massages; music; aromatherapy; natural light and walks in nature, or “forest bathing.” These are simple acts that require very little to perform—no machines, other people or real financial investment. Practicing these rituals creates an ambiance that can make you feel at home no matter where you are.
So, when you come home from work and you’re tired and it’s dark, instead of reaching out for that cookie or handful of chips, or pouring yourself a glass (or two) of wine, put on some beautiful music, light a candle, and run a lavender-scented bath. It will help you relax and release stress, indulging your senses while restoring your energy so you don’t need impulsive eating to feel better.
Natalie’s favorite relaxation time in a bathtub
Which daily practices are restoring your energy in a healthy manner and which are instant gratification that won’t serve you over time? Do you have your own secret remedies that help you ground yourself and indulge your senses? Here’s an experiment to try for one week: Substitute a healthy ritual for an instant gratification practice (for instance, instead of eating chips take a warm shower) and see what you notice. Do people around you sense a change too?
As a young couple living under one roof, Jerzy and I discovered a lot about our personal habits.
With food, for example, I was a grazer, picking throughout the day – crunching on a small apple here, nibbling on a piece of cheese there, a few nuts or yogurt… When it came to dinner I wasn’t really hungry, so I would move the food around the plate with my fork, but then an hour later I would fix myself a piece of bread with cottage cheese or deli meat.
One thing was that I’ve never liked the feeling of my stomach being stretched and full. But at the end of the day, I was not aware of how much I’ve eaten, or how many calories I’ve consumed. Jerzy, on the other hand, loved food – he loved eating and would eat until his stomach was full and could barely breathe. I taped a video of him after the party sitting with a bowl of fruit salad (around ten pounds) eating it with incredible focus (his gaze was fixed on the bowl for at least fifteen minutes) until the bowl was empty. Taskmaster.
Well, we were two different animals. But neither way was good for us so we started experimenting with eating different ways and timing and we’ve discovered that eating three-hours apart, two meals and three snacks was the best way – the way THB food plan is set.
Homemade Happy Body Bars and Tea. A perfect snack.
Every new practitioner’s #1 challenge in practicing The Happy Body is following the three-hour eating schedule. Most people are random eaters—they overeat at one meal and then they don’t eat for hours, which creates random results and weight and physiology that fluctuates with the variations. Seeing things in black and white like this, either over-controlling yourself like an anorexic or not controlling yourself at all, like an obese person, is never healthy. If you stick to a schedule you have a chance to liberate yourself from eating obsessions and create long-term habits that will truly sustain you.
Balsamic Onion Salad with Steak – Recipe on page 207 of The Happy Body
But how do you do this? Timing is everything. You have to be able to delay gratification. The Happy Body Program provides structured snacking, not continual grazing and not deprivation where you must “resist,” not eating for hours until you’re over-hungry. The plan is structured with three-hour windows so that you’re providing the right amount of nourishment for two hours, and then you’re utilizing fat during the third hour. You’re losing weight but you’re not stressed, your blood sugar is stable and you haven’t stretched your stomach.
THB Eating Plan Example
Until you master this basic timing, you won’t master the food plan, because emotional eating can pull you off track. The wrong foods or extra food can easily sneak in if you’re not strategizing when you’re eating.
Soup. Snack. Salad.
Even when we stick to this timed plan for just one day, we already feel self-control, higher self-esteem, and the sense of calmness that comes from the predictability of the schedule. The three-hour increments give us immediate data and feedback on our behavior so when we fall off the plan, we don’t beat ourselves up. Instead, we practice self-correction and self-regulation, focusing on the next three hours. Like Thomas Edison said in response to a reporter who asked about all his attempts in inventing the light bulb: “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
If you can master three hours, and take steps toward making this mastery a habit, you’re on your way to liberation from obsessing about food and your weight.
Controlling yourself is attractive.
Controlling others is repulsive.
Helping others control themselves is magical.
How often have you seen someone become obnoxious at a party, so drunk that they’re stumbling, shouting, and making offensive jokes they would never tell if they were sober. Or people stampeding to board a bus with no concern for the young or elderly, elbowing others to reach the best seat? Have you been in a situation at the grocery store or post office, watching people who can’t tolerate waiting in line, who start to grumble and complain? Have you ever, yourself, got into an angry outburst at a restaurant when food was late or not what you’ve expected?
Attitude is up to us
What all these situations have in common is a lack of self-control. We all can resolve any problem in a constructive way if we slow down, stay calm, and treat others with respect. So if your entrée arrives late or overcooked, you can speak to the server and reach a solution. It’s possible to be both assertive and kind. You can apply the same attitude in practicing The Happy Body. Kindness towards yourself will guide you to take assertive steps to exercise. You can acknowledge that you may not want to do it, but that it only takes 30 minutes and that you will feel better when you’re done. Self-control doesn’t have to be mean or draconian, it can be respectful.
The opposite of self-control looks like throwing a tantrum: yelling, using inappropriate language, striking out at others, whining, complaining, being impulsive and repulsive. It’s as if an adult has regressed back to the state of a child.
Self Control helps you feel your best
So what is self-control? It means training yourself like you train your dog, with a vision of what that dog will be like in the future—free of the leash, eager and responsive to your whistle, walking by your side like a friend, because he wants to. Self-control is a core quality of responsible, self-reliant adulthood. It’s also conscious and aware; it makes decisions from a place of healthy ethics and principles.
Bella and her boyfriend Beau patiently waiting for my OK to eat
Self-control means having the freedom to say “no” to those things that make us worse. For instance, you can visit any buffet restaurant and see the tragedy of people out of control, eating more than is good for them and more than they ultimately want. Self-control means I can choose a nice piece of steak, delicious veggies and soup, and have an enjoyable dinner from the same buffet. Or, self-control means that I don’t even go, because I know that I will lose myself in the face of all the variety and feel bad afterwards.
Having a plan and strong principles can save us from overeating
The Happy Body Program is consciously structured to empower people to acquire self-control in various ways. You exercise every day, finishing with the stress-release relaxation routine; and you follow the food plan by eating every three hours with two meals and two snacks, controlling the volume, with selected choices to prevent overwhelm. And if you fail, you take ownership—a crucial component of self-control—and journal or write poetry to grapple with your emotions.
Where do you lose self-control? Do you have any personal techniques you use to maintain it in the face of a challenge? Have you seen how The Happy Body strengthened your self-control over the past year? How did it manifest?