There is no shortage of information and programs about how to lose weight and how to get in shape. And yet the statistics on the effectiveness of approaching diet with the goal of weight loss are staggering according to researchers at UCLA:

“People on diets typically lose 5 to 10 percent of their starting weight in the first six months, the researchers found. However, at least one-third to two-thirds of people on diets regain more weight than they lost within four or five years, and the true number may well be significantly higher.”

It leads to frustration when we don’t reach our goals. So I’m going to explain to you how to be happy with your diet and exercise and how to apply diet and exercise to really feel happy according to Traditional Tibetan Medicine.
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Let’s Figure Out What We REALLY Want From Diet and Exercise

To do this we must focus on ourselves as an individual. Why do we want to lose weight? Why do we want to be physically fit? This is my presumptuous list of reasons in order of importance.

  1. To look good
  2. To prevent disease
  3. To be happy

Yes, body image is almost always our number one reason. Here we have to ask ourselves “why?” And I’m going to assume that your answer is to feel good about yourself. So let’s agree that one way or another we are coming to the topic of diet and exercise to find how to be happy! Because if we really figure out how to be happy, it is likely our habits are also preventing disease. Science Daily’s article summarizes University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology Ed Diener’s findings:

“A review of more than 160 studies of human and animal subjects has found ‘clear and compelling evidence’ that — all else being equal — happy people tend to live longer and experience better health than their unhappy peers.”

We can easily draw the link between body image and so many mental health issues we face. When we have low self-esteem and self-image it is very likely we also suffer from some form of anxiety and/or depression. Ironically the bad habits and addictions we accumulate to cope with our anxiety and depression, such as over-eating and alcoholism, further develop the physical and emotional conditions that reinforce our mental distress. We are basically stuck in a self-defeating cycle.

So how do we approach diet and exercise to reverse the cycle of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem? How do we eat the right food and do the right kind of exercise to experience a LASTING HAPPINESS, not one that changes every time we weigh ourselves?
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How to be Happy: Coordinating Body, Energy and Mind

So let us agree that our number one goal is to find ourselves in a state of happiness and we want it to last. Our mind is the most powerful to deal with to achieve this goal. In fact, if we observe well, our whole life generally boils down to a search for how to be happy. And it is this very search that takes us away from it. Once we realize how powerful the mind is in relationship to the other aspects of our existence we can use it to control our energy and our body and vise versa.
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Step #1 MIND: Stop Searching Outside for Happiness

If we think that happiness will come from the next cookie or the next drink we are sure to be disappointed in the morning. The scale keeps going up, the headaches get worse and we feel more and more tired. Instead we must realize that the real source of happiness is something that comes from inside ourselves. When we discover this simple yet profound truth, we have laid the most important foundation for building positive, healthy habits that continue to reinforce and develop this inner understanding.
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Step #2 MIND:Learn to Calm

Meditation is a household term these days. There are a multitude of different techniques and traditions out there. What we should understand is that meditation is a technique and in almost all cases its simple goal is to bring about a calm state of mind. Anything can be a meditation, even jogging if applied the correct way. If you want to start exercising more, use it as a meditation to calm your mind. If you are present during any repetitive movement you will slowly notice that your mind starts to relax and becomes more clear. The same is true for sitting meditations. Once your mind is calm and clear it is much easier to be happy.

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Step #3 ENERGY: Watch Your Breath and Emotions

Our mind, breath and emotions are interdependent. If the mind is distracted and agitated, our breathing becomes shallow and our emotions become stronger. At any point in this chain of interdependence we can bring our attention to what’s going on. When we want to be happy and experience that by craving for anything outside of ourselves we must bring our attention to the emotion that is driving that craving. Is it coming from a settled place or are we agitated in some way? Do we believe that the donut or beer will make us calm down? Once we notice what’s going on inside we are much more likely to make a choice that will lead to a more lasting state of happiness. We have the time and space to make a good choice. If we find that the mind is too powerful and we cannot calm the emotion, we can use our breathing to do so. Here we must learn complete breathing, inhaling through the nostrils, filling from below the navel all the way up to the top of the chest and exhaling through the nostrils emptying from the chest first all the way down to below the navel. This method we can learn more in depth with Yantra Yoga, but the simple exercise of deep breathing gives us a lot of control over our mind and emotions.
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Step #4 BODY: Understand Your Unique Condition

Here is where we run into the problem of one-size-fits-all diet and exercise and plans. We are all UNIQUE! Traditional Tibetan Medicine has been approaching the human condition for over 4,000 years understanding that each individual has their own causes and conditions which have led to their current state of health. Here we must take into account our constitution, diet, lifestyle, age, the season and the environment. To keep things simple we must try to understand what elements might be out of balance. Wind, bile(fire) or phlegm(earth and water). If our main goal is to find a way how to be happy we can analyze how these physical elements may be effecting our mental state.

  1. Excess Loong (wind): anxiety, mood swings, insomnia, nervousness, irritability
  2. Excess Tripa (fire): anger, violence
  3. Excess Pekan (earth and water): depression, sleepiness, laziness

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Step #5 BODY: Apply Diet and Exercise Choices According to Your Unique Condition

Now we reach the most practical point. If our focus is on how to be happy and maintain this state, let’s reinforce our happiness with our diet and lifestyle. In fact good diet and lifestyle choices are the most natural remedies for anxiety and depression. Here are some examples based on the three unique conditions of wind, bile and phlegm:

1. To balance loong, the nervous type: Do exercises involving deep breathing and yoga in warm places, especially at dawn and dusk, avoiding excessive sweating. Get regular massage with oil. Avoid arguments and conflicts. NEVER force your body, voice or mind on an empty stomach. Eat warming, substantial and comforting foods such as meat soups spiced with garlic and onions (vegetarians substitute oil, barley and root vegetables for meat). Nutmeg, caraway, cloves, anise and cardamom are great spices to rely on. Eat well three times a day, but avoid overeating and excessive snacking. Avoid rough, dry and cold food such as toast and crackers, beans and lentils, raw food, sugar and caffeinated drinks, especially iced green tea and black coffee. A glass of aged wine is ok one hour after dinner.

2. To balance tripa, the angry type: do very light exercise like brisk walking in places such as cool shady gardens. Eat neutral to cool foods such as rice, bitter and raw vegetables. For oil use farm fresh butter and coconut oil, but avoid excess. Avoid grilled meats, alcohol, nuts (especially peanuts) and spicy foods. Coriander, saffron and cumin are safer spices to go with.
Drink boiled cool water.

3. To balance pekan, the tired/depressed type: Start moving and don’t stop. It doesn’t matter what kind of movement, just move! Find what you enjoy and if you have the energy do exercises, but only push until just before sweating and slow down, as in interval training. The best time for exercise is the late morning from 10am – noon and evening from 8-10pm in a warm and dry place. Eat foods that are warm and light such as cooked leafy vegetables, chicken and fish, buckwheat and lentils. Ginger, cardamom, fenugreek, chilli pepper and black pepper are great spices to use. Drink hot boiled water throughout the day. Avoid wheat, sugar, root vegetables and watery fruits such as grapes and watermelons.

Always remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Please leave any questions in the comments below or contact us for a more personalized assessment. We are happy to help you discover how to be happy!

Photo: My joyful finish line selfie at Bay-to-Breakers 2015!

Matthew Schmookler, CMT
Tibetan Medicine Practitioner & Yantra Yoga Teacher | Sowa
Matthew's specialities include natural mental health, pain management and gastrointestinal wellness with Tibetan Medicine and Tibetan Yantra Yoga. As a graduate of Shang Shung Institute, completing internship and exams at the Qinghai Medical College and Hospital in Tibet, he is one of the few certified Traditional Tibetan Medicine practitioners and Yantra Yoga instructors in the US. Matthew is co-founder of Sowa offering in-home therapeutic wellness treatments and Tibetan Kunye Massage as well as Corporate Wellness Programs throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. In his free time Matthew leads Khaita Joyful Dances to modern Tibetan tunes.

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