Category: Happiness

  • The Wisdom of Women, Part 2: On Connecting Deeply

    Christine Marie Mason is one of the most extraordinary people I know and one of my favorite humans. She has been an entrepreneur, CEO of 6 different companies, BA and MBA graduate from Northwestern University, organizer of nine TEDx events, a yoga teacher, artist, musician, mother of six fantastic kids, grandmother, and most recently, a prison peace mentor. You may also know here from the wise, eloquent and empowering piece “Love Your Body Now” included in The Tao of Dating (Ch 7, p143).

    We met 15 years ago at a yoga retreat, so I thought I knew her pretty well by now. What I did not know was that when Christine was 12, her young mother was murdered and left in a cornfield. Her body wasn’t found for days. She had her first child at 19, then again at 20, and still finished college and the MBA program. Her first husband eventually had a schizophrenic break and ended up losing his job and squandering all their money. Her second husband got cancer, then proceeded to cheat on her in spectacular fashion even while Christine was helping him recuperate.

    These stories of violence, trauma, setback, recovery, triumph, betrayal, even greater setbacks, and the tools she’s been using for overcoming it all and continue growing are some of what Christine shares in her remarkable new personal growth memoir called Indivisible: Coming Home to Our Deep Connection (ebook and paperback), to be released Sept 12.

    Christine’s been kind enough to share the piece below about re-connecting to the body: how she discovered yoga, the initial effect it had on her, and what yoga taught her before she started teaching it.

    I’ll be having a conversation with Christine on Monday, 12 Sept 2016 at 6pm PT/9pm ET entitled “The Art & Science of Deep Connection” and would be thrilled if you could join me. Click here to sign up for the talk, get the call-in number, and receive automatic reminders to make sure you don’t miss it, ’cause I believe it’s going to be most excellent. Here’s the excerpt:

    The Poise of the Soul

    After a particularly long day in this spell of dot-com craziness, I was walking down a crowded street to catch a commuter train, when I saw my old friend Daniel. Daniel always had a ready smile. He was self-contained, a loving husband and father and accomplished professionally—at that time he was CEO of a public company, making all manner of kitchen gadgets.

    That night, he was shining. It looked to me like he had shed layers of himself; he was carrying no burden.

    “What happened to you? You look fantastic!” I exclaimed.

    He responded in an instant. “Yoga happened, and you look terrible. You’re coming with me this Friday.”

    That’s how my “way out” presented itself—as a way in.

    Yoga is sometimes called “Poise of the Soul.” Poise is equilibrium, readiness, balance, steadiness, stability, suspension between states of motion. Poise does not freak out over laundry, talk too much, go 90 miles an hour to make it to a meeting, or accidentally break things due to inattention.

    I went to Daniel’s yoga class. After a great struggling 75 minutes of a vigorous athletic form of structured postures linked together by the breath (we were practicing a form called Ashtanga yoga), the class arrived at Savasana, corpse pose, where we lay on our backs, arms outstretched, palms up, legs extended, letting all of our muscles relax, allowing our bones to sink into the floor, in a sort of half-state between sleeping and waking, a state of deep aware stillness. Through the breathing, the rhythm, the turning inward of yoga—through the not turning to an external thing like whacking a tennis ball or working into the night —I found my first peace in long memory.

    I kept going back to class, initially just for that Savasana.

    Connecting to the Body

    Yoga, as it has been popularized in the west, is often practiced with pumping music. People move fast and sweat and detox. It’s good exercise for the body and mind. But that wasn’t the kind of yoga I encountered that Friday evening. Daniel’s practice was deeply mindful – it made me take notice of things that had never before occurred to me. It was a practice that made me say, “Hmm…I can’t feel my feet. If I can’t feel my own feet, the connection from my brain to my feet isn’t working.” The eventual extension of that thought was this: If the connection between my feet and brain does not work, how am I going to connect to other people?

    Before I found yoga, I couldn’t feel my feet or even spread my toes—they were just down there somewhere. Nor did I know where my organs were in my belly. My insides were like a black hole between my ribcage and my knees. Can you feel where your liver is, unless it is in pain?

    After a while, I found that I could lift my arches and run an energetic current up my shins and thighs and ass and heart and right out the top of my head and back down again. The power I used in previous forms of athletics to release energy was something that could be channeled and leveraged inside of the body, to heal it and balance it, and restore equilibrium and clarity to my whole organism.

    The yoga practice that was handed to me started a new kind of self-inquiry: Am I aware of my breath? Where am I looking? Where are my feet? Are all four corners of my feet on the ground? Are my arches lifted away? Where are my fingers? Are they evenly aligned or evenly spaced? Am I standing tall or leaning forwards or backwards? Where am I in space? How good is my proprioception: the receiving (receptoris) of one’s self (proprius)? Am I aware of my own body’s parts in relationship to each other, to the floor, to the vertical line? What am I actually feeling? What is actually happening? It was a straight line to hyperawareness.

    I began to learn that the body has rising and falling energies, that when it gets certain inputs it releases certain chemicals, that there is a virtuous loop between the actions of the body and the chemicals that are released, and that this cycle is autonomic until we intervene and override it. We can start to use our breathing and our thoughts to restructure which chemicals are getting released from our minds and into our bodies. We can reprogram ourselves, literally. I didn’t know what this meant until I found yoga.

    Once I began, it was rapid-fire study. I went to my first class, and I knew I was going to return. Eventually, I found a connection to divine source on that quiet, meditative, sweaty little mat, something I never quite got in any traditional church. That tiny studio, with a purple Om symbol painted on the wall, above a pizza parlor in the middle of Chicago, curtains blowing in, sirens and car horns below, became a holy place. It was there that I discovered a sense of having a permeable body: my skin was always interacting with the environment, and I was always connected. I was made of the same stuff as everything else in the universe.

    I wanted to go deeper. In 2002, I went on a retreat led by power yoga founder Baron Baptiste. His easygoing introduction to yoga philosophy, musical open laugh, softness, strength, humor and accessibility just made me happy.

    Baron’s yoga was hard – a demanding fast flow, coupled with long holds in deep postures. For example, once we stayed for a full 20 minutes in a hip opener known as frog: Somatic theory says we hold our painful memories in the body, and holding this position for this long had people in the room (women especially), letting go and weeping at all the things held in the groin and hips. I took his teacher training in Tulum, just to keep growing.

    Then I stumbled, or was led, into a month of teacher training in an intense, academic program that honored a deep Indian lineage, with Yogarupa Rod Stryker- and that training has continued apace for the last 15 years – from the yoga of sound, to contact yoga, to extensive breath and tantric energy work, to studying Sanskrit texts – it is an unending investigation. But mostly it’s a living experiment into how to have the happiest and most authentic experience in a human body.

    Who is thinking these thoughts?

    By investigating the body, I began to investigate the mind also, and then even deeper into relationships.

    Once, early on, I was holding a yoga position called side plank for a long time. This position requires the body to form a long, firm, extended board, placing one hand on the floor, the other to the ceiling, and balancing between the side of the bottom foot and the palm of the hand, holding the belly snug and the hips high. It can be rigorous. My arms started shaking; my balance was challenged.

    At that moment the teacher said, “People… you’ve held this position for a long time. I invite you to look at your reaction to that. Are you gritting your teeth and tensing your jaw and toughing it out, even though you’re beyond your capacity? Are you collapsing and quitting because your conditioned mind is telling you it’s too hard, even though you probably could stay longer if you wanted to? Are you feeling proud, or maybe the inverse: inadequate?”

    “However you are meeting this posture on the mat,” he continued, “I guarantee you: That’s how you are meeting your life off the mat. How can you be kind to yourself in this moment, play your edge, and take responsibility for your experience? How much are your own thoughts and reactions responsible for your own suffering?”

    How much? Maybe one hundred percent.

    If side plank was hard, the other big practice, seated meditation, was harder. Sitting still, harboring a quiet mind, initially felt impossible. Even two minutes of meditation felt interminable. Every part of me resisted. It felt unproductive, and wasn’t burning calories. To make it easier, all kinds of techniques were offered: Watch your breath right where it enters and exits the nostrils, imagine a flame, say a mantra. But it was all just practice to do one thing: to notice the workings of the mind, and to let thoughts just pass by. To become a watcher of my own thoughts.

    But if I am watching my thoughts, who is thinking the thoughts? If I am witnessing them, they can’t be the essence of me.  These thoughts must be separately constructed. HEY! I am not my thoughts. And if I am not my thoughts, I can un-identify and manipulate them to a better outcome. Lo and behold, this was true. By watching and stopping unhelpful patterns of thinking, I learned that I could change the day-to-day experience of life in my body.

    I still haven’t met a single person who has been able to overcome really bad wiring without some kind of meditation practice. Well, maybe one person.

    For example, I learned to not judge a rising emotion or thought – just to see it as neutral energy. If all thoughts and actions are only energy, neither positive nor negative, I can transmute it. I can remove the negative element, and just use the energy. If an unsettling thought would arise, I would ask myself, what can I do other than sit here or numb out through work or busyness or sex or distraction? What can I do to not numb out, to really feel and then leverage the emotion? Can I channel it into awareness, creative force, or even just let it pass through me?

    Most of the productivity and creativity in the last decade has been the result of having learned to transmute whatever intense emotion is coming up into an activity or action that is in touch with experience, rather than pushing it away.

    Now, if I have disturbing thoughts, I can choose to be matter of fact: “Here is what it means to be in a human body; these are some of the liabilities.” Or, “I’ve been here before, it will pass.” I can realize, “Oh, that’s just my misperception talking; it is not my highest self.”

    With yoga, the recovery time from these disturbances, delusions and illusions and suffering is shorter.  It takes hardly any time anymore to come back, maybe a minute or two of breathing and —there it is! This is especially useful in navigating the daily kind of potential offenses in traffic or in the supermarket parking lot – is this my best self acting here? Or something else?

    Yoga roots me in a life-giving and life-affirming place, rather than the old soup of pervasive inadequacy. It has made me strong, mentally and physically.

    The yogic ideal is strength and suppleness, being rooted yet able to reach, the perfect combination of grounded and flexible. There is an Indian fable that puts it sweetly: the serpent Ananta, an incarnation of a deity, is coiled up. Resting on his coils is the lord Vishnu—while on the top of Ananta’s head, the Earth is balanced. Ananta is strong enough to support the world, yet soft enough to be a couch for the gods.

    That’s what I aspired to be. Strong like that, and equally soft.

    I started going to class to feel better, and fell in love with the practice, and it gave me back my life.

    Do you know that saying “Lift while you Climb”? That translates into bringing others along with you. Whatever you know, you are obligated to pass on: Those who know must teach. If you know, you owe.

    Teaching yoga, helping one person at a time find the tools and technologies to achieve the Poise of the Soul, is a great gift. I sometimes teach Vinyasa flow classes. Sometimes, I teach extremely stiff people, and witness what it means to grow old without being connected to your body—it is not for the faint of heart. But I also see the relief they get from a single new insight or opening into a joint or the breath. It makes me recall my very first practice, and remember each time a teacher gave me a new posture or an insight. It reawakens gratitude and it gifts me with joyful learning. The teaching and the learning are cyclical, and the look on people’s faces as they come out of Savasana is like Christmas morning for me, every time.

    If you enjoyed what you just read, download a 16-page excerpt at and use this password: DRALI1

    All the best,
    Dr Ali

    PS: Remember that the interview/teleclass with Christine is at 6pm PT/9pm ET on Monday, 12 Sept 2016. Click here to sign up and get automatically reminded of when it happens.

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  • Marriage Part 2, crash test dummies, and how to stop beating yourself up

    Wow! So many comments from the Garden Gnomes article — a new record for the site, in fact. Apparently marriage is on people’s minds. Some of the ladies had pressured to get their partners to propose, and saw the error of their ways:

    “This was just what I needed to hear today, thank you! We have an amazing relationship & have only been together a little over a year. I don’t want to weaken it by putting pressure on him about marriage. Now I just need to share this with my well-meaning friends who pester me about why I don’t have a ring yet every time I see them! Thank you!” – Renee

    “I recently put pressure on my boyfriend about this, and we can both feel the strain in the relationship now. It’s not worth it to push any issue. It would definitely feel much better if it were his decision without the pressure, and I feel very selfish now. I guess I needed this article, and I thank you. Marriage does still remain important to me, but I think a good relationship with a man I trust is better.” – Michele

    Others were more of the Beyoncé camp: girl should stick to her guns, and if the dude wants to stick around, he should put a ring on it:

    “She should be able to discuss what her relationship needs are. Most women do not thrive when they are in limbo. Most women want relationship security. Most women want to know that the man they are with has a current intention to be with them in the future. Maria should feel 100 percent comfortable checking in with her man to see if they are still on the same page. If she genuinely and lovingly communicates to him what her genuine needs are, and he cannot meet them, she should wish him the very best for the future and move on. There is abundance and a lot of opportunities for love in this world.” – Elle from Oz

    All salient points. Now I know a little bit about the courtship and dating — y’know, the part leading up to the scary forever promises and written contracts and stuff. But if you want advice on marriage and relationships from the source, I encourage you to consult the magus himself, Prof John Gottman, starting with The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (ebook and paperback). In addition to being married himself, he has videotaped, analyzed and advised thousands of couples and written reams about the topic. 

    Marriage is a supremely complex topic that we could debate till the end of days. So I’ll just say a few words before we move on to new letters. Specifically, that marriage does not necessarily bring you security.

    Reader Tess Bee’s comment encapsulated the theme of the pro-marriage camp: “I’m not saying a marriage certificate will stop a man from leaving. But the very fact of swearing in front of witnesses to remain “’til death us do part” shows a level of commitment which imbues a woman with a sense of security that is simply not there without a tangible commitment.”

    Well, let’s imagine this scenario: suppose I offer you a ride crosstown, and I tell you, “By the way, there’s only a 50% chance that we’ll crash — you should be fine.” How safe would you feel about that ride? Would you even take it?

    Dumb question, I know. That’s what crash-test dummies are made for. And yet, 50% is also the intrinsic failure rate of marriages in the US. And for some reason, there are millions of people clamoring to get in on that deal.

    Dunno about you, but a coin flip to crash ain’t my idea of security.

    Now I know what you may be thinking: “Oh, that’s the other 50%. They weren’t talking about us. Our bond is special.” This would be a prime manifestation of one of the most pernicious cognitive biases known to man — namely, the bad shit only happens to other people bias. May want to go ask those other people if they thought themselves “other people” when things went sideways.

    There is only one thing that will bring you security in this world: being comfortable with insecurity. There’s a great book about it — The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts (ebook and paperback). Because the truth is that the world is eternally in flux. Everything is jiggling, twisting, shimmying, dodging, weaving, all the time. Even that rock sitting there, seemingly quiescent, has quintillions of molecules vibrating unimaginably fast, perpetually. Everything is moving and alive. Chapter 76 of Tao Te Ching has something to say about this:

    Men are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard.
    Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry.
    Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death.
    Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.
    The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.

    So according to Taoist thought, wishing for ultimate security — a form of stasis — is like being anti-life. I see how a huge promise made in front of all your friends may make it harder for both parties to back out. But like any wall, it also makes it harder for you to get out. What if he or she turns into a monster right after the marriage? What if you find out you’re not the one suited for married life, even though you asked for it?

    The other thing is that marriage is a cultural construct, not a natural phenomenon. We made it up. And, like tattoos and skinny hipster jeans, just ’cause everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it necessarily the right thing for you. Data shows that single women’s overall life satisfaction goes down after marriage (while that of men rises). You sure you want to sign up for that? Like the Buddha said, ehi passiko — go figure things out for yourself and see if it works for you.

    Which brings us to a letter about uncertainty:

    Hi Dr Ali — I told myself that all I really wanted was to just meet the guy and have fun so I messaged him last Wednesday and told him that I was free Saturday afternoon. He never replied. And for some unknown reason, and never having met the guy even, I’m absolutely heart broken.

    All I really wanted to do was to meet the guy and break this fantasy that I have of him in my head. Meeting him would have shown me that he is human, giving the infatuation less power. But now I am devastated because I don’t think I’ll get the chance to do that and I’m feeling awful. I’m regretting not talking to him at that event and really beating myself up for it to the point of it feeling painful. I’m upset that he wasn’t willing to follow through with asking me out and just disappearing. I know, it’s likely just a simple case of not being interested or even dating someone else, but I can’t help feeling as awful and sad as I do. I felt like you may have some words of wisdom for me, and actually being on my trip to do my rotation without my friends or family isn’t helping me much. — Lily the 24yr old med student from last time

    Well, Lily, one thing I know for sure: this is no longer about the guy, since he is nowhere near, and you haven’t even met him in person yet. So right now he is about as real as the spawn of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. What is very real is the misery you’re feeling right now. And since he’s not there, we know the exact address of the source of your pain: your own mind. This is a good time to learn how to run it so it serves you instead of running amok for the next 70 years. Three main suggestions:

    1) Meditate every day. If one good thing can come from this mediocre experience, it’s that it got you started on a lifelong practice that improved your existence more than anything else. So get meditating. Start with 2min a day, and extend it to 20min or beyond. If you don’t know how, get Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance (ebook and paperback) or the “Headspace” app. If you don’t start meditating, I’ll just assume that you prefer to feel miserable.
    2) Exercise. A run or yoga session will clear your head and expand your vision in a way to make this issue shrink to its proper tininess in the grand scheme of things.
    3) Practice self-compassion. This beating up on yourself needs to stop. I know it’s a pretty common practice nowadays, but it doesn’t make it any less weird or pathological. Also, which part of you is beating up on which? Are you slapping yourself in the face like Annette Bening in American Beauty? Is it the left hemisphere of your brain attacking the right? I’m asking these questions to illuminate the absurdity of beating up on yourself. Just stop and do crochet, street graffiti, skydiving — y’know, anything less detrimental and annoying.

    Prof Kristin Neff came up with the three elements of self-compassion:

    • Self-kindness: “Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.”
    • Common humanity: “…Suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.”
    • Mindfulness: “Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them.”

    On her website, she has some exercises you can try out. If what I’ve said to you about self-compassion so far speaks to you, the exercises can be life-changing. When you combine practices like meditation, exercise and self-compassion, you become resilient, like the reed that bends in the wind instead of breaking. And that is real security in the face of the flux of the world.

    I understand that change is hard, though. And even ideas that cognitively make a lot of sense — “Wow, I should totally do that!” — sometimes pass us by without making a lasting difference in our behavior. So for those of you interested in real change and tangible growth, I propose Project Irresistible. In it, we address some neglected but fundamental questions like, who are you, really? What’s your point for being on this Planet Earth? What are your most deeply held values? What are your goals vis-à-vis men and relationships? Do they mesh with those values? Are you ready for love? And that’s just the first two modules. Written exercises, listening assignments, guided meditations and real-world exercises get you expanding your envelope of existence to embrace a grander vision of you — and to manifest that in your daily behavior. The $100 off promotion is over, but you can still use coupon code “SPRINGY” for a $75 discount, which makes the price for the 6-week course less than a single session of therapy.

    And finally, to Lily and all the other ladies out there: the pain of being neglected and rejected is very, very real. Return people’s phone calls, texts, and emails, especially when it comes to romantic matters, even if it’s just to say “No thank you.” A clear “no” is a thousand times better than silence, which is perceived as “You’re not even worth a response.” As guys, we’re used to rejection, but the amount of infelicity and casualness in communications these days must be at an all-time high. Treat people the way you want to be treated, and be the change you want to see in the world.


    By popular request, I’ll be doing three therapy sessions per week via Skype on Thursdays. Time slots are 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm Pacific Time. If you’re from a time zone where these slots are inconvenient, let me know and we’ll see what we can work out for you. Write to me directly and put “I want a session!” in the subject line, and include your PayPal address and Skype ID. $175 per 60min session.


    Fri, May 6, online – “The New Way to Date” teleseminar series put on by my friend and colleague Alicia Ashley. Free to sign up and listen.

    Mon May 9, San Francisco, 6.30-8.30pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself: Advanced Techniques for Overcoming Heartbreak, Phobias and Trauma.” I’m excited to bring some new techniques from recent trainings I’ve attended. This is powerful, effective, fun stuff. Location: Downtown San Francisco. Early bird tix are $45. Sign up here.

    Thu May 12, Los Angeles, 7pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself.” Location not yet confirmed — if you know of a good spot, or if you are able to host 15-20 people in your office or living room, esp on the Westside, that would be super useful.

    Sat May 14, Los Angeles, 11am-5pm – I’ll be speaking at TEDx Echo Park: Paradigm Shift. My talk’s called “Happiness Engineering: A New Paradigm for Success.” TEDx events are usually fun, and I know a couple of the other speakers to be pretty cool. I’m scheduled to be the first talk. Tickets are $45 and available here. I’m not necessarily endorsing this event since I’m not putting it on. But do feel free to swing by if you’re local and the topic interests you.

    Go forth and conquer, Dr Ali



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  • “My boyfriend hasn’t proposed yet. Should I break up with him?”: On devotion, garden gnomes & eating menus

    An excellent letter here that brings up issues about commitment, devotion, masculine and feminine essence, the map and the territory:

    Three years after my divorce from a marriage of 22 years, I met this wonderful guy. We are both in our 50s. When we met 1.5 years ago, I made it clear that I was looking for a partner with whom to spend the rest of my life. He said he was on the same mission. We’ve been inseparable since then. Last year, I was diagnosed for breast cancer and he was there for me the whole time. He is a very devoted, compassionate person. He expressed his love for me over and over and said he would marry me. But until now he hasn’t proposed to me yet.

    Because of his professed love and intentions, I was expecting a proposal, but since it wasn’t coming, I was getting frustrated. I threatened to break up with him a few times, but he would always spring back to me saying his life is meaningless without me. Then why he wouldn’t propose? I told him I don’t want to force him do things if that’s not his desire. I asked him please let me go if the marriage is not his plan because I don’t want to continue the relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend. He said, “You don’t make me feel special to like you used to,” and “Marriage is from both parties. What is your contribution to that?”

    I finally gave him an ultimatum few weeks ago, because I was really tired of the situation. He is very quiet now. My questions are: What’s going on in a man’s mind when he said I am the love of his life and he would marry me, but not acting on his word? Did I made a good decision giving him the ultimatum? Or did I chase a good man away by acting on my emotions focusing on marriage? — Maria from Canada

    A long time ago, on a tiny blue planet in the Milky Way galaxy, I picked up this book called Tao Te Ching. And Chapter 36 of this book got me to thinking, “Y’know, this sounds relevant to a lot of life. Especially relationships.” Which may be why this chapter I have quoted more than any other. It goes like this:

    If you want to shrink something, you must first allow it to expand.
    If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish.
    If you want to take something, you must first allow it to be given.
    This is called the subtle perception of the way things are.
    The soft overcomes the hard. The slow overcomes the fast.

    Of course, the first time I read this, it blew my head to smithereens. What the hell does it mean that before you can shrink something, you must allow it to expand? The slow overcomes the fast, the soft overcomes the hard? It’s all paradox! THIS MAKES NO SENSE!!

    Ahh, but it does. Let’s think about this line:

    “If you want to take something, you must first allow it to be given.”

    Let’s say I’m interested in a woman, so I want her phone number. I could just go up to her and say, “Hey, what’s your phone number?” Points for boldness, yes, but with significant room for improvement. Instead, what if I spoke to her for a few minutes, inquired about her thoughts, passions, and values, found her charming and delightful, and then suggested an event — a talk, a concert, a reading — that nicely meshed with her worldview? Then she just might say, “Omigod, that sounds great! I’d love to do that. Here’s my number.” Instead of taking something, I have created the circumstances that make giving that thing to me the most natural thing in the world.

    While we’re on stereotypes, let’s say a woman wants commitment from a guy. She can say, “Hey, where’s my ring?” Or she can create the circumstances such that the man feels supported, strong, 50 feet tall and capable of moving mountains. He’s sitting there, shaking his head, telling his friends, “Man, I can’t believe how good she is to me. What have I done to deserve this? I ain’t never letting this one go.” And that’s when a man’s thinking goes from “I’ve got a good thing going, so heck, I’ll stick around a little longer” to “I need to lock this down now because I’m never gonna find this anywhere else.”

    That, my lovelies, is feminine Goddess Power — the power to make the people around you feel like a trillion bucks. It is the power of devotion. It is real power, because it is always at your disposal and can never be taken away from you.

    This is the thing that makes you irresistible. As in, who the hell in their right mind would want to resist that? “No thank you. I do not want to feel supported, told that I’m the greatest partner in the world, feel like I can move mountains. I’m just gonna go sit in the corner over there and do my best imitation of a neglected garden gnome.”

    Now, Maria, let’s see what’s happening with you. You say he’s devoted and compassionate. You guys have a great time together. And he stood by you during the cancer thing. Sounds like you have a good thing going with a standup guy.

    And yet, you have chosen to strain the relationship. He’s saying things like “you don’t make me feel special to like you used to” and “marriage is from both parties; what’s your contribution to that?”

    Now I understand that you went into this relationship with marriage in mind. And he was on board with that. Cool. Now I’d like you to imagine a conversation he’s having with his best friend about how he finally arrived at the decision to marry you:

    BEST FRIEND: So, what made you decide to pop the question, bro?
    YOUR GUY: You know, she was just… so… demanding. Like, hounding me about it day after day, that I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s so hot. I’d be a fool to let her go.”

    And if you’re having a difficult time imagining this conversation, it’s because it has never happened in the history of mankind. Actually, he’s much more likely to be turning the Janet Jackson question around and saying, “What has she done for me lately?”

    The second issue, which is more subtle, Maria, is that by insisting that he marry you, you’re putting yourself in a no-win situation. It’s possible that your reminders of his not keeping his word will make him feel less trusted and irritate him enough to leave. Then, both parties lose.

    Or he buckles under your demands and proposes. Now you’ve got yourself a man whose masculine essence you can’t really trust, because he hasn’t been true to himself. And if he does marry you, he’s doing it only grudgingly. Once again, both parties lose.

    The third issue is this, Maria: what’s important to you about this marriage thing anyway? I mean, if you really love someone and he loves you back, why do we need to bring the lawyers in? Do they somehow make the party better? Where does this insistence on a piece of paper, a ring of metal on your finger come from? What would having that do for you?

    I can imagine that for two young folks who want to have kids and raise a family together, there are practical aspects of marriage that make it desirable — kids having the same last name, taxes, finances, etc.

    But if you’ve already had a 22-year long marriage and grown kids, what’s important to you about this contract? Is it some kind of hedge against abandonment? Some legitimacy you crave, formalized by the state? What is it?

    I would encourage folks to consult Stephanie Coontz’s excellent Marriage: A History – How Love Conquered Marriage. (ebook and paperback). This whole notion that “if you love me, you will marry me” is a very recent fabrication in the history of mankind, and a potentially pernicious one.

    Because this much I can tell you: none of those shards of paper or metal will protect you against the deterioration of a relationship in which you aren’t showing up as your best, most generous, supporting, loving self.

    This is the age-old conflict between the map and the territory, and how as symbol-binding creatures, we often give preference to the map over the territory, the menu over the food. And then, having chosen the menu over the food, wonder why we’re still hungry.

    It sounds to me, Maria, that you already have the substance of a good relationship: mutual support, shared interest, quality time, and real love. You’ve got the food. However, your insistence on the menu — the marriage certificate — seems to be compromising the relationship.

    So you have two choices here. You can continue to put your foot down and say, “This is what I signed up for, and by golly, this is what I’ll get. True, I’ll be lonely, but I’ll be right and lonely.” The world would have a little less love in it and be slightly impoverished for the decision.

    Or, you can set him free. You can go back to appreciating him, enjoying his company, and making him feel like a zillion bucks. You can say stuff like, “You add so much to my life, and I think I may have been a little misguided in my insistent demands for marriage. It’s true that it’s important to me, but it’s not more important than the relationship we have. And if you arrive at that decision some day, I would welcome it, but I’d prefer that you do it out of your own free will and to find your own reasons to propose if that’s what you want to do.”

    If you do that, you improve the chances that someday, he’ll come around to the decision himself. And if not, you still have the food — the actual relationship — which tastes so much better than the menu, y’know?

    So, to summarize: Devoted is irresistible; demanding is not. When you question your partner’s trust, you’re effectively invalidating his masculine essence, which puts you in a no-win situation. And be careful that you’re not trading real, nourishing tasty food for a tasteless menu made of fake leather.

    Online class vs therapy?

    Dear Dr Ali – I’ve been using love as a drug for some years now, going after guys who were clearly no good for me because I needed the love and validation. I am now considering either going for therapy or signing up for one of your online classes. I’ve almost signed up for your class 100 times. Do you think your program would help me? — Helen

    Excellent question, Helen! I believe you’re referring to Project Irresistible. And if you’re asking me, if i didn’t think it was helpful, I wouldn’t have created it :)

    That said, the class is useful for a few reasons:
    1) It guides you through the exercises in The Tao of Dating. Have you done all of them? Don’t know anyone who has. People often say they read the book in one sitting, but this is a cookbook, for chrissakes. If you want to learn how to cook, you must practice making the recipes. Speed reading ain’t gonna do it. The course puts you through the steps.
    2) It’s self-paced (recommended: 6 weeks), so you have time for the learnings to integrate. I mean, we’re looking to effect fundamental shifts in habits of thought and mind, and that takes time.
    3) As you go through the course, stuff is going to come up. “Hey, why is this exercise so challenging?” “Why am i not comfortable doing this?” “Why does this feel so much better than what i was doing before?” That’s when you stop, pay attention, and go deeper.
    4) The whole thing costs less than a single session of therapy — especially with a $100 off coupon. Use discount code “SPRINGY” to bring the price of Project Irresistible from an already reasonable $247 down to a no-brainer $147 for the first 20 to sign up. After you’ve registered, give me about 24hrs to process your registration and you’re good to go.


    By popular request, I’ll be doing three therapy sessions per week via Skype on Thursdays. Time slots are 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm Pacific Time. Write to me directly and put “I want a session!” in the subject line, and include your PayPal address. $175 for a 60min session.

    Incidentally, ladies, this is how I make a living — through books, courses and workshops. So when you sign up for these things, get my book, or audiobook, or tell your friends about them, it helps me pay my exorbitant San Francisco rent and to pay Uncle Sam’s impressive tax bill so I can keep writing for you and create solutions for a happier, more fun and fulfilled life. Thanks for your ongoing support!


    Fri, May 6, online – “The New Way to Date” teleseminar series put on by my friend and colleague Alicia Ashley. Free to sign up and listen.

    Mon May 9, San Francisco, 6.30-8.30pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself: Advanced Techniques for Overcoming Heartbreak, Phobias and Trauma.” I’m excited to bring some new techniques from recent trainings I’ve attended. This is powerful (and fun!) stuff. Location: Downtown San Francisco. $40-$50. Sign up here.

    Thu May 13, Los Angeles, 7pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself.” Location to be announced — if you know of a good spot, or if you are able to host 15-20 people in your office or living room, esp on the Westside, that would be super useful.

    Sat May 14, Los Angeles, 11am-5pm – I’ll be speaking at TEDx Echo Park: Paradigm Shift. My talk’s called “Happiness Engineering: A New Paradigm for Success.” TEDx events are usually fun, and I know a couple of the other speakers to be pretty cool. I’m scheduled to be the first talk. Tickets are $45 and available here. I’m not necessarily endorsing this event since I’m not putting it on. But do feel free to swing by if you’re local and the topic interests you.



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  • Love Better, Present Better, and Perform Better Through Presence

    ***ANNOUNCEMENT: The next This Is How You Heal Yourself: Rewire Your Brain to Overcome Pain workshop is in San Francisco on Tuesday, 19 Jan 2016. I’ll be teaching you tools to get over heartbreak, phobias and trauma. Sign up here.***

    Here’s a story for you: just last month, my professional singer friend Valerie was terrified of her upcoming auditions because of crippling stage fright. Right about that time, I was fortunate to attend a talk by Amy Cuddy on her new book. Valerie couldn’t attend, so I gave her an advance copy of Presence (hardcover and ebook) that Amy had kindly given us. Valerie watched Amy’s TED talk, read half of the book, executed the “power pose” (i.e. expansive body postures like the “Wonder Woman” and the “Usain Bolt” held for 2min) and “self-affirmation of core values” techniques right before her auditions, and nailed ’em: three auditions, three gigs booked. And it all worked that fast.

    What would you say if I told you that there was an essential life skill that could make you a better speaker, help you nail job interviews, get you better dates, improve your performance, and make you a better partner and parent? What if I told you that no one has ever bothered to teach you this skill, mostly because we didn’t even know what it was? That secret skill is presence, “the state of feeling connected with our own thoughts, values, abilities, and emotions, so that we can better connect with the thoughts, values, abilities, and emotions of others.” And Amy Cuddy’s book can teach this state of “self-assured enthusiasm” to you and a whole lot more.

    People — this is life-changing stuff. We can all think of a time when (more…)

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  • How to Get Over a Breakup: Professional Edition

    I had a breakup recently. It sucked royally.

    Except that it wasn’t even a breakup. The woman just stopped returning my communications. Calls unanswered. Voicemails not returned. Texts unacknowledged. Emails languishing in a mailbox, gathering e-dust. Hell, I even wrote her a handwritten letter. Four pages long! Hadn’t done that in over 15 years. Still nothing.

    Breakups are never fun, but of all the ways one can be dumped, the disappearing act probably feels the worst. I mean, it’s one thing to say to my face that I’m a terrible boyfriend/husband/partner/lover and you can’t stand me anymore for reasons X, Y and Z, spurious or true. It’s a completely different thing to vanish completely. Because in the former case, the mind perceives it as rejection, which registers in the same part of the brain as a poke in the eye That pain is so similar to regular pain that it is ameliorated by acetaminophen (aka Tylenol, paracetamol). Bet you didn’t know that.

    But when someone goes poof, the brain perceives it as a death. So you don’t just experience the pain of rejection, which is bad enough already. You go into mourning.

    The disconcerting news is that this kind of thing seems to be happening with such frequency nowadays that it has a name: ghosting. How fucking terrifying is that?

    So lest anyone think that the existence of this word somehow legitimizes the practice, let me make this clear: ghosting is an act of violence. If you ghost on someone — especially someone with whom you until very recently used to share secrets, food, bed space and bodily fluids, and was basically decent to you — you are a horrible, terrible, awful human being. This is an act of omission that is very much an act of commission: you are leaving someone for dead. And nice people don’t do that.

    But I’m preaching to the choir here, because you’re probably reading this to recover from a breakup, not to inflict one. Well, you’ve come to the right place darlin’, because I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of these. I should know from breakups.

    There’s more that makes a breakup painful than the pain of rejection and mourning, however. You also come to (more…)

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  • Are you asking too much of a boyfriend?

    Ladies – Before we go into today’s letter, I have a favor to ask you. I’m re-doing the cover of The Tao of Dating, and I’d love to know which ones you like best! Click here to go to the contest and let your opinion be known:

    With that out of the way, here’s a great email exchange I had recently about relationship expectations and being in touch with your own needs and emotions. Where does jealousy come from? Why and when do we feel someone isn’t good enough? How do we get in the way of our own loving?

    Dear Dr. Ali, 

    I’m in a very challenging situation and you’re the only person I completely agree with when it comes to relationships so I would really appreciate your help.

    I have recently started dating an amazing man. We get along really well, our conversations flow effortlessly, we have insane chemistry, and he makes me extraordinarily happy.

    There is, however, one catch. He has two kids from his previous marriage. He only sees them once or twice a week and spends enough time with me. As much as I am happy with him, this fact is always bothering me in the back of my mind and I can’t get over it.

    I keep thinking “what if I had met him earlier when he was childless?” And this is just driving me crazy. I don’t know what to do. He is so amazing and I think I can never find someone like him again, on the other hand, I think the fact that he has kids is always going to bother me. I know I sound like a horrible person but I just can’t help it!

    What do you think I should do? Giovanna from Harvard

    Dear Giovanna –

    Sounds like you’ve got a good thing going! Some background info would be useful: your age, his age, do you have/want kids, what kind of work you do, are you angling for marriage, etc.

    So I don’t know the full story here, but one thing is for sure: (more…)

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  • “Who would ever want me?”: On being lovable

    Hello, ladies and the occasional curious gentleman. Noah’s Flood has hit Northern California with full force, and I volunteered to be part of the crew that collects pairs of animals for the ark. The problem is that I really can’t tell the difference between, say, a boy armadillo and a girl armadillo. So if certain species end up going extinct in the near future, you didn’t hear about any of this. Deal? Deal.

    In other news, I’ve been doing some research on my ongoing project called Happiness Engineering. In the course of my readings, I’ve come across a bunch of interesting research emphasizing the importance of vulnerability, compassion, self-compassion and mindfulness. In my last article, I covered some of those topics. This being the hammer that the world has provided me for the foreseeable future, I’ll be looking at the letters you send me as the perfect nails for said hammer. Case in point, we have one from Cori, a 44-year old widow with 4 kids who just started dating again:

    After being married for years, my husband died of cancer, and I started dating again. I’m 44; the new guy is divorced. After dating for a while, the new guy says he wants to marry me. But after getting to know him for over year now, I’ve noticed that has a bad temper. He calls me names when he gets mad, like “jackass” – who even uses that anymore?! – and slams the phone down etc. Gets mad at me a lot. Told him it’s not fun anymore and I’m not okay with anger issues. He offered to change. I declined the offer. He argues that he is committed, dependable, and loving and I bring out the anger by doing stupid shit basically. I told him no go – husband of many years never called me a name, ever.

    Question: Am I nuts to break up with a man willing to take on a widow with four kids? I meet tons of men. I’m super sexual. Get hit on plenty but his point is they all just want sex, not love. I’d rather be alone! But do you think people change?! I really don’t. I feel pretty liberated by making my own choices and not allowing myself to settle…

    Anyway. As always just hoping for some honest thoughts from the smartest man I know (online anyway). Hope your love life is going better than mine. — Cori

    Dear Cori – I’d say you’re pretty smart, too, since saying stuff like “Just hoping for some honest thoughts from the smartest man I know” is exactly the way to motivate me :)

    Your letter brings up a bunch of interesting points. First off, because you’re so smart and fabulous, here’s what I would say: trust yourself. You don’t like the anger. Your late husband never called you a bad name the whole time you were together. Clearly this is something you don’t want to tolerate, and really nobody should. You already have clear boundaries, and he’s obviously violating them. He could be a trillionaire who’s a typhoon in the sack, but if he has a habit of pooping on the breakfast table, then you can’t be with him. Uncontrolled anger is like pooping on the breakfast table, except that it can happen unpredictably at any time, anywhere, not just at mealtime. His blaming it on you because you supposedly do “stupid shit” is BULLSHIT, emotionally manipulative and inexcusable. A grown man is responsible for his own behavior.

    Now this line from the letter was quite telling:

    “Question: Am I nuts to break up with a man willing to take on a widow with four kids?”

    Let me translate that into what it’s actually saying:

    “Since I’m just a widow burdened with 4 kids, I should hold on to any guy who would give me the time of day. I mean, when will I ever get another chance? Who would be crazy enough to want little ol’ me?”

    Well, Cori, I don’t know. Who would be crazy enough to want little ol’ you?

    And ladies — before you think that somehow this is a problem unique to Cori, please raise your hand if you’ve ever had a version of this go through YOUR mind, ahem:

    “Who would want to be with me with my oversize thighs / stringy hair / pot belly / C on my report card / chronic disease / neat-freak tendencies / crappy job / ugly neighborhood / weird family / shitty car / funny-looking feet / dwarf stature / beanpole height / asymmetrical boobs / annoyingly high voice / funny accent / other perfectly common no-big-deal issue which I will nevertheless unconsciously use as a barrier to intimacy?”   

    Now, I haven’t met you, so it doesn’t make sense for me to sit here and boost your ego by singing your praises. What I can do, however, is to tell you how you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are enough.

    See, I get hundreds of letters from you ladies every year. And you all think you have this one special problem that’s specific to you and you alone.

    Well, I’ve got news for ya. All of you have one problem and one problem alone, and it’s pretty much the same for all of you. And I’ve said before, it is this question:


    That’s pretty much it. Everything else boils down to that, as I mentioned in my last article. Am I worthy of love? Am I pulling my weight on this planet? Is there any good reason why people should like me, want to spend time with me and be nice to me?

    Luckily, the answers to those questions are entirely in your hands. Here are three things you can do such that you know that you’ve done your part in being, like, totally lovable:

    1) Am I being vulnerable?

    What’s the most lovable thing in the world? An infant, a kitten or a puppy would qualify. So cute! So adorable!

    And so completely useless. I mean, what can a baby do? Not much besides pee, poop, and make nipples sore. And yet, because it’s also perfectly defenseless, everyone adores it.

    Now, granted, there are also some deep evolutionary mechanisms at work assuring that we find wrinkly, pudgy, smoosh-faced, income- and sleep-annihilating babies adorable, otherwise the human race just wouldn’t propagate.

    Nevertheless, it’s still true that lovability is directly proportional to vulnerability. One thing we all know for sure: perfectionism, the polar opposite of vulnerability, is distinctly non-cuddly and just plain unattractive. So if you’re trying to attract men, what may work even better than trying to come off as a hypercompetent, fiercely independent overachiever is this: a little bit of emotional self-disclosure.

    Admit that sometimes things are tough. That you wish you had more support, more close company that you could share experiences with. That you miss your dad who passed away 6 years ago, and that you wish he could have met his grandkids. That all the responsibility of being a powerful woman weighs you down sometimes. That the scar from the surgery still hurts. That you gave up your childhood dream of being a classical cellist for a corporate job. Emotional self-disclosure of pain or imperfection like these make you more vulnerable, and therefore more approachable and lovable.

    Vulnerability brings out the protective and nurturing instincts of a man – his noblest aspects. Perfectionism, on the other hand, brings out his competitive instincts. Which one would you prefer? Would you rather fight or be cherished? Your choice.

    At the same time, “vulnerable” means “more subject to harm.” So make sure the person you’re making yourself vulnerable to is the right audience for it. Last thing you want is some brute who’ll attack you just when you’ve exposed your soft underbelly.

    Also, make sure that vulnerability is the spice, rather than the whole dish. If you’re perpetually talking about the pain in your life, that’s not vulnerability – that’s just whining. This is not about dumping your woes on people. This is about discreetly making yourself vulnerable, in measured doses, to someone you like.

    2) Am I being self-compassionate?

    Generally speaking, people can only love you to the extent that you love yourself. So – how much do you love yourself? If you’re constantly putting yourself down and telling yourself how much of an idiot you are, then you’re probably going to end up with someone who agrees with you or worse.

    Why? Because you’re going to reject out of hand any guy who likes you more than you like yourself. “What could he possibly see in me? He’s either crazy, deluded or faking it.” That would be funny if it weren’t true of so many people I know.

    The antidote to this is a healthy sense of self-compassion (which apparently is different from self-esteem, but that’s a story for a different day). According to Prof Kristin Neff of the University of Texas in Austin, who pioneered the field and wrote the book on self-compassion (full delightful title: Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind) there are 3 components to it:

    a) Self-kindness, meaning that we are gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Basically, when you flub, be as nice to yourself as you would be to others. Simple.

    b) Recognizing our common humanity, meaning that we feel connected to others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. This is what I was talking about earlier in the article when I said all of you have the same am-I-lovable problem. You’re not alone in being alone, as the immortal bard Sting put it in the song Message in a Bottle.

    c) Mindfulness, meaning that we remain aware of our pain but keep that observation in perspective, rather than ignoring the pain or exaggerating it.

    Practice self-compassion, and the beast of low self-worth is likely to go on a very long vacation.

    3) Am I being loving?

    If you’re being vulnerable and self-compassionate, that’s a great start. But being loving is also an active, outward-directed thing. So this is third part of doing your homework so you know that you are totally, completely, 100% worthy of love involves building up other people in addition to not tearing yourself down. Some ways of being loving:

    • Being a catalyst for others’ growth
    • Habitually making folks feel like a million bucks
    • Expressing your appreciation of people
    • Being focused more on giving than taking (while still looking out for yourself, ahem – no doormats or martyrs, please)
    • Valuing people as ends in themselves, not as means to some other end
    • Saying more positive things than negative things (3:1 ratio at least)

    The good news is this is all under your control. You can choose to be vulnerable. You can choose to be loving. And when you do, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are worthy of love.

    But wait! There’s more. There’s a side benefit to all of this. As a result of all of these practices, e.g. making others feel like a million bucks, YOU’RE going to feel like a million bucks, too! Scientists have shown that all of this stuff that you do – raising people up, sharing of yourself, being giving – has a direct, positive effect on you. It makes you feel good!

    So to go back to Cori’s original question: Who would want to date a 44-year old woman with 4 kids? Who’s gonna love you, girl?

    Well, if you’re doing the stuff that we just talked about, the answer is legions of guys – assuming they have some sense in them. At the same time, the work of vulnerability, self-compassion and being loving is its own reward. How’s that for a win-win?

    So go forth and live it up. Make someone’s day — especially your own. I’ve gotta put on my rain gear and catch some armadilloes for now, but I fully expect to hear back on how it went for you when I’m back.

    Best, Dr Ali

    PS: As you may know, the audiobook of The Tao of Dating for Women is now available on Audible and Amazon. Audible has a deal where you can get it for free. And if you’re one of the first people to put up a review of it on, I will hook you up with a free download code to send to a friend. I have 15 gift codes left, so hurry! Once your review is published, send me an email with “AUDIBLE REVIEW” in the subject and the link to your review, and I shall hook you up with the goods.

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  • The Jekyll/Hyde Power of Maybe, The 6-month Specialist & the Myth of Attracting Unavailable Men

    Big thanks to Meaghan, Colleen C, Amie and Monica (“BEST. BOOK. EVER.” – really?! I think I’m in love) for posting reviews to Amazon in the last week. The amount of compliments in there is enough to make me blush, and you know what? I’m learning how to be cool with it. Blushing is good for the skin. Here’s what Meaghan said:

    “I found so much joy from this book! It is labeled as a dating book, however I found that embedded in the info about dating were so many valuable life lessons that you can apply to everything you are pursuing in your life. I truly think every woman should have a copy. I have read it once and have started reading it again…and I plan on using it as a guidebook again and again.”

    Yes, you are all on to me, you clever little minxes. The Tao of Dating was never really meant as just a dating book. I not-so-secretly want you to make your whole life better! Heresy, I know.

    So I’m thrilled to report that (more…)

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  • Mailbag: What to talk about on a date + dealing with long distance relationships

    There have been some very interesting letters coming in the inbox recently — keep ’em coming. I’ve got two of them for you right now, and the theme they share is communication. One is about what to talk about when on a date; the other is about long-distance relationships. But before I get into either of those, I’d like to announce:

    • The Tao of Dating LIVE, Tuesday 20 May 2014, 7-9pm, San Francisco, CA: 
    • Ladies: How to Let More Love In
    • Purchase tickets at Eventbrite
    • We will mingle, sip wine & nibble on chocolate (included in ticket price). I will talk for 30-40min. Then I will field your questions for the rest of the time — all of them. Bring it on!

    And now, to the letters: (more…)

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  • On pain and how to handle it

    On the morning of Saturday, March 15, I woke up to shooting and stabbing pain down the right side of my neck, upper back and right arm. The pain encircled my ribs and was literally breathtaking.

    I figured I must have slept with my neck in a funny position and a little massage would relieve it. But there was no part of my neck and back that my visiting friend could touch without eliciting a howl from yours truly. So I called my acupuncturist and bodywork specialist Steve, who was kind enough to accommodate me on short notice. Although the session gave me some relief, I realized that this was a different beast than a simple stiff neck.

    Eventually, I found an experienced physical therapist/bodyworker based in San Rafael named Al Chan, whose deep knowledge of anatomy combined with his iron paws (I call his technique “Ow now, wow later”) helped put me on the mend.

    This article is not about the clinical course of my ailment, though. This is about (more…)

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