Category: Women’s empowerment

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

    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
    http://xtinem.com/dr-ali-binazir-guests/ 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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  • On Dating the Semi-Decent Man: What’s Your Dealbreaker?

    Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of letters from the ladies asking about relationships with semi-decent guys. Y’know, guys who are pretty darn good except for this one niggling detail.

    Before I get into the letters, let’s look at an analogy. Let’s say you’re in the market to get a used car (in the relationship marketplace, there are no new cars). Let’s say it’s in excellent shape and you’re getting a fantastic deal, but the back seat has some scratches and stains. Would you still buy the car?

    Okay, now let’s say the paint on the passenger door is scratched, and there’s a ding on the rear fender. Or it has a flat tire. Still okay?

    Now let’s say the transmission is broken. How about now?

    The point is that there is a spectrum of flaws, all the way from utterly forgivable (scratchy paint) to deal-breaking (no transmission). After all, there are certain car-like features that you would like a car to have. And without those, you basically don’t have a car.

    Let us now extend this to the realm of relationships. What’s the point of being with a guy anyway? Well, you want to feel safe around him — safer than you would without him. You would want to know that he has the capability to provide for you financially, even if you have your own income. You want to feel loved and nurtured, and have someone who is receptive to your love and nurturance in return. Emotional stability is important. And ideally, his presence would catalyze your growth towards an even better version of you.

    I’ve written a whole book on what you should look for in a guy, so I’m not going to get into the details of that here. But I do want to make you aware of what your dealbreakers are. The most basic one is that he hinders your growth as a person.

    On the other end of the spectrum resides the “don’t hit on 20” rule, as propounded by my good man Evan Marc Katz. The idea is that in a game of 21 or blackjack, getting cards that add up to 20 is a pretty good result. You don’t want to ask for one more card (or “hit”) when the only card that can help is an ace, and there are only 4 of them in the deck. In other words, nobody’s perfect, so if your guy’s flaws are not dealbreakers, you’d do well to consider keeping him.

    Some of these letters are on the long side, so feel free to scroll through them to get to my comments. And if you’re in the mood  to ask me a question, writing me a letter that’s under 200 words makes the likelihood of a response go up exponentially, ahem :)

    First one’s nice and short. I’ve pasted my response just as I sent it to her, no fancy caps or nuffin’: (more…)

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  • “How Will I Ever Trust a Man Again?” + A Good Day for America

    First of all, a massive congratulations to all Americans today for the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all fifty states. Such a breakthrough would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago.

    Unfortunately, discrimination against homosexuals has been around for much longer than that. Fortunately, as Martin Luther King Jr put it so eloquently, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” In the past hundred years, we’ve gotten the vote for women and racial minorities, improved access to higher education for women and minorities, reduced violence significantly (The Better Angels of Our Nature: How Violence Has Decreased Over Time is a fantastic read on this), criminalized torture, stopped burning witches at the stake, nearly eradicated slavery, and seen democracy progressively displace hereditary tyranny all over the world.

    Although I’d like to think that, “Geez, isn’t this the way things should have been all along?,” the fact is that for nearly all of human history, people have been pretty nasty to each other. So it is with a joyous heart that I say halleluuuujah, it’s about time, and I for one will not take this for granted. There will always be meanies, but the good guys eventually win. San Francisco’s already lit up in rainbow colors all over the place, but with this announcement, the whole town’s going to go certified bonkers.

    In the meantime, we’ve had some interesting letters in the past week. Let’s see what the e-mailman brung: (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:

    AM I LOVABLE?

    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 Audible.com, 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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  • Three hidden reasons smart, professional women inadvertently stay single

    Francesca and Grace are two of my friends here in San Francisco who also happen to run Spark, a philanthropic network founded by women to help the lives of women worldwide. At a recent Spark cocktail party, even amongst the crowd of educated, stylish, philanthropically inclined professional women, Francesca and Grace stood out. Not only are they super-smart, ultra-stylish, crazy sweet and supremely capable thirtysomethings, but they are also serious babes. So it surprised me when both of them, at different parts of the evening, basically said, “Hey buddy. You’re supposed to have the answers. So tell me: Why am I still single?”

    Well, by all the laws of physics, trigonometry and common sense, these fabulous ladies should have equally fabulous companions. Realizing this, I did what any wise man would do: (more…)

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  • “Why don’t men approach me?”: An epic email exchange on self-esteem and the single woman

    I recently had this 5-day email exchange with one of my readers. It brought up a lot of issues which I’ve found are not just common amongst women but pretty much universal. I’m talking about low self-esteem here, ladies. And it seems as if the prettier and more talented a person is, the lower her self-esteem.

    To a man observing your magnificence from a distance, this can be baffling. The good news is that after this email exchange, I had some insight into the root of the problem. Read through to the end to get to my commentary. I insert additional commentary [in brackets] where I feel it illustrates a point, or just to crack a joke of dubious taste.

    Here’s our exchange below just as it occurred (with small edits for clarity). I have not edited Rosie’s letters since she expressed herself in perfect grammar and without any spelling mistakes. Clearly this is a woman who is highly educated, intelligent, and likely a perfectionist (read: pointlessly hard on herself). If any of this resembles someone you know (ahem!), I encourage you to read on.

    On 11/10/13 2:15 PM, Rosie wrote:

    Dear Dr. Binazir,

    I have a quick question for you.

    So I have been trying to go out more often – it’s hard with long hours in lab and a long commute, and I am a bit of a homebody. Nevertheless, I know I’m not meeting anyone sitting on my tush at home, so I signed up for this network that connects people who have graduated from top tier colleges. And I went to a lecture on politics hosted for these people last week.

    I went by myself – which is a huge step outside of my comfort zone – because I know groups of girlfriends can intimidate guys. I also followed your 40% rule – curly brown hair down, wearing tight black pencil skirt below the knees and short-sleeve blouse unbuttoned on the low side.

    I get there and it was a huge sausage fest, so I’m thinking I’m golden and I position myself near to the men I want to talk to, trying to smile and catch their eye whenever one looks my way (which I’ll admit I do have trouble with since I’m nervous around men, but I’m working on it and fighting through the awkwardness).
    And not one approaches me.

    I noticed almost all of these men were forming groups of 3-6 guys and chatting among themselves. Not one broke away to talk to me or invited me into their group. I ended up initiating conversation with one guy but that fizzled out once the lecture began and he didn’t find me to continue it afterwards. Needless to say. I was very confused and kinda sad because I thought I had done everything right.

    My friend says that since I’m pretty, confident, and whip smart, they’re scared of me and that they were afraid of being made fun of if they broke rank to talk to me. Is this true? I’m literally the least frightening person out there. And was what my friend said the true reason no guy approached me? Thanks, Rosie

    On Tue, Nov 12, 2013 at 3:54 PM, <DrAli> wrote:

    Rome wasn’t built in a day, Rosie. Keep at it!

    Now, if a golden ticket is sitting on a countertop and no one hands it to you, it doesn’t mean the universe hates you. It just means you put constraints on your behavior that didn’t allow you to benefit from the abundance (eg “sausagefest”) that was presented to you. Your experiments don’t do themselves on your own, do they? Well, in this department, you’re also not a potted plant. Do stuff!

    So yes, you did some things right (eg dressing up, showing up). But you didn’t do everything right. Most important, you didn’t seize control of your own destiny, and that’s what I sense is missing here. If there’s someone you want to speak to, speak to him. It’s as simple as that. You’ll get better at it the more you practice.

    In which city is this all happening, by the way? Best, AB

    On 11/12/13 1:20 PM, Rosie wrote:

    I’m in DC. Apparently dating sucks here, or so I’ve been told. I have met some guys from the events, I’m just not at all attracted to them like that. [This is the first salvo of negativity. More to come. -AB]

    I am very shy around men – always have been – so it is very hard for me to make eye contact and start conversations with them. And then I completely nerd out on them and talk a lot of science and my research because that’s what I do a lot of the time and it’s my passion (plus I work on malarial vaccine development, which I’m sure just reels them in) – or I go on about my favorite off-the-wall TV shows and books and my new rescue cat.

    [Notice the expressions like “nerd out” or “off-the-wall TV shows” carry an implicit negative judgment about her perfectly normal tastes and tendencies. The gratuitous takedown of the self begins. -AB]

    So I guess I just don’t know what to talk to them about, so I don’t know how to lead into a conversation or be flirty (I’m TERRIBLE at it.). [TERRIBLE!] Or if I do start (badly) flirting [BADLY!] with a guy, it invariably happens that he has a girlfriend and I feel terrible/ awkward/ embarrassed. And I don’t have any other single girls to turn to – almost everyone I know is in a serious relationship or engaged. I don’t want to hear “it will happen soon when you’re not looking” anymore, especially now that it’s the holidays and I know I’ll have to fend off questions from my family. 

    I’d much rather be receptive and have them come to me (I am a masculine energy person since I’ve been single for my whole life and have to do everything myself, so I’m trying very hard to accept my feminine energy, which I deny a lot of the time because I connote femininity with being weak). Then I at least know they find me interesting and I don’t feel like they’re just humoring me if I talk to them first. 

    [Ever seen a woman give birth? Even better, have you asked your mom how long she was in labor to bring you to the planet? When I was in medicine, I saw women who were in labor for 30 freakin’ hours! Not exactly the stuff that weak is made of. But I digress. -AB]

    I guess the reason I feel so down about this right now is because I feel like no guys notice me while all my friends are super happy with fantastic boyfriends. They just talk about wedding Pinterests and themes and I have nothing to contribute and it makes me feel very alone and when you routinely battle low self-esteem, sitting there silently and getting ragged on (albeit lovingly) for becoming a cat lady doesn’t put you in a good headspace. Because if guys did notice me, wouldn’t they want to come up and talk to me? 

    [Ladies — guys are noticing you, but it’s not that easy for us to approach you, just so you know. It’s not a trivial thing to put yourself out there and risk your dignity with a total stranger. Again, no need to be hard on yourself.]

    On Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 9:20 PM, <DrAli> wrote:

    DC has a surplus of single women over single men, so it’s going to be a little tougher there. Still, no excuse. All you need is one good one :)

    Sounds to me like you’re overthinking it. If you want a fuller diagnosis, zap me a photo (especially if in said outfit). Right now I have no idea what these boys are running away from/not approaching.

    Also, one of the biggest fallacies of life is thinking someone else is somehow better off than you. Said girlfriends don’t tell you about how the dude leaves his smelly socks around the house, or about the fabulous wedding that ends in rancorous divorce down the road 50% of the time. Count your blessings. AB

    [She sends me two photos of her, one solo and one with a friend. Although maybe not five-alarm sriracha hot-sauce hot, by any human standard Rosie is a babe – cute, slim, elegant. I would totally chat her up at a party, especially since I’m a sucker for glasses. Smart girls rule! That said, the friend in the picture is sriracha hot.

    Which brings me to one of the only bits that I edited out of The Tao of Dating at the urging of my female friends: If you are hanging out with a friend who is noticeably better-looking than you, most guys won’t even notice you. It’s like you’re the moon, and the sun just came up – poof, you vanish. If you are going out for the purpose of meeting guys, go with someone who’s about as good-looking as you are or less so. As much as I wish it weren’t true, this is the way the world works. And women do it, too, as I can attest to personally. Do not BYOCB to the party (bring your own cock-blocker) – totally counterreproductive. And yeah, that does say counterREproductive.]

    On 11/13/13 8:36 PM, Rosie wrote:

    I heard that DC’s odds aren’t particularly in my favor (I had to put in a Hunger Games reference, exhibit A of my nerdiness). 

    [Approximately 5 squintillion other people also read or watched Hunger Games, so if it’s a sin, it’s a pretty universal one]

    I don’t have any pictures of me in that outfit – I usually avoid taking pictures of myself because no matter how good I look in person, I end up looking awful on camera. The pictures I sent you are a bit old (maybe one or two years or so), but I haven’t changed my appearance at all, really. I’m the girl in the glasses. I’m very petite – 5’2″ on a good day, 110-115 pounds or so (I never weigh myself unless I’m at a doctor’s, so I can’t say for sure), huge curly hair, now with red cat-eye glasses. 

    Maybe I am overthinking it. I’m a huge analyzer because I’m a scientist and evaluating something from all angles is required for my job. 

    [Perhaps it’s a good idea to leave the job behind when you’re going out then, ladies. You don’t wear the lab coat to the party, right?

    And I guess you’re right about thinking someone else is better off than you. I do know that it makes me bitter sometimes, but I try to see when I’m getting to that point. Just kinda take a step back and be like, okay, I’m going to acknowledge and accept I feel this way even though it’s not the way I want to feel especially towards my friends, whom I love and am genuinely happy that they’re happy. Maybe it’s because I don’t hear the uglier/less glamorous side of things so all I really hear about is just the roses and poetry and Tiffany’s. And the fact that I literally have nothing – no boy toy, no guy I’m even interested in (and my celeb crushes on Benedict Cumberbatch and Evan Peters don’t count, apparently) – makes it harder to keep smiling.

    [This industrial-strength sob story would be funny if I hadn’t heard it at some point from every woman I know. And I do not know who Benedict Bumbersnatch is, but it definitely sounds like the item I’m avoiding on the brunch menu.]

    On Thu, Nov 14, 2013 at 2:04 PM, <DrAli> wrote:

    You are most definitely overthinking it :) The length of the emails and detailed rumination are pathognomonic for the thinking disease.

    [Pathognomonic is one of my favorite words of all time. Worth taking 5sec to google it.]

    Instead of ruminating or comparing, start with gratitude for what there is — being young, smart, good-looking and parasite-free is a fine start. Then start having fun with the whole process. Fun has no goal but fun. Play with it. If you keep doing that instead of overthinking, things will have no choice but to shift.

    On 11/14/13 12:05 PM, Rosie  wrote:

    I am? So does that mean I’m pretty so I’m scary to them? That’s the reason guys don’t approach me? 

    [Have you noticed the fishing for validation here? “So you think I’m pretteeee?” C’mon, you know you’ve done it yourself. And have you noticed how I’m not giving any validation? Because outside validation is like crack – one dose just keeps you wanting more. There is no end to that. It’s also an instrument by which women can easily be manipulated. Someone can control you simply by giving or withdrawing approval. To give a momentary bit of approval would be the temporary treatment. But that’s not what we’re looking for. We need to go for a cure. The cure is to stop looking for temporary external solutions and to seek permanent internal solutions instead.]

    I don’t know how to play or to have fun with flirting – it’s just anxiety-inducing to me. I do things for a reason. Being efficient is part of my job and my personality. I don’t like putting in effort into something or someone that’s not going to pan out (maybe this is why I failed at online dating, I hated it) AT LEAST for a few dates and good times. So I don’t want to waste my time flirting with a guy only to find out later he has a girlfriend or he is not interested or he only wants to get laid – because when I do put myself out there, this is what happens and I feel embarrassed and sad afterwards. 

    So how can I make myself have fun flirting? And how can I make myself more approachable? Any tips? 

    On Fri, Nov 15, 2013 at 1:12 PM,  <DrAli> wrote:

    Rosie – you need to relinquish your need to be right. Even now you’re arguing with me — and arguing for your own limitations. You sure you want to be right about that? Let it go. I recommend meditation in the morning and two glasses of wine when you go out :) AB

    On 11/15/13 10:29 AM, Rosie  wrote:

    I just have a hard time actually believing/accepting that I’m pretty. I guess I just assumed since no guys were talking to me, I wasn’t pretty enough to garner their attention. [More negative self-talk and fishing for validation]

    But even with the wine, I don’t know if all this will become more fun for me.  

    [And now, you get to see the part where I lose my patience]

    On Fri, Nov 15, 2013 at 3:27 PM,  <DrAli> wrote:

    “And I’ve tried meditation and I can’t keep my mind quiet enough.”

    Yeah, and you’ve been to the gym and still haven’t made it to the Olympics yet, you big slacker. You should probably stop exercising for the rest of your life.

    Well, I guess you’re right. You’re not pretty enough, you’re not interesting enough, you’re not flirty enough, you’re not fun enough, not mindful enough. So it’s time you found yourself a nice cave somewhere and just retire from civilization since you’re such a total failure! You managed to convince me, so — well done. If I’m your biggest advocate and you’ve exhausted me with your negative self-talk, cannot imagine what you’re like with the other single guys.

    Take it easy. And go do something to make other people happy instead of focusing on you and your completely imagined shortcomings.
    Signing off,
    AB

    On 11/15/13 12:47 PM, Rosie  wrote:

    Okay, that was harsh, but I needed it. I was mad when I first read your response, but now that I thought about it, you’re right, I just wasn’t ready to accept any of it yet. I have a lot of work to do. I do apologize for subjecting you to all my moping and being a drag.  

    Thanks. 

    On Fri, Nov 15, 2013 at 4:44 PM,  <DrAli> wrote:

    This is called provocative therapy or motivational interviewing. You agree with the client’s sob story, then intensify it to the point that she finally snaps out of it and starts to stand up for herself — “Hey wait, I’m not that bad.” Self-directed miracles ensue.
    I’m hoping you got that. Part of me thinks you’re actually looking for a cave now.

    On Fri, 15 Nov 2013 16:47:48, Rosie  wrote:

    No cave shopping going on over here, no worries. I did get it, loud and clear, and it was exactly what I needed. Thank you.  =]

    ****

    On the last day of this exchange, I went out at noon to City Hall to see thousands of people gathered to make a 5-year old boy with leukemia happy by turning San Francisco into Gotham City. This was inspiring, and it got me thinking that low self-esteem is just another form of narcissism. Get over yourself, be grateful for being alive, and go make someone else’s day.

    The Buddhist concept of anatta (or no-self) says that there is no fixed entity you can identify as the self. You’re constantly changing: breath coming in and out; neurons firing; neurotransmitters sloshing around; cells dying and multiplying; tissue being replaced, re-ordered, renewed.

    Low self-esteem means focusing all attention on this made-up entity called the self to the exclusion of everything else in the world: the vastness of galaxies; the blue sky that protects you from deadly ultraviolet and cosmic rays; the earth that supports you now and every day, holding you fast and not letting you spin out into space; the fact that 70 trillion cells in your body cooperate every day to keep your heart beating, your lungs breathing and your intestines shimmying even when you’re knocked out cold in bed and have no conscious control over any of it.

    You are surrounded by billions of miracles every second of existence. To ignore all of them and to focus on imagined shortcomings of this imagined self is an act of solipsism, narcissism and simple arrogance. Who are you to put down this miracle of creation! It’s like making fun of an oak tree because it’s not a sequoia. Sheez.

    The solution is simple, if not necessarily easy: focus on things other than the self. Notice the everyday miracles surrounding  you, and express gratitude for them: “Thank you Mother Earth for holding me up!” Do this dozens of times a day. And then go cheer other people up. Whose answered prayer have you been today? Whose day did you make today? Who did you make feel like a million bucks today?

    Service is always an arm’s reach away. Moreover, it’s the only thing that psychologists have found to increase self-esteem. So go forth and volunteer, serve, help out. Read to kidsGive a microloan to someone who can put the money to far better use than you (I just gave 4 of them between the writing of that last sentence and this one — took me 15min). Do it for purely selfish reasons: to make yourself a healthier person.

    You ladies often ask me, “Why am I not meeting Mr Right?” And maybe it’s because the universe is doing you a favor. Maybe right now you’re a mess. You have no idea what you want and don’t know how to be kind to yourself, let alone him. If he were to waltz along, you’d screw it up so bad he would speed away and you’d never see him again. And that would be tragic. So relax, take your time, work on yourself, and when you are ready for love, he will show up. Usually within minutes, since he’s either been staring you in the face the whole time or is right around the corner.

    And remember not to grasp too hard. What if you were to get that thing you were craving for so long, and then find out it wasn’t what you really wanted after all? T. S. Eliot, one the greatest poets of all time, had something to say about that in Four Quartets:

    I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
    Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

    So relax. Let your mud settle. Take in the good. Meditate. Enjoy life as it is. Do not take yourself down for any reason — your adversaries don’t need any help in that department. Appreciate the miracles. Wait purposefully as you grow. And let the miracles ensue.

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  • Pop-Up Teleclass: “How to Be Irresistible” Mon May 27

    Ladies –

    I haven’t had a teleclass for you in a while, so it’s time! I’ve done the “How to Be Irresistible: Love Is in Your Body” workshop live a couple of times, and it was a lot of fun. So now I’m going to do it in teleclass format so all of you who can’t make it to San Francisco can attend. Here’s a sampling of what you’re going to learn:

    • The real power you have in relationships and how to access it
    • The latest research on what love really is, physiologically and neurologically
    • The importance of positive emotions and how to have more of them
    • How to embody love
    • The problem of desire and how to solve it
    • Guided visualizations and meditations to get you feeling these principles in your bones
    This is really more like a highly interactive workshop than me just giving a lecture, so come ready participate and be in a place where you can stand up and move around a little (i.e. not in a car). And yes, I will record it in case you happen to miss it.

    The teleclass will go for about 75 min, with about 15min of Q&A at the end. Here’s the call-in info:

    • WHAT: “How to Be Irresistible” Teleclass
    • WHEN: Mon 27 May 2013, 6pm PT/9pm ET/11am Sydney (on Tue)
    • WHERE: On your phone, when you’re not driving and you’re free to do goofy-looking exercises
    When you sign up, remember to use the 67% off discount code I emailed you! It brings the price down from $75 to $25:

    Catch up with you then and there

    Dr Ali

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  • Found my “soulmate”; treats me like dirt. Now what?

    While I’ve been working on the release of my new book, Best Dating Advice I Ever Got 2, you have still been writing me and asking very intriguing questions. Here’s one:

    “I just finished your book. Here’s my situation. I met the man of my dreams last year. He was in love and so was I with someone else. The second time he hugged me, I breathed him in and this overwhelming thought “I’m home” came over me. I’ve felt it ever since. We became best friends. He was treated like trash by his soulmate and a year later (more…)

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  • Love and the Empowered Woman: TEDx 2012 (video)

    In November of 2012, I gave a talk at the TEDx Financial District Women event. It was well-organized with many great speakers from whom I learned a bunch. Here’s my talk. As usual, I try to pack 3hrs of material in 18min — piece o’ cake. Some stuff I cover:

    • Who you really are vs. who you think you are
    • What you think makes you happy vs. what really brings you long-term fulfillment
    • The infamous ‘YES!’ drill
    • The rapid self-compassion drill
    • Scandalous story from my childhood
    • And much more…

    Many thanks to the fabulous women who made it happen — Michelle Fetsch, Gretchen Sweet, Valerie Taormina, Ilana Rieser, Stephanie Staidle, and all the others I’m going to hear about for not including on this list.

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  • Six Free, Honest and Natural Things That Make Women Irresistibly Sexy

    There are two kinds of things that make a woman sexier in this world: the stuff that costs money, and the stuff that doesn’t. The former work by altering your physical appearance so you seem sexier and more attractive, even though the redness of your lips, the rosiness of your cheeks and the size of your eyes hasn’t fundamentally changed. In a sense, these physical enhancements are dishonest, since they’re a misrepresentation of what’s underlying.

    The second category of things that make you sexier are free, natural and honest, and work with what your mama gave you. Because I’m here to tell you that what your mama gave you is (more…)

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