Cate Stillman: Body Thrive

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Today, my guest is Cate Stillman. Cate Stillman has been teaching people how to create health and wellness through yoga and Ayurveda since 2001. She hosts The Yogahealer Real Thrive Show, a weekly podcast featuring dozens of experts in the field. And with Sounds True, Cate Stillman has published a new book called Body Thrive: Uplevel Your Body and Your Life with 10 Habits from Ayurveda and Yoga. Cate has a unique ability to make profound changes feel and seem natural, accessible and totally doable. I have to say it, Cate Stillman, some of your suggestions, they’re life-changing and they’re actually not that hard. Here’s my conversation with Cate Stillman.

Cate, in your book, Body Thrive, you identify 10 habits from Ayurveda and yoga that will help us all uplevel our life, that will help us thrive. How did you come up with this particular set of 10 habits? What was the process that you went through?

Cate Stillman:I was trained as an Ayurvedic medicine practitioner and this whole concept of daily habits is embedded in the teaching of Dinacharya, the daily rhythm. And these habits were . . . they were in a bigger list, the way that I was introduced to them and the list started in the morning. As a practitioner, I worked with people with these habits for over a decade, and what I realized is that there was a way to simplify, there was a way to put some numbers to it, so that people will have an idea of how many habits would really help. And then I started with the night before, because I realized that we may have great intentions in about tomorrow but it’s good to get those intentions lined up with what we have left in today and that’s really where it all began.

TS: We’re going to get into the what these 10 habits are. We’re going to dig deep into a few of them. But before we do, it’s interesting your new book Body Thrive, Mark Hyman who is a medical doctor that I think many of the people in our audience maybe familiar with, he calls your work, “the next frontier of Ayurveda.” Tell me why you think he might call it the next frontier.

CS: There’s so much emerging right now at the intersection of behavioral science, or why we behave the way we do and what we have control over, coupled with what’s happening in design thinking and life hacking, and coupled again with this emerging desire to see who we are all about and we see that a lot in the new age movement, in the yoga movement, in the . . . all the enlightenment movement. To me, those intersection of these three paths is, what so many people are fascinated with in one way or another like, “How can I design who I am next? And how much is that embedded in my habits, in the little tiny things I do each day?” There’s a lot of work that’s emerging now in terms of identity. And who our identity is, is very valuable, and it’s connected to the little things I do each day, or my habits.

My sense is that people that awake to what Ayurveda is all about, the science of life from India, this path of health coupled with enlightenment, that co-arose as the flip side to Yoga, that there’s a lot of wisdom in there. And all I did was kind of mak . . . to me, I wrote the book that no one else had written, it was just so obvious that it’s like, “OK, if no one else will write it, I guess I’ll take time to write it.” And my sense it’s just that. It’s just habits that come from Ayurveda, that are full of this path of, “How do I design myself to who I want to become next and what habits will give me the type of resilience that I need to really thrive in the modern world?”

TS: OK, so let’s just say someone right out of the gate is listening to this and says, “Oh my God, habits, really, this sounds so restrictive. I like to follow a natural way of what I feel like doing each day. I don’t want to have my life hacking checklist or something.” What if there’s that objection right out of the gate?

CS: Yes, Amen, I hear you, sister. We don’t want a set of rules. We don’t want shoulds. We don’t want it from a place, too, of being told what to do. And there’s an access point with “Who am I really?” If we really want to experience flow, and we can presence that who we are from a historical perspective, like a larger historical perspective. We didn’t design our own bodies. We inherited this phenomenal, the best ever piece of technology known to the cosmos, called the human body. And this human body, it evolved over hundreds of thousands, some would say millions and some would say billions of years, that our physiology is tapped into the origins of the cosmos, as it is to our primate thread, that the whole thing is all caught up in a web together.

If who we are is ancient, and if who we are evolved with this planet and with this species that we are, that we’re primates and that primates are on the circadian rhythm, that we unlike . . . I always parallel my cat. I have a very close relationship with my cat. And he’s nocturnal, and I’m a primate so I’m diurnal, so he wakes up at about the time I’m ready to wind down. He starts to get his game on and he goes hunting depending on if we’re in Mexico or in Idaho, he starts hunting, and then by the time I’m waking up in the morning, he’s going to bed. If we really want to access deeper flow states and if we want to have the kind of resilience to enjoy a lot more freedom in our day-to-day life then we . . .

This is the argument of Ayurveda, then we would do well to actually tap into the power of flow, that’s behind our species, that’s behind these circadian rhythms, or these rhythms that have everything to do with how our digestion evolved, how our elimination evolved, how our . . . what we do when, when we have the best times of day to focus, best times of day to communicate, the best times of the day to do hard labor or manual work. If we were to align ourselves into what’s actually natural to our species, then we would actually start to experience even greater states of flow, and even greater freedoms in terms of what opens up in our life.

TS: OK, that’s a very compelling argument. I’m convinced here. Now, I want to, then, connect to when the sun rises and sets, is that what you mean by circadian rhythms?

CS: That’s such a good starting place. Yes. Absolutely. It’s that and the yogis say that there’s that magical moment around sunrise and sunset and we do well to pause at the magical moment as the sun is cresting, as it’s going from darkness to light ,and to pause again as if we’re going from lightness to dark. And in that pausing . . . and in the pause, there’s really nothing to do, it’s just simply to receive the energies that again, are part and parcel of who we are, part and parcel of ourselves individually, but also our ecosystem, also our planet. Just in that pause there’s a re-alignment that starts to happen or an alignment that starts to happen and we might notice our own fatigue.

Often people today, in this modern age, we’re tired. Actually there’s some recent studies that were just released this week in terms of teenagers and sleep deprivation. We’re spreading overwhelm and tired through our culture and it’s affecting us cellularly and we’re seeing massive breakdown of immune system, right? The number of autoimmune disease rises each year like just the percentage of people that have them and also the sheer, the number of diversification of the breakdown of our immune system. Simply imposing, we might feel and then feeling we might notice we’re overfed, we’re overworked, we’re overtired, and we might actually tap into our desire of like, “I desire . . . I need some glass of water.” “I need to take myself for a stroll. I need to . . . maybe I just need to sit for a moment and relax and then see what I should do with the rest of my evening.”

TS: OK, now, you’re saying some very profound things here. Tapping into ourselves and feeling overfed, overworked, overtired. I can imagine many listeners saying, “Yes, that’s true.” And also, connecting with what you’re pointing to which is when the sun sets, this idea if we’re tired, we’ll go to sleep. I think many people have had that experience when they’re camping or maybe they’re on a retreat or on vacation, it’s like “Ahhh…” But then in our normal life, we feel under the gun. We’re under so much pressure and so we end up eating, we end up overworking, and we end up getting tired. What I want to start here is by actually having you talk to this bigger picture, which is how we’re out of sync because of the culture we live in and what we’ve bought into as our lifestyle.

CS: Yes, I know, right? I mean I just want to take a moment and pause on that and to feel into it because we’re . . . essentially, it’s like we’re swimming in polluted pool, right, like we’re in thi . . . for everyone listening, like we’re in this together. We’re in a culture that’s living against, out of alignment, what the yogis would say akrama or out of sequence. Our culture is out of sequence with that which supports our body to thrive. When we really deeply get that and then we can then allow some self-compassion, like OK, it’s not really my fault on a bigger level.

It’s not all my fault. And I know for me there’s a . . . and I’m all into like being in victim mode, and I’ll go on and on about that. There’s also a sense of, “OK, now, we actually have been in touch with reality and I sort of know what I’m up against and I sort of know that I can’t expect culture to fix this problem for me.”

TS: Yes.

CS: It’s not going to happen in real-time with all the metrics are showing that we’re . . . if anything going more in the direct of akrama. We’re going more in the direction of being out of sequence, so then what do we do? What do we do from here? A: self-compassion. Take a breath and just realize, what can you do? When you really look at how . . . I mean, I know my own patterns personally, and where I get caught up and where I see kind of easy ground for progress is just really saying “What is my evening like? What time am I eating dinner, how much flexibility do I have with that? What am I actually doing after dinner? Am I getting back online? Is my house hotspot doing the wireless thing or is that off?”

“What time am I going to bed? And what am I doing in that activity, in my on screen time which we know stimulating, we know increases fight or flight, we know promotes autoimmune disease, or am I actually unplugging, do I have a nurturing winddown?” In Ayurveda, they say that that 6 PM to 10 PM, that that part of the rhythm, that descending energy, it’s a water/earth energy, the energy goes down. Our cells want to go down. Everything wants to relax, release and connect. It’s the energy of social cohesion and so it’s the time to . . . I mean, the image that comes to my mind is that I’m sitting on the front porch and talking with the neighbors. That’s sort of the energy of that time of day.

Whether we are with family and we just allow ourselves to unplug devices and be present, and then do things that we can do offline, do things that we can do offline, things we can do offscreen, and then we’ll be much more impelled to actually receive and feel that descending current, we’ll feel our own fatigue and then it’ll be easier to make the next best decision, like “Oh, if I go to bed now, I’ll wake up tomorrow and I’ll have a surplus of energy. That energy, I was going to spend getting something done, whether it’s online or watching something after 6 PM, that energy, I actually can plug in to tomorrow so I can start the day tomorrow, I could start the day right. And then with that, I can have a little bit more intelligence, I’m going to be a little bit more conscious, a little bit more intelligence at the beginning of the day, that I’ll make better decisions the following day.”

TS: OK, and as you’re talking, Cate, we’re actually talking about the first three habits and I want to go into them a little bit in more detail. The first habit . . . and you’ve already started by saying, in many ways this is mission-critical for you, is that you eat an earlier, lighter dinner, and then it moves into the second habit of going to bed early. Get specific with me. How early is your dinner? And how early are you going to bed?

CS: Yes. I will answer that but I also want to say the important thing for anyone listening is start where you are and see with just a little . . . what a tiny habit would be, what a little earlier or a little lighter on your dinner might be. Because otherwise, what happens is we immediately say, “What she’s doing is impossible and I can’t do it.” If anything, we want to start from the place of “everything is possible” and we really get to design our habits. We get to design our own experience. OK, so for me, with earlier, lighter dinner, most of the time . . . so that’s the first thing I’m going to say is: it’s not all the time, but most of the time, the majority is what I’m trying to get to.

The majority of the time for dinner, I will have a salad-based or a soup-based, so depending on the climate, depending on the weather, if it’s cold, I’ll go with the soup-based dinner and I’m looking for something that’s basically easy to digest. And this is the idea, what is easy enough to digest, that I can get to the next morning without cravings for food? It’s easy enough to digest and absorb and also to eliminate. So both salad and soup are high in water content. I was interviewing someone once about medicinal tea sold in the United States and they shared that the number one medicinal tea sold in the United States was Smooth Move. It’s a tea that helps for constipation.

TS: Yes.

CS: Right, so just that told me like, “Wow, the majority of medicinal tea buyers are constipated,” and these are the healthy people that buy medicinal teas. This isn’t just the general population out there. We want to be able to wake up the next morning and have a complete elimination, which is about 18 inches of fecal matter. It’s a big lovely . . .

TS: I knew we were going to talk about this.

CS: We’re going there, yes.

TS: I knew it was going to come up. And when I read that in Body Thrive that you say, the gold standard for one’s elimination in the morning, without caffeine, is an 18-inch poop. I’m just going to be honest. I mean, I knew when I read that in the book that I was going to end up on Insights at the Edge talking about my own pooping. I’ve never had an 18-inch poop in my life and I think of my self as a pretty healthy person. What are you talking about? That’s like almost the size of my arm. That’s huge!

CS: Right, well, maybe not as thick but yes, I mean there’s . . . if you think of descending colon and transverse colon, right, that’s the . . . it’s about that length. So depending on the size of the body, depending on the size of . . . or the age of the person, there’s this . . . it was more important to me than the size. Let’s not get totally caught up in the size, is the feeling. The feeling . . . and it’s interesting to hear it from the yogic perspective, it’s scintillating prana. That’s the feeling we’re going for, is that there’s space, that we have a complete elimination within an hour upon arising and we just feel like, “Wow, that was good.”

Actually, it’s not a mental thought, it’s a physical feeling that’s arising from your descending and transverse colon of just actually having the feeling of apana vayu which is one of the five pranas. It’s the descending directional prana. When you have that feeling, it’s like, “Oh yes. All right. I’m excited for today. Bring it on!” That’s the feeling of complete elimination. Again, if we start with the night before, we want to facilitate that. If we eat something that’s really dense where the body is going to need more moisture to digest and assimilate and eliminate, then we’re making this a little bit harder. And if anything, the habits that the yogis figured out, that I codified in Body Thrive, these habits are simply aligning us to a natural energy efficiency.

A natural efficiency which byproduct or end product is resilience. And when we have that kind of resilience, we actually access what the yogis call svatantrya which is the deepest freedom. If our habits aren’t supporting our body, we’re sacrificing ultimate freedom.

TS: Now, it’s interesting that you said to me, “most of the time.” I have some friends who like to go to bed early and it’s like, “Well, how early are we going to have our dinner together? Do you want to come over at 4:30?” It becomes almost so rigid, do you know what I mean? Or by 9:00 I think they’re experiencing it as if it’s midnight or something. How do we hold these habits but not become impossible for other people to live with us?

CS: Yes. I know, and it’s tricky territory, a habit evolution. One of the things we start to realize and this goes back to what we’re talking about in the beginning with culture, is we start to realize that our habits are . . . they’re truly not our own. If everyone you live with meditates, chances are, you’ll naturally pick up on the meditation vibe like that tool and you’ll maybe even start to just pause more, and then eventually might just find yourself sitting more, and eventually might find yourself having a meditation practice. The same thing is true with a household that goes to bed early. They naturally raise children that go to bed early. Those children naturally don’t develop the sleep deprivation issues of children that lives in the household that goes to bed late.

These were some of the first realizations that I had as an Ayurvedic practitioner when working with one family in particular where the mother had three different autoimmune diseases, and her daughter at age 15 had been diagnosed with her first autoimmune disease. To work with . . . It’s so fascinating because as I was working with the mother, and she was going to bed around anywhere between 11:30 PM and 1 AM and I was trying to simply edge back that time, like back towards the realm again, the descending energy stops around 10 PM and then ascending energy comes up, which is called the second wind. Sometimes people have that experience of where like you were tired and sleeping and then because you didn’t go to bed, and maybe you have your dinner, all of a sudden you’re up and like you’re really up. Now it’s hard to actually go to bed and get a really a good night’s sleep.

She was in that cycle of basically milking the second wind, which means that she’s depleting tomorrow’s energy tank, tomorrow’s fuel tank. She’s tapping into that today and whenever we’re doing that continually, we’re going to have an immune system breakdown. It’s like you’re in debt and basically the hitmen come. Just getting her to edge back, what was so fascinating is as she was edging her bedtime back, this took years. I don’t want to make this sound like it was fast or overnight, with many of my clients now, it’s much faster, but then it wasn’t. Her daughter also, as a side effect over years, started to go to bed early.

When we start to get that, “OK, we’re in a bigger pattern, what we’re all doing will have an effect on what I’m doing, and how do I want to live, what do I want my bedtime to be like?” If we then couple that with, it’s what we do most of the time, not all the time, that really matters, we find out that added gain, say 60 to 80% of the time, you’re eating an earlier lighter dinner. You’re going to bed before 10 and you’re waking up, hydrating and eliminating, and you’ve got that pattern down. That’s enough momentum that you’ll start to feel better and when you don’t do it, you’ll simply the next day just notice like, “Not as good a day.” There’ll be a momentum towards slowly getting healthier without making it anyone else’s issue or anyone else’s problem.

TS: OK, we’re going to circle back around to the poop conversation for a moment. So I’m going to wake up and I’m going to hydrate. How much water do I need to drink in the morning to have this fabulous, complete elimination?

CS: My gosh, right, it’s like the magic formula. It depends, it really depends. It depends on your level of hydration. If the day before, you’d had a very hydrating diet, actually someone on a course, Body Thrive course called the other day and said she’s pregnant and she’s about to . . . and she tends towards constipation so she has a lighter constitution that tends towards constipation and often, body types in pregnancy will become more constipated, certain body types will. And she’s having that issue. And all I had her do is have just a simply a more hydrating diet, to have more soup-based, more liquid-based, one-pot meal-based foods. And she found that like that was enough, like that was enough to actually help her eliminate without having to drink excessive amount of water.

I find, for me personally, if I’m a little bit behind on cellular hydration, my cells are simply less hydrated which means that I’ll have less flow and elimination requires downward flow, then I might have to have up to a quart of water in the morning. And it’s . . . in Ayurveda they say, hot water or tea water hot where your body is actually not needing to warm it up but it’s coming in even warmer than our 98.5 degrees, and that’s going to increase the . . . it’s just like a weight. It’s just a downward weight on basically our fecal matter.

TS: OK, before this conversation is over, we are going to let our listeners know about all 10 of these Ayurvedic habits, but I’m interjecting as we go, what I think some of the everyday objections might be. And whenever I mention Ayurveda to anybody, people have a couple of objections. But what I want to air out now which is come on, really we’re importing this system from India to our time and our place, are these really the wisest people we should be listening to? I’m curious what your response is to that.

CS: Yes. Well, I mean, I love that response, because in a way, it’s opening us up to what is human truth? And what thread does Ayurveda have in this web of human truth that we’ve gathered over time? To me, when we look at any of the indigenous traditions, any of the folk medicine traditions around the world and over different millennia, we find the same truths. To me, at least I see a lot more similarities than I see differences when it comes to habits that work. This habit of going to bed before . . . basically before it’s, like, the middle of the night, when a lot of people are going to bed now in the middle of the night. All our children are going to bed after it’s been dark for a few hours.

That habit arose because we didn’t have electricity. Humans ate in the middle of the day. We ate during daylight hours, because we didn’t have electricity. And humans . . . It’s interesting, primates like to see their food. If you ever had a candlelit dinner that like, just did not have enough candlelight and it’s not as fun. Like there’s some part of it that’s just simply not as delectable or enjoyable or sensual because we couldn’t see. Humans like to see their food so if we’re eating at a time when historically our bodies wouldn’t be able to see, so if we’re eating too late at night, if we’re going to bed too late, what soon happens is the next day, it’s hard to get out of bed.

It doesn’t matter what’s from India or what’s from your . . . For me, my grandmother from France or my other grandmother from Poland or my grandfather from . . . It doesn’t matter where. If we just see like, wow, as humans, as primates, there’s a rhythm. Now, the beauty of Ayurveda and yoga to me and I think my fascination with it, my lifelong fascination . . . or not lifelong, it started more or less when I was a young adult. Was that this culture was, I would say obsessed. I don’t use that word too lightly. To me this culture was obsessed with enlightenment, who are we and what can we be, and what is this technology of consciousness? In Sanskrit we have so many words for consciousness.

We have so many different words for mind. We have different levels of thought that are very clearly delineated and differentiated. This culture which, I mean . . . and it’s not the only culture that did, but it’s a culture that’s been having this conversation for millennia. And this culture more or less found that to tap into our subtle anatomy, to tap into our potentiality, certain habits help, and to not do those habits doesn’t help to the point of it actually gets in the way of making certain more subtle, more connected, more enlightened, more fantastic experiences impossible.

That’s to me, where it gets fascinating, right? It’s like, yes, don’t worry about the cultural stuff. You don’t have to put turmeric on all your food, although it will help with inflammation. You don’t have to do that thing, like you don’t have to put a dot on your forehead or wear a sari. It’s so much more of, what is the part that’s enticing, of how you want to design your tomorrows?

TS: What was happening in your life, Cate, when you were introduced to yoga and Ayurveda and fell in love with those sister disciplines?

CS: Yes, I was leaving the world of international environmental politics and policy. I had been on that path since age about 16 and I’m a pretty hardcore seeker. I’m a pretty hardcore person in general and so I was very involved as an activist, it was a . . . going into policy work. I was at the time leaving Washington DC where I’d been involved in policy work and before DC, I was in China really looking at international environmental issues from a global standpoint in which China had to do with everything. I came to a point of . . . and it wasn’t a new concept, but it was just a point of where I realized that on the policy side, we were trying to affect human behavior and it might not for me be the right access point.

If I could just go from more of a place of how do we actually shift human consciousness, that that would affect human behavior and then we wouldn’t need the policies so much. Again, this is like young adult, big-picture thinking and I then went into . . . I actually had a background in Chinese, a little bit in language and then a lot more in policy and economics, a bit in Taoism and I had to make this fundamental shift as a young adult of like OK, I’ve got much more a fit in China than I do in India, in Chinese thought and Chinese medicine, and Taoism, the whole kit and caboodle of it, then I do at all in, in yoga, in Sanskrit and India.

But what I kept coming to in my research of what’s to study next and how to really get into this human . . . how do we change human behavior from the most conscious stand point? I fell in love with Ayurveda because it was so “the people’s medicine” and that’s a phrase I’m borrowing from Melanie Sachs who’s written a number of books on Ayurveda and self-care. This idea of the people’s medicine, that this is an accessible, grounded in the five elements, very easy to understand, very easy to get a hit of and be able to say like, “Oh, OK, yes, this really makes sense.” It’s just a little bit to me more easy and accessible than the Chinese medicine and Taoism. And that was more or less my choice, and then I went straight in, without looking back.

TS: OK, I can’t believe I’m going to ask one more question about, you guessed it, P-O-O-P but it does sound like this is a big problem for many, many people. It’s not actually a big problem for me which is the point I’m about to make but I do know it’s a big problem for many people which is a sign of our lack of body thriving but what’s wrong with waking up and having a beautiful cup of coffee, instead of a quart of hot water? What’s the problem?

CS: It’s interesting . . . Well, I know, I mean, it’s interesting, the body’s water, right? It’s mostly made out of water. If you take the . . . however many pounds you weigh the majority of that is water. And you simply start the day with water. You’re starting with a friendly action towards your body, like your body is not going to need to filter . . . if it’s good pure water, it’s not going to need to filter anything out, it’s simply receiving. We’re starting in a day that . . . in a way that helps our body thrive. In that . . . just from the get go, I’m befriending my body. I’m not asking my body to do something for my mind or from my emotional body.

TS: It’s a good point. It’s a very good point, it’s a very good point.

CS: Yes, so just a sense of like, can I just do myself a little bit of a favor, start up on the right foot. For some people, just starting with a few deep breaths, starting with a sip or two of water and just building, again, a micro-habit. That’s a great way to go and then eventually what starts to happen is you start to crave what’s good for you. As long as you build up slowly, one small step at a time. Soon, your body will be like, “Actually I need another cup to go poop,” and you’ll start to know your body better.

For some of us who are really dehydrated, we might actually start to notice like, “Wow, I’m eating a lot of salty, dry, crunchy foods and no wonder I’m having trouble pooping because the food that’s going in my mouth needs more water to . . . basically become a poop that comes out of my body.” Again, we start to just tap into, “Oh right, caffeine is dehydrating.” If we ended the night before with alcohol, alcohol is also dehydrating, meaning it’s actually pulling a lot of fluids from your body and it’s affecting your . . . it’s affecting the balance of the minerals in your body, your calcium, your magnesium has to rebalance after caffeine or alcohol. I’m not saying like I never drink coffee but just like hey, get that . . . you can start with a friendly gesture.

TS: I think that’s very, very powerful and your comment about not looking to ourselves that our body is going to support this mental activity and you drink coffee and you’re all activated, ready to hit the workday, but that’s a different mindset.

CS: Well, and so many people are trying to meditate, right? I mean, I know you’ve talked eons about this, and it’s interesting some of the studies that have been done around meditation and caffeine, basically show that it’s much better to not have caffeine, especially if you’re trying to access the energy of the absolute, or just the presence, the backdrop, the ground of being, whatever you want to call it, the divine, to just start with water and then just sit for a moment, it’s the path. It’s the way. There’s good science that shows that . . . it’s more accessible than having caffeine and then sitting. There’s a lot of, I think, just different ways to get in to how do I want to live this stage.

Do I want to be hydrated, what are some of the advantages of being very deeply hydrated? Well, one of the ways you know you’re hydrated is that you have good elimination in the morning. Other things that we see all the time now is just people’s headaches. Just simply having headaches, having dry skin, having dry mouth. There’s so many things that are tapped into sudden levels of dehydration. Insomnia is connected to dehydration. Again, if we’re not that hydrated, it’s just an easy win. Hydrate, then have some caffeine, but you might notice after the caffeine like, “Oh wow, I need a little bit more water.”

TS: OK, now, we’re going to move relatively quickly over the fourth and fifth habit because I want to get to the sixth. So the fourth one you write about in Body Thrive is “bestir the breath body,” and you address the importance of exercise. And number five, “fuel yourself with a plant-based diet,” and I think people have heard a lot about that recently but then we get to number six, “self-massage your body.” I don’t think most people think of like a basic health habit is self-massage. Talk to me about self-massage.

CS: Self-massage, and whenever I’m listening, you can just do it while we’re talking about it and this might look weird here with other people, so you can do it subtly but start to massage your leg and just notice how you can receive a lot of information. It’s interesting, you’re noticing to some degree what’s the ratio between muscle and fat and this quick check in of that . . . you’re getting your hands as connected to your skin or connected to your skin through your clothing, to your muscle tissue, to your fat tissue. You’re starting to create more of a matter over mind experience. Most of us are living from a mind over matter. If there’s one question that holistic practitioners are asked the most it’s, “What should I eat?”

It’s a question of what should I eat, it’s like, well, you intuitively really should know what to eat, right? Your body should be just saying like, “Hey, that avocado looks really good today,” or, “That pomegranate is super shiny.” There’s a level of natural intelligence that we all have, but because we’ve been programmed in school, into mind over matter and being told what to think about food, being told what to think about calories, being told what to think about, should we be on keto, should we be raw, should we be vegan, should we . . . I mean, it just goes on and on and on, right? There’s so much mind—in yoga or Ayurveda, we would say the mind, the manomaya kosha, the mind layer is overdeveloped.

The energy layer, the Prana layer, the pranamaya kosha is underdeveloped and the physical body, the annamaya kosha, is also underdeveloped. The mind over matter has very real consequences on, not just our “health” from an absence of disease perspective but on our level of thrive, of just what it feels like to thrive. So if we can move deeper into our bodies. And part of that is just simply with our hands just touching our bodies is insanely therapeutic. We start to reorganize ourselves. We start to actually be able to sculpt and shape our bodies. I’ll give an example.

Yesterday (I spend some time in Mexico each year), I was at the beach yesterday with my daughter and her friends, and they were playing, and I was sitting right where the water hits the sand. I was in the sand and I’ve been editing my next book, and I’ve been doing just a lot of work lately. A lot of computer work, just very full in my life. I was noticing that sense and I think everyone can relate of when you’ve just been working a little too hard, and you’re feeling an accumulation of mental work and I wanted to release that accumulation. I didn’t want that to build up. Because if it were to continue to build up through the day and have trouble sleeping, I wouldn’t rest as deeply, today wouldn’t have been as good as a day.

I sat on the beach, and there’s sand on the beach, so I’m taking the sand and I’m just massaging the sand into my skin as I’m sitting in a yoga post called Dandasana. It’s a sitting pose where your legs are straight and your torso is straight up, so legs are straight out, you’re like a big L. I’m sitting there in a big L and I’m massaging my legs at with my hands in the sand and I start to notice I can exhale more deeply. Exhaling more deeply is one of the most basic signs that energy is starting to go down. It’s going from the head, down towards the root chakra or down towards the pelvis.

As I’m exhaling and feeling better and feeling matter, and feeling that the matter is starting to be just as present as the mind, and actually the mind is starting to let go of the stress, the work, the build up of all that mental energy is starting to release. And as I’m doing this, I’m just noticing like I could just feel, I’m going to sleep so great tonight and so many people have sleep issues. So many people can’t sleep through the night, if you just think of like, “Wow, what if I were just to do a one-minute foot massage before I go to bed, might I sleep 10% better from doing a one-minute foot massage before bed?” And that’s really where it begins, is we just start to get again, more matter in balance with mind.

TS: Any tips on how to give yourself a good self-massage?

CS: Yes, I mean, it’s really, “Don’t overthink it”. There’s a lot from . . . I feel like I’m like the most . . . I’m like the Ayurveda hack in a lot of ways. And the reason is because I feel like sometimes traditions make things too hard. And so this whole idea of using oil, which is the traditional way to do self-massage, for many of us, it’s just too hard, to have oil and then have oily towels and then . . . So simply just starting with your hands on your body so when you’re changing from your . . . there’s a lot of different ways to do it. At the end of the day, if you don’t shower at the end of the day, if you just simply take off one set of clothes and put on your pajamas, take a moment and just simply rub your hands all over your body.

Don’t overthink it. Let your hands start, just touch your skin and just start to notice what you notice. Start to notice the parts of your body where your body is saying like, “More, yes, please, there, now,” and then do not . . . and honestly set your timer for one minute, maybe two at the most, just to develop a very tiny habit that you can do, that’s doable, that starts to get you into the rhythm of, “Wow, my hands can heal. My hands can heal me.” When we start to have that relationship with our hands, we start to empower the intelligence that’s intrinsic between our hands and the rest of our body.

We start to wake up this natural intelligence. You’ll start to know what to do next. You’ll also be a lot more receptive to other tips of like, you could use oil later in the game, or you could learn a little bit about the different ways to direct energy, or the different pressure points or marma points as they’re called in Sanskrit and you could become more sophisticated, but it all just starts with pass your hands over your body.

TS: As you’re talking about these 10 habits that help our bodies thrive, they are simple, they are intuitive, they are natural, and what I’m reflecting on is, well, why don’t we do them? And it seems that there’s a value system that many of us have bought into. Some type of value system of , “I need to work at night” or, “I have to be more productive,” or, “I don’t have time—two minutes—to give myself a massage,” something like that. What do you think about it in terms of like switching our value system from the cultural norm to what these habits actually illustrate, embody?

CS: Yes. I mean, the question that comes to me . . . and it’s true, like there’s . . . Actually, one of the spectrums of human development is based on what we value and it’s very measurable that as we enter different levels of conscious development, we enter different levels of consciousness that are . . . there’s different value differentials on that. And so, yes, cultural, we’ve already described how like culture often doesn’t have our values but it affects our actions, it affects our habits.

I just want to ask everybody who’s partaking in this conversation right now, “What do you value, what kind of relationship do you want with your body? How do you want to age? What do you want your body to feel like in a year, in a decade, and in two decades?” One of the things that I hear so much from people who start adopting these habits even later in life, even in their 60s, 70s, 80s is they start to feel better. They start to feel better immediately and they start to feel exponentially better as these habits start to become automated or automatic or happen without making a choice consciously, to do it because they’re simply in sync.

TS: Well, it’s interesting that you bring up the aging point because I do think that people can get away with not having some of these habits be the way they live their life when you’re in your 20s and 30s, maybe even 40s but it catches up to you. It’s one of the points you make about habits. I think it’s a really important one.

CS: Yes, but I also want to point out that it’s catching up with us culturally. There’s a lot of sick kids out there, and there’s a lot of kids that are not getting the kind of sleep that they need. There’s an increase in medication of juveniles every year. And so if we look at this, it’s like I’m not sure who’s getting away with anything anymore. More and more and it’s scary, right, like we’re more apt as a culture to put a child on a medication than we are to help that child be rested and hydrated.

TS: Yes, you’re making a really important point. OK, now, I want to keep going because I want to make sure that we talk about the ninth and tenth habit that you write about in Body Thrive. The seventh, we’re going to just breeze over, here, which is the value of sitting in silence. We’ve touched on that briefly. Number eight, you talk about eating, healthier eating guidelines and I’ll let people buy Body Thrive and read what all of those healthier eating guidelines are. But then number nine I thought was really intriguing, and something I hadn’t really thought of, the way you described it. You called the chapter, Come To Your Senses and it’s about actually caring for our sense organs. Talk some about that.

CS: Yes, I will, and so we can do it in real time too, just wherever you are listening, just to look out—if there’s a window, look out the window. If you’re looking at a screen, look away from the screen for a moment and if there’s a plant in the room all the better, but if not just let your gaze soften and let your eyes start to soften and recede away from the surface so they’ll move more towards the center of your skull. Away from the outside and more towards the inside. I was trained in Iyengar yoga, that was the first yoga tradition that I was trained in, and one of the key instructions in Iyengar yoga was to relax the eyeballs back into the sockets.

I mean, it took me I think a couple of years to figure what the heck, how to do that, while standing and twisting on one leg. It brings up a core point in Ayurveda and yogic philosophy, which is that the way we experience reality is utterly tied up in our senses. If our senses are overused or misused or abused, it will affect our consciousness, it will affect what we think about. It will also affect our cellular body experience. In yoga and Ayurveda, the traditions themselves put a lot of emphasis on attuning the senses, and attuning the senses over the stages of life and the different phases of aging, what happens is as we become aware of like . . . even just in this moment as everyone is allowing your eyes to relax a little more, you might just simply notice if you’ve been straining your eyes or if you’ve been straining any of your senses.

We often wake up, too, to that some senses are maybe overused and some senses are underused, a lot of people now aren’t cooking anymore. We’re not preparing our own foods, we’re often eating prepared foods or we’re eating out. And in the process of cooking, there’s a lot of smells and it’s a way that we actually historically self-medicate, and I mean that in the highest best possible sense, like we’re able to simply adjust. “Oh I need a little bit more cinnamon today.” We might not be thinking, again, it might not be matter undermined, it might be mind over matter.

We’re not thinking, “Oh, cinnamon is going to increase my circulation and improve my blood flow,” or experience better warmth in my body as it’s a heating herb . . . we might just simply be, “more cinnamon,” like the cinnamon smells good, “Oh, where’s the cardamom?” I’m like, put a sprinkle of that. I’m designing the digestibility of the food, but I’m also waking up my sense of smell. And smell is connected to earth element each of the five senses is connected to one of the five elements, so earth element is grounding. It’s relaxing. There’s a sense of aliveness and earthiness and OKness that all is wrapped up in that earth element sense of smell.

Again if we’re not cooking, if we’re not using our sense of smell the way it’s been used historically by our body to self-regulate, to self medicate, there’s just going to be a little bit less delight in our life. And so we might find ourselves internet shopping or trying to find delight in other ways that aren’t really as simple and easy and as deeply fulfilling. The sense organ self-care it’s all in there to help, again, remind people that your senses are how you experience the world and one of the causes of disease in Ayurveda is this misuse, overuse, abuse of the senses and just to wake people up to, “Wow, there’s a lot of easy wins in there, and wow, I can really design a much more sensual experience for myself and when I do, I wake up to new levels of delight.”

TS: I love it. Beautiful. OK, your tenth habit in Body Thrive is something that I never really thought of as a habit in the same way that the other nine feel to me like habits. This one, I said, huh! Live in ease. How do you make living in ease a habit?

CS: Yes. I just want to say Tami, it eluded me too, at first. Actually the Body Thrive had . . . I hadn’t even written the book when I was teaching the yoga health coaches around the world, how to teach these habits in their communities and I at first thought, it was nine habits and easeful living wasn’t . . . it wasn’t in there. What happened was over the course—that was in the beta program and over the course of the year, I started to have this sense that we were missing something, that it was too hard. We were approaching it too much like a to-do list and in yoga this would come from dualistic thinking, that part of yoga philosophy, part of all, of just human developmental, evolutional philosophy is that they go through, a phase of conformist where you have these to-do lists.

There’s something that was so far beyond that and important to recognize as something we have a choice about. To me, a habit is something that we can control. It’s a choice point. And so today, we have more and more people identifying as having a stressful life and having increased levels of stress. We have the same stats with kids or with the next generation. That stress is a real thing. So the opposite of stress is ease. In the yogic tradition they say that ease is our birthright. Ease is part of being. When we meditate, we feel at ease. The backdrop of every moment is ease, it’s not stress. It’s OK, it’s all right.

There’s room, there’s space, there’s deep time. If we can remember that, if we can live from that and in yoga and other teaching, many people maybe familiar with and studied yoga or any wisdom tradition deeply as the back body of . . . or the universal that there’s a space of interconnectivity that’s behind every moment and if we’re aware of that, if we’re in that, then whatever is presenting in the front body, whatever is in front of us, whatever is more in our individual experience, would have a different perspective coming from a different angle to it. And so we can be in stress, but if we’re actually orienting from ease, we’re much more able to handle the stress that’s arising.

TS: Can you describe, Cate, how you connect with your back body, what you do to do that?

CS: Yes, I’d love to and actually we already did a little bit, when we relaxed our eyes, that was a movement from the individual, the front body into the universal or back body, and so we can do that same . . . that same little micro-experiment together, just by simply leaning back. If you’re sitting or lying down, just allow your awareness to move more into the backside. It’s also connected to the exhale, so simply allowing the exhale to be a little bit more relaxed, a little bit more spacious. For many of us just simply having a moment, just taking a moment and leaning back and feeling, even imagining if it’s not accessible as the feeling. Imagining that you’re supported.

That your life is supported by the life force itself. The force that created you. That you’re supported from the back side. Some teachers described it as like a pillow that’s behind you, that’s always supporting you and if you simply just allow it to take on some of the burden, to simply receive you, that can help you relax a little and feel more of that ease. That’s always . . . it’s always been just a question of receiving it.

TS: Is there something that really just kind of is the thing that trips your switches and puts you into a stress mode, and do you have a go-to move for returning to living in ease that you use when that happens?

CS: I’m laughing because it’s like my . . . I’m in Mexico and trying to run a company and do a podcast with you. I’m like connected via internet and so when my internet doesn’t work and today, I have like a double . . . my double back-up system failed so I was driving around in the car to be able to connect and have this conversation with you, Tami who I’ve . . . you’re my hero, you’re my heroine, you’ve been my role model now for over 20 years. This conversation is really, really important to me. And I couldn’t get internet. Yes, right, like we all get . . .

TS: Often technology things are the things that can trip a lot of people up, I found. But yes, anyway, that’s one. It bothers me or if my car doesn’t work or something, I’m like, “Aaah!” suddenly, but anyway, go ahead.

CS: Yes. Yes. For me, the deep time, deep space perspective because I can also assume and for many of us . . . and we’ve just done a few practices that get us more matter over mind. We can actually even use the mind and just get the mind to tap into a much bigger reality than the little issue in front of us. I did this today when I realized that the co-work space where we have fiber that it was not going to work . . . I immediately backed myself up into . . . in the history of the cosmos, right, like yes, this conversation . . . I’d really like to have this coversation, but like in the history of the cosmos, this doesn’t matter. Just in that, all of a sudden, my brain gets more oxygen and I’m able to problem solve. And so we were able to have a conversation and relatively on time.

Simply just doing that like, “Wow, in the history of the cosmos,” right, or just asking yourself to feel into how old our planet is, how old our solar system, our milky way, our galaxy, our galaxy among galaxies . . . And what happens right there, is you’re now going from time right into space and you start to feel the enormousness of it all and the smallness of yourself. And all of a sudden, there’s just actually a little bit more space, there’s a little bit more room to breathe in a little more room to breathe, there’s a little more oxygen. Everything is going to function a little bit better. There’s a sense that you can exhale. There’s enough room in the universe to breathe, and now you can kind of go about problem solving in just a more functional way.

TS: Well, it’s really interesting that you have this tenth habit of living with ease, because sometimes I notice when people have . . . there’s so many checklists and there’s so much to do and I think, “Yes, all these things would be good for me but I’m so over-checklisted.” You know what I mean, “I already have so much going on, now, I’ve got all these things I need to do for my health. There’s not enough time in the day.” But when you just put the pillow behind me and said, “You can lean back and live in ease,” I noticed this tremendous sense of relaxation and happiness.

CS: Yes. What I’d like to tell the people as they’re learning Body Thrive is you can fall back into these habits. These habits are you. They’re not separate from your biological and psychological history as a Homo sapiens. What happens when you shift your perspective to like, I need to effort to this and you actually reposition to . . . I could actually relax into the natural flow, like my body naturally gets tired and I . . . my body naturally craves water, my body naturally desires to move. There’s such interesting studies and I know we kind of blipped over a bit on the breath-body practices but the part of moving frequently, it’s really . . .

There’s some such fascinating studies around sedentary disease right now, that shows . . . that if you’re sitting more than four hours consecutively, like your chance of chronic disease skyrockets. It doesn’t gently increase, it skyrockets. And so just getting that, like you’re naturally able to fall into . . . it’s a gravitational release into rhythm.

TS: Now, the last point, Cate, that I really want you to talk about is this idea that as our body thrives more and more, we have the opportunity to discover what the yogis call the “bliss body.” I’d like to know from your own experience what the bliss body is like.

CS: Yes, I’m laughing because this morning, when I sat to meditate, I had a brief internal conversation before the practice about what I was going to do. In non-yoga traditions the whole bliss body can actually trip up . . . can trip up practices that are a little bit more serious because it’s so delightful. Being has . . . the word is ananda. The word bliss is ananda and beingness has a sheath around it of what is called a kosha, a sheath and it’s like a knife has a sheath. In the yogic philosophy, the sheath that’s closest to beingness or to, if we were to get distilled into what we absolutely are without question, it’s that beingness and so the next sheath around that, which is unnamable, that we are, is ananda.

Is this bliss, is this undulating, scintillating feeling of . . . to me it’s this yumminess, it’s the interconnectivity. And then beyond that is intuition, beyond that is the mind, beyond that is the pranic body or energy body and beyond that is the physical body, so there’s these outward moving sheaths or encapsulating circles, or a knife with five different pieces of leather around it. That one that’s closest to the knife is this bliss. And in easeful living, it’s a reminder, too, as a habit, it’s a reminder especially to those of us who are on a path of awakening, to seat our awareness in this field of support, of being relaxed and of tapping into this pulsation.

The way to feel that pulsation is just the . . . obviously like the most simply inhale and exhale. If everyone listening can relax into the rhythm of your breath and just notice if it feels good, if it simply feels good on the cellular level to inhale and notice how your body expands. And as you exhale again without effort, without mind, just noticing how you contract.

For anyone who’s spent time around babies, you notice how there’s just a relaxation of the baby where their whole body is actually in sync with the breath. Their whole body naturally expands and naturally contracts, whereas if someone has deep-seated anxiety often the breath is really limited into the upper lobes of the lungs. The whole body is rigid, the whole rest of the body is rigid and there’s just this like this little teeny tiny pulsating happening in the lobes of lungs, upper lobes of the lungs. Just that for . . . shifting from anxiety, if anyone listening and you’re just noticing like, “Oh, I am a little bit contracted or anxious or not easeful,” to allow yourself to—and you might need to do this lying down, to just—and you might to do it lying down on your belly, because that is the most supported position for the nervous system—is to just simply tune your awareness to does it feel good to just inhale, expand, exhale, contract?

With the yogis, we call it “gross level” like that’s kind of where it all begins and then there’s increasing levels of subtlety, there’s increasing, if you will, planes of access to even greater experiences of subtle body awareness.

TS: It seems like it’s very healing to spend time breathing in the bliss body.

CS: Yes. It really is. And I mean, to me, when we talk about the people’s medicine, and the power of Ayurveda—and those who don’t know Ayurveda, it means the science of life. So there’s nothing to me actually intrinsically Indian about it or culturally Indian about it, which might sound totally sacrilegious especially if you’re Indian. I mean, to me it’s just like this tapping into human consciousness and planetary awareness. These parts and parcels of our consciousness that we all have, we all . . . and in any culture, in any time there’s sense of like, take a deep breath, like just take a step back, take a deep breath, broaden in your perspective. From that place, approach the present moment.

It’s everywhere and it is so healing, especially if we need the healing. If we’ve been out of sync, if we’ve been akrama or out of rhythm for a long time and like I’ve pointed out a number of times, in this show, many people are born, babies are born into an akrama family, into an out of rhythm microcosm, microculture of a family. The deep-seatedness of anxiety, of just not feeling supported by the life force, might take quite a bit of time to unwind and simply knowing that you have the power to lie down on your stomach and self-soothe, self-soothe by simply feeling the breath, and that that’s where it can all really begin.

TS: Now, Cate. Here at the end, you talk about in the book, Body Thrive, how important it is for people to know their why. Why they’re doing this, why they’re making these habit changes. And you say when you’re clear on your why, it’s like you have a rocket in your pocket. And to end, what’s your why for being this yoga healer at large in the world, doing the work that you do. What’s the why underneath it for you, because you certainly have a rocket in your pocket.

CS:I have my dad’s old habit of laughing at my own jokes. Like I said, in that shift from international, environmental politics and policy, I was really from my teen years, quite aware of the dire straits of humans and our planet, the sacred ecosystem, the sacred planet that we share. And my whole perspective is all . . . it has been since becoming more conscious of the team to every day now, I feel like I’m very much here to spread personal and planetary thrive. I’m doing so through my global organization of yoga health coaches who are sharing these habits in their communities both locally and online.

My sense is that there’s just so many easy wins for people with Ayurveda. I just want everyone to recognize, everything we’ve talked about is free. Everything, everything we’ve mentioned in the show is free. You don’t have to buy anything to simply have access into your own personal healing system. When you heal, the more whole, the more thriving, the more resilient you are, the smarter choices you make, the more connected you become to your community, and to your ecosystem. And the more ecosystems are connected the more communities are connected, the healthier whole global community becomes, and our planet becomes as we learn how to take better care. That’s really what’s the end of it.

TS: I’ve been talking to Cate Stillman. You can check out her work at and with Sounds True, she’s published an incredibly useful new book. It’s called Body Thrive: Uplevel Your Body and Your Life with 10 Habits from Ayurveda and Yoga. And Cate, I’ve never talked about poop so much in public. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for this conversation.

CS: My pleasure.

TS: Thanks for listening to Insights at the Edge produced by Sounds True. At Sounds True, we are dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely accessible. The new Sounds True Foundation exists to remove financial barriers and make sure that people in communities of need have access to transformational tools and teachings. You can find out more at I also want to invite you to our first in-person Sounds True Gathering, which is a fundraiser for the new Sounds True Foundation. Join us and connect with some of your favorite Sounds True authors in the beautiful redwood forests, outside of Santa Cruz.

It’s a three-day experience, filled with learning, inspiration, nature and connection. It’s all happening September 26 through September 29, 2019. To learn more or reserve a ticket, just visit Again, that’s Thanks again for listening, and I look forward to being with you next time., waking up the world.

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