A Guide to Winter Beauty and Self-Care

With winter comes the holiday season, snow, frigid temperatures, and less daylight. To battle the cold winter months, many of us reach for an extra layer or two to keep warm, while also cranking the thermostat up. However, studies show that seasonal shifts, and what we do to combat them, can affect our skin, emotions, sleep cycles, and more. In this blog, we’ll cover how winter can change your skin and mental health, along with tips to help you lean into self-care given these changes.

Winter and Your Skin

Your skin loves consistency, so when the weather changes, it’s basically like a shock to the system. “Rapid fluctuations in weather can take its toll on our skin as it adjusts to the new environment,” explains dermatologist Joshua Zeichner. “For example, as we shift to winter, temperatures and humidity will drop quickly, so the skin will have to work harder to maintain adequate hydration as cold weather and wind start to kick in.”1

Zeichner also says, “This can lead to cracks in the outer skin layer, loss of hydration, and inflammation — all of which can seriously impact the overall state of your skin health. These symptoms commonly occur due to the skin barrier becoming disturbed during the winter months, which may make your skin more susceptible to irritation and inflammation.”2

Shari Marchbein, a dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine, mentions that, “It’s the sudden switch in weather, coupled with subsequent lifestyle changes people make as it gets cooler, such as taking hot showers and using central heat in homes, that contributes to the aforementioned dryness and inflammation associated with this transitional period.”3

Winter and Your Well-Being

Considering that there’s less daylight during winter, your circadian rhythm may be affected. Your circadian rhythm moderates your sleep and is affected by light. “Typically, it’s easier for people to ‘fall back’ than ‘spring forward’ as we gain an extra hour of sleep. However, that doesn’t mean that the end of daylight savings time is harmless. It can take a week or more for the body to adjust,” says Dr. Camelia Musleh, a neurologist at Sleep Medicine.4

Winter can also cause a sense of dread for many, which could be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). “Almost a fourth of the population deals with an increase in depression during the colder and darker months,” mentions Dr. Matt VanDusen, a clinical director for Delphi Behavioral Health Group. He notes that SAD has been linked to decreases in exposure to natural light and lower levels of vitamin D due to shorter days.5

SAD is commonly characterized by recurrent episodes of depression that mostly occur during the fall and winter months. A few documented symptoms of SAD may include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving, weight gain, and difficulty concentrating.6 It’s recommended that people who experience SAD talk with their healthcare provider to figure out their next steps.

SAD Information

Pictured: Symptoms and causes of SAD    Source: Priory

Tips to Keep You Looking and Feeling Your Best During Winter

The winter months can be tough on both your skin and mental health. Cold temperatures and low humidity levels result in dry air that draws moisture away from the skin, while harsh winter winds and dry indoor heat can lead to cracked and even bleeding skin. Disruptions in your circadian rhythm and symptoms of SAD can make the cold months even more complicated. Here are some tips to keep you looking and feeling your best during winter:

Avoid Hot Showers

A nice steamy shower in cold temperatures sounds like a great idea on the surface, but it can come at a cost. “Taking a long, hot shower can dry out our skin and lead to itchiness,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, a board-certified dermatologist. “Try to limit your shower time to five to seven minutes and keep the temperature below 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything higher can strip the skin of its essential moisture and deplete the natural protective barrier of your skin.”7

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SPF Is Your BFF (Even In the Winter)

While you likely associate the sun’s damaging rays with summer, the sun comes out even when it’s winter. Beyond that, the sun can also damage your skin when it’s snowing. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, snow reflects up to 80% of the sun’s UV light, meaning that those rays have the potential for double the damage.8

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Add Moisturizing and Anti-Inflammatory Skincare Products to Your Routine

Cooler temperatures can zap the moisture right out of your skin, but eye creams and facial oils are a fantastic remedy to this common cold weather issue. The delicate area under your eyes can suffer during this time of year. Since this area doesn’t contain oil glands, we need eye creams, which are made with vitamins, peptides, and other rescuers; these all help penetrate this thin layer, hydrating and soothing the skin underneath.

Facial oils are a huge help during the colder months, too. “Hydration is really a function of water balance; oils help hold water in and prevent the environment from stripping water out,” Tyler Hollmig, a dermatologist at Stanford Health Care, says. “Oils have also been shown to exhibit significant anti-inflammatory properties which help to soothe irritated skin during winter.”9

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Get Plenty of Rest

While you can’t crawl into a den and hibernate the winter away like a bear, it’s vitally important to get plenty of rest to keep you feeling rejuvenated during the winter months, and it’ll help keep your circadian rhythm in check. Sleep is also the best way to repair and reset the mind.10 You can learn more about better sleep hygiene here.

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BetterYou Sleep SprayThe EWG Verified BetterYou Natural Sleep Spray is a mixture of transdermal magnesium with blended essential oils. It commences absorption immediately when massaged into the skin, helping to promote an overall feeling of well-being and natural relaxation.

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Try Aromatherapy

If you’re dealing with symptoms of SAD or having trouble sleeping, aromatherapy may help. Essential oils can influence the area of the brain that’s responsible for controlling moods and the body’s internal clock that influences sleep and appetite. You can also combine aromatherapy with other complementary therapies, such as massage and meditation, for extra relaxation and a feeling of serenity.11 

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Laguna Moon Lavender Essential OilResearch in recent years has found that lavender essential oil can help lower blood pressure and ease anxiety, while also regulating hormones to reduce mood swings, sadness, and depression. Laguna Moon’s Lavender Essential Oil is 100% pure and ideal for calming aromatherapy blends, diffusers, and so much more.

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In Conclusion

With colder weather comes changes to your skin and mental health. Symptoms like eczema flare-ups and reddened skin are the tell-tale signs that your skin microbiome is being affected by the winter weather, while feeling anxious, depressed, and fatigued can mean that you may be suffering from SAD or a change in your circadian rhythm. If you’re having trouble with your skin and/or well-being during the winter months, it’s always recommended to try seeing a dermatologist or your local healthcare provider.

Do you have any winter self-care tips and tricks? Let us know in the comments!



References: [1][2][3] [4] [5] [6]  [7],skin%20cancer%20and%20premature%20aging.[8]’re%20Hydrating&text=Oils%20are%20a%20great%20remedy,skin%20looking%20nice%20and%20hydrated. [9] [10] [11]

Managing Stress During The Holiday Season

The holidays can be a time to take a breath, recharge, and reflect on the past twelve months. Ironically, though, the season can be the exact opposite for many people. According to a Healthline survey, 44% of people say that they are stressed during the holidays, with more than 18% reporting that they’re “very stressed.”1 Thankfully, there are ways to ease your stress through the holiday season. In this blog, we’ll explore how and why stress peaks during the holidays and some mindful ways you can reduce stress to be able to enjoy the season with calm and joy.

Exploring Holiday Stress

The American Psychological Association found that more people in the United States find their stress increases rather than decreases during the holiday season for a variety of reasons. Lack of money for gifts, lack of time to shop and cook, and the overwhelming commercialism and hype of the holiday season can all increase the amount of stress felt during the holidays.2

According to a recent survey of 2,000 adults that set out to explore stress and the holiday season, 77% of respondents said they have a hard time relaxing during the holidays and usually end up feeling more stressed and worn down than ever. 56% said that the extra financial strain brought on by the holidays is their biggest source of anxiety.3 

Others frequently mentioned that finding gifts for everyone (48%), stressful family events (35%), and putting up decorations (29%) led to their anxiety. All in all, 88% of respondents believe the holidays are the most stressful time of the year with 84% saying excessive feelings of stress start as early as November.4

Two in five respondents say they would rather stand in line at the DMV than deal with holiday stress. Similarly, one in five would rather sit beside a crying child on a long plane ride. Unfortunately, that stress makes it very difficult for many Americans to enjoy the holidays (49%); so much so that a third of respondents said they just don’t find happiness in the holidays anymore.5

Holiday Stress

Pictured: Holiday stress statistics    Source: SWNS Digital

Symptoms of Holiday Stress

For many individuals, the most common symptom of holiday stress is a persistent feeling of sadness that begins during or before the season. This recurring feeling may vary in duration and intensity with some feeling down periodically, but many claim they get small boosts of upbeat emotions throughout the season.

More signs of holiday stress may include:

  • Depressed or irritable mood
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Feeling tense, worried, or anxious
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Feeling more tired than usual

Holiday Stress vs. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Feeling stressed or upset during the holidays can also be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depressive disorder that occurs in seasonal patterns during certain months of the year. Holiday depression and SAD can be difficult to distinguish from one another, but the duration and severity of the symptoms are usually the clues.

Holiday Stress vs. SAD

Pictured: Holiday depression vs. SAD    source: Very Well Mind

If the holiday season passes and you’re still feeling depressed or anxious, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional to determine if what you are experiencing is a more significant mood disorder. Your doctor can assess your symptoms and determine a treatment that’s right for you.

Mindful Tips to Beat Holiday Stress

It’s absolutely possible to not only survive the holiday season but to even thrive and connect to your particular observance in a deeper and more profound way. Here are some of the most common stressors that present themselves this time of the year, along with mindful antidotes to help you enjoy the season:

Overwhelming Time Demands

Around the holidays, your schedule most likely fills up quickly with work and personal get-togethers. These back-to-back parties can often feel overwhelming as you try to juggle them with all of your other commitments. Additionally, you may feel pressed for time as you try to plan a holiday experience your family and friends will love. After all, a lot goes into a party.

Antidote: Treat yourself. You don’t have to say yes to everything. In reality, giving and giving without stopping is not an altruistic notion. Becoming aware of when you need to refuel allows time to re-energize and re-center. Self-care matters; you can treat yourself to a simple bath and a night of delicious takeout to let the holiday stress fade away. 

Expectations of Holiday Perfection

While it’s nice to take the time to create an aesthetically pleasing holiday experience, it’s easy to get caught up in a trap of perfection. Not only does this mindset make the holidays less joyful, but it also can set you up to experience disappointment. It’s important to remember that nothing is perfect; coming to this realization, along with finding your way to deal with it, can determine your well-being.

Antidote: Reflect on the meaning of the holidays. It’s easy to get caught up in the commercial version of what the holiday season means in modern times, but taking the time to reflect on what matters, whether it be tradition, spirituality, or religion, can help you keep your perspective as the year draws to a close. 

Holiday Loneliness

The pressure to please the people you love with gifts during the holiday season is ever-present. Instead of a joyful endeavor, gift-giving can easily become a chore causing many to feel down if they don’t receive something equally meaningful. Additionally, pressure can also manifest as you long to spend the holidays with those you love, creating feelings of loneliness.

Antidote: Donate your time to help those less fortunate. The holidays are a great time to practice the art of compassion and to think of others’ needs ahead of your own. You can use the time to give to and establish meaningful connections with those who may not have as much as you. Giving doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical or monetary gift; it can come in many forms like spending quality time or even a heartfelt message saying ‘I’m thinking of you.’

Stress and Family Anxiety

Family stress shows up in many ways. While there might be real difficulties surrounding the interpersonal dynamics of your family, it’s easy to get caught up in fuelling the fire rather than abating it. Most of the stress and anxiety around family is often anticipatory and based on not-so-pleasant past experiences, combined with the upcoming mix of different personalities. 

Antidote: Engage in gratitude. Take the time to step back and regard all that you have. Gratitude goes a long way when it comes to overall wellness, so, while in the midst of the holiday season tumult, try to re-center by consciously being grateful for the multiple aspects of this season, along with the loved ones that you’re blessed with.

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With the holidays coming up, a lot of us are feeling more stress and sensitivity, and of course, the emotions we feel have a way of showing up on our skin. That’s why we handcrafted the Herban Wisdom® Facial Oil to feel like a soothing sanctuary for weary, worried, vulnerable skin. Just a few drops incorporated into your self-caring ritual helps visibly recharge skin to appear calm and balanced. Here’s to feeling better and holiday cheer! 


How do you practice mindfulness during the holidays? Let us know in the comments.


References: [1] [2] [3][4][5]

Microsteps: Building Habits for a Healthy Life

We know exercise and staying active are great for our health, but it’s easy to opt out of physical activity when we get caught up with deskwork and the daily grind. Thankfully, it’s never too late to evaluate and refresh our routines by incorporating microsteps. Microsteps are little changes that we can make in our habits to help us improve; they are in essence “too small to fail” and easy to incorporate without being overwhelming. In this blog, we’ll explore microsteps and good habits, the importance of physical wellness, along with microsteps you can use to get moving.

Microsteps and Good Habits

One of the best ways to promote a healthy lifestyle is by creating good habits. According to a study from Duke University, around 45% of our everyday actions are made up of habits.1 Our habits, then, are a fundamental reflection of who we are. As Aristotle put it, “Habit’s but a long practice,” which “becomes men’s nature in the end.”

Microsteps are the building blocks of habits, as making small changes can help you build a new and healthier way of living. B.J. Fogg, a behavior change researcher and the director at Stanford University, said: “To create a new habit, you must first simplify the behavior. Make it tiny, even ridiculous; a good tiny behavior is easy to do — and fast.”

Arianna Huffington — celebrated author, political activist, and co-founder of the Huffington Post — has written over a dozen books about why microsteps work and how they’re backed by science. She told The Ladders, “ I personally use microsteps to reduce stress and recenter. It’s about prioritizing your well-being in some small way to set yourself up for success.”

Arianna Huffinton

Pictured: Arianna Huffington    Source: Huffpost

The Importance of Physical Wellness

Physical wellness, in essence, is the ability to maintain a healthy quality of life that allows you to get through your daily activities without undue fatigue or physical stress. Physical activity is just one aspect of physical wellness; it can also include managing stress, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy diet.2

Physical activity, though, is one of the most important things that we can do for our health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.3 Its findings provide more detail on the benefits of physical activity:

  • Physical activity can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease: Exercising reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, the two leading causes of death in the United States. Exercise can also reduce blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.4
  • Physical activity can cut down the risk of some cancers: Research shows that physically active people have a lower risk of colon cancer, and in women, breast cancer. Some research indicates the same for endometrial and lung cancer.5
  • Physical activity can strengthen bones and muscles: Exercise can slow the loss of bone density that comes with age, and may also help with arthritis.6
  • Physical activity can improve mental health and mood: Physical activity keeps thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp. It may also reduce the risk of depression and improve sleep quality.7

Health benefits of physical activity

Pictured: The health benefits of physical activity    Source: CDC

Microsteps to Promote Physical Wellness and Get Moving

Fitness goals can seem truly daunting, as we often view them with certain conditions like following a fad diet or becoming an exercise fanatic. Instead of drastically altering your lifestyle overnight though, research has found that microsteps can yield huge benefits like increased energy, improved sleep, and an overall state of contentment when compared to large changes.8

Here are ten easy microsteps that can get your body more active to promote physical wellness:

Use Your Apple Watch to Track Progress

The average American walks 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day or roughly 1.5 to 2 miles.9 By using your Apple Watch, you can find out how many steps a day you walk as your baseline. Then, you can start small by adding extra steps daily. You can also use an app like Time to Walk, which features personal stories from influential people to inspire Apple Watch users to walk more.

“Walking is the original mindfulness activity, where you get out in nature, you get some fresh air, and you get the dopamine and the endorphins of activity. You look up, you look ahead, and it gives you a chance to open up your thoughts and to be inspired,” Jay Blahnik, senior director of fitness technologies at Apple, said.

Find Your Motivation

Finding ways to increase your motivation is crucial as it allows you to change behaviors, develop competencies, set goals, grow interests, and make plans. Once you commit to making small healthier choices, your larger goals will seem much more achievable. After all, small lifestyle changes can be building blocks for more ambitious health goals.

Here are some strategies to boost your workout motivation:

 Rethink Positive Thinking

Positive thinking enthusiasts have long said that visualizing the benefits of an act or behavior is a wonderful motivational strategy. To do this, for example, you’d think of how the sun feels on your face as you walk through your neighborhood. Or how happy you’d feel when you notice your muscles developing. 

According to Gabriele Oettingen, PhD, a psychologist at New York University and renowned author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation, these feel-good fantasies are only effective when accompanied by more realistic problem-solving methods.

She says that after naming your wish and seeing the outcome, you must identify what’s holding you back. In a study of 51 female students who wanted to eat less junk food, researchers asked each woman to imagine the benefits of nibbling on better foods. Those who identified the trigger that made healthful snacking difficult for them were most successful at sticking to their goal.10

Reward Yourself

We all find motivation in different ways, so if the usual goals of “better health” and “weight control” aren’t doing it for you, try something else. Journalist Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, advises to make the benefits of working out more tangible, such as by treating yourself to a smoothie afterward.

He mentioned creating a neurological “habit loop,” which involves a cue to trigger the behavior (setting out your walking shoes), the routine (walking on the treadmill), and then the reward. “An extrinsic reward is so powerful as your brain can latch on to it and make the link that the behavior is worthwhile,” he explained. “It increases the odds the routine becomes a habit.”

Try a Ten-Minute Workout

If you’re new to working out, start with a ten-minute exercise routine. By exercising for ten minutes with intensity and effort, you’ll be more likely to give your body what it needs to keep adapting, building muscle, and increasing your capacity.11 Here are some steps to follow for an easy ten-minute workout:

Shoulder Rolls

Shoulder RollsStanding or sitting with your feet hip-width apart, slowly roll both of your shoulders forward, up, back, and down. For added intensity, you can hold hand weights down at your sides while performing this exercise. 

Squats or Chair

Squats or chairStanding with your feet hip-width apart, keep your back straight and bend your knees and hips as if to sit down in a chair with your arms out in front of you; for squats, straighten back up and repeat. For added intensity, raise your arms overhead or hold a weight at your chest or shoulders.

Calf Raises

Calf RaisesStanding with your feet hip-width apart, keep your legs straight but not locked as you slowly lift your heels and rise to a tip-toe position, then lower yourself back to the floor. For added intensity, raise one leg while you do calf raises with the other. Try to perform 10 repetitions before switching to the other foot.

Side Bends

Side BendsStanding or sitting with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips or overhead, bend to one side and then return to a standing position. Try to perform at least 10 repetitions before switching to the other side. For added intensity, try to hold a weight at your side or chest level while doing your side bends.


TabletopsStanding with your feet hip-width apart and keeping your back straight, bend forward at your hips until your body is parallel with the floor. Hold for a few seconds on each repetition. For added intensity, hold hand weights to your sides or one weight with both hands at chest level.

Pushups or Plank

Pushups or PlankStanding with your feet hip-width apart, place your hands shoulder-width apart on a stable surface like a wall, desk edge, or stationary chair. Staying in this position, walk backward until your body is at a 45-degree angle with the floor. Hold a few seconds for a plank; bend and straighten at your elbows for pushups. For added intensity, lift one of your legs behind you and hold during pushups or while in a plank position.

Neck Stretch

Neck StretchStanding or sitting with your feet hip-width apart and your shoulders down and back, look straight ahead and tilt your ear toward your shoulder until you feel the stretch. Try to hold this position for about 10 seconds and then repeat on the other side. For added intensity, place your hand on top of your head and apply light pressure to increase your neck stretch.

Sneak In Exercise Throughout Your Day

It’s recommended that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, while also working the major muscle groups at least two days a week.12 If you’re too busy to hit the gym, you can actually boost your physical activity throughout your day with small microsteps.

Here are seven ways to sneak more exercise into your day:

  • Rise and shine — and stretch: Before you start your regular morning routine, do some gentle stretches or follow a yoga video on Youtube. 
  • Take the scenic route: You’ll sneak in more exercise if you ride your bike instead of driving, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther away in the parking lot, or if you get off the bus or subway at an earlier stop and walk the extra distance. It all adds up.
  • Move on your lunch hour: Rather than having lunch at your desk, use your lunch hour to go to the gym, speed walk, or run errands. Eat something healthy while on the go or have lunch at your desk later.
  • Propose walking meetings: Change the pace of your workplace by breaking out of the conference room and doing walking-and-talking meetings instead of the usual sit-down ones.
  • Walk the dog: Not only will you squeeze in more exercise, but your dog will enjoy the extra walking time too. Don’t have a dog? Ask someone in your family, a friend, or neighbor to be your walking buddy.
  • Take advantage of technology: If you tend to get distracted by your daily tasks, set an alarm to remind yourself to get up and move. 
  • Work out around the house: Doing housework can be a great way to get in more physical activity. 

In Conclusion

Micro-steps and mini-goals work because they’re bite-sized milestones, within just enough reach to make you feel good and get you moving. Plus, each time you achieve a miniature milestone, you’ll receive dopamine to your brain as part of your innate reward system. Using microsteps to increase your physical activity daily is an excellent way to promote health, wellness, and an overall sense of accomplishment. You got this!

How do you sneak in physical activity throughout your day? Let us know in the comments!


References: [1] [2] [3],the%20risk%20of%20developing%20CVD. [4],endometrium%2C%20and%20possibly%20pancreatic%20cancer. [5],weights%20%E2%80%93%20can%20also%20strengthen%20bones. [6] [7] [8],a%20day%20every%20two%20weeks. [9] [10] [11],Physical%20Activity%20Guidelines%20for%20Americans. [12]

Achieving Balance With Taoism

Taoism, also spelled Daoism, is a religion and a philosophy from ancient China that has influenced folk and national belief for millennia. Taoism has been connected to the philosopher Lao-Tzu who around 500 B.C.E. is thought to have written the main book of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching. Taoism holds that humans and animals should live in balance with the Tao, or the way of the universe, and that spiritual immortality is where the spirit of the body joins the universe after death. In this blog, we will explore the origins of Taoism and its main concepts, along with the eight immortals of Taoism and a few teachings that can help you navigate life.

Lao-Tzu and the Origins of Taoism


Pictured: Lao-Tzu    Source: Famous Philosophers

The historian Sima Qian (145-86 BCE) told the story of Lao-Tzu, a curator at the Royal Library in the state of Chu, who was a philosopher. Lao-Tzu believed in the harmony of all things and that people could live easily together if they only considered each other’s feelings and recognized that their self-interest was not always in the interest of others. 

Lao-Tzu grew impatient with the corruption he saw within people and in the government, so he decided to go into exile. As Lao-Tzu was leaving China, a gatekeeper, Yin Hsi, recognized him and asked him to write a book before he left. Lao-Tzu sat down on a rock beside the gatekeeper and wrote the Tao Te Ching, which translates to The Book of the Way.

Lao-Tzu stopped writing when he felt he was finished, handed the book to Yin Hsi, and vanished, never to be seen again. The Tao Te Ching is not looked at as scripture in Taoism; instead, it’s seen as a book of poetry presenting the simple way of living life at peace with one’s self, others, and the world of changes. 

While the author is traditionally believed to be Lao-Tzu, some question his hand in the book as there is little evidence that Lao-Tzu existed. Some believe instead that the Tao Te Ching is a gathering of earlier sayings from many authors. However, Lao-Tzu is sometimes understood as the image of the Tao and given legendary status.

Tao Te ChingPictured: Tao Te Ching    Source: The Flerlage Twins

A Breakdown of Taoism

Taoism is a Chinese philosophy that developed from the folk religion of the people primarily in the rural areas of China; it became the official religion of the country under the Tang Dynasty. Taoism is therefore both a philosophy and a religion.

Taoism has provided an alternative to the Confucian tradition in China, coexisting in the country, regions, and even within the same individual. In Taoism, Confucian gods are seen as manifestations of the one Tao, which is not represented as an image or a particular thing.

The concept of a personified deity who created the universe is foreign to Taoists. This results in their form of prayer being different than Christian religions. Instead, they seek answers to life’s problems through inner meditation and outer observation.

Some of the basic tenets of Taoism are the following:

  • Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking.
  • One should plan in advance and consider carefully each action before making it.
  • Taoists follow the art of “wu wei,” which is to let nature take its course. For example, one should allow a river to flow towards the sea unimpeded; do not erect a dam that would interfere with its natural flow.
  • Taoists strongly promote health and vitality.
  • The five main organs and orifices of the body correspond to the five elements: water, fire, wood, metal, and earth.
  • Development of virtue is one’s chief task. The Three Jewels to be sought are compassion, moderation, and humility.

A Look at Wu Wei in Taoism

In Chinese, wu wei translates to “non-doing or doing nothing;” this concept is key to the noblest kind of action, according to the philosophy of Taoism, and is at the heart of what it means to follow the Tao.

According to the Tao Te Ching: “The Tao never acts yet nothing is left undone.” This is the paradox of wu wei; it doesn’t mean not acting, it means “effortless action” or “actionless action.” Simply put, this means being in a state of peace while engaged in even the most frantic task can allow one to carry it out with maximum skill and efficiency.

The meaning of wu wei is captured when we talk of being “in the zone,” or at one with what we are doing and in a state of flow. It’s also closely connected to the Taoist reverence for the natural world, for it means striving to make our behavior as spontaneous and inevitable as certain natural processes. 

Wu wei involves letting go of thoughts or ideals that we may otherwise try to force too violently onto things. Instead, it invites us to respond to the true demands of situations by putting our ego-driven plans aside. What can follow is a loss of self-consciousness; a new unity between the self and its environment. This change in state unleashes energy that’s normally held back by an overly aggressive, willful style of thinking.

The Tao Te Ching points out that to achieve wu wei we should be like water, which is “submissive and weak and yet which can’t be surpassed for attacking what is hard and strong.” Through gentle persistence and compliance with the specific shape of a problem, an obstacle can be worked around and gradually eroded.

Yin and Yang in Taoism

Taoism’s purpose is to assist individuals in experiencing their essential nature as inseparable from that of the cosmos and to be part of the flow of life. An important first step toward attaining this experience of interconnectedness is by learning to recognize and align ourselves with the movement of life itself, which can be achieved through an understanding of Yin and Yang. 

Yin and Yang, the two essential and interdependent energies of life, describe the underlying unity of life through the interplay of two primal forces. Though opposite in nature, Yin and Yang are not diametrically opposed, but rather complementary and relative to one another. 

Yang is characterized as creative, assertive, and light, while Yin is receptive, yielding, and dark. It’s important to note that these attributes are only descriptive and do not carry any moral value. The interaction between Yin and Yang creates all manifestations, and it’s through them that the Tao reveals itself.

Our entire physical reality is based on the interplay of both Yin and Yang energies. Whether it’s the structure of DNA, with its positive and negative strands, the transmission of neurons in our brains, or the makeup of electricity with its positive and negative currents — all of these processes take place because of these two opposing energies. 

The original meaning of the term “Yin-Yang” signified the dark (Yin) and light (Yang) sides of a mountain. Early in the day, the sun would illuminate one part of the mountain while the other side would remain dark. As the sun moved across the sky, it gradually began to light the opposite side while the earlier sunlit face became dark. Light and dark were not static but interacted with one another, defined one another, and actually assumed each other’s roles in the process of change. This describes the interplay of Yin and Yang within Taoism.


Pictured: Yin and Yang characteristics    Source: The Lazy Taoist

The Eight Immortals Of Taoism

For devout believers, a central tenet of Taoism is the idea that adhering to certain beliefs and practices can potentially lead to immortality. It’s unknown just how many Taoist practitioners have achieved immortality, but the founder of Taoism, Lao-Tzu, is thought to be immortal.

The religious tradition of Taoism venerates a group of eight xian, or immortals, who offer a concrete symbol of this ability to transcend the limitations of ordinary human life through the beliefs and practices of Taoism. They serve as mythological archetypes of immortality achieved through practice.

Here’s a breakdown of the eight immortals of Taoism:

  • He Xian Gu: Often considered the only woman among the Immortals. He Xian Gu is usually depicted carrying a lotus flower, which is said to improve one’s mental and physical health.
  • Cao Guo Jiu: As a member of the royal family in the Song Dynasty, Cao Guo Jiu is often shown dressed in official robes and holding a jade tablet. He’s commonly regarded as the patron of actors and the theater.
  • Lan Caihe: Sometimes depicted as a male but other times as a female. Lan Caihe is often shown carrying a bamboo flower basket and a pair of bamboo castanets. They’re known to be eccentric, serving to symbolize a carefree life devoid of the concerns and responsibilities of ordinary life.
  • Lu Dongbin (also spelled Lu Tung Pin): Believed to be a scholar and poet that lived during the Tang Dynasty. Lu Dongbin’s symbol is a magic sword that dispels evil spirits and provides him with invisibility. He’s regarded as a patron deity for highly literate people; some also see him as a champion of the medical profession.
  • Han Xiang Zi: Thought to be related to a Confucian scholar. Han Xiang Zi is often depicted carrying a flute and is regarded as a patron deity of musicians. 
  • Zhang Guo Lao: Lived from approximately the middle of the 7th century into the 8th century, practicing as a Taoist hermit in the mountains of east-central China. Zhang Guo Lao is typically shown seated on a white mule, often facing backward. For Taoists, he is regarded as a protector of children and a patron of wine and the good life.
  • Zhongli Quan: Usually shown with his chest exposed and holding a fan with which he can resurrect the dead and transform stones into precious metals. Zhongli Quan is usually featured with a long beard and a glass of wine.

Left; Zhongli Quan , Top Right; He Xian Gu , Bottom Right; Lan Caihe

Pictured: Left; Zhongli Quan (Three Stars), Top Right; He Xian Gu (Tsingtao), Bottom Right; Lan Caihe (Ferre Beekeeper)

Teachings of Taoism to Help You Navigate Life

In a modern world that never sleeps, anyone could benefit from the simplicity found in Taoism. You can grasp some of its key concepts with a few quotes from Taoism’s most important book, the Tao Te Ching. This wisdom lays a simple framework for achieving harmony, which may help you navigate life with ease.

Simplicity, Compassion, and Patience

“Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.”

The Lesson: Life can get complicated, but sometimes all we need to do is get back to the basics. When feeling overwhelmed, these guidelines present essential rules on how to manage actions, relationships, and self-worth in a few concise sentences.

Letting Go

“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

The Lesson: Many Eastern philosophies remind us of the only true constants in life: change and death. While not an easy thing to do, accepting these facts of life can release you from suffering and bring greater freedom into your life. We must remember to let go, and allow life to take its course.


“Tao engenders One; One engenders Two; Two engenders Three; Three engenders all things. All things carry the Yin (femininity) while embracing the Yang (masculinity). Neutralizing energy brings them into harmony.”

The Lesson: The Chinese concept of Yin and Yang describes nature in dualities with two opposite, complementary, and interdependent forces. In other words, two halves balancing together to make a whole; one aspect increases as the other decreases, and this balance continues as a pattern in nature.

Examining and understanding these patterns in ourselves and around us brings more balance in life. For example, a person that becomes too rigid may break under pressure. Instead, they should try to become softer and more flexible to restore the balance of Yin to Yang.

Going With the Flow

“When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.”

The Lesson: This quote explains the concept of wu wei, uncontrived action or natural non-intervention. In life, rather than fighting against the conditions in our lives, we can allow things to take their natural course. This can also mean that when you don’t know what to do, do nothing. Instead, look inward and outward in your life, ponder the potential courses of action, and only jump at opportunities when you feel ready.

In Conclusion

The Tao Te Ching, a two and half thousand-year text credited to Lao-Tzu and the second most translated book in world literature, forms the basis of Taoism. Gaining knowledge of the main principles of Taoism allows us to cultivate and strengthen our own process of self-exploration, growth, and transformation, and it helps to connect us deeply to our inner nature and to the world around us. 

Which teaching of Taoism resonated the most with you? Let us know in the comments!

An Intro to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a complete medical system that has been used to diagnose, treat, and prevent illnesses for more than 2,000 years. Its basic concept is that a vital force of life, called Qi, surges through the body, and any imbalance to Qi can cause disease and illness. TCM practitioners use treatments that are specific to the individual, such as acupuncture, cupping, or moxibustion, to restore this balance. In this blog, we will explore the great practitioners of TCM, along with Qi and the meridians of the body, and TCM’s use in herbal medicine, food, genetics research, and drug development. 

A Look At Traditional Chinese Medicine

China has one of the world’s oldest medical systems with acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies dating back at least 2,200 years. The earliest known written record of Chinese medicine is the Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic) from the 3rd century BCE, which provided the theoretical concepts for TCM that remain the basis of its practice today.

In essence, TCM healers seek to restore a dynamic balance between two complementary forces, Yin (passive) and Yang (active), which pervade the human body as they do the universe as a whole. According to TCM, a person is healthy when harmony exists between these two forces; illness, on the other hand, results from a breakdown in the equilibrium of Yin and Yang.

Treatments to regain a Yin and Yang balance may include:

  • Acupuncture, which involves the insertion of very thin needles through the skin at strategic points on the body.
  • Moxibustion, which consists of burning dried mugwort on particular points on the body.
  • Cupping, which is a form of alternative medicine in which a local suction is created on the skin with the application of heated cups.
  • Massage, which can help to regulate the flow of energy and blood, increase blood circulation, and relieve body pain and stress.
  • Herbal remedies, which can strengthen organ function and support good health.
  • Movement and concentration exercises, such as tai chi, which include specifically-designed movements to help an individual regain balance.

Cupping, Acupuncture, Moxibustion, Tai Chi Pictured: Cupping; top left (The Thirty), Acupuncture; top right (Forbes), Moxibustion; bottom left (American institute of Alternative Medicine), Tai Chi; bottom right (Britannica)

The Great Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine

The hard work and dedication of various practitioners in ancient China have made an impact on not just Traditional Chinese Medicine, but also Western Medicine. A few great practitioners of TCM to take note of are:

Zhang Zhongjing

Zhang Zhongjing

Pictured: Zhang Zhongjing   Source: The Wandering Cloud ACM

Zhang Zhongjing (150-219 CE), the most famous of China’s physicians, lived during the Eastern Han dynasty and was known for his remarkable medical skill and significant contribution to Traditional Chinese Medicine. He wrote a medical masterpiece entitled Shanghan Lun (Treatise on Cold Damage Diseases). Zhang Zhongjing’s theory and prescriptions, such as moxibustion, acupuncture, and herbal medicine, are still of great medical value and are the standard reference work for TCM.

Hua Tuo

Hua Tuo

Pictured: Hua Tuo    Source: The Epoch Times

Another famous physician of Traditional Chinese Medicine was Hua Tuo (145-208 CE). Hua Tuo developed the use of anesthesia in surgery and further advanced the Chinese’s knowledge of anatomy. He was also the first person to use narcotic drugs in the world, preceding the West by about 1600 to 1700 years.1

Wang Shuhe 

Wang Shuhe

Pictured: Wang Shuhe   Source: The Coltons Point Times

Wang Shuhe (180-270 CE) was a Chinese physician who wrote the Maijing (The Pulse Classics), which is an influential work describing the pulse and its importance in the diagnosis of disease. Wang Shuhe’s contributions to medical science were not limited to sphygmology, though; he also made outstanding contributions to the collation of ancient literature. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qi, and the Meridians

A main aspect of TCM is an understanding of the body’s Qi, which is known as life force and literally translates to “vital breath.” Qi is universal and embraces all manifestations of energy, from the most material aspects of energy, such as the earth beneath your feet, to the most immaterial aspects, such as light and emotion.

Life, it’s said in the Chinese medical classics, is a gathering of Qi. A healthy and happy human being is a dynamic but harmonious mixture of all the aspects of Qi that make up who we are. Qi is in a state of continuous flux, transforming endlessly from one aspect of Qi into another. It’s neither created nor is it ever destroyed; it simply changes in its manifestation.2

Qi flows through invisible meridians, or channels, of the body that connects organs, tissues, veins, nerves, cells, atoms, and consciousness itself. There are 12 major meridians with each connecting to one of the 12 major organs in TCM theory. The meridians are also related to circadian rhythms, seasons, and planetary movements, which create additional invisible networks.

The Meridians

Pictured: The Meridians    Source: Dr. Huong

In acupuncture, for example, very thin needles are inserted into specific areas along the meridians. The needles stimulate the meridians and readjust the flow of Qi to balance the body’s Yin and Yang. While the meridian network can be used to alleviate symptoms, it’s also said that TCM can endow individuals with the ability to change consciousness after treatments.

To learn more about Qi, the meridians, and acupuncture, click here

Traditional Chinese Medicine’s Five Element Theory

Philosophers have questioned the origins of life and the makeup of the universe since prehistory, the time before written records existed. According to some traditions, including TCM, everything in the universe comes from the five elements: wood, fire, earth, water, and metal.

“The five elements are used in pretty much every different style of TCM to some extent to diagnose and differentiate between different illnesses, dysfunctions, and people,” says Tiffany Cruikshank, licensed acupuncturist, experienced registered yoga teacher, and founder of Yoga Medicine.

The elements are all connected; wood feeds fire, fire makes earth, earth creates metal, metal holds water, and water nourishes wood. Each element both controls and is controlled by another element. One element may manifest heavier within us than others, which is where we are strongest, yet most vulnerable.

Each element has unique characteristics and becoming aware of your elemental dominance can help explain the physiology and pathology within your body. Here’s a breakdown of the five elemental types in TCM:

  • A “Wood Personality” is someone who is athletic, energetic, and adventurous. Wood personalities tend to be anxious and angry, and may suffer from orthopedic issues, migraines, or ADD.
  • A “Fire Personality” is someone who is passionate, creative, and authoritative. Fire personalities tend to be impulsive and irritable, and may suffer from insomnia, high blood pressure, chest pains, or headaches.
  • An “Earth Personality” is someone who is nurturing, generous, and caregiving. Earth personalities tend to be worrisome and pensive, and may suffer from abdominal issues or hormonal problems.
  • A “Metal Personality” is someone who is meticulous, honest, and responsible. Metal personalities tend to be melancholy and may suffer from constipation, lung and skin issues, or allergies.
  • A “Water Personality” is an old soul that is known to be wise, reflective, and private. Water personalities tend to be indecisive, fearful, and paranoid, and may suffer from back pain, knee pain, and kidney and bladder infections.

TCM's Five Element TheoryPictured: The Five Element Theory traits and characteristics    Source: Scottsdale Acupuncture

If you want to find out your element type, you can take this quiz

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Herbal Therapy

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbs and herbal formulas are used to strengthen organ function and support good health. TCM practitioners have an understanding of the essence of various herbal components to create a healing effect that goes beyond the chemical composition and physical properties of the herbs to correctly stimulate or adjust the body’s own energy vibration.

Many TCM herbal formulas have been in use for more than 2,200 years, and are composed of ingredients chosen to function in combination with each other. In Western Medicine, medications are commonly prescribed for a specific effect, while in TCM, each herb in a formula has a different purpose or role to help the body achieve harmony. 

For a plant to be included in TCM herbal therapy, each of its parts has to be identified for a different healing purpose. The following are a few of the most used Traditional Chinese Medicinal herbs, along with their benefits:

  • ‌‌‌‌Ginkgo Biloba: Promotes Brain Health and Improved Memory
  • ‌‌‌‌Ginseng (Ren Shen): Offers Immune Support and Improved Bone Strength
  • Turmeric: Possesses Anti-inflammatory, Anti-oxidant, and Digestive Health Properties
  • Astragalus (Huang Qi): Offers Immune Support and Brain Protection
  • Cinnamon: Regulates Blood Sugar and Promotes Dental HealthGinseng; top left. Astragalus; top right (, Turmeric‌‌‌‌; bottom left (Homestead and Chill), Ginkgo Biloba; bottom right

Pictured: Ginseng; top left (Me & Qi), Astragalus; top right (EBAY), Turmeric‌‌‌‌; bottom left (Homestead and Chill), Ginkgo Biloba; bottom right (Indiamart)

Herbs can have effects on the body as powerful as pharmaceutical drugs, which is why you should consult with your doctor before taking part in herbal therapy. Additionally, you should never abandon your regular medication or alter the dose without the knowledge and approval of your doctor.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Food

Much like herbs, TCM views the healing properties of foods in the same way; different foods carry different energies that can go directly to specific organs to help them heal. Food is divided into five natures, called “siQi”: cold, cool, neutral, warm, and hot. The nature of food is not determined by its actual temperature, but rather by what effects it will have on an individual’s body after consumption. 

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, when a person continually eats one type of food, it creates an imbalance in their body and affects their immune system. Thus, one of the keys in Traditional Chinese Medicine is to keep our body “neutral.” Traditional Chinese Medicine also tells us that having food at a moderate temperature is ideal to avoid overstraining the digestive organs.3

TCM Food Chart

Pictured: Traditional Chinese Medicine Food Chart    Source: Pinterest

There’s a saying in TCM: “The five grains provide nourishment. The five vegetables provide filling. The five domestic animals provide enrichment. The five fruits provide support.” This means that a balanced diet, where foods are consumed in appropriate combinations according to their natures and flavors, serves to supplement the essence that the human body needs.4

Traditional Chinese Medicine, Genetic Research, and Drug Development

Considering the fact that Traditional Chinese Medicine is now an academic discipline in the field of medicine, there are modern developments that are worth taking note of, such as the use of TCM in genetics research.

The Yin and Yang principle can be applied to a genetic disease such as inherited breast cancer and its associated genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. According to this principle of natural law, if either of these genes is activated, somewhere in another part of the genetic code there also exists a gene to fix this action. There must be complementary programs running — one for developing the disease and one for healing it.5

In addition to genetics research, nearly 200 modern medicines have been developed either directly or indirectly from the 7,300 species of plants used in TCM. For example, ephedrine, an alkaloid used to treat asthma, was first isolated from the Chinese herb Ma Huang. Another alkaloid known as huperzine A was isolated from a widely used ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine known as Huperzia serrata, which is a type of fir moss.

Ma Huang; top, Huperzia serrata, bottomPictured: Ma Huang; top (The Plant Attraction), Huperzia serrata, bottom (HSN)

In Conclusion

Even if you aren’t familiar with all of the fundamentals of Traditional Chinese Medicine, you’re probably familiar with some of its practices. Maybe you’ve had an acupuncture session, taken turmeric for arthritis pain, or signed up at the local tai chi studio. Either way, TCM’s popularity has remained consistent throughout the centuries for improving health and wellness when used alongside conventional medical therapies.

What is your TCM elemental type? Have you ever tried a TCM treatment? Let us know in the comments!




References: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]


The Brain-Beauty Connection: A Look at Neuroaesthetics

Neuroaesthetics, an innovative new area of neuroscience research, has the potential to help us understand the ways our brain responds to art. The truth is that aesthetic experiences — and the arts — are hard-wired in all of us; they are evolutionary imperatives, encoded in our DNA as an essential part of our humanity. In addition, they are fundamental to our health, well-being, and learning. In this blog, we will explore the brain’s connection to the arts, along with a few prominent initiatives changing the healthcare world through art therapy.

The Power of the Arts

According to evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, the arts are reinforced in the brain through reward, pleasure, and fear circuitry, which confirms their link to our survival as a species. As they did in our evolutionary past, the arts still serve the same primal function today: to help us to communicate and connect.

In fact, Dennis Dutton, in his book, The Art Instinct, argues that the drive to make art is encoded in our genes, going all the way back to the DNA of our earliest ancestors.

Anthropologist and author Ellen Dissanayake agrees that art has played an essential role in our evolution and ability to adapt. In 1995, she wrote in her book Homo Aestheticus, that self-expression and the creation of art is a basic human need. 

Through her fieldwork, Dissanayake documented this universal artistic impulse in cultures around the world. She found that even those with few material possessions practiced decorating objects, personal adornment, and community song and dance rituals.

From the sacred chanting of Gregorian monks and Native American dance rituals to the present day, the arts have been used as healing tools throughout the ages. However, it’s only over the past 15 years that scientific research has come to the notion that the arts are something humans can’t afford to live without.

Your Brain and the Arts

Aesthetic experiences, and their impact on the mind and body, are much more than the sum of individual brain regions or activities. Sophisticated neural networks are created in your brain to achieve heightened states of connectivity. 

One of the core neural mechanisms at play is the process of perception, by which external stimuli enter the brain through the senses and are processed by the brain’s perceptual systems.  

Eric Kandel, in his book Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures, proposes that the co-mingling of our sensory and cognitive functions dictates perception. Essentially, we take in the world through our senses and make meaning through cognition; this interplay results in an aesthetic experience unique to each specific person.

Neuroaesthetic researchers are also studying the activation of reward systems and the default mode network when viewing or creating art. The reward system releases feel-good brain chemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, which trigger sensations of pleasure and positive emotions. 

In fact, according to The Telegraph, looking at a painting, sculpture, or other artwork increases blood flow to the brain by as much as 10%, which is the equivalent of looking at someone you love.

Still, viewing art isn’t just about making sense of the shapes. Rather than just thinking art is beautiful, we, as humans, want to place ourselves into the artwork. This placement occurs through a process known as embodied cognition, in which mirror neurons in the brain turn things like action, movement, and energy you see in art into actual emotions you can feel.1 

Embodied cognition starts when you look at a piece of art. The more you analyze the piece, the more you place yourself within the scene and can actually feel the quality of the works. For instance, viewers of a drip painting by Jackson Pollock can often feel like they are the ones flinging the paint onto the canvas. 

Drop painting by Jackson Pollock

Pictured: Drip painting by Jackson Pollock   Source: Forbes

However, creating art invigorates the brain in ways that are distinct from merely viewing art. Studies have credited the actual production of visual art with increases in functional connectivity in the brain along with enhanced activation of the visual cortex.2

Researchers compare the process of creating art with exercise for the brain and even suggest that, similar to how physical exercise aids the body, creating art may help to keep the mind sharp and lucid well into old age.3

A Study on the Connection Between Neurology and Art

A study carried out in 2007 by a team of neurologists attempted to answer the question of whether beauty is completely subjective or not. To do this, they showed the volunteers images of Classical and Renaissance sculptures while they were in a magnetic resonance machine.4

The participants were shown the original images, then the same sculptures but with modified proportions. After seeing the photos, the volunteers had to say whether they liked them or not, and then make a judgment on the proportions. 

Example of modified statue

Pictured: An example of the modified proportions of a sculpture   Source: Research Gate

The scientists found that, upon observing the original sculptures, there was an activation of the insular cortex. This region of the brain deals specifically with abstract thinking, decision making, and perception.

When the participants thought the sculptures were beautiful, the right part of the amygdala showed a response, which is the area of the brain that’s crucial in the processing of emotions like satisfaction and fear.5

Brain charts

Pictured: Brain scans show activity when subjects perceive beauty.    Source: Research Gate

The Pioneers of Neuroaesthetics 

In the late 1990s, the study of the intersection of brain sciences and the arts was first coined as “neuroaesthetics” by Semir Zeki, a renowned neuroscientist, and professor at the University College of London. The initial research focused on empirical aesthetics by examining the neural bases underlying how we perceive and judge works of art and aesthetic experiences.

At the University of California, San Diego, neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran developed the “eight laws of artistic experience,” which is based loosely on Buddha’s “eight-fold path” to wisdom and enlightenment. The laws were developed to describe the core neural mechanisms underpinning our enjoyment of visual art.

Ramachandran theorized that tactics employed by visual artists, such as the use of symmetry, balance, and grouping, generate an aesthetic appeal and pleasurable response for which the viewer’s brain is exquisitely wired.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, French neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeux studied the role of emotion and memory in the contemplation of art. He theorized that the experience stimulated a complex mental synthesis allowing us to link forms and figures to a larger meaning.  

Using fMRI, neuroscientists Ed Vessel from the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and Amy Belfi at Missouri University of Science and Technology have added to Changeux’s work by exploring the default mode network’s role in the mental synthesis that ultimately shapes what we find most aesthetically meaningful.

This new wave of research wasn’t just concerned with visual art. In the 1980s, for example,  Robert Zatorre, a cognitive neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, explored the neurological impacts of music. Zatorre believed that understanding how we experience music on a neurological level could lead to a better understanding of the structure and pathways of the brain as a whole. 

“Increasing numbers of investigators are convinced that music can yield valuable information about how the brain works,” Zatorre said in an article published in the journal, Nature. “They believe that the study of the brain and the study of music can be mutually revealing.” 

Zatorre’s work proved that making and listening to music engages functions and networks across the brain, including those involved in memory and learning, reward and pleasure, and emotion. In the case of playing music, it connected pathways from the sections of the brain that deal with senses to the sections that deal with motor skills.

Anjan Chatterjee, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, further defined the experience of art as a trinity of sensation, emotion, and meaning. He proposed that an aesthetic event triggers an emotional response that can result in a sense of deeper personal significance. 

Antonio Damasio, a neurologist studying the neural systems that underlie emotion, decision making, memory, language, and consciousness says, “Joy or sorrow can emerge only after the brain registers physical changes in the body.The brain is constantly receiving signals from the body, registering what is going on inside of us. It then processes the signals in neural maps, which it then compiles in the so-called somatosensory centers. Feelings occur when the maps are read and it becomes apparent that emotional changes have been recorded.”

Neuroaesthetics Continues to Evolve

Today, the field of neuroaesthetics continues to evolve with a growing body of evidence demonstrating the direct impact of the visual arts, architecture, design, digital media, and music on the human brain, biology, and behavior

Cutting-edge brain research is revealing in grand detail how aesthetic experiences enter the brain through the senses and how they profoundly impact our biological circuitry. In fact, scientists can now identify biomarkers that offer measurable ways to characterize changes in the brain. 

Now, when people are creating or experiencing some art forms, wearable sensors and mobile devices are being used to measure changes in breathing, temperature, heart rate, and skin responses. These technologies allow us to capture more accurate information as we engage with the world in real time.

However, there are many issues when it comes to health and wellbeing around the world, and unfortunately, these problems are continuing to worsen. For example, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as mental health disorders such as depression, are straining public health systems.

Neuroaesthetics offers research-based evidence that a variety of arts-based approaches may work to improve quality of life, mobility, mental health, speech, memory, pain, learning, and more. Interventions like these could potentially lower the cost and burden of chronic disease, neurological disorders, and mental health issues for millions of people.

Research-To-Practice Neuroaesthetic Initiatives

A multitude of research-to-practice initiatives have launched around the world, paving the way for a shift from theory to impact. Here’s a deeper look into three prominent neuroaesthetic initiatives:

 Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network

Military Members Use Arts to Heal Trauma

Pictured: A military member painting   Source: Psychology Today

For those in the military, adapting to life at home after the traumas of war can be incredibly difficult. With traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression on the rise in the military, service members and loved ones may find it hard to understand and address these invisible wounds on their own.

Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network is a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It involves a creative arts approach to help heal service members and veterans dealing with war  trauma through writing, music, or art-making, alongside conventional medical treatment.

In a popular TED Talk, Melissa Walker, an art therapist and researcher at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, explained how making art can help service members access pre-language areas of the brain through the use of symbols. She goes on to mention how mask making practices can enable individuals to unlock traumatic experiences by turning nightmares and painful memories into something that can be shared and released.

Clinically, art therapy has been shown to reduce symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and interrupted sleep, and increase tolerance of hyper-vigilance, pain, and stress. In addition, it can help channel aggressive behavior and anger into healthy forms of self-expression, along with reducing the sense of isolation service members may feel when facing combat trauma.

The Creative Forces fully acknowledges that trauma is not limited to service members; it believes that the discovery of cost-effective arts-based interventions is critical to the overall health and wellbeing of the entire world.

You can learn more about Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network here.

Dance for PD

Individuals with PD Dacing

Pictured: Individuals with PD dancing    Source: Mark Morris Dance Group

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder affecting an estimated ten million people worldwide. It causes a host of movement-related symptoms, including tremors, muscle rigidity, slowness, and postural instability. Patients often describe challenges with everyday tasks that require fine motor control, such as writing and buttoning clothing.

As the disease progresses, patients may develop a slow, shuffling gait and experience balance problems. As their mobility decreases, patients may lose their autonomy and self-confidence and suffer cognitive and mood problems, all of which severely impact their overall quality of life.

Programs like Dance for PD are designed to combat both physical and mental sides of the disorder through creativity, social interaction, and “voluntary” movement, cued by music to activate specific brain regions.

In 2001, Olie Westheimer, the founder and executive director of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group, approached the internationally-acclaimed Mark Morris Dance Group proposing the idea of a rigorous, creative dance class for her members. 

Westheimer knew from her own dance background that professional dancers developed cognitive strategies to execute difficult movements with power and grace and wanted to bestow some of that wisdom upon people with PD.

What started as monthly classes for about six people in Brooklyn has evolved into Dance for PD classes in more than 250 communities in 25 countries around the world. The program’s teaching practice is underpinned by evidence from 38 peer-reviewed studies indicating its possible benefits. 

Through Parkinson’s Quality of Life measurements, class participants with Parkinson’s disease reported physical, emotional, and social benefits. In addition, early research shows improvements in motor and cognitive function as well as mood.

You can learn more about Dance for PD here.

Playful Learning Landscapes

A Child Playing a Playful Learning Landscapes Instrument

Pictured: A child playing a Playful Learning Landscapes instrument   Source: Dunham Foundation 

In the United States, children from under-resourced communities enter formal schooling well behind the starting line. It’s been proven that they commonly fall behind their peers in language development, reading readiness, and spatial skills.

While education is known as the great equalizer in closing developmental gaps, the reality is that children only spend 20% of their waking hours in school. The Playful Learning Landscapes initiative is bringing together scientists, urban planners, architects, and educators with the goal of utilizing the other 80% of children’s time through creative placemaking, which is a practice that infuses arts and culture into community spaces to effect social change.

In the Supermarket Speak Project, for example, colorful and engaging signs are posted throughout stores in low income neighborhoods to encourage caregiver-child interactions that center on skills like counting and learning the names of various foods. Pilot research showed a 33% increase in caregiver-child communication.

Supermarket Speak Project Signs

Pictured: Supermarket Speak Project signs   Source: Playful Learning Landscapes

In The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children, published in the journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics, individuals associated with Playful Learning Landscapes touched on the critical importance of play in the development of a child’s executive function and social skills.

“Play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function (ie, the process of learning, rather than the content), which allow us to pursue goals and ignore distractions.”

The authors go on to say that “An increasing societal focus on academic readiness (promulgated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) has led to a focus on structured activities that are designed to promote academic results as early as preschool, with a corresponding decrease in playful learning.”

Playful Learning Landscapes’ mission is to reverse this trend through a variety of branching initiatives, projects, and research. It’s now collaborating with organizations, communities, and cities around the world to create more playful and enriching learning environments for children and families.

You can learn more about Playful Learning Landscapes here.

In Conclusion

The power of the arts has always been with us, but a deeper understanding of its impact on the brain is relatively new. Research is proving that experiencing or creating art sparks a dynamic interplay among brain cells that spearheads billions of changes affecting our thoughts, emotions, and actions, which in turn can promote healing and empowerment. Its potential benefits transcend class, gender, age, race, and culture, making the arts a superpower for all.

What are your thoughts on how our brains connect with the arts? Let us know in the comments!


References: [1] [2] [3] [4][5]

The Ancient Practice of Gua Sha

Gua Sha (pronounced gwa-shah) is a tool, or tools, used to scrape the skin to promote circulation. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) utilized Gua Sha tools thousands of years ago to increase blood circulation and heal the body. Today, the practice continues to evolve into a sought-after addition to people’s beauty regimen to tone and tighten skin. In this blog, we will explore the origins of Gua Sha, its benefits, and the tools and techniques used for this ancient skin practice.

What Is Gua Sha?

Gua Sha is a traditional Eastern and Southeast Asian healing technique in which a smooth, credit-card-sized “board” is pressed along the body’s skin; however, in more recent years, it’s been adapted for the face and neck, as well. The idea behind Gua Sha is that light pressure releases fascial and muscular tension and moves sluggish lymph fluid to tone the face.

Originally, Gua Sha was used to release different aches and pains in the body. For example, in TCM, it was commonly used on the upper back to invigorate blood flow, release heat toxins, stimulate lymphatic drainage, activate various acupressure points of the body, and stimulate an immune response bringing beneficial cells to the area.

Gua Sha works by promoting blood circulation. When you scrape the skin gently on the face or body, you’re stimulating a certain meridian point, which corresponds to an organ in the body that’s responsible for your skin’s overall health. In turn, you’re sending a signal to your body that this area needs more circulation.

The Origins of Gua Sha

Back-view illustration of Gua Sha treatment from Fangyi chuyan (A Modest Proposal for Epidemic Prevention)

Pictured: Back-view illustration of Gua Sha treatment from Fangyi chuyan (A Modest Proposal for Epidemic Prevention)    Source: Gua Sha Massage

With its origins in the treatment of abscesses in the Warring States period (475-221 BCE) of ancient China, Gua Sha has been a mainstay as a folk medicine since antiquity. 

Theories of “sha” disease gradually developed based on the premise that a pathogen was to be cleared and dispersed from the body and this was combined with a scraping technique, initially involving a hemp rope rubbing method using water or sesame oil in the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368 CE).

By the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 CE), the method of scraping had become more precise and expanded towards the entire body. A working framework for the treatment of sha was also developed at this time which enabled a wider application of scraping and included instructions for headaches, numbness of the face, and head shaking.

It was not until the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE) that anything resembling the practice of cosmetic scraping appeared, which was in the form of jade rubbing to treat facial scars. Many of the ideas behind facial Gua Sha have been influenced by traditional Chinese cosmetology, which from the Warring States and Qin and Han Dynasties, came ideas of how the human body and skin color changes are directly related to changes in people’s temperament, age, health, and qi.

Ancient doctors rarely recorded the specific methods, time, and treatment of Gua Sha but in the 20th century with the work of Jiang Jingbo and later Lu Jiru, Gua Sha was reinvigorated and an adapted, modernized style of Gua Sha therapy was promoted.1

The Benefits of Gua Sha

Implementing Gua Sha into your self-care routine may offer these potential benefits:

Gua Sha May Help Reduce Inflammation and Puffiness

Similar to other types of massages, gliding a Gua Sha tool across your face or body can promote microcirculation in your soft tissues, aka blood flow in small blood vessels. This increase in blood flow might help physical symptoms of inflammation like puffiness and swelling.2 The practice may also help lymphatic drainage by moving fluid away from swollen areas.3

Gua Sha May Boost Your Skin’s Collagen Production

Every year, our skin produces 1% less collagen; collagen keeps our skin strong and elastic.. Giving yourself regular Gua Sha facials can help ramp up your skin’s collagen production, thereby reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.4

Gua Sha May Increase the Efficacy of Skincare Topicals

Gua Sha can increase the efficacy of the skincare you’re already using. If you apply your moisturizer or serum and then give yourself a massage, the Gua Sha tools helps push the product deeper into your skin. This can help your serum absorb better and allow you to experience the full benefits of the formula.

Gua Sha Can Alleviate Tech Neck and Other Pains

If you feel the aches and pains from uncomfortable work posture or constant scrolling, a Gua Sha body massage might help. In a small 2014 study involving 60 regular computer users with neck and shoulder pain, researchers found that Gua Sha helped reduce pain and improve range of motion.5 Individuals in a small 2011 study also reported that Gua Sha helped reduce neck pain when compared with people who used heating pads.6

Gua Sha Can Improve Headache and Migraine Symptoms

If you’re dealing with migraines or headaches, Gua Sha might help relieve pain and tension in your head and neck. A 2007 case study of a 72-year-old woman reported that Gua Sha helped relieve migraine symptoms over a 14-day period.7

Gua Sha Can Aid in Muscle Recovery

Gua Sha’s ability to promote blood circulation might also help move the buildup of lactic acid that accumulates from your workouts. In a small 2017 study involving 65 male weightlifters, people who had Gua Sha treatments reported that lifting weights was easier post-treatment. Researchers concluded that Gua Sha might also help speed up muscle recovery and be a potential alternative to other sports recovery methods.8

Gua Sha May Help Tourette Symptoms

Tourette syndrome is a condition that affects the nervous system and causes sudden involuntary movements or sounds. While Gua Sha is not a miracle cure, limited research shows it might help reduce symptoms when combined with other treatments.

A 2017 case study of a 33-year-old man found that a combination of Gua Sha and other therapies appeared to reduce his Tourette syndrome symptoms. 9 

Gua Sha May Help Perimenopausal Symptoms

A small 2017 study involving 80 perimenopausal women found that people who had Gua Sha treatments for 8 weeks experienced fewer symptoms compared with the control group receiving only traditional therapy. 10

Gua Sha Tools

Some of the most common Gua Sha tool shapes are:

The Wand-Shaped Tool

Gua Sha S Shaped Tool

Pictured: Wand Gua Sha tool  Source: Eastern Currents

This long, slender tool has 2 pointy ends that are best to use for specific areas where you want to apply pressure and relieve tension in the body. These areas are primarily in the hands, feet, laterals, back, neck, and shoulders. The challenge with this shape is the limited maneuverability around the face and smaller areas of the body.

If you’re interested in adding this tool to your regime, check out the LEOSENSE Gua Sha Bian Stone Wand Tool.

The Dolphin

Gua Sha Wing or Fin Tool

Pictured: Dolphin Gua Sha tool    Source: DH Gate

This tool shape is one of the most popular and commonly purchased Gua Sha tools available on the market. It’s easy to hold due to its small size and is perfect for contouring different areas of the face including the jawline, nose bridge, chin, and under-eye area.

While the heart-shaped tool is great for the face, neck, and hands, it might be less effective to use in other parts of the body as its edges are not long enough to hold onto, and therefore less workable for applying firmer pressure.

If you’re interested in adding this tool to your regime, check out the MEEKU Gua Sha Stainless Steel Dolphin Tool.

The Spoon Tool

Gua Sha Spoon Tool

Pictured: Spoon Gua Sha tool    Source: Amazon

A Gua Sha spoon is a sculpting tool that helps you target acupressure points along your face and neck to gently release any muscle tension. Its spoon-like shape helps to target smaller areas as well as harder-to-reach areas like those around the nose and eyes.

If you’re interested in adding this tool to your regime, check out the Top Sewing Gua Sha 100% Jade Spoon Tool

The Comb Tool

Gua Sha Comb Tool

Pictured: Comb Gua Sha tool    Source: Amazon

This shape is exactly what it sounds like: a Gua Sha scraper equipped with comb-like prongs. On one side of this tool, you have the classic curved edge, perfect for a facial treatment. On the opposite side, the stone is shaped into a comb so you can give your scalp a nice, deep massage.

If you’re interested in adding this tool to your regime, check out the FORUHEALTH Gua Sha Jade Comb Tool.

Gua Sha Materials

Here’s a look at the most common materials used in Gua Sha:

  • Rose quartz is one of the most popular stones for Gua Sha tools. It’s said to be the stone of compassion, love, and emotional healing. Likewise, it supposedly has calming properties, which makes it ideal for people with sensitive skin and those who suffer from acne, rosacea, or other skin issues. According to some, rose quartz is also the best material for reducing signs of aging. In addition, as a healing stone, it’s used to drain toxins and negativity from the body.
  • Jade is a widely-used stone in the world of Gua Sha. Jade is known for its cooling effect, as well as its ability to balance the body and our inner energies. Similarly, some people claim that it helps relax the nervous system. If you’re looking for a tool that will reduce facial puffiness, jade might be your best bet. Plus, it’s known to promote lymphatic function. 
  • The Bian stone is also lauded for its healing properties. It’s an ancient stone with a wide range of uses, and one of those happens to be Gua Sha. According to certain studies, the Bian stone may help regulate blood pressure. Also, when used in a full-body Gua Sha treatment, it’s ideal for treating lower back pain.
  • Amethyst may help reduce stress and negative energy. Like jade, amethyst is perfect for cooling down the skin. Moreover, some people claim that it fights bacteria and targets the pores. 
  • Clear Quartz is among the rarest of these materials. It’s often referred to as a “master healer.” Many fans believe that it balances the mind, body, and spirit, providing a feeling of calm and clarity. Clear quartz is great for all skin types.

DIY Gua Sha

Once you choose the perfect shape and material, you can start using your Gua Sha tool every day or at least two to three times a week. To prevent any rashes or irritation when doing a Gua Sha massage, make sure to always use a facial oil first.

After using your Gua Sha tool, be sure to clean it with soap and warm water.

Facial Gua Sha: A Step-by-Step Guide

Always begin with your neck to release tension and assist with lymph drainage. Repeat each step three to five times. For a more detailed look at this technique, you can check out this video.

  1. Hold the skin at the base of your neck with your hand that isn’t holding the tool. Using the divot in your tool, use upward strokes, and glide up the cervical spine (the middle of your neck) from the base of your neck to the base of the skull and give it a wiggle. 
  2. Turn your Gua Sha tool to use the long flat edg. Gently glide down the side of your neck next to your shoulder. Hold your skin taut a few inches down from where you are gliding the Gua Sha.
  3. Repeat on the other side of your neck.
  4. Using the divot on your tool, glide up from the center of your collarbone to your chin. Use feather-light pressure.
  5. Choose the side of your face you would like to work on first. Use the divot of the tool to go from the middle of your chin towards the ear along the jawline.
  6. Use the long side of your Gua Sha and hook the tool under the cheekbone drawing out and up towards the ear.
  7. Using light pressure, slowly sweep from the side of your nose, under the eye, out towards the temple
  8. Next, using lighter pressure, going along the brow bone, use the long side of the tool to sweep from the center of the forehead to the temples.
  9. Starting at the space between the eyebrows, stroke up to your hairline. Move over to the right eyebrow and repeat.
  10. Finally, you can scrape from the center of your forehead towards the earlobe and down to your collarbone using a downward motion to help flush your lymphatic system.

The Humanist Beauty Herban Wisdom® Facial Oil Is Perfect For Gua Sha

The Herban Wisdom Facial Oil

The golden rule of Gua Sha is to always apply facial oil before using your stone. You need enough slip so that the tool can easily glide across the contours of your face — without it, you can pull or tug at your delicate skin.

The Humanist Beauty Herban Wisdom® Facial Oil is a high-vibrational facial oil that will compliment your Gua Sha routine perfectly. This exceptional formula is a powerful skin treatment fusing clean plant nutrients rich in antioxidant, adaptogenic, rejuvenating, and moisturizing properties.

Just a few drops incorporated into your own Gua Sha ritual can help visibly recharge skin to appear calm and balanced, radiating with a gorgeous natural glow. 

You can shop the Humanist Beauty Herban Wisdom® Facial Oil here

References: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

All About World Health Day

World Health Day is celebrated every year on April 7th, the anniversary of the founding day of the World Health Organization (WHO). It’s a day to focus on and raise awareness around health and wellness issues that affect people all over the globe. Each year, a theme is selected to highlight a priority area of public health concern in the world. This year, the theme is “Our planet, Our health,” and will be focusing on the availability of clean water, air, and food for all. In this blog, we will explore global health and happiness, along with how you can celebrate World Health Day.

What Is Global Health?

While definitions vary, we are expressing ‘global health’ as the status of health, wellness, and healthcare for all populations worldwide.

There are six key factors most critical to the global health conversation today:


According to an article published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, pandemics are defined as global disease outbreaks. Examples of pandemics include certain influenza outbreaks, COVID-19, and other viral threats that reflect our vulnerability to widespread diseases. 

Every year, there are newly emerging pandemic threats. Vaccination efforts can help, but it’s critical to address issues at the source by focusing on important areas like health education and responsible agricultural practices. Researchers have also made recommendations on global risk mitigation measures that can help even after an outbreak occurs.

Climate Change

Storms, flooding, droughts, and air pollution make it easier for diseases to spread across large groups of people. The immediate solution is to provide resources like bottled water and sanitation technology, but global health must also focus on the prevention of environmental challenges in the first place.

Climate change is thought by many global health experts to be the greatest threat to human health. Global policies to mitigate mankind’s contribution to climate change are gaining traction with more countries regulating individual household energy consumption as well as encouraging large-scale industry progress toward environmentally-conscious practices.

Such changes will have profound health benefits for those who live in urban centers, which account for more than 50% of the world’s population. 

Access to Healthcare

Despite relentless progress in the field of medicine, communities across the world still lack access to basic health education and healthcare. This results in health disparities, such as high infant mortality rates, which are often related to geography. Other disparities may be the result of income inequality, with some individuals and families being left unable to afford proper health care.

To solve these economic challenges, global health professionals are exploring opportunities to uplift underrepresented communities in public health forums, encouraging physicians to practice in remote areas, and introducing policies that reduce barriers and increase access to healthcare.

Political Instability 

Inadequate access to healthcare is exacerbated when international politics enter the mix. As conflicts within or between nations destroy critical infrastructure, citizens become more vulnerable to diseases. This ultimately causes them to flee the dangerous situations that threaten their well-being.

Migration can allow illnesses to quickly spread, but the WHO stresses that solutions should aim to improve refugee and migrant health through efforts like organizing across borders to endorse policies that bridge short-term humanitarian crisis responses with long-term healthcare access improvements.

Noncommunicable Diseases

Heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) account for 70% of all deaths worldwide, according to the WHO.

Education plays a role in the prevention of NCDs, helping populations understand and change lifestyle factors, such as poor diets, inactivity, tobacco use, and alcohol consumption. However, there is also a correlation between income level and the prevalence of NCDs.

The WHO notes that 85% of premature NCD-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income regions. Reducing the number of NCDs globally means reducing the factors that disproportionately arise in lower-income communities.

Animal Health, Food Sourcing, and Supply

The study of veterinary public health makes it clear that animal wellness is naturally intertwined with that of humans. The clearest connection occurs within the food chain, but animals are also relied upon for transportation, draught power, and clothing in developing areas.

Agricultural practices, including irrigation, pesticide use, and waste management, can influence animal health, making disease transmission a concern at every stage of the food supply chain. With pathogens originating from animals or animal products playing such a significant role in disease transmission, veterinary medicine must be included in any effort to improve global health.

World Health Statistics

In May 2021, WHO released its annual “State of the World’s Health Assessment.” The report presents the latest data on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and “Triple Billion” target indicators. 

The 2021 edition includes preliminary estimates for global excess deaths attributable to COVID-19 for 2020 and the state of global and regional health trends from 2000 to 2019. It also focuses on persistent health inequalities and data gaps that have been accentuated by the pandemic.

Here are its key messages:

  • Every country is facing challenges to report COVID-19 deaths, and the WHO is working with all stakeholders to refine statistical models and obtain accurate counts.
  • As of December 31 2020, preliminary estimates suggest the total number of global deaths attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 is at least 3 million, representing 1.2 million more deaths than the 1.8 million officially reported.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic poses major threats to population health and well-being globally and hinders progress in meeting the SDGs and WHO’s “Triple Billion” targets. With 90% of countries reporting disruptions to essential health services and 3% of households spending more than 25% of their budget on healthcare in 2015, United Health Care is at great risk of falling behind.
  • COVID-19 disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations; those living in overcrowded settings are met with a higher risk. Lack of data disaggregation contributes to unequal health outcomes, with only 51% of countries including disaggregated data in national statistical reports.
  • Global life expectancy at birth is up from 66.8 years in 2000 to 73.3 years in 2019, with healthy life expectancy up from 58.3 to 63.7 years. The greatest gains are being made in low-income countries primarily due to rapid reductions in child mortality and communicable diseases.
  • Global tobacco use is down by 33% since 2000, but adult obesity is on the rise with up to a quarter of populations in high-income countries obese in 2016. Noncommunicable diseases made up 7 of 10 causes of death worldwide in 2019.
  • Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year.
  • The direct damage costs to health (i.e. excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between 2-4 billion USD/year by 2030.
  • The WHO has partnered with Microsoft and Avanade to develop a new, state-of-the-art World Health Data Hub to improve access to data, streamline data processes, and provide health data as a public good.

The 2022 World Happiness Report

Pictured: Least and Most Happy Countries   Source: Visual Capitalist 

Global health is directly linked to world happiness. The numbers shown in the graphic above, which are from the World Happiness Report 2022, represent the survey data from thousands of respondents for each country, who are asked to rate their subjective well-being or happiness score. 

Happiness levels are measured in this report by looking at:

  • Social support
  • Life expectancy
  • Freedom to make life choices
  • Generosity
  • GDP per capita
  • Perceptions of corruption
  • Positive and negative effects
  • The report takes special considerations to track how COVID-19 has impacted aspects of our daily lives, and how it’s affected global happiness levels.

Worldwide happiness comes in at an average score of 5.6, which is a slight improvement since 2021’s report. Here’s a more in-depth look at each region’s happiness levels:

North America

North American least and most happy countries

Source: Visual Capitalist 

Like last year, Canada ranks first as the happiest country in North America. However, it’s lost some ground on the global ranking, placing 15th this year, compared to 14th last year. In contrast, the United States climbed three places in this year’s report and ranked just under Canada with a happiness score of 6.97.

The Dominican Republic comes in last place in North America. While the Dominican Republic has experienced economic growth over the last 25 years, the country was hit hard by the global pandemic; during this time, approximately 270,000 people fell into poverty.

South America

South American least and most happy countries

Source: Visual Capitalist 

Uruguay is the happiest country in South America due to its high income per capita, low levels of poverty, and strong middle class. While Uruguay was not immune to the impacts of COVID-19, the country was able to transition smoothly to online learning and was the first country in the region to reopen schools.

In last year’s World Happiness Report, Colombia was the most improved country in South America; however, this year it’s dropped 14 places on the global ranking, making it the least improved country in this year’s report.

While Colombia has made significant strides toward elevating extreme poverty in the last few decades, it still has one of the highest levels of income inequality in Latin America. In 2020, its top 10% of workers took home more than 50% of national income.


Europe least and most happy countries

Source: Visual Capitalist 

Finland is not only the happiest country in Europe, but it also holds the top spot as the happiest country in the world for the fifth straight year. Finland is one of five Nordic countries to place in the top 10 with Denmark coming in second place and Iceland in third.

Romania was the most improved country in Europe, climbing 18 spots on the global ranking since last year’s report. Over the last decade, the country has seen some of the most significant economic growth in the European Union and was able to bounce back quickly from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Middle East and Central Asia

Middle East least and most happy countries

Source: Visual Capitalist 

Turkmenistan is the most improved country in the region, rising 19 places on the global ranking since last year. The country’s boost could be explained by its rapid economic growth in recent years, where in 2021 alone, the country’s GDP grew by an estimated 6.3%.

For the last two years, Lebanon has been dealing with a slew of crises. In 2020, COVID-19 spurred an economic crisis that’s been ranked as one of the top 10 most severe economic crises since the mid-nineteenth century. And on August 4th, 2020, a massive ammonium nitrate explosion left the country’s capital city, Beirut, in shambles.

East Asia and Oceania

East Asia and Oceania least and most happy countries

Source: Visual Capitalist 

This year, China climbed 12 places on the global ranking, making it the most improved country in East Asia and Oceania. The Chinese government recently identified “common prosperity” as a top priority, leading them to make numerous policy shifts to combat inequality and eradicate poverty.

Thailand has improved the least in the region due to the significant toll that COVID-19 had on the country’s economy. In 2020, economic growth shrunk by 6.1% in Thailand and is not expected to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels until around 2023.


Africa least and most happy countries

Source: Visual Capitalist 

With a regional score of 4.5, Africa ranks as the unhappiest region worldwide. Zimbabwe remains the most unhappy country in the region, as it continues to struggle with high levels of poverty. In 2021, roughly 6.1 million people were living below the international poverty line.

Mauritius remains the happiest country in the region, which is most likely due to its higher levels of income. It became a high-income country in July 2020; however, Mauritius slipped back to its upper-middle-income status in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How You Can Celebrate World Health Day

Celebrating and observing World Health Day can be done by individuals, families, schools, churches, and other community organizations. It’s a notable time to connect with others over important themes and increase knowledge.

Here are a few ways you can celebrate World Health Day:

Reduce Health Inequalities 

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked awareness that our health is our biggest resource. Also, it highlighted that our world is fundamentally unequal. Put simply, differences in socioeconomic status mean differences in access to health services and healthier lives.

Vulnerable groups in the world were hit hardest during the pandemic, struggling for survival under poor living conditions and without access to necessities such as clean water and food security. 

Learn more about universal health inequalities here, then consider what you can do to lessen  the divide.

Support Global Health

Honor World Health Day by supporting needy people and giving them a better chance at good health. Consider donating nutritious food to a community food pantry or volunteering to help cook and serve healthy meals at a local soup kitchen. 

There are many non-profit organizations that provide food and health services on a global scale, such as these. Do some research, select a cause that resonates with you, and take action.

Get A Check-Up

With a focus on global health awareness, it’s a great time to turn your attention toward your own health. Try scheduling a doctor’s appointment for an annual checkup to learn more about your health and wellness. 

Your doctor will likely check your vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate, along with a physical examination. Laboratory tests, such as a complete metabolic panel, may be conducted to check your blood and vital organs. 

Always ask your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your health. While you’re there, thank your nurse for their hard work and the positive impact they’re making in people’s lives.

Run a 5K

The arrival of spring brings along warm weather and outdoor charity events and functions. Try using your fitness, physical health, and motivation to give back to others through a 5K charity run. 

Even if you’re not a runner, you may still be able to participate, considering that many 5Ks touted as fundraisers, fun runs, or community events are usually open to walkers. However, there is often a separate start time for walkers, so make sure to check the organization’s website before the run. 

Exercise and physical activity provide many health benefits, and when paired up with a charity, you’re also supporting a good cause. You can learn more about running or walking a 5K here.

 Set New Health Goals

If your New Year’s resolutions have taken the back burner since the start of the pandemic, now is a great time to revisit your health-oriented goals. Grab a pen and paper and take some time to jot down your thoughts and aspirations. 

Maybe you have a fitness goal, such as increasing your running or walking distance, adding an extra full-body workout day to your week, or trying out meditation. Or maybe you want to focus on your mental health by keeping a journal.

Whether you’re trying to add more fruits and vegetables into your diet or improve your hydration habits by drinking water or cutting out soda, focusing on your personal wellbeing and choosing small goals can make a big difference in your life. Here are a few tips to help you achieve your goals.

How Will You Celebrate?

Let us know how you plan to recognize World Health Day. If you’d like to read up on past World Health Day themes, you can read more about World Health Day here.

What Is Mirror Gazing?

We often associate staring into a mirror for long periods of time with vanity and narcissism or flaw-finding and self-criticism. But learning how to get comfortable with your reflection can actually be good for you. Mirror gazing, a form of meditation, is a simple concept that involves spending purposeful time in front of a mirror to literally self-reflect. Though simple in concept, mirror gazing is a powerful health and wellness tool that can renew one’s sense of self and improve self-image.

Mirror Gazing Differs From Other Meditative Practices

As a meditative practice, mirror gazing is not far removed from other mindfulness exercises. Like other meditations, it can guide you to be more conscious of the present moment, enhance relaxation, and ground you in calmness amid the various stressors of the day. The main differences that set mirror gazing apart from other meditation practices are the use of a mirror and the focus on outer self as a portal of better awareness to your inner thoughts and feelings. Your gaze becomes the focus of your practice.

The Benefits of Mirror Gazing

Mirror gazing isn’t just checking your reflection to see how you look. It’s an opportunity to build a spiritual connection with the person you see in the mirror. The practice can at first be quite uncomfortable, particularly if self-esteem has been tied to aspects of your physical being. But as a new form of healing, over time, mirror gazing can help mend misconceptions you may hold deep within. This simple yet powerful practice has been shown to offer a multitude of benefits including increased confidence, improved mental health, healthier self-image, increased compassion, better stress management, improved relationships, and enhanced emotional resilience.

Increased Confidence

Mirror gazing engages you to look past mere surface flaws to recognize the profound beauty and true miracle that is your whole embodiment. Focusing solely on yourself quietly with no distractions for a few intimate moments helps you notice your inner voice more clearly. Noticing any negative self-talk and mindfully transitioning toward more positive self-talk each day is a significant step toward greater self-confidence.

Similarly, when you sit with yourself as your own best friend during a mirror gazing meditation, you can single out your favorite features, traits, and attributes and show them love and appreciation. By acknowledging yourself, complimenting yourself, and cherishing yourself, you can begin to grow more confident in your own skin.

Authenticity and Emotional Awareness

Emotions commonly show themselves on your face, but research shows that you also carry emotions elsewhere in your body. For example, distress may be evident by the slouch of your shoulders. Insecurity may be revealed by your inability to meet your gaze in the mirror. Looking at yourself intentionally, though, helps you to practice authenticity and emotional awareness. You can’t run away from the things that are troubling you, so mirror gazing offers a chance to confront them instead.

Noting how emotions shift across your face and show with your body language can help you take stock of your present state of mind, especially those hiding behind false fronts of cheer and calmness. As you fully open yourself up to what comes, find relaxation in the experience instead of fighting it. You may find that sitting with your reflection can help dull the edges of the sharpest pains that accompany distress, making them easier to bear. Learning to understand and accept all your emotions can also facilitate better communication with others.

Greater Self Compassion and Love

Looking at yourself in the mirror might make you feel uncomfortable when your reflection reminds you of imperfections and weaknesses. Mirror gazing, though, can help you embrace a more realistic, forgiving perspective. Sure, you have a few flaws, but who doesn’t? These characteristics that you perceive as less-than-perfect may make you feel like they are staring back at you with disdain. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t worthy of love – especially your own love.

People often avoid thinking about mistakes they’ve made or wish they could alter aspects of themselves that they consider flawed. But in the mirror, you can’t turn away from the parts of yourself and your reflection that you view as imperfect; instead, you have to acknowledge them. The compassionate acknowledgment of your unique self can help disrupt feelings of shame or your own unworthiness. Pushing back negative thoughts that spring up like weeds can, in turn, allow self-acceptance and self-love to bloom.

Studies on Mirror Gazing

Mirror gazing is a relatively new meditative technique that is gaining broader awareness due to research showing benefits of improved mental well-being. Here is a glimpse at two studies that have been conducted to show the incredible power that mirror gazing wields.

Professor Tara Well of Columbia University

Professor Tara Well, a research scientist at Barnard College, Columbia University, discovered mirror gazing for herself before she developed research in the mirror gazing field and began spreading the word through lectures, courses, and Ted Talks. She conducted an experiment where participants were simply asked to mirror gaze for a length of time.

The results were clear on one thing: all participants benefited in one way or another. Many found reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. She also found that the women in the study started to focus less on appearance and more on how they were feeling. This led to self-resilience and a better connection with themselves. 1,2

You can view one of Tara’s Ted Talks here to learn more about her research and what mirror gazing can teach you.

Professor Nicola Petrocchi of La Sapienza University

A 2016 study conducted by Nicola Petrocchi from La Sapienza University in Rome focused on self-soothing while looking at oneself in the mirror. 86 participants were asked to write down words they’d use to console a friend in despair. Afterward, they were invited to apply these very phrases on themselves while looking at their reflection in a mirror. Nicola found that the heart frequency observed under these conditions was similar to the frequency found when we’re feeling compassion toward others.3

This experiment shows that a mirror is a prop that possesses the power to make us feel genuine empathy towards ourselves in the same way we do for others. Our physical response moves us to love ourselves and practicing mirror gazing can unlock great potential for all-around good health and positivity.

A Mirror Gazing Meditation Technique

If you’ve grown up with an inner voice that’s been less than kind, mirror gazing meditation can help release self-criticism, serving to replace it with self-love, self-compassion, and self-confidence. Practicing just 5-10 minutes a day of self-reflection (figuratively and literally) can be a therapeutic outlet to support mental and emotional well-being.

Here’s how to practice mirror gazing meditation:

  1. Set the Space and Intention
    Choose a quiet, well-lit, private place. Sit comfortably on a chair or cushion. Position your mirror so you can see directly into your eyes. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes. Have no goal other than to sit with yourself in peace.
  2. Tune Into Your Breathing
    Close your eyes and slow your breathing. Take several deep belly breaths, allowing yourself to inhale, hold, and then slowly exhale. As your body relaxes, let yourself breathe naturally. Turn your attention to any tense spots in your body. Visualize that tension slowly dissolving with each breath.
  3. Begin to Gaze Into Your Eyes
    Open your eyes and look into the mirror. Notice if your breathing changes when your first look at yourself. Come back to full steady breathing. Consider the message in your eyes. Is it judgmental or kind? Do you immediately focus on something specific you dislike about yourself? Visualize each slow breath dissolving any dislike that arises.
  4. Observe Your Inner Critic
    Notice your thoughts as you continue to gaze. What comes to mind? Do flaws come more readily into focus than praise? Do you feel emotions, self-disdain, or self-adoration? As every thought comes up, observe it, and breathe it away. Notice how emotions move across your face. What does judgment look like? Anger? Fear? Acceptance? Love?
  5. Notice Where Your Attention Flows
    Continue gazing at your reflection, staying open to whatever arises. Notice any sensations or emotions that come up and allow them to simply be there without judgment. Let your feelings and thoughts simply pass by as you breathe, relax your body, and gaze at yourself.
  6. Practice Self-Kindness
    Close with affirmations of kindness and set an intention to fall in love with yourself a little more each day. Breathe into the energy of your light, that inner beauty that shines so brightly for the world to see. Exhale, and thank yourself for spending precious moments of self-care with your reflection.

The Humanist Beauty Self Reflecting Mirror

Every time you glance at your reflection, be greeted with a friendly reminder that you are a beautiful human. The new Humanist Beauty Self Reflecting Mirror is perfect for your mirror gazing meditation practice. The mirror measures 5w” x 7h” and comes with a double-sided engraved wooden base. Perfect for your desktop, tabletop, bookshelf, or windowsill, so you can mirror gaze anytime, anywhere. It makes a great gift and is made in the USA.

Self Reflecting Mirror

You can shop the Humanist Beauty Self Reflecting Mirror here.


References: [1] [2] [3]

The Benefits of Breathwork

Breathwork is a term to describe any type of therapy that utilizes breathing exercises to improve spiritual, physical, and mental health. There are many forms of breathwork used today, and each one employs unique breathing techniques for healing purposes. Breathwork draws from Eastern practices like yoga and Tai Chi, while also incorporating methods from Western psychotherapy.

Typically, breathwork techniques are used to calm your mind, reduce stress, bring clarity and inspiration, and energize your body.1 The practice of breathwork gives your brain’s executive functioning system something to focus on, so you can bypass the mental levels of consciousness and drop into a deeper state of consciousness. This deeper state is where spirit, love, and healing reside. Unlike meditation, breathwork takes you to this place very quickly.2

The History of Breathwork

Breathwork has been practiced in ancient traditions for thousands of years. The word “breath” and “spirit” even share the same origin in many languages. Breathwork practices can be found in many breath-centered meditations in Buddhism and Pranayamas in Yogic practices. Additionally, breathwork was used in Taoism, Hinduism, Christianity, Qigong, Shamanism, Sufism, and martial arts.3 The majority of these religions and cultures used breathwork for the same reasons as we do today – to alter consciousness for healing, self-discovery, and spiritual purposes.

Modern breathwork was mostly forgotten by Westerners during civilization, but it reemerged in the 1960s thanks to four people: Stanislav and Christine Grof, Leonard Orr, and Sondra Ray. These four individuals created the two original branches of modern-day breathwork known as Holotropic and Rebirthing. Since their creation, many offshoots have been born.

In the 1970s, the popularity of breathwork waned, but in the past five years, it has begun to resurface with a bang. Today, there are more than 50 types of breathwork, all distinct from each other. Some types last 2 minutes, while others last 2 hours. However, they all have one thing in common, which is the focus on conscious breathing in a non-regular pattern to alter the mind-body emotional state.4

The Benefits of Breathwork For Your Health

Deep breathing has many health benefits. Even a few deep breaths a day can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels and increase parasympathetic tone; however, breathwork is very different.5 Breathwork practices can exert even more impressive effects on the body while working differently and oppositely.

Here’s the science behind the magic of breathwork:

  • Alkalizes your blood pH by causing a shift in blood pH following hyperventilation, which is called respiratory alkalosis. We take in oxygen with every inhale, and we release carbon dioxide (CO2) with every exhale. But when we take faster breaths, we rid the body of more CO2. Considering that CO2 is an acidic molecule, hyperventilation reduces acid levels in the blood, resulting in a higher, more alkaline pH.
  • Increases muscle tone due to blood alkalinity. Calcium ions that are floating in the blood bind onto large proteins known as albumin. This starts an increased firing in sensory and motor neurons due to the low-calcium state. The low blood calcium now presents itself in the neurological system as tingling sensations, smooth muscle contractions, and increased muscle tone.6
  • Elevates your mood through hyperventilation and respiratory alkalosis causing a “high” feeling that many people report experiencing during breathwork. It triggers the Bohr Effect, which is when blood pH reduces oxygen delivery to tissues. One minute of hyperventilation causes the blood vessels in the brain to constrict, which reduces blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain by 40%. This could be responsible for the deep feeling of well-being.
  • Breathwork has an anti-inflammatory effect due to neurons in the nervous system firing more often during hyperventilation, which releases epinephrine (“adrenaline”). In a 2014 study, Yale Music School found that the adrenaline surge causes the innate immune system to increase its anti-inflammatory activity and dampen its proinflammatory activity.7

Conditions That Can Benefit from Breathwork

The benefits of breathwork can include everything from improved immune function to metabolic functioning, stress management, emotional regulation, and improved quality of life. However, it has been used to aid the following conditions:

  • Asthma
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Anger issues
  • Depression
  • Labor pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Grief and loss
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

While breathwork is exceptional at treating many conditions, it is also nourishing for those who are already feeling healthy and well. Learning to master the breath can help enhance feelings of love, gratitude, clarity, peace, connection, and insights. As such, breathwork can be a great addition to anyone’s daily routine.

Types of Breathwork

There are many different breathwork modalities, many with similar foundations. Here are a few of the most well-known types of breathwork:

  • Holotropic Breathwork: Stanislav Grof, MD, Ph.D. and his wife, Christina Grof, Ph.D. created this form of breathwork after LSD became illegal in the late 1960s. Dr. Grof had been experimenting with LSD and altered states of consciousness, which led him to the creation of Holotropic Breathwork.8 Benefits include stress relief, personal growth, and increased self-awareness.
  • Rebirthing Breathwork: This form of breathwork was created by Leonard Orr. He gave it the name “rebirthing” because, in his first experience with conscious connected breathing, he experienced memories of his birth.9 Rebirthing breathwork has been known to cause increased creativity and inspirational ideas, along with a sense of clarity.
  • Clarity Breathwork: Dana Dharma and Ashanna Solaris co-founded Clarity Breathwork. Dharma and Solaris are both long-standing breathworkers who bring the energy of the feminine to their training and sessions.10 Clarity Breathwork is similar to Rebirthing Breathwork in that the conscious connected breathing is done laying down for an hour, and additionally, the two have the same benefits.
  • Biodynamic Breathwork: This practice was created by a Licensed Massage Therapist named Giten Tonkov. Biodynamic Breathwork blends deep, connected breathing with movement conscious touch, meditation, emotional release, and body awareness techniques.11 It’s said that Biodynamic Breathwork results in the release of long-held trauma in the brain and body.
  • Transformational Breathwork: Judith Kravitz founded Transformational Breathwork in the mid-70s to release trauma experienced during birth. Most sessions include stomping your feet with your hands on the floor while breathing to release energy.12 The benefits of Transformational Breathwork are similar to Rebirthing, but with the added intention of deepening your connection to your spiritual source. 
  • The Wim Hof Method: This method was invented by the man of the same name, famously known as “The Ice Man.” His breathwork method actively uses conscious breathing as preparation to immerse yourself in ice water for around 3 minutes.13 This is said to increase immune system strength and energy, decrease stress, reduce inflammation of the body, and balance hormone levels.

DIY Beginner Breathwork Techniques

Breathwork is an active form of meditation that can allow you to disconnect from your mind and be guided by your heart and body. As you breathe out, you’ll be working to rid yourself of beliefs, thoughts, and actions that don’t support your personal growth. You’ll be striving towards wholeness and a better ability to handle stress, anxiety, and trauma. There are many breathwork techniques out there, and each one has a unique purpose and effect on the body.

After speaking with your practitioner to ensure that breathwork is right for you, you can try these three beginner techniques:

The 4-7-8

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or having trouble sleeping, give the 4-7-8 breathwork technique a shot. The 4-7-8 will slow the heart rate, bring your consciousness to the present moment, slow the nervous system, and bring forth a feeling of peace.

How to do it: Empty the lungs of air, inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, exhale out of your mouth for 8 seconds, and repeat 4 times. As you put this technique to action, try envisioning your chakras at the center of your body pulling any energy or thoughts that do not serve you well.

The 5-5

Give the 5-5 breathwork technique a go when you’re getting worked up. It can help give you a sense of calmness, and it can be practiced throughout the day. Our natural tendency is to breathe at a rate of 2 to 3 seconds per minute.14 However, the 5-5, or also known as Coherent Breathing, is a conscious breathing practice that aims to slow down your breathing to 4 seconds and then 5 seconds.

How to do it: Focus on the natural rhythm of your breathing to measure out how long your inhales and exhales are. For 1 minute, breathe in for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds. Repeat for 5 seconds, then 6 seconds. If you feel the need, you can continue doing this for up to 10 seconds. Begin with practicing this technique for 5 minutes. However, you can gradually increase this time to around 20 minutes.

The 4-4-4-4

For an energy boost or to reduce stress, try the 4-4-4-4, which is also called Box Breathing or Square Breathing. This technique comes from the Navy Seal and is used to eliminate any stress plaguing their minds and bodies. The 4-4-4-4 slows the heart rate and deepens concentration. It’s best to practice the 4-4-4-4 method in the morning to wake up fully, during the day if you’re feeling rundown, or before a big event that requires your focus.

How to do it: Start by releasing all of the air from your lungs, hold your breath for 4 seconds, then breathe through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath again for 4 seconds, and exhale once again for 4 seconds. Repeat these steps for 5 minutes to reap their benefits.

Seek a Professional’s Recommendation

The risks of breathwork are quite low, but it’s important to always seek a professional’s advice before taking part in any kind of breathwork technique.

Breathwork may not be recommended for those with:

  • Cardiovascular issues
  • High blood pressure
  • Respiratory issues
  • Osteoporosis
  • Psychiatric symptoms
  • A history of aneurysms

It’s also not advised to practice breathwork if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have physical injuries, or have recently undergone surgery. Additionally, with breathwork, there’s a risk that hyperventilation can lead to reduced blood flow, dizziness, and an increase in the chance of heart palpitations.

The use of a reputable medical professional, guide, or teacher can help reduce any risks associated with breathwork.

Tell us – have you tried breathwork before? If so, what techniques?

References: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8],of%20therapy%20that%20simulate%20birth. [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14]