Happy Sunday WS readers ☺️!

I’ve been brimming with excitement all week in anticipation of sending out this weeks newsletter ft. one of my favorite human beings: Cassandra Lam.

Cass is a community builder, entrepreneur, and yoga teacher currently based in Brooklyn, NY. As CEO and Co-Founder of The Cosmos, she creates transformative spaces for Asian womxn to get support for their self-healing and self-discovery journeys through intentional community.

I met Cass almost 2.5 years ago when I attended the 1st Cosmos retreat in Seattle. Since then it’s been amazing to see The Cosmos take off and Cass self-actualize fully into the beautiful human being she always has been.

Through some of my craziest life changes and lowest of lows, Cass has always been a supportive friend and role model to me. I’m so excited today to dissect the anatomy of her wellnes OS and share it with you all!

Note from Cassandra: When Patty and I first sat down to do our Wellness Wisdom interview 2 months ago, the world was in a different place. What’s new is how many people - especially white people and non-black people of color - are fighting for change in their families, places of work & worship, and communities. So I am editing my responses today to unequivocally center this truth: none of us are well until all of us are well. Because there is no wellness without freedom. Freedom is a necessary condition for wellness.

What’s your definition of wellness?

Much of how I’ve come to understand the world, how it really works, and my role in it is thanks to the work of black womxn activists and thought leaders - the ones in my life and on my bookshelf. So it should come as no surprise that my self-care philosophy borrows from the great Audre Lorde who said:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Whether we know it or not, all of our actions and inactions affect others. Because all sentient beings live in relationship to one another on Earth, it is impossible to separate the personal from the political. In the same vein, it’s also impossible to separate self-care from community care!

Much of what we immediately think of when we hear “self-care” is a concoction of capitalism. Products we’re told to buy to feel better or the insidious belief that we’re only successful if we can do it all alone - these are all manifestations of an economy designed to create some winners at the expense of many losers.

I define self-care as: 1) Anything that allows me to taste and further develop my appetite for liberation, and 2) Anything that allows my community to do the same.

This can look like dancing, laughing, and loving the person I am becoming. This also looks like voting, participating in my community mutual aid group, and inviting loved ones to practice anti-racism.

❤️ How do you regulate emotions?

  • Practicing yoga seriously 8 years ago: one of the most incredible benefits I experienced was the feeling of spaciousness - not feeling pressured to react right away to everything around me. Discerning the difference between a reaction and a response. This becomes incredibly supportive for doing anti-racism work. Because we will get triggered, fight ego, and feel uncomfortable. Managing our emotions with compassion and egolessness will allow us to keep going.
  • Practices such as meditation empower us to intercept the insanity that is the human condition. For many years, I was victim to my emotions and those of everyone around me, taking every incoming stimulus as a dispatch to act. With the mindfulness practice I’ve cultivated, I strive to sit down with myself and uncover who’s underneath all the emotions, thoughts, and ego. Why? we process external stimuli in a split second, often unconsciously, through our limbic brain and nervous system. Emotions trigger thoughts, which tell a story about our perceived reality. These thoughts prompt actions, which in turn create our lives.
  • Your emotions will have a relationship with YOU, whether you’re conscious of it or not.
  • The question is: will you be reactive or proactive in your relationship to them?
  • I believe the not-so-positive emotions are where we can learn the most about ourselves. I interact with my not-so-positive emotions as I would with a child throwing a tantrum - by acknowledging that it’s there, treating it with compassion, and telling it that it’ll be okay!  I also treat it as information that can illuminate a pathway to better knowing myself, flaws and all. I try my best to not judge them as “good” or “bad”. They’re just arrows, pointing the way towards a blockage or a lesson I’ve yet to learn.
  • Doing shadow work. Sometimes, you’ll confront an emotion in the present that’s actually a visitor from the past - in others words, remnants of past traumas in our subconscious that try to protect us. I’ve personally benefited from doing shadow work to uncover, release, and re-write those stories to free myself of patterns or ways of being that no longer serve me.
  • Law of Attraction and manifestation enables me to be proactive with my emotions. The law states that everything is energy that emits a frequency, including us. What you emit in terms of vibrations (your emotions, thoughts, actions), you attract.

✏️ Resources I recommend:

🧠 Intellectual Wellness: How/what do you like to learn?

  • Intellectual rabbit holes help me discover the truths that govern our everyday lives. I’m particularly drawn to learning 2 things: 1) that which is kept from us in the education system, politics, and mainstream media and 2) that which intends to make us (people of marginalized identity) feel alien and abnormal in our lived experiences and bodies. It gets super interesting at the intersection of the two.
  • Connecting the dots. I find joy and some sense of solace in synthesizing across multiple disciplines like cognitive science, social justice, history, psychology, etc. To that end, I absorb as much as I can and try to map it against my lived experience, in order to come to my own conclusions.

✏️ resources I recommend:

  • Range by David Epstein - on why generalists triumph in a specialized world
  • Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain's Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal by Erik Vance
  • On Being by Krista Tippet - a podcast on what it means to be humans at the intersection of spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, community, poetry, and the arts
  • Highly recommend this episode with Resmaa Menakem, trauma specialist, therapist, and author of “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies”
  • Unlocking Us by Brene Brown - Researcher Brene Brown unpacks and explores the ideas, stories, experiences, books, films, and music that reflect the universal experiences of being human
  • Highly recommend this episode with Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to Be an Anti-Racist”
  • The Ezra Klein Show- a podcast getting inside the heads of the newsmakers and power players in politics and media.

"How we spend our days is how we live our lives" - Annie Dillard

✨ Self-care

My daily self-care practice is incorporated into my morning and evening rituals. The repertoire of practices within these rituals represent various ways to meet myself.

  • My morning ritual ☀️
  • The first 1-2 hours of my day are sacred and protected from the noise of the outside world. I don’t consume anything - no text messages, reading headlines, checking e-mail, scrolling through social media.
  • Meditation: 20-30 mins using my favorite app Insight Timer; with the pandemic and protests, I’ve upped my daily meditation to 30-60 minutes, sometimes broken into a morning and evening meditation.
  • Morning Pages: This is a famed practice from The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. I write stream of consciousness style non-stop for 20 mins about everything on my mind. It’s like a mental and emotional poop if you will :) I’m not consistent with this, but when things are intense I definitely notice the urge to pick it back up.
  • My evening ritual 🌚
  • I typically have more flexibility in my evening routine depending on my needs. Usually I have a few staples:
  • Analog or tactile activity before bed - I try to avoid screens 1 hour before bed and do something in the physical world: reading a book, journaling, cutting fruit, etc. I’m not the most disciplined with this lately as I’ve been feeling the pressure to be “on” or available in this time collective pain. I’m trying to get back on track though.
  • 8 hrs of sleep *ideally* - My bed is my most prized possession!!! Seriously!!! So much of our body’s natural healing and regenerative processes can only happen during deep, fitful sleep
  • Advice on establishing a personal routine
  • This may be contrarian but I don’t believe that we can shame, discipline, and/or brute force our way into developing habits - at least not sustainable ones that lead to real change.
  • If your mindset is that you have to meditate because headlines and science whitepapers say it reduces stress, you’re not going to stick to it because the motivation is extrinsic and therefore, weak and variable.
  • We’re much more likely to commit to changes and see them through when the task feels pleasurable and is intrinsically motivating. Sigmund Freud calls this the pleasure principle.
  • How might you reframe your habits mentally so that your motivation represents what you value internally? I.e. I must work out to look good for others vs. I choose to work out so I can feel strong and healthy in order to take care of others.
  • How might you change the way you act on your habits so they aren’t physically painful? Start small and give yourself a couple “wins” leading up to that first milestone.
  • Feeling good also means setting up an environment that reflects your personality and feels safe. There are a few items that make my space sacred and just for me:
  • A shelf full of “book elders” (a term I borrow from my friend Isabel Bagsik) - Across my bed, I have a bookshelf filled with books from various points in my life. Two of my favorites include When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron and All About Love by bell hooks. I cannot recommend them enough!!
  • Plants  - They bring life and renewal into my bedroom. I’ve kept my plants alive for 2+ years so I just graduated by treating myself to a 3 foot tall Dieffenbachia plant!
  • An altar with mementos from loved ones and things I have a spiritual connection to - An evil eye from Tibet, crystals, a marble elephant from India, incense holder, and a photo of my parents when they started dating.
  • Meditation cushion - When I started my daily practice, I invested in a Samaya Life cushion. For a comfortable seated meditation practice, our bodies prefer an elevated seat that allows a slight tilt of the pelvic bowl forward, which alleviates compression in the hips, allows the shoulders to stack over the hips.
  • Himalayan Salt Lamp - I have 2 of these in my bedroom and prefer to have this soft light in my bedroom after dark. As an empath, I’ve found my sensitivity to stimulation (including crowds, sound, light) intensified during shelter-in-place so it’s been soothing to have these instead.

💪 Fitness

Learning how to care for my nervous system makes me a more effective, empowered, and conscious human being and entrepreneur.

  • Yoga: As a student of 8 years of yoga and a yoga teacher, I’ll be the first to say that yoga is not fitness despite what capitalistic wellness studios say!! It’s a spiritual practice with a physical component where asanas (Sanskrit for “seat”) are thoughtfully sequenced in a moving meditation :) During shelter-in-place, I’ve felt so lucky to have the ability to just roll out my mat and flow when I don’t have energy to be on Zoom for live classes.
  • Lately, I’ve shied away from the “bells and whistles” and have found myself coming home to slow, steady, strong sequences. I practice mostly hatha-vinyasa yoga and incorporate yin at least once per week to care for my nervous system and open the fascia (deep connective tissues).
  • Cardio: I’m not ashamed to say I’m part of the Peloton fam!! My coworking space has 2 of them but since shelter-in-place, I haven’t been able to ride. So I caved and am getting a bike delivered in about a week after a 2 month wait!! They have interest-free payments plans y’all :) My favorite instructor is Robin Arzon, but dying to try Alex Touissant’s rides too.

🍎 Nutrition

  • Be fully conscious of everything you consume. Because when we do not choose consciousness, we are choosing unconsciousness, which can lead to results we didn’t really want.
  • When Netflix launched the show “Love Is Blind”, people were quick to judge and criticize the people on the show for their ignorance. Yet everyday people act similarly to some degree. Human beings say “yes” all the time to things we don’t see, realize, or even notice via our unconscious behaviors.

Consumption extends far beyond what we put into our mouths. It’s everything that we absorb through all our senses: who we hang out with, what we watch on TV, what we listen to, and what we give our attention.

Applying that principle to nutrition, I try to be fully aware of what I put in my body since it directly impacts how I feel. This is not just a personal opinion by the way, science is starting to back this up!

I recommend reading The Mind-Gut Connection by Emeran Meyer, it’s fascinating. For example, did you know that 90% of our serotonin is made in the gut!

This concludes Cassandra’s Wellness Wisdom Stack! My key takeaways?

  • As humans, none of us are well until all of us are. Freedom is a necessary condition for wellness.
  • Your emotions will impact you, whether you’re conscious of it or not. Choose proactivity > reactivity.
  • Instead of checking in with the world in the morning through e-mail & notifications, how about meeting yourself first?
  • The most sustainable habits, are the ones that ultimately give us pleasure.
  • Caring for ourselves involves both physical consumption (fitness/what we eat) and mental consumption (what we read/ideas we internalize)

Be well ❤️,