Today I have a very different kind a podcast interview to share with you.
As many of you know I live in Park City, Utah which is a little ski town about 30 minutes from Salt Lake City.
I love skiing and I try to get outside as much as possible to enjoy the outdoors.
So for this weeks podcast my friend and colleague Dr. Pedram Shojai was visiting and we decided to do the podcast interview on the ski chairlift.
Pedram has been on my podcast before and the Glowing Skin Summit.
Dr. Pedram is a man with many titles.
He is also a taoist priest, a doctor of Oriental medicine, and a Qi Gong Master.
He’s here today to share how you can embrace the natural world and wake up to your full potential.
Some of what you’ll learn in this episode:
- Why most people have the wrong idea about the purpose of meditation
- How to be an “urban monk”
- Breathing with the mountain vs drinking Red Bull and listening to ACDC…
- How to apply mindfulness to everything you do for better results
- Skiing as a spiritual incubator
- Is it necessary to leave the world and become a monk to become spiritually fulfilled…?
- How Dr. Pedram goes in and fixes entire companies’ health
- How your brain literally detoxifies itself at night (this is a bit gross…)
- Why the saying “I can rest when I’m dead” is DEAD wrong!
- Why we NEED to have fun
- Why your digestive track (your gut) is at the front line of your health
- Simple meditation techniques you can do anywhere
- Why multitasking is total BS…
…and much more!
Items mentioned on the show
- The Urban Monk – Pedram’s NYT best-selling book
- Pedram’s podcast
- Well.org – Pedram’s site
- Pedram’s films
- The Pomodoro Technique
- Pedram’s “The Urban Monk Reboot Program”
Additional Links to Check Out
- The dangers of sitting – Dr. Pedram makes no bones about how harmful sitting is. Turns out there’s plenty of research to back up his assertion…
- Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation
- At any given moment ask yourself: “what am I doing right now?” Whatever it is, stop doing it and relax.
- If you get fit you then have access to more energy and that energy feeds your life it feeds your brain, it feeds your dreams.
- Watch your breath and center yourself in your breathing
- Take frequent breaks and keep your muscles engaged
- Sleep, play, eat well!
Dr. Trevor: Hi everyone, I’m Dr. Trevor Cates. Welcome to The Spa Doctor podcast. Today I have a different kind of podcast interview to share with you. As many of you know, I live in Park City, Utah, which is a little ski town about thirty minutes from Salt Lake City. I love skiing and I try to get outside and ski and get outdoors as much as possible. My guest today, Dr. Pedram Shojai, was actually visiting Park City and so we decided to do the podcast interview on the ski chairlift. As you’ll see later on we end up in the ski lodge for a bit of it too. You probably will recognize Dr. Pedram. He’s been on my podcast before and he’s been on my Glowing Skin Summit too. He is a man with many titles. He is the founder of well.org. He has two podcasts, he’s a film producer and director, and the author of several books, including his new book, The Urban Monk, which is already a New York Times bestseller after being out one week.He is also a Taoist priest, a doctor of oriental medicine, and a qigong master. He’s really about helping us embrace our natural world and wake up to our full potential.
This interview is a little different for a few reasons. I’m outdoors on a ski chair lift and also you’ll notice that I have helmet hair, I have no makeup, but this is my life. You get to see a bit of what it’s like living in Park City, being in Park City. So I hope you enjoy this interview with Dr. Pedram.
Hi everybody! I’m here with Dr. Pedram, the Urban Monk.
Dr. Trevor: We are talking about skiing because here we are at the canyons in Park City.
Pedram: It’s amazing stuff. It’s Spring skiing out here right now. It’s not quite Spring. I’ve got to say, it beats any day in the office. We, she lives up here so it’s an unfair advantage. She gets to have this as her backyard. Guys like me, we just come visit. I’ve got to see, skiing is my drug of choice. It really is. It’s good stuff. The amount of calculations every second that your brain has to do in order to do what we’re doing out here gets your mind, body, and spirit integrated in a way that to me has become a spiritual practice. I genuinely, I see it as like dancing with gravity, because when you first start skiing you’re afraid of falling right? So it’s all defensive and you’re using your etches and you’re sliding and you’re like “Oh god, I don’t want to fall, I don’t want to fall!” And then you realize the entire point is, we’re taking this chair up so that we can fall down a mountain gracefully, right? And so how do you fall with your feet under you and your skis not crossing? You pay attention.
So for me, I spend a lot of time meditating, a lot of time doing the Eastern stuff and that stuff is not really an ends, its a means, so that you can apply those principles to everything you do in life. How can you be a zen skier? Well, you don’t have your earbuds in listening to AC/DC, you’re listening to the mountain. You’re breathing. You’re flowing with the mountain and you’re really stepping into the integration of your movement with the flow. And plus all these other moving parts on the mountain called people that could bump into you. Your awareness has to become so super honed and just so sharp. It makes you have to be present. And the consequences kind of suck right? If you’re sitting there on your meditation cushion and you drift off for a minute, you can drift off to it for an hour and come back no harm no foul really. You might have wasted your time a little bit. Here you drift off, you hit one of these trees.
Dr. Trevor: Absolutely. And I think a lot of people think about meditation, they think you have to be sitting in a quiet place with lit candles and incense, but this is a form of meditation.
Dr. Trevor: This is what the Urban Monk is all about, is living life right? Living life and making the most out of it.
Pedram: Amen sister. That’s it. The entire philosophy of these Eastern traditions of oh go up and shave your head and become a monk and live outside of the world, that’s not most people’s calling. I did that for four years, I came back, I have a family, I have kids, I make movies, I have a busy life. The question is why can’t I apply those principles to my life here now? Instead of thinking, I’m skiing right now but what I really need to do is take some spiritual retreat so I can take care of that too. Why am I not taking care of that every single day? Why is this not also my spiritual practice. I mean look at this! This is like the most amazing, beautiful, bountiful place. We can either be drinking Red Bull and listening to AC/DC or we could be breathing with the mountain. Or you know what? Listening to AC/DC and rocking down the bumps. Whatever does it for you, that’s fine, but being integrated in doing that.
I do the same thing with bicycling. I do the same thing with rock climbing, I do the same thing with basketball. Take any sport, take anything that you do, and apply the methodology of just being more mindful, more present, and more engaged. There’s the old saying “Show me how you do one thing and I’ll tell you how you do everything.” So if you can apply mindfulness to what you’re doing in any aspect of your life, it makes the other aspects of your life better. So then two nights from now you’ve got some cheesecake in front of you and you’re like “Oh no! I shouldn’t but I’m gonna!” When you’re doing this type of work out here, you’re empowering the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that helps you negate impulses. It helps you say no, it helps you be better as a human that can make judgments that are supportive of the plans you had in life. Like if I want to be fit and I want to be around for my kids I should probably not eat that cheesecake. Or once in a while you have a bite of the cheesecake. It’s that moderation that comes from understanding who you are and where your perspective needs to be in that moment.
Stuff like this is real. We’re at a resort. This isn’t back country, avalanche craziness. But at any given minute you could cross your skis and hit a tree and then you’d be dead.
Dr. Trevor: Yeah. Absolutely.
Pedram: Really dead.
Dr. Trevor: I know Pedram, that you really like to ski the moguls.
Pedram: I do!
Dr. Trevor: What is it about the moguls that you really like?
Pedram: It’s one of those things, it’s part of my kung fu work ethic where I’m just kind of devoted to getting good at things and moguls have been my thing for the last couple years. It’s like you cannot afford the luxury of a thought right? You have to point your skis down, square up your shoulders, move your weight forward, and then just stay in the flow, keep breathing and let your feet kind of fall into the grooves. It’s just like, it is so fast and it is so intense, it requires all of you. To me, that’s what wakes me up, that’s what makes me feel alive. For me this is like a spiritual incubator. This is what brings life back into me. Let’s face it, this crap is a lot of work! These boots are heavy and these skis are heavy and you’ve got to get up here and it’s icy. It’s work, it’s not convenient. But I will leave here feeling more refreshed then I often do after a week on some beach in Maui. Because you’re huffing pure mountain air, you’re turning on all your senses and you’re living as a vibrant, alive human being. And I think that’s missing.
Hey look I can actually see us now! Sorry, the sun’s been on us the whole time. We’re missing that right? We sit at our desks. We sit in these office chairs. We sit in cars trying to get to these stupid office chairs. So this machine that has been calibrated to be able to hit this, hold on, we’re flipping this around, and so you can also do this. I’m not some special super human guy. I’m a forty year old dad. I work at this and it makes me better at everything else that I do. It offsets the amount of time sitting on my butt. I’m at a standing desk, I’m doing everything I can to not sit. Our culture is basically assembled around us becoming more and more stagnant. This is what brings us to life. If this isn’t your thing, get on a surfboard, get on a bike, but just get out there. Get out there and live it!
Dr. Trevor: Right. Absolutely. That’s why I live here in Park City. I love this lifestyle. I mean, not everybody can live here, I know that, but certainly take what you can, get out in nature and enjoy it right? Wear a helmet like we’re wearing.
Pedram: That’s right.
Dr. Trevor: Wear your goggles to protect your eyes! Wear your sunscreen to protect your skin.
Pedram: Yeah and if you’re tired and you feel like you might crash on the next run, stop and take a break. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I don’t get up, she lives up here right? This is my third day of the season and I’ve got a three month old at home. We just don’t get up here that often. Day One, not that easy. Day Two, better. Day Three, we’re like rocking it, but I’m not going to try and kill myself on Day One because that means injury, that means Day Two you can’t even do it. Don’t try to be a hero all at once. You can build a cardiac base, you can get yourself to where you want to be and time is on your side if you do it methodically and you do it without [inaudible 00:09:23]
Dr. Trevor: Okay we just had a great day of skiing, haven’t we Pedram?
Pedram: You know what, it was a winning day for me because I hurt my knee a little bit yesterday, one of those dumb, you’re not paying attention. Someone just ran over the back of my ski and I twisted it so today it was iffy and I was like man I’m not going to ski on an injured knee. I was really ginger with it and two, three runs into it I was like, oh no, I’m getting a full day out of this. The other knee is behaving. Trevor over here, who lives here, was such a wonderful tour guide. We got to go to places that us tourist guys couldn’t even know about. It was really good.
Dr. Trevor: The secret stashes.
Pedram: The secrets. We got a local girl here.
Dr. Trevor: Dr. Pedram, we just found out that you’re a New York Times best selling author. The Urban Monk. Very exciting. Let’s talk about, want you to talk about some of The Urban Monk. What are some of the biggest takeaways of your book? Who are the people who are really going to want to go out and get this book? Obviously there are a lot of people doing it already because it’s a New York Times bestseller book.
Pedram: It’s working for somebody. Here’s the thing, I spent a good portion of my career trying to get people to do practices that are from the world that I came from. I was a monk for four years, I studied with a lot of different people including the Dalai Lama. If you cut out, leave the world, shave your head, and have eight hours to fifteen hours a day to meditate, you can do some good mining. You can get some gold out of it. You can find peace. But that path of the ascetic isn’t really the path that’s reasonably available to normal people. I came down from the mountain and all my patience with normal people with like kids and soccer games and careers and mortgages and stress, stress, stress! It really became about figuring out how to integrate the wonderful things that I’d learned into the lives that people have to live.
Because we have commitments and it’s not fair to just walk away from your life and just go off to find spirituality. I think that’s a disservice really, to your family and to your community because we actually need people to get their act together in town and be better consumers of products that come from companies that give a damn. There’s a lot of things that we can do to change this and I think that’s it’s become like either or. You look at it on all levels. I’ll find it when I retire or I’m going to get a vacation and that’s when I’m going to catch my breath or I can’t believe it’s only Tuesday, this weekend I’m going to catch my breath. We never do because something social comes up. It’s some kid’s party, it’s this, it’s that, you get sick. So we always kick the can down the road thinking we will have some magical day tomorrow where we can catch up.
To me if you look at it like a business, your burn rate is off and you’re headed for a cliff. That’s how most people. That’s why for me it was like listening to all this advice from all these people in the health community and personal development people, and it was all so impractical. I make movies for a living. I had to write this book because this book didn’t exist and I was, it was one of those things where I was like, this is a disservice trying to get people to think that they should feel guilty about not making a ninety minute yoga class when they have kids and careers and stuff going on. So how am I doing yoga in the in between moments, how am I stretching and breathing while hanging out with you here and not being like well after this I’ll go take care of myself. Why would I not always be taking care of myself?
Dr. Trevor: Yeah. What are some of the practical things that people should be really focusing on?
Pedram: I would say number one is you’ve got to keep moving. We moved all day. We moved a lot today. I think that the stagnation we see in our modern culture with people who sit an hour a day and work, eight hours a day at the office. If you’re lucky and you can get to a gym an hour a day, which is really unreasonable for most people given their lifestyle and circumstances, still not enough to offset the damage from sitting on your butt all day. So what do you do?
I use the Pomodoro method and what that is is every twenty-five minutes I take a five minute break. No matter what I’m doing. I figure if I can do ten reps of something every twenty-five minutes, I’m going to keep my body engaged, active, and awake and alive. I now do five sets of ten reps. It’s nothing. I do ten push-ups, ten squats, ten lunges, whatever. It’s five minutes. You can get that done in less than two minutes, go run to the bathroom, drink some water, stretch, breathe, go step outside, whatever it is, get back, get on it. I’ve found thousands of patients now that as we keep people engaged and busy moving their bodies throughout the day, there’s a few things that happen, one is stress levels come down. Two is you don’t feel tired and think that this is because I need more coffee so you go to the coffee pot, hit that up a couple more times which screws up your blood sugar which means you’re going to make some bad food decisions because now you’re crashing.
It keeps you sustainably going all day and the magic that happens with this is a) you’re getting your work done better, b) you’re feeling better, you’re losing weight and all the good stuff that comes from just not stagnating, but if you could come home with gas in the tank, what does that mean for your family life? Because most of us come home and we’re spent and we’re like go watch your show or go play on YouTube and Daddy’s not available, Mommy’s not available because we’re beat. I wanted to do this thing for my career which means when I come home from work I should probably read an hour or two a night but I never feel like it. Oh I should go exercise, do yoga, walk the dogs, whatever, I don’t feel like it. To me that’s a deficit in energy. So if you can work your energy system to output more energy naturally throughout the day, now we’re talking. Energy is like cash in the pocket, it really helps to have it.
Dr. Trevor: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been to where one of the places where you work and there weren’t any chairs.
Pedram: I got, to be fair, I have two editors, film editors who insist on having chairs. That’s there prerogative. Every other person at well.org has elected for a standing desk. We have a standing conference room. We have weights all over the place if they need a break, they take a break. There’s no micromanaging and it’s just like get up and stretch. There’s all sorts of doohickeys everywhere for people to just take care of themselves. They love where they work. They enjoy their days and they don’t stagnate, they go to the gym. It’s a much better way to rule than to go and suffer and then think you’re going to go get it somewhere else.
I do corporate wellness for 22, almost 2,300 companies right now. I go in there and they’re consulting with me to be like how do we fix this? It’s just like well look at this place! Artificial lights, cubicles, miserable people on sugar and coffee, and you’re wondering why productivity is down and morale is down. Takes just a couple months, all of a sudden they’re like you’re a magician! How are you a ten billion dollar company? Everything is so backwards in our work environment that these little changes make huge differences in health markers and also dollars spent for these companies, which is profitable.
Dr. Trevor: Yeah absolutely. Let’s talk about sleep. The importance of sleep.
Pedram: I’ve got a three-month old at home. So sleep is not something, insomnia is not something I have, it’s just crying babies is what we have. Some of the best stuff happens when we shut down. We are so busy doing all day, we are so busy cranking all day that it’s darn near impossible for us to be able to do the maintenance and the kind of behind the scenes stuff as the bullets are flying. Sleep’s that place where we know now that there’s the lymphatic system where the lymph system in the brain gets detoxified. The different pathways at night when we’re sleeping that pull all the residual toxins out of our brain so you get up, you feel fresh, you feel motivated, you feel enthusiastic. You want to go do that thing that you’ve been meaning to do in your life, it’s because your brain recharged at night and it reset, it pulled the gunk out, and now you can do it.
That’s a big piece of it. The other piece is there’s growth hormone, there’s all the REM sleep which cleans up and trims all the neurons you don’t need. It’s what goes up must come down. We live in a culture where we think what goes up and starts to come down can then drink Red Bull or coffee or something. I’m going to borrow energy from tomorrow to get through today because I have these energetic requirements of me and I can rest when I’m dead. That usually means you’re going to die sooner. It’s just an unsustainable way to live and there’s a lot of people out there being like just do that and then take my so-and-so diet. To that I say bullshit. Bullshit. That’s not how things work. It’s not how physiologically we work.
If we were to just find balance and live our days in a way where it’s thought like oh my god, I can’t believe it’s only Tuesday, it’s like well today was a great day and I’ll wake up tomorrow and this is what I’m going to do first thing in the morning and handle it. You don’t feel like you’re not taking care of yourself because most of us feel like we’re forgoing our own stuff for our kids, for our career, for our boyfriends and girlfriends and all that. We start to resent people because we feel like we’re not getting ours. So then it’s like why are you being so snarky with me? It’s just like I just needed some time. Well why don’t you take it? We get into all these fights, we get into domestic problems. I’ve been around the block. I’ve probably saved thousands of marriages just by fixing cortisol levels in patients who were just starting to snap at each other because they just don’t feel well. You come home and it’s just like I just wanted to crash on that couch and you’re asking me to help clean dinner. It’s like well yeah. But you don’t have gas in the tank so now you’re just mad at me for not getting what you need out of life.
Dr. Trevor: Absolutely. So sleep is really big for having gas in the tank.
Pedram: It’s where we refuel really.
Dr. Trevor: It’s where we refuel. But what other ways do we keep the gas in the tank? Because we all want to live these amazing lives and do a million things and have a family and social life and do all the things, go skiing.
Pedram: And we need to. We need to have fun. There’s a lot of things to look at. I think one of the biggest pieces, I mean a lot of feedback from the book now, it’s been out for a couple weeks is, people just don’t realize that you’re digestive tract, first of all, has seventy percent of your immune system in it. All of your troops are on that border, so what we eat is either seen as friend or foe. Oh great, I needed this so let’s move this over, it’s like a receiving department in a company. It’s like the checks are coming in and we need to process them and throw them in the bank. So if that receiving department becomes inefficient, and even though the checks are coming in we spend so much energy trying to process those that checks that we end up being in a negative situation, that’s what’s happening in our world. It’s called leaky gut, it’s called dyspiosis, it’s all these things that happen when we eat foods that our body doesn’t like or doesn’t recognize as food.
Getting efficiency back in your digestion means that when you eat a meal you’re charged versus how many people out there right, if you’re listening to this and you eat food and you’re tired after a meal, that is not natural. It’s like the metaphor we use in Chinese medicine is you have a little fire. It’s a small fire. So if you were to take a huge big huge log and chuck it on a small fire, it’s done. It’s out, it snuffs it out. So what you do is you put on a little more kindling, you blow on it, you blow on it, you get it to a big fire, then you can throw anything on there and it’s going to burn. For me, we go back to old ancient wisdom. You get sick, what does Grandma do? She makes you soup. Why? It’s predigested, it’s easier to assimilate, helps get the nutrients where you need and it requires less energy to do so, so you can have the troops who need it on the front lines go repair your gut lining and go fight off whatever infection is in your body, whatever.
So it’s about managing your energy so that you can become better at extracting it, you can become better at moving it through your body, and you can become better at recovering at night and restoring it through just good, clean, healthy lifestyle.
Dr. Trevor: Yeah, absolutely. Those were really important things we talked about. Sleep and fueling your body, taking care of your gut. Those are great. And then also finding ways to manage stress on a day-to-day basis right? Really finding you don’t have to, like we talked about before, just be on a mountain top somewhere in the cross legged position.
Pedram: It’s a luxury. It’s great if you can get it.
Dr. Trevor: Yeah, but we don’t have to do that. We can do it while we’re driving. What are some meditation things that people can do without having to go to a yoga class if they don’t have time?
Pedram: Firstly is something that you and I have been doing since we sat here. It’s called breathing. We’re all doing it all the time. The question is are you conscious of your breathing or is your mind just untethered and flowing all over the place? One of the basic practices of any kind of meditation discipline is to anchor the awareness on the breath so that you can constantly corral the attention and bring it in, check in with yourself, and then have a frame of reference when external stimuli come at you to be able to be like yes, no, that’s not for me, I’m tired, I’m this, I’m that. How do you know that if you don’t check in with yourself?
Our culture is tough. It’s like oh my god, this thing just beeped, it did this thing, I’ve got to look at it! The answer to that is that you don’t really and so how can you train yourself to not constantly look for external stimuli and learn what kind of internal language there is. Breath is very good. There’s also a really good practice I learned from my zen master which is just at any given moment ask yourself what am I doing right now? Whatever it is just stop doing it and relax. It builds this discipline of checking constantly to see how you just waste energy. Most of us, psychologically, are driving with our foot on the gas and our foot on the break simultaneously. So much wasted energy, just chaos coming out of here.
One of the things I look at just kind of as a metaphor, if you will, is if you look at your life as like a desktop. You have these windows open. Most people have like twenty, thirty, forty windows open. They wonder why things are slow, my computer’s sluggish, I don’t get it, this computer sucks. Yes, sometimes this computer needs good fats. This computer needs more sleep. This computer needs nutrients. That’s kind of the basis of getting to be an urban monk is to feed yourself right. Then but how much energy are you wasting will all these windows open? A true meditation discipline for a modern person could be to just have your meditation be your virus scanner. What am I doing? How many windows do I have open right now? Whoa. Close save, close close, save, save close. Okay this is the one I need to work on right now. Bang! Get it done. Go do your push-ups, go stretch out, go drink some water, go to the bathroom, come back, open the next window, nail it.
I think there’s a big misconception about the entire premise of multitasking. You look at people who are very good at getting things done, they’re getting good at getting things done sequentially, it just looks like they’re multitasking. But right now I’m sitting here right now with you doing an interview. I’m not thinking about other things, I’m not figuring out payroll in my head, and then when it’s time to do payroll, that’s what I do! Just bang, bang, bang! Most of us are caught in this frenzied state thinking that we need to have more on our plate because you can rest when you’re dead and people who aren’t busy are losers and all sorts of weird memes that actually are killing us.
We want in life to have our stress lowered and our physiology upticked from our cardiology all the way to our muscle use. The heart, biggest muscle, that is the most important muscle if you will, and then the big muscles in the quads, the glutes, and all these things, they generate ATP through mitochondria. So if you get fit, you then have access to more energy. That energy feeds your brain, it feeds your life, it feeds your dreams, and you’ve got that excess energy to be able to invest in a life that is beyond where you’re at. Most people are stuck and they don’t have the flow, the cash flow if you will, to punch through that because they’re in energy debt, they’re in enthusiasm bankruptcy because they just don’t have that flicker. This book is about specifically teaching you how to find that flame, how to stoke that fire, get back to life and then use that energy to invest in a better future for yourself.
Dr. Trevor: I love it. I love it and I love how we’re calling you the Urban Monk, but you also say in the book it’s not just you that’s the Urban Monk, we all have the opportunity to be an urban monk right?
Pedram: Yeah, I’m just a guy. The whole point is now there’s thousands of people around the planet who are already self-identifying as urban monks. To me that’s a mission accomplished because it’s not about me, I don’t even want to be that guy. Anyone who wants to be a guru nowadays? Forget about it. That is an old model and people want to follow somebody? It’s like find your breath, find your inner spark, find access to divinity and step in and wake up. For me it’s like, I want millions of people to identify as urban monks because it’s about making the world a better place and taking the stand right here in our lives and stop running for the hills.
Dr. Trevor: Absolutely. Well thank you Pedram so much! Fun skiing with you and I had a great interview too.
Pedram: What a great day! If you like this format let her know, because I think she should be doing all of her interviews on chairlifts. Why not?
Dr. Trevor: Why not right?
Pedram: Yeah, thank you.
Dr. Trevor: Okay all right.
Dr. Trevor: I hope you enjoyed this interview today with Dr. Pedram Shojai. I’m really curious to hear what you thought of this format. Please go and post your comments below the podcast interview on my website thespadoctor.com or send me a message on social media. Let me know what you thought. Did you like this format? Do you want to see more interviews of me on the go? Outdoors? Or do you like the more traditional format? So please let me know and also if you enjoyed this interview with Dr. Pedram and the information he shared then you’re going to love his book The Urban Monk. So I encourage you to go check out his book. Go get it and also on my website you can look and learn more about his reboot program. So go to thespadoctor.com, the podcast interview, and below that you’ll see the links, all the information there. Thank you for joining us today and I’ll see you next time!