How To Achieve A Physical & Mental State Change, From An MD
In my early 20s, I survived on coffee, green apples from the farmers market outside my apartment building, protein bars, and grilled chicken from the sandwich counter at my local bodega—no exaggeration. I unknowingly subscribed to the cult of orthorexia before the obsession with "healthy" eating became a thing. At the time, I had no pretense around being "healthy." Instead, I just thought healthy equaled skinny.
The only problem was that I didn't feel good. I was anxious, stressed, and lost, and without realizing it, I started to try to find a way out—of everything. On some visceral level, I knew that I wasn't on the right path—I certainly wasn't on the path to becoming who I am today. But I had absolutely no idea where that path was or how to find it.
My path toward reaching a State Change.
Like a mouse in a maze, I started walking, a lot. Initially, it was just around the neighborhood where I worked. A few months into my wanderings, I happened upon a flyer pasted to a streetlight on Warren Street. It was for five-dollar classes at a yoga studio in a fourth-floor walk-up above one of those jam-packed ground-floor shops in New York City that has a little of everything—staplers, screwdrivers, Halloween costumes…I signed up because I needed something to do when I didn't feel like window shopping or crying on the phone.
Yoga was immediately different from running on the treadmill at the Y. My breathing slowed. My focus stayed in the room. I discovered that holding still was more difficult than moving quickly. After the thoughts stopped racing through my head, I became acutely aware of my body in space for the first time. My sweat felt like it was coming from a deeper place than just below the surface of my skin.
After my first class, I threw my drenched clothes in a bag. It wasn't hot yoga; the class had just been that hard. As I walked back down the four flights of stairs, I noticed a strange feeling. First, my legs were shaking like I'd just run 10 miles. Second, I was calm, possibly for the first time ever. My head wasn't spinning through that cycle of external blame and internal shame that I'd been stuck in for years—the same one I had used to rationalize my reality. Instead, I felt suddenly in the present, without worrying about what was going to happen next or reexamining everything that had already happened in the hopes of reaching a different outcome. That feeling of constant tension, like my body was attached to a live wire, was gone. I felt free.
While I didn't appreciate it at the time, I had just used my body to change my mind—I had used my physiology to overhaul my psychology. This wasn't just a quick fix, feel-good moment: This was the beginning of a transformation of my baseline emotional state leveraged by a shift in my physical state.
How it affected my overall well-being—for good.
This metamorphosis of your emotional and mental health triggered by a change in your physical health is what I call a State Change. A State Change is when you establish a new normal, or a new set point for how you feel on a daily basis. At baseline, you feel happier, have an easier time discovering what you want, are able to tap into your passions, feel more confident in your decisions, and are able to unlock a new level of consciousness that you may have never realized even existed.
State Changes don't happen after one yoga class. But for me, one yoga class was the unexpected first step toward rethinking my daily behaviors, or core actions, as I call them throughout this book: the things we do every day with or to our bodies that can have a huge impact on our physical and mental health.
My first State Change led to a major shift that ultimately changed my life. This started, though, with a physical, mental, and emotional wake-up call. Suddenly, I realized just how many of my waking hours were spent in a continual state of distraction and anxiety, as I began to discover through yoga more clarity, energized calm, and mindfulness. Eventually, a calmer, more energized state wasn't just my in-class mode but my new baseline—how I felt on a consistent, regular basis.
Unlike other types of exercise where I felt exhausted afterward or like I was literally and figuratively stuck on a treadmill, yoga showed me how to slow down, enjoy the moment, and feel more comfortable in my skin. The practice helped me see that my body wasn't the enemy—something I had to beat into shape or force to tone up or whittle down—but a beautiful vehicle for movement. I started to focus on feeling strong rather than making sure I worked out for a certain amount of time, lifted X pounds of weights, or burned Y number of calories.
But it wasn't just about yoga—or even exercise in general. After my first State Change, I began to examine other core actions—the foods I regularly ate, how I slept, how and how much I stared at screens—and ways I might be able to shift these core actions, like I had done with exercise, to achieve a State Change on another level.
In particular, I started paying attention to how certain foods made me feel, as I realized many of the things I consumed on a regular basis left me feeling wired, tired, or bloated. Similar to exercise, I began to see that I had been using food for the wrong reasons—to be skinny, for example, not to feel more vibrant, alive, calm, and comfortable in my digestion.
As I experimented with what I ate, I began to understand there were lots of ways to have a State Change. I didn't have to start or stick with exercise—I could use any core action to achieve a new baseline. These core actions, or what I did daily with my body, weren't just a "lifestyle," which had always seemed like a wishy-washy concept, but doorways I could open to feel better, healthier, and happier.
Excerpted from State Change. Copyright © 2022, Robin Berzin. Reproduced by permission of Simon Element, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.
Robin Berzin, M.D., is a functional medicine physician and the founder of Parsley Health. She currently lives in New York, NY and her mission is to make functional medicine affordable and modern, so more people can access a holistic, root-cause approach to health.
A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Berzin went to medical school at Columbia University and later trained in internal medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is also a certified yoga instructor and a meditation teacher, and has formally studied Ayurveda. Dr. Berzin writes for a number of leading wellness sites, and speaks regularly for organizations including the Clinton Foundation, Health 2.0, Summit and the Functional Forum, on how we can reinvent health care.
She's also a mindbodygreen courses instructor, teaching her Stress Solution program designed to help you tune down the stress in your life and tune up your energy and happiness.