Self-Compassion or Losing My Edge?

We are living in strange times. So much has changed in all of our lives in such a short period of time. I could never have imagined the current state of our world. Maybe that was ignorance or short-sightedness or naivete´, but the events of the last couple months have me working to find my way in this new reality. Partly by necessity and partly through this process of feeling my way, I am doing a lot of things differently. Within these changes, I have found myself struggling to discern the difference between self-compassion and weakness or laziness.

I believe in listening to my gut and in being patient and compassionate with myself, but I also believe in self-discipline and determination and dedication. I believe in living courageously. Where is the line between these values? Are they dichotomous? How can they coexist?

The changes in my life and my habits extend beyond the bike, but I find so many metaphors in cycling (I’m writing a whole book around that.), that the bike is where these are most evident for me.

I’m still riding a lot. I have over 1,100 miles for 2020, so far. I generally ride five days out of seven. But I am doing it differently. Maybe it is okay because I am still putting in the miles, but it does make me stop to think whether I am being honest with myself. How much of this is related to COVID-19 and being socially responsible, and how much of it is losing my edge?

For me, my “edge” is my dedication and commitment to do what I say I am going to do, to live courageously and to push myself. Cycling is the major manifestation of it at this point in my life.

I have an index-card file (old-fashioned, I know!) of cycling routes I have constructed in every direction from Andale, ranging from 15 miles to over 100 miles. I have ridden all of them, mostly alone, some of them hundreds or even thousands of times.

In all honesty, I have felt myself becoming more constrained over the last few years, even before COVID-19. This has mostly been related to multiple scary close calls with chasing dogs. (And I LOVE dogs! Just not irresponsible people who let them run unsupervised. But that is another post.) There are some routes I have avoided completely since a particularly harrowing canine encounter. It feels like I have narrowed my “safe” options a little more in each of the past few years. I have told myself that there is no point adding to my stress if I can have a more enjoyable ride by playing it safe.

This year, in the midst of the pandemic, I have made the decision to do shorter loops on my longer rides, so that I can stop back by my home for bathroom and fluid breaks, rather than stopping in public places. For example, on Sunday, I rode 26 miles for the first loop and 25 miles for the second loop. Somehow this feels both safer and more socially responsible. I ride without a mask, alone on the road or occasionally with Kenny. The more I read and hear about the ability of asymptomatic individuals to carry the virus, the more important it seems to wear a mask when I am around people. So, it seems wiser and more courteous to be more self-contained on my mask-free rides.

But, is that the truth?

Is it just fear? Is it getting soft or weak?

And, whatever it is, what all is behind it?

I have pondered several possibilities.

  • Fear. There is certainly fear involved. This is not just about social responsibility, although that is part of it. But, is it simply that I am letting fear dictate my choices? I don’t believe in living my life from a place of fear, but, if I am genuinely (and justifiably?) fearful, is it smart to listen to it? Is that self-compassion? Is that trusting my instinct to keep me safe, or is it being a wimp? The line between the two seems blurred to me.
  • Uncertainty. It is impossible to plan anything right now. Everything feels uncertain and in question. Maybe that is why it feels safer to stick to known, safe, chasing-dog-free routes that are close to home. The uncertainty of the world is overwhelming. Introducing additional unpredictability feels like too much.
  • Weirdness. Grocery shopping feels so weird right now. Increasingly, it seems like the only appropriate thing to do is wear a mask, just in case we could be asymptomatic, but infectious. Or to help other people feel more comfortable. This is just one more thing to worry about on the bike. Putting a mask on a sweaty face (after pulling it out of a sweaty jersey pocket) sounds unappealing. Not wearing one into a small-town gas station seems rude, if not reckless.
  • Fatigue. Is it just that I am tired, not so much physically, but emotionally? The world feels heavy. Life is more complicated. We have all had to accept a lot of loss in the last couple of months. Maybe I am just exhausted by that and want to minimize my potential for more loss and stress and trauma. Does it just feel easier not to have to cope with apprehension around what I might experience out on the road in farther reaches, even though that sense of adventure and possibility has been food for my soul in the past?
  • Wisdom. Maybe I could take a more positive perspective. Maybe my reluctance to venture farther from home, to stop at small-town gas stations, to road-test routes where I have had previous serious dog problems is rooted in the wisdom of lived experience, replacing the perceived invincibility of youth. It is true that I have had many close calls with chasing, even snarling, dogs. I have had bottles thrown at me. I have been run off the road by a semi. I have been blown off the road by wind. It is possible that all this has accumulated into wisdom that has compelled me to shed the perception of invincibility that I carried through my younger adult years. I never really considered myself to be a risk taker, but I have ridden and/or run many thousands of miles alone, often in remote territory and in unfamiliar cities while travelling. For most of my life, this has just been what I have done. But maybe I now recognize the fragility of life, with the accumulation of loss of people and animals over the years, the recognition of how fleeting my son’s childhood is, the sense of foreboding that comes with realizing that I am likely in the last half of my own life. Maybe this translates to wisdom, to taking chances when it is smart and to avoiding them when it makes sense.
  • Hormones. Pedaling and pondering on Sunday morning, the possibility occurred to me that hormonal changes, like lower testosterone (Yes, women produce it, too.) associated with perimenopause could be contributing to my need to minimize risk. (I have been thinking a lot lately about menopause, in general, and plan to do a fairly extensive review of the literature around it, both for myself and for an idea I have for my coaching practice. Stay tuned, if you, too, are a perimenopausal woman.) This is just speculative pondering at this point, but maybe hormonal changes are producing more risk aversion in my life. Or, is that the very definition of losing my edge? Hmm.

I don’t think I have come to any solid conclusions through writing this post, but I believe there is value, not just for myself, in sharing my struggles because I know we all struggle. I know we are all living in a scary, uncertain and previously unimaginable time right now.

I know others are scared of this world, of COVID-19 and of the social and economic changes that it is bringing.

I know others feel the stress of uncertainty. When will we get back to “normal”? What will “normal” look like in the future? Will the kids have school and sports in the fall? Will we be able to take vacations this summer? Will it be safe to see the older adults in our lives or for them to see their grandkids?

I know that I am not the only one who finds it hard to relate to other people from behind a mask that conceals a smile or other facial expressions. I find that people are less inclined to make eye contact while wearing a mask. Is that because of self-consciousness or because we are all scared of each other right now? Maybe it is a little of both.

I know I am not the only one who feels fatigued by the heaviness of this world—the result of fear and uncertainty and accumulated loss. We have all had to give up traditions, vacations and habits that have been deeply engrained in our lives, that we never could have conceived of abandoning so abruptly and in such volume. Something as seemingly small as the Western social convention of shaking hands now sounds dangerous and has a questionable future. Even as we have become desensitized—“Oh, now school is cancelled. Now Biking Across Kansas is cancelled. Now we might not be able to travel to see family. Of course, I can’t get a haircut.”—the losses, both micro and macro, add up and weigh on us.

I also know that many of us do gain wisdom as we live life. Generally, this is good, but it may cause us to rethink long-held patterns and to look back wistfully on a more carefree time. Confucius said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” I wrote those words in my very first volume of quotes in 2001, but they feel truer than ever now. Our earned wisdom through lived experience feels unquestionably bittersweet, and sometimes more bitter than sweet.

I also know that I am not the only perimenopausal woman who may be feeling her way in the world, as her body changes and takes her mind and feelings along with it. Men experience hormonal changes, too. Testosterone levels decrease as they age. They may have similar feelings of risk aversion. I have recently determined to take a more proactive and positive approach to menopause, which is why I have planned a campaign for knowledge on the topic and a curation of the fruits of my study to share with others. It feels like I a way that I can contribute, while helping myself.

I am a thinker, so I contemplate these things more than a lot people do. But I believe that others are experiencing similar feelings, and I hope my ponderings can help some of you feel less alone and maybe can help you approach your response to these feelings with compassion, patience and self-love.

One of the reasons I love to read and write nonfiction is that I believe we all have so much to learn and to teach through sharing our struggles and what we learn through them. As I said, I learn and experience so much from my bike saddle that has far broader application in life. The issues I address in this post are not exclusive to the bike. My experience on the bike just helps me analyze and come closer to understanding them and to be able to articulate them in a way that may reach others.

I have noticed risk aversion and weariness and fear when it comes to my business, my job, my relationships, just being out in the world.

If you are experiencing a sense of wanting or needing to hunker down or to stay closer to home or to minimize exposure of any kind in the world, know that you are not alone. Even as I try to tease out the truth from the myth from the excuses, I am also committed to being compassionate, yet disciplined and patient, while still striving for excellence.

Maybe excellence doesn’t have to look the same as it used to look. Or maybe it doesn’t have to look the same right now. Maybe it is okay to pause a bit. Maybe it is okay to put in the miles, even if they are “safer” miles right now. Maybe it is enough to honor that I am not just curling up in a ball and shunning life.

I think all of us are still trying to figure out what this pandemic will mean for us and how our world will change. Maybe that is where the patience should come in.

Do any of these ponderings resonate with you? Have you resolved them in your life? What do you think—is it self-compassion to acknowledge and respond to our fears by taking “safer” action, or is that giving in to fear and losing our edge? I would be interested to know your perspective on this topic.

Let’s stay in touch in these uncertain times. If you haven’t yet joined my email list, please do.  I’ll send you my Plant-based Recipe booklet with 28 of my favorite nourishing and delicious recipes.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

And, if you are not a member of my JustWind Community Facebook group, I invite you to click the link and join us.

How to Stay Motivated when Everything Is Cancelled

As I pedaled into 40-mph headwind on my April 1 bike ride, coincidentally the anniversary of the day when Kenny gave me my first really nice road bike, a LeMond Buenos Aires, in 1999, I thought of Kristin Armstrong’s quote, “The test of a passion is the love of the drudgery it involves.” Because there is some drudgery involved in pedaling into a 40-mph headwind. Yet, cycling is one of my driving passions.

Just the previous day, we had publicly announced the cancellation of my beloved Biking Across Kansas cross-state tour for 2020, due to COVID-19. As I slowly turned the pedals, I pondered the reasons that I was riding in hellacious wind when BAK (and probably every other spring and maybe summer) organized ride is cancelled.

The answer came pretty easily: It’s part of who I am. One of my favorite mantras is one I paraphrased from a Neale Donald Walsch quote. It grounds me and helps me to make considered decisions. And it helped me answer my own question about why I was facing that wind, when seemingly every extrinsic reason had evaporated with COVID-19. “Each act is an act of self-definition.”

Every choice I make—from how I eat to how I move to how I think—defines me. My actions tell myself and the world who I am and what I value. Part of my self-definition is “cyclist.” Cyclists ride. We don’t have to have an event for which to train or a reason outside ourselves. We ride because it helps us remember who we are and helps us to be better people, acting from a place of centeredness. I wrote about this in 2018 in my post “The Bike Is Where I remember Who I Am.”

Even so, there was a fleeting moment in that headwind when, dragged down by the weight of what this pandemic is doing to our world, I thought, “Why bother?” With everything, including my absolute favorite event of every year, cancelled, why should I ride when it was drudgery, bordering on danger (in the crosswind).

But then I remembered my mantra. I remembered who I was. And I knew.

Of course, it’s not just BAK and my other annual bike rides that are cancelled. Everything is cancelled. Logan’s and every other high school, college and middle school athlete’s track, softball, baseball, swim and other spring sport season. Road races. Wimbledon. Summer Olympics. Conferences. Church services.  Family Gatherings. School!!!! Haircuts!!!! The list goes on.

I’ll be honest. As an introvert who gets overwhelmed and stressed out by excessive (from my perspective) gatherings and events, I don’t mind missing some group activities. But there are some I cherish. And there are others that I know are just as dear to other people. It is hard on all of us. And it can get depressing. And it can be demotivating, if we let the “why bothers” take over.

So how do we stay motivated when everything is cancelled?

There are a lot of creative strategies being employed. Zoom is getting a workout (and being exploited, sadly) like never before. Many people feel the need to connect visually, in real time with others, and we are fortunate to live in a time when connection has never been easier. Many virtual events are taking place. Everything, from campus visits to races, is being conducted virtually.

A couple weeks ago, Logan participated in a virtual 1600m time trial with his Flying Angels club teammates. He ran alone on our own Andale High School track, with only his parents and grandma watching, but I took a video and shared it on social media. The kids got to test themselves, and loyal fans who are missing track season got to watch.

Logan took the initative to organize a virtual 3200m race as an event on Strava for April 25. He has invited competitors from all over the world (because he has an amazing following, compared to my measly one. But I digress). We are focusing his training for the next couple weeks toward that event. He is excited about it. He’ll run physically alone, but in the virtual company of other athletes, and they’ll report their times. He is trying to think of a virtual medal or badge he can award.

So, when it comes to athletic endeavors, there are some creative ways to stay motivated. But we often have other goals in life, outside of athletic accomplishments. Sometimes, events are reasons. Upcoming vacations or weddings or reunions can be motivating factors for eating healthfully and achieving a weight at which we feel confident and strong and healthy. We may have a goal of building a successful business, but it feels both impossible and insensitive to push forward in the current world. Why bother?

As I rode into the wind that day, I thought about this and wanted to share my ideas:

  • Remember: Each act is an act of self-definition.
    • Who do I want to be? As that person, what would I do? These questions can help guide your choices.
  • Determine your most important priorities.
    • What truly matters and why? Be very specific. This is not some broad concept like “health” or “family.” This is a clear statement like, “I am building a viable business that will give me options, so I can leave my full-time job if and when and for the reasons I choose.” We can formulate similar statements for each of the most important priorities (which I think are somewhat different than goals) in our lives.  Think about the broad arenas that comprise our lives and consider what your priorities are within each of them: Health, Financial Well-being, Relationships, Legacy (the mark we make on the world, paid and unpaid) and Spirit. You will likely find some areas more compelling than others.
  • Reverse engineer.
    • What needs to happen for me to achieve this? Really think about this. What steps are involved? What actions need to be taken? “If I walk backwards and retrace my steps from that place of a lived priority, how did I get there?” Then commit to taking the necessary steps to do it.
    • One of my priorities is to optimize my health and fitness. They are gifts I have been given, and I believe I have a responsibility to make the most of them, so that I can have a positive impact on the world. I have not perfected this. But it is on my mind every single day. And, for the most part, I live it. Cycling is part of living that priority. So, I ride. Our passions are also gifts. And roadmaps. So, follow those, as you think about how you will achieve your true priorities.

These are the best ways I know to stay motivated when everything is cancelled. Be creative. Think about ways that you can still motivate yourself and others. But also go deep. Reflect on what matters most, who you really are, your most compelling aspirations and then backtrack in your mind and heart to unveil the steps, the daily actions, the moment-by-moment choices that got you to the place that you envision. Remind yourself constantly, again and again—because I find that is what it takes—why it is important, why it matters, why you cannot give in to the insidious “why bothers.”

And take the actions that embody your highest self-definition.  You are worth it, regardless of whether or not an event or activity or season you anticipated actually comes. Fundamentally, you are worth it. And, while it feels like the world is cancelled and closed or, at the very least, on pause, remember that this really is a season of our lives. Maybe it is not one we would have chosen or could ever have anticipated, but we find ourselves living it. So, don’t forget to live. Dig deep and unearth your intrinsic motivation. Your whys. And don’t let them get covered back up. It takes consistent effort, but keep them in front of you, pulling you in the direction of your priorities.

One of the images I have used with coaching clients is that of a beautiful, radiant golden ball of light, full of my (your) dreams and aspirations. Picture it in front of you, pulling you toward it with a magnetic force. Its beauty is astonishing and compelling. Follow that golden ball of light and keep pedaling or walking or running or rolling toward it. It transcends COVID-19 and cancellations and disappointment. Our dreams still matter. And we can still take steps to define ourselves in alignment with them. I believe we still have a responsibility to do so, even if the steps look different than we expected them to look. This is a time that calls for creativity and innovation. We can grow through this, if we choose.

Two days ago, as I was scrolling through notifications, as I prepared to get on my bike after work (from home), I saw an event, the Sand Plum Bicycle Classic, had been scheduled for June 7. It is usually in early May, and we would normally be on BAK on June 7. It seemed like a tiny pinhole of light and hope. It still seems aspirational. I certainly am not ready to register yet because it is hard to believe that it can actually happen. But maybe. Somebody believes. Somebody decided to put a bit of hope out there. So, I tapped the “interested” star on the Facebook event, and I will keep it in mind as I train. But I am training for me. For whom I am. For the person I want to be. For the health and fitness I want to have in my life. I don’t need an event out there to get me on my bike. But I don’t mind one either. A pinhole of light and possibility and hope.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Remember what matters and don’t let this time slip away into a mush of excuses and “why bothers.” Keep visualizing the golden ball of radiant light, filled with your highest aspirations and most important dreams and priorities, pulling you toward it with each self-defining act you choose. It doesn’t matter what’s cancelled. You are still who you are. And you can still become who you want to be.

6 Key Ingredients in My Healthiest Year+ Ever

There are so many wonderful ways we can take care of ourselves. What a gift that we can continue to learn new techniques and practices throughout our lifetimes!

I gave a presentation a couple days ago on self-care for academic advisors at the University where I work. I addressed inherent job risks for advisors and the importance of setting boundaries in our lives (not just important for advisors!). I also shared some of my favorite self-care practices, including some that I have discussed in previous blog posts, like square breathing, 3 Good Things, quotes, mantras exercise and meditation. It was fun for me to reflect on many of the things that have been most helpful in elevating the quality of my life.

I am grateful to enjoy excellent health, in general. I attribute this to many things, including rich blessings, which I believe obligate me to make a positive difference in the world in proportion to the gifts I have been given. In addition, I believe that I have a responsibility to take excellent care of the strong, healthy body I have been given.

For over a year now, I have been particularly fortunate to have very little trouble with colds or any other ailments. More than ever—and I really do mean ever—I have stayed exceptionally healthy.

In this post, I want to share with you six key ingredients I have used to create my recipe for my healthiest year plus.

This is not an exhaustive list. There are certainly other important things that I do to stay healthy and feel well.

This is also not medical advice. I am not a health care professional, and you should consult yours for medical advice specific to your situation.

I am a certified health and life coach, and I am a human with half a century (egad!!!!) of caring about and being interested in contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world—starting with how I treat, and what I do with, my own body. Through trial and error and lived experience, I have found certain things that I have incorporated into my life on a permanent basis because they made a noticeable difference in my health and well-being. I thought about listing the six I am featuring in this post alphabetically, because there is not necessarily a hierarchy of contribution to my wellness. I do think they have been additive over time, though, so I decided to list them chronologically, in order of when they became part of my regular practice. Each “ingredient” I list here has added to the previous ones to create a recipe for health that really serves me. They have made such a difference that I decided to share and explain.

1982/2008: Whole-Food, Plant-Based Nourishment

A pot of lentil and vegetable stew
Lentil Veggie Stew

This one has evolved over time. My journey to plant-based eating started in 1982, when I was 12. I became vegetarian (I didn’t even know vegans existed back then.) because I had never liked the idea of eating animals. From the time I was very young, it made me sad. Finally, after several upsetting experiences, including having the butchered flesh of a cow named Blackie, whom I had met, come into our home, I took the announced that I was never eating meat again. It was a lonely world for an adolescent vegetarian back then. I was the only vegetarian in my family or my group of friends (although my friend Quynh’s mother was vegetarian, but there was a language barrier between us). There was no internet. I had to go to an actual brick-and-mortar bookstore or library to get any information. And there wasn’t much in those days. Still, I knew I was on the right path for me.

I cut meat from my diet for ethical reasons, but I was pleasantly surprised to notice an increase in stamina between my seventh-grade basketball season and my eighth-grade basketball season. I first noticed it when running laps for basketball. This is anecdotal, of course. There was no scientific study isolating vegetarianism from other possible contributing variables, but I wasn’t consciously looking for a difference, and I found one. I was maturing, too, but I decided that my vegetarian diet was the main factor in my improved stamina. I still believe that.

So, the internet and better information came along, but, honestly, I wanted to believe for many years that I was living my values by being vegetarian. Even once the tools were there for finding out the whole truth about the egg and dairy industries, I avoided researching—until my conscience would no longer let me. In early 2008 I decided that, since one of my core values was integrity, I needed to find out if I was really living in integrity. I researched the egg and dairy industries and found out that some of the most horrific animal living conditions and some of the worst cruelty exists in the production of eggs and dairy products. Learning the truth was painful, and it was not convenient. A fair amount of guilt ensued for not trying to learn this sooner, but it became clear that, in order to live according to my professed values (Compassion is #1!), I needed to become vegan.

So, I did.

It has become easier and easier to be a plant-based eater. The internet is not only a source of information, but a source of community. Books abound these days! You can have them delivered to your electronic device instantly, 24 hours a day. Such a different world. Being vegan is not lonely. It is joyful. I have wonderful, caring vegan friends.

In addition to improved mental health, due to living in alignment with my values, my physical health improved. My skin became clearer. My colds became milder. I stopped having bladder infections, after having spent a couple rounds of two years each on prophylactic Macrodantin (until I developed resistance). True story. These things really got better, and my vegan diet was the difference.

I eat a mostly whole-food, completely plant-based diet. This is one of the most significant factors in maintaining my excellent health. It is easier than ever. If you would like my help transitioning, email me at sheri@justwindcoach.com. Or, get 28 of my favorite recipes when you join my email list here.

1992: Consistent, Intentional Exercise

Two people on road bikes
BAK 2017 with Logan

I was reasonably active as a child and teenager. I played basketball from 4th through 9th grades (proudly helping my Sacred Heart 5th– and 8th-grade teams win Oklahoma Catholic Grade School Athletic Association state championships! 😊). I played my freshman year at Mount Saint Mary High School, but we played public schools, and I found out I was not anywhere near as good a player as I had thought I was. After a season mostly on the bench, my basketball career reverted to driveway pick-up games with neighborhood boys (while my brother was planting the seeds for his future career as a technology genius by working inside on his Commodore VIC-20 and 64). I did sporadic exercise in fits and starts from then until 1992, when I was working on my undergraduate degree at Wichita State University. I worked full time and went to school at night. I finally started going to the Heskett Center (the building where I now work full time) to exercise between work and my 7:05 p.m. classes. I also did step workouts at home. I cringe at flashback to the then-fashionable tights and leotards I wore in public in the Heskett Center. I can only hope that there were never any pictures taken that might turn up in building archives.

Eventually, I started running, and in 1996 I committed to run the New York City Marathon as part of the Leukemia Society Team in Training. My life changed when I crossed the finish line in that first marathon and started thinking of myself as an athlete.

Ever since, endurance sports have been a major part of my life. Cycling came into it when I met my husband and trained for Biking Across Kansas in 1999. I got hooked and now serve on the BAK Board of Directors and love that week in June more than any other each year. (Registration for BAK 2020 opens this Friday. Register on 11/29 for a free jersey.)

I know that consistent, daily exercise is a major factor in my mental and physical health. In addition to cycling, I incorporate yoga, weight training, walking and other forms of exercise. I do something virtually every day.

I have a Master of Education degree in Exercise Science and held a personal training certification for 10 years, until I had to let that go in 2011, when a personal tragedy prevented me from recertifying. I am considering adding certain future certifications in physical activity. In the meantime, intentional movement is an integral part of who I am and why I am healthy.

2012: Echinacea

A picture of a tea cup and a box of tea bags.
Traditional Medicinals Echinacea Plus Tea

Specifically, Traditional Medicinals Echinacea Plus Tea. I am a believer in this stuff!

2011 was a difficult year for me. It ended in a very painful way that shook my world. I decided that 2012 was dedicated to recovery. This took a variety of forms in my life, but one thing I did was research what could enhance my immune system because I was getting sick more frequently than I wanted. Some of my research led me to echinacea. Admittedly, scientific research has shown mixed results, but I decided to give it a try. I think I first tried it when I felt myself coming down with a cold, and I just didn’t want to be sick. I was pleasantly amazed at how mild my symptoms quickly became and how soon I was well. It could have been coincidental, but I was convinced. I adopted this tea into my daily routine. I drink a cup every, single morning. When I am on Biking Across Kansas, where it may not always be easy to make tea, I cut open a tea bag and include it in the magic mix of nutrients I put into my preworkout energizer. If I feel like I am getting sick, I will drink extra cups—up to five a day. It almost always stops or dramatically lessens my symptoms and shortens the duration (based on my history with colds) of my illness.

I have recommended this tea to many people over the years. My skeptical husband even became a believer after he tried it.

Whether or not the science backs up the efficacy of echinacea for immune health, my anecdotal experience has been unequivocal. It made, and continues (over years) to make, a noticeable difference.

2014: Algae

Bags of spirulina and chlorella
ENERGYbits & RECOVERYbits

I honestly can’t remember how I first learned about ENERGYbits. It might have been through Brendan Brazier’s work on plant-based eating for athletic performance, but I am not sure. Anyway, at some point, I was looking for a way to enhance my energy level on the bike, and I found ENERGYbits, which is the name of both a company and a specific product made by the company. Initially, I only used ENERGYbits, which is 100% spirulina algae. I would swallow the spirulina, conveniently compressed into easy-to-swallow tablets. It’s food, not pills, but I do prefer to swallow, because it sticks to my teeth if I chew it. There is controversy around spirulina because it can be contaminated, if it is not organically grown in controlled conditions. ENERGYbits prioritizes the safety of its algae, so I feel great about using their products. Company founder Catharine Arnston learned about the benefits of algae when she was researching ways to help her younger sister heal from breast cancer. She concluded that a plant-based diet, heavy on greens, was a powerful healing strategy, and she learned that algae contains the highest concentration of alkaline-promoting chlorophyll of any food. Using algae as part of her plant-based diet, her sister healed and has remained free from cancer for 10 years.

For several years now, I have used ENERGYbits before my bike rides and RECOVERYbits afterward, often blended into my recovery smoothie. They truly make a difference in my energy level and endurance on the bike, and they help me recovery quickly and fully after tough rides. I sometimes give them to Logan before and after his training runs and races. He has noticed a benefit on his long runs.

ENERGYbits products aren’t just for athletic performance, though. They can be incorporated into a healthful, plant-based diet daily to energize, clear toxins and enhance overall nutrition. For an answer to the ever-popular question all vegans get asked, “Where do you get your protein?” take a look at this information comparing usable protein per acre of various animal and plant protein sources. Algae is also an outstanding source of B12. In addition to ENERGYbits and RECOVERYbits, there are also BEAUTYbits and VITALITYbits, although I have not used those products personally. If you want to make this a part of your nutritional plan, you can get 20% off when you use my discount code JustWind. Type it in the discount code box at checkout. (Full disclosure, I receive a free bag for every 10 bags bought using my discount code. Although I have been an affiliate for years, I have never promoted it, so I have bought all the bags under my code, up to this point. 😊)

2018: Meditation

My New Meditation Cushion

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I thought for years that I couldn’t meditate. When I was in my health and life coaching certification trainings, my constant, nagging concern, when I traded coaching sessions with my training partner, was stress and what it did to me and how I couldn’t get it under control.

Finally, in early 2018, I decided to give meditation a real try. I called it “mindfulness” for quite a while because “meditation” didn’t feel quite right. Until it did one day. After a short time of consistent, daily practice, I noticed how much calmer and more peaceful I felt. I was managing stress so much more productively. To my surprise, I started to look forward to my daily meditation in the same way that I do my bike rides.

What I noticed most is that my health took a dramatic turn for the positive. I went over a year without a single cold, even when students, coworkers and family members around me were sick. As I said above, I think all these “ingredients” have been additive, but this one has been huge. Since I have practiced meditation daily, I have only had one real cold and no laryngitis, which used to plague me on a regular basis. Even the cold I did get was quite mild, and most people didn’t even know that I had one.

I attribute meditation to taking my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health to the next level. As I taught in my presentation to fellow advisors this week, there is no one right way to do it. This was a limiting belief I had to overcome in order to allow meditation into my life. My practice incorporates breathing exercises, mindfulness, visualizations, affirmations and Kundalini yoga, depending what feels right on a given day. Now, I would not skip a single day. I meditate anywhere from about 10 minutes to around 30 minutes, depending on the time I have. I do it first thing in the morning or immediately after my morning workout. It is a game-changer.

2018: Mindset

A person posing for the camera

Description automatically generated

This is probably the most difficult to explain concisely. Maybe that is why I am writing a whole book that addresses the topic. The picture is of a content me. Life is not perfect, but I have made a choice to live consciously and to choose my perspectives carefully. I still experience stress, but I have learned how to think of it differently and to choose an empowering approach to it. Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It was life changing. I’ve written about it previously because it had such an impact on the way I view stress and how I allow it to affect me. It took a while for me to fully internalize her message, but it started percolating right away. The biggest takeaway from McGonigal’s book for me was the idea that a meaningful life is a stressful life. The same things that bring us the most stress—family, work, school—are the same things that bring us the most meaning. Recognizing that can change everything.

I don’t live in constant bliss, but I am healthier and happier, and part of that is my mindset. Meditation supports my chosen mindset, and so do several other practices, but consciously and actively choosing the mindset I want to hold is the first step. It is a big step that has made a rewarding difference.

So, these are some of the most important things that have contributed to my healthiest year plus ever. My guess is that any one of them added to your life could make a positive difference in your physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual health. Adding them together has compounded their benefits in my life.

I know I am not invincible. I could drop dead or be stricken down with some horrific illness (or a cold) tomorrow. I am committed to doing my part to take care of the gifts I have been given, though. These are some of the ways I do that.

I can be reached at sheri@justwindcoach.com or through a comment on this blog post or social media. I’d love to hear your experience with any of these or other practices that have made a healthy difference for you.

Changing Seasons and Moving Forward

I am writing this post in the first week of the dark, cold return to Central Standard Time. This is always a sad time for me because the end of daylight saving time marks the end of my cycling season. Returning to standard time in the curtailed sun-lit hours of autumn eliminates any possibility of weeknight rides because it is dark by the time I get home from work. The cold, blustery Kansas fall and winter will make cycling opportunities hit-or-miss, even on weekends.

This is hard for me. I love cycling. It is my release and my freedom. The bike is where I remember who I am, when the everyday challenges and responsibilities of life, even those I have chosen, threaten to obscure my true self. On top of that, this is heavy advising season at the University, so I really, really need my bike rides.

I have been continuing my basic page-a-day plan for writing my book. This week, I have been working on the early pages of Part 2, in which I will share many lessons learned from the perspective of a bike saddle. As I wrote in my inaugural blog post, back in 2015, cycling has shaped my mindset and the structure of my life in so many ways. It continues to serve as the inspiration and framework for my book and to be a source of joy (as well as fitness) for which I am extremely grateful.

I hear people say, “I like the change of seasons.” Honestly, I don’t. I would be perfectly content with perpetual summer. I like long days and warm air. I realize I would still lose my long days in warmer parts of the country or world, but that might be easier to take if it were not also cold. The end of daylight saving time, admittedly a human-made construct, and with it, cycling season, feels more significant to me than the autumnal equinox.

My goal with this post is not to whine and complain, though. It is to move forward positively, as I reflect on another season of safe and healthy cycling with gratitude. While I honestly believe that I would be just as grateful for my safe and healthy cycling if I could ride as much as I want all year, I can choose to reframe this time in a constructive way.

I can use this off season for increasing my yoga practice, working to strengthen my body for life and cycling, and comporting myself with grace and gratitude through these next four months to achieve as much peace and productivity as possible.

All of us will encounter periods of life when things are not exactly as we would choose. We have two options in those situations. We can stew over our displeasure and feel victimized by circumstances, or we can find a way to make meaning of our situation and create something positive.

That is the challenge for us. When trapped for a period in conditions that deviate from our ideal, what are we going to make of the time?

The key is catching ourselves before we slide into a trench of despair or self-pity. We have to notice when we are at risk for taking this plunge. This requires self-awareness and a conscious decision to choose a higher, more uplifting path.

Then, it takes the determination and self-discipline to pursue that path. Daily meditation helps me, and continuing my rides on the weekends and days off work, weather permitting, will also help. Once we have made the decision to choose better, we need reliable means of staying centered or recalibrating when something throws us off course.

Maybe you love winter. Maybe you are one of the people who relish hibernating indoors and love nothing more than a movie marathon. Even if that is true, and you are in your element with the short, dark, cold days, there will be times, seasonally or otherwise, when you are less than satisfied with your current conditions. What choice will you make—self-pity or positive forward movement? What centering or recalibrating strategies will you use? Do you need help finding your way?

It benefits us to have a consistent daily practice and a strong commitment to our values in place, so that when circumstances unsettle us, we can fall back on them to remind us of what matters most and help us keep moving forward, even if slowly.

Today, Saturday, is forecast to be a nice day. Pretty soon, I am going to gear up and go for a bike ride. Getting my bike fix when I can makes so much difference. It is a matter of making the most of our circumstances and taking opportunities when they present themselves. I’m grateful for this gift of a reasonably warm and sunny day on weekend. I will use the gift to continue to propel myself onward in the best, most positive way I can during this off season, so that I can accomplish the physical, creative, professional and personal development goals that are important to my commitment to living with no regrets.

Let me know how I can help you establish the habits and practices that will enable you to continue moving in your desired direction, regardless of what life throws at you.

The Bike Is Where I Remember Who I Am

“My workout is my obligation to life. It’s my tranquilizer. It’s part of the way I tell the truth . . ..” –Jack LaLane

The work week and the heaviness of the world can weigh on me to the point where I feel like I don’t have the time, mental space or the emotional capacity to process my higher-level goals or work on the things that matter most to me.

The bike is where I remember who I am.

Part of this is just the gift of the ride. Out on the road—usually alone—my head clears, and space is created for inspiration and introspection. On the bike, whether for one hour or several, I can release the worries, stressors, deadlines and obligations of the rest of life. Although it is temporary, and I am under no illusions that it is otherwise, it is a true gift that has allowed me to find solutions to problems and answers to troubling questions. Often these answers may elude me when I give thought to the questions or issues off the bike. But, setting out on the road opens doors to possibilities that I have not been able to pry ajar during the rest of life.

Alone on the bike, I am free from noise and distractions, and my focus can be given to deeper thought and clearer thinking.

In an article in Scientific American, psychology professor Justin Rhodes explores some of the physiological and neurochemical reasons that exercise enhances thinking. One explanation is the increased blood flow—to the brain and elsewhere—induced by physical activity. Our hyperoxygenated brain is more effective at solving problems and thinking deeply.

Rhodes discusses the role of the hippocampus in exercise. I find this particularly interesting and plan to explore further how the hippocampus may be responsible for much of the mental and emotional benefit I experience during exercise. Memory, emotions and motivation—all factors in the heightened state I feel on the bike—are influenced by the function of the hippocampus.

There is some speculation that the evolutionary explanation for the exercise effect on brain function is that it was beneficial for our ancient ancestors to think more clearly and encode memories more deeply when exerting to fight or flee a danger. While there very well may be some truth to this, I also experience a sense of peace and happiness on the bike that feels inconsistent with a fight-or-flight response.

However, neurochemically, there is basis for this explanation. Albeit volitional and generally positive, exercise is a form of physical stress (which is why it needs to be balanced with rest and nutrition), resulting in physiological adaptations to stress. The brain releases Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein that protects and repairs neurons throughout the brain and body. Endorphins, hormones which act as a natural analgesic, are produced when we exercise, both minimizing physical discomfort and elevating emotions. This produces the experience known as “runner’s high.” As internally produced opioids, endorphins help form the exercise habit and keep the movers coming back for more.

Those are some of the physical explanations for the emotional benefits of exercise.

It is even deeper than that for me, tough. I feel a strong spiritual connection to the Universe, both that which is tangible in nature and that which is intangible.

This connection goes beyond recognizing the natural beauty around me, as I ride on quiet, rural roads. I do recognize it, and it plays a part in my well-being. I also feel more open, though, to receiving guidance and wisdom from the Universe, and I have found that I can beckon the Universal guidance through a process that I have refined, but that may continue to evolve.

It used to be that ideas and solutions would simply come to me on the bike, fairly infrequently, but powerfully, when they did. As I have nurtured increased mindfulness in my life and have felt an acceleration in personal growth since doing so, I have sought the guidance of the road more consciously. By opening myself to the gifts of the Universe, I have found myself more often the beneficiary of this guidance. While I don’t claim to understand fully (or even at all) its Source, I do have a renewed belief in its existence. And, the bike is where it very often finds me. Or, I find it. I am not sure which it is. I just know that the bike is where I remember (or am reminded) who I am.

Importantly, although it is the bike for me, it might be a run or a walk (I have glimpsed it on both.) for you. Or, if you are an extrovert (I am not.), maybe it is in a group dance or exercise class. Maybe it is in a game. Wichita State University basketball player Ricky Torres was recently quoted as saying, “If there was ever a lot going on in my life, I’d go get in the gym. When I’m on the court, I feel nothing else.” (The Sunflower, Issue 21, Volume 123, November 5, 2018) I believe he is referring to the same phenomenon I encounter on the bike.

So, the first step is finding the physical activity that reminds you who you are by helping you shed the layers of stress and heaviness and worries that daily life can pile upon you. This may take some experimenting, or, if you are lucky, you already know what it is. Maybe it is not just one form of movement, but there is likely one that stands out more than others as most consistently eliciting positive physiological and psychological responses. Commit to incorporating it into your life on a regular basis.

Here is my current practice for prompting the benefit in my life:

  1. I choose a quote from my vast collection. I do it randomly, but move on to another if the one on which I land does not speak to me in the moment. I want a quote that evokes thought and invites pondering and/or serves as affirmation. I may paraphrase it to make it easier to recall or more personal. I commit it to my short-term memory for easy retrieval.
  2. Before I get on the bike, I take three “4-2-6” breaths. This means that I inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 2 and exhale for a count of 6. While there are many beneficial breathing patterns that can be used, and that I use personally, I can’t remember where I first heard this one suggested as a pattern to use when you want to be “on.” (I also use this one before presentations or other times where my performance is important.) In general, controlled breathing patterns stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the relaxation response. I have not been able to find documentation about why 4-2-6 works to increase focus and is beneficial before performance. I think it may be as much the act of the ritual as anything, but it is effective for me, so I do it.
  3. I think of my quote as I center my mind.
  4. I have found the addition of an evocative question to be particularly effective at inducing great thinking and inviting inspiration on the bike. On my most recent emotionally and spiritually powerful ride, I used four questions that Rich Litvin asked some of his coaching clients: 1. What are your three biggest gifts? 2. What are your top three professional successes? 3. What holds you back the most—and always has? 4. What is the dark side of each of your gifts? Wow! What I learned about myself by asking these questions was incredible and led me to some clear conclusions about where my energy and priorities should be focused. More often, it is just one question, frequently inspired by the quote I choose as my mantra.
  5. I set an intention for my ride. This usually includes the all-important “staying safe,” but my most introspective, insightful and impactful rides are the ones where I set an intention to have questions answered, problems solved, to be open to the best the Universe has to offer or to find peace around a concern. The more specific I am, the better.
  6. Then, I ride. I usually settle into the ride for a few minutes and get out of town before recalling my mantra. I will often visualize around the mantra and may even recite it out loud.
  7. I reiterate my intention and my openness to receive.
  8. I ask myself the question or questions and ponder them.
  9. My mind opens, and I pay attention to the wisdom and guidance that comes my way. When this happens, I find myself feeling lighter, happier, more excited and stronger on the bike. I often notice that I am smiling. I may want the ride to go on and on.
  10. Eventually, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, I must return home. I have recently become more consistent about reflecting as quickly as I can—maybe just after my shower—on what I have learned on the bike. This is best done in my journal, or, occasionally, in a document on my laptop. Much like waking from a dream, I find that I am more likely to be able to remember and use the insight from the ride by capturing it as soon as possible.
  11. I decide where to take action. This is key. Without action, if the insight calls for it, I squander the wisdom the Universe has offered. I have learned to act, if only by taking a tiny first step. It is a way of appreciating what I have been given.

This blog post is one of the actions I am taking after a particularly insightful, if short and cold, ride I had last weekend. I sense that there is much more to come from what I learned on this ride. I am grateful and look forward to creating possibilities, based on my guidance on Saturday’s ride.

The bike is where I remember who I am. It is where I reclaim my power after work and daily life and stressors have eroded my belief in it and loosened my grasp of it. It is where, even more than in my daily meditation, I find myself to be the most open vessel to collect the best wisdom the Universe has to offer. It is a gift to know this about myself, and it is a gift that I want to give you—the awareness of mindful movement as a tool for growing into your Highest Good, Greatest Self and Grandest Life. I have not reached any of those yet, but I know that my bike rides propel me more quickly down the long, winding, head- and crosswind-riddled road of my journey to realizing these things in my own life. I believe the intentional pursuit of them is my responsibility, as well as my gift, even if it is painful and challenging at many junctures, not unlike some bike rides.

“Say ‘meditation’ to someone, and they usually picture someone sitting in a quiet, dark room. But you can just as easily meditate, relaxing yourself and visualizing, while your body is in motion during a Moving Meditation. It’s where the real you pops out. It’s when your true integrity, drive, passion, perseverance, tenacity, grace, and patience start to show and shine.” –Stacey Griffith

Jailbreak from Mediocrity

What’s more frightening: the uncertainty of exploring uncharted territory, or the certainty that if you stay put, you’re imprisoned in mediocrity?” –Iris Krasnow

Between multiple, consecutive gray, overcast days and a disappointing setback Friday night, I found myself on my bike yesterday (after yet another weekend rain delay!) thinking, “It would be easier not to . . ..”

In this case, the “easier not to” referred to bothering to build a coaching business. It is not the first time that thought has crossed (or hung out in) my mind. Sometimes, that thought has gotten the better of me for a period of time. Lately, I have been more successful at warding it off, but it was coming back with a vengeance yesterday.

It’s not just building my business, though, I realized, as I pedaled into the headwind in a fairly heavy mist. It’s also easier not to ride my bike. It’s easier not to write a blog post, take a course, cook a healthful dinner, go to the trouble of learning new software and practices for managing business finances, have a child, be in a relationship. You name it. It is probably easier to sit on the couch and not take the chances or put forth the effort to do any number of things in life.

But, if we don’t, what’s left? Did we live at all?

For me, with the coaching business, I believe there is a reason that the idea hasn’t left me alone since it first presented itself around 2001. I pushed it away for several years because it seemed impractical, with a young child and little support or enthusiasm from others.

It rose back to the surface, though, a couple years ago when I was feeling very dissatisfied with my career and had experienced a couple major professional disappointments in a few years. This time, I promised my idea and my spirit that I wouldn’t shove it back down.

Still, it’s not easy, and it’s the “uncharted territory” to which Iris Krasnow refers. Any time we take a risk on something new, it is scary. Accidents and unforeseen events can take place. We may have to climb over huge obstacles we didn’t even know were there. Yet, finding out what is at the end of the journey in this uncharted territory is compelling. Sticking with the known and not worrying about getting dirty or risking some scrapes and bruises might be safer on one level, but soul crushing on another.

Years ago, when I first read Krasnow’s words, I experienced a visceral negative reaction to the concept of mediocrity. Rather than the pursuit of dominance over others, the rejection of mediocrity is for me a reaction to my belief in my responsibility to optimize my strengths, talents, resources and experiences–to give back in proportion to what I have been given.

It has become clear to me over recent months that my recurrent urge to serve the world through a variety of manifestations of health and habit change coaching—including blogging; individual coaching; my free Facebook group: JustWind Producers of Power & Purpose; and future workshops, classes and nonprofit work—is a calling from the Universe.

Sometimes, I have relished the synchronicity and signs that have reassured me that I was on the correct path. Other times, it feels like I am braving Krasnow’s uncharted territory all alone, in the desolate and uncertain wilderness.

My mindfulness practices, along with my cycling, have become lifelines for me, helping me stay grounded and focused during the inevitable ebbs and flows of life. When I start to stumble and risk falling into a pit of hopelessness, I have practices in place these days to throw down a net and catch myself before I hit bottom.

The net helps me bounce back up and courageously return to the uncharted territory.

Yes, it would be easier not to bother, at least for a while. But, then it wouldn’t be. Then, regret would set in–disappointment in myself. I would be mired irrevocably in the muck of mediocrity.

This prison that Krasnow describes is even more frightening to me. As an introvert, I live in my head a lot. To be trapped there with the disappointment and shame that mediocrity would bring feels like the worst fate.

I’ve set some ambitious goals for myself that I am just starting to share with a few people. They are scary. But, the alternative to pursuing them is worse.

So, how do I—and how do you—persevere on an uncharted journey of uncertainty and risk? Here are the things that currently sustain me:

  • I have cultivated a deeper belief in the abundance of the Universe, in an updated way that resonates with me, as the person I am today. We each must find our own path here, but I have come to believe that finding it is crucial. It will likely evolve over time, but it is important to honor our need for a connection to something greater. I have a consistent, cherished daily mindfulness practice that now includes meditation, which I long believed was something I could not do. Now, I can’t do without it.
  • I have connected with supportive others, including a couple of Facebook groups and some business coaches. This helps when I feel alone. I can serve others in the group, while I receive support and guidance myself. As in any relationship, there can be disappointment, but I have grown much more since connecting with the people in these groups than I was doing entirely on my own. Finding the right fit is important. Although my coaching certification institution emphasized that they were “my tribe,” they weren’t. I had to find the right people on my own.
  • I trust my own intuition and instincts. Mindfulness has helped me tune into this and honor this more than ever. I have always believed in doing this, but I am more likely to trust myself now than I used to be. I can really listen when I am in my state of mindfulness, whether it is during my formal practice each day or it is just found in my increased centeredness, a residual effect of my practice. Much like exercise has benefits that last for hours following the actual movement, mindfulness resets my emotional barometer and keeps me on a calmer, more receptive plane throughout the day.
  • I strive to maintain the lifestyle practices that I teach for living and aging with power and purpose—purposeful living, plant-based nourishment and empowered movement—with a high level of integrity. Taking excellent care of my body, mind and spirit best positions me to persist when the going gets tough.

These are what I recommend to you, as you dig deep and find the courage to attempt the jailbreak from mediocrity too. What does that mean for you? Which is more frightening—uncharted territory or known mediocrity? How can I support you?

“There is an inner knowing that there is more to life than the mundane, as well as a desire to create meaning of one’s life by doing the best that one is capable of doing.”

–Linda Kreger Silverman

2 Techniques for Calming a Busy Mind

My mind is busy! I am sure a lot of minds are. In general, I am glad to have an active interior life. There are times, though, that this blessing can be a curse. Often, throughout the years, I have wished I could turn off my brain. In the past, the closest I usually came to that was on my bike, which is still one of the best ways to release the “busyness” of my mind. Interestingly, doing so frequently opens the channel for my greatest creativity and introspection. I am grateful for this avenue to self-exploration and expression.

 

In the last year, I have added a consistent mindfulness practice to my morning routine and have been pleasantly surprised to discover how much it has come to mean to me. I even look forward to it, much like my anticipation of a bike ride.

 

It can still be challenging to calm my mind. Now, though, I am able to be more forgiving and accepting of myself and to acknowledge that my mind is busy trying to accomplish important things. I can recognize more quickly when I have followed a thought off on a trail. Then, I can gently acknowledge my mind’s activity and consciously return to my breath.

 

Two techniques tend to be helpful for keeping my focus on my breath and in the moment. I use both, depending on what most resonates with me at the time. The first is noticing the feeling of my inhalations and exhalations at the tip of my nose. The tangible sensation of my breath entering and exiting my nostrils can be effective for keeping my mind in the present. At other times, I picture myself enveloped in a golden ball of light. Besides keeping my focus on the present, this also feels uplifting and spiritual. Done well, I even feel the warmth of the light, which I interpret as an exchange between my Source Energy and the energy from the Universe, replenishing and renewing my internal well.

 

Over the year or so of consistent practice, I have noticed that I am happier, calmer and better able to manage stress. I am more easily able to return to a positive state. The renewal that I envision with the golden ball of light is real. I only have to open the channel to receive it, by consciously quieting the noise and activity that frequently occupy my attention, so that my awareness is sharpened to accept the gifts of the present moment.