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

“But, I was only in my late 70s when I did that.”

“But I was only in my late 70s when I did that.” When I heard those words, I knew this chance encounter was even more special than I had initially realized.

I wanted to write this post the minute I got off my bike on Sunday, because I was so pumped about meeting Dale, but life has been very full, so it had to wait a couple days.

I look forward to my longer weekend rides all week. Work and family obligations encroached on my time this past weekend, and I anticipated Sunday morning’s ride feeling frustrated that I would not be able to ride as far as I would like. However, I was determined to make the ride a positive experience and celebrate the miles I would get.

Empowered movement combines mindset and movement. Before I get on the bike (or practice yoga, do strength training, go for a walk, etc.), I choose a quote on which to reflect and set an intention for the ride. On this ride I decided that I would reflect on my quote and repeat some mantras and affirmations each time I turned a different direction.

One of the advantages of riding on quiet, rural roads is that I can talk out loud most of the time. Each time I turned a corner, I spoke my quote, some related affirmations and other words that came to my mind. It was all very stream-of-consciousness. I felt more inspired and energized each time I voiced my empowering words.

I was excited by the time I stopped for a bathroom break 23 miles into my ride. As I came out of the bathroom on a rail trail just off the road where I was riding, an older man rode up and propped his bike against a park bench. We greeted each other, and then he said, “I see you all the time on 21st Street. We are usually going opposite directions, and I say to myself, ‘There is the lady on the white Fuji, and she goes WOOSH!’” He introduced himself as Dale, and we shook hands.

We talked about how lucky we are to have great areas to ride and about various organized rides we have done. He said he had seen me riding with my son on the Wicked Wind this year, a ride in May, where it was pouring rain. We commiserated about how cold we got on the Wicked Wind. He told me about riding the Katy Trail and how well-supported that ride was. We were just two cyclists, enthusiastically sharing stories and our mutual love for cycling.

I asked Dale if he had ever done Biking Across Kansas, which I ride every year. This is when the conversation took an amazing turn.

Dale said, “No, I have never done BAK, but my brother and I rode across Kansas in four days. (BAK is an 8-day ride, often with multiple days in the 70-90-mile range.) But, I was only in my late 70s when I did that. I’ll be 90 in two days.”

Holy smokes!!!!!

Dale told me that he started riding at age 71, when he purchased a $10.00 bike at a garage sale. He said, “I went for a ride and thought, ‘This is fun!’”  He bought many bikes after that, including some very nice ones, but said he had trimmed his bike stable from seven to two, just in the last few weeks.

“Until I was 85, I rode 7,000-7,500 miles a year,” he told me. (I ride 4,000-4,500 miles a year, and that is quite a bit.) “Now, I only ride 3,000-3,500.” Still, not too shabby for a nonagenarian!

“The Lord’s been good to me,” he said. “I don’t take any medicine, and that’s pretty good for my age.”

No kidding!

Then, he said, “I’m kind of a health nut, too. My wife and I have been vegetarian since 1951.” I said, “That’s awesome! I’m vegan.” “To be honest,” he said, “we eat vegan all the time, except when a relative is trying to be nice and makes us mac & cheese because they know we don’t eat meat. When that happens, we’ll eat it. But, otherwise, we eat vegan.”

We talked for several more minutes, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. Despite our age difference, we clearly understood each other.

Finally, we parted ways because we were heading different directions. I was excited and energized as I got back on my bike, really uplifted by our conversation.

Then, it hit me. Dale was a gift from the Universe, helping to affirm that I am doing the right work with my coaching practice, including my free Facebook group. My mission is to teach the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world. Some of the key pillars of what I teach (and practice in my own life) are mindfulness, plant-based nourishment and empowered movement. Dale is the embodiment of living and aging with power and purpose.

And, seriously, what are the odds of running into a nearly-90-year-old, nearly-vegan cyclist on this particular ride, where I was putting so much energy into manifesting the conditions I want to create in my life . .  . in KANSAS?! He had apparently noticed me for years, but we had never talked until that day.

One of my mantras on that ride and since was, “I am grateful that I am attracting exactly the right people, at exactly the right time, for exactly the right reasons.”

As I pedaled north, I knew, really knew, that Dale was one of my people—a true gift from the Universe to encourage me to continue working toward my goals.

I am grateful for Dale and look forward to seeing him again. Meeting him was amazing! My only regret is that I didn’t think to ask him if we could take a selfie together. I have a great, warm picture of him in my mind, though. What a gift!

Closing the Gap

In a previous post, I mentioned that I took The True Vitality Test, on The Blue Zones website and was jolted by my results.

The test indicated that, based on my responses in December 2017, my predicted life expectancy is 88.9 years, and my predicted healthy life expectancy is 78.1 years. The third number, 97.5, is my potential life expectancy. As I get older, witnessing the aging of family members and friends, I have become acutely aware that I am only interested in extending my longevity if I can be as healthy as possible for those additional years. Upon seeing my results, my personal mission immediately became closing the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy. I believe that I have a responsibility to optimize the gifts I have been given, so that I can add value while I am on this earth. To do that, I must take the best care of my body that I can.

While my lifestyle already included many of the features that contribute to a long life of health and purpose, I knew there were refinements that I could make to close the gap. I am committed to continually monitoring my habits to ensure that I am doing the best I can to stay consistent and that I am getting back on course when life throws challenges my way.

The mission of my coaching practice is to teach the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world. Essentially, I want to help other people close their gaps, too.

Toward this end, I will offer an opportunity within the next several weeks designed to guide people on their journey toward living and aging with power and purpose. The key components of it are the pillars of my coaching practice and my own way of life.

Mindfulness consists of a range of techniques for being present, managing stress, sleeping well and focusing energy in a healthy, proactive way.

All the healthiest, longest-lived cultures in the world emphasize plant-based nourishment, which is one of the foundations of both my life and my coaching practice.

Empowered movement combines physical activity and mindfulness to maximize the benefits of both.

Because social connection is a vital part of living a long, healthy life, the opportunity that I will reveal allows participants to share the journey with others who are working to close their gaps.

I am aware that it is impossible to control every variable involved in our length and quality of life; however, our daily choices do make a difference. It is within our power to cultivate habits that enhance our chances for living long, healthy lives. Personally, I believe that I have a responsibility to foster those habits and position myself as well as possible to add value in the world. This is my way of paying my debt of gratitude for the gifts I have been given.

Stay tuned for more information on the upcoming opportunity Close the Gap opportunity.

Our Habits=Our Lives

January is a great time to reflect on the direction we choose for our lives in the coming year and beyond. My process for doing that begins with a deep look at how my daily actions are serving my values, purpose, personal and business missions and vision for my life.

While each of those facets could be the subject of at least one blog post, my goal here is to explore the ways that our habits shape, direct and even create our lives.

“If I consider my life honestly, I see that it is governed by a certain very small number of patterns of events which I take part in over and over again . . . When I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life and my capacity to live. If these patterns are good for me, I can live well. If they are bad for me, I can’t.” —Christopher Alexander

Dictionary.com defines “habit” as:

“an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”

Thoughtful consideration of that definition illuminates the importance of habits in our lives. When our patterns of behavior, of nourishing and moving our bodies, of speaking, of consuming information, of treating humans and nonhumans in the world and of an almost limitless assortment of other possible actions are leading us in the direction we want to go in our lives, the path ahead of us becomes easy to follow. It no longer requires effortful resolve. It is just what we do.

Conversely, it is easy to be led mindlessly away, little by little, from our desired destination, if our habits do not serve what we truly want to create in our lives.

As we begin to move through this new year, Chris Brogan provides us with a winning strategy:

“My great years are built on keeping a bigger mission in front of me, but looking at my daily actions as the molecules of that mission.”

He clearly recognizes the necessity of attending to the small daily habits to achieve the bigger goal.

I make more effective choices when I approach my daily routine mindfully and stop to consider whether a choice of action or an ingrained habit advances either my personal or business mission.

As a journalist for National Geographic, Dan Buettner set out to learn the secrets of the communities in which the world’s longest-lived people thrive. His journey led him to write The Blue Zones, so that he could share the longevity practices he had uncovered.

The book made an impression on me when I read it several years ago, and I was reminded of it late last year when I came across The True Vitality Test, which offered a snapshot of my likely life expectancy, contrasted with my healthy life expectancy and my possible life expectancy.

Although I consider myself very healthy, and I have recently earned my certification as a health coach, I was startled by the 10-year gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy.

I recognized that, to serve my purpose and values, I needed to adjust my personal mission. It quickly became:  To close the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy. (My next blog post will elaborate on this concept, as well as on related programs that I will offer through my coaching practice.)

My personal mission to close the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy serves as a gauge to assess the foods I eat daily, the way I eat those foods, my stress level, the amount and quality of my sleep and other habits that govern my life.

If I determine that my habits are not carrying me closer to my mission, I am in a powerful position to choose actions that will and practice them regularly so that they become habits.

My mission as a health and habit change coach is to teach the lifestyle practices (habits) that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world.

The small actions, or “molecules,” as Chris Brogan calls them, that shape our days ultimately shape our lives.

Keeping our mission in the front of our minds enhances our ability to make positive daily choices.

One way I do this is by meditating on my missions in my mindfulness practice every day. For me, this is just a matter of reciting my missions in my head (along with other important guiding recitations) while I am in a state of focused calm.

Empowered movement is an important component of both my self-care and my coaching practice. Empowered movement means exercising from a place of clear intention and using the time and space that movement can create to speak to myself in an empowering way. Along with a quote or mantra that I choose for a bike ride, walk, yoga practice, or other form of exercise, I also remind myself of my missions and the other guides that help me stay focused.

I anchor my missions for myself by posting them near my computer at work and in my “organization station” (a closet I have claimed as my own) at home. I see these and other reminders frequently, and, in the case of my computer at work, somewhere that I may encounter stressors that threaten to steer me off course. These anchors help me persevere on the path that I have chosen.

My daily choices are not perfect, but I am much more likely to choose actions and cultivate habits that serve my missions when I remind myself of them frequently. Essentially, these practices that I have in place are, themselves, molecules of my mission, just as they guide the other habits that stack up to create the big picture of my life.

Will Durant summarized some of Aristotle’s teachings by explaining that the philosopher believed,

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

It is rare that a single act defines our lives or determines whether we live the missions we have discerned for ourselves. However, what we do repeatedly certainly does have a significant effect on the masterpiece we are creating through our lives.

When we hold our mission in mind and choose our actions based on a commitment to serving that mission, those actions will become habits, and those habits will add up to excellence.

See future posts for my practices around clarifying and honoring my values, purpose, mission, motivations and vision. In the meantime, pay close attention to your habits because they determine your life.