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.

My Top 5 Tips for Creating True Well-Being

This post is the third in a series of “Top 5” posts, in which I share my best tips and most important practices for developing the energy, mindset and well-being to accomplish what we want to accomplish and live with no regrets. If you missed the first two, you can catch my energy tips here and my mindset tips here.

What does “well-being” mean to you? For me, “well-being” means excellent physical and mental health, accompanied by a deep sense of inner peace and confidence that comes from living my purpose. It may mean something different to you, but my guess is that it encompasses some of the same elements.

Much like mindset, I find that well-being requires constant attention and maintenance. It is not a destination that I reach and remain, without additional effort. However, these are some of the habits and practices that I have found to be crucial components of my well-being:

Outdoor Vegetable Market
  1. Live a vegan lifestyle. Not only is eating plants the most health-promoting way of nourishing my body, but it also allows me to live my most important value—compassion. Living my values is part of well-being for me. Doing so promotes inner peace. I believe that all of us—human and non-human—are the subjects of our own lives. While we enhance our lives by choosing to serve others in a variety of ways, no one—human or non-human—is on this planet to be used by others. By eating plants, my conscience is free, and I feel good about what I am putting into my body. Not long ago, someone asked me if I would get sick if I ate meat. I answered that I might, since my body is accustomed to plants. I have been vegetarian since 1982 and vegan since 2008. But, even more than potential physical effects, I told her it would be very emotionally upsetting. Even the thought makes me feel queasy. Compassion is such an important value to me that violating it would seriously compromise my well-being. Cultivating well-being in our lives requires an honest examination of our conscience, as well as asking ourselves what choices truly support health and inner peace.
  2. Move my body daily. Physical activity plays a dual role in my life, too. Besides keeping me physically healthy, movement is one of the most important factors in my well-being. It makes an unbelievable difference in my mental health. Research has shown exercise to be at least as effective as pharmaceutical anti-depressants, in many situations. It is my biggest stress reliever. Finding a type of exercise that you enjoy is most important. It is valuable to incorporate a variety of types of exercise, including cardiorespiratory exercise, resistance training and flexibility work. It doesn’t have to be complicated, though. Finding something that you will do on a regular basis is more important than constructing a perfect training plan. (If you want more precision, hire a coach with experience in physical training or a personal trainer.) It is better to do something than to have a perfect plan that you don’t execute. A friend recently posted this quote on her Facebook page: “Cycling isn’t a hobby for me. It’s my inner peace.” I absolutely relate.
  3. Practice mindfulness and meditation. Consistently implementing a morning mindfulness practice that includes meditation has made a tremendous difference in my well-being. I have felt, and been, healthier in the past year than I probably ever have. My resistance to colds has been strong. While everything I mention in this post plays into my physical health, I think committing to my mindfulness practice has ratcheted it up another notch. Part of that is probably due to (presumably, based on how I feel emotionally) lower levels of stress hormones circulating in my body. High levels of stress hormones are associated with inflammation, which contributes in a wide array of health problems. Reducing inflammation by decreasing dietary stress on the body (See item #1.) and through increasing inner peace through mindfulness and meditation truly can keep us healthier.
  4. Honor my passions. Some people think that honoring our passions as adults is selfish. I disagree. I think our passions are critical aspects of who we are and are key avenues through which we grow and develop. If there is something that excites you, take time to learn about it and engage in it. Passions come in a lot of different forms. Mine include cycling, reading, writing and contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world through building my coaching business and living a vegan lifestyle. I grow through all these activities. Ignoring them would leave a void in my life. I believe that they excite me for a reason, and I have both the privilege of, and responsibility for, honoring them. I am a better person when I do. Your passions—those things that truly excite and ignite you, those things that won’t leave you alone—are also there for a reason. Honor them to become more of who you are meant to be and enhance your well-being.
  5. Engage in regular introspection. I am an introvert, which simply means that I energize by spending time and space alone. It is exhausting to be around people constantly, without some time alone. Introspection is one of the treats of my time alone. When my son was young, one of the most difficult aspects of parenting for me was feeling like I could never be alone in my head because of constant noise and company. My bike rides were my salvation (and they still are, even though life is different now). They were the only way I could get a little time on my own to be in my head. Whether or not you are an introvert, there is value in introspection. It is how we figure out who we are, what we think, what we believe, what is most important to us. Journaling is a great way to be introspective, and I do it at least nightly, but my time on my bike, where I can think freely is another terrific opportunity to be introspective. I love to think about a question as I ride. It could be anything that helps me understand more about what matters to me. For example, “What is clearly no longer serving me?” was a recent question I pondered on the bike. This helped me make some important decisions. Experiment with the best ways for you to ask yourself key questions and spend time examining them. It will be good for your well-being.

While your definition of “well-being” may be different than mine, I encourage you to try my tips and see how you feel. My guess is that you will feel better, even if you just incorporate one of my tips into your life. If you choose to include them all, I expect that you will feel exponentially better. These tips are not miracles or cure-alls. I do not live in a perfect state of well-being. However, my state of well-being is much more consistent and persistent than it was prior to prioritizing these things in my life.

Bicycle Shadow on the Road

I would love to help you improve your well-being. Contact me at sheri@justwindcoach.com or 316-259-9728, if you would like a complimentary coaching call. You can also click this link to schedule an appointment. To connect with others who are interested in living as well as possible, become part of our JustWind Producers of Power & Purpose Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1958072857557272/.

My Top 5 Tips for Increasing Energy

This post is the first in a series of “Top 5” posts, in which I will share my best tips and most important practices for developing the energy, mindset and well-being to accomplish what we want to accomplish and live with no regrets. We get one chance to live this life. Let’s make it the grandest life we are capable of living!

One of the most frequent complaints and concerns I hear is that people don’t have the energy they need to do what they want and even need to do in life. In its scientific sense, “energy” means “calories” or “heat,” “the capacity to perform work.” In this post I use the word in its colloquial sense—pep, zip, well-being that leaves you feeling like moving and accomplishing things.  Here are my very best recommendations for creating more energy in life.

Nourishing Salad
  1. Whole-Food, Plant-Based Nourishment: The calories (energy) you consume matter. Make them count. Make them work for you, not against you. One of the most powerful choices you can make to enhance your energy is to eat plants that contain the nutrients that support your body’s health. By eating an array of health-giving foods (and cutting out the foods that fight against your good health), you supply your body with the building blocks and tools to be vibrant and energized. When I eat a light, plant-based meal (ALL my meals are plant-based.), especially one full of leafy greens, beans, fresh, minimally-processed vegetables and fresh fruit, I literally feel the energy bubbling in me. I feel lighter and more enthusiastic. I feel health circulating through my blood. The fresher the food, the more I can feel the energy from the sun that the plants are sharing with me. My favorite app for supporting whole-food, plant-based eating is Dr. Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen.
  2. Balanced Daily Movement: Schedule exercise daily and keep your appointment with yourself. It will energize you and revive you. I experience this on a regular basis. For example, I had an exhausting day at work at my full-time job on Monday. I had planned to ride my bike 15-20 miles after work. Although I left work about 40 minutes late and knew I would be pressed for daylight, I also knew cycling was critical to my well-being, including being able to accomplish my long-term (such as elevating my health and cycling) and short-term (such as finishing this blog post draft) goals. I was right. I rode 16 miles and made it home right as the sun was setting, but the ride gave me the energy I needed to feel better and do what I needed to do Monday evening. We will feel most energetic when we have more vigorous days, interspersed with less challenging days. A combination of cardiorespiratory exercise, strength work and flexibility training, spread throughout the week, will be most beneficial.
  3. Daily Mindfulness: Since committing to a daily mindfulness practice over a year ago, I have been amazed at how much better I feel. I am calmer, more peaceful, more confident and more energetic because feel less weighed down by life. Daily, I process and release what no longer serves me. My mindfulness practice includes breathing exercises, meditation, reflection and visualization, along with occasional Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to unblock energy. Every single morning, I spend at least five to 15 minutes intentionally connecting with my center. The peaceful power and gratitude I feel are incredible. This daily practice has added a new level of energy to my days.
  4. Healthy Hydration: If we become dehydrated, we are very likely to feel lethargic (in addition to a host of other problems this creates). It is easy to become somewhat dehydrated without even realizing it. Just being engrossed in work for hours at a time may mean that we are not drinking regularly. If we are talking and thinking a lot (I think of my months where I have appointment after appointment with students, all day, every day.), we can really feel depleted.  Dehydration is often a contributing factor. Our blood volume is decreased when we are dehydrated, and that can really drag us down, physically and mentally. We will not feel motivated to move, and thinking becomes foggy. Hydration needs vary, according to activity level, temperature and fitness, but we all need to drink fresh, clean water regularly—probably close to 8 cups per day for the average adult. Staying conscious of this need can boost our energy.
  5. Intentional Sleep: This is often the one that poses the greatest challenge for me, but I also recognize what a difference makes. Think about when you need to get up in the morning, count backwards eight hours and then set a stopping point for your projects about 30 minutes before that, so you can wind down. As with hydration, individual differences make it hard to say exactly how much sleep you need, but most people feel the greatest level of energy after 6-10 hours of sleep. In order to enhance the quality of sleep, establish a nighttime ritual. Personally, I use journaling, reading and a quote for reflection, right before I turn off my booklight. This signals my intention to energize my body through quality slumber.

Nothing here is likely to be an utter news flash, but these tips work. If you are not doing any of these things, pick one and implement it. Stick with it for two to three months, practicing consistently. Notice the changes in your energy level. Then, add the next one and build on them incrementally. Alone, any of these could make a big difference. Put them all together in regular practice, and you may find yourself feeling a level of energy you haven’t experienced in years.

If you would like some guidance and accountability in implementing these tips in your life, in order to develop the energy you need to accomplish the things that matter to you, use this link to schedule a complimentary coaching session, where we can talk about your goals and dreams and what is getting in your way. If we decide we are a fit, I’d love to help you create more energy for living with no regrets.

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.

February Funk

I promised myself to publish at least two blog posts per month in 2018. It is late February, and I am just writing my first for the month. It is not the post I planned to write. Hopefully, I’ll still get that done in the last few days of the month.

For now, I just need to acknowledge that February has been an “off” month and move forward.

There is no major reason for my February Funk. Through introspection, I have come to recognize some contributing factors.

One of my problems has been vertigo attacks and the residual symptoms. All in all, I am very grateful for my great health, but I have dealt with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo occasionally, since January 2017. I wrote about my first attack here. After months of feeling fine, I had a severe attack, with extreme nausea, on December 10, 2017. That one really knocked me down. My most recent attack was January 23, 2018. It came on after a prolonged period lying flat at a periodontist appointment. I treated it with the Epley Maneuver, which a vestibular therapist taught me to perform on myself, so that I don’t have to see a doctor every time I have an attack. I am grateful for that, but I have not felt “normal” since my last two attacks in January. I feel a sense of disequilibrium in variety of positions, and, frustratingly, I have felt a bit limited. I am very grateful that, unless I am in an active attack, my cycling is largely unaffected. I have had to modify resistance training, yoga and other exercise, though, and I don’t like that. I am afraid to sleep in any position, except on my back, propped up on two thick pillows. The sensation that it would not take much to send me into another attack has left me feeling vulnerable in a way that is uncomfortable.

Combined with the vertigo, winter weather has added to my funk. I am a summer girl, so Kansas winters are always tough on me. Winter driving is a particular fear of mine. While I know that this winter could have been (and still may be) much worse than it has been, but I have had a few very stressful driving experiences this season. The worst one occurred unexpectedly earlier this month, when I was driving back from Manhattan, Kansas, after a Biking Across Kansas volunteer staff meeting. While I knew northern Kansas had a winter weather advisory starting at 6 p.m., south central Kansas was not under any kind of advisory. I left Manhattan by 5 p.m. and drove south. The first half of my drive was fine, but I suddenly realized, while driving 75 mph on the interstate, that freezing precipitation had started. My heart started was pounding. I reduced my speed and took deep breaths to calm myself. My biggest problem was that my defroster was not keeping up with the precipitation in the subzero wind chill. No matter what I tried, the portion of the windshield through which I could see grew narrower and narrower. My anxiety became overwhelming on the dark, icy interstate. I desperately needed to exit, but could barely see to do it. I turned on my emergency flashers and slowed even more, barely able to see at all. Finally, I made it to an exit with a truck stop. Shaking because of my greatly reduced vision, I managed to make my way onto the street and then make a left turn into the truck stop. I could not really see where I was going and ended up among the diesel pumps and semi-trailers. Somehow, I weaved my way to an access road and then into a McDonald’s parking lot. I got out, scraped my windows and sat for several minutes, with the defroster on full blast and the windshield wipers running. Eventually, I found the courage to head the remaining 22 miles home on county roads. I was grateful to make it home safely, but the experience was terrifying and left me feeling completely spent, even the next day.

I fully realize that these are small problems, in the big scheme of all that people face in this world. Still the disequilibrium of my lingering vertigo symptoms, my fear of setting off another attack of vertigo and the adrenaline crash after my frightening drive have left me feeling drained and off and ineffective this month. I have felt an unsettling lack of clarity around goals for my coaching practice and other areas of life, and I have felt a heavy inertia settle in and weigh me down.

In my coaching practice, I work with people who choose to live and age with power and purpose regardless of life’s challenges, so I must make the conscious decision to get back on track and do the same. The JustWind philosophy teaches that we can face the Kansas-strength winds of life and still look around and appreciate what we have and choose to keep taking brave steps forward. I talk to my coaching clients about viewing their mistakes, shortfalls and steps backward with curiosity, not judgment. I have to remind myself to do the same. I realize that sometimes we need to take a step back to look around and make sure we are headed the right way. Maybe that is part of what is happening for me.

I just can’t stay here. I need to keep moving forward and making progress and evolving and growing. As part of that process, I am in day three of a reset cleanse. This is not a fast. That works for some people, but it is not for me. I don’t function well at all without food. I am just taking extra care for the next two weeks to emphasize whole foods even more diligently than I usually do. During this period of feeling off, my chocolate cravings have returned. This reset cleanse will help me eliminate those. It will also allow me to lose the sense of heaviness that I have been feeling. Some sunshine (which we have for the first time in a week!) and warm weather would certainly help that, but those things are out of my control, so I will control what I can and eat very cleanly, while incorporating empowered movement and engaged mindfulness.

I will treat myself with compassion, acknowledge the impact of the vertigo and the terrifying drive, and view my feelings of the last several weeks with curiosity and openness, learning from them and carrying those lessons forward, as I resume my journey.