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

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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 Building a Spirit-Nourishing Meditation Practice

Continuing my series of “Top 5” posts, I share here 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 want to catch up on past posts, you can read my energy tips here,  my mindset tips here, my well-being tips here and my plant-based nourishment tips here.

I want to be clear that I do not consider myself a meditation expert. However, I am proud to have practiced meditation on a consistent, daily basis for the past year and a half. I realize that is nothing compared to many practitioners, who have meditated for decades, but it feels like an achievement to me because I believed for many years that I was incapable of meditating. I realize now that part of the reason for this was my narrow view of what constitutes meditation. Mostly, I have referred to what I am doing as a mindfulness practice, as opposed to a meditation practice. Lately, though, I have come to view mindfulness as a broader state of being, of which my daily meditation practice is a part. I feel like I have developed my own, evolving practice that serves my needs and feeds my spirit. My goal in this post is to share the most helpful strategies I have used for cultivating this practice.

  1. Approach your practice with self-compassion. The single most helpful idea I have come across regarding meditation is contained in these words by Sharon Salzberg: “Beginning again and again is the actual practice, not a problem to overcome so that one day we can come to the ‘real meditation.’” That idea is so freeing and makes so much sense. Much like what I have learned about living in the present moment, rather than waiting for my “real life” to begin at some future point, when everything is in place, Sharon Salzberg’s words encourage me to recognize the value of compassionately beginning again, when my thoughts distract me. The discipline of doing so is the practice. It validates that, as long as I continually release the thoughts when I recognize that they have highjacked my mindfulness and return to my breath, I am meditating exactly as I “should.” There is nothing to correct, and I am experiencing all the benefits of a meditation practice built on commitment and resilience.
  2. Develop a ritual. Make your meditation practice a non-negotiable part of your day. It has become as crucial to my well-being as exercise. I find that it works best for me to practice in the morning, either immediately upon waking or directly following my morning workout, if it is in my downstairs gym. My mindfulness extends to my time on the bike and, to a lesser extent, walking, but this does not replace my daily dedicated practice time. It is bonus time that is often extremely fruitful, yet my day would be incomplete without my meditation ritual. Look at your schedule, decide what works best for you and implement a ritual for getting into the right mental space. Part of my ritual involves solitude, at least mentally. I am pleased to report that I successfully maintained my daily practice while Biking Across Kansas by meditating in my sleeping bag immediately upon waking each morning. Although I was in a room full of people, I found solitude in the darkness. By establishing a clear ritual that includes a time and place, as well as a beginning routine, you will set yourself up to practice consistently.
  3. Open your mind to what meditation can look like, and allow your practice to evolve.  For a long time, I thought meditation was only sitting cross-legged on the floor and releasing all thought. I can’t remember what changed my mind and allowed me to consider a more expansive definition. My health coach training? Maybe. Whatever it was that opened my mind to crafting my own practice, I am grateful. I believe in finding what resonates with you and allowing it to evolve when your instinct leads you in a different or additional direction. My current practice looks like this: I begin with square breathing. Then, I mentally recite my Sankalpa (which I updated after reflection on my 50th birthday). I express gratitude for guidance, wisdom, direction and protection and release what no longer serves me. Affirmations and visualizations help deepen the meaning of m practice. I include a couple Kundalini yoga poses that I find calming. Depending on what I feel I need, I may include Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). I also always choose a quote for reflection before I begin and spend time simply focusing on my breath. This assortment of components really works for me. Experiment and trust your instincts to develop a practice that is uniquely yours. Be open to allowing it to evolve. This has made all the difference for me.
  4. Use a meditation app. I use Insight Timer (free version) and love it. There are others out there, as well as a premium version of Insight Timer. Find what works best for you. The functions I find most useful are the timer, ambient sound and the tracker. I set the time My life is full, and, at this point, I generally set the timer for five to 15 minutes, although I sometimes choose to continue meditating after I hear my ending tone. I like the variety of ambient sounds offered by Insight Timer and vary them day by day. Finally, I feel motivated by the “streak” I have built up on the tracking log (318 days consistently using Insight Timer). Although it is not the reason I meditate, I want to keep my streak going!
  5. Feel and express gratitude for your practice. Recognizing the benefits meditation has bestowed on me, I am deeply grateful for the freedom and dedication to meditate. I feel like a whole world has opened to me. Part of my practice reflects this gratitude. I truly look forward to my daily meditation and feel a burst of excitement in my body when I prepare to practice. I am so thankful that meditation has become part of my life. Remembering this adds depth and richness to, and enhances the benefits of, my practice.

I have been amazed at the benefits I can attribute to my consistent practice. I feel healthier than I have ever been. There are other factors contributing to my well-being, but I believe that my meditation practice has put me over the top, apparently enhancing my immunity and certainly improving my stress-management ability. I am happier and more peaceful. My gratitude for the many blessings in my life is deeper. I still have plenty of room for growth, but I have become a true believer in the power of meditation. I would love to assist you in your journey toward living with no regrets. Connect with me at sheri@justwindcoach.com. You can also click this link to schedule a complimentary coaching call. 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 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/.