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/.

My Top 5 Tips for Cultivating a Mindset to Accomplish What You Want to Accomplish and Live with No Regrets

This post is the second 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. We get one chance to live this life. Let’s make it the grandest life we are capable of living!

In the last couple years, I have become increasingly aware of the critical importance of mindset in helping me move through life with more power, clear purpose and grateful joy. Our mindset consists of the established beliefs and attitudes we have toward life. One of the mantras I have used for years acknowledges the strength of mindset in our lives, even though I don’t use that word in it:

“My thoughts shape my perception, determine my actions and behavior and create the life I envision.”

This is a mantra I developed, based on inspiration from writing and quotes that had resonated with me. This mantra has meant so much to me. It has helped calm and center me. It has brought me peace. It has strengthened me. Even before I recognized it as a statement of the power of mindset, the mantra served to shape mine.

In her terrific book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How to Get Good at It, Kelly McGonigal teaches the concept of “mindset interventions.” She says that the best mindset interventions involve being exposed to a new way of thinking, engaging in practice and application of the different way of thinking and teaching others the new perspective. Her whole book was a form of mindset intervention of this life-changing concept: “A meaningful life is a stressful life.” This idea and the mindset intervention her book produced helped me realize that most of the stress in life comes from things that have meaning to us, with work and family being top. To eliminate all stress would be to eliminate all meaning. The key is to look at stress differently and realize that we can choose to grow through it, as well as to observe it, without getting completely sucked in by it. While this is easier said than done, viewing stress this way is much more helpful and empowering than viewing myself as a helpless victim of it. This is an example of the power of mindset.

Here are my top five tips for cultivating a mindset that positions you to accomplish the things that matter, so that you can live free of regrets:

I have become increasingly clear that my mindset is critical to my success or failure, when it comes to bringing big dreams to life and achieving goals that matter to me—the things that I will regret if I don’t do. Big dreams and goals can be intimidating, and they require digging deep into the reserves of our determination, resolve and resilience. Getting to, or repeatedly returning to, the mental and emotional place necessary to accept the challenges to make these things happen won’t occur without a mindset of self-efficacy and trust—in ourselves, in the Universe, in the basic goodness of life.

My collection of quotes
  1. Adopt a mantra. This can be a word, a phrase or a sentence that you devise, or it can be a quote that is meaningful for you. I use a combination, and I vary them regularly. There are some, like the one above, that are tried and true and that I use at some point (or at several points) just about every day. Others may be with me for a moment, a day or a season of life. Words are very meaningful and powerful for me. I have a collection of quotes that I have been growing for 18 years. I am on my sixth formerly blank book, with pages covered, front and back, in quotes I have collected from a wide range of sources. I find a lot of them in the books I read. I sometimes record them from webinars or podcasts. Sometimes an individual or a sign or a t-shirt strikes me, and I write down the quote. Some of my quotes are from well-known thought leaders. Others are from more obscure authors. Some are my own creations or words that come to me in a dream or upon awakening. I refer to my quotes several times, every single day. I travel with my current book, so that I have at least some of them with me, even when I am Biking Across Kansas. These quotes are my most sacred texts. You may find your mantras in more traditional sacred books or in prayers. You may have one, or you may rely on many, like I do, but I encourage you to adopt a mantra as a centering mechanism, something that can help you to return to the mindset you desire to embrace and embody. Personally, I like to focus on a mantra at transitions—upon awakening, before exercising, before getting in the shower, before driving, when I turn off my booklight to go to bed, etc. When I choose a mantra (usually at semi-random) before a bike ride or drive or shower—some time when I can think—I may ponder it deeply for several minutes or longer. Other times, it may just provide momentary focus that helps me remember what matters to me. Either way, reflecting on a mantra is one of the most valuable tools for cultivating a mindset that allows me to behave in the way I want to behave and stay focused on achieving my goals.
  2. Meditate. There are many ways to meditate, and I used to believe that I couldn’t do it. However, for well over a year a now, I have had a consistent morning mindfulness practice that includes meditation. My advice is to keep it manageable. Realize that anything is progress. Generally, my morning meditation is between five and 20 minutes, depending on the available time. At its most basic level, meditation is simply stilling your mind to be in the present moment. It is as simple as:
    • Sitting or lying comfortably with a fairly straight spine. You don’t need to be cross-legged, on a meditation cushion; you just need to be comfortable.
    • Closing your eyes or gazing gently at the floor in front of you.
    • Focusing on your breathing. I usually focus on the feeling of the air as it moves in and out of my nostrils.
    • If your mind wanders (and it will), simply notice and return your attention to your breath. I took a mindfulness course last fall, and one of the most helpful ideas I gleaned from it was to imagine sitting by a stream and to picture my thoughts as falling leaves. When I become aware of a thought, I watch it land on the water and simply float downstream. I use that technique to return to my breath.
  3. Implement rituals. Rituals are key for maintaining a beneficial mindset. These tips I am listing are not mutually exclusive. This is because, while each of these ideas is effective on its own, there is synergy when they are put together or used throughout the day. My rituals often reflect this. Rituals help me to feel that all is right with the world. They remind me of what matters, what I want to accomplish and how I want to behave. Here are some of the rituals I use daily:
    • Finding my mantras and/or quotes for reflection
    • Upon awakening, naming three things to which I am looking forward in the upcoming day
    • My morning mindfulness practice
    • Breathing exercises when stressed and before I eat
    • Journaling nightly, including my “3 Good Things” journaling (I also do this mentally throughout the day, if I am feeling stressed, asking myself, “What are three good things that have happened so far today?)
    • A bedtime series of fascial release movements
  4. Follow thinkers who inspire you. Read books by authors whose message supports your mission. Listen to podcasts. Listen to audiobooks. Watch videos. If possible, attend conferences, workshops or lectures. Any of these can serve as a booster shot for your resolve. Some of the current thought leaders whom I use to support my desired mindset are:
  5. Cultivate gratitude. My “3 Good Things” ritual is one of the ways I cultivate gratitude, but I have found that intentionally looking for the positive gives us so many more things for which to be grateful. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says, “I heard someone say once that all our life experiences are either lessons or gifts—that we either learn from our daily experiences or they are simply blessings to be treasured and appreciated. I like that. It means that every moment is an opportunity to grow or to be grateful (or both!).” This perspective is an excellent example of maintaining a winning mindset by using gratitude. I consciously notice and feel awe throughout the day for my countless blessings. Doing this instantly shifts my mindset back to a more helpful place, if it has started to stray.

Try these five suggestions for cultivating a mindset to set yourself up for living with no regrets. It is not a one-and-done endeavor. I find that it takes daily attention, but each dose of mindset intervention, using the things I list above, takes me farther down the road in the direction of my big dreams, even if the steps (or pedal strokes) are slow and plodding at times.

If you would like help cultivating the mindset you need to live the way you want to live and to help ensure that you are living with no regrets, schedule a complimentary call, using this link.

“How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and do what really matters.” –Stephen R Covey

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.

Sankalpa

When I awoke around 3 a.m. a couple weeks ago and couldn’t go back to sleep, I decided to use Insight Timer for a guided meditation to try to quiet my mind. I chose a yoga nidra meditation for rest & sleep, by Diana Warlick.  In the meditation, Warlick introduced the concept of “sankalpa.” I was intrigued by what she said about it—probably too intrigued, given that I was trying to go back to sleep. While the meditation was relaxing, hearing about sankalpa for the first time was energizing, rather than sleep-inducing. I wanted to know more. So, immediately upon rising, after my alarm sounded at 5 a.m., I looked up the concept of sankalpa and found an excellent article by Kelly McGonigal, in Yoga International.

In my first reading, I learned enough to understand that sankalpa is somewhere between a life purpose and an intention. This reminded me of an idea from Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi’s  Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being—that of an overarching umbrella goal, or theme, that each of us needs in our lives as a guiding aspiration that informs every choice. After reading McGonigal’s article and several other sources, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, but I feel like I have a better understanding of sankalpa and how it differs from a theme, purpose, mission or goal.

I benefit from having discerned how all these concepts, as well as my deepest values, inform my life. Over the past week, sankalpa has become a meaningful addition to my regular reflections.

I haven’t been able to identify the primary source, but I found Richard Miller quoted in several articles (including McGongial’s) as saying, “A sankalpa isn’t a petition or a prayer. It is a statement of deeply held fact, and a vow that is true in the present moment.”

According to McGonigal, Miller also teaches that sankalpa involves three types of listening: 1) having the courage to hear the message behind our deep desires, 2) welcoming and honestly reflecting on the message and 3) being willing to act in accordance with the message we receive. All these stages of listening are best accomplished from a place of mindfulness, such as can be achieved in meditation. Personally, I also find the bike to be an outstanding place to hear the true callings of my heart and spirit.

As I have learned to do with intentions over the years, it is important to state the sankalpa in the present tense. Just like intentions, when we use the present tense, we operate from a place of abundance and trust that we already have all that we need. This is far more empowering than operating from a place of lack and need.

One of my favorite concepts in the reading I did about sankalpa is Rod Stryker’s teaching that we are all both being and becoming, universal and unique. He explains that there are two parts to our soul or spirit, called atman in the Vedic tradition. Atman means “essence.” The two parts are para atman—“supreme, highest or culmination”—and jiva atman—“individual or personal.” So, the para atman is the part of our spirit that is being—who we already are. It is universal. The jiva atman is who we are becoming—our unique destiny. I love Stryker’s exhortation to “Live as contentedly as possible in between the goal and realizing the goal.”

I think this is a wonderful aspiration—to live contentedly in the knowledge that we already have all that we need to fully live our deepest calling, while we take the actions and put in the work that will allow us to live that calling. It is a very comforting and encouraging idea to me.

So, my reading of the teachings about sankalpa lead me to aspire to a sankalpa that takes into consideration both states—the being and the becoming, the universal and the unique. Because there is an element of becoming, I must remember that my sankalpa will likely be a dynamic, evolving truth.

As I pondered my sankalpa on the bike last weekend, I felt called to this truth: “I am a unique expression of the Divine Mystery, contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world with every thought, word and action I choose.” I will sit with this in my mindfulness practice and on the bike regularly to discern if and/or when my sankalpa needs to evolve.

I am excited and energized by new ideas that cause me to think. Sankalpa is one of those ideas, and I am grateful for my nocturnal introduction to it. Despite the sleep disruption to which it contributed by igniting my mind, learning about sankalpa is a gift because it is a new instrument to assist my aspiration to live my Highest Good, Greatest Self and Grandest Life.

Sankalpa will be an additional centering tool for me. My core values—compassion, excellence, integrity and fitness—underlie everything I do. Sankalpa helps to remind me where those values initiate—from my para atman, the universal part of me that is being—and to what action those values call me—my jiva atman, the part of me that is becoming, living my unique destiny.

In addition to my core values and theme, my purpose, mission and priorities guide my decisions and my actions. Sankalpa is related to all these, providing a deep, solid foundation, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to employ it to enhance my growth and guide my evolution.

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

What Limits Would Create More Freedom in Your Life?

Gretchen Rubin is one of my favorite authors. She writes about happiness and habits, two topics of interest to me. She has developed a collection of what she calls her “Secrets of Adulthood,” lessons she has learned over the years that help her to navigate life on a day-to-day basis.

I recently pondered one of these on my bike, and I decided I would pose the question it generated for me to you.

Rubin says, “Give yourself limits to give yourself freedom.”

While this may seem contradictory at first, it is not.

The question I encourage you to ask yourself is, “What limits can you give yourself to create more freedom in your life?”

You can start by considering whether there is something from which you would like to be free. Is there a habit you would like to eliminate? Do you long to be free from a negative self-image? Would you like to shed some physical or emotional weight? Is financial debt weighing you down? Is it the heaviness of regret or disappointment? Is there someone you need to forgive? Do you need to forgive yourself?

The sources of bondage are endless. Freedom requires proactive action. Rubin’s secret of adulthood is one of the keys to the kind of proactive action that can free you from whatever bondage has its hold on you.

During that introspective bike ride, I was considering where I could add limits to create freedom in my own life. One area that came to mind was my relationship with chocolate. Periodically, I can fall into the trap of using chocolate as a crutch. I have to catch myself, acknowledge it and be willing to impose limits, in order to free myself from its clutches and consequences. While different issues will call for variations on these ideas, using chocolate dependence as an example, here are the steps I recommend for setting limits to create freedom:

  1. Check in with yourself. A mindfulness practice is a great way to do this. Taking time each day to stop, quiet your mind and notice if there is anything that has you feeling unsettled can help you catch issues that are preventing you from being truly free.
  2. If there is a pattern that creates anxiety or raises negative feelings or something that you wish were different in our life, recognize it and acknowledge it for yourself. This might just be in your head, but it might be helpful to journal or talk to someone about it.
  3. Decide what limits you need to create freedom. I have treated my tendency toward dependence on chocolate in different ways at different times. When it was severe, 12 years ago when we moved to a new home with a toddler, I eliminated the option of chocolate consumption in any form. This felt necessary at the time. I did not allow myself any chocolate for three years. While difficult at first, it was very freeing. Once I had other safeguards in place, it felt safe to allow it back into my life in controlled situations. Overall, that served me for many years, but, in the past several weeks, I loosened my limits to compensate for perceived lack in other areas of life (That could be another whole blog post.), and I recently recognized and acknowledged to myself that I was disappointed with my lack of control (even though it is nothing like it was in 2006), and I wanted to do something about it. On my bike, when I was reflecting on Rubin’s secret of adulthood, I considered eliminating all chocolate again. That doesn’t feel necessary. I decided that I would allow myself chocolate in two situations (in addition to cocoa and cacao in my smoothies): one square of at least 70% cacao dark chocolate after dinner and infrequent dark chocolate chips when I have what I call a “comfort bowl.” This is something I do only about once a week, and it consists of some combination of the following items: raw oatmeal, berries or cherries, vegan yogurt, nuts and/or seeds, cacao nibs, cocoa, nut butter and dark chocolate chips. This feels like a comforting and decadent treat. That’s it. On a daily basis, I will not eat chocolate in other situations.
  4. Know yourself. Do you need the added accountability of acknowledging the problem to someone else, like a trusted friend, counselor or coach? Determine what support you need to remain within your self-imposed limits and seek it.
  5. Affirm your daily success. Each day that you remain within your limits, honor yourself and celebrate in a way that is aligned with your goals.
  6. Relish the freedom. Notice how much lighter and happier and FREER you feel.
  7. Build on the freedom and success. What is your next project? Where can you gain even more freedom by giving yourself limits?

I think the first time I read about this concept of freedom through limits, it was framed as freedom through discipline by Maia Duerr. It resonated with me at the time in a profound way. I could recognize periods in my life where the idea had been true, but it was the first time I had seen it named.

My hope is that by bringing your attention to this idea, you may be motivated to acknowledge an area where you could free yourself by limiting yourself and that you will find the courage to do so.

“The price of discipline is always less than the pain of regret.”
–Peter Clemons