Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Awareness - The Third Component of SMARTER!

Ten months ago, I committed to following a template I created for living a high performance life. I call it SMARTER, and the third component is A, for Awareness Based Practices. 

In the mornings, I take time to breathe, while I relax my body, calm my mind, open my heart and set my intentions for the day ahead. Throughout the day, I PBS - pause, breath, smile. Pause to take a breath, smile, and reset my attention, my connections and my intention. In the evening before bedtime, I take a moment to walk outside, look at the sky, and think about what I am thankful for that occurred in that day, what I learned and appreciated that I will carry with me, and what I am grateful for in my life. 

I’ve been doing each of these activities daily, with a grand total amount of time each day of sometimes less than 10 minutes, and other times closer to 30. It's less a matter of how much time I spend, and more about how consistent I am with each. It's also important that I don't feel like I am rushing through them in order to check off that box on my to do list. It’s best when I simply commit to starting, and then allowing it to naturally come to an end.

As someone that has been in the health and fitness world for more than 20 years, the idea that taking time to pause and breath and focus isn’t necessarily new, nor is it shocking that doing so would positively impact one’s health. We’ve known for a long time that doing so reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, alters our bio-chemistry, and provides a multitude of other physiological and emotional benefits. All of that just makes sense. But despite the benefits, why did I not start doing these practices years ago? And why did I think that such practices were only necessary for those who really needed them, and that I was clearly not one of them? 

I laugh at that thought now. Not simply because I am clearly one of “them”, and always have been, but because of how fundamentally different my life is today, as a result of finally taking the plunge. When I was in my 20’s, I was reading books about the power of intent, of setting goals, of visualization and affirmations. Of breathing. Taking time to sit still and meditate. But I didn’t do them. Partly because I believed my time would be better spent training my body, and partly because I didn’t believe in all the promises. I didn’t buy into the power of intentions, that simply by setting your intentions, you’d actualize the goal. 

But now, I am beginning to understand things differently. In part, because of my research in neuroscience. In part, because of my personal experience. Through my morning ritual of setting my intentions, I am consciously telling my subconscious to notice things in my environment that align with my intentions. The deliberate part of my brain is telling the automatic part of my brain what to look for. So as I am living and breathing and observing, I am simply more aware of the events, relationships, thoughts, choices and sensations that align with where I set my intentions. The same events, relationships, thoughts, choices and sensations may have been present yesterday, and they may have gone unnoticed, filtered out by my automatic brain. But today, because I set my intentions, I notice them. I feel them. I make a different choice. I take a different path. Simply because I set my brain up to do so.  

And that changes everything! And that is what the power of intent means to me. The beauty of practicing awareness. And it's worth every ounce of effort and energy I commit each morning to this ritual. 

Now, it's your turn to try!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Stop, Look, Go - A Lesson from a Gardener

This morning, while pedaling on my exercise bike on my front porch, I watched the gardener arrive at my neighbor’s house across the street, like he always does on Wednesday mornings. But this time, I noticed something I don’t recall seeing before. The driver and passenger stepped out of their clean, white truck with tools neatly organized throughout the bed of the truck, and met in front of the house. Together, they paused, and looked at the property. They stood there, assessing the landscape, quietly at first, and then they began talking back and forth, and pointing around the property. It was as if they were creating a plan of attack, outlining what tasks needed to be done, and who would do what. I was amazed and inspired, because it completely contradicted the “mow and blow” technique I was expecting to see. 

Stop. Look. Go. The gardeners were doing just that. Assessing the landscape. Deciding on what to do, what steps to take, what tools to use. And then going for it. 

How many of us simply move throughout our day, our work, our relationships, our exercise, our tasks, our moment to moment, without taking the time to stop, look and go. Without seizing the opportunity to observe, to set our intentions, to focus our attention, and to literally connect with the opportunity in front of us. Whether it’s checking off an item on our to-do list, helping our child with a math problem, playing a card game with the family, or taking a walk around the block with our dog. Imagine what life might be like if we did what these gardeners were doing!

Here’s a simple exercise that I use to begin each day. I call it PBS - Posture Breath Sequence. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Movement & Mobility Practice

As reported by Harvard Medical School, mobility, defined as our ability to move purposefully around our environment, is vitally important to health, longevity and overall well-being. As athletes, it’s equally important for optimal performance in whatever game is most important to us, whether it’s family, career, competitive sports, community service, travel, or simply enjoying life to the fullest. 

In a Special Health Report, Harvard reports that more than 1/3 and nearly 1/2 of our population of ages 65 and older experience impaired mobility.  And the onset of diminishing mobility begins at an age much earlier than that.

“At first, it may not seem like a big deal — many people with impaired mobility learn to just move a little more slowly and a little more deliberately. Some people work around the problem by relying on a cane or walker. But that's why it's important to intervene to either prevent future mobility impairments or reduce existing ones. “

At Physical Focus, we believe that no matter our age and current ability, it’s possible to maintain and even improve our overall mobility! Instead of accepting the status quo that decreased mobility is inevitable with age, our proactive approach involves strategic movement and mobility practices. Because doing so is essential for our longevity, total health and performance. 

According to Harvard, impaired mobility may cause our health to spiral downward. With less movement, we often gain weight and lose muscle mass. A trend is also to withdraw from social connections, and activities that challenge us mentally as well. Exercise may become more challenging, and we may end up sitting more and moving less, which can exacerbate many health problems.

Harvard says that, “This cycle of physical, emotional, and mental decline further restricts mobility. For most people, the ability to rely on their own bodies, skills, and mental agility is a crucial part of living a satisfying life. Having full mobility helps you fully engage with the world and fosters a sense of self-sufficiency that can help you live independently well into your later years.”

And isn’t that our big picture goal? To live fully, with energy and enthusiasm. To have a good day, each and every day. To expand, balance and focus our energy and attention toward what matters most to us – our values, goals, commitments and relationships.  

As I discussed in previous blogs, my template for a high performance life is SMARTER.  S for Social Connections, M for Movement for the body & brain, A for Awareness, R for Rest & Recovery, T for Treat, E for Eat & Environment, and R for Refocus. M - Daily movement and mobility is a key ingredient, and in this formula, maintaining mobility is the result of a consistent and strategic movement practice.  

I’ve created a movement practice for you to follow.

I do this movement practice first thing every morning, to connect with, energize and mobilize my body and brain. I also use this movement practice or parts of it whenever I’ve sat for more than 20 or 30 minutes, and before a workout or playing a sport.

Remember - we are athletes, playing in whatever game is most important to us. Our ability to start the game, our longevity in the game, and our level of performance at crunch-time, comes down to our level of conditioning. How we train and what we practice.  It’s time to treat ourselves like the athletes we are, and commit to a consistent, strategic movement and mobility practice.

Friday, June 24, 2016

I love summer!

I love summer. Not because of vacations, or time off work. Not because the mornings are less chaotic, and I'm not rushing to make lunches or redirect my daughters from their bathroom and into my car to make it to school on time. And not because of the longer days, and warmer weather. Although as I think about these changes that come along with summer, I certainly appreciate them.

But the biggest reason for why I love summer has to do with connections - how our family connects with one another during the summer. Particularly, around the ocean - swimming, surfing, body surfing, boogie boarding and stand up paddling. Playing in the water until our teeth start chattering and our limbs go rigor mortis. And then heading home to jump in the hot tub together. Our love for the ocean is one thing we all share. It's common ground. And for our family, it's combining the camaraderie, laughter and pure joy of doing something we each love to do individually, with the added gift of sharing the experience together. And that breeds a deep connection between us. This is why I love summer.

Do you have something you love to do, and those most important to you also share that same passion? If so, schedule that into your life. If not, find something. Make this a priority in your life! Research is showing that sharing meaningful relationships with others not only enhances our happiness, but also impacts our overall health, as much so as quitting smoking, exercising or eating well.

The physiological impacts of social connections that provide a sense of belonging, purpose and support are far-reaching and vital to our longevity, quality of life and overall well-being. Being part of a community is an essential component for living a high performance life!

Components of a High Performance Life - SMARTER

S - Social Connections within a meaningful community providing a sense of belonging, purpose and support

M - Movement for the body and brain

A - Awareness Based Practices that cultivate a positive outlook, resiliency, attention and generosity.

R - Rest and Recovery to restore and replenish our energy.

T - Treat ourselves with compassion and the world with kindness, empathy and gratitude.

E - Eat whole natural foods to stabilize our blood sugar levels, while balancing taste and pleasure with nutritional value. Eliminate poisons and toxins in our environment - our food, water, air and products we use and purchase.

R - Refocus our energy and attention on what matters most to us - goals, values, roles, relationships and commitments.

Monday, June 6, 2016


I own a boutique gym in Montecito. But that's not who I am or why I do what I do. 

During my 3rd and 4th years in college, while enrolled in a 5 year honors Electrical Engineering Program, I worked on a computer engineering design team at IBM in New York. At the time, I was only 20 years old, and most of my engineering teammates were married with children, in their forties - of the age and the place that I am now. I spent 2 semesters at IBM, over the course of two years. Unlike most internships, I was actually paid very well, because I was hired and treated by IBM as an employee, not a student. They also provided me with a very good job offer waiting for me when I completed the Honors Program. I was strategically aligned in society's path and thriving. Straight A's, a legitimate salary, and even the first model of a portable CD player mounted to the dashboard of my new car. I was playing the game. And doing well.

Yet here I am, 25 years later. An engineer, I am not. What happened?

I became close to several of the guys on my IBM team. We went out to lunch as a group every single day. Calzones. Stromboli. Meatball Subs! We ate and we talked. And what I walked away with, in addition to the 10 extra pounds, was a message that altered the course of my life.

"Get out now. Once you build your lifestyle around this job, with a wife, children, the cars, the toys, and the home, you'll be trapped. And then you'll be doing what we do. Living for the weekends. And the coffee breaks too."

Whether or not they actually said this to me, I don't fully recall. But as I lived and breathed the IBM life along side them, that was the message I heard. And that was what changed my path, as their voices echoed inside my head.

I made a commitment to myself to treat each day like it was a weekend. To do something each and every day that was fun, fulfilling and important to me. To create a lifestyle and a job around my passion. To not do anything for the sole purpose of making money. I decided then, at age 20, that I would make sure that each day felt like a Saturday or a Sunday, in some way. And that I would not simply follow the path that everyone else was taking because it's what I was taught or told to do. Even if I was good at it. Even if it paid well. Even if it was safe. 

So here I am, two and a half decades later. An engineer turned gym owner. Yet that is not who I am or why I do what I do. I am here to help others do what I am doing. Why I practice. Why I train. To find a way of making each and every day feel like a weekend. To have the energy to focus on whatever is most important to us - our goals, values, relationships and commitments. That's what weekends are all about. Doing the things we love to do. Spending time with those who matter most. Serving our communities. Playing with our children. Sports. Nature. That is why I own a gym. That is why I do what I do. 

I’d like to share with you my acronym for living a balanced, energetic and high performance life. SMARTER. Each letter is the first letter of a word for a component that I incorporate into my life, each and every day. 

The same approach I take when it comes to my workouts, or “Gym Time” as I like to call it, I apply to each component I integrate into my life. My Gym Time is about more than the workouts themselves. It’s about improving my performance in all the games I play in my life - husband, father, coach, community member, business owner and athlete. And in the same way, each component is not simply about the component itself. It’s about maintaining balance, and conditioning myself for maximal performance, day-to-day, and especially in crunch time! When the pressure is on. When the heat is turned up. When the clock speeds up. That’s when my practice and my training are most important. That’s when my performance reflects the quality of my training and my practice.

S-Social connections within a meaningful community that provides a sense of belonging, support and purpose.

M- Movement for the body and brain; Daily exercises for our mental and physical muscles.

A - Awareness Based Practices to calm the body, mellow the mind, open our hearts, and connect us with our passion, purpose and joy.   

R - Rest & Recovery: A daily rhythm of sleep, rest and recovery to replenish and restore our energy.

T - Treat ourselves with compassion, and others with empathy, kindness and gratitude.

E - Eat and Environment - Eat whole, natural foods, to stabilize our blood sugar levels, while balancing taste & pleasure with nutritional value. Minimize toxins and poisons in our environment; our air, food, water and products we use.

R - Refocus our energy and attention toward what is most important to us - our values, goals, commitments and relationships. 

Over the next few weeks, I will explain each component in more detail and share ideas on how to incorporate each into your day to day life. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

AWE - go and find it!

Recently, I’ve come across numerous articles about cultivating awe and how the regular practice of experiencing awe positively impacts our overall health and happiness, and deepens our connections with others and our world. 

The particular definition of awe that I am referring to is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast, bigger than ourselves, deeply inspiring, and maybe even beyond the grasp of our understanding of the world.

From an evolutionary standpoint, neuroscience suggests “Awe binds us to social collectives and enables us to act in more collaborative ways that enable strong groups, thus improving our odds for survival. Awe embeds the individual self in a social identity." Dacher Keltner Ph.D.

As a father, husband and business owner, I am aware of how engaged our lives have become with technology. On a daily basis, I experience first hand the struggles of pulling my children and myself away from it’s grasp, and instead, directing our attention toward more time in nature, and time connecting with one another in meaningful ways. Despite knowing it’s important, it’s not easy balancing where I focus my energy and the energy of my family. 

Until I spent some time really thinking about it, I was inclined to think that awe just showed up. It was just one of those moments that occurred by happenstance, in an unpredictable nature. And that I was just fortunate to notice it when it came my way. 

As I’ve learned more about awe, I’ve come to take a different approach. Instead of sitting and waiting for it to randomly appear, I've learned to seek out experiences and environments that manifest awe. I can practice placing myself into environments, and putting myself into experiences, that create awe for me. 

Since thinking of awe in this way, I've noticed a multitude of possible experiences and environments that personally manifest awe for me. A hike up Jesusita Trail to Inspiration Point. Watching my daughters play sports or run track. An inspiring YouTube Video. A school play. Listening to music. Wind blowing the leaves in the maple tree we planted when my youngest daughter was born. Artwork. The moon and the stars. Dolphins. The family picture books on our coffee table. The first bloom of the roses in my front yard. Harvesting vegetables from our garden. The ocean. Sunset. Sunrise.

I can simply choose to put myself into those places, situations, relationships and activities. I can schedule these experiences into my week, as excursions, events or practices. By myself or with my family. And this will cultivate awe. Which can lead to more curiosity, deeper connections, and improved health and happiness. 

It's a win-win-win scenario. More excitement and enthusiasm today. More depth and meaning today, and tomorrow. Improvements in my longevity, happiness, overall health and well-being today, tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow. 

Sounds like it’s time to go find some awe…

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Open Walk

I read an article this morning about the art of walking, it's connection to thinking, and how we in the modernized world are losing our love of what the author refers to as the 'purposeless walk'. The article referred to walking in the West as a luxury, because of all our available modes of transportation. It went on to say that walking for any distance is usually a planned activity or a health aid, or something we do to help us lose weight or improve our fitness.  

Having spent more than two decades in the health and fitness industry, I've experienced first-hand how many of us set out on walks for the purpose of improving our fitness, or walk on a treadmill to burn a specific number of calories in hopes of controlling our weight, or errand-walk as I call it, throughout our day in order to achieve a certain number of daily steps on our Fitbits. But how many of us actually go for a daily walk to simply connect with ourselves, our bodies, our thoughts, our environment or to see what inspiration or idea might arise?

How many of us go for a walk, by ourselves, without a specific workout goal, or a distance, or a target? What if we were to do something different? What I am calling an OPEN WALK - a walk just to walk, to observe, to explore, or to connect with our minds, bodies, sensations, and environment.  

As I sit here writing this, after just enjoying my Open Walk, I see a mom, walking while pushing her baby in the stroller with her left hand, while simultaneously holding her black pug dog on leash, and talking on the phone with her right hand. She's marching along at a rapid pace, looking straight ahead, while talking to someone on the phone. I've been there. I get it. But could there be a different way? A different approach that might fulfill more of her needs? 

I walk around my neighborhood daily. Sometimes more than once a day. I've covered my same tracks hundreds if not thousands of times by now. Yet even this morning, I notice things for the first time. Today, I noticed a tree in someone's yard that I thought as I observed it, "Did they just put that in?" I realized it was an old tree, so no, they didn't just put it in. I also noticed the mountains, and the morning sun warming my skin and the temperature change between the sun and the shade. I also noticed some of my thoughts. How I began internally criticizing someone's choice for their paint color, or their new landscaping. And then I took a breath and reminded myself that each of us has different likes, unique tastes, and that what I like is just that - only what I like. And that is ok. 

And as I continued along my path this morning, breathing and feeling my body move, easily and quietly, observing and being open, the word "open" came into my mind. And thus, the name Open Walk, and hence this writing. As I write this, another woman, middle aged this time, walks by holding her phone in her left hand, headphones on, listening to something while she swings her arms marching along quickly and energetically. And I get her too. Exercise. Move that body. Pump that heart. Burn baby burn. 

Obviously, walks may take many shapes and have many forms. There isn't one right or wrong way. But, try what I call an Open Walk, by yourself. No phone or music or podcast. No agenda. No distance. No Fitbit. Just walk, be open. Observe. And see what happens for you.