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Working Out + Meditation techniques (Michael Sandler)

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Female running athlete. Woman trail runner sprinting for successHow can you get your exercise and get a mindfulness practice in at the same time? Two great things for your health now combined in one activity. Join CJ Liu as she learns from the creator of Barefoot Running, Michael Sandler, on some new meditation techniques to try while running or working out.  Check out more information at: 



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Blog Post by our Guest

From Movement to Meditation to Near Death and Back Again – How Mindful Running Came to Be

I first remember meditating as part of a drama program in high school. As a child growing up with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), it was perhaps the first time my mind completely calmed and the whirring stopped, other than when I was running or on a bicycle. But I had no idea why.

From there I didn’t regularly meditate again until racing bicycles in Europe. There against some of the best in the world, I had to figure out how to keep up or rather hold on for dear life. Even though I was strong enough, it was incredibly intimidating. And so I turned to visualization exercises to do the trick. Ever since I’d kicked exercise-induced asthma while training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, I’d been enthralled with literature on breathing techniques, visualizations, and mantras (though that word wasn’t widely used back then).

Using this technique, I finished many races and very quickly got in the prize money. For years I would continue to use such techniques, even twice for surgical operations, choosing to quiet the mind and go inside, rather than use general anesthesia to which I was dangerously allergic.

I was doing a hodge-podge of meditation work until about 2000, when I started a more formal program, and by the time of my cross-country bike ride in 2004 (a 5000 mile, solo, 40 day effort without anyone with me) I’d developed a consistent daily practice. I was slowly, but surely learning that my outer world and performance was directly dictated, or orchestrated by my inner one.

Fast forward to 2006, I’d just had a near-death accident on rollerblades, shattering my left femur, left hip and left arm, leaving me with an inch leg length discrepancy and many more challenges (I’d had a total of 10 knee operations up to that point, and combined with chronic plantar fasciitis, my prognosis for mobility was suspect at best). At first doctors told me I might lose my leg, then be lucky to walk again, and surely not be able to run.

But I started using my visualization work, almost from day 1, first to get me out of the hospital bed, then to get myself out of the “rehab” hospital, where I was scheduled to spend a minimum of 2 months (I only stayed two nights). And then to get me back on the trails, which is where I knew my real healing would begin.

I still struggled very badly, and it wasn’t until I began going barefoot, something I’d seen myself do in meditation, that my health truly began to take off. It was the real start of the inner-journey, or a raising of awareness or consciousness that came from getting in touch with the Michael on the inside. Until then, even in meditation, there wasn’t the strongest focus on the inner journey, but more how I could use meditation to control my outer one.

My spiritual practice has grown or evolved in very interesting ways since then. I had some good ideas about meditation at the time, many of which I still use, but many more which had to be thrown out to make way for new concepts and practices. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Fast-forward to May 19th, 2013. I was out on book tour for my latest book “Barefoot Walking”, and had stopped with my wife Jessica to park an ailing RV and stretch the legs on a smooth granite trail, leading up to Horsetail Falls just outside of South Lake Tahoe. I swam under this amazing waterfall, an experience that was pure bliss, if not for the excruciating cold 32 degree water…but I swam in a water-hole, much like an underwater cavern in pure, pristine bliss and silence.

And then I froze, and turned blue…I think my teeth were still chattering on most of the hike back to the RV. But along the way, after I kissed Jessica and told her how much I loved her and wanted to start a family, I slipped while crossing the creek, and that was almost it.

The whole world went silent, the screen went gray, and I STOPPED BREATHING.

In hindsight, it’s not very dramatic…it’s not like the tension filled music you hear in the movies as someone’s about to die. Instead, it’s almost peaceful and very VERY quiet.

As the world grew dim, Jessica came running back to me. And that is the almost ONLY reason I’m still here today…that and of course, because I apparently was SUPPOSED to still be here. Seeing her, I KNEW I couldn’t die, and I FORCED myself to start breathing again.

I used a technique we call the Light and Love meditation, to focus, or in this case, FORCE myself to breathe. And it worked.

Though it took someone else’s blood…or many someone elses’ to keep me alive, and though it took a dozen rescuers, two helicopters, and who knows what else, I’m still here. In fact, I’m better than still here, I’m up running again. I now have two matching, identical titanium femurs and hips (doc’s told me there’s a one-in-infinity chance of this), and no longer have a leg length discrepancy. Whoo-hooo, I’m now balanced!

But the journey back to health was not an easy one. The skiing hospital said it was the worst femur fracture they’d ever seen, and that’s saying something. And with all of the blood loss, I couldn’t do much more than raise my head up off of the pillow for over a week. This accident challenged me in ways I never thought possible. There was unimaginable, long-lasting pain. There was nausea, and dizziness, a complete inability to focus on anything, and then the potential for HUGE fear and anxiety. Would I walk again, could I run? How will we pay this mountain of medical bills. And we’re in the middle of a 3 year IRS audit, and I can’t even sit upright, how do we keep our business? And stay in our home? And…how do I not burn-out and chase away my wife, as it’d be easy to be bitter, angry, and super-needy at a time I couldn’t even wipe my own behind.

It was then, during THIS experience, that I truly learned what it means to be mindful, to be present, to be aware, if not in each moment, then in many, many more of them, than ever before. I didn’t just have to pull out all of the tricks and tools I’d learned about meditation and visualization to thrive and survive, but I had to learn an exhaustible number of new ones. For this challenged me in every way possible.

But something special came out of it. Just as I’d been stuck in that freezing cold creek for an hour, unable to move, barely able to breath, I was now stuck not just for days, but for months on the couch, unable to do almost anything.

And what a miraculous gift that was! For it’s out of that experience, I had to journey on the inside, and figure out how to truly heal and repair each aspect of my life. I call it healing from the inside out. And that’s just what I did.

Magically, the doors began to open, and the trials and tribulations fell away. Mountains of bills disappeared. The body has flipped the most incredible switch of all, the switch of healing, health, and longevity. On top of that, Jessica and I have grown closer, we’re far more introspective, I’m far quieter…and yet, with a deep, raucous, belly laugh, I never knew I had before. It’s my Buddha laugh, perhaps it’ll even be my “trademark” for life. I’m so happy now. So incredibly happy. Yes, there are bad days, tough days, days like today where a tooth cracked in the night, and I’m hanging in there on Ibuprofen today, going “what I do now?” But these are all the temporary beautiful challenges of living, breathing, and moving in the now. I get it now. I get the BIG PICTURE.

And it’s out of this Big Picture, and out of all of the learnings that have helped us to thrive and survive during this challenging time, and that have helped me to accomplish everything I have in life, that Mindful Running has been born. It’s really a culmination of a life’s work, that could only have been sharpened and brought into crystal clear focus by the tragic, or not-so-tragic events over the last year. For really, they have been a gift, to help us dive deep beneath the surface, and learn what’s truly there.

I encourage you to follow along on this journey. Join our mailing list, get our Mindful Running Training Program if you’re so inspired. And keep checking out my blog posts. Life is a magical, powerful gift…ALL of it, not just the good days, but even, perhaps ESPECIALLY the crappy ones. Yes, we must give thanks for the SH** that comes our way. For there, in the muck, in the stinky brown stuff, is the soil or the fertilizer out of which happiness and all of our dreams can grow.

Mindful Running, it is the combination of movement and meditation, visualizations, mantra’s, walking, running, focusing on the breath, and looking at, fine-tuning, tweaking, and repairing every aspect of our lives…not just to be better runners, but to be better, more empowered, more conscious, more capable human beings. Who wants to go quiet through life? We should all be able to have the same level of happiness, of joy, and of achievement (note, that’ not necessarily represented in dollars and bills) no matter who where are, and where we started. And we all should be able to have the same gift I was given, to go into the stillness, the silence, the world of incredible inner peace, and bring that back with us, to every piece, or PEACE of our lives.

Thanks for reading this, I’ll share everything I can on this journey, I hope it finds you well, inspires you too, and helps you discover the greatest sense of inner peace, empowerment, and wellness possible.

Lastly, it is my belief that the greatest sense of well being comes, or begins, with a sense of health. That is why we’re tying movement and meditation together. For when you’re sore, you’re tired, or in pain, it is the best time to reaffirm our divinity, but NOT the easiest time to learn the tools to get us there. In short, the healthier and more energized you feel, the easier it is for you to discover your true inner self. And I want to help you get there!

Sending lots of love and blessings!

Michael (and Jessica, my muse, my guide, and my everything!)


About our Guest

Michael Sandler

Chief Wellness Officer, Barefoot Running & Walking Coach, Motivational Speaker

Michael Sandler, former speed skater and professional level cyclist, suffered multiple injuries over the course of a lifetime, the last of which occurred just over 3 years ago. Weeks before a planned inline skating world record attempt across the country (LA to NYC) to raise awareness around ADD/ADHD, Michael experienced a life altering accident. While inline skating down Boulder Creek Trail, a father and toddler stepped in front of Michael’s path. To avoid a collision, Michael threw himself backwards and in mid-rotation, landed on concrete. The force of the impact resulted in a broken arm, broken hip and shattered femur. Doctors told him the usual story – he may not be able to keep his leg… he may not be able to walk again… he most definitely would never be able to run again. Fortunately, Michael doesn’t believe in limitations. He’ll be the first to tell you he doesn’t believe in the word, “Can’t.” Slowly but surely, through a combination of determination, meditation, trust in the universe and the power of nature, Michael became a walking miracle. In 2006, a week out of his living room hospital-bed, Michael set the record for finishing the Bolder Boulder 10K on crutches (and a broken arm). Two weeks later, Michael finished the Denver Half Marathon on crutches and became the only person to ever complete the half marathon on crutches. When he finally got off his crutches, Michael gradually worked himself into barefoot running. He was still being told he couldn’t run anymore, and with a ‘leg length discrepancy’ of over 10 millimeters, struggled to find balance and overcome nagging pain. Known as ‘Mr. Plantar Fasciitis’, as he needed custom orthotics just to walk across the living room floor, going barefoot was a major leap of faith. The first day, he ran 100 yards. Then he iced his feet for 2 days. The second time, he ran 200 yards. Then iced for another 2 days. And so it went. Today, Michael can be seen barefoot running up mountains. To Michael, barefoot running is not running at all. He says, “I don’t run anymore. I dance.”

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