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In a world where the pursuit of peak performance often involves pushing physical limits, the concept of mind mastery and deliberate living is often overlooked. In her new book, “Awake Athlete,” mindset coach Jess Gumkowski offers a recipe for mental health that seamlessly integrates activity and awareness for sustained embodied engagement. The book serves as a comprehensive guide, offering practical techniques and the wisdom of sages to empower athletes at all levels.

The Power of Meditation, Breathwork, and Mindfulness Practices

Jess emphasizes the significance of meditation, breathwork, and mindfulness practices. These tools are not just reserved for spiritual seekers; they are potent instruments for connecting the mind and body, fostering greater calmness, and ultimately enhancing athletic performance.

Jess delves into the transformative potential of breathwork as a profound method to forge a connection between the mind and body. Advocating for intentional practices, she suggests techniques such as extending the exhale duration beyond the inhale, a strategy known to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Conscious breathing, particularly through progressive relaxation, as a means to not only train the mind but also attune it to a sense of tranquility. In her insightful perspective on mindfulness, Jess underscores the importance of directing awareness to the breath, clarifying that the goal isn’t to halt thoughts but to cultivate mindfulness. Jess highlights the ripple effect of regular meditation, asserting that it not only deepens our connection to inner serenity but also contributes to heightened mental and physical performance.

Following Inner Guidance

In a compelling twist on conventional notions of achievement, “Awake Athlete” introduces the concept of “wise selfishness.” Rather than pursuing goals for self-centered reasons, Jess encourages athletes to set intentions that serve a broader purpose. When we accept this, achievement becomes meaningful when it is aligned with a goal of sharing one’s gifts and talents to benefit others. This paradigm shift not only elevates the individual but contributes to the collective well-being, creating a powerful ripple effect of positive impact.

Here are Jess’s key takeaways:

  • Meditation, breathwork, and mindfulness practices can help connect the mind and body and lead to greater calmness and performance.
  • It’s important to surrender to life’s challenges and to open up to receiving help from others rather than trying to do everything alone.
  • The ego is a tool that can be used for good when tamed, rather than letting it isolate us through comparison and lack mentality.
  • Living against the grain means following your inner guidance and talents despite obstacles and what others think.
  • There can be a “wise selfishness” to achievement when the goal is to serve others through sharing one’s gifts and talents.

Listen to Jess’s episode

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Episode Chapters

  • Overcoming resistance and showing up for creative endeavors. (0:56)
  • Emotional intelligence and connecting with feelings. (5:25)
  • Mindfulness and breathwork for peace and well-being. (11:15)
  • Breathwork as a mind-body connector. (15:09)
  • Meditation and mindfulness in athletics. (21:42)
  • Meditation, surrender, and relaxation. (25:28)
  • Embracing receiving and balance in life. (36:23)
  • Living against the grain and following one’s intuition. (45:22)
  • The ego and individuality in personal growth. (49:45)

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Transcript

Sonya Looney 0:00
Jess I’m so excited to talk to you and I have learned so much from your book and from you as a person. So, welcome to the show. Oh, thank you so much this, it’s a great honor to be here. And of course, selfishly, it’s just so nice to see you again. I know podcasting is such a great way to connect with people. And, you know, people ask me like, Oh, should I start a podcast? Or, you know, what, why should I start a podcast and I say, like, selfishly, you get to make so many great friends and sit down and have amazing conversations that you normally wouldn’t get to have. Yeah, it’s incredible, the connections and friendships that some friendships that have come from our podcast, but also just all the people all around the world that you can tap into, that we can connect people with. It’s it’s an incredible medium. But as you know, it is an absolute labor of love.

Jess Gumkowski 0:56
It’s a lot of work. And, you know, it’s easy just to hit play. But there’s so much that goes in to getting that podcast to a point where someone can just press play. So I applaud you for showing up and showing up and showing up because I know what it takes. And it’s a lot.

Sonya Looney 1:15
Yeah, I’ve been on your podcast. And thank you so much. And we’ll make sure that people can go to your podcast and subscribe and all of those things. I wanted to ask you, because you just talked about showing up and the labor of love. And the same thing happens when opening a book, you’re opening somebody’s like 500th draft. And it always appears so, so easy when you open the book, and it sounds so good. But most people don’t know how messy it is to get your ideas out on paper. For things that people are doing that require showing up when it’s messy, what advice do you have for them?

Jess Gumkowski 1:49
Yeah, what you’re gonna have between showing up and the messiness of what you need to show up to is resistance. And when we’re showing up to something that is difficult, or we’re not sure how it’s going to what the final product is going to look like. And we’re not even sure how we’re going to get there. It means that we’re overcoming something in our life, we’re over in it. And there’s nothing that we overcome, that’s too small. And the mountains that we need to climb are daily, actually was climbing some mountains this morning. Figuratively, and so you have to understand that anyone that is endeavoring in anything that feels difficult is coming up against the same thing. And so you’re not alone? Number one, because there may be that voice that’s like, oh, it’s not worth it, or Oh, God, why? Why does everybody else? Like why can everybody else do it so easily? Like, oh, that person’s put out 15 books. So that person has had a podcast weekly for eight years. And so there’s that ego part of you that I talk about in the book that’s going to isolate you and say, You’re not good enough, you can’t do this. It’s not worth your time. So you want to really keep checking in with the part of you that started this endeavor, whatever it is that let little voice that small, still voice within that said, Yeah, do that. And then it’s a mess, and there’s obstacles. And so showing up means that you might be fearful show up anyway. You might feel overwhelmed, show up anyway. You might feel like it’s an impossible task show up anyway. And so how does that look? It’s easy for me to say show up, show up, show up. But how does that look. So let’s say somebody’s working on a book. And it’s just a mess, which anybody who’s writing a book, at some point, if not many points, it’s going to be an absolute mess. And you’re going to have no idea how it’s all going to be organized into chapters and themes and all of these things. So showing up maybe sitting down at the table, opening up your laptop, opening up the file, and maybe it’s closing your eyes and taking a few breaths and just typing something and that typing could be I don’t know what to write. Okay, that’s a great place to start. So you just keep going. It’s almost like dumping of your mind, right, like a stream of consciousness. And once you get into that stream of consciousness and you start dumping things, you’ll be very surprised at the little nuggets of gold that show up. And you’ll say, oh my gosh, is this the name of the chapter? Oh, my god, is this the direction that it needs to go to? So I think to answer your question is number one, you’re not alone. There’s a great book that I talk about within my book called The War of Art written by Steven Pressfield, which is all about resistance. And the rule is anytime you go to better yourself, you will experience resistance and that this is not just you This is everyone. So you’re not alone. And sometimes action on the thing that you’re trying to accomplish may just be a thought. But everything is momentum, everything is feeding the stream of energy and giving power to the very thing that you’re, that you’re trying to birth into the world, whatever it is. And again, there’s nothing too small. So never minimize your dreams. They all matter. I love

Sonya Looney 5:25
how you said that nobody is doing this on their own. And we often feel so isolated, and especially now, where people are afraid to be vulnerable. They’re afraid to connect for whatever the reasons are, remembering that we’re not alone, and that you do belong in in that group, whatever it is, you’re if you’re trying to become an author, if you’re trying to be a podcaster. And you think I don’t, I don’t belong here. But you do belong there. And every single person in that group has felt that way. So common humanity, just remember the common humanity piece. And I like to think of this thing that I like to say is your your humanity is showing show your humanity. That’s okay. Yeah, and

Jess Gumkowski 6:03
feel it. I talk a lot about that. And awake athlete feel it’s so important to feel what you’re feeling because the feeling is true. It is right there it is. 100% real thoughts about what you’re feeling, are rarely true. So I think the thoughts are what gets us in trouble. And keep us small, when we’re here to, to really express ourselves in our fullest extent.

Sonya Looney 6:30
So there’s people that get really disconnected from their feelings. They’re very cerebral. Something I’ve been thinking about lately is that I’ve gotten disconnected from the feeling of pride. And that does not let me feel my accomplishments. So for someone like me, or somebody that has some other feeling that they’re having trouble accessing, like, how can people access their feelings when they’ve gotten too in their head about things? Yeah,

Jess Gumkowski 6:56
well, you just said it right there, you’re too in your head. So the intellect in the end, we’ll just say the heart, right, the heart is our emotional center. And everything has to pass through the heart. That’s why we feel so much. And we soldier up. And we push on through our days, because we have busy schedules. And we can’t really fully process everything that we’re taking in through the world. And there’s a lot of things that you know, we just put a, we kind of put a cover on and we keep going. And then that begins to create almost a fear of feeling. And then that fear of feeling creates, like a forget of feeling like we forgot how to feel. I was there too. I was such I was so stuck in my intellect, about what I had accomplished what I needed to accomplish. And all that did was like, it ended up with a big list of other things that I wasn’t in I needed to be and should be. And so because the intellect is always just, it’s like the data and information center of our being. And it’s super important, it really is. But it’s not our feeling center. So you have to begin to get sensitive to what is in that emotional center. And a great way to start is to close your eyes and just take a breath in. And then slowly let that breath out. And a lot of times is this is the first time you’re doing that you might actually feel some anxiousness. But I would say go beyond what the intellect is labeling it as anxiousness and go broader and say, What does this feel like? Does it feel heavy? Does it feel tight? Does it feel jagged? Does it feel big? Does it feel small? Does it feels like a rock? And so you start to get into more of these broad descriptions of what it is that you’re feeling, as opposed to I’m feeling anxiety. And then that comes with a whole host of other thoughts that say, you know, you shouldn’t feel this way or you’re alone because you do feel this way. And so when we remove the labels, and we just begin to feel what’s in there, like right now as people are listening, just go to that, put your awareness in the place behind your sternum and in front of your spine. That whole space in there and just begin and at first you might feel nothing, because I know I did. I felt nothing. I was like there’s nothing there. I feel nothing. What do you mean put my put my awareness where like, there’s nothing there. It’s an empty cavity. But time and time and time again, in pairing it with conscious breath. You will feel something and if it feels frightening if it feels scary, if it feels like you can’t breathe. That’s when you want to step back and say okay, hold on. What are the qualities of this? Oh yeah, it feels heavy. And just by starting to identify like the qualities of what it is that you’re feeling, you begin to disempower the labels that carry a lot of baggage with them about what you’re feeling. And then now you start to say, Okay, there’s a separation here between my intellect and what my mind is saying, what I’m feeling and what I’m actually feeling. And we can’t create or destroy energy, but we can transmute it. So if we stay long enough with that and say, Ooh, this feels heavy. Okay, we take a few more breaths. Let me make that exhale longer. The exhale is governed by our parasympathetic nervous system, it’s our healing nervous system will then become activated. And then that heaviness will start to dissipate. It might take one breath, it might take 100 breaths. But if you stay with it, you’ll feel that transmutation back to calmness back to a place where you’re like, Huh? Okay, I’m kind of feeling like just a little bit of easy space in there now. So I would say it starts with one breath. And then practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, because change does not it does not happen in the intellect. It happens through experience. And it happens through us understanding how we are moving through experience, what are the feelings that are coming up, and really getting to know those so we can see, ooh, every time I do this, I feel this, every time I do this, I feel this. And when I’m patting my golden retriever, ah, that space in my heart feels like easy and light. So we tend to always focus on you know, I can’t breathe, it’s so tight. But I always encourage the athletes that I work with, and the people that I work with to when you are petting your cat or your dog, or you’re walking in nature, and things are feeling good, lean into that as well. So you’re really getting into the forefront of your experience, what it feels like to feel peaceful. And what everybody I’m gonna say 100% of the people that I work with, everyone reports back to me is, whoa, I caught myself feeling peaceful, like 55 times yesterday. I’m like, Yeah, you did. Because we just are not conditioned to lean into these moments where we feel peaceful, were conditioned to look at what is wrong, what needs to be changed what needs to be fixed? So I hope that answers your question. It’s got to be experience. Yeah,

Sonya Looney 12:40
I heard a few different things. So number one, curiosity and sort of evaluation. Yeah, as if you’re curious, you start using words like heavier worm or light instead of bad, anxious, scary, or, you know, whatever the words are, that you’re evaluating with. And another thing is that using your breath to come into your body, and to work through, or not even work through, but just access these feelings is a powerful way to do that. And that we have ease and warmth and happiness and good positive emotions within us. But because of our negativity bias, we often overlook them. And it takes intention to, and time to actually lean into those.

Jess Gumkowski 13:24
Yeah, and that’s all mind training. It’s all reconditioning the mind. And researchers have shown that our brains have evolved to react much more strongly to something negative than to something positive. So if we want to unearth the piece that we’re already existing, that’s already existing in our life, like that’s, that’s a mind training. And that’s going to take practice. So go easy on yourself. Anyone who has walked this path before you and is, you know, by default, leaning into those moments of peace, we have all felt the moments where you don’t feel like you can breathe.

Sonya Looney 14:05
So in your book, one of the chapters is actually about different styles of ways to access your breath. I guess what, what are some ones that you want people to start practicing or to know about? Because I mean, a lot of people have heard about box breathing, or they’ve heard about, you know, letting your exhale be longer than your inhale. But you go into a lot more detail than that.

Jess Gumkowski 14:29
I would say, you know, you just mentioned it, which was the exhale is longer than the inhale. I think that’s, you know, my intellect saying, Oh, you gotta see something that you didn’t already just say, you gotta you gotta pull something fancy out of the box here, just but the thing is, is that none of this work is fancy, right? And this is like, this is endurance training. We know that there’s no secret workouts. There’s no coach that has some fancy technique that’s making their athletes be the best. It’s like showing up and doing those, you know, steady state workouts, it’s you know, doing work in the high end and work in the low end, better than we have before. And this is the same with a breath, it really is the perfect tool, I had a lot of anxious and an energy that was in my vault, before I opened it up. And when I first started to sit for meditation, it was like there had been, it was like a tea kettle that had just been boiling on the stove for too long. So when I started to sit in stillness, and I stopped doing, and I decided to break my addiction to doing the longer exhale twice as long as my inhale was my absolute saving grace, breathing in for for breathing out for eight, when I was ready, it was breathing in for four, holding for seven, breathing out for eight, and getting my nervous system to recognize that there was no threat. Right, I was living in a state where I’d get a voicemail, and it was like it was a threat, the phone would ring, it was a threat, somebody would knock at the door, it was a threat. And so we need to help our nervous system recognize that we’re just sitting quietly, you know, in our home with a blanket, and we’re practicing breathing, and there’s no threat. And so those longer exhales are incredibly potent. And they are the place where I always have my clients start at one of my favorite things that came that came from people reporting back to me, like, exhaling for eights too much for me, like I’m getting really, really anxious. And I’ve thought, well, you know, it’s a relaxing breath. So getting this is not working for you. So what can we do? So I do this progressive relaxing breath, which is not in the book, which I love. And it serves two purposes. Number one, the purpose that I’m talking about, which is getting the nervous system back into balance. And the second thing that it does is it serves as a mind training technique, because it’s concentrating the mind on the counting. And when we put 100% of our awareness on that counting, that’s 0% awareness to fuel the thoughts that are happening about what we’re doing. Right. So now we start to create this space, this gap between stimulus and response in our life, which is incredibly important. So I have them start with a two, four breath. And when they feel calm, we go to a three, six. When they feel calm, we go to a four, eight, and perhaps a 510. And, you know, as I work mostly with athletes, they get super excited, and they’re like, I can’t wait to get to a 714. I’m like, Okay, let’s just start with the two, four, that’s good. And then we just go from there. And any time that they feel like, Oh, that’s too much, we back down. Because the purpose is not to achieve. And it’s not to get to the 714 or the 1020 breath. It’s about sustained levels of calm as we continue to increase the length of these breaths. So I love that progressive relaxing breath as a way to train the mind to tune the body to calm and to let that amazing nervous system of ours know that. It’s okay, there’s no threat right now. You can relax. And when we get that nervous system into balance, and we’re in that healing nervous system, and we’re doing this breathwork you can call it breath working called minute, whatever you want to call, it doesn’t matter. The beautiful thing about humans and the human body is that when one thing heals, everything heals. It doesn’t selectively heal. So if you’re talking about an endurance athlete, this is an incredibly potent practice for your physical training. Because now your body is healing at an accelerated rate, which means you’re training more, which means you can push more, which means you can elevate your physical performance through a very simple thing. Like a 24686 12 breath. Really, really beautiful stuff.

Sonya Looney 19:18
Thank you for elaborating on that in my over simplified comment about breath work. Something that that I think about is how breath work is a connector between the mind and body. We always hear about mind body connection, but how do you connect it and it sounds like breath work is one fantastic way to do that.

Jess Gumkowski 19:38
Yeah, absolutely. The the key of what we’re doing here is that we’re tasking the mind. We’re seeing Okay, mind, we’re gonna sit here. We’re gonna set our timer for five minutes. 10 minutes. 45 minutes doesn’t matter. Like physical training. Consistency is everything with mental training and The mind now becomes the tool and not the master, it doesn’t make a very good master, it does not make a very good master. And somehow the scales has have tipped. And you know, we are, we are living from these well worn neural pathways. And so many of those pathways are great. They’re so, so wonderful, and they’re good. And we don’t need to do anything with those, you know, like me feeding my dog and taking them for walks. That’s just a well worn neural pathway in my brain, that’s great, that doesn’t need to change. But when a voicemail comes in, and I feel fearful, that’s something I want to look at, there’s a there’s a reaction there. That’s, that’s not good for my nervous system. It’s not good for whatever conversation I need to have. And so when we sit and we deliberately say, I’m going to breathe consciously, this is the mind training, we’re saying, okay, mind, I’m going to task you, instead of you tasking me. And we’re not going to check the timer. And we’re not going to get up any sooner than before the timer rings, and this is what we’re doing. And the great thing is, is that eventually the mind will get on board, like I crave my morning meditation. I can’t imagine a day without it. But at first, it was like, I had to use the same will and strength that has has allowed me to cross the finish lines of ultra marathons and Ironman, I had to use that same strength to sit still for 10 minutes, like gripping onto the meditation pillow, literally, like I’m not getting up, I’m not doing it, I’m not checking the, I’m not doing it. I’m not doing it, we’re sitting here. And so for me, it was a grind, and I and I don’t want to make any. anyone thinks that this was an easy process, I never thought I was going to meditate, let alone write a book about mind mastery, but you just never know where life will take you. So that’s why it’s so important to show up and follow those hits. And take a few breaths because your best self is right in the center of that present moment.

Sonya Looney 22:15
Your best self is right in the center of that present moment. They just want to repeat that something that we so readily lean into his physical discomfort as athletes like oh yeah, I’ll go do my interval workout, I’ll go out there, I’ll prioritize it, I’ll make this my number one priority. But we do not want to lean in to the mental discomfort of sitting still and focusing inward. And that’s something that I tried to think about a lot is I’m so willing to go out there and push myself physically but pushing yourself mentally in this type of way. That is actually not really pushing. It’s more the being we’re afraid to be. And there’s a challenge inherent in that. And I like how you framed it in that way. I think that can help people decide to make it a priority because I think people feel like they’re not doing anything they want to be doing. But even though you’re being you’re still doing in that moment, because resting in awareness is is actually work like you said. Yeah,

Jess Gumkowski 23:07
it’s it’s action. Right? It’s it. A book that I referenced in awake athlete is the Bhagavad Gita, which is, you know, Hindu scripture. And it is, I think it’s required reading for every athlete, it is the every man’s battle with the mind. And it’s about Arjuna, who is the greatest warrior of all time. And, you know, he comes on to the battlefield, and this is what he does. He’s a warrior. It’s his dharma. And he’s getting ready for battle. And he looks at who he’s fighting. And it’s his family and his cousins, and his mentors. Right. And so there’s a whole, there’s a whole I mean, we could do a whole podcast, I did an eight month study with the awake athlete community that I work with, on this book. And I myself have been studying it for the past 12 years. And so there’s a lot there. But essentially, all of what he’s battling is are his thoughts. Right? So there’s, there’s also like a bigger story here. And so he falls to the bottom of the chariot. He’s like, I can’t do this. I can’t fight and you know, we’ve all had those moments. Like, I can’t do this. I can’t, I can’t sit and meditate. I’ve tried so many times. And so his charioteer is Krishna, who is his higher mind? And he he looks at him and he says, Get up. Like, get up and fight. This cowardness does not become you, you are more than this. And I thought about that so many times in the early days of meditating. When I was breaking this addiction to doing everything was meditation for me running drinking wine, driving, you know, yoga. I’ve been practicing yoga for 30 years. That’s enough. It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough. off, the only thing that changed my life so profoundly my relationship to athletics, my ability to sit in discomfort, whether it’s those last miles of a race or an interval workout has been meditation is to connect with the calmness that’s already within. And I want to make something very clear. The mind is a thought producing machine. If your mind is busy, that’s great. Your mind is working. Meditation is not about stopping the thoughts. Meditation is about training your mind the awareness part of your mind to be on something other than the thoughts. So at first, you’re going to have a lot of thoughts about how you’re not doing anything. And what I did was I just turned that around, and I said, Wow, all of those thoughts are every reason why I need to be sitting and not doing anything. Because I’m waking up in the middle of the night, and I’m panicked, I’m flying off the handle at for no reason. And I was always me, you know, I was always a loving, happy person. But when things got a little too much, I was I lost it. And it was because I wasn’t tuning to that calmness. So as high intensity as we can go. Like I say, get as radically calm and still. And that’s where you’re really going to find your potential. And in the Bhagavad Gita, this is what I was getting at, they talk about action, and in action, right, so acting and doing nothing are actually both the same. They are both action. So in the stillness, you’re training your mind. And then that amplifies everything else you’re doing, and all the other complimentary mental training techniques that you’re using. Because you do it from this connection of this foundation of calm, and I promise it’s in there it is in there. If you told me 30 years ago, there was calm in there, I was like, what? There’s no common there. And I’m not necessarily interested in being calm, like I wanted to. I liked you know, the pace I was going up, but it was starting to catch up with me. And so I needed to change. And meditation was the thing that changed at all, it made everything else that I was doing so much more effective in my life.

Sonya Looney 27:33
Now thread in this conversation and in your book is one of surrendering and surrendering, surrendering doesn’t mean giving up. Can you talk about surrender? Yeah,

Jess Gumkowski 27:41
surrender. I so not interested in that either. Because surrender is like vulnerability, it’s like giving up it’s like letting people walk on you. It’s, it’s none of those things. Surrender is when you don’t want to show up. And you’ve got all those thoughts about how you if you’re going to, you know, I’ll just do it later, I’m gonna stay in bed, or I’m not going to write today or I’m not going to work on the project today. It’s just surrendering in that moment, like, Okay, I’m going to surrender to those thoughts. They’re there. I’m just going to surrender into this. I’m going to relax may take just a few minutes, I’m going to relax, I’m going to breathe. And I’m going to move forward anyway. So that’s one way. Surrender is also not fighting. What is this moment right here is nothing more than the result of past action. That’s it. This moment, right here is a culmination of every thought, every action, every word we’ve spoken, it’s all brought us to this moment. So things that arise in life. When we have when we’re fighting it, those are the signs in my life where I say, okay, feel what you’re feeling, because what you’re feeling is true. Get yourself collected, and take the next logical step, surrender to this thing that’s coming at you, and move forward with whatever you need to do to resolve it. Surrender is also when we are in those hard workouts, and we’re feeling so much, you know, sensation in the body, it’s just surrendering in that moment, saying, okay, my body, the cells in my body are responding to the intensity and the shape that I’m putting it in the pace that I’m putting it in. I’m not going to fight this, I’m going to relax into it. So I think surrender and relaxation have go hand in hand, relaxing into the intensity of life. It’s like we we take the effort that we have spent So much time using to fight what is. And we take that and we channel that towards, okay, how do we move forward from here. So it’s the surrendering to the moment full acceptance of where we are. Let’s say we’re coming back from an injury and we’re back on the track. And we’re like, Oh, my God, I was doing these a year ago. And I was like, two minutes faster on the 400. Surrender to that, okay, but that’s not right now. And it’s all about relaxing. And moving forward in that moment, regardless of the part of you that wants to fight it, regardless of the part of you that says, I don’t want to be dealing with this right now. surrendered all those thoughts, just say, Okay, you can all be there, but you’re not going to run my life. Because that’s what God is here, in this moment right now. And so I’m going to take control, and I’m going to move forward in the direction that I desire. So it’s really surrendering, that there is a bigger plan at play here. And that we have a lot of say in how our life unfolds. But for a long time, I’ll speak personally, you know, I was going through life, just reaction reaction reaction, moving from fear and lack and limitation. And there is a result to every action. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s like life is a boom, it’s like a game of Boomerang, you throw out the Boomerang is going to come back. And so I throw out a lot of boomerangs in my early days, and they’re still coming back. And so whenever something comes that I want to fight, I surrender. And I say, Okay, this is a boomerang, how do I move forward? What am I here to learn? How do I what do I need to do right now to take the next step. So I think surrender takes many, many forms, in many different areas in our life. But it’s a has to it goes hand in hand with relaxation, like relaxing into it, and then deciding how you’re going to move forward. Because how you’re going to move forward is the only thing that matters is this moment now. And, and what’s coming next, we can’t change what we’ve already done.

Sonya Looney 32:21
Then what you said was relaxing into the intensity of life. And I got this visual, I was in Hawaii for a wedding a few weeks ago, and I got to do these cliffside beach runs and the waves were crashing against the rocks. And I was making this these incredible booming sounds. And every time I went running out, stop and look, and in the intensity of the waves that seemed insurmountable and had so much energy, are these massive sea turtles just under the surface, every single time I went, I saw them. And that makes me think about relaxing into the intensity of life as these turtles are in this tumultuous water. Like if we were in that water, we’d be fighting it. And the turtle is just underneath the surf, just hanging out getting food to eat and literally relaxing into the intensity of life. So now that that like kind of mental image that came up for me was, it’s kind of a cool way to think about that.

Jess Gumkowski 33:12
Yeah, and turtles breathe really slow. I talked about that also in the book is about breathing less. And so they’re not, they’re not breathing at, you know, a 150 heart rate as these as these waves are crashing down, and they’re in the impact zone. They’re just doing their thing. They’re not fighting, what is they’re just continuing to move forward in the life that they live, regardless of what’s happening around them.

Sonya Looney 33:40
Something else that you said, you’re talking about the boomerang and we’re kind of referencing it in almost like a negative way, which I hate putting labels on things but more of like a challenged way. And then something else I’ve been thinking about. And it actually it was interesting because you sent me this beautiful care path package. And I have the note that you wrote, you said, Thank you for being open to receive. And in my graduate program, we were talking about gratitude. And this amazing woman named Allah stands up and she’s telling us about her experience with gratitude and how she, she gives and she gives into gives. And she did not realize that she was never open to receive. And I think that many of us are not open to receiving we will give and we will give but it’s uncomfortable to be open to receiving. So when I got that from you, it was just so timely because it was something I was really thinking about realizing that I’m also somebody that has a hard time being open to receiving. And I figured that you would have a lot of wisdom about this. So I wanted to bring it up.

Jess Gumkowski 34:39
Oh my gosh, I’ve lived this. I’ve lived this. You know, I grew up in New England. I’m the daughter of a Marine. Like I have a relentless work ethic. I’ve got that like, you know I’ve got that kind of that survivor mindset like okay, if Yogi triathlete blows up and we have like I will I will continue to forge ahead, you know, like, I, I have carried the load. And in fact, you know, I used to say things like, you know, I wish I could take that pain away, like give that pain to me, like, I’ll carry the pain, which is actually not a great thing to do. life’s gonna give you plenty, you don’t need to be taken on other people’s pain as well. But I’ll give you an example. You know, in 2016, quick story, big, big life change but quick story. My husband and I were living in Newport, Rhode Island, quit our jobs. He had a great job. He was like, I think less than a year away from being 100% vested in the stock and the company, you know, that meant many, many, many, many more 10s of 1000s of dollars coming our way. But he wasn’t happy. And I was a yoga teacher, I had a big yoga following. I was getting paid really well for paying for yoga, like we had a house we could afford, we could have a life we could afford, I could go on to Lululemon, like, buy whatever I wanted. We were putting money in the bank, it was like, Whoa, we got to where we were supposed to be. And then I was like, There’s got to be something more. I just felt like I was hitting a ceiling every day. And I had known for a very long time since I was a little girl that was going to live in California. I don’t don’t know why I just knew. So. Anyway, 2016 There’s more of that story. But 2016 We sold our house quit our jobs got rid of everything moved ourselves into our Honda Fit with carry on suitcase, our dog Clark, his backpack, our race bikes on top, you know, our our triathlon bags, and we hit the road. And we just wanted to go all in with Yogi triathlete. And we wanted to share this recipe for life that, that we found through meditation, through eating vibrant food through endurance training, wellness, our thought life and how we had changed our, our relationship to our thoughts and mind training and all of this. And we just wanted to share that living a more vibrant life is within reach for everyone, you know, right now. And so we got to California, fine. We didn’t know like, we were six months on the road, and we were crossing our fingers would be California. But we were also surrendering, and willing to be taken off the trip at any time, because we just wanted to serve. And we got to California. And we went all in with creating Yogi triathlete, this endurance training for body and mind. And man that came with a big kick in the butt in the financial department. It was like, if if water came through the faucet, it was like somebody disconnected the US from the water. There was just nothing coming in. And so we’re just okay, like, we believe we believe we believe like we can. And this kind of leads into surrender to like, I remember one day walking across the Pacific Coast Highway. We live right down the street from the beach, and I was crossing the PCH. And I remember, just like looking up and saying, Okay, I surrender. Like I surrender. I’m gonna stop pushing, I’m gonna stop clinging. If we need to move home and live with our parents at 44 years old, then okay, I just surrender. I surrender. Like, whatever the higher plan is like a man. Just show me the way. And so things started to turn around actually pretty, pretty quickly after that surrender, but it was we were so far, we were just so overwhelmed. And you know, we’re in debt. And we were putting our rent and groceries on a credit card and all these things, but we were like, we knew we were like, we can’t have a plan B, we have to go all in. So anyway, things were getting really, really, really, really tight. And it was in, like in the winter of 2018. And we were in contact with somebody. And this person said, like, if you’re, if you’re looking for an investor in the business, I believe in what you guys are doing, Wayne, and I would, I would like to be part of it. And our initial reaction was no. And I remember sitting on the bench by the ocean, the next morning with my husband, PJ, who you know, and I just looked at him with tears in my eyes, and I said, we need help. And it actually even brings it up now. It’s like, we need help. We need help and we need to receive, we don’t receive, like, we have to put these, this tough, relentless work ethic we have to soften that and we have to open and receive and so we did and this person ended up giving us a gift that allowed us to start paying our rent with a chuck and as we had already started some momentum and some athletes for joining the team. It was like everything we needed to kind of to get to get things more fluid and it was like, if you think about, like a car that’s in a parking lot, and the back tires are just spinning, you know, and there’s like, so much like the rubber starting to burn, it’s getting really hot like that was Yogi triathlete for, you know, years, it was like, it was just spinning and spinning, and we just didn’t have, we had to take our foot off the brake in order to shoot forward and taking our foot off the brake was that ability to receive and it felt weird and awkward. And we relaxed into it. And it was the most incredible

thing, and from that, aware of my ability to receive, and what I am receiving, there’s so much that we’re receiving similar to like, pay attention to the moments in your life where you feel content, you’ll probably find a million of them. Same thing I was like, I am actually receiving and there’s so many ways to receive, I’m receiving from nature I’m receiving from the athletes I’m receiving from my husband, I’m receiving from our neighbors. And then we received, you know, the financial support that we needed to move forward. And it wasn’t easy. And so if we’re only giving and not receiving, there’s a there’s an imbalance there. And if we’re always pushing and nailing our workouts, and our training peaks is all green, not taking time to sit still, there’s an imbalance there. And so, you know, we live in this world of contrast, light and dark giving and receiving these are laws of the universe, and we and to really express our fullest potential in this life. We need to be imbalanced with those laws. And so receiving is so important. And it’s so funny, because if you think about how much we’re willing to give, there’s so many people willing to give like, if we just opened we’d receive so much, you know, whether that’s financial, whether that’s some, you know, emotional support or friendship, whatever it may be, we need to learn how to receive and that requires softness.

Sonya Looney 42:13
So, I’m gonna continue pulling on this thread just because I think it might hit a nerve for multiple people that maybe haven’t thought about this before. Another way that we block receiving is in our friendships, and in school right now, we’re really studying mattering and belonging and collective well being and all of these different things. And in friendships, if you are not telling people like you’re not leaning on your friends, you’re always there for your friends, but you’re not actually leaning back on them. You’re also not receiving and I actually realized that I was doing that in my friendships, I was always there to help to listen, in whatever capacity but then I wasn’t leaning on my friends, I was trying to just do it on my own or only lean on my husband. And that was another way that I wasn’t receiving in my relationships. So that’s another active way that so it’s so funny that you wrote this on this card, because it’s something I’ve been actively working on and you sent me this beautiful blue Lapis. Just it was like you could see straight into what I was working on and that like the deep interconnected wisdom that comes from knowing yourself, I think it’s it’s more than you can imagine.

Jess Gumkowski 43:22
Yeah, it’s incredible. And it’s so funny that that landed so, so well for you. Because, you know, when I’m putting together a package for a book, or I’m getting ready to write an intro for a podcast, or writing that book that is now into the in the world. I, I remember, I took that card out of the closet, I grabbed the box, I grabbed the book, and I sat out on the porch with a cup of tea. I close my eyes, I took a breath. And I wrote the card. I wasn’t like, Oh, I’m gonna write the right thing. Like, what is she going to want to hear? Like, you know, and I just it was very simple. It was apparently it was plenty it was enough. And, and using words like that, like you don’t know how people are going to receive that, you know, they might be like, Oh, this girl’s a little like off the wall or woowoo or whatever. But I can only be who I am. And that has come from a decade plus of every single day sitting in quiet and really seeing that girl that was under all the clutter for so many years. And a huge piece of receiving who we are. For me. It was like the first day of my yoga teacher training over 10 years ago, when my teacher said it takes no effort to be you. And I almost fell out of my chair. And I actually had a very angry reaction which of course I just bottled up. But I was thinking It takes so much effort to be me. Depending on what room I’m in, like, what do I need to talk about? Am I smart enough if in my with my the athlete people like they’re doing an easy run, I’m at a hard run, I gotta pretend it’s an easy run all of these things and, and that was one of those things, I just really spark the curiosity like hold on a second, I want to, I want to feel effortless. And as you get to know yourself, you know, it is easier to open and receive and to be honest, and to be honest, from an open heart. Because we can be honest from a closed heart, and it’s harmful. But to be honest, from an open heart is so beautiful, and it just puts you in the receiving mode. But gratitude is an incredible thing to practice, highest state of receiving is gratitude. And it’s like, if you just practice gratitude, you’ll open to receiving. It’s not like you practice gratitude, and then to go knife to figure out how to open to receive, you will just naturally open to receiving more in your life, and being able to be more open, we can also use the world were vulnerable. And it just comes very naturally from getting to know yourself.

Sonya Looney 46:16
One thing that you talk about a lot in your book is like what does it mean to live against the grain? And to sort of like put a thread through this conversation we’ve had, we’ve talked a lot about what does it mean to live against the grain. And that was just so beautifully put, like, the way that you use words has a way of of really being clear, and making a lot of sense. So yeah, thank you for the way that you’ve intentionally written these words.

Jess Gumkowski 46:41
Oh, man, can I just say that, like, I don’t have a degree in writing, I’ve never taken a perfect, I have never taken a professional writing course. All of that came up for me as I was writing, but something I’ve always been able to do since I was young, is right. So I think the last official class was probably my fourth grade creative writing class. And so part of that is living against the grain, right? It’s like following this, I have known about this book my whole life, I could just feel it. I didn’t know what it was going to be. I didn’t, I had no idea was going to be what it is what it came out to be. But I felt it. And I knew it my whole life. I knew it. And all the reasons why I shouldn’t have done it worse, we’re just, we’re just so big and loud, right? I didn’t have the credentials that said, I should be able to write this book. But I just kept doing it. And I kept sitting in silence and feeling my breath and getting present and asking, you know, for help, like, let let the words come, please, like help me help me write this book, you know, I don’t know who I’m talking to. My Higher Mind is who I was I was talking to. But you know, leaning into the stream of well being, knowing that you’re here to share your gifts, understanding who you are at your core, which is peace, and love and calm and knowledge and light, sound and wisdom. That’s against the grain. You know, we live in a world there’s nothing wrong with this world. I’m not beating the world down. There’s a very specific purpose for this world. But there’s, we come into this world. And it’s like, we have to go through all this education because it’s like we’re an empty vessel. So it reveres the intellect. And it denies the spirit that we hold the connection to universal knowledge. And that is truly what I believe, came through that book. And and I even have it as my first acknowledgement in the book is like, I don’t own any of these words, like they came through me. And I’m incredibly grateful for them. And it wasn’t because I took a course on writing. Not that that would be, I’d be any worse for the wear of that. But it was because I trusted in what was moving through. And I breathed through the moments of intense fear about putting this out and didn’t know how it was going to be received. And yeah, living against the grain is like really leaning into your greatness and overcoming mindsets of lack and limitation. And this idea that we are separate autonomous beings because we are not. We are connected by an incredible thread of intelligence and it flows through me and it flows through you and it flows through every single person who’s gonna listen to this. And so getting to know that part of you is not what is celebrated in this world, but there are many who are celebrating that and so you will find your people as you continue to lean into who you are. Are

Sonya Looney 50:01
love when you are saying the book coming through you because I’ve actually felt multiple times that work is coming through me. And then I’ve added the caveat like made this work come through me without getting snagged on my ego, without my ego trying to have to make it a certain way or like I have to have have it for myself so that I can feel you know, enough for whatever the reasons are. And also in your book, you have a chapter and I love that it kind of like plays off of Ryan holidays. Like he says the ego is does he say the Ego is the Enemy that that was what he was saying. And so yeah, and then you say the ego is not your enemy, which I love that I was like, yes. So Can Can you talk about that? Yeah,

Jess Gumkowski 50:39
the ego is not your enemy. Um, the, the Bhagavad Gita talks about the ego as your greatest friend and your greatest enemy. And what it means by that is that when when the ego is in charge, for sure, it will be your enemy, because it will take you down this path of separation, where you’re either too much or not enough, you’re either ahead or behind. You know, you’re in this comparison energy all the time. So why the ego is not your enemies, because the ego is what makes you, you and me, Me, it allows you to be the podcast hosts and me to be the guest in order for this whole thing to work. So the roles that we play, our individuality is our ego. It carries our freewill. So it carries the will that I needed to even get out of bed this morning, it carries the will that I need to get over the finish line, it carries the will that I need to pass that amazing woman in front of me who I am going to beat. Nice day. So it’s using is getting to know the calling cards of the ego and then using it to your advantage. And that’s what the yogi’s teach us. You know, for 1000s and 1000s of years, they have taught us to use everything to our advantage. And that’s not a selfish thing that is a for the good of all thing. Because as we continue to self Express and realize our potential, we are contributing to the world in our authenticity. And each and every one of us is here to do that. So yeah, the ego when it’s tame, is one of your greatest friends, because it’s what allowed me to go sit out on that table out on my porch and write this book three in the morning, four in the morning. Because being an entrepreneur, that’s not like, I had all this time to write a book. So there was many three o’clock mornings and four o’clock mornings, like out there with my headlamp and you know, my computer trying to find my coffee and the pitch dark and writing. And my ego is what allowed me to get up and do that. Where are we want to get in, really get to know it is, is when it’s really isolating us, you know, you’re not good enough, this isn’t good enough, or you’re better than those people aren’t good enough. You know, don’t, they’re toxic, you’re not like all of this separation and comparison. Watch out for that. Because that’s the ego taking you down a road, that’s not going to fare very well for you or your family or your community. So when we understand what the ego is, it’s just our individuality. It makes just Jess and Sonia Sonia. It’s amazing. It’s incredible. The world needs more of who you are. But it’s not the master. And it’s a tool. And it’s an incredible tool. And, and I go into a lot of detail with it in the in the book. So hopefully people will take away more clarity on it.

Sonya Looney 53:32
I can tell you like that chapter because I saw you light up whenever we started talking about that.

Jess Gumkowski 53:39
Yeah, for sure. For sure. I, the ego is such an interesting thing. And I’m just so onto it, and so on to it. And it doesn’t mean that I was really I had, I was really challenged this morning, for the first couple hours of my day, just a lot of things coming at me. And I could see the part of me that was like, you know, just wanted to tally up all the hard things that are happening right now. And I literally talk to myself and I say, don’t do that. Don’t make the list. Like don’t do that ego. Don’t make the list. Don’t punish me. It this is about how are we going to move forward? What do we need to do right now? Okay, go out in the Southern California sun and feel the warmth on your back. Oh my gosh, go do that. And then come back in and tackle whatever it is you need to tackle here with a business license. It was all this like worldly stuff. And so when you’re onto it, it’s like you can manage it. You know, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about? Like, I guess it would be the ego, she talks about fear. But if we’re talking about the ego, it’s like we want the rock. As long as we’re in a body and we have this individuality. We’re not getting rid of the ego. Right? So I play a little bit off of how Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic talks about fear. She talks about fear is going to go with you, you know and allow it to go with you. Same thing with the ego. And I say, you know, it’s the ego is like your it’s your small self. It’s your little self that forgot how big and amazing and infinite you are. And so when you get into the car and you’re going somewhere, it’s like, Okay, put the ego in the backseat, put the seatbelt on, just put the window down, make sure it gets some fresh air, and you get in the driver’s seat, because you’re driving the car. And the ego will be back there. It’ll be like, Yeah, let’s go, let’s go for a ride. And then it will realize that it can’t really see out the window, and then it can’t really see where we’re going. And it wants to change the radio station, and it’ll start to act up like a child having a tantrum. So

Sonya Looney 55:35
it’s gonna start asking questions in the backseat, like a three year old. Yes,

Jess Gumkowski 55:39
exactly. Why, yeah, yeah. Why are we doing this? You know, it’s the second guessed part of us, why don’t I do this anyway? And, you know, I just kind of turned around and I say, You’re okay. You’re right. Trust me. You know, I’m going to drive the car. You can’t No, you can’t touch the radio, and you are never getting the keys. I’m driving, I love you. Just relax. I know where we’re going. And that’s the thing is that we don’t want to beat ourselves up, like, oh, I never should have done this. Or why don’t you because that’s the same energy. So it’s learning to love your ego and nurture it because it is your small self. And it’s incredibly powerful when it’s under your control.

Sonya Looney 56:26
Now, there’s this podcast I listen to I love Dan Harris’s podcast 10% happier and the meditation app under the same name. And he had this series, I think it might have been, I just remember where I was running. When I listened to the whole series, I think it was like in the winter, but he had gone to Dharamsala, and he had spent time with the Dalai Lama. And he like finally mustered up his courage, you know, to go ask the question, and you always hear stories of people. And it was about achievement, basically. And like, how, how there’s a wise selfishness involved in achievement. That’s what the Dalai Lama called it is. It’s okay to be achieving things and to want things and to want to impact many people, that there’s a ye of selfishness where it isn’t just about you, it isn’t just about your ego. Because I think that there is this this interesting tension or dilemma of people who want to serve the world, but also at the same time, they want success in serving the world. So that was really helpful for me whenever I heard that term wise, why selfishness? And it sounds exactly like what you’re talking about to? Yes,

Jess Gumkowski 57:30
absolutely. And, you know, we see this in the yoga world the lie, it’s interesting. It’s like, Well, I remember when my yoga teacher for his birthday, bought himself at Tesla. He had, you know, had this professional career before he became a yoga teacher. And so, you know, apparently had fared very well, I don’t know, I’m not I don’t need to be involved in his finances. But I remember he bought himself a Tesla for his birthday. And I talked about him in the, in the book a lot, Phillip, incredible mentor in my life, and helping me understand the ego, for sure. But I remember all of the chatter about what he had purchased for himself, you know, and it was almost like, because he taught yoga, he shouldn’t have been able to do that. But he loved the intelligence of it. And it was like one of the, it was like, when they first came out, so it was like, super expensive, and, but he loved the intelligence of it, you know, and, and I totally respect that I love I love the intelligence of a Tesla as well. And it was just interesting to see like, Oh, you shouldn’t have that because you do this. Or if we’re holding a yoga retreat, and somebody cancels, and they’re like, I want my money back. But we have like, it’s a business, we have a cancellation policy, and we’ve paid the retreat center. And we’ve had some people flip out. Because, you know, they’ll turn it on you. And well, really, what’s happening is that they’re getting an opportunity to heal their anger. But I’ve seen it flip like where as it’s like, we get condemned, you know, of like, being money hungry, and we should be teaching yoga and it’s like, well, hold on a second you guys the goal here what I’ve learned from my teacher, which I love, which is very much like this, why selfishness is living in the world, but not have it? pay the bills. Enjoy the beauty of life. I like high thread count sheets. And that’s okay, I like it. I feel so grateful. We get

into bed at night we go oh my god Q and it’s okay to enjoy those things. It’s when we get like really attached to it. You know, like, oh, the sheet got sucked up in the dryer now it’s ruined and my whole day is off. It’s watched that kind of stuff but enjoy the rich the riches of life enjoy technology. You know, one of the first things my teachers That to me when this whole AI thing was coming. He was like, Don’t resist it. Humanity is right on track. The mind is evolving, right on pace, don’t resist it. We were like, Okay, we won’t resist it. So it’s, yeah, watch the shoulds in the surance. And when we hold a bigger picture of the good of all, and being, you know, fulfilling our desires, for the good of all, finding out who we are, it is for the good of all. You don’t even have to think that it just is the good of all, because like I said earlier, the world needs more of you. The world needs more of you, because there’s only one of you.

Sonya Looney 1:00:41
That’s such a beautiful place to wrap it up. Where can people find your book and your community and your podcast? Because they definitely needed to connect with you.

Jess Gumkowski 1:00:49
Yeah, thank you so much, Sonya. Oh my gosh, I’m so grateful to be here. Yeah, Yogi. triathlete.com is the mothership, and then awake athlete because she just keeps coming through me. I did create a website for her. And that’s where you can find the book. I have just launched the fourth season of the awake athlete podcast, which are short form explorations of life and sport from a 10,000 foot view. They’re anywhere from like seven minutes to 20 minutes. And then I’ve got some yoga classes up there guided meditations and so you can get that at awake athlete.com and also the book is available on Amazon.

Sonya Looney 1:01:30
Alright, well, thanks so much. I really enjoyed this conversation and I learned so much and I feel more at ease after talking to you. I hope

Jess Gumkowski 1:01:37
so. Thank you so much.

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