Lani Muelrath, MA, is an award-winning health educator, professor, best-selling author, inspirational speaker, and TV host widely sought for her expertise in mindful, active, plant-sourced nutrition, vegan living. She is a recognized thought leader and pioneer in the integration of vegan living, fitness, and mindfulness, Lani’s approach blends plant-based nutrition with compassion, mind/body awareness, movement, and transformational techniques from mindfulness meditation practice. She is the author of the books The Plant-Based Journey, Fit Quickies: 5 Minute Targeted Body-Shaping Workouts and her new one entitled Mindfulness.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in a peaceful and beautiful home in the hills that my parents built. It faced a mountain that became a solid foundation to my inner life for every day. I was fortunate to have parents that loved the out of doors, working in the yard building gardens, and taking my two sisters and I on many camping trips to the wilderness over the years. The love of living in nature and being out of doors is still a big part of me to this day. Also, my mother was a student of yoga and life’s deeper meaning which influenced my own search for truth and mindful living.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

How important being true to yourself and having the integrity to stand by that are important to peaceful, effective living.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

There are two primary areas of expertise that come to mind, as I have made a deep study and authored books on both. One is plant-based vegan nutrition and the other is mindfulness practices and meditation. For the former – vegan nutrition – while making healthy food choices is important, there are contingents within the field that push a “plant perfect” agenda which can send the wrong message. The issues around dietary practices are inclusive of all beings and it is easy to get distracted with the minutiae around the details of nutrition that obscure the bigger picture – how imperative it is for us to move away from animal agriculture for the health of humans, animals, and the planet, and how important it is to embrace preferences, culture, and the pure joy of eating!. These two are not mutually exclusive. The other area of expertise, mindfulness practices, in some circumstances has been westernized into a sort of “mcmindfulness” whereby we are invited to become more mindful or to meditate in an acquisitional model – to get a better job, a better body, and better partner, and better whatever. Though these things are not inherently bad by themselves, they are not what we are aspiring to when we take up a contemplative life.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

Not long ago, our community was destroyed in the Campfire disaster that burned our small town of Paradise, California, to the ground. Though our home survived the fire, the community did not and what was once a beautiful pine forest on a ridge is now burned and logged and completely different. Driving through flames to escape the fire, months of evacuation, and all the fallout from the entire experience affect us to this day.

Through it all, the simple and basic practices that I have cultivated for years continued to be my strength and foundation: simple nutritious food and a healthful foundation to eating, staying active, and keeping my mindfulness meditation practice consistent. We walked a couple of hours a day, kept the fridge filled with healthy and delicious food, and I maintained a daily sitting practice. Fitness, food, and frame of mind. These three got me through and still do to this day.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

The first thing that comes to mind, honestly, is my long-time marriage. We have been married for 48 years. In that much time, people cannot help but go through changes. There are ups and downs in any relationship, especially one of so many years. Yet it because of this relationship that I have been invited to expand my reach, push myself, and take the risks that one needs to create a tv show and write four books.

What is your morning routine?

I’m up at 6 each morning, pretty punctually, when I awaken naturally with the start of the day. First I brew coffee and then watch the early dawn light rising through the oak forest and the mountain range beyond. It is a time to be fully present with that wonderful first cup. I will then read some inspirational passages and sometimes check messages or a bit of news. Then I turn to a formal sitting meditation for 15 to 20 minutes. From there it is breakfast at about 7 and then we are out the door to an hour-long hike through the oaks and hills to the marsh right out our back door.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

Mindfulness practices, both formal meditation and bringing that mindfulness as much as possible into an aspiration to conscious living every day. This practice has made it possible to uphold the practices of physical activity and is also connected to my vegan lifestyle. When we become more deeply connected to how our actions affect not only us but those around us and the greater community beyond that, it becomes clearer what actions to take are most beneficial to all.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

Slowing down, doing one thing at a time, and leaving extra time to arrive at an event or task. It may sound counter-intuitive, as in our culture there is such value placed on getting lots done and cramming more in. “Productivity” is overrated as an end in itself. Better to do fewer things more consciously and with the attitude of ease and kindness than aspire to a full plate. I value being a good listener, whether to an other person, a group, or a situation and to stay connected as much as possible with being present for life as it shows up. Not always easy, but more “productive” in the long run.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

Works by Pema Chodron, Aya Khema, Joseph Goldstein, and Jon Kabat-Zinn continue to be inspirational and instructive to me. Fully Present, by Diana Winston. Works that connect me with compassionate living and ground me in mindful presence I treasure, and they occupy several rows on my bookshelf.

Another book that continues to influence me is Love, Life, and Elephants by Daphne Sheldrick. She has been a model of compassion and dedication to protecting the elephants of Kenya. She has overseen a network of nurseries and rehabilitation centers to save these wonderful animals from human-wildlife conflict and poaching. We have been there several times to work with the elephants and support the project. Her book continues to inspire me with what human dedication and intervention can do.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

“May all be well, may all be happy, may all be peaceful, may I be kind”. Truly, this comes to mind often each day, whether as a wish for myself, dear relatives and friends, and all sentient beings.