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Michele Mehl of Excy: “Reading is so important”

Reading is so important. Perspective, connection, imagination, learning, laughter — those are all spiritual experiences, I think, and reading allows me to connect with people and experience things I would never encounter otherwise. Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still […]

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Reading is so important. Perspective, connection, imagination, learning, laughter — those are all spiritual experiences, I think, and reading allows me to connect with people and experience things I would never encounter otherwise.


Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Mehl.

Michele Mehl is the CEO and Co-Founder of Excy, a Seattle-based company creating quality portable exercise equipment and on-demand training for those who want to safely and conveniently enjoy the benefits of full body cycling and resistance training without the barriers of big, expensive, and hard to access exercise equipment.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

A lot of my general approach to fitness and wellness can be found here:

I was a Southern Californian until the age of 13. My parents moved a lot, so I went to three elementary schools and two junior highs. At the start of my 8th grade year, we moved to Sacramento for junior high #3. We stayed there until I finished high school.

I was and remain a total tomboy. I refused to wear dresses (ever tried to hang upside-down on the monkey bars in a dress?) To this day, you will rarely catch me in a dress, but COVID has me wanting to put on heels and do my make-up for some reason.

I did not love or hate school, but I loved the annual JFK fitness test because I could beat all the boys in every category. I dabbled in softball in 7th grade, tried out for the high school team and made it. Naturally, I sucked at first, but I loved it, so I stuck with it. I ended up being particularly good by the end of the season thanks to a committed coach. I learned something about myself (quitting is not my thing, I am incredibly competitive, and like to win) and about teamwork and the value of coaches and mentors (it’s easier to get better at something when someone believes in you).

On the same whim, I tried out for field hockey, which I had never heard of. Turns out, I was good at that too, and I ended up playing both in college on an athletic scholarship.

I always had a lot of grit, I was feisty, and extremely competitive. My dad grew up dirt poor, left school in 10th grade, and battled alcoholism until I was 13, but he managed to feed four kids and get and stay sober — I like to think I got my grit from him, but also my mom who always seemed to find a way to make things work. We call my dad MacGyver because he always found an unconventional solution to a problem, usually because we could not afford the “typical” way. Once, our car broke down on the freeway. Dad fixed it with pantyhose. Grit, tenacity, finding a way — I ended up embracing those skills of my mom and dad as my greatest asset.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

When I started college, I wanted to be a physical therapist, but playing two sports made it difficult. I already had to do twice the study hall of my peers because of playing two sports, and I just could not fit in the lab work.

I took one class in public relations, and the professor, Dr. Carol Ann Hackley, took me under her wing and helped me realize I was a good communicator. I started taking more communications and PR classes and loved them. I ended up asking Dr. Hackely to come on stage at my college graduation to hand me my diploma. She touched my life in a big way. I spent some time guest-lecturing at the University of Washington to help inspire students in a similar way.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Ms. James, my coach for field hockey and softball, was also my P.E. coach. She convinced me to try out for softball. She pushed me to be better and genuinely liked me and invested in me. Going to college on a scholarship was significant in my life because I was the first to go to college. My parents could not have afforded the tuition. I still would have gone, but the path would have been longer and harder. Perhaps Ms. James was the start of a line of many people who took me under their wing. But all was made possible by people who just cared about me. My parents worked full time and had limited funds; fortunately, my best-friend’s parents took me under their wing when it came to softball travel. They drove me, let me stay in their hotel, got me to games. Without them, I could not have played. Another teammate’s dad mentored me and really helped me understand I was good enough to play college ball. He told me I was a “diamond in the rough” and gave me a roadmap to get shiny.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?

I almost got fired from my first job. I started working for an event/marketing/PR firm in San Francisco right out of college. I started in events, and I wasn’t very good at it. I was put on probation with a window of time to turn it around. During that time, they moved me to focus on PR instead of events, and I was good at it. I never intended to land in a career in tech, always sports. But that first PR client was very technical, and I loved it. I’ve loved technology ever since. The lesson I learned is that just because you aren’t good in one area doesn’t mean you can’t be great in another. I learned to ask for help, to focus on areas I’m passionate about, and to let go when you discover your dream isn’t really what you want after all. There was a baseball strike in the 1994/1995 season when I graduated from college, and a serious connection I had with the San Francisco Giants fell through. In hindsight, I’m so grateful for that because it forced me onto a different path that I thoroughly enjoy.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I read more for work than pleasure. Early in my career it was Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. I met him at an event, and his approach to marketing became kind of a Bible for me, like many marketers during that time. Later, it would be Good to Great by James C. Collins. I felt like I lived my life always trying to be better than good, to be great at whatever it is that I was doing. That book helped me apply that mindset in my career and in my personal life. For my Excy journey, it has been Blue Ocean, which helped me give myself permission to focus on slowly building a very intentional company focused on radical inclusion in fitness.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I have many quotes, but the Serenity Prayer is probably my go-to. I learned it when my dad was in AA and my sister and I attended Alateen. Whether it was challenges as a kid, an athlete, a college student, or a professional, I always turn to it to remind myself to focus on the things I can control. My theme for 2021 will be to try and worry a lot less about things I have no control over but fight like hell in the areas where I can — and where the goal is worth the fight.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

With Excy, and we are working on a new system that will make it even easier for those in wheelchairs to pedal our device. Early feedback from those with serious mobility challenges is that it helps give them independence to exercise on their own, some for the first time in their life. It’s a huge boost to health and even more importantly, independence. I’m also working on advancing our mobile coaching application with more content to support those with injuries and medical fitness challenges.

I continue to mentor and consult on other startups. I’m helping two Gen-Z women launch their startup called The Chances App to help people foster deeper, more genuine relationships. My own son is Gen-Z, and I’m excited about this generation and their desire to go beyond superficial likes, follows, streaks, etc. to help people connect on a deeper level. The innovation coming out of Gen-Z after this year of COVID will drive some of the biggest innovations in tech that we’ve seen in a long time.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Exercise. I believe to my very core that exercise is at the center of optimal mental and physical wellness. I try awfully hard to get people to focus on meeting the minimum requirements of both cardio and strength training to not only fight preventable disease, but also for optimal mental health. During COVID, I felt my mental health breaking down, so I kicked off a Resilience Challenge to showcase just how we can incorporate exercise with mental health and emotional wellness. It had a huge impact on shifting my mindset.

Take “Me” Time. It’s really hard to prioritize self-care, but it’s so important. I designate the early morning as “me” time. I purposely get up before anyone, even if I’m tired to quietly enjoy coffee, plan my day, drink water, and eat breakfast. It makes me a better mom and wife when my family wakes up and joins me.

Get a pet: I love my dogs. Unconditional love, forced exercise, complete joy. An animal is a natural stress reliever, even though our giant puppy brings challenges of his own!

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

This requires a little explaining, because it grew from when I got a blood clot following a broken leg. When the techs were doing my ultrasound in their search for a DVT, and in subsequent follow up appointments, I noticed even barely touching the skin moves blood around. I’ve also seen exercise specialists do a lot of work with the lymphatic system and am a firm believer in the power of our circulatory system. So, I have adopted what I call my “mindful shower” process. Under hot water, I lightly massage my body. Starting first with the left leg from toe up, then the right. Before moving to the torso, I focus on key lymphatic areas from the lower limbs, arms, torso, and then up through the neck. At least once a month during this process, I also include a breast self-examination. (I served on the board for the American Cancer Society and early detection is critical! End of PSA.) When I get out of the shower, I dry myself off in the same pattern, with a focus on putting more pressure on the skin with the towel than I normally would. I then apply lotion following the same process. I do this once a week — sometimes more if I’m not feeling well — to support my immune system. I drink water immediately after to flush out toxins and rehydrate from the heat of the shower.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Thinking of exercise like snacks. You don’t have to go all-out and run 10 miles or do 50 squats or whatever. A little now, a little later — you can get healthier and fitter without risking injury or burn out.

HIIT High-Intensity Interval Training is super-efficient, which is great for the super busy, as so many of us are. Also, there’s great science behind the benefits for all.

Upper body cardio is, I think, the secret to genuine and lasting fitness. But few of us do it because we don’t have equipment at home, don’t like going to the gym, and don’t really know the best way to do it.

Connect your goals to a “why” and focus on what you are both willing and able to do. Why do you want to do this? Is there a history of disease in your family? Are you tired of not feeling well? Are you hoping to have kids or hoping to keep up with the ones you have? Knowing your “why” helps get you through the tough times!

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

I tend to think that people have a bigger struggle with improving either diet or exercise, and I am not a fan of trying to tackle both at the same time. So, once a year only I will keep track of calories for one full week to remind myself how many calories are in the foods I eat and what nutrients I’m getting or not getting. I gave up drinking wine during the weekdays many years ago because it negatively impacts my sleep. I also try not to drink any calories (except for wine on the weekend and a splash of nonfat milk in a daily Americano).

Overall, I think we spend too much time thinking of ways to be perfect and take an all-or-nothing approach with diet and exercise. I don’t believe in making yourself suffer by giving things up entirely. I’m a fan of a moderate, balanced approach and trying to eat as many fruits, vegetables, and nuts as possible.

Blockages:

Resistance. We don’t like being told what to do, even when it’s good for us. Case in point: masks in the time of COVID. If we don’t see instant results (overnight weight loss or muscle gain; mask less people getting sick immediately), we find reasons not to “believe in” the things we don’t really want to do. I think people respond in the same way to their spouse or partner trying to force their health views on them.

Habit. Routines are too easy to create, but hard to break. For example, I order groceries off Amazon, and each week, I pretty much just re-order the exact same things. I go to Costco and Trader Joes and buy the same things. Planning something different is hard to do.

Indulgence. Bad food tastes good. Good food does too, but not as good as bad food. And there is something wonderful about being naughty in the moment, even if we know we’ll regret it later. The problem is seeing food or rest as “naughty” — it’s all OK, if done in moderation.

Unhealthy food is easy, cheap, and plentiful. Cooking a meal from scratch takes time and effort (or so we believe); ordering take out or grabbing fast food on the way home feels easy, and after a tough day at work, sometimes “easy” wins.

We need to ditch the “perfection only” model of thinking. “Go big or go home” we say (though it’s more like “go big or give up”). It’s the same for exercise. But trying to do it all is too hard. I’m a fan of finding balance instead. Example: my 2021 goal is simply to eat more of a plant-based diet. I’m not going all in on vegan and depriving myself of things I enjoy. But I am making a change to be more aware.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Showing emotion. Cry it out (I was always too tough to cry when I was young, now I have no problem crying…sad movie…tears flow, see an inspirational event, sports win on the edge of my seat, tears come). Being embarrassed about your feelings is very 20th Century, I think. It’s time to be OK with showing our emotions, no matter our age or gender.

Hugs/physical touch. Even more now. Holding hands, hugs, back rubs, all help with emotional wellness. Sitting close during a movie, head rub while driving. Physical touch is my “Love Language” so not sure applies to all. I think knowing your love language as well as those around you is important.

Nature. We know just being around trees gives us a measurable emotional lift. So, let’s do more of it!

Selflessness. Do things for others with zero expectations of anything in return. Giving to others is a gift, but actually being distracted from your own problems, or seeing your problems in perspective, can really help you regain emotional equilibrium.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

I smile through my mask, hoping people can see it in my eyes. I genuinely believe smiling on the outside is like smiling on the inside, and it helps fill people’s emotional cups. I’ve started waving at people during COVID too. It’s something positive that just acknowledges others in some way. I hate walking around people like they have “cooties” or something, even though it’s the kind thing to do. I never want to be comfortable trying to avoid getting near people…it’s one of my least favorite parts of COVID. I tend to look at smiling as being less about me and being more about getting someone else to smile. And there’s research that even “forcing” yourself to smile can give you a lift.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Getting outdoors, pausing to breathe in fresh air, acknowledging my surroundings with all my senses. The glory of nature, the sheer size of it and diversity of it is a good reminder of my place in the great scheme of things and the connectedness of all living things.

I pray for people going through hardships and poor health. It’s a reminder to keep them in my thoughts and be grateful for what I have.

Reading is so important. Perspective, connection, imagination, learning, laughter — those are all spiritual experiences, I think, and reading allows me to connect with people and experience things I would never encounter otherwise.

Perform Acts of kindness with no expectations of return

Get the heck off Social media (I’m working on that or using it for positive reasons)

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

Nature helps us realize just how small we are and how big the world is, how much life has to offer outside the four walls of our home and office. I try to get outside every day, regardless of whether (hard to do in Seattle, but I prioritize it). I’m a huge fan of watching the sun rise and set and enjoying when the seasons change. It’s such a metaphor for life, that the only constant is change, but there’s beauty in every point in the cycles, at every point in the process, if you just slow down to see it.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

When it comes to exercise, do upper body cardio! It can burn more calories than spinning your legs. Doing things like arm circles, torso twists with your arms at your sides can drive up your heart rate. Hand cycling and upper body cardio is the most overlooked efficient form of exercise.

Overall, I would like to inspire a movement of radical inclusion in fitness that includes those with disabilities, injuries, and health conditions. Flush unrealistic bullshit.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

May I have two? I really love Michelle Obama: Her Let’s Move campaign was right on, her push to get more nutritional meals in schools and underserved neighborhoods is so critical. I think she’s a great example of embracing realistic exercise as we age, which is more than so many people think is possible.

My other choice is Oprah Winfrey because I think the struggles she has with fitness and weight is so relatable for most people. I’d love to have her try hand cycling to help spread the word about the benefits!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Excy.com

Connect with me on Twitter (@michelecmehl)

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Michele Mehl is the founder and CEO of Excy, a Seattle-based startup focused on eliminating the exercise barriers of health condition, injury, time, and space to help people conveniently connect exercise to their everyday life.
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