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Lauren Jenai of CrossFit+Manifest: “Exercise your brain”

Exercise your brain. Everybody complains when learning algebra that they will never use it in the real world. That is not the point at all! Exercising your brain by learning new things, problem-solving, playing chess, or even practicing math is critical in not allowing your brain to atrophy. Our brain is not a literal muscle […]

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Exercise your brain. Everybody complains when learning algebra that they will never use it in the real world. That is not the point at all! Exercising your brain by learning new things, problem-solving, playing chess, or even practicing math is critical in not allowing your brain to atrophy. Our brain is not a literal muscle like our biceps, but it does need to be challenged to develop and stay sharp. Find fun “mental calisthenics” to practice regularly.


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 Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Jenai.

Lauren Jenai has more than 20 years of fitness industry experience. She recently founded the app “Manifest” and is a co-founder of the multi-million-dollar CrossFit enterprise and continues to pioneer the health and wellness industry. Now a female powerhouse, the story of how she fell in love with fitness is both inspiring and all-too relatable. Growing up, Lauren always thought of herself as un-athletic, and personal fitness was simply not emphasized in her family. By the time she was in her late 20s, Lauren was frustrated and ready to make a change. The intersection of fitness and competition was integral to her motivation. However, Lauren is the first to acknowledge that such an impetus is not for everyone. She launched her new health and wellness app “Manifest”, which considers the individual before the goal. “Before you can make a change, you have to really know who you are, where you are, and what you want. Manifest creates a space that further your understanding of your body and your health journey, holding you accountable all the way through. She regularly practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu at home and has shared her love of fitness with her four children.


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?

I was born to an Irish Catholic single mother in the 1970s. My mom was a hippie and a revolutionary. My Grandmother and Great Grandparents supported my mother in going through with her pregnancy, despite other strong influences suggesting abortion. I was raised in inner-city Philadelphia, which gave me exposure to and appreciation of a broad spectrum of people, cultures, politics, and other elements that give the framework of who I am today. I always say, “I am grateful that I grew up in Philly and am also grateful I no longer live there.”

My experience growing up in Philly made me aware of many things that have influenced me throughout my life’s endeavors.

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

OK. My career path has not been a traditional one. I quit high school in my junior year to escape the travesty of public education at the time, but also in pursuit of working for a living. My mother was a critical figure in teaching me work ethic as well as not accepting norms in the workplace. From here, I learned to never accept being a woman or a minority as a reason to not excel or accomplish greatness.

But more to the point, I met Greg Glassman in 1995. He was a struggling “trainer” trying to establish himself in the same Gold’s Gym I belonged to at the time. Greg had a unique approach to fitness as well as nutrition. In part, his approach to nutrition was based on the work of Dr. Barry Sears.

As I became involved in Greg’s fledgling fitness concepts combined with Dr. Barry Sears’ novel approach to nutrition, I saw radical changes in my own health, fitness, and overall well-being. Greg invited me to join him in developing CrossFit the brand, concept, and business model. As I began working with people and seeing the dramatic and life-altering benefits our clients were achieving, I knew we were doing something very special and important. Greg and I made a pact that no matter what, we would pursue the success of CrossFit as a means to helping as many people as possible. We were both compelled to serve tirelessly as conduits of improved health and fitness of others.

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?

Yes, No doubt. Early in the development of CrossFit, Philippe and Sonia Lee Kahn (of Borland, Starfish Software, Light Surf Technologies, and Full Power Technologies), engaged us as their health and fitness consultants. We ended up working with their family members, associates, and sailing team. Everyone, even Olympic-level athletes found improved health and fitness. We developed a close working relationship with the Khans and as we helped them with their health and fitness, they served as mentors, sounding boards, and contributors to our growing business. They are some of the most well-rounded, intelligent, inventive, caring, generous, and business savvy families I have had the pleasure of knowing. (We can all thank the Khans for the invention of sending pictures through our cell phones and much more!)

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?

There have been many! I’ll share two. The first is just kind of silly. When we made the vast leap in the early 2000s from a solely brick and mortar company into the digital world, I was responsible for posting our unique workouts online. Not knowing anything about websites, coding, HTML, or anything of the like, I quickly became the CrossFit webmaster, IT guy, and lead designer all at once. I built a beautiful (NOT!) website with a royal blue background and a white font. As our workouts and other offerings became more and more popular, we began getting a lot of amazing feedback from a lot of amazing people. One bit of feedback came from someone telling us how much they love CrossFit and how they appreciated everything we were doing. The feedback turned into a sheepish request to please change the color of the font on the website from white to a color you could see when printed on paper. DUH! It was a simple request, but it was an “Aha” moment for me in terms of learning to look at things from the perspective of what a customer or user may unknowingly need from our services.

This brings me to the more important “almost mistakes” we made. CrossFit very much grew organically based on customer’s interests and needs. We knew we had something special, but initially, we were not set on any one particular business model or track to pursue. At one point we were growing and expanding in too many directions for just the two of us to handle. We were offering private training, group training, running a website, writing and distributing a monthly online journal, managing an online forum, selling and shipping cool t-shirts, and providing three-day certification seminars in the CrossFit approach. Something had to give; we knew we were spread too thin to continue to provide excellent service in all areas. Even though they had been growing exponentially, we decided that it was the certification seminars that had to go. They took too much time and energy and we decided to cut our losses in that direction. We even announced at one point at a seminar that it would be the last. As we diligently focused on other areas of the business, requests continued to come in for certification seminars. At first, we respectfully told folks that we would not be holding more of them at that time. Then came more requests, and then more. I think we had about 50 requests looming before we broke and opened up our next seminar.

CrossFit’s Certification seminars ultimately became the nerve center of our revenue stream building the basis of CrossFit’s success. We learned that we needed to adapt as business owners and find creative solutions to serve our growing customer base and its needs. We also learned that if we were going to take CrossFit where we needed it to go, we would need help. From our fluidity and adaptability, our two-man ship quickly became a real live company with 50 employees. There are many lessons here, but the one that sticks out the most for me is — don’t give up on something too soon. Success takes a lot of time and malleability.

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?

It might be a little bit of a “motivational book” cliche, but Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing has always stuck with me. All the great qualities highlighted in Shackleton’s story have guided me in life, business, and more specifically in the development of CrossFit’s exercise programming. We strived to create a truly elite level of fitness for our athletes. This takes not only building fortitude, strength in character, unyielding work ethic, and determination but also pushing the human body beyond what we think may be possible. CrossFit athletes, in particular female athletes, have reinvented what it means to be athletic. Before CrossFit, it was mostly unheard of for females to perform gymnastics tasks such as the muscle-up, which were previously deemed only for men. CrossFit women continually exhibit athletic abilities way past average men. CrossFit has proven women can hold a lot more muscle mass than was once thought. The book Endurance continues to remind me that I can do more than what I may think I can do through strength and resilience.

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

This may sound bad, but it is, “YOLO.” I have fortunately and sometimes unfortunately been guided by the notion of, “You only live once!” There have been times I have been misguided by this and have made poor decisions, but at the end of the day, I’ll take a few fails for the sake of living life to its fullest. Even from a very young age, I decided in my decision-making process I would always make the choice of living and experiencing more life instead of playing things safely. As I get older (I turn 50 in July), I may need a new favorite life quote because I have done a lot of “living once.”

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

I have two main projects I am working on right now. The first of which is a new health and fitness concept called Manifest. Our charter is to help those who have fallen through the cracks of traditional health and fitness concepts. I spent the first part of my life creating elite athletes. Now I want to focus on creating a space for people who struggle with their health and fitness to become inspired and empowered to achieve a functional level of health and fitness. Manifest is unique because it does not rely on a particular diet or exercise program, nor do we measure success in terms of “weight loss.” We actually work with folks through an app where we monitor what they are eating and doing as well as key health parameters achieved through in-home lab test kits. We teach them how to affect their health and fitness in a way that works for their specific needs. Manifest’s lofty goal is to combat the epidemics of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes through education, mentorship, and small, incremental, attainable, and maintainable lifestyle changes.

And as if that is not enough, (I really do tend to spread myself too thin) I have been advocating

for changes and transparency in the criminal justice system in the form of a particular criminal case in which my now husband is involved. Unfortunately, I am under a gag order and am not at liberty to discuss the case. But much of my time has been spent over the last several years fighting for truth, justice, and the American Way! (No Superman complex here!) I can say, I think the U.S. is ripe for major changes not only in how police police, but in how the entire legal system works. Lack of transparency in the judicial process, corruption, broken jail/prison systems, and outdated legislations all infect our society in so many ways. Through this particular case, I am involved with and onward, I plan to advocate for those wrongfully accused and wrongfully convicted. One of the most horrific aspects of life for me is the thought of being imprisoned for a crime you did not commit. It terrifies me and I will do my part in building awareness and working towards reforms. I want to be clear; I am not anti-law enforcement. I very much support and respect all forms of first responders for what they to do protect and serve. But I do not support blind faith in law enforcement either; there are always bad seeds out there and they should not be allowed to recklessly destroy people’s lives. (OK. Enough of that rant!)

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 your brain. Everybody complains when learning algebra that they will never use it in the real world. That is not the point at all! Exercising your brain by learning new things, problem-solving, playing chess, or even practicing math is critical in not allowing your brain to atrophy. Our brain is not a literal muscle like our biceps, but it does need to be challenged to develop and stay sharp. Find fun “mental calisthenics” to practice regularly.

Journal. I wish I would have taken my own advice on this when I was younger. But, at the time I thought it was kind of lame to keep a journal. The purpose or benefit of journaling may be different for everyone and may even change throughout your life. But there is something so important in the process of writing out your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Obviously, journaling is a great way to track your progression through life. But it is also good in terms of learning about and analyzing your thought processes. I know I can tend to react rashly at times and sometimes even struggle with anger issues. If I take the time to write out what I am feeling or what I want to say to someone before actually reacting to or talking, I will learn a lot about myself and how I actually feel and why, and how to best communicate what is on my mind. It takes a bit of discipline but is very good for mental wellbeing.

Read and research topics you may not agree upon or support. We all have strong feelings about something in life. And you can be sure someone has strong feelings in opposition to yours. It is a great mental exercise to learn about perspectives different from yours. The point is not to convince yourself or anyone else which position is “right or wrong,” but to better be able to emphasize and understand why people see things differently than you do. Getting outside of your mental norms, even if you are a temporary and outside observer, can teach you things you didn’t know or understand as well as increase your capacity for empathy.

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

In the past, I have found Bikram yoga or other “hot yoga” practices to be extremely helpful for mind and body wellness. Actually, I should probably get back into the habit of those types of practices. Hot yoga, for me, helps my mind, promotes overall flexibility, and also helps my body to not feel stagnated.

Currently, I have taken up planting and gardening as a way to still my mind, to connect with nature, and feel the magic and vitality of life.

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.

Find a physical activity you love and practice it regularly. It is much easier to stay consistent when you are doing something you love. Consistency is one of the most important components of physical wellness.

Try not to focus on just one activity. If you love running, take time to also practice weight training and/or gymnastics for example. This helps avoid overuse injuries, makes for a more well-rounded level of fitness and keeps things interesting.

Be patient with yourself optimum physical wellness is a lifelong project. Listen to your body and take rest days as needed to allow your body to rejuvenate.

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?

This is a loaded question for me as I have so many thoughts, opinions, and insights into “healthy eating.” I actually think one of the biggest problems for people is that there is SO MUCH misinformation out there about what is “healthy” and what is not. For many who actually become quite disciplined in their eating of “healthy” foods become disenchanted because their health does not reflect the work they have been doing. Take for example the whole low-fat fad that was so very popular in the 80s and 90s and still unfortunately persists in our culture today. We were told “fat is bad,” so people started eating less fats and feeling guilty when they would eat fats. The truth is fats are essential for a human to survive. They also play a role in helping you become more satiated, therefore lessening the likelihood of over-eating. Fats also play a role in slowing down the absorption of insulin in cell bodies. The slowed absorption helps keep a low and stable blood sugar, which is critical to good health. Back to the low-fat fad, so we start eating low fat foods, which can leave us feeling hungrier than usual and are often high in carbohydrates. This is literally a deadly combo. Low fat, high carb diets are the breeding ground for chronic illnesses and obesity. This is a long-winded way of saying there is a long way to go for people to not be influenced by marketing campaigns, slogans, and outdated misconceptions when it comes to healthy eating. Just because you think you are eating healthy or not eating healthy — you may be wrong. Education is key.

All of that aside and back to your question, we all struggle at times with not making the best choices nutritionally, because…um…Cheetos, ice cream, and cookies are yummy! I think the best way to handle these types of challenges is 1. To know what is actually healthy for you as an individual 2. Eat that way most of the time. 3. Allow yourself to eat food sometimes just because it is yummy and don’t feel guilty about it. 4. Don’t food shame yourself, it only takes away from your overall health. 5. If you are not happy with your health or the way you eat, make small incremental changes that may not have a huge impact overnight, but in time will lead you to where you want your health to be.

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

Choose happiness. It is important to remember, yes, we have emotions for a reason, but sometimes those emotions end up controlling us. Since we are actually the ones in charge, simply making a conscious decision to be happy is one of the best and first steps to emotional wellness.

Do kind things for others selflessly. Nothing is more emotionally fulfilling than getting out of your own head and life’s issues and focusing on someone else’s happiness. Kind deeds always open doors and provide opportunities beyond anything you can expect. It might not happen in direct correlation to the kind acts, but when you give you draw the same from others.

Make sure you give and receive affection. We are human and need to touch and be touched. Skin to skin contact helps reduce stress, slows down certain body functions such as heart rate, and stimulates the nervous system to promote overall well-being. Go get a massage!

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

Absolutely! This goes back to choosing happiness. Sometimes, I actually play a “smile game” with my kids. When we are out in public or sitting in a restaurant by a window, we randomly smile huge smiles at people that go by. The reactions are priceless! You see people’s expressions go from blank, to confused, to happy and smiling back. Everybody ends up laughing and feeling good. It is awesome. Smiling is magical. Even if you are not happy, you can “fake it till you make it” by smiling.

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

Practice appreciating all the little magical things that make you happy throughout your day.

I developed this habit at a time when I was experiencing severe depression. I would focus on any little thing that brought me joy, like a particularly pretty flower, butterfly, or anything sparkly. Over time I surrounded myself with tokens or items that would recreate that joy. Eventually I felt more and more in touch with my spirituality and was able to overcome the depression.

Talk nicely to yourself. For some, our inner voice is not very nice. This negativity keeps us in a fog that does not allow our spirituality to shine and to grow. I often have to stop myself from saying negative things to myself. When I do, I try to turn the conversation into something positive. For example, if the inner voice says, “You are so lazy. You did not do half of the things you should have done by now,” I will turn the conversation to, “You are a freaking Goddess, you take your time getting things done when the time is right for you. In fact, you should probably grab a glass of wine, sit in the garden and enjoy the beautiful day.”

This brings me to the third habit — spend time being quiet and listen to the universe. Sometimes we just have to practice being quiet and content. It is amazing what you will “hear” in your silence. I find that when I practice this, I become very intuitive and find it easy to choose what paths are the best to travel.

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

Like I said earlier, I have recently started gardening and in part it is to be more a part of nature because I know it benefits me spiritually. There is one time in particular that sticks out the most, where I felt a very strong nature/spiritual wellness connection. It was during a trip to California. At the time I lived in Philadelphia PA. My family and I were visiting the California coast. We drove along HWY 1 from San Francisco to San Diego. There was a moment where we turned a particular corner that had us looking out at the ocean from the cliff’s above. At that moment, the view was the most majestic, beautiful thing I had ever experienced. I was awestruck. There was a sudden overwhelming feeling that came over me and it actually brought me to tears. I mean, it was pretty and all, but the feeling was that of being so small and in some ways insignificant in comparison to the glorious display of nature. I was not raised with any particular religious background, but I blurted out to my Mom, “That is what God is.” Or something to that effect. When we got back home, each of my family members independently decided we must move to California. We ended up moving to Santa Cruz, Ca about 8 months later and never looked back. It was very much a spiritual calling to be closer to nature that motivated that move. I feel that being in and around nature opens you up to greater spiritual callings and experiences. For me it is definitely a feeling of being closer to God or some greater existence.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. 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. Public Education Reform.

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?

This is easy. Snoop Dog. Who does not want to hang out with Snoop Dog? Why? He makes me smile.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am sorely behind in all of my online and social media efforts in part because I put a lot of things on hold because of Covid. But as I start ramping back up in my efforts with Manifest, I will be creating an interactive presence online for those who want guidance or mentorship with their health and fitness. Keep an eye out on the Manifest’s Facebook page and on Instagram. (https://www.facebook.com/bemanifest) (https://www.instagram.com/be.manifest/)

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