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“Be Present”, Janelle Sheppard of Sweat and Sunshine and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Be Present: The phone calls we need to make, the dinner we need to plan, and any other challenges we’re facing can easily capture our minds attention. This is natural. When this happens, remind yourself those challenges will be there when you’re finished. By that time you’ll be better equipped to handle them because you’ve […]

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Be Present: The phone calls we need to make, the dinner we need to plan, and any other challenges we’re facing can easily capture our minds attention. This is natural. When this happens, remind yourself those challenges will be there when you’re finished. By that time you’ll be better equipped to handle them because you’ve allowed time for gratitude and exercise. Allow yourself to take joy in this moment then acknowledge your thankfulness without guilt of where you “should” be or what you “should” be doing.


As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.

What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?

One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Janelle Sheppard.

While Janelle has been an expert at outdoor play since elementary school, she has been a fitness professional since 2009. In that time she has organized a community group for outdoor exercisers, designed training programs for adapted recreation and senior fitness programs, and managed a training program for 24 fitness facilities.

In 2012 Janelle adopted sustainable, healthy habits to lose 48 lbs, and she has thrived in maintaining her healthy body ever since. Now she is on a mission to help others get outside, get fit, eat well, and feel good. Janelle created Sweat & Sunshine to accomplish that mission.

Sweat & Sunshine provides outdoor adventures and fitness experiences designed to maximize the restorative benefits of sunshine, exercise, and natural space. Based in Tempe, Arizona, Sweat & Sunshine has provided nature-based wellness solutions since 2018.

Inspired by hiking adventures as a child, Janelle credits her mother for her deep love and curiosity for the natural world. “Raising four children on her own, my mother was genius at finding affordable ways to keep us entertained. As a result we grew up in the public library, local parks, and on hiking trails. Many of the fitness experiences I’ve created for Sweat & Sunshine were born during those years playing in the parks and on the trails with my brothers and sister.”

Janelle sees Sweat & Sunshine as an opportunity to combine her knowledge and experience as a Certified Personal Trainer with her love of nature to help people live healthier lives.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?

I’m a trail-conquering, Certified Personal Trainer, and veteran with a passion for nature. While I’ve been an expert at outdoor play since elementary school, I’ve been a Fitness Professional since 2009. Now I’m the owner and operator of Sweat & Sunshine; providing outdoor adventures and fitness experiences designed to maximize the restorative benefits of sunshine, exercise, and natural space. Based in Tempe, Arizona, Sweat & Sunshine has offered nature-based wellness solutions since 2018.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Just before starting a 4 mile desert hike with more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain one of my four guests announced that she recently suffered a stroke. She explained that she still didn’t have full use of the left side of her body, but she and her husband had a technique that would allow her to complete the hike. Their plan was simply to hold hands and occasionally interlace arms to navigate the trail together. The personal trainer in me quickly identified all kinds of safety concerns as we planned an adventure; squeezing between boulders, sliding down rock faces, and quick scrambles up walls of granite. However, after hearing her story of recovery thus far I was committed to sharing the mountain with them and getting them back down safely. It took much longer than usual but we made it. They held hands and worked together as one body for more than 5 hours and 4 miles of adventure. It was one of the most beautiful acts of teamwork and love I’ve ever seen. It was made all the more endearing by the fact that it was Valentine’s Day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Perspective is important. In order to give the challenges I’m facing the appropriate significance and not allow them to be blown out of proportion, I remind myself they are “a small thing in the universe.” I believe this resonates with me because I can see it in nature. I hit the trail and take in the giant Saguaro cacti around me, recognizing they were here long before me and will be here long after me. I imagine what they’ve seen and the storms they’ve weathered over their centuries of existence. I sit quietly on a fractured magma dome and feel the warm rock heated by the sun. I imagine the 200,000 years of geologic activity that created this mountain over 1.8 million years ago and suddenly my problems are in perspective. They are manageable and nowhere near as significant as I initially feared.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?

Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson. I’ve never read anything so full of valuable lessons; not just about protecting our environment but also about the interconnectedness of the natural world and my place in it. It created a curiosity that continues to drive my desire to get outside and experience nature as much as possible.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Right now I’m working to perfect Science and Sunshine, an outdoor learning experience. It’s designed allow children to ditch the digital noise and discover the natural world. I’m confident it will be a great resource in allowing our dynamically intelligent children to take a break from the rigors of online learning and restore with exercise and sunshine.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mother gets all the credit for developing my appreciation of the natural world and all that it offers us. Raising four children on her own, she was genius at finding affordable ways to keep us entertained and healthy. As a result we grew up in the public library, local parks and on hiking trails. She’d pack a lunch and the station wagon full of neighborhood kids, then let us run wild in the natural spaces around us. Many of the outdoor adventures and fitness experiences I’ve created were born during those years playing in the parks and on the trails with my brothers and sister. Although she is 69 now, we’re still enjoying hiking adventures together today.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?

Gratitude is not just an emotion I hope will flow abundantly in my life, it’s also something to pursue, an action to be taken. When things are going well gratitude may pour from our hearts easily but in times of challenge or even just the mundane grind of daily life, gratitude can be much more elusive. It is then we must work to cultivate gratitude. That doesn’t mean we “fake it till we make it.” It means we create experiences that allow us to fully appreciate all that we have. Once we’re in contact with that appreciation we must take action to ensure it will perpetuate in our lives and the lives of our loved ones.

Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?

The human brain is an expectation making machine. When our expectations don’t align with reality we become discouraged. Another challenge to gratitude is comparison. Comparing ourselves to others instead of appreciating all that well have leaves an energy draining black hole where gratitude should be shining bright.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?

Gratitude is empowering. When our hearts are thankful we are motivated to take action. We don’t leave things unsaid. We demonstrate our appreciation for the people in your lives. We see what’s truly important with more clarity and we make time for it. The best part is, that gratitude keeps going because you’ve shared it.

Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?

Gratitude is a negativity destroyer. Negativity simply can’t exist where gratitude thrives. For example, if I am full of appreciation for the spring flowers I will experience on my next hike, there is no room for frustration over the rain that canceled my hike today. Gratitude allows us to step back and see the whole beautiful picture of our lives, instead of hyper-focusing on just the negative aspects.

Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?

As with most things in life, if we want to get better at cultivating gratitude, we must practice. If you find it difficult to sit still and quiet your mind, as with more traditional forms of meditation, movement and exercise may be a better fit for you. It’s a surprisingly simple way to cultivate gratitude that provides an array of additional benefits. Below are five tips for cultivating gratitude in your regular fitness routine.

Be Present: The phone calls we need to make, the dinner we need to plan, and any other challenges we’re facing can easily capture our minds attention. This is natural. When this happens, remind yourself those challenges will be there when you’re finished. By that time you’ll be better equipped to handle them because you’ve allowed time for gratitude and exercise. Allow yourself to take joy in this moment then acknowledge your thankfulness without guilt of where you “should” be or what you “should” be doing.

Acknowledge Your Body: Kind words and thoughts go a long way, even when they are directed at our own bodies. Instead of taking our body’s accomplishments for granted, let’s recognize those achievements. Can you feel your quads pumping or your abs engaged? Did you know you body could do that? Do you feel strong? Take time to marvel at all that your body can do for you.

Soak in the Sun: Natural light is the conductor of the orchestra that is our circadian rhythm — the 24 hour cycle of physiological processes constantly taking place in our bodies. Each and every cell looks to natural light to determine when to do what it was meant to do. Just 5–15 minutes in the sunshine can provide the direction your cells need to give you a re-charge and get you through your day. When the sunshine is gently warming your shoulders, take in a few deep breaths, remind yourself of all the sunlight provides for you.

Gaze into Green Spaces: We don’t need scientific research to come to the conclusion that time spent in nature restores the soul. Nearly everyone has had an experience that demonstrates the unique ability of a natural environment to invigorate our fatigued attention span, curiosity and appreciation. So grab your mat and take your routine to a beautiful outdoor space. The exponential benefits of sunshine and exercise will open your heat to pour out thankfulness.

Recognize Your Breath: The simple action of paying attention to our breath reminds us we are alive. Take a moment, at any point in your routine, to focus on the rise and fall of your chest and stomach. Pay attention to your rib cage expanding and contracting as you take in and release each breath. Can you feel the path it follows through your body? Remind yourself that as long as you can take in breath, you are alive and anything is possible.

Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?

In my most challenging moments I look to a combination of movement, deep breaths, and sunshine for an attitude adjustment in the best way. It’s my personal quick fix for problems without solutions, PTSD triggers, and being present in the moment. For me, the movement usually comes in the form of high intensity exercise but just about any type of activity will help. Whether the deeps breaths come from the intense exercise or are part of a simple movement pattern like a Sun Salutation doesn’t matter, just make sure to include them. The final element is sunshine. If weather doesn’t allow for time outside in the sun, just open those curtains and let it warm your chest, shoulders, and face. You simply can’t help but feel alive and see the potential for the day with lungs expanding and sunshine on your shoulders.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?

The podcast Optimal Health Daily is a part of my morning routine and I highly recommend it. Dr. Neal Malik reads blogs from top health and fitness professionals. Although the episodes are quick, just 8–10 minutes on average, the time spent focusing on me increases my gratitude for my health, my body and my mind. I’m always thankful for the resource of time to listen and for everything I learn. A few moments of me-time in the morning is a simple but powerful way to cultivate gratitude.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One of the greatest moves I’ve ever made toward good health was deciding to cook the vast majority of my meals at home. I get chills thinking about the good that would come from busting myths like “Cooking at home takes too much time and effort.” The truth is making healthy meals at home is absolutely worth the time and effort. When we cook at home we control portion sizes, additives and preservatives; we can incorporate whole, nutrient dense foods, create family time, and generate pride from the delicious dishes we create. Cooking at home also increase your motivation to stay healthy in other ways.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

For updates and outdoor fitness inspiration readers can visit my website, sweatandsunshine.com. I’m also on Instagram at sweatandsunshineaz and on LinkedIn.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Thank you for the opportunity to share some insights on cultivating gratitude. Focusing on the topic has heightened my attention to areas of my personal gratitude I can grow in and it’s greatly appreciated.

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