Do a full-body scan and relax. Take a few deeper breaths, and notice your body lying on the bed. Is there any tightness or tension in any area of your body? Start with your toes, and move your attention all the way up to the top of your head. Then reverse it, moving from the top of the head to the toes. Spend a few moments on each area of your body, and when you notice tension, breathe and relax those areas. Repeat three times, and then enjoy a great night’s sleep!
As a part of our series about “What We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Virna Lichter.
Virna Lichter is a certified Meditation Coach and the creator of Beyond Mindset, a self-development and meditation mentorship program for professionals and business leaders. She is the CEO and founder of Energia Wellness, established in Tampa, Florida, in 2013. Virna has a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and more than two decades of experience in the wellness field. She is an ACE-Certified Personal Trainer, a Weight Loss, Sports Conditioning, and a Fitness Nutrition Specialist. She launched her career as a wellness director at multi-billion-dollar corporations such as Transamerica, TECO Energy, and Verizon. Her vision is to empower her clients to use effective tools to reduce stress and improve health and clarity so that they can fulfill their spiritual longing and leverage their influence to make a lasting impact on the world.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/d4696f77cf1b1a428c24c74195f9dfed
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?
Thank you for having me! I am originally from a small town in Brazil. My childhood was pretty eventful, and I was exposed to a rainbow of experiences at an early age that made me very resilient and open to change. When my parents got divorced, we moved to Rio, where I went to Physical Education school. As a single parent, my mother had to work long hours, and we struggled financially. I grew up searching for financial stability and a family.
I had the opportunity to come to the U.S. to study English at U.C. Berkeley and fell in love with the American lifestyle and how Americans value exactly what I was looking for.
I got married, got a job as a wellness director at a multi-billion dollar company, had a baby, and was living the American dream, but I still wasn’t fulfilled. I felt something was missing. I was stressed, anxious, and depressed.
That’s when I started to learn meditation and found a complete sense of calm and peace. I was depression-free six months after starting my practices. I knew then that I wanted to share what I learned with my community.
I founded my first business, Energia Wellness Studio, in the Tampa area in 2013. I chose the name, which means ‘Energy’ in Portuguese, as it expresses my journey from the physical energy of fitness and the more subtle and spiritual energy that I came to experience through meditation.
It has been my goal and vision ever since to share true wellness with my community. Today, Energia has expanded to a digital business without frontiers, allowing me to share my teachings with the world.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My grandfather was an entrepreneur who owned several businesses in town. Women were not part of these family businesses, but I secretly desired to have my own one day. I would even lock myself in the attic and play with my grandfather’s old accounting books. I hope he never got audited!
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?
My daughter. Right after she was born, I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be or how to fit into the new role as a mom. I thought the old me was somehow gone, that I was supposed to be different. I remember going to the store and buying this brown polka-dot shirt that looked like something my mother would wear. I looked in the mirror and thought, What am I doing? I am not my mom! If the old me is gone, then who am I? My daughter’s birth propelled me to look inward. Deeper questions came to mind: Who am I? What is my true purpose?
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I was used to taking public transportation in Rio, so when I moved permanently to Florida, I didn’t know how to drive. I was offered my first job managing a wellness center and accepted it even though I had no transportation. My husband and I decided to make it work by driving together, but we had different work schedules. He would drop me off at six a.m. at work and pick me up at six p.m., plus it was a couple of hours of commuting. A few months after I started doing that, I was exhausted. One morning, I arrived four hours before my shift and placed one of the exercise mats on the floor by my desk. I ended up falling asleep. I remember waking up to the sound of the security guard’s footsteps. He stopped for a few moments and then kept going on his way!
There have been many times when I arrived at my business early to find someone from our team meditating or working on their yoga practices. I try to make them feel at ease and comfortable. You never know their story.
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?
When I was 11 years old, my mother gave me a book about harnessing the power of the Universe. After I read it, I was able to start manifesting whatever I desired in my life. I wasn’t aware that most people around me were unable to do the same until much later in life. My clients always ask me the name of the book, but I really don’t remember.
The book was just the spark that ignited the power of manifestation within me. At that age, I didn’t have the barrier of the mind, the intellect and ego, holding me back. I was able to get to the essence of it and into my whole being. If I read the book again today, I would be reading it through the filter of an adult mind. In Brazilian soccer, we have the expression, “Don’t mess with a winning team!” So, I am going to leave it at that.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I love the quote, “When the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly!” It really describes my own life’s journey. I came to realize that no matter how much I accomplished on the outside, it wasn’t until I found the stillness within myself that I was able to truly enjoy everything life has to offer. From a caterpillar’s perspective, the world is very limited, but from a butterfly’s perfective, the world is full of color and life.
It is from our deepest struggles that true transformation happens. When life throws challenges at us, it is not the challenge itself that makes us suffer — it is our perception of it. Struggles give us the opportunity to evolve and rediscover who we really are, and that’s very possible for anyone through the practice of meditation.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am very excited to launch my mentorship program, Beyond Mindset, on a digital platform. We have learned the power of mindset in business and in life, but that is just a small part of what we can do to maximize our human potential.
When I started to meditate, I didn’t understand anything about meditation, and that was very difficult because I was exploring something that was totally unfamiliar to me. Then I started studying to become a teacher and realized that it was all about understanding the content, but there was no direct experience. It is impossible for the logical mind to grasp something that goes beyond the thought process. That’s one of the reasons why many people feel they can’t meditate or are afraid to explore spirituality. Each person’s individual experience is different when it comes to meditation. There can be hundreds of people in a room with each person having a different experience, and that’s not a sign that someone is doing it right and someone else isn’t.
Beyond Mindset provides a combination of knowledge on the intellectual and the experiential level. People are stressed out, burned out, and have no idea that there is something they can do about it, yet it is so simple!
I work with professionals, leaders, and others who want to take care of their inner and outer wellbeing by embracing spirituality in a very simple and digestible way. Once they see the benefits in their own lives, they leverage their influence to make an impact in the world.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In our work, we talk alot about 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.
What a wonderful question! They are all very much connected, and only when we have found a balance in all the different aspects of our being will true wellness become a reality for us.
Protect your mind — We have thousands of thoughts every single day. Most are repetitive, and 80 percent are negative. Every single thought that we have has a corresponding chemical reaction in the body. Now, imagine what all these thoughts can do to our overall wellness. According to Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old practice, everything that we have ever experienced through the five senses gets stored in the mind. The mind can be compared to a computer; everything that we search or save gets stored in the memory. The same happens with the mind. This impacts our mental wellness whether we are aware of it or not.
I am a Gen-Xer who grew up without much parental supervision. I used to spend my time alone watching scary movies. My mother thought I just enjoyed them, but what she didn’t know was that I would stay awake at night too scared to fall asleep. Because I was awake anyway, I would watch more scary movies. I had nightmares for most of my childhood. Sometimes, we do things without realizing that we are harming ourselves or even our children. Create a habit of being mindful of what you expose your mind to. If it doesn’t make you feel good, it is best to avoid it. Observe how you react to the type of music you listen to, the movies you watch, the books you read, the people in your life. Notice how they affect you. If you feel agitated after watching a thriller, reconsider the type of movie you watch. If talking to a certain person makes you anxious, reconsider that friendship.
Social Media Detox — When social media emerged, it was a wonderful way of staying connected to family and friends. It was so nice to reconnect with my childhood friends and see what they were doing in the world. But then it became almost like going to a high school reunion every day. I didn’t know it was affecting me until I went on a seven-day silent retreat where phones were not allowed. It made me realize that I had a habit of picking up my phone every few minutes to check on social media, which was causing anxiety. Social media is very important to my business, and I believe it is the same for most people, but I recommend deleting social media apps from your phone and only using it on your computer. I understand this might be difficult at first, but you will notice that you will have more time to enjoy life’s little moments without having to broadcast them to the world. After taking a break from social media, I felt a wonderful sense of freedom. Do this experiment for seven days, and see what changes for you. I would love to hear about your experience after you try it!
Meditate Daily — The mind is a very powerful tool, but the thinking process fluctuates a lot. You may have an opinion about something in the morning and a completely different opinion about the same subject in the afternoon. That is completely normal and the nature of the mind. When we are solely preoccupied with our thoughts — ‘identified with the mind’ is a term that’s often used — we can struggle because we attach too much meaning to everything we think. When we meditate, we go beyond the thought process and discover that there is more to us than thoughts. When this realization sets in, we start to perceive the world differently. What used to stress us doesn’t bother us anymore. That’s when the mind becomes more clear and peaceful.
Peace of mind doesn’t happen by trying to ’still the mind’ but from not being attached to every single thought that we have. As I mentioned, we have thousands of them daily, and that’s ok. When you meditate, don’t worry about the thoughts — they are part of it. Start slowly, even for a few minutes a day. Create the habit of meditating at the same time each day, making it part of your routine. Ideally, do it when you don’t have a full stomach because meditation brings our attention inward. A full belly brings our attention outward, so that makes it counterproductive. For those who believe they don’t have time to meditate, I have great news: 15 minutes of meditation can have the same effect as two hours of deep sleep. A rested mind is much more productive and focused. It will totally be worth your time!
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
Yes! I have practiced and taught many styles of meditation over the years, and I believe that the best meditation is the one that you enjoy. When you enjoy it, you will continue to practice. In that sense, meditation is like exercise. To see the benefits, you have to practice regularly. When I work with someone, I design a meditation specifically for them, a combination of gentle yoga asanas (poses), pranayama (breathing), dhyana (meditation), mantra (sacred sound), and mudra (hand gesture). A very simple technique that I designed that can be done not only before a formal practice but several times during the day is Stop, Check, Listen, Breathe.
Stop — Stop what you are doing.
Check — Turn your attention within and notice how you feel.
Listen — This is a very important step and can help reduce stress on the spot. Listen to whatever you are feeling as if it were a sound. It works because when we use the sense of hearing, our attention turns to the present moment. You can’t think of the past or the future when you are trying to hear a sound.
Breathe — Take a few deeper breaths, allowing the exhalation to be longer than the inhalation. The breath is very calming to the system. The mind mirrors the breath, so by consciously changing the breath, we will bring ease into the mind.
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.
Today, we know that eating healthy and exercising is the fountain of youth. It keeps us young and can prevent many diseases. But there is more that we can do to optimize our physical wellness.
Listen to your body’s wisdom — As I mentioned, the mind fluctuates, but the body never lies. In addition to eating healthy, the amount of food we eat is equally important. When we eat more than we need, we feel sluggish, tired, uncomfortable, and most of us gain weight. Also, when we eat too much, the body can’t process everything, and the excess becomes toxic in the system. A very simple habit that I teach my clients to help them eat in moderation is to listen to their internal ‘click’. Every time we eat, sometimes after only a few bites, there is a time when we get a signal: ‘I am full’. Usually, we push through anyway, either because we just sat down to eat or because the food tastes so good! Remember, though, that you can always have leftovers later. This simple trick of listening for the ‘click’ has helped me quit dieting and maintain the same weight for many years. What is most important to realize is that food should be our medicine and that overeating can lead to diseases. So, make a commitment that the next time you feel the ‘click’, you will put the food away.
Keep moving — Our bodies are made for movement, and the more we move, the slower it shows signs of aging. Find any type of exercise that you enjoy, and then do it most days of the week. Make sure to include strength training at least twice a week. You will need minimal equipment to get started — just a few sets of dumbbells, bands, and a mat. Because of the pandemic, many of us who operate fitness studios and gyms have gone virtual, but we’re still offering classes. Find a class suitable for your level or a trainer to help you get started.
Choose what works best for your schedule, but I suggest exercising five to six times a week for 30 minutes a day rather than three one-hour sessions. If you are not a fan of traditional workouts, many other options can provide you with incredible results without your having to lift weights such as Yoga, Pilates, barre, and martial arts. There are many options; keep trying until you find one that you enjoy.
Create a Bedtime Ritual — If you are a parent, you know that children do really well with a bedtime routine. As adults, we have given up on that luxury to get things done around the house, fold laundry, pay bills, put away the dishes, check on social media, and other not-so-relaxing activities. A bedtime ritual will allow your body and mind to transition from a busy day into a relaxed state ready for a good night’s sleep.
1. Avoid caffeine after 3 p.m. Trade the late-afternoon latte for homemade tea. A simple recipe that I learned from the times I visited an ashram is to boil water, fresh ginger, and lemon. Remove from heat and add honey. This drink will keep you warm and is very good for the digestive system.
2. Digital sunset: no screen time after dark. That means no phones, TVs, or computers at night. Read a relaxing book or write in your journal instead
3. Add aromatherapy. A few suggested scents that you can add to your shower or the bath, or diffuse in the bedroom, are lavender, chamomile, jasmine, and Ylang Ylang. These promote relaxation.
4. Practice recapitulation which means reviewing your day. While lying in bed, think of everything you did during the day as if you were watching a movie. This helps you achieve closure and let go of your day.
5. Do a full-body scan and relax. Take a few deeper breaths, and notice your body lying on the bed. Is there any tightness or tension in any area of your body? Start with your toes, and move your attention all the way up to the top of your head. Then reverse it, moving from the top of the head to the toes. Spend a few moments on each area of your body, and when you notice tension, breathe and relax those areas. Repeat three times, and then enjoy a great night’s sleep!
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 think most people believe they need to give up eating the foods they love for good. That’s too much to ask anyone. There is so much misconception about eating healthy, mainly when it comes to weight loss and dieting. I don’t recommend following any specific ‘diet’ that calls for avoiding a whole food group. Healthy eating is about moderation. When I was 15, I got on a diet that only included fruits and vegetables. I remember crying in front of the movie theater because I couldn’t have popcorn, and I didn’t even like popcorn!
Don’t set unrealistic expectations because no one can go a lifetime denying themselves what they like to eat. That can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. As long as we are eating healthy 80 percent of the time, it is ok to enjoy a treat every now and then.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Move through LIFE as a strong rope — We compartmentalize our lives into those things that are personal, professional, or spiritual. Imagine these different areas of your life as three thin threads. When we live life like this, these threads can be pulled in many different directions which creates internal conflict.
Here’s an example. You are working late and have an important deadline. Your child is home awake, waiting for you to read a bedtime story as you had promised before you left for work. You feel guilty and decide to take work home. You can read a book for your child then finish work later. You rush home and find your child half-asleep. It melts your heart, and you start reading her favorite book. Your child is happy to see you and gets a second wind of energy. Now you are spending more time than expected reading one more story. Anxiety starts building up as you worry about your deadline…
What is causing your internal struggle is not the deadline or the requests for “one more story!” It is the thoughts about each of them that are pulling you away from the present moment. The thoughts trigger the feeling that you are not where you are supposed to be.
Now imagine if you could live life as one unit with the three thin threads intertwined. What do they become? A strong rope, and this rope is called LIFE in ALL CAPS — life without separation. Be fully present for whatever you are doing — your mind, your body, your heart, your whole being. The best way to do this is not by fighting what is happening in your life but by embracing every single moment.
Acknowledge Your Emotions — Emotions trigger physical manifestations. If you are sad or depressed, you may feel an achy heart, or if you are angry, tightness in the pit of the throat or stomach. Whenever you start to feel a strong emotion, ask yourself where the emotion is manifesting in your body. During our yoga classes in one of my studios, I have seen people burst into tears when we do hip-opener poses. They have no idea why, but I explain that we store a lot of emotions in our bodies. It could be an early childhood experience or even something that happened in the office that we didn’t have the opportunity to process. The mind-body connection is real, and there is no inconvenient time when It comes to tending to your emotional wellness. Remember to stop, check, listen, and breathe.
Find an Outlet for Your Emotions — As a child, my nickname was ‘The Hulk’. I was bigger than most of my friends, and I was angry. I grew up watching my father display outbursts of anger and find his outlet in violent physical abuse. I stored this anger inside of me, and I channeled it by doing the same at school. I got into a few fights and got into a lot of trouble. Then I heard about a small martial arts school that had opened in my hometown named Energia (which I later named my own business). Back in the day, karate was mostly for boys, and they sparred without protective gear. It was not uncommon for higher-ranking students to start bleeding during class. It was around the time the first Karate Kid movie was released, and most girls dreamed of dating Ralph Macchio. I didn’t want to date him, though. I wanted to be like him. I took up martial arts because I wanted to protect myself, I wanted to be tough and strong, I wanted gender equality. What I didn’t know was that karate would become an outlet for my anger, allowing my emotions to find their full expression. Once I started meditating many years later, I became more aware of my emotions, and I don’t try to stop them or allow them to bottle up inside anymore. I acknowledge them now. I let them find their expression, run their course, and subside. For you, it may be martial arts, painting, running, gardening, meditating, or anything else that allows your emotions to flow through the activity. The important thing is to use the activity as an outlet, not a distraction.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
Smiling releases happiness hormones. It’s free and contagious! When we smile, it doesn’t only affect our own emotional wellness but those around us as well. When we awkwardly stand in line at the grocery store or in an elevator with a stranger, a smile changes everything! There is a sense of release for both people, and that small amount of time that you spend together becomes lighter and more pleasant.
One time, I was driving in a parking lot when another driver and I got in each other’s way. Someone had to back up. He got angry and stepped out of his car. I opened my window and gave him the biggest smile. He got right back into his car, backed up, and let me go first. That was probably a risky move, and I don’t recommend it. But I felt very calm and confident, and a big smile shows just that!
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Practice Gratitude — This can be extremely powerful and can fast-forward your spiritual journey by giving you a glimpse of what it really is to feel one with all there is. When we practice gratitude, we open our hearts, and while the heart is a doorway to the deepest part of us, gratitude is a key. When we are grateful, we bring down all the barriers between ourselves and others, which allows us to experience the essence of everything around us. We can all find things that we are grateful for, including our struggles. Look how much they teach us! If you enjoy writing, take a piece of paper or journal and write away!
Implement the Three S’s: Solitude, Silence, and Stillness — Spend time each day observing the Three S’s.
Being in your own company without distractions is a great way to decompress from the constant mental overload of day-to-day life and turns your attention to what is happening within yourself. This can be done at home, in your office, or in nature. It doesn’t matter if there are others around, but it is important to avoid any social interaction during this time. Being in silence doesn’t mean the world needs to stop for us; it means that we are the ones observing silence. During this time, there should be no reading, no TV, no social media, no texting. It is about taking the time to check in with yourself as you would check in with your dearest friend. You can do this in the form of meditation with your eyes closed or by just sitting quietly with your eyes open. I have observed the Three S’s at airports, planes, and even at Disney World!
Find Your Tribe — The spiritual journey can be a lonely one, mainly because it is not something that can be discussed with everyone, especially at work, and for a lot of people, it is not shared even with their spouses.
Maybe you have decided not to fully disclose that you are a spiritual seeker. Today more than ever, people are searching for answers within. A great way to find a like-minded community is to try a meditation program or attend a retreat. You will meet other participants from different backgrounds and walks of life who will have this in common with you. You can also find an online or in-person meditation group in your community where you can feel safe talking about your practice. It can be very refreshing to know that you are not alone.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
We are very much a part of nature, and going back to that outmost part of us can provide enormous benefit to our overall wellness. I enjoy going for a bike ride at a local park on Sundays. Cars are not allowed, and as we move deeper into the trails, there are fewer people, just other bicyclists. Sometimes, I park my bike and sit on a bench watching the trees and birds, and I just breathe. I call this my mindful bike ride. It is not for exercise as I go at a very slow pace. Find something that you enjoy doing outside; it can be going for a walk, gardening, or just sitting. If you live in a city, find a local park, and do this at least once a week.
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.
I want to make meditation available to the masses, and this needs to happen in two ways. One is helping professionals and business leaders to establish themselves in their meditation practice. This group is in a strong position to help create a larger impact within their companies and communities. Meditation is a technique that takes us deeper within and makes us more productive, healthier, more fulfilled. Great leaders know how important this is, and once they see the benefits within themselves, they will become meditation’s biggest advocates.
The other thing is that I’d like to create a foundation to bring meditation to the schools as kids are the leaders of the future. I have been approached by schools, social workers, and teachers who are trying to implement mindfulness at schools but find so much resistance from government agencies and parents. That’s why I feel it so important to have our great leaders as part of this movement.
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 🙂
Yes, so many! I would love to spend time with Mooji and Deepak Chopra to talk about spirituality, but I also would love to sit down with business leaders such as Arianna Huffington to talk about the impact companies can have if they incorporate meditation into their day-to-day operations.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Send me a message via LinkedIn, and let me know that you read this interview.
You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram and join my Facebook group:
Facebook Group: Inner Explorers
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.