Recognized as a thought leader and pioneer in the integration of vegan living, fitness, and mindfulness, GUNAS had the pleasure of sitting down with Mrs. Lani Muelrath. Lani’s teachings and lifestyle blend plant-sourced nutrition with compassion and mind/body awareness from mindfulness meditation practice. With over four decades of health, fitness, and wellness teaching experience, this #gunasgirl certainly knows her field.
Lani has been vegetarian (and later vegan) since 1973, when she also started teaching yoga and began a meditation practice. Her teachings led to a greater awareness of ethical animal treatment, a greener environment, and human health. Her studies in meditation also included several retreats to India, which served to strengthen her knowledge. Since then, Lani has undertaken the study of Insight (or “Mindfulness Meditation”) which she has practiced for over twenty-five years.
Working in higher education and the private sector as a physical educator, teacher, nutrition counsellor and wellness coach led Lani to several realisations. She began to realize many people were not aware that behind their desire to get healthier and maintain a greater quality of life lurked deeper issues masked by smoke screens and symptoms.
Given all her experience, Lani knew that mindfulness practices were a proven method of getting beneath the surface of what people’s real obstacles were. In order to help others overcome negative thinking patterns and learn how to change their habits of thinking, Lani introduced mindfulness meditation to her clients, blending the three pillars of food, fitness, and frame of mind into her work.
During this period, Lani also taught sixth grade, specializing in environmental education. She and her husband Greg have traveled extensively as volunteer field biologists, working internationally with endangered animals such as elephants, sea turtles and albatross birds.
Additionally, Lani has been featured on CBS-TV, ABC-TV, Prevention magazine, USA Today, Huffington Post, The Saturday Evening Post, Health Magazine, and NSPR. She created and starred in her own CBS television show, Lani’s All Heart Aerobics, and has served as a presenter and consultant for the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, The Complete Health Improvement Program, and Plant Pure Nation. She currently serves as celebrity endorser for the Food for Thought Campaign with Animal Place Farmed Animal Sanctuary .
What inspired you to begin a vegetarian (and ultimately, vegan) lifestyle? Did you experience an “a-ha!” moment?
In college, I started teaching yoga, a practice which I had taken up in high school upon the influence of my mother. Ahimsa – the principle of non-violence toward all living things – is central to the study of yoga. As my yoga studies progressed, and I took up a meditation practice, it all came together to opt out of eating animals and I became vegetarian. Initially, the only animal product left in my diet was dairy products, which for some reason – now mystifying to me – are considered acceptable in yoga practice as still being somehow compatible with ahimsa. Given what we now know about the dairy industry, of course dairy products have no place in a ‘non violence toward all beings’ context. This became fundamentally clear to me years later, when I eliminated dairy products from my diet as well and became vegan.
You’ve published three successful books,The Plant-Based Journey: A Step-By-Step Guide for Transitioning to a Healthy Lifestyle and Achieving Your Ideal Weight, Fit Quickies: 5 Minute Targeted Body-Shaping Workouts,and more recently, The Mindful Vegan: A 30-day Plan for Finding Health, Balance, Peace, and Happiness. Given your full-plated lifestyle, how did you juggle researching, writing and completing the publications?
When writing a book, the research and writing become my primary, full-time focus. I continue to coach, travel with speaking engagements, teach, and travel internationally on wildlife advocacy expeditions with my husband, while paying attention to timing and editorial dates. These ventures just take place with less frequency as writing takes priority. My publisher is very helpful in working with my schedule.
We love that you take the time to speak and educate others on the benefits of veganism. How do you stay up to date on the cruelty free community? What can others do to stay informed?
I am on newslists for many of those working on the front lines of animal right activism and vegan advocacy. This includes many individuals, communities, and organizations. It is encouraging to see so much more coming forward each year exposing the horrific underside of the food industry and action being taken for positive change.
There is so much information, as a matter of fact, that it can be overwhelming. I recommend that people who would like to stay up-to-date on what is happening in the vegan community select a handful of trusted resources, and stay connected with these. Signing up for every newsletter, update, and campaign within the vegan movement is too overwhelming, and can lead to a feeling of overwhelm, paralysis, ineffectiveness. People aspiring to live vegan need to remember and be mindful of the fact that the single biggest thing they can do to reduce the suffering of other sentient beings and reduce the environmental impact of animal agriculture is to embrace vegan living themselves. And to grow this lifestyle amongst their communities by being a consistent, kind example of veganism and speaking out in their communities where they can. People can make a big difference by doing something as simple as teaching a small cooking class to a few friends in their home – a form of vegan activism.
What’s a typical week like on the job? Is there a typical week?
‘Typical’ can be up to question – you’re right! Much of the time I write, coach, and teach from home – in addition to my travel to specific locations and events. This means that each day is a mix of phone or skype calls, media interviews, responses to inquiries about writing and speaking projects, and working with students in private calls or class settings. My husband and I also check in several times a week with wildlife advocacy projects that we are part of, such as the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust through whom we are fostering elephants that are victims of poaching and human-wildlife land conflict. This summer for several weeks there was a wildlife crisis on the PG and E (electric company) hydroelectric canals. When they undergo diverting of water from these canals, the trout and other wildlife suffer horribly and are apparently considered a ‘byproduct’ of the process. So it is up to us to take our bikes to the dirt trails repeatedly, with buckets and hoses and nets in hand, in an effort to relocate the fish. We also become immediate environmental activists by contacting the electric company repeatedly, asking for solutions and mercy on these fish.
I live in the beautiful mountains of northern California where I have a great deal of access to daily outdoor activity – walking, biking, and hiking are a daily feature. So a typical day at home begins with an early rise, and time devoted to mindfulness meditation practice. Then it’s time for a hot drink while I do some reading or start on the day’s writing project or correspondence before heading out for an early walk in the woods. The day is then filled with writing, coaching, teaching, and staying informed. I usually have some outdoor activity in the afternoon, too – often we’ll go on a bike ride on the mountain trails near home. I am the cook – albeit a lazy one -so late afternoon I prepare simple yet delicious vegan meals. Evening I do my best to shut down computer and designate this as family and restorative time – some reading, perhaps a film or show, another meditation sitting, and then rather early to bed – as a morning person I have an early start to the day. Sometimes evening is a time for teaching a class. I also teach a course at Butte College in Northern California, which utilizes my first book Fit Quickies as a required text. Fortunately I have been able to create an online version of this course so that I can reach my students from anywhere in the world –there is no way I’d be able to get to campus on a regular basis.
As a yoga and meditation teacher , you’ve probably observed that veganism, yoga and mindfulness often come hand in hand. Why do you think this is?
I addressed this to some extent in answering the question about what initially brought me to vegan living. Conscious living reaches into conscious eating – and vice versa. Once we become more mindful of the impact of what we put on our plates, and how we feed and move our bodies, and the impact of how we eat and live on our environment – the easy, obvious choice is veganism. We DO have a choice – most of us – so why not live in a way that allows you to eat delicious, completely nutrition food in a way that doesn’t cause unnecessary harm?
Right now the wildly enthusiastic response to The Mindful Vegan: A 30-Day Plan for Finding Health, Balance, Peace, and Happiness has inspired numerous media contacts, requests for speaking and training, college appearances, and special events within the plant-based and vegan communities, including online courses and coaching programs and even book clubs where I am happily making guest appearances. There is much work to be done with these tools in hand – and I am diving into these opportunities whole-heartedly. Each opportunity to present this material, and teach practical tools within even a 45 minute talk, is treasured time, hugely important, and incredibly transformative when people open their hearts and minds to these simple shifts and strategies.
Do you incorporate veganism into your wardrobe as well? If so, what are your favorite pieces to wear with your GUNAS gear?
That’s what vegan means – living with the intention of causing the least harm possible, which includes not only what we eat, but what we wear, what we sit on (furniture), what products we use. That’s what I love so much about GUNAS and why I am so glad to be affiliated with the brand – and why I was so glad to come across GUNAS in the first place! So let me turn that question around to say that I utilize GUNAS wear with everything I wear. Tote bags are a necessary on book signings and presentations, as I always need to carry an extra book or two, pens, laptop computer, other AV necessities – yet it needs to look nice AND send the message that yes, there ARE products like these that are vegan! My current go to for this purpose is my Naomi bag. I always get so many compliments and inquiries about this bag and she fills the need beautifully. I currently have a luscious green Naomi but think it may be time to get a second color as she gets so much use. Sometimes, something more sporty for travel is called for, in which case I pull out my Cougar Backpack. I don’t know how you make a backpack that looks uber-classy, but GUNAS did it with the Cougar.
California seems like one of the most accessible spots to embrace veganism. What advice would you give to others living in locations that aren’t as cruelty free orientated?
It does seem that way about California – but I live in a small mountain community without any veg restaurants and the nearest Whole Foods Market is a two hour drive from my home! So these challenges can take place anywhere. However I , just like everyone else, can stock my pantry with beans and brown rice and my fridge with an abundance of vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, good grainy breads and all the rest of the beauty and deliciousness that are part of eating vegan. And I’m a very lazy cook, but I demand good taste – so I’ve developed a few simple systems – that I write about in my books – and some simple recipes that are featured in The Mindful Vegan and The Plant-Based Journey as well. Each person needs to be prepared with quality, delicious things to eat whenever the need arises – at home and in the work place! This is the best way to stay on track. Mindfulness practice as I teach in The Mindful Vegan help us also by reducing reactivity that can dissolve into mindless snacking or stress eating. I also address within the book how to cultivate a mindful presence in our daily lives so that we can navigate conversations about vegan living with greater ease, kindness, compassion, and equanimity – and who doesn’t want and need that?
What are your favorite vegan restaurants?
Living where I do, as I don’t have much access to these, I can only mention those I’ve ventured to enjoy in more populated areas. Millennium in the San Francisco area comes to mind, as does Blossoming Lotus in Portland, Oregon, where I had the opportunity to dine while there speaking at the Portland Vegfest.
Are there any books or movies that have kept you motivated to live animal free?
I am so immersed in living this way and my bookshelf so overloaded with informative, engaging, and inspiring books – so many of which I reference all the time – that it is hard to choose. I tend to think of these resources in terms of their go-to-usefulness in helping others get started. In addition to my own books, The China Study and Whole are two very important works and I tend to read them every couple of years as a refresher course. Anything by Dr. Neal Barnard, who wrote the Foreword to The Mindful Vegan. A fairly new book called The Vegan Way by Jacqueline Lovely Day is a delightful, excellent resource for those who are beginning or veterans who could use a positive boost. As for films, Cowspiracy and Forks Over Knives are two gold standards.
Who do you find motivation from?
At the top of the list is also Dr. Melanie Joy, creator of Beyond Carnism, who has also just come out with a new book titled Beyond Beliefs in which she recommends The Mindful Vegan for everyone as an important element in self-care, navigating tough times as vegans, and as compassion fatigue. She also recommends The Mindful Vegan in her CEVA trainings (CEVA stands for “Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy”) and on the CEVA website as an important resource for same. I am thrilled and honored by these mentions more deeply than I can express. Other inspirations have and continue to be my friends and colleagues within the vegan author community: Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary, Miyoko Schinner of Miyoko’s Kitchen, Victoria Moran, and then of course all the cooks such as Fran Costigan. Marla Rose of Veganstreet.com is one of the most devoted, hard-working change makers I know – and she just published a review of The Mindful Vegan exemplifying how she is incorporating mindfulness with veganism.
When did you first come across GUNAS and how has it effected your fashion preferences?
I think my first GUNAS encounter was via Miyoko Schinner! We were traveling together to Texas to present at Healthfest, and in an airport layover she brought up the GUNAS site to browse through bags. I was the quality, saw that it was all vegan, and placed my own order soon thereafter!
Where do you see veganism going over the next few years? Do you imagine there will be a difference between what we hope and what may actually be?
My vision is a vegan world – where everyone un-obscures their innate compassion and kindness to make vegan choices in the way they eat and live. I imagine that this may take a little longer than I wish. Yet every day, there are new vegan offerings in the market place. Vegan communities are growing, and it is even easier to travel as a vegan and eat well! We always dine sumptuously yet simply whether in Africa, Italy – even Indonesia. I have seen the rise of the terms ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’ such that companies and individuals with a product to sell are latching on to the term – sometimes inappropriately, even – to advance the draw to and popularity of their product. Which means we have made some headway. We have seen some reduction of cruelty to animals in animal agriculture, though there is such a long way to go. The daily count and suffering to animals as part of animal agriculture and the production of animal products is too much to bear. This is why tools for compassion fatigue such as provided by The Mindful Vegan are so essential – critical – to the movement. We also need to be encouraging to others in this movement who may not share our exact preferences in cuisine or perspective. We are all working for the same cause and cultivating kindness and compassion toward others will certainly multiply our numbers.
My fellow #gunasgirls would describe me as…
Kind, fun, and easygoing – I would like to think so!
Lani’s accomplishments (and wisdom gained as a result) have us floored. She is living proof that there is no limit to what we can learn or teach others. While it’s challenging to imagine Lani upping her footprint in the vegan community even more, we know her achievements will only continue to grow. Be sure to keep up with this #gunasgirl’s endeavors; the team here at New York can hardly wait to see what she has next!