Season 4
35 Minutes

E122 | Anita Barbero | When Mindfulness Became My Passion

Anita Barbero is a Wellness Coach, Speaker and Corporate Wellness Consultant who integrates over 25 years of experience as a health fitness practitioner, yoga & meditation teacher, and workshop & retreat leader in her practice.

At ESPN, where high performance is key both in front and behind the camera, Anita served as an in-house Wellness Lead. She taught fitness, yoga, and meditation classes to employees at ESPN. In partnership with a ESPN Wellness team, Anita designed numerous innovative in-house wellness offerings including a pilot program for the Monday Night Football remote crew which offered onsite yoga, meditation, and personal wellness coaching.

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Anita Barbero  00:00

I can remember I had this one client. He was well into his late 60s, maybe early 70s. We worked for 10 years. And he used to say to me and Anita, you know, this is for a higher purpose. Beautiful, like, Wow, it really is because we were sharing so much at that point, and I just loved that piece of it.

Achim Nowak  00:22

Welcome to the MY FOURTH ACT PODCAST. I’m your host Achim Nowak. And I have conversations with exceptional humans, who have created bold and unexpected lives. If you like, what do you hear, please subscribe on any major podcast platform, so you won’t miss a single one of my inspiring guests. And please consider posting an appreciative review. Let’s get started. I’m just delighted to welcome Anita Barber to the MY FOURTH ACT PODCAST, and Anita has over 25 years of experience as a health fitness practitioner, yoga and meditation teacher, and workshop and retreat leader. And he has served as a health fitness practitioner in house at ESPN, which is a part of Disney, while high performance is key both in front and behind the camera, and need a top fitness, yoga and meditation classes to the employees at ESPN. So they could continue to work productively in good health in a rather demanding work environment with long workdays, and then Anita started her own firm. I love the name. It’s called a renew your health. And I want to talk a little bit about what that is like. So hello,

Anita Barbero  01:43

hi, Achim, thank you for having me here.

Achim Nowak  01:46

Oh, I so I look forward to speaking with you, before we even get into it. Many people in their fourth acts have the dream of leaving a job often that they love to start their own business. So that’s just one of the experiences that you’ve had that I want to discuss with you. But before we start, when you were a young girl growing up and thinking about what do I want to do with my life? What was in your thoughts?

Anita Barbero  02:14

Well, I think I came for me, it was always I wanted to teach to lead. Even when when I was a child, I loved to help people. And I can remember being in my basement as a young young child teaching my stuffed animals. And I mean, really. And as I grew older, it didn’t matter if I was in elementary school or wherever. I always wanted to lead in to tea. I don’t know if that was inspiring, if that was part of it. But to help people you know, I wanted to be in a position to help.

Achim Nowak  02:53

I always love it when I ask this question in what you’re talking about actually matches what you’re currently doing. Because so many people, they’re doing something totally different. Now, what I’m also thinking about as you talk about your youth, I’m a very fit person these days I swim, I have a trainer, I do yoga, all those things. But when I was a teenager, I wasn’t good at any of it. Were you into fitness when you were young? Or is that something you discovered later?

Anita Barbero  03:21

Yeah, so I was really blessed. I think I had parents, I grew up in a home where my parents not only encouraged us to be active, but they were active themselves. So that was helpful. They enrolled us in sports that we wanted to. So for me, it was dance, it was swimming, it was track. Those are what I enjoyed. And I can remember running eight mile races with my dad until he was in his late 70s. So he was a real inspiration to me in many ways, but that was one so I was blessed to be in that environment.

Achim Nowak  03:57

I know when we talk in a moment about renew your health and grownup wellness, which I don’t think of as competitive sports or fitness. But some of the things you mentioned were younger than we were on the swim team. It can become very competitive. When you do athletics and college. It’s very competitive. And there is a wonderful side by potentially dark side where you also interested in the competitive part of all

Anita Barbero  04:23

of that. Now, so interestingly enough, I was not that actually always kind of scared me a little bit. So I chose the lane of staying in sports that worked. So competitive dance, where I’d love to dance. So I became you know, I danced most of my life and I’m still dancing and then running and track because it was more individual. I think that’s what I tended to gravitate to not the real competitive and I was a cheerleader in high school. I chose that and again in positions of leading I was the Captain of the cheerleaders and then I was president of my class for four years. So I always was in that position of just, you know, helping others, I didn’t really want to compete that much. I mentioned the different aspects of fitness and wellness that you’ve been involved with. And I think you’ve done this for 25 years, which is a long run. How did you get started in doing that? We use the word professionally, you know, where I do this, and people pay me to do it. But how did that begin? After high school, through some college courses, I started my own business. And it was a gym, I opened up my own fitness business in the northwest corner of our state of Connecticut, and I was in business for 10 successful years. So I was an entrepreneur, pretty much like four years after high school, I loved it there, I was very successful, and just loved the opportunity, again, to share the gift of health. And that’s what I call it just the gift, I wanted to give it to as many people as I could. I didn’t know you had been an entrepreneur at a young age. And I these days, call myself a serial entrepreneur, which is true. So when you just told your story, I was wondering, what made you move on after 10 years. I was in my fitness business for 10 years, the gym. And then after that, I went into personal fitness training. And I never did that in a gym, I went to people’s homes up in that area. And I really got to see and work with people that really needed my expertise in certain ways. Enjoy that so much. And then I like to say I evolved from that personal fitness into yoga and meditation. So that’s when it became a really holistic type of practice for me and more. So I felt like I was capturing the spiritual, the mental, the physical, and I absolutely embraced that as well.


Oh, there’s so many doors you just opened in your answer for me. But I want to go back for one moment, to the physical fitness part and freedom. I’m in my 60s. I have a physical trainer. He was a former college quarterback, great trainer. But what I love about Chris’s name. He’s very good with an older trainee like me. And he’s incredibly sensitive to what’s going on in my body. So what did you learn? There’s something very special not only do you train one on one, but you go into people’s homes, or you did, what did you learn about people and energy and all of that stuff in that work?

Anita Barbero  07:46

adaptations. And I had to adapt in every situation was so so different. I’m talking, you know, I would work with clients that had just got out of rehab for diabetes or heart they were everything was referral based. So why would go in and I’d have to put a program on for them based on that. So I learned very early on to meet people exactly where they were at. And a lot of times was older clients. I just learned so much. You just learned so much about the individual, not only physically, but where they are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, I can remember I had this one client, he was well into his late 60s, maybe early 70s. We’ve worked for 10 years. And he used to say to me and Anita, you know, this is fitness for a higher purpose. Beautiful, like, Wow, it really is because we were sharing so much at that point. And I just loved that piece of it. It was beautiful.

Achim Nowak  08:50

I want to spend some time talking about your journey at ESPN. Every listener knows he’s ESPN. It’s a in my mind a very cool, sexy brand. My stereotype is it’s a brand about testosterone, and performance and pressure and all those things. And I believe your official title was wellness lead. Do I say that correctly? Yes. When I first heard that you did that. My first thought was, how does somebody show up at ESPN and says, Hey, I’m an EDA, I want to be your wellness lead. How did that start?

Anita Barbero  09:25

ESPN, the Connecticut campus. That’s where their largest campus is. That’s where I reside in Connecticut. And at the time I came, I was in business for myself. I would tell people when I got to ESPN, like this is the first job I’ve ever had. And I was 50 years old and they were like first job What have you been doing all your life, you know, but the reason why was because of circumstances and opportunity opened at the same time. So at that particular time in my life when the opportunity came, there was an open position at ESA PN in their wellness department, a really good friend of mine who worked in HR, she gave me a call. She said, Anita, they’re looking for a full time wellness lead, we think you would be perfect for it again, because of my husband had just retired. And he was getting a little anxious about things and health insurance and all of that. So I said, Okay, I’ve got this, I’m calling, you know, so timing was right. It was an amazing experience. I realized, right off the bat, as soon as I got in my car that first day, I will never forget it. Because we talked a lot about work life balance, and a lot of times in my personal training with clients, I would talk to them about work life balance, like when do you fit your life in besides work? Well, when I was on my way to work in corporate America, I remember calling my friends saying this work life balance, work is your life. So I had to figure out not only for myself, but as a wellness lead, how to create wellness programs that they could implement with ease into their work life. And I was given that when I walked into ESPN, they have their own wellness center. So that’s where my base was, it was in an environment that I was already really familiar with, thankfully. And it was a small wellness team. And I had a great manager and he said, Whatever you can do to bring wellness, to the 7000 people that are on campus here. Wow. Yeah. And that was great, right? I had like free rein, I love people. That’s one thing. I just love people. And I knew that we wouldn’t get close to the 7000 people to come into the Wellness Center. As you know, I would spend a lot of my time going into the different departments, meeting people asking questions, the employees observing. What I came back with weekly, with my manager was Do they ever take their breaks? Do they ever move? It seemed like because it’s a 24/7 culture, right. And ESPN is all about production 100%. And you have to be 100% on the ball all the time. And let me tell you, those employees are phenomenal. The people, they’re just amazing. They do such great work. I mean, we see it on TV, right? So I had to come up with when I say I, I came up with the idea and then presented it to our small team. But whatever we came up with, we were able to put out there. So it was beautiful. I love everything you’re saying. And I want to test a couple of things with you. I remember ECI, one of the big insurance companies in Hartford not far from where you are. Had a CEO who had a near death experience. This is a well known story. He discovered meditation, for example. And he naively thought, Well, when I meet with my executive team, let’s all meditate together first for five minutes. And then we have the meeting. And he realized, gosh, this has changed my life. But I can’t force that on people. Even though I know how beneficial it is that thing yoga might be a little easier, because it’s been popularized. But I know you’re if we talked about meditation and mindfulness, for example, both practices that I love, personally, how do you introduce that in a fast paced workplace culture inviting way rather than, gosh, you got to do this. So that was what I had to come up with. And I knew so when I went into ESPN, I had already been an I was a yoga and meditation, teacher, and fitness. So at the Wellness Center, that’s what I taught, but I knew to go into the departments that I wouldn’t be able to teach that you’re not going to go in and teach yoga and you know, so that’s where mindfulness a friend of mine who worked at ESPN, she said to Anita, look into mindfulness. I was skeptical at first. But I looked into it ever since then, practicing it. They paid for my MBSR certification and for some other certifications so that I could successfully implement it. And I’ve been practicing and teaching it ever since because it is such a wonderful concept that everyone can relate to. So it’s very different from going in meditation. Mindfulness means paying attention on purpose. So all you’re doing is paying attention to what you need. So I would try to relate it to what do you need? Do you need to drink water? Do you need to take your break? Do you need to eat So teaching them to listen to their bodies, we went into the scientifics of it, it’ll help productivity, it will help your benefit. So we had to get into the science and the what proved it successful. And we did that they it was an open door, they let us do it. And I’m telling you it was successful in those 10 years, we would go into departments and ask the VPs and the EVPs, if we could go into their department meetings and do a mindful minute, a mindful minute to bring everyone into full presence where they would take a breath, just release some of the stress that was going on. Before they got to that meeting. We were relentless with it, and it and it worked. Let’s see how animated you are, as you’re talking about this. So your passion for this is self evident. And I appreciate the very specific example. I also think if i It’s a VP of Business Unit, there’s something wonderful about bringing in an expert for a minute or two to do it for us. Because I don’t have it’s not on me. But the expert gets to elevate all of our experience sounds like a beautiful partnership. It was and that’s exactly how they looked at it. I came in they did you know. So we once that started, we got invited to go into department meetings. And that’s where I spent a lot of my time, one of the best things I’ll have to say it was phenomenal that came out of it was a few years in, that’s where mental health became such a big concern mental well being when I would go in and give meds so we set up meditation sessions for different departments. It didn’t matter if one showed up or a dozen showed up, I would give these 10 or 15 minute meditations. But what became of that was people would stay afterwards and just say, Look, you know, we were benefiting so much from this, how can we make it better? How can we make get it out to everyone, we were able to establish an affinity group, which is called trust. It’s a mental health group that we had to get approval from HR. It’s like the ergs, the employees resource groups. So we were able to set up our own affinity group and get all the EVPs and all the upper level management on board. We had outside resources that came in Dan Harris was one of them became a villain, because he works for write ABC or I forget, but he came in and he introduced his book 10% happier. Yeah, I think ESPN campus did become 10% happier from their mindfulness.

Achim Nowak  17:56

Nice. I’m glad you mentioned Dan, how is the band and there’s so much wonderful work around mindfulness and happier workplaces. And a lot of it is been scientifically researched. backup all of the stuff that you already referenced. You mentioned that you got it ESPN, you’re a seasoned professional, you’re 50 years old, this was the first quotation marks real job. What did you learn about yourself as a professional operating in a very different environment with different both, I would assume different level of resources, but also sometimes constraints. So what did you learn about a NIDA as you navigated your journey through ESPN?

Anita Barbero  18:38

That is such a good question, because I was really concerned that I would lose myself in corporate America that I would be so confined, and that I would just lose myself, which was the gift that I wanted to share. But the gift I came that I wanted to give was, could I be my compassionate and caring self? Like, is there a compassion in corporate America? And I didn’t want to lose that. And oh, my gosh, I mean, that was the biggest blessing for me that I didn’t lose that because mindfulness does cultivate compassion. Yeah. It’s self compassion first, and I was so afraid, would I be able to communicate that, and then when I lose that NAFTA, you know, exiting, when I exited after 10 years, I’ll have to say that the compassion was hugely a part of it, and I didn’t lose it at all, because there were so many leaders and everybody, I found they were very compassionate and open, and they just have great leadership there. I

Achim Nowak  19:41

have to chuckle as you tell the stories. I was in my late 40s That first time I work in a corporate environment, in my mind, and this is all the mental constructs we have those were the other people, the aliens, and I was wondering what the aliens would be like, I laugh now but Because, yeah, we’re all human beings with the same desires, the same wants and same needs. But we all do this when we make something the other, in this case, the corporate world, that’s usually more our crap than their reality. Right? For

Anita Barbero  20:15

sure. Absolutely. And I was thrilled when I figured that out and was just wonderful. That said, when I first did this, at ESPN, my thought, and what I told my husband was five years, that’s all I’m gonna do it five years, and then I ended up staying 10. Because I, it was so wonderful. And the learning experience was just so profound. And I loved every minute, the opportunities that I was given, you know, we did Monday Night Football, we just happen to pick them as a department, their remote operations that stands there behind the scenes, and what were they doing for wellness? So once we presented that to the department, they just said, yeah, we’d love to have wellness come on board. So I was able to go to the 19 football games, help with the remote crews in their trailers with their crazy schedules. We did movement, we did meditation, and that was just a wonderful opportunity.

Achim Nowak  21:14

So let me use this framework, when you might sense it’s just as I’m listening to you that ESN became a significantly larger playground than what you had before. Yes. So I’m really wondering, you left when you were at 60, around 60, you left this wonderful playground. And I’m wondering, were you thinking of, I’m going to retire or I have to do my own thing, or, gosh, I had my own business when I was in my 20s. Let me do another one. Like, what was your thinking and needed,

Anita Barbero  21:42

I never lost that feeling. And that notion that ESPN was really just a step in the road. For me, it was and I was my role was to give what I could give in that capacity of giving wellness. And when I left, I had the belief that I could and wanted to the real desire to pass the gift to the bigger world, two more campuses. While I was at ESPN two, I had the opportunity to create this program called everybody moves, where we created these one to two minute videos, with production with ESPN production and technology. And when we had everything there. And that’s the other thing, I utilized everything, whatever was there, I was like, I’m gonna check it out. And we did, we made these wonderful, mindful movement videos that the employees could opt in, so that they would be able to get up and move and be healthy and just be mindful of their well being in the workplace. And when I decided that I wanted to exit really, I felt that I wanted to give to the bigger world. There were more corporations out there that I could give that piece to a piece of well being and offer that. That’s why I ultimately left. Yeah,


I’m going to ask a question that in my mind doesn’t apply to you at all. But it references many conversations I’ve had with people who are stepping into their 60s, because that’s the threshold you just described, where we have an idea for a business we’re excited about. We’re highly skilled. But that can be the voice that says, When am I too old to start this business now? Or in fitness? You could go, Gosh, who am I is 60 year old woman being the spokesperson, don’t they want a 30 year old? You know, those kinds of things that are our own internalized age narratives? Right? Did you contemplate any of that?

Anita Barbero  23:44

Yeah, I did. And I think daily, what I really do, and this is what I teach to in my wellness practices in coaching is the self affirmations are just really important. You know, like, I can do this, I am smart enough. Now, I am not going to be silly and save for the next 20 years. I mean, I have a goal on this. But I really think that I can contribute in a bigger way. And I’m not letting my age 63 Stop me because I do you know, feel energetic and I am in great shape. And do you know what I mean? And I want people to look at you and say, Wow, I I want to be like that when I’m 63 and older. And I’m here to say yes, you can you know, then I have younger people that mentor me in a they want to be this way when they are in the corporate world or you know, everybody wants to be energetic and healthy and happy. And that’s what I want to spread.

Achim Nowak  24:45

I appreciate you mentioning the self affirmation. I’ve been into that for the last three, four decades. I do that myself and I know how, especially when I’m having a less than wonderful day, if I remember were to do that I energetically change immediately the power of those words that affirmed who we really are, we just forget in the moment and we’re reconnecting with it. Exactly. Now, I know you’re also, I believe, certify in the work of somebody who I greatly admire a Terra breath. Tara, but talk a little bit about maybe what you love about Tara’s work and how it infuses the work that you do. Big

Anita Barbero  25:33

time. Yeah, she’s definitely one of my mentors. When I was at ESPN, I had mentors that I could really reach out to, in the physical sense that are close to me. But with her her book, radical acceptance, that I love that book, you know, I was going through a period where I was taking care of both aging parents and had my corporate job and things like that. And so because she’s so gifted in mindfulness, and the way she puts it out to you, she’s a mindful psychotherapist, I really appreciate her work. And I did take the power of awareness course from her. And that’s one of the things I want to do when I kind of done putting things out into the world, I’d love to take her certification course, which is quite robust.

Achim Nowak  26:24

I just want to pick your brain around with some of the tactical aspects of launching your own business, especially if you come from place where lots of resources, and I know you reached out to us and people that knew you from ESPN, and they become customers of yours. But I have a sense that you also do some cold calling, you’ll have to reach out to people that don’t know you. That’s the kind of thing that can be terrifying. For anybody who starts a business, how do you handle that part of business that you didn’t have to do for the 10 years that you were at ESPN?

Anita Barbero  27:00

That’s where I think you really have to have the belief, real belief that you have something valuable, yeah, that you can pass on and really believe it. And you know, you took the plunge, I say, people, I took the plunge. So I have to do the work. And I’m not going to sit around and wait for resources to come of people are going to do the work, whatever it takes. And, and that’s what I do. I just reach out and I call I’m not afraid to call. Because you know, you listen to all these very successful people that have sold book it rejection is all a part of it, and you need rejection, if you can handle that, then you’re closer to the yeses. And that’s what I always keep in mind.

Achim Nowak  27:49

I believe that this is easy to say right now. But I believe that every rejection is a gift. Because whatever you believe in God higher power, something is protecting you from a place or an energy where you shouldn’t be. I know that sounds simplistic, but I truly believe that. Yeah, totally.

Anita Barbero  28:06

And you kind of have to get these beliefs so that you can continue to move on and do what you need to do. And just keep always keep your mission in mind and why you’re doing it like know your why right in there. How is a lot easier. That’s Simon Sinek. I asked him a lot.

Achim Nowak  28:24

Now you mentioned you’re 63. Do you look to the future? Do you think of other things that maybe you need to have done in your life, but you’ve always wanted to do are there any secret dreams or aspirations I’m wondering. So

Anita Barbero  28:41

I don’t know, you know, a secret dreams or aspirations. But I want to I love to travel. And I do want to see certain countries that I have in mind. Whether I do it with groups by myself with my family doesn’t matter. I really do want to travel. I love history theology, actually. So I want to maybe take a few courses in college courses. This would be when I retire and just continue learning. I love to learn as much as I love to teach. So I know I want to do that. I also have a nonprofit that I started way back about six years ago, and it’s called The Gift Corporation. And I love that and right now we’re doing it but I would probably get more involved in my own nonprofit to make it grow. Well, you

Achim Nowak  29:27

need to tell me about what the gift Corporation is. It’s a wonderful name. So please explain.

Anita Barbero  29:33

So the gift Corporation our mission is to to make someone’s life better, either an individual or a family so they can maintain or sustain their quality of life. It’s a community giving Corporation right now and we have done some great community giving. We have a wonderful board of women right now and we have fundraisers all you You’re long or you’re not. That’s our mission. Compassion, and love are at the core of and that’s what we do. We, you know, one of my favorite in this particular sense with the gift Corporation is Mother Teresa right do ordinary things with extraordinary love. And whenever we get together as a board, we say, okay, what can we do with love at its core? How

Achim Nowak  30:22

beautiful. Now because you are a fitness, wellness person, one aging, really the question I had was, you and I in our 60s were both very fit. But last year, our sublessee Now I had a double heart valve replacement surgery, I recovered well from it. But it again showed me how, how quickly things can change. I’m very aware of friends in my own life who, you know, suddenly have this body part replaced that body part, people recover. But suddenly I went, Wow. I can’t take it for granted. But it also brought out this fear of God, I hope I don’t fall apart too quickly. All of these things. What was the wisdom? If any, would you have somebody who, like you and me were very fit. But we realize that’s not for granted over a given forever?

Anita Barbero  31:18

No, it definitely isn’t. But I’ll have to say, I came that when we choose to keep ourselves fit and healthy, when these things do come up, the recovery process is a lot better, like I did have a knee replacement, I’m going in for a hip replacement actually. And because of all the running and things like that, and you know, people will sometimes say we’ll see, then we shouldn’t be so fit. No, everyone’s bodies respond differently. I’m grateful during all of this that I was so fit, because my upper body didn’t suffer my cardio didn’t suffer flexibility, because I knew ways to introduce exercises and wellness ways that supported the area that wasn’t doing well. You know what I mean? And so all of our, that’s what I teach people to, you know, get strong, get strong in your body get strong in your mind. So if something does happen, it’s one thing and you don’t have to fall apart. It’s so empowering to be healthy and to be fit body, mind and spirit. Right? If

Achim Nowak  32:30

you had a chance to now as a more mature teacher, if you had a chance to whisper some words of wisdom and to younger, Anita zere, who wanted to be a teacher? What would you say to her that she couldn’t have known now, but the and this is not to change the course of your life, but yours? What would you want her to know as a wiser version of your younger self?

Anita Barbero  32:53

Yeah, I would say Anita, don’t let anything, any one experience, or any one holds you back from doing anything that you want to do or from keeping you from thinking that you’re smart enough that you are enough, you can do anything at any time. That’s what I would say. Those

Achim Nowak  33:16

are beautiful words to end on. I just want to remind our listeners that your business is called renew your health where if people want to learn more about you and your work, where would you like to direct them to? Yeah, so

Anita Barbero  33:28

I have my website. I need a I’m on Instagram, renew your health and LinkedIn. I need a barbero. So I am out there died love to connect with anyone and always love the conversation around health and well being.

Achim Nowak  33:45

Thank you so much for the gift of your energy and the gift of this conversation. And we’ll continue with some other time.

Anita Barbero  33:53

Yes, we will. And thank you so much for the opportunity. I had a wonderful time conversing with you.

Achim Nowak  33:59

Thank you My pleasure. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the mindful of X podcast. If you liked what you have heard, please like us and leave a review on your preferred podcast platforms. And if you would like to engage more deeply in fourth act conversations, check out the mastermind page at Achim It’s what fourth actors like you engage in riveting conversation with other form factors. See you there. And bye for now.


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