National Women’s Health Week (NWHW) is a reminder for women and girls, especially during the outbreak of COVID-19, to make their health a priority and take care of themselves.
In the tri-state area we are blessed with women practitioners who dedicate their professional lives to helping women–and everyone–dig deeper into their bodies, think more spaciously, adopt healthier habits, eat more nutritiously, and love themselves more deeply.
What follows is the advice from Masha Loucks, Tracy Hayhurst, Sara Cousins, Leslie Eckstein, Sarah Getz, and Sandrine Harris. These amazing women help others be healthy, especially during COVID-19, from the perspective of their health practice.
Owner, Masha’s Fitness Studio, Millerton, NY
As women today, we are so much more active, informed, and focused on our health and fitness than we were several decades ago. As we grow older most of us experience some aches and pains when we get up in the morning, after working in the garden or carrying something heavy. Why is that?
Most chronic pain is a result of an imbalance in our bodies. Think about the habits we almost all assume: carrying shoulder bags on only one shoulder; standing with weight on the same leg; wearing the same shoes day after day; crossing the same leg over the other; carrying children, groceries, etc., on the same hip over and over. These habits add up.
We can train our bodies to adapt by building strength progressively from the inside out, utilizing all muscles (large and small), and gradually adding more and more challenges through different patterns of movement, coordination, and breath. We are not trying to trick our bodies but rather to direct them with the practice of intelligent movements.
Masha Loucks, Pilates professional
Masha’s Fitness Studio
Chef and Manager, Husky Meadows Farm, Norfolk, CT
As a farmer, chef, and single mother I’m pretty busy like many other women. The most basic element of health for me and one of the hardest things to make time for is self-care. Even if I take 15 minutes for some quiet time alone and slow down and reconnect to myself that’s a huge win. It’s also really important for me to not take myself too seriously and let go of some self-imposed expectations.
While I love to cook creatively I find it totally liberating to “take the night off” and eat simply. One of my go-to self-care meals is simply an egg sandwich…. on homemade sourdough with some avocado and kimchi.
I think more than following any particular dietary guidelines I think one of the best things we can choose for our health is to eat local, seasonal, and organic food. Local food by default is seasonal and you know it’s going to be so much fresher than anything in the grocery store. The fresher the more delicious and nutritious. Whether you chose to shop at a farm stand, farmers market, or CSA for your fruit and vegetables you’re not only acting in the best interest of your health but also supporting local business!
Husky Meadows Farm
Sara Cousins, LCSW
Clinical Social Worker and Therapist, Lakeville, CT
During the COVID-19 pandemic and isolation, I have heard the statement “I’m not stuck at home, I’m safe at home.” For many women, this is a healthy and positive reframing of a challenging experience.
But for some women, this isn’t true. How do we admit this to ourselves? How do we keep our eyes and ears open to the people we care about who are not safe because of violence, depression, hunger, or other forces? We want to help others and ourselves, but we can’t solve all problems. Reach out, ask for help, be realistic about what you can, and can’t change. We are so isolated, yet we are all in this together.
Sara Cousins, LCSW
Owner, Studio Lakeville, Lakeville, CT
I believe strongly that women must find something they are very passionate about and go after it. One of my favorite phrases, “Find what you love and let it kill you” sounds dark I know, but I see it as finding something that I feel so strongly and passionate about that I can sleep every night knowing that I am doing what drives and satisfies my mind, heart, and soul.
I have found that in these trying times of reinventing my business to stay afloat I have had to take time to plan and get creative. I feel like I have almost been reborn and something has awakened in me that may have become lazy or dormant. I realized the fitness field could still be tapped into even with the overwhelming content available online.
I am putting my passion into it every day to rise above and make it my own unique, quirky style. I hope that others will see my dedication and love for what I do so that I can be a healthy influence on them.
I say to all the women out there – young and old – allow yourself time to think about what you love and start doing something for yourself every day that drives your passion. No regrets, no apologies. Life is unpredictable and as we have seen recently, there are no second chances, so get out there and live your best life.
Owner and Operator of Studio Lakeville and The Green Cafe
Licensed Personal Trainer
Director, Yoga at Space, Lakeville, CT
Ask yourself: is your self-care strategy (for example, your choice of exercise) recreating the all-too-familiar rushed, impatient, dissatisfied states of daily life through frenetic action and shallow breathing? If so, yoga can help. Yoga invites us to become aware of not just what we’re doing, but how we’re doing it.
Two unique features of yoga – in addition to asana (postures), which create a balance of strength and flexibility – are mindful breathing and mindful resting.
Deep, full breathing is a cornerstone of yoga, whether the practice is gentle or more athletic. Stress, anxiety, and life’s challenges result in shallow, erratic breathing – keeping the nervous system in a flight-or-flight state of hypervigilance, and possibly setting the stage for poor health. Deliberate, rhythmical breathing calms and stabilizes the nervous system, and quiets the mind. Plus, it feels good! As we learn basic yoga anatomy (fun fact: did you know that more than 60% of your lung tissue is housed in the back of your body?) we can mindfully undo unhelpful postural habits, and free our breathing centers.
Conscious rest is unique to yoga: learning to slow down and relax with awareness. States of quiet, observant ‘non-doing’ are both incredibly healing as well as stimulating for creativity, proper immune function, and our overall vitality. Yet deliberate rest is a radical – and terrifying – concept for many people. Our culture, with its emphasis on action and achievement, doesn’t value rest. With practice, conscious rest offers incredible comfort. And in this crazy world, we need all the comfort we can get!
Yoga at Space
A Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP)
Feldenkrais Practitioner (GCFP)
Two aspects of our shared experience in this intense and challenging time are arising through conversations and collaborations in mindful paths of movement, meditation, and healing trauma (my primary areas of work) with women in diverse communities.
The first aspect is about figuring out, navigating, and (re-)establishing personal boundaries. This mindful awareness and inner listening are critical for women’s mental and emotional health right now. With sheltering in place and in possibly intense and novel dynamics of aloneness or 24/7 company with others, we need to actively engage with and seek support around how we structure our time. How do we safeguard our internal resources for self-care, self-tending in moments of difficulty? How do we restructure our day to have the time and space to notice our needs for boundaries–emotionally and physically, while staying in connection with and often care-taking others?
We’re in a deeply intense time and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or spiral into catastrophic thinking. These thoughts are integral to what’s happening in our world right now. Asking the question, “How do I need to feel into life right now, even when things are constantly changing and we don’t know exactly what’s ahead?” is a place to start. Often clients are coming to see me with concerns over why they are [anxious/frustrated/depressed, etc]. All of the ways we, as women, are experiencing this time, are entirely natural. So, we begin with the awareness of what we’re experiencing, as a primary resource, and then we bring in a lot of compassion as we tend to what’s coming up for us, both individually and collectively. There are skills and systems of support to care for ourselves in radical ways.
The second focus of my interactions with folks is around movement. In March 2020, I started sheltering in place and began a new daily practice for myself which I share glimpses of on Instagram, called “Movement Snacks.” These daily videos inspire and encourage me to keep moving and deepen my embodied presence with things as they are. And I am reminded to appreciate pleasure in the everyday of right now. I also hope these videos offer some playful reminders for others to keep exploring movement. Moving for pleasure is therapeutic. The kind of movement I’ve been exploring is not about fitness or exercise, but about vitality! And sensing into vitality and pleasure more deeply is important for lifting our spirits, generating more physical energy, and remaining hopeful.
I hope that we as a community of women, continue to sense and set boundaries, stay connected in support with each other, and take time to move our bodies into greater vitality and resilience!
Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP)
Feldenkrais Practitioner (GCFP)
For more information about National Women’s Health Week visit https://www.womenshealth.gov/nwhw