Health Coach Stories is a series on the blog where coaches candidly share their personal experiences and struggles with leading a healthy lifestyle. For our final post of the series this year, we’re sharing Nikki’s tumultuous (and ultimately triumphant) journey towards mindfulness and truly letting go of negativity. We hope her story will inspire some thoughtful reflection on what really matters to you.
I grew up in Israel, a country torn by war, stress, and aggressive behavior. One of my earliest memories was from the day the Lebanon War started. I was waiting to watch my favorite cartoon, only to find it replaced by a news show where people yelled and argued with one another about the war and other political issues. At home, my parents had a similar communication style based around yelling and arguing. This was the environment I grew up in—yelling at home, yelling on the streets, and yelling on TV. And war.
The stressful atmosphere took its toll and I developed serious anger issues in my teens. When I left the house at 18, my eating and lifestyle habits also changed for the worse, which no doubt further affected my emotional stability. I went from the healthy Mediterranean diet I was raised on to one that involved lots of sugar, unhealthy fats, and processed foods, along with copious amounts of coffee and tobacco. This brought severe migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, skin problems, and emotional issues. Depression, anger, and unstable behavior became a norm in my life, quickly followed by substance abuse as a way to self-medicate my pain.
With all the stress I was accumulating over the years, it wasn’t surprising when I also developed serious back and neck pain issues. Though my diet and eating habits began changing for the better, my body was still wracked with physical problems and I ended up in my late 20s unable to work due to carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. In retrospect, this pain was a blessing in disguise, introduced into my life as a catalyst for the exploration of mindfulness.
I began taking lessons in the Alexander Technique, a mindfulness-based method to help ease muscle tension, and started seeing remarkable changes not just in my body but also my mindset. Through the use of a “body scan” technique, I was able to quickly resolve my physical pain, as well as many emotional tensions. It gave me tools to help observe my anger, lack of patience, and compassion for others. It helped me examine my thoughts and feelings rather than automatically react. For the next five years of my life I continued to practice this technique, focusing on moving and living mindfully.
On the eve of my 30th birthday, I was introduced to the idea that our thoughts have the power to affect not only our physical body, but also our environment and the events of our lives. This opened up a whole new understanding of self-responsibility and empowerment. I was no longer a victim of my own destiny, but in full control of what and who I brought into my life. I began changing the way I viewed myself, my reactions to experiences I had, and my aspirations of what I could achieve and who I could become. Once my mindset shifted, everything changed, from my professional to my personal life. Some of the ideas I was practicing included:
1. Planning my day consciously. In the mornings, I would go through my daily schedule and mental to-do list with the conscious belief that things would go smoothly and support my overall goals.
2. “Manifesting” a specific goal. I actively focused on a goal to get me excited about doing the work needed to achieve it. At the time, I had a dream job that I wanted and within 9 months, was asked to join the team I so longed to be a part of.
3. Being conscious of the way I interacted and responded to others. I realized that as a result of my cultural upbringing, most of my friends and acquaintances viewed me as an aggressive communicator. I started noticing my own body language, word choices, and physical gestures. I realized that relationships don’t just “happen” and I became fully in control of the people I wanted to bring into my life.
4. Routinely practicing healthy habits to be in my best condition. Through experimentation with food and various ways of moving my body, I found the best ways to obtain the most energy, vitality, and clarity of mind. I realized it was up to me to maintain those habits if I wanted to be at my best and achieve my goals.
As I entered my 30’s, my exploration into mindfulness continued to expand with the introduction of meditation into my life. Using the ancient meditation technique of Vipassana (which roughly translates to “seeing things the way they are”), I learned to deepen my awareness of my feelings, my attachments, and my reactions. I was able to examine and come to terms with my sadness, anger, and feelings of unworthiness. The core idea of Vipassana is that nothing is permanent. Whether we take things personally, develop anger, become resentful, or let things go, all shall pass. In developing an attitude of non-reactiveness and non-attachment, I no longer cling to situations which previously would have aggravated me for far too long.
These days, I continue to practice a healthy diet that’s free of processed and refined foods. I enjoy an active lifestyle with a variety of activities to keep me moving. I pursue my goals with gusto and work hard to maintain my awareness of how my thoughts and behavior affect myself and others. But though all these practices are an important part of how I manage stress, mindfulness is my true saving grace. It gives me the space to look at the events in my life with an attitude of detachment and willingness to accept change. And that to me, is priceless.
Though I have more than a decade’s worth of exploration into mindfulness, I realized that a daily practice is the key in working towards the progress I want to see in myself, both mentally and physically. I truly believe that finding ways to help deepen feelings of love, gratitude, and self-awareness will not only help us come out stronger, happier, and more resilient on the other side, but also improve our relationships, our health, and ultimately, our satisfaction with life.