Surrender: Letting go. I’ve been hit by this life lesson so many times in my life that I’m finally aware that it is indeed one of my life lessons. Especially after illnesses, a car accident resulting in a TBI and neck injury and losing my father and sister within months of each other. I have a deep faith in something bigger than myself guiding us all, I always have, and I’m striving to practice this more.
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewingChristine Beal Dunst.
Christine Beal Dunst received her undergraduate degree in Health Care Policy with minors in Business and Labor Relations from Penn State University and masters degree in Health Policy and Management from New York University. She worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Accenture as a Healthcare Strategy Manager, Manager of Market Strategy at Kaiser Permanente, an Integrated Delivery System, Marketing and Communications Director at a Healthcare Non-Profit and a Market Strategy Director at Pfizer before going back to nutrition school at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and receiving an AADP Certification as a Holistic Health Coach.
She is Co-founder and CEO of EMBODY Wellness Company, a full service health and wellness concierge that works with corporations and individual clients to accomplish wellness goals in a holistic way. In addition to her formal education, Christine has completed several advanced trainings on whole food detoxing, hormone and gut health, mindfulness, Ayurvedic cooking, yoga and stress-reduction. She has been a yogi and meditation practitioner for 20 years, certified as a Pilates Mat Instructor and specializes in whole food detoxing, intuitive eating and behavior change. When not helping others EMBODY Wellness, Christine can be found in her kitchen with her kids, spending quality time with her family and friends, doing yoga, reading everything wellness, exploring the farmers’ markets and practicing self-care. Her passion for wellness is evident in her lifestyle and how she EMBODIES wellness daily and holds space for her clients to do the same.
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?
I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. I have 4 siblings and I’m the youngest girl in the family (4 girls and 1 boy). My father was English and my mother Silcilian, so large family meals and food were always the focus. My dad and grandfather were both avid gardeners and farmers and my love for gardening and the land came from them. I have wonderful memories of visiting my grandfather’s farm in Michigan growing up. It was essentially a community vegetable farm where people would use the honor system to pick up produce, etc. I thought it was magical and adored spending hours running around and being immersed by it all.
I was a daredevil type of kid that was always outdoors and playing in the woods. I loved bike riding, swimming, gymnastics, ballet, dancing and running the hurdles. Even when I was a child, nature was my safespace, refuge, calming and inspiring place. I didn’t visit the ocean till highschool, but when I did I fell in love with the water. I also had an ethereal side and always pondered the bigger questions of life and daydreamed often when I was young.
Growing up we watched my parents work very hard to support us. My mother was a nurse and my father a business entrepreneur. They instilled many values, but hard work, determination and living your faith come to mind.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
In my early twenties, while living in NYC I had an unhealthy relationship with food and used it as a way to feel in control, instead of a form of nourishment and joy. I worked with a therapist and subsequently found yoga and meditation. These practices fundamentally shifted how I treated and viewed myself. It helped me repair my relationship with food and my relationship with myself.
Fast forward to my mid twenties and thirties, I was still living in NYC, working 70 hour work weeks and climbing the corporate ladder. I now had a healthy relationship with food, but didn’t understand which foods were healthy for my body. I lived on processed veggie burgers, diet coke, cheese, restaurant meals and take-out. The stress of work, lack of healthy meals and an active social life left me diagnosed with several stress-related illnesses like Bell’s Palsy and Adrenal Fatigue. My cortisol was also always high. I didn’t feel great, but kept on moving forward and trying things here and there that were “healthy.” When I hit 33, I tried to get pregnant and had two miscarriages that shook me to the core. I knew I needed to fundamentally change my lifestyle, manage my stress and diet, and look deep inside.
Also during the last 20 years I watched my sister go through a horrible battle with an eating disorder that she did not win. This also motivated me to love myself more, while helping her and vowing to serve others. Experiencing the devastation of an eating disorder and what it does to a family and individual is something I wish no one had to go through. It’s one reason why I made the dramatic career change from working at a large pharmaceutical company to helping others EMBODY Wellness. I’ve always wanted to be of service in a large-scale, transformative way.
All of these moments and some soul-searching led me to heal my body and learn all I could to help others transform their lives. I sought career support from my yoga teacher and life coach at the time to gain the courage, vision and clarity on how I could potentially serve at my highest capacity. I then surrendered and let the universe take over.
I enrolled in nutrition school after the birth of my daughter, Grace, and the rest is history. I didn’t have intentions of becoming a health coach but I knew in my soul that I was meant to work on the prevention side of healthcare, help people and businesses transform and blend that with my skills and formal education in business. Serving others is what makes me feel alive! I also adore business, strategy, marketing and planning.
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 father. He was always engaging and supportive of my dreams.
During college I had the opportunity to live with my aunt in NYC and do an internship. Being from such a small town and going to the “big city” was a leap of faith! I remember my mother being so nervous about my living alone in NYC and for my safety. I still remember the smile on my father’s face as we were trying to convince my mom to let me go. Almost like, “don’t worry. I’ll make this happen for you.” He had a spark, a light, a passion and child-like joy for life and was so very proud of all my educational and work accomplishments. He wanted me to see the world and do “good”. He also was proud of the mother I became and cherished my kids. I am thankful he was able to form a bond with each of them.
He passed away 2 years ago from a rare cancer and I’m realizing his impact on me even more now. It’s profound, visceral and everlasting. I miss the little things so much, like his daily calls. I try to keep his memory alive daily by the work I do, how I live and by raising my kids with faith and love.
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?
While working at Accenture my first client was a large Health Plan and the project was a highly visible strategy engagement with their C-suite. I was working very long hours and living remotely at the client site so I wasn’t taking as good of care of myself as I typically would. All my colleagues left work at 8 p.m. one night and I just kept pushing myself and stayed longer to prove my value on the project. I must have been beyond exhausted and as I was getting in my car late one night to drive back to the hotel I put my laptop and files of important papers on the hood of the car. I shut the door and drove off with my laptop and files still on it! Everything flew off and I damaged the computer.
The lesson here wasn’t about putting my laptop bag on the car hood, rather it was about the value of SELFCARE and pausing and taking breaks when working. My whole life I’ve had to work on the concept of pushing and working hard vs. surrendering, allowing and realizing that there is power in softening. It doesn’t come naturally for me, which is a strength and opportunity that I’m always working on.
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?
It’s hard to choose one, so here are two:
“Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing” by Caroline Myss. This book moved me to understand the power in healing our bodies and that we are more than the physical. It also taught the seven energy fields of the human body. Her work shows how every illness corresponds to a pattern of emotional and psychological stresses, beliefs, and attitudes that can influence corresponding areas of the human body. It resonated deeply since I’ve had several illnesses and injuries throughout the years and offered insight into potentially some patterns. I re-read the book 4 years ago post a Traumatic Brain Injury from a car accident and got new insights.
“Becoming Supernatural: How Common People Are Doing the Uncommon” by Dr. Joe Dispenza. I’ve been doing his meditations for 2 years now and they have shifted me. He has several books, but this was insightful and resonated with me. To intentionally change our brain chemistry to initiate a deeper truth, balance, resonance and even the power to heal.
My favorite classic novel is “The Great Gatsby”. I have read it several times and it always sweeps me away.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“I am worthy of my own kindness.” Working with so many clients to love themselves more deeply and mend the wounds they have around their body and self, this quote resonates deeply. We are all WORTHY of so much but it needs to start with our own kindness. Many of us consciously or subconsciously speak negatively to ourselves which produces energy. It’s a beautiful thing when you see someone regain their worth. That alone can change the world one person at a time.
“We’re all just walking each other home” by Ram Dass. I believe that everyone that comes along our path we can grow and learn from in some way. Even the difficult relationships and events in our lives that brought us to our knees. It touches me deeply how much purpose each of us have to support each other to our highest self. Teamwork, support and collaboration makes this world go around beautifully.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
EMBODY Wellness Company is a full service health and wellness concierge with the aim of getting to the root causes of your health concerns and creating bespoke, actionable programs yielding sustainable results. Being the CEO and Co-founder, we are always strategizing new and exciting ways to support the world at a greater capacity.
We specialize in 1:1 Health Coaching and Corporate Wellness with a focus on holistic weight loss, intuitive eating, detoxing, gut health, optimizing your sleep, meal-planning, selfcare, stress reduction and mindfulness, energy and performance, fertility, pre and post natal wellbeing, hormone balance and toxin reduction.
We serve our clients in three ways: Individual Holistic Health Coaching, Corporate Wellness Programs and Business Consulting. We’ve partnered with companies such as Google, Meredith Corporation, Morgan Stanley, Hedge Funds, PageGroup, The College Board and others. Our consulting clients include Resorts, Restaurants, Entrepreneurs and small to large corporations.
In 2020 with the global pandemic we served many of our 1:1 and Corporate clients virtually. Companies now more than never need the mental health, self-care, nutrition, immunity boosting and customized 1:1 support. We were honored to touch many virtually and partner with them to take care of themselves more deeply. Our 1:1 clients have also seen sustainable growth and results — more awareness about themselves, more confidence and self-love, a deeper sense of how to care for their mind, body and soul, reaching and exceeding their weight and health goals, busting self-limiting beliefs, loving that one body they were given, more energy, vitality, strength and beyond!
We’ve also had the privilege of watching our clients with eating disorders make soul commitments to choose a path of love for their bodies and self and to trust their worth and not the numbers on the scale. You can’t put a price on taking your life back. Given my backstory, this matters on a soul level to me.
It’s more than a “job” to us at EMBODY.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss 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.
1.) Connect to yourself daily and take care of you: I think of selfcare simply as any activity or way of thinking or being that brings me back to my highest self and makes us feel full. We are all unique and how we experience selfcare will be different, and it should be different! As I say to my clients every day, you are up to you and selfcare isn’t a nice thing to do when you have time or something selfish, actually it’s quite the opposite.
Practicing selfcare ensures that you are being cared for by you, which enables you to be the best version of yourself. As the airline instruction goes, “If you’re traveling with a child, please put on your own oxygen mask first.” Every time you take care of yourself, you’re actually better able to take care of everyone else. It’s the ripple effect.
Examples of what selfcare could look like includes: spending time with loved ones, laughing with a friend, eating a nourishing meal, listening to uplifting music, deep breathing, yoga, meditation, sleeping, resting, taking a bath, walking in nature, movement, doing something creative, not looking at your phone the second you wake up, creating boundaries or even speaking in a more kind and loving way to yourself and the list goes on and on.
2.) Gratitude: Practicing gratitude can help us become more mindful, optimistic and less stressed with the ultimate goal of gratitude becoming part of our very being and how we show up in this world each and every day.
Studies have also shown that grateful people not only feel better and have stronger immune systems, but also they take better care of themselves by exercising more, eating better and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors. This creates a ripple effect to their families, communities and beyond.
There are many ways to practice gratitude and you may practice it in your own way daily. I love gratitude journaling without many rules other than to follow your gut and your heart, gratitude meditations, giving thanks before meals and just thanking others for what they do for us.
3.) Cultivating greater kindness in your thoughts and action towards yourself: Positive thinking often starts with self-talk. Self-talk is the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head. We all have them. These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative. Some self-talk comes from logic and reason. Other self-talk may arise from misconceptions that you create about yourself. Positive thinking and self-talk are correlated to optimism and improved health according to research. Some of the health benefits may include:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Enhanced ability to cope during stressful times
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical wellbeing
- Improved cardiovascular health
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
Favorite yoga disciplines and teachers:
- Elena Brower
- Power Yoga
- Yoga Nidra: Rod Styker or Elena Brower
- Yoga App: Glo.com
- Elena Brower
- Gabrielle Bernstein’s Gratitude Meditation
- Dr. Joe Dispenza meditations
- Deep belly breathing taught by many of my teachers, including the 5:5:5 or 5:5:7 breath to get you into a parasympathetic healing state
- “The Tapping Solution” app
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.
- De-stressing your nervous system daily: Examples include: yoga, walking in nature, deep belly breathing, gratitude, etc.
- Movement daily: Any type of movement per day matters. Even if it’s a 10 minute walk. Physiologically, movement releases endorphins which can elevate your mood. Also, the act of sweating is detoxing! Another reason to move. For me, it simply makes me feel alive.
- Eating nutrient dense whole foods and drinking half your bodyweight in ounces of water daily: Food and mood are absolutely correlated. So is the gut/brain connection. Eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables, fiber, lean protein, healthy fats and complex carbs matter while crowding out the processed foods and sugar. Getting the base amount of water daily is critical for your health and detoxing. Water helps with hydration and digestive function while preventing fatigue and moodiness. It can also help prevent constipation, low energy and sugar cravings.
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?
You are what you eat and it shows in your skin, but more importantly in the energy you give out. I cultivate and trust my intuition so my body tells me what I need to FEEL GOOD.
I eat real, whole food and I limit processed junk, sugar and gluten. I also believe in eating organic and local and limiting exposure to toxins. Trust me, I wasn’t always like this and I’m not perfect. It took time and sickness to help me wake up.
My happy place is the Westport Farmers’ Market and other local farms. Greens and colorful veggies are my loves. I’ve been plantbased for 20+ years, but now eat wild caught fish and grass-fed organic meat on occasion. I eat an abundance of alkaline rich greens and veggies at every meal.
Vegetables are liver cleansing foods. The more toxic your liver is (from pesticides, heavy metals, plastics, processed foods, etc.), the more likely you are to develop skin problems and other conditions. Many people’s livers are burdened with toxins and cleaning out the toxins will help your skin glow (among many other life-saving benefits).
I never forget my gut! 80% of immunity resides in your gut, it truly is our second brain. I incorporate gut healing foods often like fermented vegetables, fiber, celery juice (yes!), bone broth, collagen, prebiotics like garlic and onions as well digestive enzymes and probiotic supplements.
I also load up on antioxidants, anti-inflammatory foods like ginger and turmeric and healthy fats.
I drink half my body weight in ounces of water and start my morning everyday with hot water and alkalizing lemon. Hydration in both liquid and food form (e.g., chia seeds, cucumbers, etc.) is critical for the skin and overall vitality.
I can’t forget adaptogens. They have been a life-saver for me. Adaptogens are a group of herbal ingredients that adapt their function to your body’s needs, helping regulate your adrenal system. They help combat stress, beat fatigue, increase energy and beyond. Stress wreaks havoc on the body and adaptogens help keep me balanced. I add them to my matcha, tea or smoothies daily.
“How You Eat Is How You Live”, from Geneen Roth, is a concept and way of being that deeply resonated with me throughout the years. It’s so important HOW you eat. I’ve been a yogi/meditator for 20 years and try to practice mindful eating daily. SLOWING down and actually chewing food. It matters! It improves digestion and helps you absorb your nutrients more effectively. I’m really trying to curb my habit of eating while standing up. Never perfect, always growing.
Also, I’ve been intermittent fasting from after dinner till about 10 or 11 the next day and feel so much lighter and more conscious. I listen to my body though, if I’m hungry before 10 then I will eat.
I do have “cheat” meals but don’t really call them that. I don’t believe in deprivation or perfection — that’s boring! If I want something, I’ll have it. However, it’s remarkable how much my tastes and cravings have changed over the years. I’m always grateful for the journey.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Create rituals daily that destress your nervous system: examples include: warm lemon water, deep belly breathing and saying an affirmation every morning before starting the day, gratitude journaling daily at a set time, etc. I purposely am using the word “ritual” vs routine to show a greater reverenceand significance around your practice. According to the dictionary, a ritual is an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner — a ceremonial act or action. Small habits, like gifting yourself the time for selfcare rituals, done with consistency can reap a profound impact on your life.
- Form meaningful relationships: We all need connection, love and support. Seek those that uplift you and cultivate those relationships. Make time for the people in your life who elevate you!
- Set boundaries: Examples include setting boundaries with friends, family, news, social media usage, work and beyond. It’s a form of selfcare.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” — Thich Nhat Hanh. There is a chemical release in your brain when you laugh that makes you feel better! Smiling triggers the release of mood-elevating neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Smiling also activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting stress and produces endorphins which act as a natural pain reliever. When we work with clients on self-care, often we ask what makes them laugh and therefore to do more of those activities.
In this current climate with the global pandemic, political unrest and beyond the need to smile and laugh is paramount. When my husband and I relax at night we always find ourselves putting on a smart witted comedian so we can escape with laughter and feel happier.
Often times in difficult yoga practices or meditations where my mind is wanting to quit, I always remember my master teachers saying to put a smile on our face and it always helps me endure the asana or meditation longer.
“The body doesn’t know the difference between an experience and a thought, you can literally change your biology, neuro-circuitry, chemistry, hormones and genes, simply by having an inner experience.”
— Dr. Joe Dispenza.
I often think of this quote as it relates to smiling to improve emotional wellness because when you smile thoughts are shifting to a more positive direction too and can change your mood and physical body rapidly.
Smiling is also contagious and it’s proven in research! Go ahead, make someone’s day, and your own, by smiling.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Gratitude Practice: Research shows that gratitude journaling is linked to increased optimism, which is correlated with better immunity and less illness. Also, the act of writing uses different brain circuitry than typing, and retrains your mind to create healthier thoughts. Gratitude journaling has also been shown to improve sleep and decrease insomnia because it leaves you with a less stressed mind among other benefits. Many of our clients implement gratitude journaling alongside other lifestyle and nutrition enhancements for overall wellbeing. There are NO rules here — no rights or wrongs! Let your heart guide you, not your mind and write down whatever you are grateful for. If you capture one or several things you are grateful for today, that is progress.
- Meditation: It has shifted my life. I started practicing yoga and meditation 20+ years ago and my practice has ebbed and flowed through the years but I don’t need to read the research on the positive benefits of it to my soul, brain, nervous system and entire being — I’ve experienced it. That is why it’s part of my daily rituals. If I miss it, my soul feels it. I’m not perfect by any means, but whether it’s 1–2 minutes or 30 minutes, it’s part of what I know I need.
- Surrender: Letting go. I’ve been hit by this life lesson so many times in my life that I’m finally aware that it is indeed one of my life lessons. Especially after illnesses, a car accident resulting in a TBI and neck injury and losing my father and sister within months of each other. I have a deep faith in something bigger than myself guiding us all, I always have, and I’m striving to practice this more.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
“Adapt the pace of nature, her secret is patience” Ralph Waldo Emmerson
Nature heals and connects us to something greater than ourselves. It is oneness with the interconnectivity of the planet and life itself. Studies have shown that it optimizes our nervous system functions, can lower our stress hormone, cortisol, create mental clarity, build mental focus and beyond. For my nervous system, walking and being in nature is paramount to my soul being fulfilled. I need the quiet and spiritual connection as well.
When I experienced a TBI and neck injury from a car accident years ago, one of the rehabilitation techniques I was given was to walk in nature daily and take in the entire sensory experience. Being mindful of what I saw, heard, smelled and felt. Nature cultivates space to truly feel gratitude for it’s beauty and for our life.
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.
To love yourself completely. THAT would be a powerful movement. More people would have worth if they truly believed in their gifts and they used their self awareness and love to serve the world to their highest capacity. Also, we would all raise a generation that shows that loving yourself is key to loving others.
Of course ending world and childhood hunger, violence and neglect of our environment would have a paramount impact on this world too.
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 🙂
My father or my sister who are no longer here. What I would give to have them in physical form again.
Elena Brower, my yoga and meditation teacher because she inspires me daily and I respect her light and the service she brings to this world.
Dalai Lama, because he is an inspiring leader and peacemaker that I would be humbled to meet.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
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Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.