Decrease stress — You would think this would go under emotion wellness. Think of the last time you were stressed out. It can cause physical symptoms. When cortisol gets released chronically over time, it can cause physical symptoms from fatigue to body pain. All the systems of the body work together. I will use my clients that have autism as an example. These individuals are under chronic stress for a variety of reasons. They tend to have postural changes from rounded shoulders and pelvis tucked so it looks like they are walking as if they were still sitting.
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 interviewing Cheryl Albright, OTR/L, C-IAYT.
Cheryl Albright is an occupational therapist and the owner of Soul To Soul Yoga, LLC/All Ages Therapy Services, DBA. She is a graduate of East Carolina University in 2003. Cheryl is very active in her community. She serves on the board of directors for Manasota Family Network on Disabilities, current OT South Bay Forum president, active participant in the Developmental Disability subcommittee in Sarasota County, and disability subcommittee for the Department of Health at the state level. She currently resides in Bradenton Florida with her husband. She has an older brother on the autism spectrum and continuously advocating not just for her brother but anyone with a disability for inclusion and acceptance in our community.
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 very small rural farm town in western NY with an older brother with Autism. At the time, his diagnosis fell under the mental retardation umbrella. There were not any other people in the town with significant disabilities. We were not able to go out for a meal or a movie. Finding baby sitters was always a challenge. You can’t just have anyone watch him. As he got older, he became aggressive. He would break windows and punch holes in dry wall. When I was 11 or 12, my mother left and my father had no choice to place him in a group home. Unless you were really close to me or my family, you would have thought I was an only child.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I was born into my brother’s world. When I went to college, I knew I wanted to do something in the therapy world- occupational, physical, or speech therapy. I also knew I did not want to be a teacher in the traditional sense. Occupational therapy had the greatest scope of practice so I knew I would never get bored and I could change the population I worked with. I knew I would end up working with people that have developmental disabilities. It comes so naturally after growing up with profound autism in the home. My brother taught me how to read nonverbal communication and how to read body language. As an adult, he does not use verbal language. You learn to sit with quiet and observe. One sided conversation is ok and just because someone is not talking does not mean they don’t have something to say.
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?
I had a few teachers in high school that knew if I got out of that small farm town, I would be ok. I wouldn’t say they provided much encouragement. I loved all my college professors and had the chance to run into them at national conferences. If I had to pick one, Sonia Sumar. She is the creator of Yoga For The Special Child. She has a way of helping you work on yourself when you don’t even realize that it is happening.
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?
I learned I always have control. I was on a contract travel position and a skilled nursing facility had unrealistic productivity requirements. I got so mad because they lied during their phone interview and they were trying to make me cover more than one facility. Then I realized, I am the only occupational therapist supervising assistants. They had no choice but to keep me or their whole department would collapse. I stuck to my ethics and told them to shove it.
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?
I don’t know that I have one book but I like to read books by authors that have autism. It helps gain insight into my brother and clients. For business, Profit First. It has definitely helped understand my numbers.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Stay out of the washing machine”- Sonia Sumar
If you are inside the washing machine (aka situations, life events, etc), you can’t control it. The controls to the washing machine are on the outside. Remain on the outside as an observer and use the controls you have.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am currently working on an NIH grant for researching yoga therapy for children with developmental disabilities. This will bring a few jobs to the community, improved relationships with community partners, and give children free services for a school year.
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. Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
I have a few. For my personal practice, I prefer japa or repetition of mantra. I have a personal mantra but when working with others, finding was resonates with them to repeat is very helpful. There are a lot of distractions in this world, especially now. It gives the mind something to focus on.
Another form of meditation is guided relaxation or yoga nidra. We have all got to learn how to turn the brain off.
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.
- Tell your back you are sorry — I share this one every time I am asked to lead a stretch at conferences. We all sit way too much and myself included. Get up and stretch your back. Place your hands in a fisted position on your back about where your kidneys are. Gently push your hips forward and say I’m sorry.
- Just move — We do have sedentary life styles. Just move that feels good to you. Some people like a hard work out and others don’t. Pick what works for you. When you do something that feels good for you, it helps release the happy chemicals in your brain like serotonin. I used to be a runner and then I collapsed the hip joint. Now I am just comfortable walking. No pain no gain can lead to a serious injury.
- Decrease stress — You would think this would go under emotion wellness. Think of the last time you were stressed out. It can cause physical symptoms. When cortisol gets released chronically over time, it can cause physical symptoms from fatigue to body pain. All the systems of the body work together. I will use my clients that have autism as an example. These individuals are under chronic stress for a variety of reasons. They tend to have postural changes from rounded shoulders and pelvis tucked so it looks like they are walking as if they were still sitting.
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?
I think the biggest problem is there is too much information. Plant based, keto, paleo, specialized eating systems, intermittent fasting, eating every 3 hours, and the list goes on. Everyone’s body is so different. I will use my husband and I as an example. I personally cannot digest meat. I could live on fruit and be fine. My husband on the other hand cannot digest legumes or most leafy vegetables. Listen to your body. If it does not make you feel good after you eat it, don’t eat it. Planning ahead for meals is probably the biggest key so you are not tempted to get take out or fast food. Sugar can give you a temporary boost but pay attention to the crash afterwards.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- “just keep chanting” — This is from one of my students. What happens when your favorite song comes on the radio? You immediately start singing and it changes your overall mood. Sing more even if it’s just in the shower or car. It stimulates the vagus nerve and works on your breath without realizing it.
- “If you want to work on your mind, you need to work on your breath”- Sonia Sumar — The next time you are really upset, see what your heart rate is. Most people are wearing a smart watch these days. You cannot be calm and have an elevated heart rate. When your mind is racing, your heart rate goes up. To bring the heart rate down, you can use deep breathing. I did this in a doctor’s office one day. I was having a case of white coat syndrome and my blood pressure had spiked. I told the doc to put down the script pad and watch. I did alternate nostril breathing for 1 minute and my blood pressure was back into normal limits.
- Meditation — There is a miss conception that you have to still your mind and there is a right and wrong to meditation. Meditation is the only thing that has been proven to increase grey matter. Grey matter is the part of the brain that controls higher level thinking skills. It helps decrease going into a flight/fight pattern.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
Doing or thinking of things that make you smile, put you in a better mood. Release the happy chemicals in your brain. I also think you need to identify the emotions that come up. Just smiling through difficult situations isn’t good either.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Spiritual wellness is different for everyone.
- Look for patterns — Are the same life lessons appearing before you? Are you noticing any patterns? I will give an example from my own personal life. I dated men who were not available. I had a friend tell me people come into your life for a reason, season, or lifetime. I was dating reasons and seasons so I did not have to worry about commitments. This came to my attention during a yoga class.
- Mindful moments — You don’t have to travel to faraway places although I do suggest to get out and travel whenever possible. Stay present even for a moment to notice something in your neighborhood- tree, animal, plants. I am fortunate to live in Florida and my favorite are the sand hill cranes. I could watch them all day. They are fun birds to observe.
- Explore on values — Not many sit down and really figure out what their values are. What guides you? Sometimes we just don’t know. Sometimes people use whatever organized religion to answer this question. I was giving a talk to a support group of adults with autism and I was talking about the golden rule- do onto to others as you do on to you. This gentleman states I don’t believe in this one. I asked him to keep going and explain. He further stated that some people are not good to themselves so they are not going to treat you well. I asked him to write a book.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
Being in nature has been researched and nature-based therapy for children and adults continues to be researched. There are different parts of the brain that are activated when out in nature. This is a great time for the mindful moments listed above.
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.
If I could inspire a movement, I would choose that all people of disabilities have the same rights as everyone else.
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 🙂
Most of the people I would love to conversation with are no longer with us. From RBG to Ghandi and even my own grandmother who worked intelligence in the pentagon during WW2.
What I would love to do, is have a business mastermind with all the sharks from Shark Tank. This would not be to pick their brains. More of a meeting of the minds. It would be interesting to have them all in one room, not on camera, and have true mastermind.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Facebook and IG: @soultosoulyogasrq
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.