Each morning, step outside and give thanks for life. Taking even just a moment to connect with the outside world will help us cultivate self-awareness and maybe even begin cultivating a relationship with a higher power. I have heard that saying “thank you” is the most powerful prayer. Practicing gratitude is a great way to remind ourselves that there is always a bright side or something to be grateful for. This can help us find inspiration even when times are tough.
As part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sophia Hartell, a Licensed Acupuncturist with a Master of Science in Acupuncture from the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and an Associate Degree in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling. With additional knowledge and training in yoga, Pilates, and Thai Body Work, she is an expert at using alternative therapies to complement traditional substance abuse treatment. During her career, she has worked with a variety of clients, including firefighters, to reclaim wellness and sobriety.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Having survived adolescence in inner-city Philadelphia, I envisioned growing up and helping people who suffered from drug and alcohol addiction. I went to school to become an alcohol and drug abuse counselor but found the work didn’t quite fit my personality. I always believed in a holistic approach to healing — integrating mind, body, and spirit — and wanted to be a hands-on healer. I’ve spent the 21 years since then exploring a wide variety of different healing modalities, from acupuncture to nutrition to movement practices and breathwork. I have found these practices so transformational in my own health and self-healing that I’ve incorporated them into my practice in the hopes of sharing them with others.
After becoming a drug abuse counselor, I discovered that acupuncture was being used in the treatment of alcoholism and addiction. From 1996 to 1999, I studied acupuncture at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in Manhattan. After graduating, I started working at a pain management clinic and again found that it wasn’t the right place for me. I felt acupuncture could provide so much more to our clients, but the pain management system seemed to lack empathy for those in need. I didn’t have enough time with my patients, and I knew that isolated treatments without accompanying lifestyle changes would be ineffective.
At this time, I was getting more in touch with my body through yoga and Pilates. It became clear to me that body awareness and core strength were critical to a happy and healthy life. By 2002, I was instructing both yoga and Pilates in conjunction with my acupuncture practice.
Today, I’m working as an acupuncturist at Mountainside treatment center, an institution dedicated to helping those who struggle with alcohol and drug abuse. When I’m not working, I’m continuing my education by honing my skills and awareness in the disciplines mentioned above.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
I’ve witnessed many miraculous transformations in the mind, body, and spirit of my clients, and it’s too difficult for me to choose a favorite. Each client’s healing journey is unique and requires my full attention, awareness, and compassion. An ongoing lesson for me is the acceptance of the effectiveness of acupuncture as a healing art and one that I continue to learn from every day.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started doing acupuncture, I had very little self-confidence. Because of my self-doubt, I was afraid of offering what I had to the world. I realize now that you don’t have to be the best to make a difference in people’s lives; you just need to put your whole heart into what you are doing. I understand now that all human beings make mistakes and that I can’t let my failings stop me from doing the best I can.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Earlier in my career, I qualified for VESID, a vocational training program offered in New York that provides funding for education. I’m very grateful to Dan O’ Shea from VESID for believing in me and supporting my dream of becoming an acupuncturist. I also give thanks to my good friend Joe Rockman, an acupuncturist; and my previous supervisor Marie Lanier, who both helped start the acupuncture program at Mountainside. Acupuncture is now an integral part of programming here. They made it possible for me to fulfill my sense of purpose, and I’m very grateful to them for that. Every day, I have the honor of working with so many amazing people and have the opportunity to use all I have learned to be of service to them.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Acupuncture has been effectively used for more than 2000 years in many parts of Asia and is one of the oldest recorded systems of medicine currently in use. Classical Five Element Acupuncture is an ancient system of healing that focuses on the whole person, addressing imbalances in the body, mind, and spirit. It is a complete system of healing, providing patients with a substantive and effective means of regaining balance on all levels. This practice helps us reclaim our birthright of health and vitality, making it possible for those in need of healing to reach their full potential. If each one of us achieved inner balance within ourselves, we would be closer to living in balance with nature and with each other.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
1. Each morning, step outside and give thanks for life. Taking even just a moment to connect with the outside world will help us cultivate self-awareness and maybe even begin cultivating a relationship with a higher power. I have heard that saying “thank you” is the most powerful prayer. Practicing gratitude is a great way to remind ourselves that there is always a bright side or something to be grateful for. This can help us find inspiration even when times are tough.
2. Believe in the power of your breath. I have seen Transformational Breathing lead to miracles, uplifting hearts, and minds. Created by Dr. Judith Kravitz, this self-healing method of breathing can bring more energy and joy into our lives. Transformational Breathing can be learned with the help of a facilitator at first, and then you can do it on your own once you learn how. It’s also an incredibly incisive and effective tool for accessing and processing trauma and negative emotions.
3. Find a movement practice that supports longevity and freedom of movement while developing muscle tone and strengthening the nervous system. In modern times, many of us have sedentary jobs, sit in cars driving for long periods of time, or spend endless hours sitting in front of computers, causing neck and back pain. Doing pushups and lifting heavy weights may not help us achieve better posture, but movement practices such as yoga, Pilates, Gyrotonic exercises, and Gyrokinesis can help support awareness, mobility, and command of our bodies. My body feels better than ever since I started incorporating these practices into my lifestyle. Finding a good teacher can make all the difference.
4. Eat consciously and find the food that nourishes you most. Proper nutrition is vital to feeling good. Each person has different needs, so there is no one diet that fits all. I find many foods cause inflammation, leading to pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression and even long-term autoimmune problems. We can all benefit from doing our own research into the benefits of what we put into our bodies. For me, eating an organic, locally grown, low-carb diet with humanely raised animal products feels best.
5. Get acupuncture to treat imbalances in the body. Acupuncture is rooted in the ancient Chinese belief that living things consist of a life force known as chi. Acupuncture examines the flow of chi through certain pathways throughout the body known as meridians. Because there could be multiple factors impacting or blocking the flow of chi, acupuncturists must first assess the individual’s overall health to fully understand the root cause of the disease or imbalance. As a result, treatment is highly personalized and used to target a wide range of complaints. Such issues may include musculoskeletal disorders, headaches, digestive disorders, women’s health issues, mental disturbances, chronic fatigue, immunodeficiency disorders, side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, recovery from surgery, respiratory problems, allergies and environmental sensitivities, and addiction to drugs and alcohol (in conjunction with other support).
Acupuncture can also be implemented to ease the stress or discomfort caused by certain major life transitions, such as puberty, menopause, relationship transitions, career changes, or the death of a loved one.Many people also choose acupuncture when they generally want to improve their quality of life. Unblocking inefficient patterns of energy can result in heightened creativity, more ease with intimacy, reduced cravings, increased energy, decreased rumination, and a broader, less restrictive perspective.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to live in a world where there is affordable health care for all and a health care system that focused on the prevention of disease. Health care is a human right. Acupuncture is one movement that can eliminate some of these barriers to treatment and help more people achieve wellness. Right now, acupuncturists in Africa are having great success in treating people with drug-resistant tuberculosis. Acupuncture can be administered in group settings, so it can be an accessible and affordable way for clients to receive one to two treatments or more in a week if needed.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Let the natural world be your teacher. Spending time in nature reminds us that everything — no matter how small — has a purpose. The beauty of nature can inspire new, creative thoughts as well. Changes in nature also help us remember that everything is fleeting, so we should take nothing for granted. By getting further in touch with nature, I am more in touch with myself. In spending time outdoors, I have become centered and receptive to the lessons the world teaches me.
- Enjoy the learning process. It is important to be open to new ideas and experiences throughout our lives because it helps us grow and keeps us curious. There is so much to learn, so keep open to learning new things as long as you live.
- Don’t judge. Judgment obscures the truth. Be open to other points of view, consider different perspectives, and listen actively, not reactively. This will encourage you to practice effective communication with those around you and deepen your relationships with others.
- Keep your heart open and trust your inner vision. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. If you approach everything with an open heart and mind, your actions will be rooted in love.
- Ask yourself questions and always dig deeper. When you find the answer, keep searching and challenging old ideas.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Environmental changes are important to us all, whether we realize it or not. As human beings, we are commissioned to be caretakers of the Earth. When our culture becomes more disconnected from the natural world, we are more likely to destroy it. When we cultivate our connection to the Earth, we, by our very nature, become protectors of the Earth. When there is no Earth, there is no life — a harsh and simple truth.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Readers can follow Mountainside on Facebook and stay tuned for updates involving the Wellness department!