Melaney Wolf: “Food is our fuel”

What we put into our bodies is an enormously important part of our health. Food is our fuel, it’s our energy source that gives us the momentum to make it through our day. If we’re feeding our bodies with processed, unhealthy, manufactured “fake food” we are not giving ourselves what our bodies actually need to […]

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What we put into our bodies is an enormously important part of our health. Food is our fuel, it’s our energy source that gives us the momentum to make it through our day. If we’re feeding our bodies with processed, unhealthy, manufactured “fake food” we are not giving ourselves what our bodies actually need to thrive. Not only can unhealthy eating contribute to obesity, fatigue, and lack of concentration, but it can cause serious health problems that destroy our quality of life. It’s really hard to change eating habits because 1. It’s a habit and those are hard to break, 2. Our bodies become addicted to these foods, especially sugar, adding another layer to how hard it is to change.

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 Melaney Wolf.

Melaney Wolf is a Yoga teacher, Master Mindfulness Practitioner, Certified Meditation Teacher, and Reiki practitioner in NYC. As a teacher and owner of Integrated Yoga Healing, Melaney provides clients with a process for inner healing from emotional abuse, C-PTSD, depression, stress, anxiety, as well as self reflection and awareness, a healthy body, and the ability to enhance their lives using yoga, breathwork, meditation, mindfulness, journaling, and elements of cognitive behavioral therapy.

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?

Originally from Binghamton, NY, then Dayton, OH through high school, I had a tight-knit family with both parents and one brother, a *seemingly ideal childhood and adolescence, and I was a ballerina until the age of 23. I moved to Seattle on a whim a couple years later and my adult life truly began from there. I became a photographer, just like my dad, for 10 years before deciding to take the path I’m on now.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

What inspired my career was the need to deal with severe depression, anxiety, insomnia, and constant high stress in the aftermath of two emotionally abusive relationships. Having no insurance and unable to afford a therapist, I turned to yoga (a long-standing, on & off practice for me) and tried guided meditation to help me sleep. After those two practices alone began to have a tremendous effect on my state of mind and my nervous system responses, I decided to pursue my yoga teacher training. I found my exact path and the basis of my business through teaching experience, continued trainings and education, and deep inner work with myself to heal the root causes of my issues. What I’m doing to help others is a direct result of the work I did with myself that was truly life-changing, healind, and transformational.

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 career mentors have each been fleeting; there for a while, then not. I did learn exactly what I needed to from them at the times they were in my life and I’m very grateful for that, but my biggest help and encouragement has definitely been my mother. She has been 100% supportive of my growth, my learning, and my ideas. She’s also been very open to conversations about the things I realized during my own healing work, meaning the things she did as a mother that had a profound (negative) effect on the adult person I became. Being able to talk to her about that has been incredibly therapeutic.

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 honestly can’t think of anything I’d call a mistake, as I think everything happens to teach us something or point us in the right direction. Something that was kind of funny was getting to a yoga class and realizing I didn’t put a change of clothes in my bag. I taught the class in my jeans and used it as a lesson for everyone that you can do a yoga class in anything, as yoga is not all about yoga poses.

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?

‘Zen And The Art Of Happiness’ by Chris Prentiss is the first book I read that really made an impact on me. It talks about shifting our mindset from “victim” or “self-pity”, or wallowing in our crappy circumstances which I was a master of, and recognizing that even the seemingly bad stuff pushes us to grow, to learn, and to move forward in a bigger way than we were without them.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

From ‘Zen And The Art Of Happiness’ also came the first quote that really stuck with me. As the basis of the book, the quote is “Everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that can happen to me.” This resonated because it’s true. Everything, no matter how awful, has turned out to be the best thing that could happen to me. I wouldn’t be who and where I am right now without every single one of those events and I’m so grateful for it.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I’m currently working on a 4–6 week series of sessions for people recovering from emotionally abusive relationships. I am certain it will help people because it encompasses all of the things that helped me do the same except this will be in a much more disciplined, purposeful, and organized package than how I did it.

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.

I like to talk about this in terms of working from the outside-in.

1. Taking care of our external environment-making our space nice, neat, clean, and peaceful for ourselves can have a huge effect on our ability to relax and feel calm and safe. Another quote that I feel is so important is “As within, so without. As without, so within.” When we are in mental or emotional distress of some sort, we tend to let go of general cleaning of our surroundings; our outside reflects our internal state. When our living environment is cluttered, disorganized, and dusty, it contributes to feelings of stress and chaos; our inside reflects our outside.

2. Implementing pranayama (breathing exercises), into our daily routines not only helps to oxygenate our entire body but has a profound effect on our nervous systems. Our breath is so important that we physically die if we stop breathing. If our breath keeps us alive, imagine the effects of a massive increase in the amount of oxygen we take in! Not only does it flood all of our organs and cells, but it also has proven effects on our brain functions and balance of our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Routine, deep, purposeful breathwork can help tremendously to keep us in a calmer, more even-keel state on a regular basis.

3. Mindfulness meditation has to be the third habit. A mindful awareness practice (and it does take repetitive, consistent practice) teaches us to witness our thoughts, feelings, and emotions without an inner commentary about them. We notice them and that’s it, instead of talking to ourselves about what we’re feeling and thinking (think beating ourselves up for a certain thought or feeling sad or angry). Mindfulness keeps us from getting all wrapped up in our thoughts and feelings, lowering our stress level. It also teaches us to notice what physical responses we have to specific emotions like a tight chest, clenched jaw, stiff neck and shoulders when we’re nervous, stressed, angry, or sad.

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 think the most beneficial yoga/ meditation practice, if I had to pick just one, would be Restorative Yoga. This practice uses props like yoga blocks, blankets, and bolsters (or pillows) to support our bodies in poses, allowing us to get the physiological benefits without the physical work (ex. headstand, back bend). These poses are nervous system restoring and extremely calming while teaching us to fully let go of our muscles, bringing us into complete physical and mental relaxation; a process that can be very difficult to do. Doing these classes regularly allows us to be able to relax in the same way, on command, any time we need to.

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.

Yes, and they may seem fairly obvious but they are essential.

1. Physical activity! Working out, running, walking, yoga, pilates, cross-fit, sports…you name it, any physical activity gets our blood moving faster, works our heart muscles, strengthens our lungs, and has very clear benefits on our overall physical health. Our bodies are meant to move and need to be strong and stable to hold our skeleton up, support our organs, and keep us from feeling pain in our joints, among many other things.

2. Drinking a lot of water throughout every day is so important to our health. Water helps all of our bodily functions work as they should, as well as helping to flush toxins out of our organs and muscles. Dehydration, even subtly, can cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness, brain fog, and all kinds of other icky responses.

3. Stretching, to me, is the third habit that is really important for physical wellness. Stress, a workout, being on our feet at work all day, sitting for a long time…they all cause tightness in our muscles which is not only uncomfortable and painful, but can leave us more susceptible to muscle tears. Keeping our muscles loose and flexible allows us to feel more relaxed as well as keeping them more “elastic”, healthy, and safer from injury.

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?

What we put into our bodies is an enormously important part of our health. Food is our fuel, it’s our energy source that gives us the momentum to make it through our day. If we’re feeding our bodies with processed, unhealthy, manufactured “fake food” we are not giving ourselves what our bodies actually need to thrive. Not only can unhealthy eating contribute to obesity, fatigue, and lack of concentration, but it can cause serious health problems that destroy our quality of life. It’s really hard to change eating habits because 1. It’s a habit and those are hard to break, 2. Our bodies become addicted to these foods, especially sugar, adding another layer to how hard it is to change.

Moderation is really the key. Eat the pizza!! Please!! Enjoy what you enjoy! Just don’t eat the whole entire large pizza in one sitting or make it the only thing you ever eat.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Journaling has to be my number one. Freely, openly, and brutally honestly writing down our thoughts, no matter what they are, not only expels them from ourselves like talking to another person does but it also gives us a tool to notice our patterns, any negative self-talk, and gives us an avenue for self-reflection and realization. What I mean by that is we can start to move from just dumping out our thoughts onto paper to asking ourselves why we think what we just wrote. We can actually solve problems in real time during the course of writing.

2. Allowing ourselves to fully feel our emotions and feelings is instrumental to our wellness. Journaling is a great way to start doing that. We tend to ignore what we feel, stuff it down, push it aside, and then not deal with it. This is a great way to create mental turmoil, anxiety, and depression, as well as some serious physical ailments. When we pay attention to what we feel and allow those feelings to carry through, they can start to ease and release from us. They’re like little kids, they just need attention to be paid and to be told they’re valid and then they’re a little bit more ok.

3. My third goes back to a mindfulness meditation practice. The noticing of our emotions without judgement allows us to be aware of them, feel them, and let them happen without the full stress and mental discord we normally feel. We become more detached and less wrapped up in our feelings. Mindfulness allows us to feel however we do while being ok with it and understanding that it’s just a response to something. We learn to embrace the idea that we are not our feelings or emotions, they are just nervous system responses to past experience.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

Mmmm, not much really. Yes, smiling increases oxytocin causing us to feel happier, which is why forcing a smile can trick us into actually feeling happy. It’s great, but it’s also just a patch. It does nothing to truly change our emotional wellness. For that, we have to deal with our wounds, hurts, traumas…the negative feelings that get stuck in us from our life experiences. Now, crying, on the other hand, is an excellent and much more effective way to improve emotional wellness. Crying is the physical release of pain, hurt, and sadness and it’s irreplaceable as an effective tool. Let it out!

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Spiritual wellness can differ depending on individual beliefs. I can speak in a general sense and to what spirituality is to me.

1. A daily spiritual routine (“Sadhana” in yoga) helps us to connect to our spiritual nature and sense of purpose. This can be prayer, ritual, breathing exercises, meditation, affirmations, as well as many other practices that we do every day right after we wake up or right before bed. Or both!

2. Meditation that truly draws our attention inward is a great spiritual practice. Just connecting with our higher selves increases our spiritual wellness, putting us more in touch with our highest nature beyond our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

3. Remembering every day that we, as living beings, are all a tiny part of a greater whole keeps our perspective on the broader scope of all existence. We can do this through reading a preferred spiritual text, doing meditations to connect with universal energy, or even just writing down the same chosen phrases every day. I, personally, do like to write after I wake up. I use phrases that truly resonate with me, like “I trust that everything in my life is happening exactly as it’s supposed to.” and “ What’s meant for me will never pass me by and what’s left my life has outworn its purpose.” Writing spiritual reminders that resonate with us can help us stay connected to our spiritual beliefs and also allow us to release the need to control the things that are outside of our ability to control.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

I think that’s an individual preference. I like it because, to me, it just feels good to be in environments that are naturally occurring and have been living and growing since long before the world was populated by people. For anyone that believes that everything is energy and we’re all connected to everything because of that, then being in nature can truly cultivate spiritual wellness. Again, it’s a reminder of the forces that are so much bigger than us as humans.

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.

I think that if yoga and meditation (meditation IS yoga!) were taught to everyone, everywhere, starting in childhood it would absolutely change the world. I mean yoga as it was meant to be, not the commercialized “fitness routine” it’s become. It is truly a life-changing practice that goes well beyond just physical yoga classes. That and normalize feeling our feelings, especially for men. That could change the 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 🙂

There are so many, but I’ll go with my immediate (and always) response of both Barack and Michelle Obama. I think they are incredible human beings that have truly good hearts and intentions and want to affect positive change in the most beautiful of ways. I think they are fantastic.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My website is:

Instagram: @integrated_yoga_healing

and I can always be reached by emailing: [email protected]

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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