Stay connected to friends & family, connection is what we were made for as humans, we flourish when we have connection with others. Whilst we have to work harder to connect during this pandemic it is still possible. Think phone calls, Face Time, emails, walking with friends at a safe distance, Zoom meetings, virtual book groups & even taking the time to write a card or handwritten letter. This can make so much difference to our happiness & that of others.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Baer.
Rachel is an E-RYT 200 yoga instructor with many years of experience both practicing and teaching yoga. Amongst many additional trainings she has also completed a 100-hour yoga therapy certification.
Rachel trained as a Fitness Instructor in the UK before moving to the US in 2003, her focus is now on Chair Yoga and Fall Prevention for seniors and those with disabilities.
Rachel shares how she is constantly amazed at the difference yoga regularly makes in the lives of her senior yogis, many of whom are in their eighties and nineties and are still committed to their yoga practice. Rachel has truly found her calling in life.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up in a small rural town in Lincolnshire England. I am the eldest of three children and the only daughter. I enjoy a great relationship with my two wonderful brothers. I married in 1986 to a very supportive and caring husband. We had two boys whilst living in the UK. In 2003 my husband had an opportunity to transfer to the United States, we agreed that we would live adventurously and see where it led us. At the time our boys were aged eight and twelve. They are now aged twenty-five and twenty-nine.
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 have many amazing stories, mostly about how much my yogis have benefited from chair yoga in various ways. This is the one story that I love whenever I think of this inspiring lady.
A few years ago, I taught a weekly chair yoga class at a local care home. The first few weeks the class was fairly quiet with a few brave souls checking out the unknown quantity that had entered their living space.
Soon, as word spread that it was “fun & not too weird” as overheard in the hallway, the class started filling up. I became very fond of my “regulars” & had the pleasure of often chatting both before & after class.
One character that I will always remember was a 102-year-old lady, sadly I can’t recall her name. She would arrive to class, usually a few minutes late, pushing her walker in front of her. She was incredibly independent & as bright as a button, not much could get past her. I soon learned that she had a regimented workout routine. Each day after breakfast she would walk several laps around the care home, quite some distance when reliant on a walker. If the weather was favorable, she would take her walk outdoors & make her way slowly around the pathways of the manicured gardens. She was convinced that these daily walks along with her half an hour on a stationary reclining bicycle was what had kept her going all these years. I tend to agree with her, we get to decide if we stay strong.
Occasionally she would fall asleep on the bike or during yoga class, however I figured that at 102 years of age that was more than allowable, the fact that she showed up to exercise at all still impresses me now.
One day after class I had the opportunity to chat with her, “what inspires you?” I asked. “Well, if you don’t use it you lose it” she replied, if only more of us thought this way. We chatted on for a while & she shared her memories of the local area; she had lived in Connecticut all her life & remembered Waterford before there were roads as we know them now. She told me stories of the dust roads with horse & cart for transport & about her family. It was one of those rare & special moments of connection.
The most meaningful part of our conversation was just before I left, she told me “when I open my eyes each morning, I say to myself, oh good I’m still here, what will I do today?” Whenever I think of this, I am reminded to be grateful for life, for each day & to be more aware of each present moment & the opportunities each day brings.
When you wake up tomorrow morning what will you get to do with your day?
The lessons and takeaways from this story are to keep moving, move in some way everyday & to be grateful for each day, asking ourselves how we can make a difference even in a small way each 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?
My biggest mistake was having too broad a reach within the yoga community, instead of narrowing my client base down & focusing on just one area that I could specialize in. You can be good at many things but not skilled.
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?
There are many people along my journey that I have learned from, one in particular that stands out is Karen O’Donnell Clark an experienced yoga teacher & yoga therapist who’s additional 100-hour therapeutic yoga training, I have taken. She was kind enough to take the time to share her advice on the business side of yoga on a personal level that related specifically to my work with seniors. She is a great example of yoga instructors helping each other.
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?
My work with seniors has had a huge impact on many lives over the past decade. I have numerous testimonials telling me how lives have been changed, injuries have healed & how much stronger & more independent seniors have become since taking my classes. We practice simple stretching & strengthening poses that equip them for everyday living.
The main thing most seniors fear is falling & the life changing consequences that a bad fall can have. My goal is to keep my yogis strong by teaching simple strength exercises that help avoid falls in everyday living. Right now, we are all in our homes most of the time due to the pandemic, however as 55% of falls occur in the home it is more important than ever to be aware of & make changes to our home environment while keeping ourselves strong, confident & independent. Below is an email I received from one of my clients just recently.
“I give your classes all the credit for the extra strength and muscle tone that I now have.
I got out of bed this am and tripped and fell to one knee but reached out, grabbed onto a piece of furniture to steady myself and lifted myself back up, thanks to stronger legs and arms! All that we do works!!
I have received similar powerful testimonials from other clients, including how they are now able to get themselves in & out of the bathtub without aid. After just a few months of taking my classes another lady was able to get out of her beach chair without help, we all know how low to the ground they can be & how daunting or embarrassing it can be to have to ask for help. Other clients were able to win a family wall squat challenge & walk for several miles on a family vacation, pretty impressive for seniors in their late seventies & early eighties.
Yoga is a mind body practice which includes breath work & meditation which helps class participants to be in charge of their own breath & stress levels. I teach simple techniques that help with overall mental health. Yoga brings health to our mind, body & spirit.
The impact of my work does not just stop with my clients but reaches into the lives of families that are not burdened with the worries & extra duties that life changing injuries from falls can bring.
Loved ones stay stronger, happier & independent for a longer period of time, often the many aches & pains of aging bodies are alleviated by stretching and strengthening. Seniors are able to avoid the depression that can set in from the isolation, pain & fear that come along with falls.
The impact of my work also saves the health care system valuable resources & money as well as overcrowding at waiting rooms.
Although the current pandemic has meant that chair yoga sessions are now held via Zoom, I am fortunate to have such a lovely & loyal group of yogis, they show up for themselves week after week, happy & grateful to still have the opportunity to move, grow stronger & “see” their friends in class.
I am able to reach people I have not yet met in person; I have yogis in my classes from states I have never been too which is pretty cool, distance is no longer a barrier to taking a favorite class. Snow days & traffic are no longer a thing, as long as we have internet access class is on.
The most positive change from this pandemic is that many husbands are now joining their wives in class. Many men, especially seniors tend to shy away from yoga as it is often female dominated. Since April 2020 they have watched from a distance as their wives took class, then started to join in from the back of the room. I regularly have multiple couples joining in each day. Being “captive” in our own homes has shown us the value of online classes & it brings me so much joy to see them all & witness the difference I am making.
I am fortunate to love what I do, I am very fond of all my yogis & look forward to when we can hold in person classes again, for now I am grateful that technology has made it possible for myself & others to continue this important work.
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.
My top five lifestyle tweaks are simple & effective.
1 — Take the time to move your body in some way every day. Walk, stretch, do yoga, there are many opportunities available online now for those days where it is too cold to venture outdoors. Motion is lotion to the body; we were made to move.
2 — Stay hydrated, this is one of the simplest & most important things you can do to benefit all of the organs of the body. You will notice a visible improvement in the condition of your skin which is the largest organ of the body just by drinking more water & less caffeine. If you don’t like plain water add just a dash of fruit juice, a slice of lemon, cucumber or other fruit, the options are limitless. Try drinking more water & feel your energy levels increase. This has the added bonus of having to get up & down from the chair at regular intervals keeping our activity level higher & our legs stronger.
3 — Limit or eliminate alcohol consumption, it is a depressant & dehydrates the body as well as being toxic & addictive. Alcohol can react with medications affecting balance which may result in injuries from falls.
There are many alcohol-free options out there these days including alcohol free wines & beers some of which taste amazing.
4 — Stay connected to friends & family, connection is what we were made for as humans, we flourish when we have connection with others. Whilst we have to work harder to connect during this pandemic it is still possible. Think phone calls, Face Time, emails, walking with friends at a safe distance, Zoom meetings, virtual book groups & even taking the time to write a card or handwritten letter. This can make so much difference to our happiness & that of others.
5 — Get outside, even if just for a few minutes to enjoy the fresh air. Getting in touch with nature is proven to be good for our mental health. I enjoy gentle hiking and love spending time gardening or just sitting down enjoying the sunshine.
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 focus on a movement of kindness & grace to help people with their mental health, especially at the moment with so many outside pressures & the uncertainty that is in the world today.
In November 2020 I started a movement of grace in my small town of East Lyme by installing a Grace Trail® as a gift to our community. Please read on to learn more.
Welcome to East Lyme Grace Trail®
East Lyme has a new addition to its 0.8 of a mile walking trail situated at Samuel M. Peretz Park at Bridebrook. It is called Grace Trail. This self-guided walk was installed for the community to experience and enjoy as a mindful, meditative walk alone or with others. Our intention is for the trail to offer hope and peace as we honor and explore all of life’s twists and turns!
The Grace Trail process includes 5 letters (G-R-A-C-E) which invite the following questions to explore while you walk:
G — What are you Grateful for?
R — What do you need to Release?
A — What is calling out for Acceptance?
C — What is my next Challenge?
E — What can I Embrace as possible?
How to get the most out of the Grace Trail?
- When you reach a question, stop…ask…listen…and reflect as you move along the trail to the next question.
- Questions can be asked in any order according to your needs.
- There is no right or wrong way to answer the questions… stay curious and open to hope and possibility.
- Each sign will have a QR code. We encourage you to scan the code with your smart phone to listen to ways to enhance and deepen your experience.
Our East Lyme Grace Trail was installed by Rachel & Dave Baer with support from the East Lyme Parks & Recreation Department, generous members of our town and as an honorarium to the Brian Dagle Foundation.
East Lyme Grace Trail is modeled after the original Grace Trail in Plymouth Massachusetts, designed by Anne Jolles (gracetrail.com) and under license from Grace Trail, Inc.
When walking this Trail, you are joining a group of people worldwide in creating a Trail of hope and possibility…
Check out Grace Trail by Anne Jolles on Face Book https://www.facebook.com/thegracetrail
Also, our own brand-new page East Lyme Grace Trail
I was interviewed by a local reporter about the installation of the trail, HERE is the article.
My hope is to inspire other towns & communities to install a Grace Trail® of their own.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
The five things I wish I had known before I started:
1 — How time consuming all the planning & general managing of even a small business can be. It’s the important details that take the time. This is a two-sided answer, in some ways it would have been good to know this, in other ways perhaps if I had known I may not have forged ahead.
2 — That you are not for everyone it is impossible to please everyone so don’t waste your time trying, focus on your mission, your passion for your work & your compassion for people. It is too easy to get locked into people pleasing instead of being your authentic self.
3 — Perfection is unattainable, progress & hard work are essential but sometimes good enough is enough. This helps take the pressure off of having the “perfect” newsletter or “perfect” class each time.
4 — You will experience resistance & criticism to your ideas & success, push through & do it anyway. This is just good advice to anyone starting out, whatever your focus, there will be hard days & people that will judge you, don’t allow them to prevent you from making a difference.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Whilst these are all important topics, mental health is the dearest to me especially during the current pandemic. Mental health & depression numbers in America were up before the pandemic, now they are significantly higher. With more anxiety, unemployment & general uncertainty coupled with challenges in receiving the appropriate financial assistance, counselling and or medication. There is still such a stigma attached to admitting to struggling with mental health issues that many people choose to suffer on their own & never come forward to ask for help.
The subject is particularly close to my heart as I lost my brother-in-law to suicide in March 2020, the day after lock down went into effect in the UK. It was and still is a shock & incredibly painful. However much we hear about suicide it always seems like something distant & separate until one day it isn’t. We believe that Richard who was loved & incredibly social was unable to face the long days, weeks & months of isolation ahead, including no longer being able to work. It is truly devastating to those who are left to grieve such a loss, especially one so sudden & unexpected.
Sadly, Richard was not alone, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in 2020, on average 132 Americans died by suicide each day. 1.4 million Americans attempted suicide. Men died by suicide 3.6 x more often than women although women were 1.4x more likely to attempt suicide. In total 48,344 Americans died by suicide in 2020. Suicide was the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10–34 & the 4th leading cause of death for ages 35–54.
10.3% of Americans have thought about suicide & 54% of Americans have been affected by suicide.
I find these numbers staggering, there are changes that need to be made on all levels to help our loved ones & people that we work with who may be struggling. It is too easy to hide behind the mask of a smile. We can all look out for each other more, talk openly about & normalize our feelings. Acknowledging that although it is normal to have low days we need to recognize when it is time to seek help & not be afraid to do so.
We can also educate ourselves by taking a simple one-hour training that alerts us to the signs of suicide & gives us tools to know what we can do if we know someone is struggling. I am sure there are many courses available, many are free of charge HERE is one I have taken.
Simple awareness, education, connection & community can save lives & bring hope for the future.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Here are the links to my website with class information, currently via Zoom only until it is safe to hold in person classes again.
Website — https://www.yogakeepsmefit.com
Face Book — https://www.facebook.com/yogakeepsmefit?fref=ts
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/rachelyogibaer/
Twitter — https://twitter.com/yogakeepsmefit2
Thank you for these fantastic insights!