Community//

“Turn it off.” With Beau Henderson & Althea Lawton-Thompson

Turn it off. Many of us are addicted to screens — cell phones, computers, tablets, televisions, and video games. Unfortunately, the blue light present in LED used in tv, computer, and cell phone screens has a very short wavelength which produces higher amounts of energy. At night, all light — especially blue light — disrupts […]

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Turn it off. Many of us are addicted to screens — cell phones, computers, tablets, televisions, and video games. Unfortunately, the blue light present in LED used in tv, computer, and cell phone screens has a very short wavelength which produces higher amounts of energy. At night, all light — especially blue light — disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm, affecting mood, memory, and hormonal balance. Additionally, the content of social media and news is also negatively impacting us. Unpleasant news and posts about Coronavirus, racial tensions, and politics directly affect our mood, how we interpret events, and how much we’ll worry about events in our lives regardless of the real potential for the outcome to materialize. Avoid watching the news at least two hours before going to bed and at least one hour after waking. At night, turn off the lights and all electronics to avoid disruptive blue-violet rays when sleeping. Can’t turn off your phone because of work or caring for someone? Move it at least 4–6 feet away from your head while you’re sleeping or it’s charging. Place a timer on your television at night so it turns off automatically if you fall asleep with it on.


As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Althea Lawton-Thompson. Althea is the president of Aerobics, Yoga & More, a corporate wellness company known for integrating mind-body wellness into the culture of companies, hospitals, and educational institutions. She hosts annual holistic healing retreats in Southeast Asia, Central America, Africa, the Caribbean, and throughout the US ranking her events #5 on the list of Top 6 Wellness Retreats. Through her program, Living Life Limitlessly®, she certifies mind-body practitioners in various holistic healing methods specifically adapted to the corporate environment.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I was blessed to be raised by parents who were competitive distance runners. My father was the first African American on the cover of Runners World Magazine in the 70s. During my youth and time living at home, our lifestyle was healthy with homecooked organic meals, daily vitamins & supplements, fresh squeezed fruit juices, massages, and lots of running road races. I didn’t know everyone wasn’t raised like that until I went to college and noticed I was the only one jogging around campus in the evening after classes and eating salads in the cafe.

While working as an executive for GE Financial Services, I was training for the NY Marathon when I tripped, fell and injured my knee. To recover, a therapist recommended aerobics. A year later, I was hooked on working out in the gym and took the certification for personal training and group exercise instruction. When I was offered a layoff package from GE the following year, I was thrilled to be able to do fitness full-time. My corporate experience mixed with my background and training in fitness set me up perfectly to create a corporate wellness company.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Looking back, I can easily see how serendipity played a big part in my wellness journey. During the first year of my fitness career, one of my personal training clients had been invited to appear on a local tv talk show and asked me to go on with her to demonstrate how I was keeping her “Fit at Fifty”. That one appearance turned me into the go-to girl for national tv shows, commercials, magazines, and newspapers. I eventually produced six exercise videos, hosted my own daily fitness tv show, had a weekly NPR wellness segment, and was the weekend news fitness reporter for an NBC affiliate station. That was a truly an exciting time for me — and it all started from one random invitation.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

Lol — just thinking about this memory makes me cringe and smile at the same time. I was pregnant with my second child when my first exercise video became a bestseller in both Europe and the US. I wanted to go on a promotional tour so bad that I contracted to do my first national live presentation six weeks after my baby was due. I didn’t know my body wouldn’t recover the same way after baby #2 as it did after baby #1 and I wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be to present in front of 100s of people. I ended up taking my newborn on stage and introducing him to the audience, explaining my situation, and jokingly requested to take a break during my own routine if I got tired. The audience loved it! We sold out of my video and music soundtrack, and I was shocked to be signing copies of my video.

I learned a lot of lessons from that experience: 1) Many bad situations can be turned into a positive one with the right attitude and well-placed humor. 2) Customers value authenticity and relish a peek into your real life. 3) You don’t have to look perfect to sell health and wellness. 4) Don’t agree to do a high-impact live workout on-stage weeks after giving birth (ha!).

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?

I can’t imagine that any of what I accomplished could have happened without my sister-friend, Yvonne Carroll. She was my assistant when I was managing multiple Bally’s fitness centers in Maryland and was ultra professional, a great instructor, and always punctual (one of my sticking points). Anytime I had an idea, she not only saw the vision, but she could creatively go beyond what I’d originally envisioned. Together, we created wellness programs for Johns Hopkins Hospital, produced my exercise videos, and filmed my fitness tv series. When I relocated my family to Georgia, she continued running the business in Maryland while I became established in Atlanta. When I decided to open our first brick-and-mortar location, she retired from her full-time job in Maryland, sold her condo, and moved to Georgia to help me run the studio. She managed the studio when I was teaching corporate classes, helped me taxi my sons to and from sporting events, and traveled with me to promote and sell AYM products. We jokingly said AYM stood for Althea, Yvonne, and Maurice (my husband).

Sadly, she passed away in 2012 from leukemia and I closed our studio that same year. Our conversations together as she was preparing for her transition were the catalysts behind the Living Life Limitlessly® tagline and my creating the healing retreats. She’s been with me since the beginning and is still supporting me in spirit now.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

  1. Find humor and a reason to laugh wherever and whenever you can.
  2. Spend time in nature. There are many lessons to learn in observing the way nature does what it does.
  3. Go on vacation/retreat regularly — especially when you don’t think you have the time.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s always someone willing and excited to work with you.
  5. Spend quality time alone, in silence, with nothing to do but be with yourself. It’s one of the hardest and most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Modeling the behaviors we want to see in our employees, contractors, staff, and volunteers has more impact than many people realize. When the CEO or COO of one of our corporate clients participates with excitement in the company fitness challenge or asks questions during a health education seminar, the employees of the company see the value in it and follow suit. At our company, we have a flexible schedule and often take breaks for a walk outside or what I call a “breather’s break”, similar to a smoker’s break.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

Go back. All of us have something negative from our past which has an impact on how we act, interact, and react to people and situations today. With a therapist or counselor, mentally go back to the source of what occurred and work on healing the hurt. If necessary and possible, go back to the person or people who played a part in the pain to say your piece and get closure.

After my parents divorced, I felt like my father abandoned my brother and me. For twenty-eight years, I did not have a relationship with him and my children literally didn’t know who he was the first time they saw him in 2015. To help me understand why my father was the way he was, I had to go back to my grandfather and talk to him about my father’s youth. That visit helped me understand and allowed me to heal and forgive. My family and I now have a loving relationship with my dad.

Be Still & Be Quiet. The recent COVID-19 quarantine forced people to literally stop moving and be still in their homes. It was an eye-opening experience for many. Some people felt uncomfortable with the stillness, while others realized just how long it had been since they’d literally stopped moving for an extended period of time.

I was staying alone at a friend’s retreat center deep in the Costa Rica rainforest when a thunder storm cut off all electricity, cell phone connectivity, and internet access. For three days, I had nothing to do, nowhere to go (it was storming), and no one to talk to. At first, it was okay because I needed to sleep. But after the first day of sleeping and sitting still, I started to go a little stir crazy. The next day, I began to sync up with the rhythm of nature outside my windowless bungalow. By day three, all my mental chatter was completely gone and I was left with the vibrations of nature, peace, and my own breathing. It was powerful. I was a little sad when the rain stopped and the power came back on.

Talk it out. Speaking honestly in confidence about the things that are eating us up on the inside is extremely healing. When looking for a counselor or therapist, ask for recommendations and meet with different professionals until you find one that resonates with you.

Spend Time in Nature. I can’t say it enough. There are healing properties in plants, trees, flowers, water, dirt, and animals. We eat fruits and vegetables to build our immunity and strength, bring animals to hospitals and senior centers to uplift patients and residents, and make medicine with the elements found in plant roots and tree resins. Research shows that swimming in salt water or standing barefoot on dirt or grass allows us to “ground” or settle our energy and cleanse our spirits.

Turn it off. Many of us are addicted to screens — cell phones, computers, tablets, televisions, and video games. Unfortunately, the blue light present in LED used in tv, computer, and cell phone screens has a very short wavelength which produces higher amounts of energy. At night, all light — especially blue light — disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm, affecting mood, memory, and hormonal balance. Additionally, the content of social media and news is also negatively impacting us. Unpleasant news and posts about Coronavirus, racial tensions, and politics directly affect our mood, how we interpret events, and how much we’ll worry about events in our lives regardless of the real potential for the outcome to materialize. Avoid watching the news at least two hours before going to bed and at least one hour after waking. At night, turn off the lights and all electronics to avoid disruptive blue-violet rays when sleeping. Can’t turn off your phone because of work or caring for someone? Move it at least 4–6 feet away from your head while you’re sleeping or it’s charging. Place a timer on your television at night so it turns off automatically if you fall asleep with it on.

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Get Creative. This is the perfect time to either use your natural creative gifts to make, build, sew, paint your masterpiece. If you don’t feel particularly gifted, taking a class is a great way to stimulate the brain and focus on something new and different.
  2. Connect with Young People. In an international study on centenarians (people that live to be 100 years old), researchers found that the most common trait around the world was that they were content and happy despite the loss of their parents and most of their siblings, children, and friends. They found joy in interacting with others, especially young people and children. In some ancient African traditions, young children spend most of their time with the elders of the community because the parents are working to maintain the home. This interaction benefits both the child and the elder.

How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

  1. Disconnect. Like adults, many of our teens and pre-teens are addicted to their cell phones, televisions, and video games, and they use them well into the wee hours of the morning. This limits how much sleep they’re getting, as well as negatively affects their hormones, eyesight, and mood. Many of my clients under the age of twenty-five cite social media as a trigger for their depression and anxiety. They compare themselves to their peers and to celebrities their age. When they don’t measure up, they become despondent and in some cases inflict self-harm like cutting or burning their skin. I recommend parents institute time restrictions for pre-teens, and model healthy disconnecting practices for teens that live at home. When my sons were teenagers in high school, we had a strict no-video-game rule on weekdays. We stuck to that rule until they each graduated.
  2. Find the Right Therapist. When looking for a counselor or therapist specifically for young people, ask for recommendations from school counselors and various youth groups. Allow the teen to meet with different professionals until they find one that resonates with them and makes them comfortable enough to honestly engage. Someone that understands their culture and doesn’t limit the way they speak, dress, or act will have the best results.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

I love reading and I have hundreds of wonderful books about health, wellness, spirituality, and holistic living. Two of my favorites look like the simplest reads on the surface, but are really much deeper than they appear — The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra and The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I still remember the first time I read them. I thought they were rudimentary and simple, until I began actively attempting to live the principles daily. In theory, the concepts sound great, like “Don’t take anything personally” from The Four Agreements or “The Law of Detachment” from The Seven Spiritual Laws, but living all 11 of the virtues has proven to truly be an exercise in mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical strength for me.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could literally influence the way people think and act, I would do three things:

  1. Help each person know and learn about the great accomplishments of their ancestors, especially African Americans. The true history of African civilizations and their original contributions to science, math, astronomy, health, spirituality, and architecture would be empowering and uplifting to many African Americans who may not know their ancestral heritage.
  2. I would teach every person about the healing potential of forests, animals, and oceans. I would love to find a way for the billions of people on earth to live harmoniously with, in, and around nature.
  3. It would be wonderful for children to learn in living, experiential schools where they’re taught problem solving, survival skills, business operations, and a healthy respect for nature and people through hands-on projects. They’d have Yoga, meditation, and interpersonal skills classes as a part of their weekly schedule, which could positively impact them well into adulthood.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I trademarked the term “Living Life Limitlessly®” after a conversation with my sister-friend, Yvonne. We were making the final revisions to her will and estate planning after she’d decided to stop doing chemotherapy and move into hospice. We were reminiscing about all the amazing and fun things we’d done and accomplished when she went silent and looked tearfully in my eyes. She started listing all the things she’d wanted to do that she’d never done. That’s when I decided that it didn’t matter that I was a wife, mom, and business owner. It didn’t matter how old I was or if I had anyone to travel with. I was determined to live my life without restrictions and limits. I started solo traveling to places like Thailand and Bali, I went backpacking in the Washington Cascades, and I learned how to scuba dive in Maui. I forgave people who’d hurt me, and I asked for forgiveness from people who I’d hurt. I spent time with shamans and healers in the jungles of Central America and the islands of Indonesia. Every day, I am literally studying, learning, and practicing something new that fascinates or interests me. I am literally Living Life Limitlessness.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Instagram.com/althealawtonthompson

Facebook.com/altheatized

Youtube.com/altheatized

Linkedin.com/in/althealawtonthompson

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Thank you for this opportunity to share. I hope it matches what you’re looking for.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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