In the following article from the Fall 2022 issue of Signature magazine, alumnae experts from the Emma Willard community share their thoughts on pursuing wellness.
Wellness is something of a buzzword these days, yet for many it remains a fuzzy concept. For some it connotes a commitment to clean living and a dedication to self-care practices like yoga and meditation. For others, it’s as straightforward as a good night’s sleep, three meals a day, and an annual physical.
As recent conversations with three Emma alums who are medical practitioners—an energy healer, medical intuitive, and OB/GYN—reveal, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all.’ There is, however, a unifying theme: a belief that everyone deserves to enjoy a sense of wellbeing and an insistence that the earlier one embraces that attitude, the better.
Balancing Mind, Body, and Spirit
Shura Gat ’87
Photo Credit: Robyn Wishna
To capture the fullness of Shura Gat, one might envision a fulcrum—a point of serenity and balance for the students and clients she serves in two distinct aspects of her profession as an educator and healer.
As interim associate dean of students and director of the Women's Resource Center at Cornell University, Shura assists students with crisis management and gender justice issues. And as a complementary energy healer, she helps private clients find a sense of balance through such tools as hands-on energy healing, Reiki, Yan Xing Qigong, crystal therapy, and sound baths.
In every instance, Shura seeks to help clients reinitiate what she believes is the crucial dialogue with respect to wellness—our conversations with ourselves. “For all populations, internal agency and self-empowerment are key,” she explains. “When we learn to develop a dialogue with our own body and spirit, we can cultivate the joy, resilience, and radiance that are essential for wellness and wellbeing.”
Personal wellness is predicated on a kaleidoscope of influences, an interplay of mind, body, and spirit that can shift daily, Shura explains, and maintaining balance between these elements requires attention to energy. “Physical health is important, but mental and emotional health and resilience are equally significant.” And that, she says, is where energy comes into play. “Energy is the piece that bridges the space between body and spirit, and keeping it balanced is an ongoing practice that requires mindfulness and self-awareness.”
Allopathic medicine—conventional medicine in which healthcare professionals treat symptoms and diseases—does important things, Shura allows, but it places the locus of power outside the individual. Energy work, conversely, puts the individual in control. “By learning to focus on specific energetic flows, people can move away from an acute attention to physical wellness to a more holistic view of themselves,” she notes. “For example, by learning to manage her energy, a cancer patient may say, ‘Yes, there are abnormal cells growing in my body, but I can still feel joy.’ And that is incredibly empowering.”
Developing these wellness practices in adolescence is especially important, Shura observes, because it represents an investment in the future. “It’s incredibly rewarding to have the opportunity, whether through conversations or energy work, to say to someone ‘Yes, this is hard, but rather than stay stuck, let’s move through the challenges and help you regain your sense of wellbeing.’”
And for Shura, offering guidance to women and girls—a demographic that is subject to both cumulative and systemic stressors—is essential. “Showing girls that they can shift the dial towards greater wellness and balance while they’re young creates the potential for stronger, healthier women down the road.” And today’s young women are interested in doing the work, she insists. “They’re eager to explore opportunities to move their energy and take steps towards wellness.”
Women must deal with many societal pressures, including the impact of social media, Shura continues, which makes it doubly important that they have the tools necessary to combat the negativity they encounter. “There’s so much masking that takes place on these platforms—girls are constantly told that they need to present a polished image to the public and the pain of always falling short is incredibly impactful.
“The potential for complementary healing methods such as mindfulness and energy balancing is profound and incredibly democratizing because people can do it for themselves,” says Shura. “Developing wellness practices that make sense for yourself is powerful preventative care.” And that is something people can carry with them throughout their lives.
“If you can equip your personal toolbox with things that make you feel good, you’re setting yourself up for future health and joy,” Shura concludes. “That’s the brilliance of preventative care…you don’t have to be trying to fix something to invest in your wellbeing.”
Embracing An Attitude Of Self-Care
Dr. Zoe McKee ’97
When it comes to the definition of wellness, Zoe McKee admits she hesitates a bit. “To be honest, I struggle with the term. Wellness is a bit of a buzz word that’s thrown around a lot, but it’s tough to know what it really means. In my mind, wellness goes beyond basic physical and mental health to thriving in physical and mental health.”
Still Zoe, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA, is dedicated to helping her patients attain wellness…whatever their definition. She concedes that the road is sometimes rocky. “One of the challenges of this country’s healthcare system is that it’s not centered as much on prevention as it is on disease treatment,” she explains. “Sadly, our system really isn’t designed for wellness, so as much as I’d love to focus on overall wellbeing with my patients, the constraints of our system require that I primarily concentrate on specific issues.”
Larger societal issues also impinge upon people’s overall wellbeing, she continues. “When people discuss health and wellness, especially among women, a lot of the emphasis is on personal responsibility, with comments like, ‘You would feel better if you got eight hours or sleep or exercised an hour every day,’ rather than ‘Your wellness would increase if you had affordable childcare or more vacation days.’” Individual responsibility is important, Zoe affirms, but it’s just one step. A mother with young children and no access to childcare doesn’t have the luxury of a daily trip to the gym or spa. “Wellness is more than yoga, massages, and smoothies—they’re nice, but to really improve people’s wellness requires greater systemic change, and that’s difficult to achieve,” Zoe asserts.
Societal changes have also made the quest for wellness more complicated, she argues. While awareness of the importance of wellbeing has increased, there are also more forces working against people, particularly young girls. “Being at Emma for reunion, it seems like there’s much more nuance and knowledge in the school today with respect to educating young women about all aspects of healthy relationships than when I was in school,” Zoe observes. But social media frequently works against those healthy messages, she continues. “Social media is the most anti-wellness creation in the world,” states Zoe. “I have a 12-year-old daughter and I’m working hard to instill good health practices and a positive body image, but it’s an ongoing struggle.”
“I remember when I had my daughter, I read a book called The Baby Whisperer and I remember the author wrote, ‘Start as you mean to go on,’ Zoe recalls. “At the time, the phrase didn’t really resonate, but I came to understand what the author meant—she was essentially saying that every bad habit you create is one you’ll have to break,” she observes with a chuckle.
The same could be said for instilling habits of wellness in young girls that will serve them well over the long haul, Zoe concludes. “Quite simply, start as you mean to go on. The earlier you can create healthy habits that you do routinely, the better off you will be. It’s really embracing an attitude of self-care—once you realize that is important, you’re on your way.”
A Revelation, An Understanding, and A Habit
Jenn Ty ’77
Jenn Ty hails from a medical family. Her father, brothers, and uncles were all traditional physicians, and her paternal grandmother and godmother were alternative healers. It’s surprising, therefore, to learn that it was only two years ago that she embraced her identity as a medical intuitive, someone able to feel what is happening in others’ bodies both energetically and physically.
“I’ve been able to see people’s difficulties since I was a little girl,” Jenn explains, “but for a long time I brushed the ability off.” Instead, she pursued a financial career on Wall Street, a path that ultimately left her unfulfilled and seeking alternatives. “I began working with a life/business coach to help me transition to a new career,” she recalls. “She encouraged me to send an email to ten friends and ask them what they envisioned me doing—they all wrote back and said alternative medicine. That opened my eyes.”
A decade of experimenting and learning followed, and in 2020 Jenn found herself in a class with internationally renowned intuitive medium Susan Grau. “She looked at me and said, ‘You’re a Medical Intuitive, so own it,’” Jenn recalls. “And from then on, everything changed.”
Nowadays, Jenn helps people struggling with a host of issues, from Alzheimer’s and cancer to strokes and sports injuries, using intuitive abilities and manual manipulations to pinpoint difficulties and remove physical soft tissue blockages. “I absolutely enjoy a messed-up body,” she confesses with a chuckle.
“There are two things that motivate me,” she continues. “I love puzzles, and in my view, our bodies are puzzles that have been adjusted, tweaked, and manipulated by circumstance since birth. I love putting the pieces back together. And I love complainers. A person who’s complaining is someone actively engaged in their wellness and seeking a solution.”
And finding that solution demands attention and commitment, Jenn argues. “I believe that the more aware a person is of the clues her body gives her daily, the more successful she will be in preventing challenges in the future. We need to listen to our bodies for clues to how they feel and function; our bodies are intricate and complex systems and they talk to us about maintenance all the time.”
And what does wellness mean to Jenn? “Wellness is about how you feel…today. It’s about feeling comfortable in your own body and taking preventative action towards living your best life…today, tomorrow, and always.”
Wellness begins with three simple steps: a revelation, an understanding, and a habit, she continues. “The revelation is, ‘I matter.’ The understanding is, ‘I can do things differently, ask questions at any time, and be the master of my own health destiny.’ And the habit is, ‘I can take one small step, change, and do better, and then another and another and another.’
“One of my mottos is ‘I teach first, I heal second,’” Jenn observes. “When I work with people, I lay out a roadmap and tell them why I’m doing what I’m doing. My aim is collaboration; I encourage people to think for themselves. I teach them to recognize their feelings and then take care of what they feel.”
Securing health and wellness is a conscious choice and need not be costly, Jenn insists. In fact, she says, most good practices are free. “It starts with the individual making one crucial statement: ‘I am the most important person in the world.’” Many women struggle with this simple pronouncement, she concedes, but honestly loving oneself is key. “If you’re not committed to self-care, your body knows it down to the molecular level.”
And the sooner that young women learn to value themselves, the better off they will be, Jenn asserts. “Achieving good health—mental, physical, emotional—is a cumulative endeavor, and the earlier we begin listening and asking questions, the better we are able to cope and live healthy and fulfilling lives.”
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