Bridging the connection between senses and physical, beauty writer Kari Molvar explores a wellness equilibrium and how it can help people
Being aligned extends beyond having a straight spine. When you feel fulfilled mentally and physically, everything else falls into place. It is an idea embraced in many different ways by experts.
In her twenties, Elisa Shankle was putting in long days at an architecture and interior design firm in New York and not feeling well. “I was dealing with severe anxiety,” she says. “I used to have panic attacks in the bathroom.” Realizing that she needed to make a change, Shankle left the firm in 2012. “I started delving into holistic healthcare and learning about different ways to heal myself,” she says.
Over the next eight years—while consulting on design projects—she surrounded herself in medicinal herbs, calming anti-inflammatory foods, energy work (eventually becoming Reiki attuned), and meditation. The changes were remarkable—and lasting. But, natural healing, she realized, “wasn’t something that was very accessible to my community, specifically for people of color.” She would often walk into wellness studios and not find herself reflected in the clientele or the practitioners in the room. “I started to wonder, why aren’t these spaces truly inclusive?”
Inspired to change the culture, Shankle and her business partner, Darian Hall, opened up HealHaus in 2018. Located in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, the warmly lit space offers many “different healing modalities that you don’t necessarily find at other studios,” says Shankle. This includes daily classes on meridian cleansing yoga, alchemy meditation, and in-depth workshops that touch on everything from breathwork to release trauma, to re-humanizing methods to reduce racism. Donation-based weekend programming lessens the price barrier that often surrounds wellness while private health services make things like therapy approachable. “I feel like I will have won when I can get kids talking about mental health like they do Nike sneakers—that wellness is cool,” says Shankle.
It is all part of Shankle’s mission to build a judgment-free space that is open to “truly everyone—queer, LGBTQ, non-binary communities, women, men, people of color,” she says. “A place where someone feels like, I can approach my wellness journey in a way that’s not distanced from who I am or my everyday life. It can just feel normalized.” As for her wellness routine, Shankle relies on daily meditation for 15 to 30 minutes in the morning or evening (“to stay grounded and manifest ideas”), CBD oil (“if I’m stressed or need to mellow, I put it under my tongue”), anti-inflammatory herbs like ginger, turmeric, and garlic (mixed into smoothies from the HealHaus cafe), and baths—lots of baths—to “drain energy from my energetic body,” she says. “Epsom salt baths are everything.”
Leaving New York and switching coasts, you’ll discover the holistic wellness approach of Paula Mallis that comes from a personal place. “My healing journey brought me to this work,” she says. Growing up in North Carolina on a horse farm, the oldest of four siblings, Mallis lost one of her brothers at 19 years old and eventually struggled with drugs and alcohol. With her daughter's birth in 2012, this was transformative moments in her life and “opportunities to grow and heal,” she says. “I began to see a woman’s journey through the eyes of birth. It became a metaphor for me.”
After studying to become a doula and receiving her Master's in Spiritual Psychology in 2015, Mallis began hosting modern versions of ancient women’s circles in her home in Venice Beach, California. The gatherings bring women together to reflect on a topic (often timed to new or full moon cycles or astrological alignment, which can influence mood and thought patterns) and share experiences to inspire and lift each other. It is a ritual that dates back centuries and has a long history in Native American tribes, where circles involved talking sticks and storytelling. The circles became so popular that in 2017 she opened up WMN Space in Los Angeles. The airy studio, lined in bare woods and dotted with pillows for sitting, hosts circles, in addition to touch-therapy-style massages, pelvic healing treatments, and doula services. The goal, says Mallis, is meeting each woman exactly where she is. “Women often come to share the rawest, vulnerable, and real stories of their lives. They are coming in hopes of being guided and given directly back to their most authentic selves.”
Mallis admits she gets as much out of the circles as the women around her. She also practices pilates weekly and navigates the usual mom stuff (school pick-ups, grocery store runs) while checking in with her intention. “For me, it’s not about having this picture-perfect spirituality practice. I am a human. That said, I take spirituality principles seriously. I meditate and pray regularly.” And she takes time for herself. “Being alone, being quiet, and being just still—I have worked hard to want, enjoy, and look forward to being with me.”
While growing up, Joyce Chang listened to a wise guru—her Chinese grandmother—who would often say: Shing bu the yen. “It means focus, be where you are. If you go for a walk, be conscious of the breaths you’re taking. When eating, paying attention to what you’re eating.” Chang’s grandmother lived her life consciously in tune with this principle. “She grew up during the Second World War in China and the Japanese invasion. She raised four children and was a lifelong educator, as a teacher and headmistress, and was always very active in her community.” For Chang—who was born in the United States and raised by both her parents and her grandmother—it was an early lesson in mindfulness.
The insight stuck with Chang as she pursued a career in journalism, working at The New York Times among other publications, and later becoming the editor-in-chief of Self in 2014, a magazine that she relaunched with a fresh, forward-thinking vision. “It was the first of its kind and it changed the language of how we talk about wellness,” she says. Their reporting covered everything from body positivity to the rise of autoimmune diseases among young women. They also focused on running, lifting, and stretching as a form of mental health. “It wasn’t about fitness but how you feel,” says Chang. “It wasn’t about having an awesome body, but feeling awesome in your body.” In 2016, Chang branched out on her own, founding From The Get Go in 2018, a happiness startup and digital platform inspired by her experiences in finding balance in an intense, busy world. “We live this very compressed existence—we’re always trying to do more, to pack in more.” The Get Go is a thoughtful meditation on topics from the body to beauty, with recipes and daily reminders to live with “less perfect, more peace,” she says.
In an Instagram post, Chang shared her daily to-do list. It read: “Do one good thing for my body. Do one thing that I’ve been avoiding. Do one thing that moves a dream forward. Do one good thing for someone else. Do one thing that makes me feel good.” Lately, Chang’s been checking off the first to-do with dance classes. “A lot of workouts are very linear but dance involves all sorts of dimensions. You’re backward, you’re forward, you’re sideways, you’re up, you’re down, and it feels really good.” The motion is a metaphor for life. “We get focused on what’s ahead or regretting what’s passed when there’s all this room all around you to move,” Chang says. “So inhabit your space, take up more space, explore more space.” Wise words that would ring true to Chang’s most influential guru. “Everything comes back to the things that I learned from my grandmother,” she says. “It’s just the message is modified for the world that we live in now.”
Wellness and self-care is being redefined by a global generation that are connecting ancient, old, and new techniques together in experimental fashions. Delve into this world through Be Well, available in German and English.