Mel Stahl, Joyologist

We all have a story…

My journey has taken me from success in business to total burnout to overwhelming joy and happiness.

I had given too much of myself away and I was lost. Luckily, Nia found me in 2007. I was the owner of a very busy graphic design firm, as well as a wife, and a mother of a baby and a 3-year-old. I didn’t stop go-go-going. Ever. Not even when the kids were born. I worked 12-16 hour days for years. I was about 60 pounds overweight, suffering from chronic fatigue, adrenal burnout, candida, and a sinus infection that I swear lasted about two years. Eventually my body said enough was enough and it shut down. I should have seen it coming…

The Nia story

So there I was in this Nia class and wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into. I dragged a friend with me, who was ready to leave when we got there, but the teacher, Loretta Milo, was very friendly, so I said what the heck! She told us to kick our shoes and socks off and started the music. I was instantly intrigued that we were going to exercise barefoot. We moved in ways I don’t think I ever have. I laughed most of the time and wasn’t getting any of it “right” but I didn’t care. I was having fun and getting my sweat on!

By the end of class we were all laying on the floor, and it was a good thing. I was pooped. The music was lovely and Loretta’s voice even lovelier. The way she was talking made my eyes roll back in my head. It was in that moment that I realized I could just be me. ME! For one frickin’ hour. I didn’t have to be mom, wife, business owner, sister, best friend. Just me! Tears started to roll down my face and that was it. I was hooked on Nia and I wanted more.

After my second Nia class I knew there had to be more to this Nia thing, so I Googled it. Turned out they had white belt trainings to become a teacher. I emailed the trainer and asked if I was crazy to consider going even though I had never taught a fitness or dance class in my life and I had only done Nia twice. She said that she knew people that had never taken a class and signed up. So, once again, I said what the heck.

Talk about a fish out of water! I was the first cryer in the group explaining how I had a very busy business at home, two little kids, and was basically scared to death. Turns out choosing to sign up for my white belt was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I became more body aware. I didn’t even know what that was given that I was the girl that would go all day without peeing. I learned that there was a difference between “the body’s way” and “my body’s way”. How liberating that was to hear! And I was introduced to the joy of movement. Until Nia, I thought exercise had to suck to be effective.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I loved the training so much that I continued on to green belt, blue belt, brown belt and black belt over the next 7 years.

The sugar story

My Nia students thought I was the energizer bunny but the truth was my body was shot from all the crap I had put it through the last 10 years. I would teach my classes and then crash and burn. I was so drained and sick all the time that I fell into a depression. I cut my work in half, which was not only devastating financially but if I wasn’t Little Miss Successful Graphic Designer, then who was I? I lost what I thought was my identity and it took me 2 years to realize that I am not defined by what I do for a living.

As I embraced this new concept, I began to research my butt off so I could start feeling better. I found a functional medicine doc, Christie Sonchar, who helped me turn things around. She identified many food intolerances, an underactive thyroid, severely burned out adrenals and a bunch of other issues, including insulin resistance. Over time, and not nearly as fast as she would have liked, I made lifestyle changes with her help. I watched all the healthy eating movies and read all the plant-based books I could get my hands on. I began to take courses and certifications on plant-based eating, raw food cheffing and detoxification.

The biggest hurdle wasn’t giving up gluten or the processed crap. It was the SUGAR! I was drinking venti chai tea lattes every day. For fifteen years! I was putting those babies down like it was my job! I was so addicted to them and loads of other sugary treats that I had to hire a coach to help me kick the sugar pipe.

Enter Molly Patrick. I had been following her blog Clean Food Dirty Girl for a while and when she offered a free coaching call, I jumped on it. She took me and my sugar addiction on as a client. It still took a few months, and the woman is a genius. Plus, I was ready for the change. You see, I had been teaching 5+ Nia classes per week and working out with a personal training 3 times a week and STILL wasn’t losing any damn weight. Turns out I was sabotaging all my efforts in the kitchen and didn’t realize it. Sound familiar? Yeah, it wasn’t pretty. So Molly kicked me in the pants and it’s been over two years since I’ve eaten any processed sugar. I had officially broken up with Starbucks!

The coaching story

I was eating healthier than I ever had in my life. I had finally done it because I quit going at it alone. I had help and a lot of it. I was no longer ashamed to admit that and soon realized I had a story to tell and skills to help others who were struggling. I started teaching raw food classes to show others how to create beautiful, healthy food that actually tastes good, and is easier to make than you think. That was fun and rewarding but it wasn’t enough.

I was still teaching Nia at least 3-5 times a week and loving it but wasn’t enough. It was when I went to a raw food detox retreat at The Raw Food Institute with Lisa Wilson that I considered being a coach myself. I was healing my own body, and still am, but boy, I had a LOT of education and passion to share. I liked the idea of being a coach, but once again, I had no idea what I was doing.

I wanted to start a new business but the only kind I knew was graphic design and the only way I knew to run it was balls out! I was so afraid of hitting burnout again that I found Karen Knowler, The Raw Food Coach. What an amazing gal Karen is. It was through a couple of different coaching and business programs with her that I realized I wanted to combine Nia, healthy food and personal growth. I was on my way and I had support.

The shitty story

When I came back from her retreat in the UK I was on an absolute high! I knew what I wanted to do and I had the coach to help me do it. Then life happened. My aunt/Godmother committed suicide. I saw it coming and I couldn’t stop it. I was devastated.

I wanted to work on my business and give so much to others, but I couldn’t do it. I had nothing. The only thing I could manage to do was be sure my mom was ok. Her younger sister was gone and there was nothing anyone could do about it. I barely ate. I cried on the floor in the shower. I stayed in bed a lot and ate Doritos. She loved Doritos.

A month later my Gramps died. Three months later my sister-in-law and best friend got so sick I was terrified she was going to die. Three months later my Grandma died. I was supposed to be creating a new business to help the world find joy again. Instead, I was going to funerals.

I supposed I used this sadness and heartache as an excuse to eat like shit and fall into old habits for about a year. I was lucky that I had a few great coaches to pour into me and support me but it took me a long time to get my crap together. I continued to teach Nia through everything. The movement, my students and the music were therapy for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thanked God and Universe for Nia and my friends!

The rest of the story

With the support of my husband and kids I was finally ready to get back in the game. I’m not sure exactly what had changed. Maybe I had just spent enough time being sad. Gently, Karen recommended a coach training program with Dawn Breslin called Harmonizing.

Dawn was focusing in the area of burnout, which I was drawn to and understood very well myself. After a 45-minute conversation that sounded like I was talking to myself with a Scottish accent, I was in! So, for the fifth time in 18 months, I was back in the UK in Edinburgh, Scotland. Dawn is a beautiful soul, dynamic, grounded and one of the most loving people I have ever met.

This was the missing piece of the puzzle for me. I knew there had to be a more gentle, heart-led approach to coaching vs. the set goals-make a plan-and I’ll hold you accountable ways of traditional coaching. The last thing someone in burnout needs is a coach stressing them out!

So here I am. Coaching. Teaching Nia. Sharing my love of plant foods. Planning retreats in beautiful locations. All in one business! I also plan to open a studio creating a home for all of these loves in my life. It’s been a wild ride but I made it and have the tools to deal with the curve balls life will surely throw at me. And I have the tools to help you with it too. This is just the beginning of a life full of joy. I hope you’ll join me.