In our third See It to Be It podcast interview, Amy C. Waninger chats with PraiseWorks Health and Wellness founder Lynnis Woods-Mullins, a holistic living and wellness expert who focuses on helping women ages 40 and over embark on a successful journey to total wellness for their mind, body, and spirit using holistic practices, nutrition, and fitness. She shares with us how she navigated the transition from corporate America to where she is now and a lot more. These discussions highlight professional role models in a variety of industries, and our goal is to draw attention to the vast array of possibilities available to emerging and aspiring professionals, with particular attention paid to support black and brown professionals. Check out some of the SI2BI blogs we’ve posted while you wait for the next episode!
Check out the PraiseWorks website!
Read about “Power Up, Super Women: Stories of Courage and Empowerment” on Amazon!
Amy: Lynnis, thank you so much for joining me today.
Lynnis: Well, thank you so much for asking me. It’s an honor to be able to share with you, Amy.
Amy: Well, it’s an honor to speak with you. So I was wondering if you could share a little bit about the work that you do. I know that you’re a health and wellness expert and a wellness coach, and I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what that means, what do your clients look like, what do you do for your clients, and we’ll start there.
Lynnis: Okay. Well, I’m a certified health and wellness coach, and I specialize in working with women over 40, teaching them how to be well and how to live a more holistic life, and I do that through my online magazine. I have online classes. I also have coaching services for groups and 1-on-1. I have a podcast and webcast, and I also just recently wrote a book, as you know, and I focus on helping women make incremental lifestyle changes that can give them big results. I have a weight loss, or what I like to call a weight release, program. I also talk with women specifically about hormonal changes. You know, things that happen as we age and how we can minimize the impact of the aging process. I talk a lot about stress reduction. That’s my specialty, stress reduction and anxiety and depression, of which I suffered from all three. And so I really focus on those kinds of things that happen as we age from 40 on, because after 40 there’s some things that start happening that are really interesting, and many times you think perhaps you’re prepared for that because you’ve heard your girlfriends talk about it. You might have not heard your mom talk about it, but you witnessed certain things. I’m telling you, everyone is different and every experience is different, and what I really try to lay out to women is that they’re not alone in terms of going through that experience, but sometimes it can be a lonely experience because while you’re going through it, a lot of times it’s you get this inclination to [?] out and suffer in silence by yourself. You don’t have to do that. And so my job or my role is to familiarize women with all of the different symptoms that might happen and to give them some encouragement to get knowledge on how to deal with it, because I truly believe that knowledge is power.
Amy: You know, as you’re speaking, I’m reminded of this thought that I’ve had repeatedly, that to be a woman is to live in stages of secrets and shame.
Lynnis: That’s true.
Amy: When we’re very young, you know, we get the talk about what’s gonna happen to our bodies in adolescence, and we’re pulled aside, and it’s all in very hushed tones and, you know, like, girls passing tampons, you know, like, in middle school. You know, like, you don’t want to be found out, right? And then, you know, in our teens, 20s, even our 30s, you know, pregnancy is–there’s a lot of mystery surrounding pregnancy, right? Women throughout history have gotten pregnant. Women throughout history have miscarried. Women throughout history have had complications with their pregnancies. But we don’t hear those stories. We sort of–like you said, we suffer in silence. We suffer alone. We don’t talk about it. We’re taught to feel shame about it. And I guess it never occurred to me that I’m on the cusp of yet another, you know, quietly–“go quietly into the night” sort of process and that that’s another aspect of our lives as women that we don’t talk publicly about.
Lynnis: No, you’re absolutely right. And yeah, suffering in silence is really true on so many different levels, but I can just share from my own experience. Each time that I got pregnant–and I have four daughters, they’re all grown. They’re all in their 30s and stuff. Well, one will be 27–each time that I got pregnant, I didn’t tell anybody right away. My first pregnancy I wasn’t married, so I didn’t tell anybody, not even my mom, until I was, like, about seven months pregnant. I lived in a different city, so I just didn’t want to talk [about it] because I wasn’t married, you know? And I invited her to come and see me for the weekend, and she knew as soon as I opened the door. It might have been because my face was fuller, ’cause normally I’m a really, really thin person. You know, that might have been it, but she said she felt it even before that time. And I think with the other ones I didn’t want to tell anybody because I didn’t want to be judged by my family or my friends. I was married, but it was like, “Again?” Because they were so close together. One of my dauhgters–the two middle ones, were born 17 months apart. And, you know, I just didn’t want to deal with that. “Don’t you know about birth control?” and “How can you be a career person?” and all that, so I didn’t tell anybody, and I look back at that and now I’m thinking, “How silly.” I was married. It certainly was my prerogative if I wanted to have children. They were not planned. They were all, you know, wonderful “uh-ohs,” but I think my biggest thing was that this went against the grain in terms of all of my preparation when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder and here I am pregnant again. I was pregnant basically for 10 years. Basically, you know? Because the ages of my children now are 27, 30, 32, and 34. So pretty close together, and I just didn’t want to deal with that “Again?” kind of thing, so I didn’t tell anybody. I look back at that now and I’m thinking, you know, “How much did we as women, no matter what the age is, become vested in people’s opinion of us?” You know? We spend a lot of time preoccupied with that, and it’s very painful because of course we can’t read their minds and many times what we’re thinking they may be thinking–which many times they’re not even close to that, they’re too busy with their own stuff–is really just projections on how we feel about ourselves, and I think the biggest message that I’d like to try to send to women in particular over 40, even at that stage when we should be so wise and know it all and know it more, is the need for self-love, because we just don’t do that. We are our harshest critics. We don’t give ourselves a break, and our breaks–if we do give ourselves a break, there’s all this [?] that goes with it. There’s that shame and guilt. And in order to really be well, there comes a point in your life when you really have to make a decision to let all that go and to be more present and stop worrying so much about what happened in the past, because what happened in the past really has added to who you are as a person, and that’s a good thing. And not to be too preoccupied with the future or the lack of it, depending on your age, because, you know, the future never comes. Tomorrow never comes. It’s always today today. And learning how to be more present in terms of your day-to-day existence.
Amy: So thank you for that. I think that’s absolutely true, and I would imagine that a lot of wellness comes from mindfulness and presence. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into this work?
Lynnis: Sure. I have another life. I have had three lives, maybe. Three main lives. You know, [?] this was my third life. Before this, my second life I was a human resource professional and did very well and got up to the, you know, director level, and I had the equivalent of what could be considered the American dream. I was married, had four kids, a big house in [?] and kids going to school and doing well, you know, husband very successful. You know, all of the stuff that you would think is supposed to be the American dream, and being a woman of color even more so, you know? As an African-American, I was earning the upper .5% for an African-American woman and for a woman in general the upper 2%. So I was doing well. But there was something missing in my life, and I had developed an anxiety disorder and didn’t even know it, and my anxiety disorder was based upon post-traumatic stress, and my post-traumatic stress was based upon an incident that happened in my life that was a total surprise. I didn’t know how to quite deal with it, and my really dealing with had to do with, you know, controlling the outcome. No matter what happened, I was gonna control it. Whether it was controlling my coworkers, my kids, my husband, my neighbors, my friends, you know? My life in general. I was going to control it in such a way where there would never be anymore surprises, which of course is insane.
Amy: Yeah, that’s not possible.
Lynnis: Right? That’s insane. It’s not possible. So over time, after 27 years of that, I finally had an epiphany–or a breakdown, whatever you want to call it–to the point where I had to take a sabbatical, and I left this wonderful job for a year with the idea of going back, and after a year of reflection and going to–you know, really digging down deeper, I realized that I wasn’t happy and I needed to figure out what would make me happy. And in my exploration of what kinds of things I could do to heal myself from this anxiety disorder, because I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and they put me on medication. And I realize now that I was never good at pills and things. I’ve always been interested in nutrition. I was a dancer in my first life, you know, and I was a nutrition minor in college, so I decided that I was going to find out more about this mind, body, spirit wellness movement, which started, you know, a while back. I got started in 2009. This has been almost 10 years now that I’ve been in business. It’ll be 10 years in April of 2019. So I decided that I wanted to figure out a way to help women not go through what I went through and to begin to take a look at how can we be well in our mind, body, and spirit and to make that our quest? Our quest to be well in our minds, in our bodies, and in our spirits, because it’s a continuum. It’s not all about the body. It’s not all about your spirit. It’s not all about your mind. It is a continuum, and if any of those things aren’t being cared for, then we’re off-kilter and we risk the possibility of being unwell. And so that’s how it all started. I put together a company called PraiseWorks, because at that time I thought I would teach women over 40 how to dance, praise dance. I am a classically trained ballet dancer. I have danced professionally. And then when I got in my late 40s, I started doing praise dance at my church. So I was gonna teach them how to dance, and I quickly found out after my first few classes that these women needed so much more than just dance. I had women who were [?] survivors. I had women who were dealing with empty nests and [?] relationships [?] that ended through divorce. Women who had high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, and hormonal. Menopause. All of the things that you begin to deal with as you age, and so I thought “Okay, what else can I do?” And so that’s when I went back, got my certification in nutrition and health and holistic living and yoga and Pilates and all this stuff, and came up with these different virtual programs that can help women to be well. And it’s been really interesting. It’s been quite an adventure, because one of the things that I didn’t anticipate, which I’m learning now, is that a lot of the women who were my age–’cause at that time I was … 51 when I [?]. I still had another 15 years or so of working for corporate America. So everybody thought I was nuts. “How could you just leave, you know, a six-figure salary like that and start your own thing from scratch?” But, you know, I think in many ways I saved my life. I could have still been there, still been working, probably doing okay, making lots of money, but would have had the anxiety disorder or would have gained a whole lot of weight as a result of the medication they wanted to put me on and probably would have began to start falling apart, because any time you’re on any kind of medication, if it’s not organic or holistic–any kind of pharmaceutical–it fixes normally the symptom and not the causation, and it causes other symptoms later on. So I feel like I saved my own life, and in the process of saving my own life I’m hoping that I’ve helped women begin to save theirs in terms of making other choices for their lives. And so that began my goal to really get the word out, virtually at first, even though like I said it was a challenge ’cause a lot of women my age, you know, weren’t really into, you know, social media and things like that back in 2009, but that’s changed over the years. [?] to not just inspire women 40 and over, but my children are saying “Mom, millennials, we need this kind of stuff. We need to know.” They’re on a quest and searching, and I never really thought about that, but they’re right. So now I’m beginning to think about approaching–if you want to get to my age, [laughs] the ripe-old age of almost 62, then you’re gonna want to do some of this stuff that, you know, I’ve [?] over the last 10 years.
Amy: Absolutely. It’s so much easier to prevent diabetes, heart disease and those kinds of things than it is to recover from them. High blood pressure, high cholesterol. The list goes on, right?
Lynnis: And so many of those kinds of diseases, so many of them are lifestyle choices. And then coupled with the fact that growing older your body is gonna go through some changes anyway, and if you had decided to make a lifestyle choice to exercise more, to eat differently, to lower your stress levels, then your aging process could have been a lot more of a positive experience, and I’m trying to send that message out to women and all of the people who love them that there is a different way, that you don’t have to go down that road.
Amy: And I think, you know, going back to what you said about millennials, I just hearing millennial burnout is such a problem. You know, millennials and Gen Z are taking on so much stress because, you know, for example, college has gotten–the cost of college has gotten out of control. The return on that investment has diminished almost to nothing for a lot of people, and so they’re trying to pay back more debt with worse–you know, with lower income than their parents, and then there’s still the pressure of “When are you gonna start a family? When are you gonna buy a house?” Right? All of those expectations that we put on people basically from the 1940s, right? “When are you going to fulfill the American dream that’s almost 100 years old?”
Lynnis: Which is really the American nightmare, trying to achieve that right now, ’cause right now I’m visiting my daughter in D.C., and first of all, I’m immensely proud of her because she has done this by herself, and sometimes I would feel guilty about not being able to help her more once she finished her education, but I’m glad ultimately that she went this way, because I’m not always gonna be here. My husband’s not gonna always be here. I had three other daughters I had to try to get through their phases of education, but it’s interesting, the lifestyle that she’s living is great, but it’s extremely expensive. You know, her rent is more than my mortgage–and I live in California, so I don’t have a cheap mortgage. But I look at how these–I don’t want to say young people. I hate using that phrase because it makes me seem like I’m 1,000 years old, but I’m looking at how they’re living and the pace within which you’re living. I mean, they never–they’re on all the time. They never relax. Even their social thing is–I don’t want to say it’s a competition, but it’s stressful, you know, getting to the place because of the traffic, finding a place to park if you are driving. Or being in public transportation, having to be aware of your surroundings all the time. Then you get there and you have to deal with in your mind, “Okay, how much can I afford?” You know, when the bill comes, and then in-between that you’re constantly on your phone. While you’re talking to your friends and stuff, you’re on the phone, you’re doing all this stuff, and I’m thinking, “Wow, this is a lot of fun, but it’s stressful fun.” There’s never a point where people just stop and just be, unless [?], like, “Yoga time,” or “Medication time,” you know? There’s not–there doesn’t seem to be a point of really disconnecting. And you’re right, we in this society, no matter what age we are, have a tendency to want to meet the expectations of whatever was set before us. You know, for me it was being raised in the 70s and trying to meet the expectations of where my parents were, because they happened to have been college-educated, which was, you know, very unusual back then, because they were still in the early 50s. But now the expectation is my children do the same, but I realize that two of my girls, who had children in their late 20s, it might be a little bit more difficult for them to achieve the same level as I have, because times are different. Times are different. And so I think that part of being well is realizing that and giving yourself a break and realizing that these times are different, and you have to set your own expectations based upon what it is you want for your life. I mean, if you enjoy that pace and that’s where you’re at that’s fine, but if you know that there’s something else that you want to do, that’s okay too. And with the college experience, I’m telling you–I’ve always felt this way, but I especially feel this way now. I wish we had more of the European model that gives people opportunities for apprenticeships and things like that, because college is not for everyone, and that does not mean that they’re dumb or stupid or any of that. Ask Bill Gates. He’ll tell you that, okay? And some of the other folks sitting up there in Google right now. They don’t necessarily have, you know, grad degrees. The idea of getting a degree and then going on and getting the grad degree, because you don’t know what else you’re going to do, and then going on and getting your Ph.D., and then, you know, [?], I don’t think that was the expectation at the time. So I think maybe perhaps we need to be more–I hate to use the word authentic. It’s become such a buzzword. But more true to ourselves and that inner desire and tapping into that, because I do believe where your passion is, so lies your treasure.
Amy: That’s a beautiful sentiment. I love that. So for people who are where you were a few years ago, still climbing the corporate ladder, still trying to secure the bag, right, what can you offer them in terms of–what are the signs that they’re approaching an unhealthy place? What do they need to watch for?
Lynnis: Well, never disconnecting. For me it was two cell phones and a pager and my laptop, and this started back in ’92 and went on until 2008, and I was raising kids at the same time and traveling. At one time I was about 60, 70% travel. I would make a turn-around–I would do a red-eye… an early-morning flight to Texas from California and take a red-eye back to be able to get there in time before they woke up the next morning, and then I would work from home because–I would, you know, dial into a landline or whatever back in the 90s, but never disconnecting and thinking that, by never disconnecting, you are being the best that you can be, that you’re really doing a great job. The reality is more than likely you’re not doing a great job. More than likely mistakes are going to happen. Disconnecting, and you start seeing those little mistakes pop up that, you know, normally you would not make. That’s a sign, especially when you know that this a job that you’re prepared for and that you’re confident in and all of a sudden things start happening. Another sign is the inability to sleep, to be able to disconnect enough to sleep to calm down. Or if you’re sleeping, your sleep is constantly interrupted by waking up, going to the bathroom several times during the course of the night, not having a deep sleep. That’s a sign. Another sign is when you begin to realize that you don’t have any relationships, and I’m not talking about love relationships. I’m talking about friendships. Your friendships are also tied to work, which is not a bad thing, but there was a time where you didn’t work at that place and you had friends outside of work or friends outside of your profession. So disconnecting from relationships that aren’t work-related. Also not being able to just sit and be. Feeling the need to always be doing something. And I’m not talking–and you can sit and be and binge watch, but you’re still doing something, but the idea of just being in a state of being, if you’re having problems with any of those things, that’s a sign of burnout. Anxiety, which is a common thing that most Americans suffer from that no one is really talking about. My anxiety was so bad for almost 10 years that I thought it was normal. I started drinking coffee because of my anxiety, believe it or not. It seemed to be the only thing that would take away the scary feeling. The scary feeling was I would be going–I would wake up in the morning and it would feel like I was going straight downhill on a roller coaster with no restraints. I mean, like, going down the hill and nothing holding me in, but I’m still in the chair. Somehow I’m not falling out, but can you imagine how scary that is, thinking that you might fall out? That. It was the fear of the unknown. That all came from my post-traumatic stress that I found out later that I had as a result of not really going through the process of grieving. And the post-traumatic stress, and I talk about it in the book, it all came from how I found out that my mother had died. She was hit by a fire truck on her way to work. She was 56 years old. And how I found out was really traumatic, very traumatic, and I had just had a baby, 5 weeks old, and I had a 17-month old and a just turned 4-year-old. So it was–and I was on maternity leave at the time, but I was a regional manager, and I had, like, three or four branches I was in charge of, and what had happened was on the day that she died I had just seen her, and I said I would see her later and went to my office to show everybody my baby. And this was before cell phones. And my dad, I guess I must have mentioned it to him when I was over at the house in the morning, ’cause he was on his way to work too–’cause my parents were in my mid-50s. I was 31. And so I think I had mentioned to them that I was going by my office to show off the baby, and he called me there and he said, “I want you to go home,” to the family home, because my grandfather was visiting from Georgia, my dad’s dad, and he was just beginning to exhibit signs of dementia. So he wanted me to go home and stay with Grandaddy and that he would meet me there at the house a little bit later ’cause, he said, “Your mom’s been in an accident. I don’t know how serious it is, but I need you to go home.” So I said okay, and, you know, I had a feeling something was wrong, and I had left my organizer–back then they had Ben Franklin organizers. I left my Ben Franklin organizer at work, and we didn’t have cell phones back then. Didn’t have any [?] numbers. Couldn’t remember any numbers ’cause I was so scared. I suddenly wasn’t feeling right. So I called my mom’s office and, you know, Lucille [?], my mom’s secretary, and I said, “Listen, I need to call someone to come and stay with me and I don’t have any numbers with me,” and she said, “Oh, yeah, I guess you would want to have someone come stay with you. You know, we are so sorry. We loved your mother.” And I was like “…E-D? Loved? Past tense? You mean she’s gone?” And that’s when she realized, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” And then she dropped the phone, and I could hear–then I could hear people in the background crying. ‘Cause I mean, it had been, like, not even a whole hour since this had happened, and that’s when I began immediately to never have that shock again. Can you imagine? I mean, even now when I think about it I can still feel that… that decision. Boom. Because I have babies to take care of. I’ve got a job to do. I have a husband. I have a home. And my dad, I’ve got to be there for him, and I’ve got to be there for my sister who’s still at school, at 17, graduating in a few months, turning 18 next week. I gotta call my sister in LA who just finished her master’s [?]. I gotta take care of this stuff, so I don’t have time to feel,” and, you know, that’s where [?], and that’s where the anxiety sort of began, that moment, and that was definitely post-traumatic stress. And so I write about that and what I learned from that. They gotta read the book [?].
Amy: That’s right. So the book that you’re mentioning is called Power Up Super Women: Stories of Courage and Empowerment, and Lynnis is one of 17 authors of this anthology, and I’m another author on this anthology. My story is not nearly as traumatic or dramatic, but all of these stories are designed to help women kind of come to terms with who they are, what they want out of life, and how to go about getting it, and there’s some truly, truly inspirational stories in this. Lynnis, I have two more questions for you today. I wanted to ask you to finish this sentence. “I feel included when ______.”
Lynnis: I feel included when I’m contributing something of value to society, to my friends, to my family. I want to be of value. I just don’t want to be taking up space. I don’t want just because I am successful to be what defines me. I want that success to be tied to adding value, you know? Adding value to someone’s life, adding value to someone’s experience. I want to build a legacy. I just don’t want to be successful and make a lot of money but no one remembers what I did. And I don’t know why I tear up [?], but at 62, you know, that’s something that’s really important to me, to be of value.
Amy: Yeah, to leave a lasting impact. I understand that, absolutely. Now can you finish this sentence? “When I feel included, I _______.”
Lynnis: When I feel included, I feel a sense of joy.
Amy: Oh, that’s beautiful.
Lynnis: Yes. I never really experienced what true joy was until I left corporate America, quite frankly. And it’s not that I’m saying corporate America is a bad thing. Corporate America is just a small sliver of what defines you, and if you can arrive at that early on in your career, then you’ll be okay, because the real joy you’re going to feel are the things that come at you unexpectedly, and in corporate America you don’t want any surprises, but in life you do. You want good surprises in terms of, you know, the experiences that you have, and so yeah, it brings me great joy when I am able to feel included that way.
Amy: Well, Lynnis, I can tell that you’re having an impact, not just on your clients but on everyone around you. You have so much–you exude joy, you exude peace, and I am so grateful to know you. Thank you so much.
Lynnis: Well, thank you, Amy. It’s really an honor to talk with you. I’m so glad that you asked me. This is exciting.