Meet Your Local Health & Wellness Expert Carolyn Hooper, MA, CHC, FAFS
Every Friday you'll have the opportunity to peek inside the mind of one of our local health & wellness experts. They'll share with you their advice, suggestions, wisdom and answer their most popular question from clients.
This week let's get to know our local health and wellness expert Carolyn Hooper, MA, CHC, FAFS. Carolyn has both a private practice and a practice centered at the Dartmouth College Fitness Center. She is a Restorative Wellness Coach, a Nature Connection Coach, and certified End of Life Doula.
Tell us about yourself and why you choose to go into a health field?
My journey to the health and wellness field was by no means direct. In college, I explored both ecology and the health sciences as career options, finally choosing ecosystems studies and environmental research for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I spent the next decade doing field research in the arctic and teaching research at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (Portland, OR). When I became pregnant with my first child I chose to shift my career back towards the health field – changing environments, as it were, to the human body. I wanted to honor the growing desire inside me to help people restore their health and wellbeing. I worked first for the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, then, after moving to Vermont, gained certifications in personal training, group fitness, functional biomechanics, and Health and Wellness coaching before opening both a private wellness practice and a practice centered at the Dartmouth College Fitness Center. I found if I used the same approaches that I had used as an ecosystems scientist – such as everything is connected to everything else, and working with the system (body) as a whole, I was able to be very effective in helping people move better, reduce pain, function better on a daily basis, and improve their overall quality of life. I consider myself a Restorative Wellness Coach because I primarily work with special populations to help them return to optimal quality of life and wellbeing. My typical clients are those who are managing multiple medical conditions, struggling with the effects of aging, and/or are finding they are simply not able to thrive physically and emotionally. I have worked with hundreds of clients over the past 20 years and it’s still profoundly fulfilling work for me.
What makes you unique in your field?
In addition to being a Restorative Wellness Coach, I am also a Nature Connection Coach (also known as an Eco-therapy Coach). After a decade in ecology, 20+ years of experience promoting optimal wellness and function in the human body, plus a health crisis of my own, I realized there was a much-needed foundational component to wellness that has often been overlooked - connection to Nature. The scientific evidence is strong, and the data continues to grow, about how deeply our bodies, our minds, our senses, our emotions are still strongly adapted to, and respond to, Nature. Simply put, fitness, nutrition, and even the critically important wellness component of social connection, are not always enough when it comes to enhancing optimal quality of life. Based on that, I’ve expanded my practice to now offer what I call Nature-wise wellness programming. These individualized programs go beyond the typical fitness, nutrition, and behavioral coaching approaches to wellness by teaching my clients how to engage in an active relationship with Nature for their personal health and wellbeing needs. Once reconnected, their bodies respond in ways that can be deeply healing to their physical health and mental/emotional states. Nature connection has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, reduce the risk of cardiac disease (especially blood pressure), improve stress management, weight management, sleep, memory, and cognitive function. The list goes on. It is also being used in palliative and hospice care. This is of particular relevance to me as I’m also a certified End of Life Doula, and do additional work with both patients and their caregiver(s) using Nature connection to ease the transitions of dying and death. The best part is Nature connection doesn’t always need to happen outdoors to get the benefits. For people who are unable to be or uncomfortable with being outdoors, there are many effective options that can happen indoors. I have always maintained a strong connection to Nature, so it’s a joy to finally find a profoundly effective approach to helping people restore their health and wellbeing in a way that also brings together my multiple passions.
What question do your clients ask most frequently and how do you answer them?
My clients most always come to me with questions about how to manage chronic stress in their lives, particularly about how to stop or reverse the cascade of physical and emotional suffering that is the result of their particular stress situation. Every client is different, so each answer will be different. But, whether they are a new client or ongoing, I usually begin my response by asking them to answer two questions: “Given your particular stress-related challenge, what is your greatest obstacle to overcoming that challenge?” and “How would you like your life to look being able to function with optimal wellbeing?” The answers to those two questions will guide my response both in the moment, as well as guide any ongoing individualized lifestyle change and wellness programming I create for them. And you can almost always bet that somewhere in my answer and in my programming will be “reconnecting with Nature.”
What do you see as the greatest health risk posed to this generation?
The greatest health risk posed to this generation is chronic stress. It underlies so many of our health problems, individually and as a culture. Many of the “epidemics” we address in the health and wellness industry and as a society, such as obesity, cardiac and metabolic disease, depression, anxiety, lack of energy, poor nutrition, etc., are actually symptoms or manifestations of the much more deeply rooted problem of chronically stress-filled lives. It is not an understatement to say that “stress kills.”
What’s the best health/fitness/wellness advice you ever received?
The best health/fitness/wellness advice I ever received is to answer this question: “What is the cost to my life if I don’t address _____________?” Or put another way, “What will my life look like in 1 year or 5 years or ______ time if I don’t address ________________ now, and is that how I want my life to look?”
Do you have a success story of redeemed health you’d like to share?
The power of Nature to restore health was brought home to me by my own personal health crisis. It would not be an understatement to say that a connection to Nature saved my life. Three years ago, and over the course of about 8 months into a new job, I found I was having increased trouble concentrating, staying on task, and completing projects at work and at home. My motivation to do most anything was almost nonexistent, I always felt exhausted, and nothing seemed to restore me. More alarming, my lifelong stellar blood pressure skyrocketed to 148/96 during that time. I was stunned and confused at this change - I had always been able to rely on my body and my health. I was opposed to medication, so over the next several months and working with my physician, I tried changing my diet, adding meditation, refocusing on regular exercise, adding counseling – all the usual medically-advised strategies. Nothing was working. In fact additional markers indicated that my risk of stroke was actually increasing. Still wanting to avoid medication, I turned to Nature. I implemented a program of daily practices and exercises that I developed for myself based on research, my training, and my experience, all with the goal of enhancing my connection Nature. Within two months, my blood pressure reading dropped to 96/69, and has stayed there. The other biomarkers dropped as well, taking me out of the red zone for stroke risk. I’ve continued my Nature connection practices to this day; it’s now a fully integrated part of my lifestyle. I find myself healthier, thinking clearly again, full of energy, able to stay more focused, and with a greater sense of wellbeing and joy for life than I’ve ever had. Even better, I have seen similar results in other clients.
What is your favorite area of wellness to practice?
At the risk of sounding redundant, my favorite area of wellness to practice is teaching people, both individuals and groups, to reconnect with Nature for health and wellbeing. I love to speak, and regularly offer classes and workshops as platforms to delve directly into Nature connection practices that can benefit fitness, meditation and mindfulness, mental function and emotional balance, and social connection. I will be presenting a Nature connection workshop on Nov 10 at the Deep Change for Water Justice conference at the Vermont Law School in South Royalton, VT. The link to information for that event is www.Deep-Change.org.
What are you passionate about, besides your professional life?
My other passions are gardening, hiking, sailing, kayaking, rowing crew (ok, maybe just about anything having to do with being on/in the water), traveling, walking in the woods (especially at dawn), getting together with friends and family. And most of all, my two boys. And my dog.
What’s your favorite quote or mantra?
My favorite affirmation “I have an abundance of time, energy, and money.”
What’s one book you recommend everyone should read?
My favorite book recommendation is anything by Mary Oliver.
What one suggestion would you make that would have the greatest impact for improved health?
My one suggestion for improved health –surprise, surprise - engage with Nature. Every single day. Whether it’s a little or a lot, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, is less relevant than just doing it regularly. Make it a lifestyle choice, just as you would with good nutrition, exercise, and positive social interactions.
Any final piece of wisdom you’d like to share?
Final wisdom: Trying to make the right choices – or even knowing what the right choices are - to restore your health, wellbeing and quality of life can be confusing and overwhelming. Don’t underestimate the power of having a coach or a mentor. Coaches can help you navigate your way through the information overload. Equally important, we can support and guide you in figuring out how best to get you where you want to go.
How can people learn more about you and what you offer?
An excellent way to learn more about what I do is to sign up for one of the free one-on-one 30 minute Optimal Life Discovery Sessions that I offer. During the session we assess the biggest health/wellness challenge for that individual and lay out an personalized plan. It allows them to get a feel for me as a coach, and for us to see if it’s a fit to do more work together. I’m also very happy to have a more general conversation with anyone about my work both as a Restorative Wellness Coach and Nature Connection Coach. I can be contacted directly, either via email or phone. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org (note there are two “h’s” in the middle); my cell phone is 802/356-9447. I hope to launch the website for my Nature-wise wellness programming soon.
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