The Connection Between Meditation & Wellness
- Written By:Alexandra Malmed
Sarah Anne Stewart understands just how emotional our relationships with food are. The Los Angeles-based Certified Holistic Health Practitioner’s new wellness practice is about infusing her client’s lives with meditation. She takes the emphasis away from nutrients, calories, and fad diets, and moves it towards being in touch with—and loving—oneself, in order to obtain optimal health and reach goal weights.
Sarah's unique, heart-centered approach has helped hundreds of women across the globe make sustainable lifestyle and dietary changes that in turn can heal their relationships with food and their bodies. Sarah is the founder of the Awesome Inside Out Movement, author of the e-course Meditate Slim Mastery, an advisor to international wellness brands, and a soon to be Hay House author. We caught up with her to learn more about her approach to wellness, meditation, and what she thinks about diets.
Your approach to weight loss and wellness is so unique— tell us a bit more about it...
Many of us have witnessed that the old model of calories in versus calories out doesn’t work. Working solely with a diet doesn’t account for how to change our habits, or better yet how to get to the source of what needs healing. But while we know that most diets aren’t sustainable long-term (statistically more than half of people gain the weight back), we don’t have an approach for what to do instead. Born out of a need to find something sustainable that allowed me to honor my body’s needs and feel good in my skin, I created a wellness model based on mindset shifts. I talk a lot with my clients about shifts versus shame. Meaning, if we understand the beliefs driving our behavior, we can shift our perception, which supports the creation of a new healthy habit.
At the age of 14, I witnessed my father cure terminal cancer with holistic treatments, including a raw plant-based diet, meditation, energy medicine, and biofeedback. I learned early on about the healing power of foods, the importance of meditation, and the value of taking the time to connect with one’s own body. That same year, I was scouted and signed a modeling contract. My entire life became consumed by my career and my agents’ demands to stay thin at all costs. As a result, I almost lost my life to an eating disorder. When the doctors told me I needed to change my lifestyle or else, I choose to change careers and go back to school for nutrition.
The most important part of my journey was discovering that all of my nutrition certifications and knowledge around food weren’t making me better; they were actually increasing my anxiety. With nothing left to try, I decided to revisit the holistic practices I knew as a child, namely meditation and yoga. As I started to witness my own life change, I was inspired to design a coaching framework, using the best of what I’d discovered.
Let’s get into the heart of it — meditation — then. Meditation is at once a buzzword and an ancient tradition. What do you personally glean from it?
I’m all for it being a buzzword if it means that it’s going to get someone to be present and connected with their body. When starting, however, I’ve found that it’s most helpful to have an experienced guide or to take a class or workshop. Part of the beauty of working with someone with in-depth training is they can help open your receptivity for the practice before diving in, and educate you about common misconceptions. With dedication, the practice itself is powerful! I’ve witnessed people heal everything from body image issues to a variety of health issues and ailments just by increasing self-awareness and learning how to regulate their nervous system, which indirectly impacts their decisions.
You are anti-diet. What does this mean to you?
I am not anti-diet if the diet works for you! I’m not, however, a proponent of diet protocols that don’t factor in a person’s unique biology or mindset—and it’s nearly impossible to account for everyone’s. Thus, there are a lot of ‘copy and paste’ approaches that leave many people frustrated and unable to get the results they desire. The bottom line is: each person reacts differently to different foods, supplements, and treatments based on their genetics, their biochemistry, their life experiences, and even their beliefs. It’s vital to learn how to trust your body and learn to discern its needs. The best way to do that? Experiment with different foods and pay attention to how your body responds. I’ve tracked hundreds of clients and have found the majority of the time we already know which foods make us feel good and which ones don’t. The challenge is to stop resisting and honor what we know to be true for ourselves.
How do you customize your meal plans and directions according to various clients given their needs and desires?
All of the meal plans are co-created with my clients, however 90% of the time we’re not talking about the foods themselves, but rather the client’s relationship to food. We are paying attention to eating patterns, cravings, what’s happening before and after the food cravings hit, and how to discern whether they’re feeding a physical or emotional need. We’re looking at primary foods—relationships, career, spirituality, etc—and their impact on my client’s health. If we’ve covered those and there’s still something out of alignment, we go back to food and movement!
You praise self-love meditations— can you elaborate on their power?
The heart is scientifically proven to be like a ‘second brain.’ Connecting to this powerful center inside of your body can increase compassion, open you up to forgiveness, and provides guidance that goes beyond the logical mind. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need all of those things on the journey to realizing their full potential or just becoming a better human—a better partner, parent, leader, etc. When we have self-love, it’s challenging to act out of integrity and treat our bodies and others in any other way than with deep respect. Eating is so emotional, and meditation at once connects us with and detaches us from the mind and from emotion.
When do you suggest that people meditate? Before meals? Before sleeping?
Although sometimes it’s necessary to step back from a situation that’s emotionally charged to gain clarity, I don’t believe that we should be using meditation to suppress our emotions. There is a delicate balance that we need to be aware of. And we can use meditation to become aware of our feelings so that we can shift into a more expansive state. I believe that you can never go wrong with a morning practice. Morning meditation is going to set the tone for your entire day. It’s the optimal time to visualize how you want your day to look, decide how you want to feel and show up, or rehearse moving through the day with presence and awareness. Then completely detach from all of it and just stay connected to your breath.
Additionally, I’m always an advocate for taking your meditation into meal time. Most of us are eating between meetings, at our desk, or in front of a screen. Before eating, remove all distractions and take a few, deep conscious breaths. Start by affirming gratitude for the meal and your body. Then, be fully present with your food and your body. Enjoy the colors, the tastes and textures. Notice how you respond to each of the foods on your plate. And chew! All of these small adjustments make it a mindful meal. Meditation is, after all, about being present.
What, to you, are the three most important things in life?
I believe that our health is always number one! Second is building healthy relationships. Having supportive relationships and community is proven to have a significant impact on your physical and mental health. Number three is impact and how you choose to serve the world through your talents and innate gifts.