During this challenging time, the topics of health and wellness have never been more important, but what do we mean, exactly, when we say “health” and “wellness”? How does our background inform our attitudes about these words? How do privilege, upbringing, culture, politics, education, and race affect the way we “practice” health and wellness, or affect our access to it, or our beliefs around it? At a time of great division, I wondered if health and wellness could be a way that we could connect with one another. My passion (and need) for it led me to meet a now-friend, Kristin Williams, who grew up in a very different cultural, religious, and political background than I—yet she holds the same passion for health and wellness that I do.

We quickly saw how the topic of health and wellness could bridge the divide of difference and bring people together. Because of our friendship and trust, we are able to challenge each other while still bringing a compassionate ear to one another’s different views. These conversations have been extremely healing in a time when it feels like what divides us is greater than what unites us. We hope to learn from you as well. This is the beginning of a series where we will use openness and curiosity to discuss how health and wellness fit into your life and how, given our backgrounds in evidence-based practices, we can help. Before we begin, read below to find out how two seemingly different women became friends.

Shefali: I’m excited to share this series and conversation with you, Kristin! Many of my readers know that I grew up in India before coming to the U.S. for my undergraduate degree in engineering. As a child, I experienced rigid cultural expectations around education and what path to follow (basically engineering and medicine), which seemed to contrast with the seemingly less scientific religious and cultural ceremonies that we were expected to participate in. Where did you grow up and were there expectations placed on you?  

Kristin: While my background couldn’t be more different, the expectations, in some ways, were very similar. My parents are conservative Christians; we went to church every Sunday and their expectation was that I would go to college and possibly grad school. I was the only girl and the youngest of three. Since my brother and dad were both in business, I went to college with the thought that I would, too.

For diverse reasons, I always felt pressure to be perfect for my parents, never wanting to cause trouble for them, I got good grades and excelled in sports and recreational activities. Perfectionism, you and I found, was something we had in common, regardless of our different backgrounds.

Shefali: I can absolutely relate. My parents had lived in the U.S. and chose to go back to India when I was an infant. They were always torn between the progressive culture of the U.S. and the traditional roles in India. While they were progressive, I was caught between different worlds, from my immediate family to my extended family and school.

I was also interested in and studied classical dance, but going to engineering school seemed to be a given. My passion for dance as a child made me appreciate health and wellness as an adult. I loved to move and also understood the importance of a good posture to create a beautiful piece of dance. But I did not have the scientific knowledge until much later when I met you. How did you come to health and wellness?

Kristin: My health and wellness journey began in college at Indiana University. Because of my impressive high school track career, I was invited onto the Division 1 track team and I accepted because, honestly, I didn’t make the cheerleading team! It just felt good to be wanted and I was good at it. Even though I am fast, I wasn’t built to be a sprinter and subsequently got injured a lot (which, now that we know about the connection between the mind and the body, isn’t that surprising). I spent a lot of time going to physical therapy, and it piqued my interest. Halfway through my sophomore year, I switched my major from Business to Exercise Science.

Shefali: I know you started track in high school, and in India, we didn’t have all of those teams and leagues to choose from. The only aspiration to have was academic. We did do a little bit of yoga—which I brought to adulthood. However, I didn’t have the deep education nor was I very strong, and as a result, I injured myself! The silver lining is that I had the opportunity to meet you! 

Kristin: That’s right! You were my perfect patient. You were totally invested in learning. You asked questions, and since I love to empower and teach, if I didn’t know something, you could bet your bottom dollar I’d find out! Which is part of why we’re doing this series together.

Shefali: Exactly. You were different from other physical therapists that I had gone to. You really cared and you were all about investigating, problem-solving, and educating, which is very much my mentality with my engineering background. I felt like I had (and have) a partner, and now we can bring that partnership to our readers to help educate and empower the greater population about health and wellness.

Kristin: Since we have collaborated in so many ways—as patient and therapist, and in the yoga studio as teacher to teacher and teacher to student—we have the trust and shared passion for bringing people of different backgrounds together over a common interest in health and wellness. More importantly, we have the trust, honesty, and vulnerability that are necessary to really engage those conversations with each other and our readers. I’m really looking forward to it!

Shefali: Me, too. Bringing science, passion, curiosity, and diverse viewpoints is what it’s all about—especially now. Do you want to start the series off with a question for our readers?

Kristin: Absolutely! I’d love to know: what are people’s biggest health and wellness challenges right now? It can be related to the body, the mind, or the spirit; they’re all connected.

Shefali: I agree—as we roll into the holidays and we look into the new year, there will be new hopes and goals. And with the hopes and goals, there are always barriers and challenges. I know my injuries in my shoulder and leg get in the way of success. And there are also the realities of life, such as the corporate and family commitments…

There’s so much more to share about health and wellness, and we are excited to create a community of diverse thought and backgrounds with the common goal of living healthy and mindful lives. We believe that now, more than ever, evidence-based, thoughtful conversations are essential to bringing us together. No matter your cultural, socio-economic, or career background, we will provide a practical application of tools for you to feel strong and healthy, empowered, and part of a growing community. Covering everything from parenting to self-care to pain management, and the challenges and opportunities that affect each of our communities, we will endeavor to entertain as much as educate. Your voice is a crucial part of this conversation. Please let us know in the comments below what is on your mind, what your concerns and hopes are, and how we can help.