Be in fearless pursuit of what sets your soul on fire. I’ve always been a person who goes “all in” on something I love, and it’s never been a wrong decision for me even if I’ve changed course and priorities later on in life. It’s allowed me to take the leap to starting my own business as well as dedicating as much time as I do to running, both of which have been some of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I think if someone is pursuing what they feel strongly about and they have a passion for, they’re doing something right.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Gersten, a New York City therapist and health/wellness coach with a passion for helping people lead their healthiest lives possible. She completed her undergraduate degree at the Arizona State University where she double majored in psychology and human development, then attended Teachers College Columbia University and earned two masters degrees (Ed.M., M.A.) in Psychological Counseling. Since then she has worked in a variety of settings providing mental health services and therapy to clients, and most recently co-created Viva Wellness, a holistic wellness center located in Brooklyn, NY.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve been drawn to mental health and making people happy since I started watching Frasier when I was 10 — it’s still my favorite show! I took a psychology class in high school and was hooked. In college, it was a natural choice to major in psychology.

In 2017, I was working in an administrative role in the social services field and I wasn’t really happy with what I was doing. I didn’t feel passionate about my work, and I’m not someone who can go to work every day without feeling like there’s a purpose or drive to what I was doing. I was marathon training with a friend at the time, who I shared the idea I’ve had for years of opening an inclusive wellness practice that treated people holistically for both their physical and mental health. She turned to me at the time and asked me “Why AREN’T you doing that?”. I didn’t have a good answer, and at that moment, knew it was time to put my dream into action. I told my business partner, Jor-El, who shared my vision that it was time to make Viva Wellness a reality — and the rest is history!

What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?

For me, it means to live with intention or choice. We can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose which path we follow and we can choose what we prioritize in life and what we pour our love and energy into. It means doing things that matter to you, whatever those things happen to be. I think one achieves that by being mindful and paying attention to what makes you feel your best, and what brings you the most joy. It’s easy to go through life not really checking in with ourselves and how we feel, but if you can name what makes you feel the most alive and follow that, you’re probably going to end up in a good place.

Do you have an example or story in your own life of how your pain helped to guide you to finding your life’s purpose?

It’s taken me a long time to feel somewhat comfortable talking about this, but I’m a chronic pain patient. It’s something that affects me every day, and it’s not going away any time soon. It’s been difficult to share with people because from the outside, I look fine and there doesn’t seem to be anything “wrong” with me. It’s also hard to describe because it’s not a quick explanation. It’s not a condition like diabetes, for example, that everyone recognizes and knows (for the most part) how it affects my daily life. What works for me in terms of wellness and physical activity isn’t what works for a lot of other people, and it can sometimes feel very isolating to have a different process than others and to also have to constantly explain myself. While I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t “fix” my body if I could, I think going through this has just emphasized the need for a space where people can find wellness that works for them with empathy and support, rather than a “one size fits all” approach, and that has definitely tied into my professional approach at Viva Wellness.

The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?

-Lack of work/life balance. It’s not surprising when reading that more than half of Americans didn’t use all of their allotted vacation time in 2017. Not only do people struggle to take some dedicated time away from work, but people also struggle with work/life balance on a more constant basis, helping contribute to feelings of unhappiness.

-A lot of stigma around so many identities (being a woman, being a person of color, being LBGTQ, for example). With these stigmas present, it can be difficult for people to discover and express who they truly are in a lot of areas of their life

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve made it my mission through Viva Wellness to make holistic wellness accessible for everyone. I look at the success in the space that Jor-El and I have built, and know that we are helping bring goodness to the world a bit every time we are able to help our clients realize the healthiest version of themselves.

What are your 6 strategies to help you face your day with exuberance, “Joie De Vivre” and a “ravenous thirst for life”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1. Have something to look forward to each day (even if it’s small, like getting coffee from your favorite spot). Being able to look forward to something each day can help brighten a not-so-great day and make you consciously be happy about something

2. Practicing gratitude. This can be in the form of a journal, thought exercises, etc., but the important thing is to actively practice gratitude to remind yourself of the things in your life you are grateful for, large or small

3. Moving at least once a day. This can be going for a morning run, getting off the subway a stop earlier and walking, going to your favorite spinning class — whatever gets you moving that you enjoy. Besides the benefits of strengthened muscles and improved circulation, exercise helps lower stress, and it can be as simple as a twenty-minute walk after work.

4. Expressing love. Make sure people you love know that you love them — family, friends, etc. This can be in whichever form you are comfortable with (words, gifts, doing nice things for them, etc.) and helps you take on the day with exuberance when you’ve expressed love to others and know you are loved in return.

5. Challenging yourself once each day. This can be part of a larger goal or a small step outside your comfort zone. For example, a goal to conquer a fear of public speaking could mean putting yourself up for an opportunity to lead a meeting at work. Or this could be signing up for a different fitness class with a friend to try something new.

6. Eating well. Note that this doesn’t always need to mean “diet foods”; it should be about nourishing your body and mind through food that is both healthy and makes you happy. Practice a balance of vegetables and also your favorite dessert, and approaching food as nourishment for your body and mind helps add into an overall thirst for life and joie de vivre (just ask the author of French Women Don’t Get Fat).

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?

Book: The Happiness Project. It encouraged me to start Viva with the question of “what would you be doing if you could do anything” as well as practical tips to seek out happiness in your daily life

Book: Find A Way. The story of Diana Nyad’s amazing accomplishment of swimming from Cuba to Florida is one of the most inspiring I’ve ever read. What she went through to achieve her dream is absolutely amazing and such an inspiration.

Podcast: The Human Race. It’s no longer recording new episodes, but it was amazing to listen to so many stories of how running has changed people’s lives and helped them overcome some major obstacles.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Be in fearless pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.

I’ve always been a person who goes “all in” on something I love, and it’s never been a wrong decision for me even if I’ve changed course and priorities later on in life. It’s allowed me to take the leap to starting my own business as well as dedicating as much time as I do to running, both of which have been some of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I think if someone is pursuing what they feel strongly about and they have a passion for, they’re doing something right.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people? We’re working on plans through our social media pages and blog for 2019 to expand Viva Wellness’s reach to be a go-to wellness resource for as many people as possible. We have a couple of ideas to showcase various aspects of wellness and real stories from real people to start a real conversation about what wellness looks like (and it’s not always about eating kale and going to workout classes!). We’re also working hard to de-stigmatize mental health and therapy. It doesn’t just need to be for when you’re going through a crisis. It’s also for people who want to live better overall. Be sure to follow our blog and social media pages to stay tuned on our updates!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Mental health and physical health are not separate. I think that needs to be shouted from the rooftops and shared on every social media page, billboard, TV channel, etc. I don’t know why it ever started to be separated, but we all live in one body. Our minds are connected to our legs, just like our legs are connected to our feet. What happens to us physically affects us mentally and vice versa, and it’s okay to ask for help in all areas of health and wellness. We need to start being more open and real about the struggles of being a person so we can support each other and live our healthiest lives possible — and everyone is worth investing in their health.

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