Recently we had the pleasure of spending a weekend with Anna and Em of Soul Sister Health. These women are not only energetic, inspiring, and oh so intelligent, they also have a contagious passion for women’s health and wellbeing.
Anna and Em are are two real-life sisters, one exercise physiologist and one personal trainer, who are insanely impassioned about women’s health and helping women, of all ages, live their best life.
Anna and Em’s belief is that great health can only be achieved through good nutrition, moving your body daily and nurturing your soul. Their approach to health has evolved from extensive study of the subject and their own personal experiences – read more about their philosophies here
We could not agree with them more!
While they were here, we spent a quiet moment getting to know them on a deeper level and to chat about their tips for women’s health, how they became avid health and wellness professionals, tips for de-stressing during pregnancy, the importance of a stable core and so much more!
Look out for Anna and Em – They are revolutionising women’s health and wellbeing!
One of Soul Sister Health’s key drivers is women’s health and educating women about pre and post natal health and exercise. Where did your passion for this come from? Did you see a gap in the market for this type of information?
The passion to educate women in exercise and movement at both pre and post-natal stages, has largely come from our own experiences. In the past, both of us experienced some post-birth complications (prolapse and an unresolved diastasis recti) which initially caught us by surprise – we were both active, fit, strong and healthy women! Then, once we were (finally!) diagnosed, we found it tricky to get the right information, support and advice to aid our recovery. In fact, the information that we receive was initially confusing and sometimes, contradictory, that we decided to undertake the research ourselves.
It was during this research that we began to understand just how little we as women know about our own bodies and more importantly, just how much things have changed during pregnancy and post-baby and what really is “normal”? We also felt and still do feel, that there is such a huge gap in the health care process for women in regards to proper follow ups post-baby (or lack thereof) and it is leaving lots of women at risk of some quite serious injuries and complications (both present and future), just because they simply don’t know!
It is so important for us to share this knowledge and our personal stories with all women and particularly those who might be experiencing the same. These women need to understand that core and pelvic floor dysfunction (e.g. back and pelvic pain, bladder leakage etc) is extremely common, but definitely not something they should just live with. They need to feel comfortable to discuss openly their experiences and feel well supported through their own journey. In good news, there is access to incredible professional advice – we have personally worked with some of Brisbane’s best women’s health specialists and physiotherapists. Most importantly, we all need to acknowledge that the management of these issues (even before they become an issue!) should be a priority and in majority of cases the treatment and therapy is simple, very effective and totally non-invasive.
Maintaining good health during pregnancy is so important, both physically and mentally. However, with the erratic changes to our bodies and hormones women can become stressed, anxious or depressed. What are your key tips for de-stressing during pregnancy and being mindful of how you’re feeling?
A woman can be her own best guide during pregnancy. Pay attention to how you feel. Be mindful of what you might be doing / eating/ watching/ listening to and how it makes you feel. Be your own guide and if it doesn’t feel right, listen to that instinct and seek some advice. Nobody else can tell you how you’re doing/ feeling etc, except you. But just as importantly, sometimes when you might not know what’s happening or if you are unsure what your physically limitations might be – please always ask.
Continuing to stay connected to your body through movement, during pregnancy, can have such a positive impact on both the pregnancy itself, but also on the baby’s health and the mum’s physical, emotional and mental health both throughout the pregnancy and post-birth. It is not recommended to keep training the ‘same way’ as the mother might have done before, but continuing to move, stretch, breathe and stay strong throughout pregnancy is just so important – so we encourage women to do that in whatever way, shape or form that they can manage. Even 10 mins a day has enormous benefits!
Some of the more nurturing yoga postures are incredible during pregnancy (child’s pose is still a big favourite of ours) and ‘legs up the wall’ helps ease so many of the aches and pains at the end of a busy day.
And of course, continuing to nourish your body in the best way that you can throughout the pregnancy and beyond is so important. We know first-hand how exhausted and unmotivated you can sometimes feel during pregnancy, however it is really important to keep eating nourishing and nutritious foods. It doesn’t have to be complicated though (and we think that this is where lots of women get caught up) – it can really be as simple as stir-frying a pan full of mixed veges in a healthy fat, with an egg cooked through it – literally 5 mins from start to finish and you have provided yourself with a big bowl full of goodness. This is still one of our own regular go-to meals for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
And, when in doubt, a lovely soak in a warm bath has never gone astray. It is all about honoring the special time that you are going through and treating yourself with lots of kindness.
You are both sisters working in the fitness industry (Exercise Physiologist + Personal Trainer). Was the importance of living a healthy lifestyle engrained in you at a young age? Why did you choose these career paths?
Growing up, we were always encouraged to eat well and to exercise through sport and different activities. Our mum provided us with a good base there! We always played lots of sport and were very active, so the fitness side of things always came so naturally to us. Interestingly, our deep interest in nutrition, holistic health and functional medicine has really only been since we have had children. It became obvious that we were not particularly ‘healthy’ just because we were fit and we had a strong desire to just feel better.
As for this now being our career paths – we have both gone full circle with our careers, but our passion and desire to really make a difference in people’s lives and with their health has bought us right back to where we should be. And we couldn’t be happier! We just love to learn about anything that is going to help us and our families lead a more full life, with more energy and more vibrancy and we want to share that with as many women as we can. For us, that is what it is all about.
Your core restore program is all about educating woman about the importance of a strong and stable core, whether you’re pregnant, post-partum or yet to have a baby. Why is this so important for women?
The Core is really such a misunderstood notion. Lots of people still feel that the Core relates to their stomach and abs – and having a flat one or building a six-pack! The Core is so much more than that. It really is the foundation on which most of your health will hinge – not just the physical.
A big number of us struggle daily with anything from little niggles, aches and pains to full blown dysfunction and in most cases, it comes down to an unstable and dysfunctional core system. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyle has a big part to play in this – most of us, both men and women, are sitting more and more and ‘doing’ less. Our core muscles are not being activated enough and in the right way and they just check out.
When you then go through a pregnancy and birthing of a baby (whether natural or c-section), things are further exacerbated. Post-baby women lead such physical lives too. When caring for a baby (and potentially a toddler or two), the physicality of a mother’s day is pretty extreme. She needs to be well-supported and strong to ensure that she can manage her day, looking after her family and potentially working and running a household, without the threat of injury or complication. A strong core is so crucial for all women, but, an extremely important focus at this precious time when our bodies are a little compromised.
While the program is primarily based on a prescription of healing and strengthening exercises, many other factors are considered in this overall restoration process: LIFESTYLE + NUTRITION + REST RECOVERY and overall wellbeing. Our bodies cannot properly heal or restore if we are not fuelling it appropriately, or if we are not sleeping or if we are carrying around too much stress. We might be doing one the right way, but it will ultimately fall short if you are not giving the other elements of your health the right focus.
Women are incredible! They literally are our superheroes – juggling their lives with careers, jobs, paid work, volunteer work, unpaid work, families, partners, aging parents, young children – they truly are amazing. We love that when given the opportunity, women will rise up and support each other. We love women that are kind, generous, nurturing, funny, supportive and driven – they are our kind of girl and in our minds, that is a totally kick-ass combination.
The health and fitness industry has risen to popularity in the last 10 years thanks to social media. How have you seen the fitness community and industry in Brisbane specifically take place? What do people enjoy? What trends are taking place?
We totally love that health and fitness are now so mainstream and there is a much greater awareness of the importance of health. People are not embarrassed or shy about going to a trainer or specialist group (and nor should they be – they are the professionals!). This growing popularity has really helped to shape a myriad of exercise options for people – everything from specialist boxing centres, to Barre, Zu workouts (based on animal movements), pilates, dance classes, yoga, quick easy anytime fitness… the list is pretty endless and now, there really is something for everyone.
Still, it is interesting, that even with this burst in popularity and awareness, people’s overall health is not improving. We would love to see the same significant growth in interest in other health variables like mindfulness, self-care etc and then we think that there will be real gains in overall health. It’s definitely improving, but there is still some ways to go.
What are your three health food tips for pregnant women?
Eat as many wholefoods as you can, organic where possible. Wholefoods being foods as close to their natural state as possible and free from additives or other artificial substances. These include fresh or lightly prepared fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Wholefoods are powerhouses of nutrition and will provide the bulk of the additional nutrients, vitamins and minerals required by the pregnant mum. Aim to limit food out of packages (ie processed foods) like biscuits, cakes, muesli bars, chips, chocolate and sweets etc. Nutritionally these don’t offer anything.
Ensure they are getting adequate levels of healthy fats (like avocado, coconut, olive oil etc) and good quality protein sources in their diet. Fats are not to be feared, if you are eating the right ones and both fat and protein are critical components of the fetus’ healthy growth and development.
Drink plenty of water (filtered where possible). Lots of pregnant women tend to restrict water to avoid visiting the toilet as frequently or when they experience fluid retention and / or swelling. Dehydrating the cells (which happens when you restrict fluid intake) will only cause cells to hold onto what water they contain even more. By drinking more fluids, you help the body naturally detox and flush out the system more efficiently.
Anna: I have really been trying to get in the habit of starting each day with some sun salutations. – some days it might only be 5 of them, other days it is more – however I am aiming for every morning. Often I am feeling a little tight or stiff when I first jump out of bed, however a series of sun salutations as soon as I get out of bed helps to eliminate lots of the creaks before I’ve even left my bedroom. It also seems to immediately increase my energy level. I also can never go past ‘child’s pose’ at any time of day – it is such a restorative and nurturing pose that it feels like a warm embrace and helps me immediately restore and feel relaxed.
Em: I am a big believer in some yoga-based stretching before bed (which is a must for me now that I am pregnant!). I will move through a series of gentle high lunge twist movements as it makes my entire body feel strong and connected and I love to open up through my hips, pelvis and thoracic spine. I will also often finish off with several Buddha squats up to a wide leg forward bend (even using the bed for some support) – HEAVEN! This always helps to reduce any of the aches, pains or muscle soreness from the day and set me up for a good night’s sleep!
Anna & Em xo
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