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Conversations with the Inspiring Susan Bernhardt

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susan Bernhardt.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My story starts with growing up in a New Jersey suburb in the 70s. Breakfast was usually a sugar cereal. Twinkies or another “pastry” often accompanied lunch. We ate plenty of fast food. And because fat was supposed to be bad, we used margarine instead of butter. My allergies were so bad that an ENT doctor injected cortisone into my nasal passages to bring down the swelling after allergy shots didn’t work. I spent all of high school drowsy from allergy pills – the non-drowsy sort wasn’t out yet. I also spent nearly all of high school in a back brace for scoliosis, which had been spotted by the time I was four years old.

Fast forward to 2000 or so. I was a lawyer with a successful business litigation practice, My exercise was cardio machine/weight-lifting workouts at a gym. One day, while lifting, I noticed some people in a room doing something that looked like stretching. I’d always liked stretching, so I decided to check out what they were doing. That was my first yoga class. It led to another, and another, and my husband (also a lawyer) started doing yoga as well. Before long, yoga asana (physical poses) classes entirely replaced our gym workouts. Yet we found that we could still keep up with others hiking up Colorado 14ers, and our muscle tone and strength improved along with flexibility. My SI joint, which turned out to be at the root of scoliosis, became more stable while scoliosis decreased.

The yoga classes, while providing great benefit, seemed to hint that there is much more to yoga than asana. Wanting to learn more but without intending to become yoga teachers or give up our careers as lawyers, we enrolled in a yoga teacher training program. The program introduced us to Ayurveda. From there, we began working with an Ayurveda practitioner on our health concerns and experienced remarkable results from some very simple Ayurvedic practices.

Feeling increasingly drawn to yoga and Ayurveda, I began taking Ayurveda classes. Once again, one thing led to another, and another. My allergies completely resolved. Previously, being near cats had reliably triggered a major allergy attack and asthma. Now, I can have a cat sit on my lap with no effects. My SI joint dysfunction and scoliosis continued to improve. At the same time that my appreciation for holistic healing through Ayurveda and yoga therapy was increasing, my satisfaction with practicing law was decreasing. I also found that a couple of modalities in addition to Ayurveda and yoga therapy would reinforce and broaden the healing work that I could offer. As my holistic healing studies continued, I cut back on my law practice. Once I completed my certifications, I began building a practice working with people, and I continued to scale back my law practice. About five years ago, I stopped practicing law altogether. Now, my efforts are focused solely on working with people to help restore and maintain balance through complementary healing modalities.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Looking back, I have no idea how I managed all of my Ayurveda and other studies while practicing business litigation, which is incredibly demanding schedule-wise. (My mother once said she never would have encouraged me to go to law school if she knew how hard I would have to work as a lawyer.) I took classes at night, on weekends, and on vacation time. Staying organized and focused was key. I’m not sure I could have done it without support from my family, both in terms of encouragement and doing things around the house. My yoga practice was essential. Yoga breathing and meditation practices helped me stay calm and focused through a stressful day in the legal world and helped me unwind once the day was over. I think those practices also helped me have confidence that the transition I was making was what I needed to do and should do. Perhaps most important was a “knowingness” that I needed to go in this direction.

Translating all of that into advice, what I would emphasize is that it’s extremely important to figure out how you can be of service in the world, how to serve a purpose. Ayurveda and yoga both teach that each of us has a way we can be of service. That doesn’t mean a specific job. Once upon a time, practicing law appealed to me because it involved working one-on-one with people needing assistance with problem-solving. What I’m doing now might look different, but it’s actually the same thing from that broad perspective. I find that when people feel they are serving a purpose, it’s much easier for them to go over bumps in the road. What might otherwise look like an insurmountable roadblock ends up being a small bump.

For young women, in particular, I think it can be very helpful to have a role model you can look to, and even better to find a mentor. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other women who do what you are trying to do. My experience is that women (men, too) are very willing to give advice to those starting out. They are flattered to be seen as someone worth asking. They think back to how others helped them and are glad to do the same for someone else. And the worst that can happen is that they say no. A couple of days ago, a young woman studying Ayurveda sent me an email asking to meet for coffee, saying she “would love to know how you go about your practice and how you started.” We met at a local coffee shop and spent over an hour talking. She was prepared with good questions, and I was very happy to share. Hopefully, she’ll find the substantive information helpful, and also have confidence that she is on the right path for her.

What should we know about Essence Ayurveda & Yoga Therapy? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The modalities I practice are Ayurveda, yoga therapy, Tibetan Cranial®, Thai yoga massage, and Reiki. Each of these healing arts can be used on its own, or I can integrate them as needed to create a customized plan specific for an individual’s needs. These healing modalities all share in common recognizing each person as unique and viewing the whole of each person – body, mind, and spirit. Each modality also employs natural methods that work with and take advantage of the body’s innate healing abilities. As a result, these practices all aim at truly restoring health and not merely relieving symptoms.

Ayurveda is the traditional healing science of India. Ayurveda focuses on maintaining and restoring health by achieving balance in the body, mind, and consciousness through diet, lifestyle, herbal remedies, cleansing practices (panchakarma), and yoga. Like Ayurveda, yoga encompasses many practices designed to promote the health of the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga is not just about the physical poses. It also includes breathing practices, meditation, and an understanding of the mind and who we are that can bring about a sense of equanimity and peace. If you can breathe, you can do yoga. My yoga therapy training enables me to personalize yoga recommendations for a person’s specific needs. As one example, practices for someone with anxiety or insomnia might be very different from those for someone looking to address depression or low back pain.

I cannot overemphasize the healing power of the Tibetan Cranial work that I do. If there were only one modality that I could practice, this would be it. Tibetan Cranial is an ancient healing tradition from the Himalayan highlands. It is designed to realign and restore our innate capacity for self-healing, helping the body correct its own imbalances so that it can heal itself. It uses a sophisticated, unique pulse-reading system to deliver the most appropriate treatment. Unlike many other healing arts, Tibetan Cranial does not focus on a specific disease or diagnosis, but aids in restoring overall balance. Because the work helps to restore the person’s own ability to regain balance, people have reported relief from a wide variety of symptoms. In my experience, many people with various symptoms (headaches, migraines, back and neck pain, whiplash, jaw pain, anxiety, head injury, stress-related conditions, depression, many nervous-system related issues, and more) particularly enjoy TC.

Thai yoga massage, which has deep roots in Ayurveda and yoga, addresses the whole person through therapeutic techniques for muscles and connective tissues, stretching, energy work, acupressure, reflexology, and other methods, resulting in deep relaxation and healing.

Finally, Reiki is a gentle practice that can reduce stress, support relaxation, and help bring balance to the body, mind, emotions, and spirit. Reiki has no contraindications – the touch is very light, and it can be done without any touch at all. I volunteer with Lifespark Cancer Resources, a non-profit organization that provides Reiki treatments free of charge to people with cancer and their caregivers. It’s hard to describe how powerful such a gentle practice can be. Even those experiencing physical pain from cancer nearly always report a significant improvement.

Offering such a broad range of options is unusual, but these modalities have much in common and complement each other. With this variety of healing arts, I can offer holistic health and healing options for a wide range of goals. I have worked with people wanting assistance with digestion, anxiety, depression, stress, musculoskeletal and joint pain, chronic pain, low energy, management of chronic conditions such as autoimmune diseases and diabetes, migraines, headaches, concussions and other head injuries, insomnia, asthma, allergies, menstrual cycle issues, and many other conditions. The broad range of tools lets me tailor recommendations so that they are appropriate and workable for a particular person’s circumstances.

What I am most proud of, and find the most rewarding, is when people say, “thank you, I feel better.” I often half-joke that in law, clients often said thank you, but pretty much never said, “I feel better.”

You can find out more about each of these modalities on my website, http://www.essenceayurveda.com/.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
My “industry” actually has a lot of female leadership. In the past, the majority of teachers and practitioners were men. Now, there still are many men teaching, but there also are many women teachers, and my sense is that the majority of practitioners are women. The biggest barrier that I see is financial. There is not a defined career path, and the vast majority of practitioners are solo practitioners with their own businesses. Because of this, I think that having solid business skills is very important, but often those with an interest in these types of healing arts don’t have those skills or experience.

Pricing:

  • Most sessions of any sort are about an hour and cost $72.
  • An initial Ayurveda/yoga therapy consultation is about two hours and costs $144. Follow-up sessions are about an hour and $72
  • For Thai massage, I recommend 90 minutes rather than an hour. The price is $108.
  • Because I work for myself and set my pricing, I do not expect tips.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Susan Bernhardt, Jon Bernhardt

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