Laurel Fitts urges you to trust your gut, physically and emotionally.
The former Morgan Stanley associate (now business consultant) was plagued with mysterious stomach ailments for years before finally being diagnosed with gluten intolerance. She began studying holistic nutrition and delved deeply into both physical and spiritual philosophies, which helped her feel more connected with herself and others.
Then, while on a 2005 business trip to South Africa’s townships, Fitts witnessed firsthand how small actions with great intentions can inspire monumental positive change. She became involved with Africa Yoga Project, an organization that promotes yoga practice, meditation, self-exploration, performing arts as a vehicle for empowerment, health education, relationship building and community activism in East African countries.
Since, her dedication to the cause has only grown: next month she will travel to Kenya to hold yoga classes, continue the development of sustainable programs and immerse herself in physical service work.
Here, Fitts shares her philosophies on the importance of mind and body connectivity, keeping the ego in check and sharing yoga with others:
Live The Process: Have you always been interested in dietary theories or did circumstances ignite your passion?
Laurel Fitts: I've been a perpetual student of health, fitness and wellness in varying degrees. However, I became more interested in the science of nutrition after suffering for years with a mysterious gut illness. I began studying holistic nutrition.
Incorporating hundreds of dietary theories with other philosophies to balance the mind, body and spirit is so important because often physical blockages are a reflection of attitudes and perspectives or are triggers for emotional blocks. For total health, there is no separation between body and mind.
LTP: What are some obstacles or temptations that you encounter while following your wellness path?
LF: While pinpointing my gluten sensitivity answered so many of the vague and mysterious ailments I had been experiencing for years, it also felt like a kiss of death. I love spending time with friends over beers! I’ve always been a healthy eater and I’ve always enjoyed food.
Today, the real demon I struggle with is my ego. For example, in my occupation I have to spend a lot of time eating at restaurants with clients and colleagues. The fussy stigma that now accompanies the “g-free” trend makes me concerned that people will judge me as a professional and an individual. I keep my ego in check by connecting inward through my yoga and meditation practice, which empowers me to squash any illusions of other people’s perceptions. Since I don’t have Celiac disease, consuming gluten causes discomfort, but isn’t life-threatening. I try to be as close to gluten-free as possible, but I’ll still enjoy a craft brew once in a while. Or, if I find myself in Paris, I won’t turn down a dark chocolate crepe.
LTP: Do you have any advice for those who are struggling with their own mysterious gastrointestinal ailments?
LF: Yes: Don't allow the doctors to claim IBS or stress! Trust your gut, literally!
A two- or three-week detox is a great place to start. That doesn’t mean a “cleanse,” where you subsist on lemon, honey and cayenne pepper. (Starving your body will only put more stress on your system and could make things worse.) You want to clean out your system in a way that allows it to reset. A controlled detoxification or elimination program will remove wheat, dairy, soy, processed foods, animal products and more from your diet. In a detox I lead, I also add meditation, journaling and some simple yoga postures that help remove blockages and reconnect the body with the mind. When you start to add foods back into your diet, slowly, with your system so clear, it can become unequivocally apparent what is causing your symptoms. (Those can include bloating, headaches, stress or fatigue.)
LTP: How did you decide to become involved with Africa Yoga Project?
LF: Yoga is accessible to everybody. The physical postures teach us the power of our bodies and the acceptance of surrender to its limitations. Through meditation and breath, we connect with the subtle body and mind; small shifts can have a big impact.
In 2005, I worked as a business consultant in the townships of South Africa. Through the practice of yoga, my awareness and compassion towards suffering became more acute and I witnessed firsthand how small shifts can ignite ripples of change. The mission of Africa Yoga Project is to share the practice of yoga as a platform for that greater change. Programs are designed for participants to connect to their authentic purpose, cultivate life skills and build supportive communities, impacting over 250,000 Kenyans every year.
The selfless service to others, Karma Yoga, is rooted deeply in the heart of AYP Seva Safari, which translates from Swahili to “Selfless Service Journey.” The remarkable thing that happens when serving another, soul to soul, is that we reconnect to our inner guides, to our purpose. The opportunity to share the gift of yoga as a vehicle for change and to contribute to the development of sustainable projects that positively affect this community is incredibly humbling.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
LF: I have a tendency to take life way too seriously and that isn’t going to change. So, my happiness is being authentic to myself and my purpose. It’s taking time to meditate and reflect inwards to remind myself of what makes my heart sing.
Happiness is recognizing my shadows and releasing my ego’s perceptions. It’s having kindness and compassion for other people’s struggles, while also sharing in their happiness.
LTP: What does it mean to you to "Live The Process" and how do you do that every day?
LF: My process is accepting where I am in life. It’s knowing that everything happens for a reason, for a grand design, and that I am living the exact path I am supposed to live.