We connected with Carolyn via Instagram and could not be more excited that we did! We love her attitude and approach toward wellness and hope that you enjoy her interview, as well as connect with her if you are looking for inspiration and support!
Name: Carolyn Lyons
Location: Phoenix, AZ (originally from Boston. This matters!)
Education: Exercise Physiology degree, 2001
When and why did you start practicing yoga, or focusing on your own wellness, generally?
I’d played sports and danced my entire life, but more just because that is what you did in my home, in my town. When I was in high school I started doing workout videos at home because I was as obsessed with having a “more toned” body. I realized I liked the idea of exercising and moving and working out *without* the competitive emphasis that sports held. I was also fortunate enough to be a teenager at a time when “women with muscles” was an emerging concept. Just a few years earlier it was skinny or bust. Sporty Spice, the mom from Terminator 2, the fitness kick Madonna was on at the time…all set the first stage I ever recall being exposed to regarding fitness and aesthetic “options.” I liked that muscular look and was hooked, initially with how it made me look, ultimately with how it made me feel.
What led you to start Wild Girl Wellness?
I had worked in commercial gyms for a couple years and while I liked the exposure to all sorts of gym goers I was frustrated with the focus gyms had on training and supplement quotas, class attendance and other quantifiable parameters. Obviously, I wanted to get paid, this was my job after all, but I preferred to focus on helping people—on delivering whatever service a person needed, and figured the sales would come with time. They did. But it was still frustrating as there was no way to quantify how much happier or healthier a client was, nor did we receive any professional credit for that. When the gym I was working for was closing its doors and was sold to new owners I took the opportunity to leave and start my own business so I could run it the way I wanted. No contracts. No scaling of prices. No supplement sales. No hard pitches. Kids can come to the gym. Women can work out as hard as they want on any given day. I can screen clients to make sure they are a fit for my crew of clients. I can use unconventional training methods and teach whatever I think women need to learn in order to treat themselves and their bodies better. I could only train women. Clients talk to me directly, not some front desk or salesperson. I basically wanted to eliminate all of the things that intimidated or turned women off from the gym to make it as approachable as possible, especially given I’m aware it’s still a daunting premise for gym newbies.
Tell me a bit more about your approach to fitness? Why does it “work” for so many women?
I think the reason it works so well is my approach is simply to meet women where they are, on any given day, and train them from that point. If someone is brand new to fitness I give them a bunch of things I *know* they can be successful with because confidence in the gym is so important. If a woman comes in tired one day maybe we focus more on stretching or mobility drills than we do squatting or pull-ups. If someone is angry or frustrated or in a bad mood I give them something that allows them to KICK ASS so they can burn off whatever needs to be burnt off and feel great about themselves instead. Same with nutritional guidance. No foods are “good” or “bad.” It’s just food. I try to help clients eliminate the random, unhealthy foods that are inconsequential to them to free up space for the random, unhealthy foods they love. In general, there are no rules or guidelines for my approach. No workout or meal plan is the key to fitness. If they wanna run and eat chips then run and eat chips. If they wanna do handstands and eat oatmeal then do handstands and eat oatmeal. Following a calorie counting and insanity workout program to a T teaches women to ignore their bodies and their needs. I try to teach women to pay attention to their bodies and from there fitness is pretty simple.
What’s one conventional wellness belief or mantra that needs to go away forever and why?
Calories in/calories out is probably my most painful thing. Human bodies are so much more complicated than this and I think we all inherently know this yet we still ascribe to calorie counting and tracking and Fitbitting. I frequently use the example that if two women are the same size and shape and have the same amount of muscle and embark on an identical workout regimen and both eat 1800 calories per day but one eats 1800 calories worth of chicken and broccoli and the other 1800 calories of Snickers, WE ALL KNOW they will not look exactly the same at the end of three months. But we keep counting away. In reality, I think math applied to eating is just step one of an eating disorder. Some people can check it at calorie tracking and some people spiral further down the spectrum of obsessive eating but either way, no one needs it and it’s irrelevant, anyway.
Why is this work meaningful to you? What gets you up and out there every day?
I change lives. Every day. In a very tangible way. When I was 22 and first started personal training I had an idea of the rewards and figured it would be all about pounds and sizes lost but instead, it’s about freedom gained. It’s women who have lost enough weight to be able to tie their shoes for the first time in years. It’s women who realize if they can run a half marathon they can leave their terrible job. It’s women who are going through the most difficult patches of their lives for a million different reasons but can come into the gym and have pride in a new squat personal record or handstand. It’s women not changing the way their bodies look but changing the way they look at their bodies enough to wear a bathing suit in front of their family or a tank top to dinner or whatever other hurdles they do not even realize are dictating the parameters their life and happiness.
How do you destress at the end of your day?
I walk my dogs. I love people but am inherently an introvert and after being *on* all day I need to take a break from interactions. I have five dogs so at least one is always down to explore the desert for a bit. Pace and distance are irrelevant, this is just like “burn off the day” brainless movement, not a workout.
What advice do you have for young women who want to get into the wellness industry/profession?
Listen and be kind to your clients. You can have all of the education and certifications on the planet but if you aren’t treating your clients like they are people they will not want to come back. They will not like you. They will not listen to you. Perfect squat form is irrelevant if they don’t want to go back to the gym. Compassion goes a lot further than degrees in this industry and that is a MAJOR component that I see missing. So many trainers are teaching boot camps and yelling at clients and not learning their names and using adages like “play through the pain” and at the end of the day I think people just want to feel human. The rest will come in time.
Were there ever any hiccups in your life/career, and what did you learn that has lent itself to your success today?
Probably my biggest hiccup is one that many small business owners will suffer at some point: burn out. In order to launch a business you have to work whenever the work is available, even if that means sacrificing your own workouts or sleep or meals or relationships because bills need to be paid. Because the idea of work/life balance is kind of an adorable pipe dream when you are just starting out. Then over time you just get into the habit of answering every text when it comes in and responding to every social media post and being at the gym at every time a client wants to be there so you just keep living this round the clock life on other people’s schedules. In all honesty, I’m not sure that I could have launched this business without having done this for a few years but I should have cut it off earlier than I did. A few years of hustle probably would have done the trick, instead, I kept it up until I started resenting work and clients and had to come to terms with the fact that my own lack of boundaries was the actual problem.
Do you have a mentor? Who do you look to for inspiration and support?
I’m sad to say I do not. It is a major component of my life that is missing and I’ve been searching for people who are kind of doing what I do but are further along the path than I am but no one is quite resonating yet. This has been one of my major projects of the past year, to connect with more women running their own businesses, even if it is not the same industry as mine. In the meantime, I read a ton of self-help and try to connect with other inspiring women via social media for support and inspiration.
Final words of wisdom to all the young women out there who are strategizing to reach their wellness goals?
1. There is no right path so quit looking for the “right” program and just start doing things you already think are healthy and then edit and update as you go along. You probably can’t go wrong with eating more vegetables and moving a bit every day so start with that *while* you read about/learn about/hire someone to tell you about better ways to do things.
2. You can’t hate your body into a living a life you’ll love. Most of us need to learn this lesson on our own, the hard way, but dissecting your flaws and criticizing and abusing your body will never make you love it. You don’t need to start with loving yourself if that feels like an insane leap, but think “what would someone who is kind to themselves do in this circumstance?” Would they do cardio or take a nap? Would they occasionally choose vegetables instead of fries or the other way around? Over time if you make enough choices to *act like* you love yourself you will eventually learn to see yourself in a better light.
If you are open to connecting with our readers, how can they reach you?
Definitely open! I’m on Instagram and Facebook at Wild Girl Wellness and, of course, email. I would LOVE to answer questions or just hear from young women about their fitness or career path and goals as I feel like if you don’t feel good the rest of life is so much harder.
Carolyn, your attitude and energy inspire us, thank you so much for this interview!!!
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