Health Coach Feature: How Ash Spivak Is Helping People Take Control of Their Bodies and Well-Being

July 17, 2020

Ash Spivak is an internationally certified birth doula and doula educator; founder of Allbodies, a modern digital platform for health education; and author of Why Did No One Tell Me This? The Doulas’ (Honest) Guide for Expectant Parents. Her work has been acclaimed in many media outlets, including The New York Times, Forbes, Newsweek, The Lily, and Teen Vogue.

Q: What were you doing prior to enrolling at Integrative Nutrition?

A: I had newly graduated from college and was very into physical theater at the time. I was specifically studying and practicing two training methods called Viewpoints and Suzuki in New York City. But I actually didn’t like performing, and I had terrible performance anxiety. What I really loved was the practice of my training. It taught me extreme presence and how to listen with all my senses, and it showed me that I had composition skills. I always felt like I was creative but never really knew what my art form was. I was terrible in every art class – painting, drawing, ceramics, crafts, etc. But I really loved and understood how to use time and space to create an experience for people. For me, the stage was just not the outlet; instead creating spaces, products, and experiences to help people better understand and trust themselves. My Viewpoint and Suzuki training is still fundamental in everything I make today.

Q: What modules or topics in the Health Coach Training Program resonated most with you?

A: Great question – What I loved most about IIN was that it introduced me to so many different theories and philosophies around nutrition. This allowed me to say, “Oh, this resonates with me; this doesn’t,” and pick and pull different ideas to put my own program together. This isn’t a module exactly, but one of the biggest takeaways for me was getting a better understanding of how fat and cholesterol actually work, and the inflammation response within that. I started IIN as a vegetarian eating lots of that fake meat garbage and left IIN eating grass-fed organic meats and never touching the fake meat products ever again. My digestion improved DRAMATICALLY.

Q: You’re now an internationally certified birth doula, doula trainer, and the cofounder of Allbodies, a digital platform for modern health classes dedicated to creating a “new approach to healthcare.” What compelled you to explore this path, and why do you feel so passionate about creating this new approach to healthcare?

A: One of my biggest lessons from IIN was that education is a driver for change. It was learning how digestion physiologically works, that I was able to change my habits. And not just for a few weeks – but real, lifelong change that ultimately made me feel so much better.

There is so much we have not been taught about our bodies, or have been wrongly taught, thanks to the lack of holistic and unbiased sex education in American schools and the racism, sexism, and profit-before-people mind-set embedded in our healthcare institutions.

So what we do at Allbodies is unearth that knowledge for people as a first step to taking back control of their bodies and well-being – to help people build trust that they are experts of their own bodies, that they need to take this responsibility seriously (check out our current healthcare stats), and to remind people that they are actually the boss of their healthcare providers and team. Right now, we start with reproductive and sexual health for those who menstruate, since that arena has been so underserved. And all our educational content comes from a holistic (mental health, physical health, and spiritual well-being) and integrative (Western medicine, Eastern medicine, clinician experience, and shared community narratives) perspective as that’s another huge hole we see in our current healthcare system.

Q: Allbodies is a space to learn about feeling good in your body and taking control of your health. If you had to choose, what is your #1 tip for helping people feel good in their body?

A: Start listening to it! I use the framework of our heads, spirit or energetics, emotions, and physical bodies. Each has its own way of giving us very important information about our deepest truths, needs, desires, wounds, and blocks. Starting a practice with each of these four “directions,” if you will, will help you start learning its unique language and be able to take actions accordingly. But it is essential you are in a relationship with all four. You can’t address just one of these; you must address them all, as they are connected and different. This process can be hard, so we aren’t meant to go at it alone. Find support to help you through. In my book, Why Did No One Tell Me This?, we give some concrete exercises you can use to start these relationships as well as how to find a provider that centers you in their care.

Q: At IIN, we believe that self-care can extend to the idea of expressing kindness to others. In helping people understand and advocate for their bodies, what important tools do you teach people that help them show support for others?

A: Reflect on the tools that were most useful and transformative for you. How can you make those accessible for others? The more specific and vulnerable you can be while sharing, the more it will resonate with those who need to hear it from you.

Q: Why is spreading kindness important to you?

A: We are so often wrapped up in our own lives and our own heads. Being kind to others takes us out of our own little world. Not only do those on the receiving end surely appreciate it, but it’s also a tool to break yourself out of your own mental loops when you’re in a bad mood, stressed, anxious, etc. And, cheesy as it sounds, it’s true: Kindness spreads.

Q: Your latest book, Why Did No One Tell Me This?, was written along with fellow IIN grad Natalia Hailes and explores the many questions that expectant parents have. How do you help expectant parents prioritize self-care?

A: Via the same framework described above. In Why Did No One Tell Me This?, there are a handful of exercises that show you how to start tuning in to each part of yourself – learn the language and begin that relationship! It can be scary at first to get to know yourself so deeply. What am I going to find there? Am I actually an awful person? Am I too broken? Do I deserve this? Is this work actually worth my time? I’m fine. 

I like to remind people that it is exactly the complexity and contradictions of human nature that make us so unique and extraordinary. We can devise plans for mass murder, and we can create the Internet. We can be utterly fed up with our kids, while simultaneously loving them so much it hurts. Our partners can say something totally rude and demeaning, and we still want to make love to them. It’s important to remember things really aren’t binary. We can be all-encompassing.

Perfection isn’t the thing to strive for, because it’s impossible. IIN’s philosophy of bio-individuality really comes into play here, for both birthing person and baby, both as unique individuals. There really is no right way to do anything, no matter what your friend or mother-in-law leads you to believe. The skill isn’t to conquer a particular outcome (e.g., breastfeeding or a vaginal birth). The real skill is allowing yourself to be prepared to be totally unprepared – presence; listening to yourself; blocking out all the noise; taking the pressure off yourself; recognizing that all we can do is make decisions based on the information we have in the moment and give ourselves the benefit of the doubt that we are doing our best. Or, if we feel like we could have done something differently, marking it for next time and using it as a lesson to learn from. And then letting it go.

Becoming a parent forces us to confront some of our biggest fears as humans – loss, not having control, change, the unknown… And there are no directions... It’s like you’re arriving at the start of a jungle with no paths and no maps. The only thing you can control is how you move through it. My hope is that people can start shifting their perspective and see the perinatal period as an opportunity. Because all that baby growing can lead to some incredible personal growing along the way. What we learn from the perinatal period are our tools for life. After all, we never really know the path. We can only focus on how we move through. We must contract in order to expand. And getting through can freakin’ hurt.

Check out this IGTV where Ash dives even deeper into the self-care you need!

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