Voices of IIN is our newest content series, where we’ll talk with IIN students, graduates, and staff members who make up our diverse, vibrant, and passionate community. IIN’s commitment to making the world a healthier and happier place is what brings us all together, and we aim to celebrate this commitment by sharing the unique stories and backgrounds of IIN change makers. Through this series, we hope to continue working toward creating a more inclusive wellness community, where all feel welcome to create a healthier life.
Jena Gonzales, a 2019 graduate, is passionate about helping others radically heal. After growing up in a community where paying attention to mental health was not widely accepted, she realized that if no one else was going to change the narrative, she had to step up.
What was the catalyst that led you to enroll at IIN?
I enrolled at IIN shortly after I lost my mom. My mother passed unexpectedly after minor health problems. I thought of how wonderful my mother was and everything she did for others. What stuck out to me was how she never applied all the empathy and compassion she had for others to herself. I also thought about my mother's depression – she was never formally diagnosed, but as someone who is, I know this is a secret battle she fought.
In my culture, mental health is not widely accepted or recognized, so many people do not reach out for help. I wanted to give purpose to my pain, so I enrolled at IIN with the intention of healing myself and helping others heal themselves, too.
What made your IIN experience and education so transformative?
I remember knowing what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to help others discover their worth and inherent ability to heal and grow. When I looked into IIN and heard the term “health and wellness coach,” I felt as if my soul’s mission statement finally had a name. I was the messy, learning, unapologetic woman who wanted to embrace her story and write a new one for those coming after as generational healers.
Perspectives on Nutrition and Health Coaching
How are you using your IIN education?
I created N.Y.A. (Not Your Average) Wellness to represent those who do not feel represented in the wellness community or grew up in a culture that did not recognize mental health. I grew up believing wellness looked like those who had abs, shopped at pricey health stores, and did yoga. I believed it was not intended for me but for a wealthier individual. I now make sure people know health and well-being practices can be modified to suit all lifestyles and budgets. It is also important to me that people know wellness is not assigned an ethnicity.
Through my work, I am making health and well-being more identifiable to all walks of life using social media and workshops. I personalize workshops for women, both educating and entertaining them. I work one-on-one with individual clients as well as host virtual workshops so people can interact with others on the same healing path, seeing they are not alone, from the comfort of their own homes.
What does being a Health Coach mean to you?
It means hope. It has given me personal hope and a sense of self. I gained hope in healing my own traumas and grief. After graduating, I had the confidence and education to assist others in navigating their life experiences by providing tools to help them move forward. It gives me hope in removing generational hurts and stigmas for cultures like mine and provides a means to make wellness more approachable and accessible to those not yet given the opportunity.
One thing I am extremely proud of is being the “Not Your Average” wellness coach. When I lost my mother, I looked into wellness coaches because I never felt at home with a therapist. I could not find one who looked like me. There were few to no minorities represented in the industry, and the ones I came across did not know my experience or did not advertise it. I saw wellness the way I had always seen it – privileged, perfect, intimidating, and not for me.
I am honored at the thought that someone may see themselves in me. Clients will know they are not alone, their pain is my pain, and they have every right here like anyone else!
Why do you feel Health Coaches are so needed today?
There are many types of individuals in the world, and it’s necessary to have unique health practices out there to accommodate them. Some people will be drawn to therapy and some will not; some will be open to medication while others will prefer a more holistic approach. Wellness coaches provide another means for individuals to get well, and that is so important. I believe many of us are not aware of all the factors that affect our health and well-being. Wellness coaches assist in this matter with a personal approach often missing in the health industry.
IIN’s mission as written on our website and in our curriculum is to “play a crucial role in improving health and happiness and, through that process, create a ripple effect that transforms the world.” What does “the ripple effect” mean to you?
It means generational healing; it means transforming families and their fate. I grew up in a family of substance abuse and mental illness. My mother did the best she could to stray from that lifestyle by her own means, and because she did, I am here today advocating for others. I know those who come after me in my family will have a different story than the one that has been told for generations!
What does “being holistically healthy” mean to you? What does it feel like when you’re living in balance and embracing your authentic self?
It feels like coming home. As a child, I would often think to myself I want to go home as I sat in my bedroom. I never knew what that meant, and I carried that feeling of longing into my adult life. When I began to live a life that honored myself, I began to feel more at peace. I felt as if I was home. Our bodies house us for our entire lives, and being holistically healthy to me means making sure we are taking care of ourselves.
How do you apply “bio-individuality” in your own life?
Bio-individuality: the unique IIN concept that we’re all different and must embrace our uniqueness to best take care of our health, from the food we eat to the environments we thrive in, and everything in between
I make it a point to give myself back the energy that living life requires of me by nourishing myself with foods that are not just healthy, but that I actually enjoy eating. I move my body not to punish it for enjoying food but rather to honor it and for the benefit of boosting my mood. I show myself compassion by practicing mindfulness through meditation, gratitude, and not comparing my health to others’. I have learned that when we set our own individual standard for well-being and measure ourselves by that standard alone, we can truly be happy.
Nutrition, Healthcare, and Equity in the Wellness Field
How do you think Health Coaches can help transform healthcare/the healthcare experience to help make “health for all” a reality?
Health for all: the concept that embodies what is required and what it would mean for all people to achieve health, from equitable access to health resources to finding the foods, movement, environment, career, relationships, and lifestyle that work for the individual and beyond to experiencing inclusivity and safety in one’s community and fully embracing one’s authentic self
When we make health and well-being approachable, we can affect more lives, families, and cultures. We need to make seeking out health a positive experience and remove all sense of stigma. Often people feel “less than” when needing assistance in managing their well-being. I want this decision to be celebrated and accepted.
By humanizing the health industry and making it more about people than profit, individuals can feel seen and heard, and often that does not happen in a traditional healthcare setting.
What opportunities do you have to bring “health for all” into your work?
As a member of the Latinx community, I have opportunities to educate my culture of the benefits of getting support and help remove the negative associations we have placed on mental illness for generations. I get to be an example for those like me who grew up in lower-class homes and educate them about accessible means of well-being through both personal experience and a formal health education.
By breaking the stigma of going to therapy, I have opened the door for my younger brother to go without shame. For my clients, I can be a resource and reference as someone who is actively putting in the work just like they are.
Commitment to Making a Positive Impact
Tell us about an impactful “spreading the ripple effect” experience – whether with a client, friend, family member, or even a stranger
I started a practice of writing cards of encouragement for complete strangers. I reminded them of their worth and ability to heal no matter what their position in life was. I would leave them in public areas for others to find. I began to receive responses from the individuals who had found them and was reminded of the power of a small act of kindness and how important it is to our well-being. Soon these individuals were writing their own cards for strangers, and I now host workshops where cards are made by groups to be spread in their communities.
What is your “why” and how are you harnessing it to affect change?
Why: Refers to one’s purpose and the reason behind their chosen work
As I went through the IIN program and reflected upon my personal experiences with health, I realized how so many others have a negative view of health like I once did. My path and purpose as a wellness coach is to help people understand the importance, relevance, and impact of personal health for them and those after them. I am passionate in educating others about how they can apply well-being to their lives without complication or judgment. I want to open and change the conversation about getting help, especially in the Latinx community and other similar communities.
Jena Gonzales is a proud Mexicana American passionate about making wellness practical and accessible to those within the Latinx community. She believes in the power individuals have in healing themselves, others, their culture, and communities. With practical techniques on her website, she shares her story openly and honestly, including childhood experiences, low self-esteem, governing relationships with people and food, and much more. She is the proud founder of N.Y.A. (Not Your Average) Wellness and prides herself on being “not your average” wellness coach. Find out more via her mini documentary and on Instagram or TikTok @NYA_wellness.