How to Build Your Best You

Five local health gurus share their tips

The path to self-improvement is a personal one, but there are guides along the way who can start you moving or get you back on course. Here are five local experts eager to share their most inspirational tips on working the angles and overcoming the obstacles to personal transformation.

Jim Readey's Six Tips for Mindfulness

Jim Readey was once a lawyer clerking for Justice David Souter.  Now he teaches Kripalu yoga in his studio, The Yoga Center, overlooking Concord's remodeled Main Street. Along with practices designed to keep your body limber and your spirit centered, he offers a variety of workshops including improv comedy. Why improv? “Because not knowing what’s coming next is an excellent inducement to staying grounded in the moment,“ he says. “Plus, it’s a real hoot.”

photo by chris saunders

The form of yoga that Jim Readey practices is Kripalu, a Sanskrit word meaning "compassion." He weaves compassion into both his teaching and advice to students. By approaching life with a “posture” of empathy and kindness for both self and others, every deed and word becomes an opportunity to heal and uplift. Here are the yogi's six tips for being more mindful.

  1. Go barefoot. Take off your shoes and connect with the Earth directly — soil, grass, rocks, etc. The stimulating sensation in our feet constantly inspires mindfulness because we, naturally, begin to pay close attention to where we place our feet. The first time you step on an acorn because you aren’t looking, this lesson commences.
  2. Take a cold shower. No one likes cold showers, initially. Just turn the handle gradually, though, and allow your body to get used to each cooler stage before going further. If you can achieve the feat of relaxing in frigid water, the mind opens wide. You view yourself in a more expansive way and start to believe you can accomplish far more than you previously imagined.
  3. Do everyday things in nonhabitual ways. Use a fork in the other hand (or try chopsticks!). Take a different route home or to the store. Walk or ride a bike instead of driving. Sign up for an improv class. All of these things train the brain to look at the world from a different perspective, be more present and let go of old scripts.
  4. Slow down. Tantra is way more than developing longer staying power for men and having marathon sex like Sting. It's learning to slow down the usual rush to get somewhere or to acquire something. Tantra teaches us how to deeply enjoy the experience of every moment, including our desires — even when we don’t actually acquire or manifest the object of our desire.
  5. Simplify your meditation. The main reason offered for not meditating is lack of time. Try mini-meditations that last for six breaths each — about 30 seconds. Wherever you are, periodically stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, breathe, relax and feel whatever sensations might be present in your body. 
  6. Tell the truth. Cultivate a relationship with someone you can share deep truths with. Most of us hide our deeper truths from not only others, but ourselves as well. Mindfulness includes self-awareness, and the supportive presence of a trusted confidant can almost magically lead us to self-revelation, clearer seeing and mindful, inspired action.

—By Rick Broussard

Tricia Utley's Five Skincare Tips

photo by kristin hardwick

Tricia Utley could teach you how to master cat-eye liner or what those cucumbers are for in an old-school spa facial — but she’d rather tell you how our body’s biggest organ contributes to a beauty that’s far more than skin-deep. At her clinic in Nashua, American Apothecary Skin, the licensed esthetician uses her 15 years of experience to create a skincare routine that’s customized for every individual.

“I have a sort of mind-body-skin approach,” she says. “So if someone were to come to me, I’d be doing a bit of detective work” — parsing out what products they’ve used in the past, what techniques they use now, and what stressors in their lifestyle or their health may be aggravating their skin. Utley should know a thing or two about the latter: Her entry into this industry came after a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, one of the many diseases out there that can wreak havoc on skin.      

While American Apothecary does not offer medical advice, Utley’s philosophy does hinge on learning your problems and helping you achieve great skin in spite of them. The trick? Self-care.

“The brain and the skin are heavily connected,” she says, adding that the two can really “talk” to one another. “If you’re focused on the fact that you have a breakout, you’re making more breakouts.” Here are the skincare pro's five tips for loving the skin you're in.

  1. Get selfish. Chronic stress throws off the body’s delicate hormone balance and can lead to a host of skin, hair and nail issues. Combat the problems your work life is causing by taking a dedicated time each day — even if it’s just 15 minutes — to unplug, unwind and, whether it’s sneaking a bar of chocolate or taking a bubble bath, do something for yourself.
  2. Don’t overdo it. Your skin has a natural barrier, comprised of oils, fatty acids, and even sweat and bacteria, that plays a crucial role in keeping bad stuff out. Keep clean, but don’t go nuts: The drugstore aisles full of cleansers and exfoliators and mechanical brushes will strip your skin of this healthy mantle and leave you more susceptible to breakouts and redness.
  3. Start your day with sunbathing. Strip off as much clothing as you can “without getting in trouble,” Utley says, and bask in a bit of early-morning sunshine. Don’t over-tan (that will cause many more skin problems than it cures); just take a few minutes to boost your vitamin D.
  4. Talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend or like your mom would talk to you. Enhance your self-love by co-opting the language you use on your loved ones.
  5. Whatever your thing is, rock it. Feeling good about yourself helps your health. So whether it’s a favorite lip gloss, a full makeup look or a totally bare face, pick the look you love and embrace it. Decorating your skin and taking care of it are intertwined — especially if that bit of décor can boost your mood.

—By Sarah Cahalan

photo by kendal j. bush

Jennifer Warren's Four Food Rules

Dr. Jennifer Warren is a double board-certified physician in family and obesity medicine with more than two decades of experience. Her own personal weight loss journey and a passion to use science to improve lives helped her found her own practice, Physicians Healthy Weight Center in North Hampton. Her positivity is contagious, and her tips will not only help you stay on track, weight-wise, but keep you healthy in both body and mind. Warren does not believe in perfection — it’s her professional opinion that, when on the road to personal transformation, there must be room for mistakes. Everyone falls off the wagon, she says, but the important part is getting back up and not letting it run you over.

Transformation does not come with a scientific algorithm. To be successful, you need strong motivation and a sense of progress. To stay on course and experience positive benefits, try the following steps.


  1. Practice moderation, even when setting your goals. In a society of extremes, Warren notes that successful transformation comes in moderation. Goals must push you enough to get results, but not so much that your plan is impossible to follow. This means finding a balance with new routines and a driving force to stick with it.
  2. Keep it simple. For food plans, Warren finds sticking to a simple core diet creates the most success. You should not feel guilty for going out to eat or slipping up every once in a while — as long as the slip is temporary. Sticking to a plan that is “tasty enough, simple enough, filling enough and giving good enough results” will help you stay on track, says Warren.
  3. Know your habits. Patterns of behavior often cause people to veer off the path to success. Keep an eye out for old habits that might be creeping back into your life. Contrary to popular belief, it takes about six months to form new habits, and old habits die hard. Small steps pay off in time, and you can experiment along the way. Warren recommends hiding tantalizing treats in higher spaces so the first thing your eye meets is a healthy snack. Big events in your life, be they fun holidays or catastrophes, tend to bring with them big distractions and temptations. Plan accordingly.
  4. Feed your head. Ensuring that your mind is healthy as well as your body is just as important for a successful transformation. This means sleeping well, spending time in the fresh air and making space to socialize. It can also be helpful to recharge by getting away from the crowds. Be mindful of fatigue, both mental and physical, and lastly, make sure to tend to the unmet needs in your life. Especially parents who are used to putting the needs of busy family before their own.

—By Madison Neary

Tara Leonard's Five Fashion Tips

Tara Leonard studied art, worked for years at a Newbury Street milliner and is a regular in the stands at New York fashion shows. She also owns what might be the friendliest little boutique in the state. “I could have ended up anywhere with a shop, but I ended up in Ashland,” the fifth-generation Ashlander says. From her Main Street store, Wholly Tara, Leonard dishes out not just fashionable clothes, but a hefty dose of true retail therapy. The store offers something for every budget and every age in sizes ranging from XS to 3XL, but their best feature may be Leonard herself. She pays personal attention to each of her customers, offering them advice, encouragement and an honest opinion. “It’s not about the shopping,” she says. “It’s about the experience.”

At Wholly Tara, Leonard helps New Hampshire women from all walks of life find the fun in getting dressed. “You tell your story with what you wear,” says Leonard. “What story do you want to tell?” Revamping your look isn’t about going on a shopping spree — here are Leonard’s suggestions for starting your wardrobe upgrade.

photo by bruce luetters

  1. If you feel good in what you’re wearing, it shows. Leonard is a firm believer that you can look good at any size and any age. It’s just a matter of attitude. Pick things that you feel great in, and you’ll look great.
  2. Eliminate “Am I too old for this?” from your vocabulary. A tunic and — gasp — skinny jeans can be a perfectly age-appropriate outfit for a retiree, Leonard says. Let how you look and feel in an outfit dictate whether you wear it, not the year you were born.
  3. Dress for what you are today, not what you want to be in the future and not what you were in the past. If you want to change your weight, you won’t be motivated to do it if all of your clothes are too baggy or too tight. Treat yourself to something that fits you today, even if you hope you’ll be having it taken in at the tailor in six months.
  4. Less is more. Especially if you have a busy schedule, shopping until your closet is bursting with clothes is both impossible and unwise. Choose key pieces that will last and that will go with everything, Leonard says, and styling around them will be a breeze.
  5. To borrow the phrase from L’Oreal, you’re worth it. Have you dropped thousands on spoiling your grandkids this year but not bought new shoes since the Bush administration? Take Leonard’s word for it: You really are worth investing in.

—By Sarah Cahalan

Lisa Maria-Booth's Nine Steps to Fitness

photo by jared charney

Co-owner and CEO Lisa Maria-Booth opened Fortitude five years ago with longtime collaborator Danielle Perreault. The downtown Manchester gym caught on fast, and soon, along with David Booth, she opened FortCycle and the Green Bike smoothie bar (all located in one building in the Millyard). Of course, fitness and good health are the ultimate goals, but Maria-Booth and her staff work just as hard to create a sense of community. Here, everyone from marathon runners to hesitant beginners are welcomed and supported by both the staff and members. As Booth says, “All you have to do is show up, and we'll take care of the rest.” While no one is actually going to lift the weights for you, you will find expert advice, coaching and plenty of positive encouragement. Perhaps most importantly, what you won’t find is judgment or intimidation.

We all know, whether we want to admit it or not, that there’s no such thing as a quick fix. True fitness is not achieved with a crash diet or a miracle piece of equipment. It’s about changing habits, making good choices every single day and, yes, regular exercise. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, then Maria-Booth has a few suggestions for things you can do right now to start down a path to better health.

  1. Set goals. Sometimes, says Maria-Booth, people come to her with only a desire to change … something. It’s her job, she says, to be “an inspirer, a motivator, a spark.” She helps people set smart, achievable goals. Without something specific — and attainable — to work toward, it’s much easier to give up. For instance, at first train to run a 5K rather than a marathon. Habits, she adds, can take a long time to form and a long time to break. Setting goals you can “wrap your arms around” helps push you out of a rut.
  2. Keep at it. Fitness doesn’t happen overnight, but “If you keep repeating and repeating positive new habits, pretty soon it’s going to become a part of who you are,” she says. “But it takes patience; it takes a little time and repeating, and repeating. And then it’s like a needle on a record — it’s not going to skip any more since you’ve created a new groove.”
  3. Find someone to hold you accountable. Tell your goals to someone you trust and that you can share with.
  4. Get outside. “You might imagine I want people to be in the gym all of the time, but I don’t,” she says. One of her personal favorite ways to stay healthy is by taking advantage of the state’s many natural resources. “We have everything at our fingertips — mountains, trails, lakes, the ocean,” she says. “Being outside, getting sunshine, whether I’m in the forest hiking or swimming in the lake or snowshoeing on a really white, shiny winter day, is a huge battery recharge for me.”
  5. Swap out just one bad thing. For instance, every day try trading a sugary, cream-laden Dunkin’ Donuts drink for a wholegrain English muffin with almond butter.
  6. Sleep. “I love to get at least seven hours of sleep at night to feel my best, to keep my body strong,” she says.
  7. Eat real food. “I stay the heck away from manufactured food products,” she says. She also avoids supplements and medications unless absolutely necessary. “I really, really believe that everything I need is in the super-healthy, colorful, look-the-same-going-in-the-body-as-it-did-coming-out-of-the-ground food.” Fresh fruit and veggies are simply better choices than boxes with long lists of ingredients.
  8. Be around like-minded people. She doesn’t suggest trading in your friends, but if you can, try to be around healthy, positive people. Inspiration is important. Group classes can be a great way to find motivation.
  9. Make the time. Sorry, busy people: She won’t accept the “I have no time” excuse. You do. As she points out, there are 168 hours in a week — you can set aside three for exercise. Make yourself a schedule and stick to it.

—By Erica Thoits

Categories: Features