Suzanne Nixon, Director of the Northern Virginia Integrative Therapy Center, has spent more than three decades helping her clients get comfortable in their “inner” homes. Suzanne is a practitioner leading the zeitgeist towards an integrated approach to wellness that focuses on the mind-body connection. Licensed as a professional counselor, a marriage and family therapist, a massage therapist and in somatic energy therapy, Suzanne has been helping people ‘come home to self’ since the 1970s when she lived at The New England Center for the Whole Person in Amherst, Massachusetts. While there, Suzanne worked as a vegetarian chef and studied philosophy and Eastern healing practices with some of the earliest thinkers in self-transformation. In her spare time, Suzanne participated in workshops on Gestalt theory and massage therapy. She attended talks given by Jack Canfield who would later go on to author the bestselling book series Chicken Soup for the Soul. “At that time,” Suzanne remembers, “Amherst was like a mecca for igniting consciousness, and I was right there in the middle of it soaking it all up.”
Suzanne learned early on that in order for us to achieve true wellness, we have to connect to our inner selves in a way which we can feel, physically – a practice she calls ‘embodiment.’ Suzanne advises, “The more we experience embodiment, the greater the capacity we have to be present with others.” This concept of living in the moment – of being present – which originates from ancient Eastern philosophy, is starting to gain traction in U.S. pop culture. Even TIME Magazine recently featured a cover story about the medical benefits of integrating mindfulness into our daily lives. “People are getting more stressed out, and we are getting sicker as a nation. Western medicine alone misses the boat,” Suzanne says. “Traditional Western medicine misses the connections between nutrition, exercise, meditation and our emotions, which are all components that greatly influence our health.”
Suzanne’s practice helps clients develop all facets of the self, including the mind (mental health), the body (physical health), the soul (spiritual health) and emotions (psychological health). One additional component that can significantly impact our health, Suzanne says, is our relationships. Good ones can support a healthy sense of self, and bad ones can, quite literally, make us ill.
Toxic relationships can be cultural. Suzanne blames the Northern Virginia highly-competitive, “having it all,” fast-paced lifestyle as one reason we are seeing an increase in the number of unhealthy people around us. If that weren’t enough, every experience we have ever had – good and bad – is stored in our cellular memory. Over time, traumas and other negative energy can contribute to making us physically and psychologically ill. To achieve true wellness, we have to identify and release these toxins from our cellular memory which usually requires the coaching of a specialist.
The journey towards optimal health is a highly personal one, and Suzanne’s practice integrates many methods for helping her clients. Traditional psychotherapy (talk therapy), meditation, breathing exercises, guided imagery, yoga and journaling are just a few of the options available. Suzanne also practices somatic energy work which can involve using gentle touch to direct the flow of the body’s energy towards weaker areas to achieve better blood flow and balance.
Ultimately, Suzanne’s goal is to help her clients invoke “the inner physician,” or the power we all have to activate our own healing mechanisms within. Skeptical? Suzanne welcomes critics and cites study after study of rigorous scientific research that demonstrate that the mind – which Suzanne says is located in each cell throughout the body – can direct physiological functions like heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure. In essence, Suzanne believes we can think ourselves well.
Unfortunately, the same also works in reverse. Some of us are thinking ourselves unwell. The messages we send ourselves over and over again in our heads make a physical imprint on our cells. Our brains treat these messages as facts, and our bodies respond accordingly. In essence, whatever you tell yourself over and over again becomes your body’s truth. This is why it is important to stay positive and to maintain a healthy mental talk track.
Instead of saying, “I’m fat, and I failed to achieve my fitness goals,” a healthier message would be, “I’ve been having a really hard time lately and food has provided me comfort. Now I’m ready to find that comfort elsewhere.” Suzanne promises that the latter talk track will result in faster weight loss and better overall health.
Cleaning out our inner closets is a daunting task, especially for those of us who already have too few hours in the day. The rewards, Suzanne says, are well worth the investment. “If we don’t create healthy inner homes now, we will pay the price later.” She continues, “When your body is healthy, it becomes a place of refuge for you. It’s a place where you feel safe, restored and renewed. It’s your temple of wisdom. You deserve a welcoming inner home!”